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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Monday, 23 August 2004

Topic: Election Notes

The Story That Won't Die - leading to a precise definition of cowardice....

As a follow-up to Attack Ads: The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and all that...

Below? Arguments that Bush is either a liar or cannot remember what he said, he's a moral coward who has others do his dirty work, and he's a shallow sadist.

Monday's statement from President Bush, as reported the Associated Press (byline David Espo, AP Special Correspondent - Monday, August 23, 2004)
President Bush on Monday criticized a commercial that accused John Kerry of inflating his own Vietnam War record, more than a week after the ad stopped running, and said broadcast attacks by outside groups have no place in the race for the White House.

"I think they're bad for the system," added Bush, who had ignored calls to condemn the ad while it was on the air. ...
And this is followed by a whole lot of reported comment - Democrats saying this was too little too late, Republicans calling for Michael Moore's movie to be pulled, and late in the day Bush saying he was disappointed that Kerry didn't join him in this call for and end to these "Exception 527 to the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform Bill" advertisements.

Yeah, when Bush signed the bill into law he said these 527 exemptions were wonderful - allowing for free speech to bloom. Oops.

Nick Confessore over at Tapped rightly says this (with active links to document it all) -
President Bush's denunciation of 527s is hypocritical and self-contradictory. This is especially true given (let me add some more examples) that the campaign finance law the president signed just a few years ago deliberately avoided closing the 527 loophole; that Bush beat Sen. John McCain (R-Ari.) during the 2000 primary in part with the help of a 527 run by his supporter Sam Wylie; that Bush's own campaign manager, campaign counsel, and political guru (Ken Melhman, Ben Ginsburg, and Karl Rove, respectively) have attended fundraising and organizational events for Progress for America, a 527 founded by Bush's political director from the 2000 campaign, Tony Feather; that GOP chairman Ed Gillespie and Bush campaign chairman Mark Racicot recently issued a statement designating PFA and yet another GOP 527, the Leadership Forum, as a good place for Republicans to give money to; and that the second-biggest 527 in the U.S. is the Republican Governors Association, a group spun off by the Republican National Committee two years ago specifically to collect and harness soft money for state and local GOP candidates.

If President Bush is opposed to 527s, somebody better tell his senior campaign staff, and quick.
Oh well, Bush's statement sounds good for the masses, now that it is too late to do anything about the anti-Kerry ads. Ha, ha.

[Over at Open Secrets you will find a ranked list of political 527 organizations with the amounts they have spent so far.]

Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo gives this perspective -
THERE WAS A brief hubbub over the web earlier this afternoon when it seemed that President Bush had denounced the Swift Boat ads. Needless to say, of course, he had done no such thing. He simply repeated the line Scott McClellan has been peddling for days -- that he denounces all independent expenditure ads.
Then Marshall prints a long block of verbatim comments from Bush ending with this -
BUSH: Absolutely. I don't think we ought to have 527s.

I can't be more plain about it. And I wish -- I hope my opponent joins me in saying -- condemning these activities of the 527s. It's -- I think they're bad for the system. That's why I signed the bill, McCain-Feingold.

I've been disappointed that for the first, you know, six months of this year, 527s were just pouring tons of money -- billionaires writing checks. And, you know, I spoke out against them early. I tried to get others to speak out against them as well. And I just don't -- I think they're bad for the system.
Really? Yeah, he said the opposite, but this is probably not lying. He probably believes he once said that. He didn't. But, you know, he has some problems in expressing himself. We get the idea. Maybe he didn't understand what he was signing? It happens.

But all though the verbatim transcript Bush will NOT say that the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth advertisements were wrong in and of themselves.

Marshall nails it here -
... of course the bigger point is that President Bush won't denounce the ads. If someone asks me to denounce Joseph Stalin and I say, "Well, yes, I'm against all politicians who support the death penalty" then I haven't denounced Joseph Stalin, right? This is the same thing.

Now, let's step back and consider where we are. Everyone in the country seems to have an opinion on this -- just go see the chat shows, the opinion columns and talk radio. Everybody has an opinion but George W. Bush, the man at the center of it all.

The reason, as we said earlier, is that the president is a coward -- a fact for which this dust-up constitutes merely an example. And ... President Bush's moral cowardice -- not his physical cowardice or bravery, of which we know little and which is simply a side issue -- is the essence of this campaign.
And what did Marshall say earlier?

He said this -
I don't say he's a coward because he kept himself out of Vietnam three decades ago. I know no end of men of that age who in one fashion or another made sure they didn't end up in Indochina in those days. (I quickly ran through both hands counting guys I talk to on a regular basis.) And they include many of the most admirable people I know.

He's a coward because he has other people smear good men without taking any responsibility, without owning up to it or standing behind it. And when someone takes it to him and puts him on the spot to defend his actions ... he's literally speechless. Like I say, a coward.
The pattern is clear. Marshall goes into great detail of what the Bush folks did to McCain in 2000 and all the rest.

But the key contention - that moral cowardice is the essence of this campaign? Gee, which of the two candidates volunteered for service in Vietnam? Cheney himself managed five deferments in a row - as, he has said, he had other priorities.

And now their surrogates claim Kerry wasn't really any kind of hero and his wounds superficial and his medals not merited. And Bush says, oh well, everyone should stop such ads.

The Middle East expert from the University of Michigan, Juan Cole, puts it this way -
The true absurdity of the entire situation is easily appreciated when we consider that George W. Bush never showed any bravery at all at any point in his life. He has never lived in a war zone. If some of John Kerry's wounds were superficial, Bush received no wounds. (And, a piece of shrapnel in the forearm that caused only a minor wound would have killed had it hit an eye and gone into the brain; the shrapnel being in your body demonstrates you were in mortal danger and didn't absent yourself from it. That is the logic of the medal). Kerry saved a man's life while under fire. Bush did no such thing.

What was Bush doing with his youth? He was drinking. He was drinking like a fish, every night, into the wee hours. For decades. He gave no service to anyone, risked nothing, and did not even slack off efficiently.

The history of alcoholism and possibly other drug use is a key issue because it not only speaks to Bush's character as an addictive personality, but may tell us something about his erratic and alarming actions as president. His explosive temper probably provoked the disastrous siege of Fallujah last spring, killing 600 Iraqis, most of them women and children, in revenge for the deaths of 4 civilian mercenaries, one of them a South African. (Newsweek reported that Bush commanded his cabinet, "Let heads roll!") That temper is only one problem. Bush has a sadistic streak. He clearly enjoyed, as governor, watching executions. His delight in killing people became a campaign issue in 2000 when he seemed, in one debate, to enjoy the prospect of executing wrong-doers a little too much. He has clearly gone on enjoying killing people on a large scale in Iraq. Drug abuse can affect the ability of the person to feel deep emotions like empathy. Two decades of pickling his nervous system in various highly toxic substances have left Bush damaged goods. Even for those who later abstain, "visual-spatial abilities, abstraction, problem solving, and short-term memory, are the slowest to recover." [source linked at site] That he managed to get on the wagon (though with that pretzel incident, you wonder how firmly) is laudable. But he suffers the severe effects of the aftermath, and we are all suffering along with him now, since he is the most powerful man in the world.

... decades of this sort of behavior do not leave a person untouched. Our world is in crisis and our Republic is in danger. It should not be left in the hands of a man who spent his life like this.
What? He's either a liar or cannot remember what he said, he's a moral coward who has others do his dirty work, and he's a shallow sadist.

So? He sort of won the last election. He will probably win this one. Maybe that's what we want.

Posted by Alan at 20:44 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 23 August 2004 20:52 PDT home

Topic: Election Notes

Guest Columnist Rick Brown -
It's the Electoral College, Stupid!

Not being a sports fan, I have little clue what the term "fantasy football" means, but if it is what I think it is, then it must be something like what I concocted below. Lots of fussing around with arcane figures, the results of which probably resemble reality as much as what happens inside the head of your average six-pack quarterback approximates the real NFL. But whatever. As they say, it's only a game.

The presidential race is not just a horse race, of course, it's also a numbers racket, and it was a glance at a list of such numbers in a recent special section of the New York Times devoted to the Electoral College, under a huge headline "Could It Happen Again?", that brought me to the startling conclusion that 538 is an even number!

Not to argue that this is a huge breakthrough in mathematical theory, only that it makes one wonder how close we could be to having a dead-heat in the horse race in 2004. So I started diddling around to find out.

First, just to remind anyone who may have forgotten about what happened in 2000, George Bush needed one-half of the 538 electors, plus one, to win; he got plus two, or 271. (Leaving the Supreme Court issue out of the discussion, of course.)

By the way, that should have left Al Gore with 267, but in fact, Barbara Lett-Simmons, a 73-year-old elector from the District of Columbia, turned in a blank ballot to protest DC's not having any votes in Congress.

But the year 2000 was also a census year, which means that since then, states gained or lost electors according to population shifts. So I asked myself, what if, in 2004, Bush were to win the same states as he did last time, and Kerry were to take the same states that Gore took in 2000?

It seems that Bush would have triumphed, with 278 electors to Kerry's 259. (In short, Bush was favored in states that had small but growing populations.)

And again, just for the fun of it, I wondered what it would take for a tie, which would throw the whole contest into the House of Representatives.

As it turns out, if just one state, Colorado, which was not too far from 50-50 in 2000, actually took its present nine votes from Bush and gave them to Kerry, it would give Bush 269 to Kerry's 268. It would then hopefully be a simple matter to persuade all three of the DC electors to play along and cast all of their votes this time, bringing Kerry and Bush even at 269 votes each.

What happens then? It goes to a vote in the House of Representatives, in which each state has one vote. And how would that go? There's no guarantee that each state would follow their original votes, but if they did, Bush would win, 30-21. (This tally assumes DC has a vote in the House. I forget whether or not they do, but it wouldn't change the outcome if they didn't.)

(With the exception, of course, of Colorado -- and, of course, my having that stray DC elector actually cast his/her vote this time -- all of the above assumes that this year's Democratic candidate still gets the majority of the popular vote. In other words, even if there were a tie in the Electoral College in this fantasy race, the Constitution once again will allow the people to be overruled. This whole electoral system, including that House of Representatives chaser, seems to favor the candidate who is liked by the less populous states. I suppose we really should get around to fixing that problem someday.)

But before we end this, let me lead this back to the real world, in which things are apparently happening that might lift the spirits of the "Anyone But Bush" crowd, and which brings me back to my original premise: "It's the Electoral College, Stupid!"

With all of these neck-and-neck polls we hear about every weekend, we tend to forget, as we do every presidential election year, that all these polls about the popular vote don't really mean that much in a close popular race; what really matters is what's happening in the states.

And yes, even though pundit Charlie Cook -- reputedly as good at this political prediction stuff as anyone can be -- is now saying that Kerry is way ahead, I myself imagine it's still too early to nail it all down.

Still, go look at, a website I just found, that allows you to roll your mouse over a map of the country and get the most recent poll results from each state. It's really neat! You should bookmark it, because it changes from day to day.

When I went there just now, they had Kerry with 286 electoral votes to Bush's 233, which does not include the two states shown to be "Exactly Tied," Wisconsin and Colorado. (See what I'm telling you? This whole race may swing on Colorado!) Of course, some of the states are listed as "Weak" or "Barely" for a certain candidate, so things could change at any time, especially during whatever bounce, if any, happens after the upcoming GOP convention in New York.

By the way, I tried to imagine a tie scenario on that map, but I couldn't do it. Still, this is not to say that couldn't change over the next two months.

- Rick Brown

Posted by Alan at 13:55 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 23 August 2004 19:05 PDT home

Sunday, 22 August 2004

Topic: Photos

New Today!
Just Above Sunset now on line!

The new issue of Just Above Sunset, the parent site to this web log, went online late today. That would be Volume 2, Number 33.

Hot topics in the news, or that should be in the news, peppered with comments from friends around the world. Published late in the day, as I was out of town yesterday and missed a day of production, and the hosting service today got a tad flaky on me.

Special items this week -

Joy Childs on the film you are NOT allowed to see.... (with photo)

Ric Erickson in a special column from Paris, with notes on Franco-American misunderstandings....

Bob Patterson with his weekly column (dry this week) and a book review....

Thoughts on the passing of Julia Child and Donald Justice...

Some spooky Hollywood Stuff...

And a new item in Links and Recommendations - Don Smith, Paris photographer and his Left Bank Lens

Along with political thoughts on the week that was....

In this week's quotes?

Try ROBERT A. HEINLEIN: Women and cats will do as they please, and men and dogs should relax and get used to the idea.

Or WILLIAM GLADSTONE: Liberalism is trust of the people, tempered by prudence; conservatism, distrust of people, tempered by fear.

And here's a Hollywood ghost....

Posted by Alan at 21:36 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Saturday, 21 August 2004

Topic: Election Notes

Attack Ads: the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and all that...

So many have said so much on this there may not be much more to say. And today I will be away from it all, at a family picnic in Poway, California. (That's here if you're curious.)

But this is news and Just Above Sunset does comment on the news.

Yes, there is this group that calls itself the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth that has, as the New York Times puts it, "catapulted itself to the forefront of the presidential campaign." It has indeed advanced its cause in a book (by one Larry Thurlow), in a television advertisement, followed by a second released on the 20th, and on cable news and talk radio shows, all in an attempt to discredit John Kerry's war record. Over at Media Matters you will find a rundown of all the controversy with links to all appropriate items - who said what and possible political and legal actions. (Click here for that.)

The Washington Post investigating the claims and undermining them is here. The Times backgrounder the next day on who set this all up and how it was financed is here. The Kerry folks said, a day later - Friday August 20th - that they would file a complaint with the Federal Election Commission, charging that a Vietnam veterans group had been illegally coordinating its ad campaign about Kerry's military record with President Bush.

The Annenberg Political Fact Check project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania has the most balanced assessment of the facts of the matter here. is useful, and on nobody's side.

And late in the week - this -
The commander of a Navy swift boat who served alongside Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry during the Vietnam War stepped forward Saturday [August 21st] to dispute attacks challenging Kerry's integrity and war record.

William Rood, an editor on the Chicago Tribune's metropolitan desk, said he broke 35 years of silence about the Feb. 28, 1969, mission that resulted in Kerry's receiving a Silver Star because recent portrayals of Kerry's actions published in the best-selling book "Unfit for Command" are wrong and smear the reputations of veterans who served with Kerry.
The Annenberg Political Fact Check project will be updating their page again.

Eleanor Clift in Newsweek adds this perspective regarding The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth -
They never understood this aloof figure, and the day that he testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee--April 22, 1971--is as powerful a date to these veterans as the Kennedy assassination. They can tell you exactly where they were when they heard Kerry say he had witnessed war crimes sanctioned by commanders in Vietnam.

The fact that Kerry attributed the breakdown in military discipline to the policymakers in Washington is lost on these men, who take Kerry's words personally.

This is not about Kerry's performance in Vietnam; it's what he said when he came home. Kerry has never made extravagant claims about his heroism in Vietnam. He never said his wounds were serious, and he never said he didn't want to get out of Vietnam. After three wounds, under military rules, he was entitled to ship out, which he did after a combat tour of four months and 12 days. Nothing these so-called Veterans for Truth have come up with contradicts what Kerry has said, but that's not the point.

... The Kerry campaign was curiously passive as the veterans gathered force in the media--as though responding would dignify the scurrilous charges. Kerry finally broke his silence this week, perhaps mindful that a lie unanswered becomes a lie that is believed. Flanked by firefighters in Boston, Kerry stripped the mask of patriotic valor from the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth by pointing out the source of their funding: a Texas Republican who wrote two checks for $100,000 to the group.

... Questioning Kerry's heroism fires up the GOP base, but it leaves "solid undecideds" cold. They're not paying attention.

... For an incumbent president in as much trouble as Bush, fighting a war that's been over for nearly 30 years takes voters' minds off Iraq.
Perhaps so. But is risky. And it is getting even nastier.

Media Matters notes this
Michelle Malkin, syndicated right-wing columnist and author of In Defense of Internment: The Case for "Racial Profiling" in World War II and the War on Terror, appeared on August 19 on MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews. Speaking about the recent allegations against Senator John Kerry by Swift Boat Veterans for the Truth regarding the injuries he suffered while serving in the Vietnam War, Malkin alleged, "They are [sic] legitimate questions about whether or not it was a self-inflicted wound."
What? A new line of attack? A careful analysis of these claims will show Kerry in Vietnam shot himself so he'd get some medals as part of a plan to run for president thirty-eight years later here? What a sly devil! Michelle Malkin, the cute Filipino-American columnist, is saying this may be true - you never know, and it has been said.

The Media Matters item contains the transcript of this interview.

Keith Olbermann, also of MSNBC, comments on the 20th - here-
Michelle Malkin, the unfortunate and overmatched author of a self-loathing book that attempts to justify our World War II internment and robbery of Americans of Japanese heritage, became the harbinger of the next mucky smell of low tide. She raised the story-- heretofore consigned largely to Robert Novak and everybody to his right-- in that delightful, Teflon way of modern politics: `I'm not saying that John Kerry shot himself. But in the Swift Boat Veterans' book, they ask whether or not his wounds were self-inflicted.'

If Ms. Malkin isn't seen on television, or moving on her own power, in the next few days, it's understandable. My colleague Mr. Matthews forced her to hang herself out to dry ten or eleven times (never prouder of you, Chris). He may have directed the momentum, but her wounds were ultimately, uh, self-inflicted.

As Chris rightly pointed out, nobody has produced an iota of evidence that John Kerry's wounds were anything other than the result of combat. Even in the book, the references to it are speculative and without provenance. Ms. Malkin wouldn't even go so far as to attribute the suspicion to herself. It was in the book.

Late Thursday, the Swift Boat gang announced a second commercial to premiere in the morning, and to this writing, nobody's been tipped about what it contains. Yet the Thurlow comment ("he had a plan") and Malkin's humiliating performance reek of a trial balloon. The story of the wounds will appear somewhere-- probably soon.

When I raised this prospect with John Harwood of 'The Wall Street Journal,' several viewers e-mailed to chastise us for not recognizing the difference between wounds that are "self-inflicted" and those that are deliberate attempts to injure one's self. Throw a grenade, wipe out an enemy enclave, and get a piece of shrapnel in your head in the blow-back, and you've received a self-inflicted wound. It isn't intentional and it isn't dishonorable.

But of course that's not what Thurlow said. He spoke of some vast Swift Boat Conspiracy in which Kerry steered not a crew of soldiers through hell, but rather, steered history. "A plan," Thurlow said. "Included not only being a war hero," Thurlow said. "But (also) getting an `early out'," Thurlow said.

He's not talking about an inadvertent blow-back wound. It was all a plan. And if the wounds weren't deliberately self-inflicted (again, kudos Chris-- he immediately told Malkin that such an act constituted a criminal offense), they must have occurred thanks to the timely cooperation of the Viet Cong, who were good enough to shoot Kerry on cue so he could go back home with all those medals and ribbons. You know, the ribbons he threw away in protest.

We'll save the logical disconnect that pops up right there for another time.

This is about the politics of the Smear Thrice Removed. I'm not saying this, but questions have been raised by others.

It is a perfected version of what many of President Bush's opponents have tried in the murky depths of his reservist days. It is execrable no matter who presents it, no matter which party benefits from it.

We will hear from the very jaded that it is nothing new. It was Winston Churchill, 70 years ago, who so succinctly, and so English-ly, noted "Politics are foul." But with instant communications, the internet explosion, and the 527 Groups, they are foul at warp-speed. The blur between an accusation with at least a thimble of evidence upon which it can rest, and the whole cloth fabrication, is so rapid as to appear as a solid line.

It is remarkable to think that we are living in the same country where a vast majority of the population never knew that Franklin Roosevelt was in a wheelchair, and where four different Republican presidential challengers, successively more and more distant of electoral chance and more and more desperate to close the widening gap, actually believed it inappropriate and unfair, just to mention it.

And that one was true.
This is all madness. As Willie Brown said in the Malkin discussion on MSNBC - "He volunteered twice. He volunteered twice in Vietnam. He literally got shot. There's no question about any of those things. So what else is there to discuss? How much he got shot, how deep, how much shrapnel?"

Well, that is now coming up, actually. And as much as all of this will damage Kerry, badly, it will remind people Bush himself has no medals, and his own service was a tad light, if not questionable. He checked the box on the form that said he'd rather not go to Vietnam, and that form is in the public record.

How will it all play out? Who knows? The Bush side is taking risks here - and the Kerry side is getting hurt at the moment. But it may be many weeks before we see who hurt whom.



One of my friends asked me exactly where is this Malkin person from?

Michelle Malkin according to Fox News -
Malkin, the daughter of Filipino immigrants, was born in Philadelphia, Pa. in 1970 and raised in southern New Jersey. [Pre-Journalism, if that's the term....] she worked as a press inserter, tax preparation aide, and network news librarian; she is also a lapsed classical pianist. Malkin is a graduate of Oberlin College.
What does she looks like? You could Google on the "images" tab using "Michelle Malkin" - but I like this one- where's she's sitting next to her husband, the shaggy white-bread all-American guy with the American flag pin on his blindingly white shirt. It's classic.

So Malkin thinks those Japanese evil folks really should have been locked up in WWII out here?
Well, of course. Don't get me started on how the folks from the Philippines feel about the other Asians - particularly about them Japanese. Her disgust with the Japanese is a Filipino thing. It's a long feud of many, many generations. They were on the right side in WWII, and the evil Japs were not. Thus this book, even if penned by an "Asian," is not surprising. These folks are the "good" Asians - or so they say. And their language, Tagalog, isn't Asian at all.

So you have to see this in context. And even now, out here in Los Angeles, these two groups never mix. Ever.

Odd? Not really.

Los Angeles is like that. I lived for years in San Pedro, a mostly Croatian port city, across the harbor from Long Beach. No Serbs anywhere. Out here the Serbs all live in the San Gabriel Valley - the biggest Serbian Church (Eastern Orthodox) is out there in Alhambra, two blocks north of the I-10 freeway. All the Croatians in San Pedro are, of course, good Roman Catholics (the real Church). The two groups despise each other - and the Church itself split in two in 1054 over the insertion of the filioque clause into the Nicene Creed by the Roman church, among other matters. Geez. And then too the Croatians use the Roman alphabet, while the Serbs write in that Cyrillic crap - even if the spoken language is pretty much the same. I listened to a lot of this animosity from my Croatian friends over the years. These two communities are fifty long miles from each other out here - and that's fine by them. Makes you kind of admire Tito - sort of - for holding the former Yugoslavia all together for so long.

So the Filipinos and Japanese don't get along - and we get the Malkin book. The Croats and the Serbs don't get along. One of my old bosses at Hughes, Annie, used to snort at the uppity Mandarin folks who would look at a string of ideograms and pronounce it utterly differently than she did in Cantonese. What was wrong with them? Jean Cocteau one said, of course, "When I was little I believed that foreigners could not really talk at all, but were only pretending." Annie would understand the Frenchman.

Maybe Malkin would too.

Such madness.



Bob Patterson, who appears here as the World's Laziest Journalist, throws in a baseball analogy (Kerry on the mound and Bush taking a long lead of first) -
If Kerry is ready to "put everything on the table" and rake Bush over the coals about his military record, this could be like when a pitcher lures a runner at first base too far off the bag. There's a point where if the base runner takes one more step, he will be too far away from first to get back safely if there's a pick-off throw.

A good pitcher can sometimes "psych" a runner into taking that step.

Now, if Bush takes it to "everything on the table" and Kerry fires back with all the details of Bush's training, he can win. If Kerry isn't careful, the runner will be half way to second base and Kerry will be lobbing the ball over to first.

Kerry is either very, very clever and about to spring an ambush, or he is very, very dumb and inept. If Kerry tags Bush during the Republican National Convention, he could "turn the tide" - i.e., turn the corner. If he does not have a good counterattack ready to go, then he deserves to lose.

Isn't watching history unfold fascinating?

Posted by Alan at 08:25 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 22 August 2004 07:11 PDT home

Friday, 20 August 2004

Topic: The Culture


As most everyone knows, that famous woman from Pasadena, Julia Child, passed away this week. I still have my late mother's old copy of The Art of French Cooking somewhere or other, although I hardly ever open it. Like most guys, I work from intuition and improvise - although I have consulted that book from time to time on things that puzzled me. But Julia Child was one fine woman.


Someone I know, Louisa KL Chu, on her website Movable Feast: Diary of an Itinerant Chef has a funny story of what it was like to interview Julia Child. You might check it out here. Louisa, by the way, holds Le Grand Dipl?me from Le Cordon Bleu in Paris (2003) and then staged at Restaurant Alain Ducasse au Plaza Ath?n?? also in Paris. And she will be staging at El Bulli in September until the end of the season 2004 - think foam, of course. She is contracted with Les Ambassadeurs at the H?tel de Crillon in Paris after that, but her French work visa is pending. I believe bureaucracy is a French word - they invented the concept - and I wish her luck. Anyway, Louisa's interview will give a good sense of Julia Child.

And you might want to check out this appreciation. It hits the mark.

Julia Child's Lessons in Living
She combined a Puritan work ethic with a love of life.
Amy Finnerty - Opinion Journal (in The Wall Street Journal), Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Some nuggets from Finnerty?

Julia Child as subversive of the American ethic -
She addressed one glaring flaw in the American ethic--our aversion to actually enjoying what we've labored for. In this she shifted the focus of pride at American tables away from the heartland clich? - that of "plenty," the visible fruits of labor" - toward an emphasis on quality, and the senses. A purring palate was more important than a piled-up platter.

Many food trends have come and gone since she became famous, and she remained unmoved, deriding the anti-butterfat lobby and other bores. Health-food zealots were a baffling irritation to Ms. Child, and she delivered a consistent message over the decades: Ignore them. No wonder our feelings about her are still so passionate, several decades after her most oft-cited accomplishment (bringing coq au vin to Peoria).

Food was the medium, but the message amounted to a philosophy of life. She did something more important than teach us to cook; she taught us to eat, and some of us in the new Atkins World Order could still use a few lessons. She knew how to indulge, in moderation: food of all kinds (in normal portions); drink (but not drunkenness); smoking (until she did the mature thing and quit); and the company of men (she was a happily married flirt).
That about sums it up. Lighten-up and relax - and enjoy life. Fine by me.

And had she not been involved with food?
... she might have found greatness in other ways, through her ability to subvert Americans' love of suffering.
What? America's love of suffering?

Well, surveying the week in politics, watching the not-quite-hard-bodies staggering out of Crunch Gym down on the corner, where aerobic suffering is a specialty, listening to the din of coverage of the trials of Scott (murder) and Kobe (rape) and Micheal (child molestation)... this Finnerty woman has nailed it there too. We do love suffering. It ennobles us, and entertains us.

Crunch Gym stands on the spot where Schwab's Drugstore used to be - where Lana Turner was discovered - a pretty young teenager in a tight cashmere sweater sipping a high-carb, real-sugar soda many decades ago. Times have changed. The sweet young things on that corner now, exhausted from their workouts, looking grim and a bit mean, could easily toss any Hollywood agent who gets too fresh through a plate-glass window - and they sip cold no-carb coffee-like stuff at Buzz Coffee on the plaza outside the gym - and you don't want to mess with them.

Julia Child would just not get it.


One other -

The American poet Donald Justice died August 6th after a long illness. He was extraordinary. One of my favorites.

Here is a quick bio -listing all the awards and such.

And everyone is quoting his most famous poem -
Counting the Mad

This one was put in a jacket,
This one was sent home,
This one was given bread and meat
But would eat none,
And this one cried No No No No
All day long.

This one looked at the window
As though it were a wall,
This one saw things that were not there,
And this one cried No No No No
All day long.

This one thought himself a bird,
This one a dog,
And this one thought himself a man,
An ordinary man,
And cried and cried No No No No
All day long.
Short and to the point.

William Carlos Williams, another American poet (Patterson, New Jersey in fact - but he was in Paris with Hemingway and Gertrude Stein and the rest of course), said this - "It is difficult to get the news from poems yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there."

Yep. And I think Julia Child knew something similar about food.

Slow down. Enjoy. Drink it all in.

Posted by Alan at 17:35 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

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