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By the way, this has been somewhat in the public record since April. Where was the media? ESPN? Hello?


There oughta be an axiom of regulation, that if you’re changing the rules in such a way that will make you sound grossly culpable when something goes wrong, you shouldn’t do it.
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I had a vaguely negative impression (mainly received rather than first-hand) of Herman Melville’s abilities as a poet; but “Shiloh” is pretty strong.

Skimming lightly, wheeling still,
    The swallows fly low
Over the field in clouded days,
    The forest-field of Shiloh —
Over the field where April rain
Solaced the parched ones stretched in pain
Through the pause of night
That followed the Sunday fight
    Around the church of Shiloh —
The church so lone, the log-built one,
That echoed to many a parting groan
        And natural prayer
    Of dying foemen mingled there —
Foemen at morn, but friends at eve —
    Fame or country least their care:
(What like a bullet can undeceive!)
    But now they lie low,
While over them the swallows skim,
    And all is hushed at Shiloh.

A military sentimentality I can get behind. The density of rhyme is certainly artificial, and the specific rhymes could be criticized as “easy”; but they’re effective nonetheless. For example, in lone/one/groan, the weak word is “one”, but since it’s weak both semantically and phonetically, there’s a harmony to the choice; the result is almost as if the line division had fallen four syllables earlier. And I always appreciate a layered temporal perspective: the foreground, so to speak, is the present, with swallows in clouded days, and the background is the famous battle, but the focus of the poem is on a middle ground, the night after the battle, in which the foemen painfully died.

(I have no special occasion to post this — I happened on an old bookmark.)

UPDATE: Restored thanks to Eric’s quick warning and Google’s all-seeing cache.

An excellent chronicle by Sean Flynn in the July GQ of the events on and around the Deepwater Horizon just before and just after the explosion. I’ve put some excerpts below the fold but the whole thing is worth reading.

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Via Steve Benen, an awesome or rather horrific photo-set of the oil’s arrival on the Louisiana coast.

We hear about fears of its effects on the American Gulf coast, and of what might happen as it moves out into the Atlantic — but has there been much discussion of its effects on other Caribbean countries? This map, for instance, shows that it’s expected to move past Havana and the north coast of Cuba.

Update 5/27: optimistic reports.

Bill Moyers has first-hand experience with things like this:

BILL MOYERS: Now in a different world, at a different time, and with a different president, we face the prospect of enlarging a different war. But once again we’re fighting in remote provinces against an enemy who can bleed us slowly and wait us out, because he will still be there when we are gone.

Once again, we are caught between warring factions in a country where other foreign powers fail before us. Once again, every setback brings a call for more troops, although no one can say how long they will be there or what it means to win. Once again, the government we are trying to help is hopelessly corrupt and incompetent.

And once again, a President pushing for critical change at home is being pressured to stop dithering, be tough, show he’s got the guts, by sending young people seven thousand miles from home to fight and die, while their own country is coming apart.

And once again, the loudest case for enlarging the war is being made by those who will not have to fight it, who will be safely in their beds while the war grinds on. And once again, a small circle of advisers debates the course of action, but one man will make the decision.

We will never know what would have happened if Lyndon Johnson had said no to more war. We know what happened because he said yes.

That’s it for the Journal. I’m Bill Moyers. See you next time.

Yeah, see you next time, Bill. And thanks for ruining my day.

There’s something strange about the popular area of specialization this year:


…I give you UC President Mark Yudof. A sample of his comedic stylings:

Question — U.C. is facing a budget shortfall of at least $753 million, largely because of cuts in state financing. Do you blame Governor Schwarzenegger for your troubles?

Mark Yudof — I do not. This is a long-term secular trend across the entire country. Higher education is being squeezed out. It’s systemic. We have an aging population nationally. We have a lot of concern, as we should, with health care.

Question — And education?

Mark Yudof — The shine is off of it. It’s really a question of being crowded out by other priorities.*

Question — Already professors on all 10 U.C. campuses are taking required “furloughs,” to use a buzzword.

Mark Yudof — Let me tell you why we used it. The faculty said “furlough” sounds more temporary than “salary cut,” and being president of the University of California is like being manager of a cemetery: there are many people under you, but no one is listening. I listen to them.

And here’s some bonus anti-intellectualism:

Question — The word “furlough,” I recently read, comes from the Dutch word “verlof,” which means permission, as in soldiers’ getting permission to take a few days off. How has it come to be a euphemism for salary cuts?

Mark Yudof — Look, I’m from West Philadelphia. My dad was an electrician. We didn’t look up stuff like this. It wasn’t part of what we did. When I was growing up we didn’t debate the finer points of what the word “furlough” meant.

Question — How did you get into education?

Mark Yudof — I don’t know. It’s all an accident. I thought I’d go work for a law firm.

Oh, President Yudof, you’re such a card! Look, I know he’s being glib and that humor’s a coping mechanism. But comedy’s all about timing. And his stinks.

* Emphasis added. For emphasis.

Via pf in the comments.

I apologize for being a bit late to the party, but if you haven’t already read David Grann’s reported essay in this week’s New Yorker, you really should. Grann looks at the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, a man executed by the State of Texas in 2004, though he very well may have been innocent. It’s a beautifully reported and written piece, and one of the most terrifying explorations of the state’s power that I’ve read in many years. Seriously, set aside an hour or so — it’s a long article, and you almost certainly won’t be able to stop once you start — and begin reading.

(The title of the post, by the way, is a quote from Sandra Day O’Connor.)

On September 1, 1967, Siegfried Sassoon died, aged 80. He had a long and productive career as poet, novelist and memoirist, but he is remembered chiefly as one of the fine group of English poets of the First World War (along with Rupert Brooke, Israel Isaac Rosenberg, Wilfred Owen, and above all Edward Thomas). For a sample of his wartime work, take “Remorse”:

Lost in the swamp and welter of the pit,
He flounders off the duck-boards; only he knows
Each flash and spouting crash,–each instant lit
When gloom reveals the streaming rain. He goes
Heavily, blindly on. And, while he blunders,
‘Could anything be worse than this?’–he wonders,
Remembering how he saw those Germans run,
Screaming for mercy among the stumps of trees:
Green-faced, they dodged and darted: there was one
Livid with terror, clutching at his knees…
Our chaps were sticking ’em like pigs … ‘O hell!’
He thought–‘there’s things in war one dare not tell
Poor father sitting safe at home, who reads
Of dying heroes and their deathless deeds.’

(Written at Craiglockhart Hydropathic, familiar to readers of Pat Barker.)

A few days ago, Ari noted that William Calley had offered a surprising apology for the massacre at My Lai. Gary Farber digs deeper in a recent, probing post — just in case you thought the massacre might have been a matter of a few bad apples, or might not have had bearing on questions in the air today.

(Also on Sept. 1, 1967,  Ilse Koch, “die Hexe von Buchenwald”, hanged herself in prison, whether with remorse or not I do not know.)

America is too exceptional; and American soldiers are people too.

Updated: here’s Obama’s ‘exceptionalism’ answer:

In one sense, of course, it’s nearly vacuous. But in “threading the needle”, as someone put it, in building a principled frame within which cake may be both eaten and had, it resembles the lightning-strikes of insight familiar from psychotherapy or religion.

Pity the poor debt collector, who must needs collect on the debt of one who has departed this vale of tears with no estate to settle his earthly obligation.  Observe her stress, her yoga mat.   Ponder the careful control of her emotions and voice, the sympathy with which she calls the family of the deceased.  How hard she works to convince them that this is the final rose to lay upon the grave….

…. ignore the fact that one of the risks of being a credit card company is that your customers may die without the assets to repay you, and the business has insurance  to protect them against such eventualities.  Ignore the fact that paying the debt is not merely a nice gesture, but transfers responsibility for the debt to a family that may be struggling.  Ignore the fact that the collectors are not required to state that family of the deceased is under no obligation to pay debts.

Because reportering is hard.

It’s not the trouble you see, it’s the distance you have to fall.

Dating A Banker Anonymous (DABA) is a safe place where women can come together – free from the scrutiny of feminists– and share their tearful tales of how the mortgage meltdown has affected their relationships.

Psst: it’s not “anonymous” if you tell the New York Times your name. Also, this is a put-on, right?

Jonah Goldberg was on BBC Radio 4’s Start the Week this week, promoting the UK publication of Liberal Fascism:

It takes no moral or intellectual courage to point to the things you don’t like and say, “that’s fascist”. It takes real intellectual courage to point to the things you do like and say “gosh, where could this take us”.

Which caused me derisively to hoot, as I have seen the very serious, thoughtful argument that has never been made in such detail or with such care in action, and watched this Goldberg bowl ludicrous accusations ad sinistram like a toddler lobbing kumquats at the family pooch.

But then I repented my ungenerous reaction. I wondered to myself in this wise: I say, Self, have you been unfair to the Goldberg? has his study of the Swarthmorofascist menace caused him to plumb the measureless depths of his own soul, probing whether he might himself be susceptible to fascism’s seductive charms? Or has, perhaps, the recent canvass caused him a crisis in confidence, urging him to reconsider his support for the last administration’s civil-liberties-consuming binge, making him reflect with worry on his recent activities, much as one facing the jaundiced map in the morning mirror might wonder whether it was perhaps such a good idea to have that fifth martini-with-absinthe?

Self said, not so fast, sunshine. You just wait. And the self was right: it was just that old wheeze, “irony is dead” performance art. Twenty minutes later Goldberg defends the Bush carelessness with civil liberties, without betraying evidence of reflective thought, utterly unable to wonder, “gosh, where could this take us”.

Have another drink, the self said.


Rick Warren? Really? I’m afraid so. Rick Warren, who compares homosexuality to incest and pedophilia. Rick Warren, who labels advocates of the social gospel Marxists. Rick Warren, who makes common cause with James Dobson and his ilk. Rick Warren will give the invocation when President-elect Obama is inaugurated.

What does this mean? In terms of policy, let’s hope very little. But in terms of symbolism, a great deal. As a statement from People for the American Way notes, this elevates Warren, who has already airbrushed his rough edges so effectively that many observers think he’s a moderate, into a position of bipartisan authority. And that’s a real shame, although I suppose it should help boost bumper-sticker sales.

Update: John Cole provides a reasonable counterargument. I remain unconvinced.

Update II: As jazzbumpa notes in the comments, Bérubé brings the hammer down.

I’m sure everyone’s seen this.  Were these starving people, desperate for the last potato?  Out of bread?  Clean water?  The last match in the frozen North?

Well, Walmart had some really good deals….

I can’t quite describe how angry this news made me, but to describe it as making me want to be madly religious just for the curses I could call down* begins to approach it.

What the hell is wrong with us?  Jesus wept.

*You know, like D&D clerics.  Holy Smite.

Man with Small Beard

Would it surprise you to learn that in rural Wisconsin, at the end of the 19th century, there was poverty, failure, vandalism, arson, domestic violence, disease, depression, alcoholism, insanity, suicide, and murder? Michael Lesy’s Wisconsin Death Trip (1973, reissued 2000) is built on the assumption that it will. The book consists largely of clippings from the Badger State Banner, of Black River Falls, Jackson County, WI, and images by Charles Van Schaick, a local commercial photographer. After some 200 pages of grim citation, Lesy steps in to comment directly:

Pause now. Draw back from it. There will be time again to experience and remember. For a minute, wait, and then set your mind to consider a different set of circumstances….

The book certainly made a strong impression on me when I saw it as a boy. Reading it now, I have to wonder what the fuss was. The people in the pictures look…pretty much OK. You can see that they lived tough lives (there are some awesome farmer’s tans), but there are hardly any whose faces I now find scary, not even the tendentiously blurred ones Lesy enlarged from group photos. Real people can in fact look pretty strange — take a good look at your fellow passengers on the bus, or in the mirror (or, not to put too fine a point on it, at Lesy today). And in the 1890s, many of us were still new to having our pictures taken. (The nakedness of Julia Margaret Cameron‘s portraits is even stranger, though from a different place and a more privileged social world.)

Similarly, I’m unconvinced that the objective difficulties in Jackson County at that time were historically unusual. (There was an economic depression, certainly, but that was national.) Lesy tries to argue statistically that the area was worse off than its neighbors, considering the suicide rate, economic growth, etc., but his figures are inconclusive. (The suicide rates he cites, for example, are close to that for the US today.) Warren Susman, the Rutgers historian who introduces the book (he was Lesy’s thesis advisor) writes that “Many historians have become convinced that there was a major crisis in American life during the 1890s; some have gone so far as to call it a ‘psychic crisis’…”, but does not explain or offer citations.

The credibility of Lesy’s vision of rural hell is not strengthened by his handling of the text. What he excerpts from the newspaper is principally police-blotter items, briefly recounting murders, deaths, the commitment of the insane to the Mendota asylum, etc.  Beyond that, he uses no other primary or secondary sources (until the epilogue). Instead, he interpolates invented material — passages attributed to  a “Town Gossip” and a “Local Historian”, and excerpts from fiction (Hamlin Garland, Glenway Westcott, and apparently Lesy himself).

What bothers me most about the book now is its treatment of Van Schaick, the photographer. First, the book’s atmosphere of doom severely constrains one’s reading of the photos — it overwhelms the normal liveliness and humanity of such pictures as the young couple laughing, the woman bathing a baby; the handsome young man in a turtleneck, and the men clowning in an office. (OK, I’ll relent — to read that they’re doctors, clowning with electrical shock equipment, makes that last one legitimately ghoulish.) But worse, I think, is Lesy’s strange uncharity toward the man who supplied the meat of the book. In the introduction, Lesy dismisses him as merely conventional, and in the text he gives an anecdote (unsourced, and presumably made up) of Van Schaick’s poor hygiene in old age.

Thirty years after, Lesy gave an interview to Identity Theory, which is quite a bit more gracious and humane. Now he gives Schaick his due, making an apt comparison to August Sander — clearly a stronger image-maker, but likewise an example of how meaning and value in documentary photography are built by serial accumulation. So if I’m ungracious to Lesy now, perhaps I should reflect that my equanimity in the face of the images he assembled is partly owed to the shock they gave, to me and many others, back in the day.

Photos from the Wisconsin Historical Society’s Death Trip Flickr set, used under a Creative Commons license. See also the large Charles Van Schaick archive at the WHS’s own site.

[Updated with some minor corrections.]

It’s sad that Hayes might be remembered for Chef and Shaft as much as for anything else, because he had a lot more going on musically than the parody-ripe lascivious baritone routine. Keep in mind this was the guy who co-wrote hits like “Soul man”* and “Hold on I’m comin” and also helped produce a lot of the Stax mid-60s output.

Samples from his solo career: try Walk on by from Hot Buttered Soul. (If it sounds familiar it might be because a loop of the intro is playing in Jizzy B’s club when Charles Johnson shows up to kill him. I hope hip-hop wrote him a big check.)

If you must, here’s a live Shaft with an intro by Jesse Jackson. But if you want something from that record, try Soulsville (Eric will enjoy the robust reality of this one) or a short version of Do Your Thing.

Never can say goodbye.

*it’s not the song’s fault, really.

Walmart is scared that a rising Democratic tide might mean a reinvigorated labor movement. And when Walmart is scared, we should all be scared, right? Because Walmart is America. And organized labor is the Soviet Union. Or something.

Once again, via Stephen at cogitamus. I’m telling you, if you’re not reading that blog, you should be. Although, come to think of it, if you start, my links will be even more boring. Hmm, I seem to be trapped on the horns of a dilemma.

Dave Niewert’s non-comprehensive catalog of right-wing eliminationist rhetoric.

Via Stephen at cogitamus.

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