Paul From Minneapolis

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Let Me Explain a Little Something

On my way out the door for the weekend...

Folks may have noticed a little tendency for me to express reservations regarding a certain segment of the political spectrum. A segment known as "the left."

Well, yes. So you’ll have to take my word for it, and as I peruse my initial posts I do see there is room for skepticism, that I am mainly interested in reconciliation between the political sides in this country. Reconciliation everywhere actually, but starting in the USA.

Yet I do need to attack the problem from within my own frame of reference, which involves anger more at the left than at the right. Which is weird for me historically.

"What do you mean 'the left!!?'" cry my volatile friends on the left.

You know what I mean, I say, and they do, but among the million or so things that outrage them one is being labeled and so they must offer token resistance.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Hope Is On The Way

And the check's in the mail. But this is interesting. Aaron McGruder is saying something sensible about Iraq. Or is there an ironic anti-hegemonisticaloccupation element here I’m missing?

Who Killed Michael Moore?

And why, what's the reason for? In the Oscar sense is what I'm talking about. Don't worry, you didn't miss a story.

Oscar nominations result from the choices of hundred (thousands?) of members of the Academy. There’s not a Secret Board issuing orders on the best way to advance liberal politics. I don’t think. Assuming I'm right, it means any "politics" involved in a decision to deny Moore his coveted nomination are politics playing out in all those individual brains, and in private conversations.

Here's what I deduce. It's a given that overwhelmingly, Academy members are liberal, and if I’m ever proven wrong on that I’ll let you know. Many of them take their own views very seriously. If they really, deeply believed that F9-11 was a courageous piece of truth-telling, that is if they bought into the heroicness of Michael Moore's rampaging malformed Id (to hear others explain the movie, I haven't seen it), Higher Duty would have called. A movement would have arisen. Most of them, even the political day-trippers, would have nominated it in spite of the controversy that could mean, and in spite of the election results. They would have been driven to nominate it because of those realities. They love noble defiance. As do we all in our ways.

If, as I say, they actually perceived the movie as courageous and true. And I haven't seen it, as I say, so I don't know

But if you are a devotee of a certain perspective, you can perhaps choose to pick a little hope out of the result, like the last bit of walnut out of an empty rancid shell. Sure, it means the movie's champions were lying to themselves and us back in the irritating summer of 2004. But at least it seems they understand reality to a larger extent than you might have thought.

Update: Okay, maybe not rancid.

Update: This reasoning also works on the logical level as clear and overwhelming if circumstantial evidence tending to support the view that the movie sucks on many levels. And again, I say this as a disinterested observer, because I haven't seen it. I've been busy or otherwise distracted.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Help Support Adam Ant

There is a new radio station in the Twin Cities, and a splash it is generating. It is a formerly classical station, 89.3 WCAL that was (was) owned by quaint little St. Olaf College in Northfield, 40 miles south of here in the fields but legal possessor of a strong radio signal for some reason. St. Olaf is the other quaint college in Northfield besides Wellstone’s Carleton. Northfield itself is also quaint, of course. It really has no choice.

WCAL was founded in the way-back-when and was the state’s very first public radio station, and has recently been treasured as a more broad-ranging (say classical enthusiasts) alternative to the behemoth 91.1, KSJN, flagship of the mighty MPR, Minnesota Public Radio, birthplace of Garrison Keillor or was it the other way around. WCAL was not part of MPR.

Guess who bought it? MPR. Guess who was mad? Almost everybody. Ignoring sentiment MPR changed the format, arranging for themselves a monopoly in the classical music field (I’ll hold on a second as you call to increase your MPR pledge). And the new format? “The Current.” Hip modern and world and roots and jazz and the right kind of country music, and local, oh boy local, 50,000 CD’s instead of the eleven at the typical alternative/AOR place, something like that, a veritable iPod. Which of course is one potential problem, say some, since don’t we all have one of those little things?

No. And plus almost none of us will get around to actually filling the things for a while, a long while, and now maybe never since there is a veritable one available for nothing at all as long as we don’t mind being a dreaded Free Rider. (That’s micro-econ.)

So anyway, this is simply a tremendous idea from the point of view of the anarchist scene and the former staff members of at least one failed commercial station of the past decade, and in fact it might be a great idea for other reasons, too. And that says to me: why is this inherently non-profit, and government supported? I can’t see anything more than the lack of commercials. But if it’s a tremendous idea with an audience sure to be the sharpest folk around, and by the look of the staff I’m sure that’s their expectation, why couldn’t some station just make money with ads, only make them good ads? I like good radio ads. Stiller and Meara used to do radio ads.

(Only no fast talking. Just getting away from superfastfuckingtalking at the end of radio commercials would be enough to justify public subsidy in the billions of quintillions.)

Will there be a political angle that emerges from a group that simply has to – call me insane – include some Daily Kos dwellers? MPR will keep them in check, I suspect. Although one slogan they evidently have is “The left side of the dial,” and a web posting promises an interesting version of the news. Tariq Ali discussing alt-country and its role in marshalling resistance to hegemony? Yes, sure, why not. And these are people, staff and fans, who love a sense of mission. It is their mission, for example, to promote local music.

So anyway, I’ve listened for a day and most local music kind of sucks. Floaty melodies is one main problem. I have MPR to thank for that knowledge. (Actually I knew it already.) Nick Cave has a nice new song though.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Hallelujah I'm A Bum

I'm kidding of course. Anyway, you may have heard about this story out there in the rest of the country.

A kid, a homeless kid, Javier Francisco Serrano, spent three weeks in a local suburban high school pretending to be a student. Living there furtively. Apple Valley High, where he used to go, for one year, in 2002-03. (He’s 21 now and graduated from a high school in Connecticut.)

Mostly he kept away until the evening, then he’d slip back in during post-school activity time – says he helped out in the theater at one point – and fend off those who would ask, “Who are you?” or “What year is it?” He was ‘doing research,’ he said. Apple Valley High, #1 research high school in Dakota County. He liked living there. It was great, “they had cable.”

Just guessing here – no aspersions meant – it seems like there may have been a day or two lag between somebody realizing he wasn’t a student and him being turned in. Especially with that “helping out with the theater” thing. I’m just guessing, I don’t care.

He’s being called homeless. And he was. Says he got pissed at his dad in Connecticut and left there with $200 and took a bus as far as Pennsylvania, and then hitched the rest of the way, headed for Apple Valley because it felt like home. (Incidentally, I want to thank the Star Tribune, Newspaper of the Twin Cities, for its value in gathering basic information, which they do pretty darn well if not absolutely impeccably.) Then he realized it was cold up here and became sad and scared, and to those who would say, you moron, this is Minnesota I would say hey – do you or I instinctually understand the vagaries of the climate in every state in Mexico?

So he went to a fire station in Apple Valley, and someone there gave him a ride to a homeless shelter in Minneapolis, where he stayed for one night, took the two sandwiches in the morning at 6 am and headed back to Apple Valley High. Unsure what to do, exactly. He just didn’t like the shelter. “They didn’t have cable.” (I’m sorry, I made that up and it’s a cheap shot.)

Incidentally, as long I’ve veered toward heartlessness already, aside from “homeless” he could also be called “illegal immigrant choosing perhaps wisely not to avail himself too thoroughly of the government services intended to protect him from homelessness and direct him to job training and even college like he wants to do because he’s also a guest immigrant who has out-stayed his visa, and I don’t know the details on his status exactly, but it’s essentially the case,” but of course that’s too long.

He is simply the most charming kid. Self-effacing, articulate, funny. Apologizes sincerely to the teachers and parents, wasn’t trying to hurt anybody, just looking for a “warm place to spend the night.” Can’t but suppress a smile. I believe he knows that he’s in a very cool situation. You can’t beat becoming a symbol of homelessness in the Twin Cities. It’s in every possible way better than “one more Mexican in an immigration hearing.” I guess. Although maybe he’ll become a symbol the other way, too.

Hs lawyer is Herbert Igbanugo, a large man with a striking accent, who says he will “fight and fight and fight” to keep Mr. Francisco Serrano in the United States . Stylistically Mr. Igbanugo is something of an innovation in Twin Cities lawyering, at least in one of these public cases. So that’s good.

For some reason the kid was bailed out by “Twin Cities businessman Basim Sabri,” as the newsreaders all filled with cheerful happiness described him on the news at six on Channel 4, and I like Channel 4, but they had to decide it wasn’t really worth mentioning that Basim Sabri is currently appealing a federal bribery conviction. Not a political guy, a developer, one of those inner city “yeah, well stop me” kind of developers. Usually pissed about something, really pissed these days. Lives in Shorewood and put the kid up for a night. You should see Shorewood.

So why is Basim Sabri doing this? When Basim Sabri says, “He’s going to be so happy he got arrested,” what does that mean? Is it the big-screen TV and one would assume cable in Sabri's Minneapolis apartment where Javier Francisco Serrano has moved permanently, a place on Lake Street which is not Shorewood but the apartment sounds nice, real nice?

At ten o’clock, Channel 4’s description had evolved to bail drifting down on the lad from a “Twin Cities businessman.” Period, no name. So that’s progress.

Should we give the kid a break? I think we probably will. The main reason anybody cares about the dismal fact that we need to enforce immigration laws unemotionally is security, and for the life of me I can’t think why al Qaeda would benefit from inserting a nice homeless Mexican kid onto a couch in front of a big-screen TV on Lake Street.

Saturday, January 22, 2005


Two days there was this, a reader commentary in the Strib, Newspaper of the Twin Cities. “Some in black tie, others in body bags” was the headline. You don’t really have to read it.

Yesterday there was this letter responding. It’s kinda long but it’s good, scroll down for “Embittered, in a corner.”

Then today there was not this, which is a letter I in turn sent to the nottw:

I was heartened to read, in yesterday's letters, Daniel Kitzmann's thoughtful critique of Susan Lenfesty's less-thoughtful commentary of the day before. I'd like to add just one quick thought: The only way you can be afflicted with the disdain and outright venom that fills Ms. Lenfesty is to believe that your are absolutely, 100%, morally correct about a question that involves, no exaggeration, good and evil. And maybe she is. But I can pretty much guarantee you that she has become nearly immune to the possibility of changing her mind, or seeing the other side. There is no other side, and her self-respect depends on maintaining that reality.

And that, in a snippet, is the political problem the impassioned opponents of W find themselves in, and it's not just their problem since it's a sad fact that they can hold rational discourse hostage for as long as they want.

So is that pompous? Or rather, too pompous? Because I kind of mean it as a slap. Maybe a slap feels pompous to the person being slapped. Or maybe I’m just a sad pompous jerk.

I don’t think they’ll ever run it, mostly because Kitzmann’s letter basically makes the same points, if less snappily. I wasn’t really adding anything as I’d promised. That alone tilts the scale toward “pompous." Oh well. It was a letter emerging out of a sudden anger or passion, as do most of my actual behaviors.

But, still, I basically mean it.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Why Thank You, Robert Scheer

Robert Scheer had a piece a couple days ago in the Star Tribune, Newspaper of the Twin Cities, talking up a BBC documentary that claims we’ve been schnookered on this whole al Qaeda thing.

Not that it doesn’t exist or that Islamic terror isn’t real, although Robert evidently believes 9-11 is most usefully seen as an example of a spate of violence. But the network may not be as “vast” as he thinks we believe, and it isn’t very sophisticated. “Why did Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld claim… that Al-Qaida controlled massive high-tech cave complexes in Afghanistan, when British and U.S. military forces later found no such thing?” he demands.

And this, Scheer’s main point:

"But the film, both more sober and more deeply provocative than Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11," (Ed.: Otis Campbell was more sober and deeply provocative than F-9-11, but whatever) directly challenges the conventional wisdom by making a powerful case that the Bush administration, led by a tight-knit cabal of Machiavellian neoconservatives, has seized upon the false image of a unified international terrorist threat to replace the expired Soviet empire in order to push a political agenda.” (emphasis added)

So we're not facing a Spectre-like international organization as we so foolishly (unlike Robert) believe. It's a lot more complicated than that.

Scheer is a writer like Paul Krugman: when you untangle him a little you often find out his argument is empty, or his facts are wrong, or both. Of course his fans gulp down his outrage and don’t want to dig like that, but they’re lucky, because I do. And there’s a lot here to untangle. Like, are Robert and I working from similar ideas about the words "massive," "high-tech," "complexes" and "cave?" That sort of thing.

But I want to focus on the little logical hole Robert Scheer digs for himself in scaling the heights of his main point.

It's this. Okay, fine, a Machiavellian neo-conservative cabal controls politics, here and overseas (I'm taking a very small leap and assuming that's what he believes). Granted. And in their agenda I'm sure he includes, at the top of the list, how they so cabalistically (cabalierly?) forced us into the Iraq war. For the time being I’ll give him all that.

But Robert-readers, the Machiavellian cabal’s argument about Islamic terror as a reason for the war depended not in the slightest on the idea of a centrally-controlled terrorist threat, in the guise of al Qaeda or the guise of anybody.

In fact, and here’s the beauty part, a decentralized threat - entrepreneurial, energetic, restless - lends more weight to that reason to take out Hussein. Not less; more. It's that kind of wild-ass scene that would most easily produce some outside-the-box-thinking, type-A terrorist proclaiming, "I don’t care if he’s secular, I want them weapons!!"

Especially if he can't make them himself with his special cave computer.

This is all aside, I hasten to add, from whether Hussein had weapons or would have soon. I’m ignoring that argument because my point (and Scheer’s) has nothing to do with it.

Of course many people, members of the cabal, have spoken for years about the decentralized threat. As I must have said before at some point in my life, ten minutes after accidentally starting one of Scheer's columns, this is not news.

But it does make me laugh. Good-naturedly. I’m trying not to be condescending, I really am. I would guess Bob gets a lot of that and I’m sure he’s immune. But in maybe a slightly less dramatic fashion, this is the pundit version of the Vikings' Jim Marshall picking up a fumble and rambling excitedly toward his own end zone, pursued by frantic teammates, hurling the ball into the stands in triumph, producing a safety for the other team. Not a disaster but hey Bob, ya moron! Hold up a second!

That's how it seems to me anyway.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Today's Brush With Terror

I just got the following e-mail from a place calling itself "Washington Mutual:"

Technical Services of the Bank are carrying out a planned software upgrade.
We earnestly ask you to visit the following link to start the procedure of the confirmation of customers' data.
(there follows a really, really extra-long link I'll leave out)
This instruction has been sent to all bank customers and is obligatory to follow.
Thank you for co-operating.
Customers support service.

Well, okay then, I've never heard of you with your quaint phraseology but clearly, you're my bank, so I'll just click on this link here and –

Seriously, I don't want to make anybody mad, but this is one of the worst I've ever seen.

I mean come on, al Qaeda. Do you honestly expect me not to notice "unspecified-domain, Inc." in the "from" box? Is it a purposeful spot-on impression of Alan Arkin and his panicky crew of grounded submariners in The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming? Is it? Am I sitting here picking grasshoppers out of my hair, droolin' chaw, just another of Michael Moore’s super-dumb Americans, eager to abide by any command that drifts in front of my porn-soaked inebriated infidel eyes? Is that how you see me? It is? Well no! That's not how I am at all! Man.

I thought this was so incompetent I decided to copy the message for purposes of this post. And then the joke became on me, because it was only after my casually impulsive right-click that I realized: the whole body of the message was a link. Not just the apparent link; not just the text; the whole space. Bastards.

I think I backed away in time. But it pays to remember that there are warehouses full of guys in Pakistan thinking these things up. Right? Having a good time, getting a .005 hit rate, happy with that, going to get a beer. They might even be hip to us hipsters, you and me, seeing what happens if they make a message bad on purpose and subtle-up the link. Paranoid you say? Oh my gosh. Very paranoid.

You Need My Opinion on Rathergate

(Written in the wake of the CBS report of January 10 2005)

This whole topic drives anti-Bush aficionados insane, or helps maintain them in that condition, because they can’t believe how The Larger Point About Bush is being missed.

So the blogger known as Wonkette says her admiration for fellow bloggers who debunked the memos is tempered by her sadness that the episode actually harmed politics, in that it helped hide from the public the fact that Bush ducked out on his Air National Guard service and got away with it.

In short the memos were fake but accurate. Profane yet sacred. Runny but chewy.

Here’s the deal. First of all, I’ve never met anyone from whom the theory of Bush’s craven desertion has been successfully hidden.

Beyond that, speaking of facts being hidden from benighted Americans: I don’t know about Wonkette, but when it comes to deciding whether I should accept the fake but accurate enigma I have to reflect that many, many Bush-haters (in my circle of acquaintance anyway) don’t understand the accurate facts very well at all.

Very commonly, too commonly for one like me requesting nothing more (or less) than debate with our head short of the clouds and our feet on the solid ground, I have met and befriended people who are all rageful that George W. Bush signed up the Air National Guard and just hardly ever showed up.

So I’ll say to just such an appalled, puppet-carrying acquaintance:

“You do know this is all about just his last year of service, right? That he signed up for a five-year commitment, spent four years fulfilling his training and flying requirements well and stoutly, and then the last year he slacked off, as the war was winding down?” (I don’t always put it that succinctly and sometimes I’m spluttering a little.)

A blank look, followed by “It doesn’t matter!” I always expect my discussion partner to start ranting then about the ignorance of the Bush electorate, but so far none have taken our shared embarrassment that far.

Now granted, maybe you know that and you're still enraged. Tremendous. The problem, for a Bush-hater, is that to a Bush non-hater that series of events doesn’t amount to much.

You want a quick summary of my understanding? (Insert good-hearted cheering from crowd.)

Bush did train and fly a lot for four years. He was far from alone in sidling away from the Guard toward the end. The war was essentially over and he had no real role to fulfill anymore, partly because of his transfer to Alabama (where they flew different jets), a transfer that was requested and approved and not weird or corrupt. Other people didn’t have to fly more because he flew less. He does seem to have made some attempt to meet the requirements that last year, and even if he didn’t I simply don’t care that much: we know that one of his souls is the soul of a privileged slacker. This is not news. In fact, you know what? The idea that he did fly energetically for four years, that actually makes me say well hey – I wouldn’t have expected that out of the guy.


Was he eased into the Guard to avoid Viet Nam? Probably. Maybe not exactly. Of course the counter-punch to this charge is that John Kerry himself only signed up for the Swift Boats when they were limited to a safer coastal mission, a mission that was then changed ("F**k!") to inland waterways. Investigate his service career in general and it’s fairly obvious the guy wanted to be “in Viet Nam” but safe. Fine, wonderful, I would have done the same thing. But you can’t serve as Yossarian and come back to run as General Dreedle.

Back to the question at hand.

The upshot of all that is where the Rathergate memos fit in. They were an attempt to prove that even within the context of privilege and slacker-hood, Bush’s behavior was unusually repellent. They were an attempt to tweak the story in a way that might matter to a certain sort of voter. Disgust among W's seen-it-all facilitators in Texas? That might mean something to a guy like me. That’s what the memos were meant to accomplish.

Assuming Bill Burkett simply came up with these ridiculous documents himself, which I think is the safest conclusion although we will never know I’d guess, you have to hand it to him on one level, a level preceding the level of skillful forgery: At least he knew what was needed, what might move the story. Of course any obsessive would know that, I suppose.

Update January 23: Reader Steve attacked this piece viciously and although I pretty well dodged him like a matador dealing with a nearly-defeated bull at its most desperate and dangerous, I have adjusted it from the original to reflect the facts of a six-year rather than five-year original commitment, and the early discharge. In addition, I have read things from Eric Boehlert at Salon (I've had an unsatisfactory exchange with him, he's a careful fact-selector, I believe) that nonetheless make me suspect W may not have acquired his transfer to Alabama in as squeaky-clean a manner as I describe. Again, though - privileged slacker, fine. And transfers and early discharges were not automatically indicative of disgusting favoritism. The Guard was sloughing pilots at that point, and nothing takes away May 1968-April 1972 in young W's career.)

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Now You're Doing Something To Help Me

The mainstream press is criticized as “liberal.” I've read that, anyway. On top of that, it’s criticized as existing itself only to criticize, eager mainly to burrow in and find the most damning aspect of any enterprise while caring hardly at all for anything that might be seen as worth celebrating.

Inhabitants of the media generally do not deny that they focus mainly on flaws and problems. As for the idea that they’re liberal, most say – they don’t see it. Just, honestly, um… what?

But in as essay called “The Media and Medievalism,” published recently in Policy Review and which is great for a lot of reasons, Robert Kaplan makes a case (among other things) that these two complaints about the mainstream media world are largely one and the same. That’s because what we call the “left” in this country and Europe is essentially all about criticism, a general questioning, of the unflinchingly (or at least less flinchingly) pro-capitalist, business-oriented status quo as defined and defended by the “right.”

Complaining and being liberal? Very similar endeavors. Complaining and being in the press? I think you can see where I'm headed. Do the math. (I think it would be geometry in this case.)

Gross and disgusting generalizations, maybe. That is no, not really. Seems pretty obvious to me. But bear with me because I am headed somewhere generous with regard to the press, and I don't mean to be explicitly un-generous to liberals, not at all, I love 'em, they're great, it's just that I'm mostly talking about the press here. My generosity is based on a third criticism, actually an addendum to the second criticism, the one about negativity.

It’s this: that in being simply critical, the press takes the slacker’s way out.

It’s always simple to complain, isn’t it? It’s the easiest thing in the world to just pick apart, pick apart, to make like Eddie Haskell and whine about the vast shortcomings in the efforts of those actually trying to do something. Do you have a better idea, one feels like demanding? We can assume you would just love some awesome public responsibility yourself, especially the guaranteed snide ridicule from people like, you know, you?

And so here’s the generous part. Last week my local paper, the Star Tribune, Newspaper of the Twin Cities, which is undeniably a liberal paper editorially and a paper which is prone to criticizing, broke though to another level of engagement, providing an example of substantive critique that says: We have thought about it, we acknowledge the intricacies and unknowns and this is precisely, exactly what should have happened.

In the editors’ eyes President Bush fell short in the days after the tsunami disaster. His early promises of aid were “stingy,” proclaimed an editorial, his overall performance “appalling.” He should have immediately promised more aid. But that wasn't all because this is how, precisely, and I mean the substance here really is impressive, he should have gone about it:

“Dressed in a somber black suit and subdued tie, President Bush should have called an impromptu news conference in Crawford Sunday afternoon.”

Now that is spectacular. Sure, one can quibble that the earth-shattering nature of the event was not really clear yet, there were things happening in the background already, and so on, but dammit I do not want to fall into that kind of bellyaching myself. Because this is a very specific piece of advice: not just the day, the time, but the clothing, culminating in sincere advice on the coloring of the President’s tie. My gosh. In most hectoring editorials, that’s what’s missing, that specificity. I just want to acknowledge it, because we don’t always get along, me and the Star Tribune, Newspaper of the Twin Cities.

Update: A reader has sent along evidence that the advice is even sounder and more important than I'd believed. It's a photo of Bush dating from last March taken at the World Economic Summit in Davos, Switzerland. I want to verify its authenticity but let's just say whoever's in charge of souvenir ties at Surfside Sammy's Crab Shack in Lubbock deserves a raise.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

I'm Going to Call Bill Gates

And ask him, "Hey Bill - how often do you use the "insert" key?"

I mean what the hell, man. And I mean it quite seriously.

Of course we'll then resume chatting enjoyably, I'm sure. Just a little gibe between moguls.