Monday, October 29, 2007

Dylan Does LBJ

It's been a wild week, what with paperwork and Halloween and all. I got up to Taipei Saturday and went to 101 to buy shirts (I threw out several almost new Brooks Brothers shirts last week, when I placed the laundry bag in the garbage bag spot. Yes.) But we didn't go up to the top this time, so no photos. I did get a couple of hours in reading the third volume of Caro's LBJ bio. I am now on page 387 of a 1,000 page volume. Amazing stuff, but still... And I got word that Caro's bio of Robert Moses just arrived in the mail. Yahoo! There will be more LBJ blogging, but for the moment, this picture of somebody doing Dylan doing LBJ will have to do. Hat Tip: Getty Images.

Cloud FormationOn Mountain

Imagine being there to see a sight like this. Imagine having a camera, and the skill to take this photo.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Levitt To Fail?

Stunning news today from the housing industry. (Yes, we are eclectic – we know very little about very many things). Levitt and Sons has ceased all construction and is on the verge of bankruptcy. From the South Florida Sun-Sentinal:

Levitt and Sons, the cash-strapped Fort Lauderdale company trying to survive the housing slump, said Thursday it has temporarily stopped building houses as it tries to restructure its debt.
 The builder's parent, Levitt Corp., said last Friday the subsidiary faces an uncertain future if it can't work out a deal with lenders. Builders in Florida and across the nation are struggling as the once-vibrant housing market keeps deteriorating. Last month, Levitt Corp. said it was laying off as many as 200 of its 573 employees because of the housing downturn. Most of the cuts were planned at Levitt and Sons.

 The builder did not pay $2.6 million of interest payments due last week to its five primary lenders. Levitt Corp. said it has loaned $84 million to Levitt and Sons through Sept. 30 but is unwilling to loan more money unless the builder can negotiate better financial terms with the lenders. 

Levitt Corp. said it doesn't expect to recover the money it loaned to the builder. The builder began to lose momentum starting in the 1970s, said Wayne Archer, director of the Bergstrom Center for Real Estate Studies at the University of Florida.

" In the last two or three years, they've been trying to come back to being one of the major players [in the industry]," Archer said. "But it's not a good time to be a big builder."

I grew up in a Levitt development, in Bowie, MD, and spent much of my youth lamenting it. As I wrote in the late Washington Star in 1978 (whoah – another story there):

“These houses were not built by house builders any more than the assembly-line worker who puts on hubcaps is a car builder. The danger is apparent. As John Steinbeck said, “When our food and housing and clothing are all born in a complication of mass production, mass method is bound to get into our thinking and to eliminate all other thinking.”

Very prescient, John. The danger was, indeed, apparent, but they didn’t listen. Now Levitt is gasping on the tarmac. But the late David Halberstam had a more sympathetic take on the company in his book “The Fifties”:

William Levitt was indeed applying the principles of mass production that had worked so well in the auto industry to housing. There was a desperate pent-up demand for housing in the wake of the war: “In 1944 there had been only 114,000 new single houses started; by 1946 that figure had jumped to 937,000: to 1,118,000 in 1948; and 1.7 million in 1950.” Levitt, virulently anti-union, got rid of skilled craftsmen, replacing them with relatively well-paid workers responsible for doing one very limited job again and again. The most complex part of building a house was putting in the basement, so he dispensed with basements, replacing them with concrete slabs. The slabs required a flat surface, so the terrain was flattened first by bulldozers. Union carpenters carrying their lunches in bulky lunch boxes was deemed an inefficiency, so workers were fed a pre-prepared “Levittmash”© from long troughs. The construction trucks would come in and drop off the building materials at intervals of exactly 60 feet. Twenty-eight separate teams of perfectly choreographed workers would then assemble the house, on an assembly line in which the workers, not the product, moved.

“There were floor men and side men and tile men and men who did the white painting and men who did the red painting. By July 1948 they were building 180 houses a week or, in effect, thirty-six houses a day.” This in an industry in which, prior to the war, companies who built five a year were considered quite productive. To ensure there would be no disruption, Levitt made their own nails, cement and lumber. One pool was built for every 1,000 houses. Schools and churches were inserted at similarly regular intervals. And Levitt workers, non-union status notwithstanding, were well-paid. As Alfred Levitt said: “The same man does the same thing every day. It is boring; it is bad; but the reward of the green stuff seems to alleviate the boredom of the work.”

(By the way, there is one teenie-bitsy fabrication in the above. Just checking to see if you were paying attention. The rest is all accurate paraphrasing and quotation. – ed.)

I have an early memory of watching out my window as a huge, tractor-like device thundered through the fenceless back yards. The lawns had no grass, but had been seeded, and this monster was shooting hay out of a funnel onto the lawns, presumably to keep the seed from blowing away. Apparently, in the original Levittown, if people didn’t mow their lawn, the company would come and mow it for them, then send them the bill. One of the paradoxes in reading about this quintessentially capitalist enterprise is how often you encounter these quasi-socialistic, nanny-state characteristics. This firm but fair paternalism defined the company’s way of relating to its customers. (But not always fair. The company had an abysmal record on discrimination against blacks. My hometown was the site of rather prominent civil rights protests in 1963, which would have been just before we arrived. Levitt was defying the Kennedy administration’s new civil rights housing law).

I hadn’t known they were still around. I’d just read an article in the Times about the sixtieth anniversary of the first Levitt development. The company, and its development, personified a callow anti-historical kind of contemporariness that I just loathed. Nothing about the place grew or evolved organically from its surroundings. It was a place without plangency. The bones of nobody’s ancestors were buried there. But their passing, after sixty years, would be sad; would be an important bit of meaning and post-war history lost to the wind.

Hat Tip: Peter Bacon Hales; University of Illinois at Chicago.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Edge of Hurricane

I had a high school buddy who ended up going to the Merchant Marine Academy. Led his class freshman year in demerits. Last I heard, he was captain of the football team. I think of him when I see a picture like this - to be out there with a very small crew on a very big ocean, in charge of this enormous, but dwarfed vessel. To see something like this coming, and to feel you'd been properly trained to handle it and your boat was up to it - that would be pretty cool.

Saturday, October 13, 2007


This has absolutely nothing to do with my inability to post three incredibly concise and insightful posts in consecutive order, but I was recently looking for one of those cartoon curse strings, and I decided to google it, naturally. And that's when I realized - what are these things called, anyway? Now, I know there are clever columns dedicated to arcane questions like this in highbrow magazines, but that's just not me.

I've decided to name these things plotives. No, the name is not already taken. The plotive that denotes a sound like "p" or "t" with a brief, violent blast of air escaping through the lips is long vowel plotive, and you can tell everybody that John's neologism has a short o. Plot. ive. The plotive above, by the way, is from Beetle Bailey, which I'm quite sure is the New Times Roman of plotives.

Brazilian Robert Johnson

I think I just came upon this while following links at Utube. A Brazilian tribute to Robert Johnson. Great Johnsonesque guitar backing, and I presume the Portuguese is a narration of the crossroads myth, though I'd love to know what he's saying. And the footage? Who knows? An intriguing melange, though. I take this out every couple of weeks or so, and it's always compelling.

Al Gore Wins the Nobel!

I've always been sceptical of the idea that Scandinavian intellectuals have some kind of morally centered vision that the rest of us lack. (Jimmy Carter? Ack!) But, then, the rest of the world has no input into the election of American leaders who arguably shape their world more than their own leaders, so I guess they're entitled to their two cents.

What makes Gore such a powerful force in Democratic politics is that he is also emblematic of an entire set of arguments. For many, his rise is a natural rebuke of the current president, but it's also become a rebuke of the perverted political process in which style is rewarded over substance. This is an argument that Gore expands on and applies to policy in his recent book The Assault on Reason.
- John Dickerson in Slate

I choked up during An Inconvenient Truth. Not at the part where Greenland melts - oy!, I don't know anyone who lives in Greenland! - but during the recounting (indeed!) of the denouement of the 2000 election. It snuck up on me, it did, but before I knew it, there I was with a big bathos thermal wafting up into my head.

Normally, I'm pretty impatient with the old "I'm a bad campaigner, but I'd make a great president" line. Yeah, me too. And my friend Dexter here, he has the same problem. But Al Gore would make a great president. It's only to his credit that he loathes the idea of getting back into phony campaign world. I forget who it was, but some old Washington Lion was being interviewed recently and he was talking about how twisted virtually all of the presidents he'd known were. He cited Gerald Ford, the only one not elected, as the one truly normal, decent human being among the bunch.

I admire Hillary, but the dynastic issue is real, and troubling. I'm an Obama supporter, but, honestly, I think only a Gore inauguration would make me feel we were really getting a fresh start with someone experienced at the helm.

Monday, October 08, 2007


Well, that didn't come out the way I'd elaborately planned it. Please read the following in I, II, III order while I go kill myself.

Bush and Realignment III

Over the past six years, the Bush administration has operated on the assumption that if you change the political institutions in Iraq, the society will follow. But the Burkean conservative believes that society is an organism; that custom, tradition and habit are the prime movers of that organism; and that successful government institutions grow gradually from each nation’s unique network of moral and social restraints.” - David Brooks

Green, in The Atlantic, again capturing the essence of the Bush/ Cheney/ Rove project:

“The Middle East failure is all too well known - the vaulting ambition coupled with the utter inability of top administration figures to bring about their grand idea. What is less appreciated is how Rove set out to do something every bit as audacious with domestic policy. Earlier political alignments resulted from historical accidents or anomalies, conditions that were recognized and exploited after the fact by talented politicians . Nobody ever planned one. Rove didn’t wait for history to happen to him – he tried to create it on his own. ‘It’s hard to think of any analogue in American history’, says David Mayhew, a Yale political scientist who has written a book on historical alignments, ‘to what Karl Rove was trying to do.’”

I think it’s important not to fall into the trap of historical anthropomorphism – that is, trying to make moralizing generalizations about the agents of historical epochal changes (hence, the perennial kindergarten question at movie time –“Is he good or bad?”). We (most of us) stand in awe of, and admire, a Lincoln or a Roosevelt. And we never tire of hearing their stories retold, because they’re edifying – the good guys are on the side of historical change. The modern world was forged in the confrontation between the puritans and the older, Saxon communities of the marches. Okay: Cromwell - good or bad? What about when the agents of change are out and out sons of bitches?: Mark Hanna, or the extinguishers of the North American Indians? We avoid these stories as instinctively as we avoid atonal music. But, still, I’m determinist enough to concede that, yes, resistance to these was, indeed, futile.

These changes were driven by technological changes and the tectonic shifts that attend them. The story of the crushing of the Progressives is poignant and disheartening, but I laugh along with everyone else when a Jacques Chirac says that the future of Europe lies in agriculture. Fact is, historical change is values neutral, and the agents of change don’t fit into any neat moral boxes. Karl Rove set out to be one of the bastards who allow themselves to operate outside conventional moral rules, but whose crimes are mitigated by the zeitgeist exemption – "The Spirit Was With Them". Most people don’t make that decision, because they have a sober realization of the limits of their own vision. Bush has made much of his Christianity, and the Manichean rhetoric of good and evil; but the policy choices, as well as the biographies of Bush/Cheney/Rove identify them as Machiavellians rather than Christian moralists. We’re not talking Woodrow Wilson or Jimmy Carter here. Bush and Rove made a Machiavellian gamble, and the only way to redeem oneself in such a context is to be right; to be effective; to succeed. These guys didn’t even come close.

This from Robert Kaplan’s essay on Machiavelli:

Machiavelli believed that because Christianity glorified the meek, it allowed the world to be dominated by the wicked: he preferred a pagan ethic that elevated self-preservation over the Christian ethic of sacrifice, which he considered to be hypocritical… In an imperfect world, Machiavelli says, good men bent on doing good must know how to be bad. And because we all share the social world, he adds, virtue has little to do with individual perfection and everything to do with political result. Thus, for Machiavelli, a policy is defined not by its excellence but by its outcome: if it isn’t effective it can’t be virtuous… Like Machiavelli, Churchill, Sun-Tzu and Thucydidies all believed in a morality of results rather than of good intentions. So did Raymond Aron…. Aron wrote, “A good policy is measured by its effectiveness,” – not its purity.

Bush and Relignment II

“Before he ever came to the White House, Rove fervently believed that the country was on the verge of another great shift. His faith derived from his reading of the presidency of a man most historians regard as a mediocrity, Anyone on the campaign trail in 2000 probably heard him cite the pivotal importance of McKinley’s election in 1896. Rove thought there were important similarities.
‘Everything you know about William McKinley and Mark Hanna’ – McKinley’s Rove – “is wrong, he told Nicholas Lehmann of the New York Times in early 2000. “The country was in a period of change. McKinley’s the guy who figured it out. Politics were changing. The economy was changing. We’re at the same point now: weak allegiances to parties, a rising new economy.’” – Green, The Atlantic.

Caro writes eloquently about the wave of Populism that briefly broke in the latter decades of the nineteenth century, and the hope it elicited:

“But the hope was vain; the cause was as lost as the one for which many of the Populists had fought thirty years before – Bryan’s campaign was gallant but underfinanced, and the Republican Party, run by Mark Hanna, who shook down railroad corporations, insurance companies and big-city banks for campaign contributions on a scale never before seen, won what one historian calls ‘a triumph for big business, for a manufacturing and industrial rather than an agrarian order, for the Hamiltonian rather than the Jeffersonian state.’… perceptive historians find great significance in the campaign of 1896 –‘the last protest of the old agrarian order against industrialism.’”

This from a July 1999 Washington Post story by David Von Drehle:

"The swami of McKinley Mania is Bush strategist Karl Rove, who got hooked two years ago during a class at the University of Texas. A tenacious student of political history, Rove dug deeply into the story of a canny, soothing heartland governor whose party was riven by tactical and religious squabbles. Raising money on a scale previously unimagined, while scarcely leaving his front porch, McKinley remade the party in his own charming image -- inclusive, pragmatic, noncontroversial. Republiicans dominated Washington for the next thirty five years."

David Brooks expounds on how profoundly unconservative a vision this was:

“Over the past six years, the Republican Party has championed the spread of democracy in the Middle East. But the temperamental conservative is suspicious of rapid reform, believing that efforts to quickly transform anything will have, as Burke wrote “pleasing commencements” but “lamentable conclusions.”

Hang in there with me. this is all coming together.

Realignment and Bush I

There are lots of smart people out there, with lots to say, and sometimes it’s just useful to link together quotes of various things I’ve been reading to limn a train of thoughts. So, I’ll just sit back on this one and let the pros talk, and maybe add a few thoughts at the end (of course):
“Mark Crispin Miller, the author of “The Bush Dyslexicon,” once made a striking observation: all of the famous Bush malapropisms — “I know how hard it is for you to put food on your family,” and so on — have involved occasions when Mr. Bush was trying to sound caring and compassionate.
By contrast, Mr. Bush is articulate and even grammatical when he talks about punishing people; that’s when he’s speaking from the heart. The only animation Mr. Bush showed during the flooding of New Orleans was when he declared “zero tolerance of people breaking the law,” even those breaking into abandoned stores in search of the food and water they weren’t getting from his administration.” Krugman’s most recent.

From Wikipedia:

"A wealthy industrialist, Hanna [...] believed that government existed primarily to help business. He once told the Ohio attorney general, who sued to dissolve Standard Oil, to drop the suit. 'Come on,' Hanna pronounced, 'you've been in politics long enough to know that no man in public life owes the public anything." Linking Rings: William W. Durbin and the Magic and Mystery of America, James D. Robenalt, Kent State University Press, Ohio, pp. 11-12

Fifty years ago, political scientists developed what is known as realignment theory – the idea that a handful of elections in the nation’s history mattered more than the others because they created “sharp and durable changes in the polity that lasted for decades….” – Joshua Green, The Atlantic, September 2007

Green goes on to sight the elections in: 1800 (Jefferson); 1828 (Jackson); 1860 (Lincoln); 1896 (McKinley); and 1932 (Roosevelt) as consensus choices by historians.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Typhoon morning

You know that Curious George where George tries to clean up the ink puddle by opening up the garden hose on it and floods the whole room and the furniture is like islands in it? Oh, come on, of course you do - "Curious George Gets A Medal." Well, that's what my classroom looks like today. Fortunately, most of the books were on the shelf this time, though the phonics classic "The Mouse House", alas, will not be found around this hound pound any more.

It's a pretty good blow. I'm on the eleventh floor, and we've been rockin' and rollin' all night.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Amusing Signs

Woof! Woof! Bark! Grrr! Good Signs!

As so often, Hat Tip to Big Tom and his formidable network of correspondents!

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Petey's Back!

I got stoned by black children during the first weeks of my attendance at Archbishop Carroll High. Terrible, scarring racial incident. I was progressive enough at that time to have chosen to go to Carroll (60-40 black at the time) from a predominantly white suburb. There were things I was not entirely ready for: like wearing the bottom hem of your pants five inches above the ankles would get you stoned in the parking lot (In the biblical sense, or perhaps the intifada sense). In class I asked my black classmates, who hadn't been stoners, "What's a Bama?" "A Bouma? (chuckling, given me a skeptical up and down appraisal). "Hey, Beetle, you got a ink pin you can borrow me till tomorrow? I swear I 'll pay you back." "I will give you the ink pin if you will tell me what a Bama is." "A Bouma" (archly) is somone who cain't dress. Where de flud, bro? Get you some new pants, sno cone, and my cousins won't throw rocks at you." I did, and they did. But when Petey in this classic footage "How to Eat A Watermelon" refers to "Two stone cold Bamas", I think I know who he's talking about. You see, old, traditionalst, very conservative Catholic black Washingtonions felt inundated by much poorer, less bourgeois blacks who were flooding into Washington in the 60's from the Gulf States. Most whites were clueless about these kinds of tensions, but I had been watching Petey Green and listening to WOL under the tutelage of my friend Lonnie Barksdale and my pals at school. Marion Barry was (I guess, is) the king of the Bamas. You see what I mean. Anyway, now Don Cheadle's got a movie out where he's playing Petey. I've liked Cheadle in everything I've seen, and this one sounds good. Probably everybody in America's seen it already. Well, here's Petey at his best, expanding on the subject "How To Eat A Watermelon."

Old Skool Senate

Caro has an amazingly concise, illuminating and entertaining history of the senate in the first section of "Master of the Senate". A primary suspect in the institution's less than stellar performance in the first decades ofthe 20th century was the seniority system:

Democrat Carter Glass had ascended to the Chairmanship of the Appropriations Committee in 1932, when he was seventy-four. During the 1940s, Glass was very ill - had been very ill for years, sequestered in a suite of the Mayflower Hotel that always had a guard at the door. He had not even appeared on Capital Hill since 1942. By 1945, there were even suggestions that perhaps Glass, then eighty-seven, should resign. But, as Drury reported, "from the guarded suite...through whose doors no outsider has passed in many months to see whhat lies within, has come the usual answer. Mrs. Glass has replied for the Senator. The suggestion will not be considered." In Glass' temporary absence, the seventy-seven-year-old McKellar presided over Appropriations. "In his day", Allen Drury wrote, "Old Mack from Tennessee had been the most powerful and the most ruthless man in the senate", but that day was drawing to a close. More and more frequently during the 1940s, after he had been presiding over a committee meeting for hours, he would pound the gavel to signal the session to begin. (McKellar was sensitive about his age. Once he was politely asked in a Senate corridor, "How are you today, Senator?" As Russell Baker relates, "In reply, the old man, interpreting the words as a reflection on his failing health, raised his cane, thwacked it angrily against the fellow's collarbone, and passed on without a word."

The indispensible Wikipedia adds the following connection:

In 1952 McKellar stood for a seventh term, despite being by then quite elderly (age 83). He was opposed for renomination by Middle Tennessee Congressman Albert Gore. McKellar's reelection slogan was "Thinking Feller? Vote McKellar.", which Gore countered with "Think Some More – Vote for Gore." Gore defeated McKellar for the Democratic nomination in August in what was widely regarded as something of an upset.

I haven't read the meat of the book yet, but I have a feeling this crotchety old men's club is about to get shakin' and stirred by a certain young dynamo that you really can't help but feel drawn to.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Nothins Too Good fer the Irish!

From Anne Warner, Traditional American Folk Songs from the Anne &
Frank Warner Collection, #29, pp, 101-103. From the singing of
"Yankee" John Galusha of New York State. Collected 1940.

Nothing's Too Good For the Irish!

Nothing’s Too Good For the Irish
I'll tell to you a story that was told to me
A good old story, Gramachree.
When my mother she was dying, "My lad," says she,
"Nothin's too good for the Irish!"
When we come over, me and my brother Dan,
Says I, "We will do the best we can."
They made me a copper, and him an alderman
Nothin's too good for the Irish.

Dutchmen were made for to carry coal and shovel snow,
Italians for organs, the Englishmen to mash,
Chinese for washing, the Japs for a juggling show,
Negroes to whitewash, the Jews were made for cash,
Cubans for cigarettes, the Portugese sail the seas,
Scotchmen for bakers, the French were made for style,
Rooshians for mining, Americans for liberty,
But men made for bosses are sons of Erin's isle!
Hip hip hurrah! Erin go bragh!
Nothin's too good for the Irish.

Dear Newfoundland have I got to leave you
To seek employment in a foreign land?
Forced from our nation by cruel taxation
I now must leave you dear Newfoundland.

Dear Newfoundland with your fisheries failing
Your sons and daughters must leave you each fall,
Forced by poverty and cruel taxation
To the shores of Boston, a home for all.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Book Report

One lesson hammered home in amazing detail by Caro’s Johnson bio is the paramount power of money in politics. Duhhh. Yes, but there is a level of detail and documentation in these volumes that is authoritative, and would simply be impossible in any account of more recent events. We get the perspective provided by the passage of sixty years, but the events (and even many of the names) are eerily familiar to readers of the paper this morning.

Johnson’s career was bankrolled from his first run for Congress by Brown and Root, a small, unassuming contractor you might have heard of from the Houston area. In election after election, Johnson spent sums that were unprecedented for congressional and senatorial campaigns respectively.

The Marshall Ford Dam. In the late thirties, Brown and Root had already started the dam that they would build their fortunes on, but they had two problems: (1) the dam was not authorized by Congress, as mandated by law, and (2) the dam was actually prohibited by law, because the land on which it was built was not owned by the federal government. These problems had originally been surmountable because the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee was committed to using his position to overcome these obstacles. But in February 1937, “Buck” Buchanan died at a most inconvenient moment for Brown and Root. Johnson was financed by the company in his first congressional campaign, in Buchanan’s district, specifically for the purpose of resolving these problems. It was make or break time for Herman Brown.

Johnson won his seat, and Brown got his dam, which was to be the financial cornerstone of the company’s future success. Caro seems to stand in awe of the sums available to candidate Johnson:

“A rough rule of thumb, occasionally violated, among Texas politicians was that a respectable statewide campaign could be waged for between $75,000 and $100,000. Johnson was thinking of money on a completely different scale. He always had. His first campaign for Congress, in 1937, had been one of the most expensive campaigns – possibly the most expensive campaign – in the history of Texas. During his first senate campaign, in 1941, men handed him (or handed to his aides, for his use) checks or envelopes stuffed with cash – checks and cash in amounts unprecedented even in the free spending world of Texas politics – and with these contributions of hundreds of thousands of dollars, he had waged the most expensive senatorial campaign in Texas political history. Now, in his last chance, he planned to use money on a scale unprecedented even for him.

He had it to use. After Johnson’s 1941 Senate campaign, George Brown had delivered to Johnson Herman Brown’s pledge to finance a second Senate campaign as lavishly as he had financed a first. Since that time, the federal contracts Johnson had helped Brown and Root obtain had gotten bigger; profits had mounted from millions of dollars to tens of millions – and at the same time fierce Herman Brown had glimpsed the wealth that could come to his company through the efforts of a Senator, rather than a mere Representative. In 1947, the pledge was renewed; if Lyndon wanted to run, the money would be there – as much as was needed.”

It was these huge sums that allowed Johnson to employ a dang helicopter – of all things! – in the ’48 race. This was a huge advantage, not only in covering the vast Texas distances, but also for attracting crowds for the novelty of the ‘Flying Windmill’.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


Lots of new stuff breaking in that big Blackwater story. Hey, I don’t know nothin’, but: absolutely zero chance these guys actually get kicked out of Iraq. Blackwater is making quite a name for themselves among Iraqis as trigger – happy, State Department gangsters. I guess the questions that come to mind are: (1)Who (besides Bush) are their political patrons?; and (2) How is it (in detail) that they help Republicans get elected?

And remember the Blackwater guys who got strung from a bridge in ’94? According to the lawyers of their families, the company is counter-suing them:

Raleigh, NC -- The families of four American security contractors who were burned, beaten, dragged through the streets of Fallujah and their decapitated bodies hung from a bridge over the Euphrates River on March 31, 2004, are reaching out to the American public to help protect themselves against the very company their loved ones were serving when killed, Blackwater Security Consulting. After Blackwater lost a series of appeals all the away to the U.S. Supreme Court, Blackwater has now changed its tactics and is suing the dead men's estates for $10 million to silence the families and keep them out of court.

Okay, this is where I get the coveted Brass Pacifier – just like the one I was awarded for innocence and naivety in supporting the invasion of Iraq… Is this true? Is it possible that it could be true and I haven’t read about it in The Washington Post? Stop laughing! This is either weird left-wing kookiness, or it’s going to be a big story, right?

I knew the name of Cofer Black, the Blackwater vice chairman, rang a bell. Here he is quoted in Ron Suskind’s “The Thirty Percent Doctrine”, in a dialogue with another CIA veteran:

Mowatt-Larsen: “When you’re talking about torture, the question is, who sets the standard of evidence required for taking ‘expedient action’?”

Black: “What do you think the standard should be?”

Mowatt-Larsen: “Evidence is the key word. Because a lot of people are suspected of knowing things that they may not. If your assessments of who should know what are not sound, you could end up hurting a lot of people – and creating a lot of new enemies.”

Black: (nodded) “Fine. What about a case where a person may know about the staus of UBL and a bomb? And finding out what he knows could save a lot of lives. Then, what’s your standard, buddy?” (poking a finger at Mowatt-Larsen) “What do you do, then?”

Hmmm. Making unsound assessments of innocence and guilt. Hurting lots of people. Creating new enemies. Sounds like our boys!

America Trip Photos

Wang Chien-Ming, move over: the real "Glory of Taiwan"! In a Starbucks in Portland, Maine.

Family portrait in Dining Room

Professor Rob and the author all Margheritaed up in Texas

"The friendliest people and the prettiest women you've ever seen!"

The Johansons. Transplanted Texans, but they fit the bill. Thanks to Mr. Johanson, something of a rock star in the Wills and Estates field, for what may very well have been the best steak of my life.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Monkey Penguin Joke

Completely unforgivable. Also completely irresistable. What can I tell you: I have a soft spot for a guy who knows how to tell a joke.

Hat Tip: Big Tom

Sunday, September 16, 2007

People's Drug

Shorpy has a cool photo of a pre-1932 People's Drug Store. I don't go quite that far back; I remember the store from Maryland in the 1970's. A name can be pretty evocative. The single residual memory - out of all the hundreds of times over a twenty year span that I went to People's Drug - is of my redoubtable Grandmother Sullivan, who probably only visited the place one time.

The memory is a diptych.The first part has her leading us crossing the road, taking it for granted that the cars on Route 450 would just stop. They did. It must have made quite an impression on my eight year old brain; something on the order of: "Shit, I didn't know you could do that!" What I remember of the lunch at the soda fountain with my New York grandma (and I'm certain I remember it with fidelity) was her mirth at a sign behind the counter: "Tipping is now permitted." I had only the foggiest idea at the time of what tipping was, or why the sign was so amusing, but there you go - the memory is planted.

These days a guy like me doesn't have to go moping around thinking: "I wonder whatever the hell happened to People's Drug?". Wikipedia fills us in, but alas, People's Drug, it turns out, has been inhaled by CVS. What Wikipedia doesn't tell us is how the chain got its rather commie sounding name. New Deal era, perhaps? But, no... founded in 1904, so probably a bit more of a William Jennings Bryan - type thing than a Franklin Roosevelt or a Leon Trotsky.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Robert Caro's Johnson

While staying in Lydon Johnson's Austin residence a few weeks ago (ahem!), I idly began picking through a copy of Robert Caro's multi-volume biography that was on the shelf, expecting it to be a bit ponderous and entirely too detailed for my needs. This is a book I've passed over without much curiosity in countless bookstores. I knew it had been critically acclaimed, but it was just too damn big! It didn't take me more than half a page of reading, though, to realize I'd stumbled onto something special. The incumbent champion of all biographies in betelnut-culture has always been T. Harry Williams's "Huey Long". I read it when I was 17 - 800 pages in a single feverish four day session during summer vacation, mostly deep in the night. (Adding to the sense of being swallowed whole by a book is that this one comes with a sound track: my favorite Randy Newman album, "Good Old Boys", was clearly written under the gravitational influence of the book).

I'm not 17, and I've got a day job, so the intensity will never be quite the same, but this biography embodies the same combination of assiduous scholarship and the art of story-telling. Like "Huey", it draws you into into a three-dimensional, parrellel, doppelganger kind of world. It's said that if you asked Faulkner at any time of any day what a particular character in Yoknapatawpha County was doing, he could tell you. That's how real the world Caro draws is. Anyway, this is just a warning that future posts are coming. Caro's book is basically a series of remarkable stories folded into the larger narrative. I'll throw in a post now and then summarizing a few of them.

Urban Grit Model Train

Now I know I have time management issues, but it absolutely escapes me how I can't seem to manage to find the time to clean my apartment, when there are people in the world who are able to do this.

Anyway, this is pretty remarkable stuff. Model railroad renditions of what trains really look like - at least in gritty urban settings. When you think about it, the impressions of people a hundred years from now of what our world looks like will be unavoidably warped the tendency of people to prefer to record places that are more aesthetically pleasing. On the other hand, the painstaking recreation of these kinds of urban settings reminds us that, hey, if you bring enough kundalini to the table, it's all beautiful.

Hat tip to Your Daily Awesome

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Slip and Slide

Good clean fun in the backyard. The really ballsy guy is the first one to go down. Truly no way for him to predict what will happen!

Marinating In Maine

My absolutely stunning wife, relaxing in sleepy Maine after a whirlwind week of living in the fast lane in Austin. She was a good sport through mountains of Mexican food and thick Texas steaks; post-midnight best music in the whole world concerts; and bracing swims in the legendary Barton Springs pool.

You Lookin' At Me?

Picture of myself in repose on my vacation. Actually, I believe this one is from Kenting.


Thank God this kind of thing is available for free to everyone, or it would definitely be out of my price range.

Sunrise in Taichung

Indulging myself with a shot or two of the sunset from my window. Mind you, I don't see the sun rise in this lifetime unless I've been up all night, but I've seen a few this summer.

Taichung Skyline

A view of the Taichung, Taiwan skyline from my window. It's changed a lot in the last ten years.

Taking Camden

Joanne and Felisa looking smashing in Camden, Maine.

Johnson House

The back yard of the Johnson house on Deeson Street. Felisa had severe jet lag, so she went back early on a couple of nights while I heard music on 6th Street. She had a couple of shaky moments, but I can testify that the big old unfamiliar wooden house was a bit creepy late at night. The tennis court in the backyard is easily visible on Google Earth, by the way.

Brush With Fame

Yes, since you ask, we did stay at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Austin residence. Here's the old Lyndon, Lady Bird, and the two little birds in residence in 1948, the year the old rascal got elected to the senate.

America trip

And here is my beautiful wife on a cliffside in Kenting.