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A Brief History of Timelines

Saturday, August 23, 2008 by Michael Reynolds

Democrat blogger says: Timeline.
Republican blogger says: Defeatist!
Democrat blogger says: Timeline.
Republican blogger says: Traitor!
Democrat blogger says: Timeline.
Republican blogger says: Coward!
Nouri Al Maliki says: Timeline!
Republican blogger says: He doesn't mean it!
George W. Bush says: Timeline.
Republican blogger says: . . . cue crickets chirping.

Is that a tumbleweed?

Hello? Republican bloggers? Anyone out there?

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Kindergarten Politics

Friday, August 22, 2008 by Michael Reynolds

Is it never adult time in the United States? Can we never have an intelligent political conversation that isn't just stupid fucking gotcha! moments and phony howls of outrage?

Does it always have to be McCain's houses and Obama's preacher, and McCain's draft and Obama's 57 states, and McCain's flip and Obama's flop and arugala for crying out loud? Really? Arugala? We're picking a president based on his preferences in salad greens?

What is the matter with people? Obama and McCain are both good, decent, honorable guys who actually want to help the American people come to grips with a multitude of serious problems. How in Christ's name did these two men come to this point? How have we let the election once again be taken over by Limbaughs and Olbermanns, by Hannitys and Markoses? (Markosi?) How have these two exemplary men fallen to this level?

Will there ever be a time for us to talk about the economy and foreign policy like grown-ups? Is it always kindergarten? Is there no way for us to send the children to their room and have a rational discussion without the dialog being dominated by ignoramuses, clowns and charlatans?

Jesus. I used to love politics. It used to be about something. Now it's a form of entertainment by and for money-grubbing creeps playing to imbeciles.

I try to be sanguine about it. I try to laugh it off. But you know, we kind of do have some actual problems, some real things to deal with, and maybe we shouldn't let the process degenerate into a race to out-stupid the other guy. Just saying maybe deciding elections on the basis of which team can do the best job of manufacturing phony outrage over some non-event isn't precisely what Washington and Jefferson and Adams had in mind. I'm just not sure men jumped off those landing craft at Omaha beach to defend a system that turns on who got off a zinger and who can do the best job of regurgitating focus-grouped talking points.

Is it too late to think about hiring a benevolent dictator?

H/T to Transplanted Lawyer who got me started.

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Repost with Local Update

Wednesday, August 20, 2008 by Michael Reynolds

This first part I posted at my other blog:

I think this rant is going to irritate my readers. Both of them. And I’m sorry about that, but I have to call things as I see them. Not as they are — I’m too much a phenomenologist to insist that my truth must be yours — but as they appear to me.

I tend to look at the world through various prisms. Politics and food are the biggies. I know: kinda stupid. But I am who I am. The world for me is not about sex, not about aesthetics, not about all sorts of things that matter to other people. The world for me is politics and food.

Politically the Italians are. . . how to put this? Irrelevant. No one anywhere, ever, asks the question: But how will the Italians react? Italy is not in the game. Russia’s in the game. China. Germany. France. Britain. India. Japan. Even Iran. And of course the US owns the game ball. But Italy? No one gives a ripe fig what Italy has to say about anything. Even the Italians don’t care. In terms of international politics Italy might as well be Uruguay.

Is this inevitable? No. Italy has a population of about 60 million and a GDP of 1.8 trillion dollars. This isn’t Chad we’re talking about here. France has a few more people and a little more money. The UK has about the same population and a little more money. How is it that Italy is an afterthought? Italy has a twentieth of the population of India but more than half the GDP. How is it that Italy carries no weight on the world stage and India does?

There is something trivial about this country. Something negligible. I don’t know why. I don’t have that answer.

The food thing is actually more telling to me.

Question: do the Italians love food and wine? Answer: No. They love their food and wine.

I’ll tell you something: I could buy better wine at my neighborhood Harris Teeter grocery store in North Carolina than I find in comparable supermarkets here. Why? Because Americans who love wine don’t care where the wine comes from. At my US grocery store — forget the local gourmet store — I had a selection of American, Australian, New Zealand, French, Portuguese, German, Spanish, South African, Argentinian, Chilean and Italian wines. The wines of at least 11 nations. In a suburban grocery store. In the south.

In my Co-op — a nice grocery store here in Pontassieve — you know what wines we have? Italian. And . . . Italian.

No California. No French. No Argentinian or Chilean or New Zealand. Even at the giant Ipercoop we have a few token bottles of foreign wine. No California. 95% Italian.

Is this because Italian wines are the only good wines? No. An awful lot of Italian wine is crap. Some is superb. But Italy does not have a monopoly on great wine. Not by a long, long stretch.

So, a simple question: if Italians love wine, why nothing but Italian? The only possible answer that makes sense: Italians don’t love wine, they love their wine.

There are a handful of Chinese restaurants in Florence, a major city. A smattering of Sushi restaurants. I think there may be one or two Mexican restaurants. But 95% of the restaurants in Florence are Italian. 90% have essentially identical menus. Pizza. Tagliata. Pasta. And when I say identical, I mean identical to a greater degree than McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s have largely identical menus. You could xerox the menus.

There are more differences by far between Pizza Hut and Papa Johns than there are between any two Italian pizzerias.

Are they catering to tourists with expectations of a particular cuisine? Sure, to some extent. But you know what? There are tourists in New York City, too. But in New York there are more variations between sidewalk vendors than there are between Tuscan restaurants. Contrast the NYC or Chicago or LA culinary scenes with that of Florence, Rome or Milan. Is there a country on earth that doesn’t have a representative of its kitchens in New York? Everything from Armenian to Zairian.

I can sample the cooking of 100 nations in New York. Maybe 80 in Chicago or LA. And perhaps a dozen in all of Italy. Why? Because the Italians love food? Sorry, if you love food, you love everyone’s best food, not just your own. It’s as if you claimed to be an art lover, but refused to look at any but American painters.

It’s a great big world full of cool things to eat. But when Florentines go to a restaurant they have the same half dozen apps, the same six primi, the same six secondi, the same four contorni, the same three or four desserts, and wash it all down with the same handful of wines. That’s not a love of food and wine: it’s chauvinism and narrow-mindedness.

Would I rather have a free pass to all the restaurants of Florence . . . or Chicago? Chicago without question. Not even close. Because in Chicago I can have great Florentine food. And everyone else’s food, too.

I want to expand a bit here at Sideways Mencken, because here's where I talk politics.

Americans can be divided into two categories (so convenient having just the two.) Those who believe that all things American are superior, and those who suspect that all things foreign are better. The jingoists and the hair shirt brigade.

This is for that second group.

Look, kids, if it is not okay for Americans to be culturally close-minded, chauvinistic and insular, why is it okay for other cultures to exhibit those same traits? Why is it all right for Italians -- to take the example at hand -- to refuse to learn any language but their own, to close their minds off to non-Italian influences, to shut the doors to immigration, to insist on the rightness of all things Italian, (or even Ligurian, Tuscan, Sicilian) and to fail utterly to use their wealth and potential power to accomplish anything useful in the world beyond their borders?

Why is it cute when it's them, but a cultural crime when it's us? Why is multiculturalism only for Americans?

We expect so much of ourselves -- save Darfur, end global warming, find a cure for cancer, bring peace to the middle east, find water on Mars, absorb half the population of Mexico -- and demand nothing of our economic peers, the Europeans. Isn't this the soft bigotry of low expectations?

They couldn't even deal with Kosovo by themselves, and they could have taken a cab to the combat zone. We had to send airmen 10,000 miles from Nebraska. Is there nothing we can demand of them? Are they children?

Or to put it another way: why is it okay that there are no Chinese restaurants in Tuscany?

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Blog Death

Monday, August 18, 2008 by Michael Reynolds

No, not mine. Not yet. Although you could argue I'm circling the drain.

I'm talking about Done With Mirrors. Callimachus -- not his real name, surprisingly -- is calling it quits. He fears he'll do himself some financial injury if he keeps going. He's probably right. The newspaper business is in trouble. Too easy for the guy who is about to lose his own job to point a finger at Cal and say, "Why not him? He's not even one of us."

Rule #1 when you have kids, a wife and a mortgage: keep the income flowing.

I killed off The Mighty Middle at a time when it was doing rather well because I had imprudently left the door open for kids to hear me using language I shouldn't be using in front of kids. (My own excepted, of course: they've heard it all.) When I started this blog I first wrote under a pseudonym, then made sure I kept it scrubbed of most -- not all, because I'm careless -- references that might lead a casual underage Googler from PG fare to this PG-13 blog. So I understand the importance of not screwing up the real world and real life for the sake of a blog.

But this is a bitter thing to me, to lose Callimachus. I tend not to read blogs by people who reliably agree with me. I read blogs as a corrective. I read Dave Schuler because on most issues he is absolutely cold-blooded and clear-eyed in his analyses. I read Annie because she's heroic in her personal life, (great soap opera, the Jacques and Annie show,) and because she's spiritual and I'm, um, not. I read half a dozen blogs on a daily, never-miss basis. Only one comes close to mirroring my own views. The rest are the opinions I need to hear not the things I necessarily want to hear.

I read Callimachus every day because in addition to providing a different perspective, he provides an education. And he's a damned good writer. Setting aside politics, the man can write.

But Callimachus' blog is depressing in one sense: it reveals both the potential richness of the blogosphere and it's utter financial pointlessness. If Cal can't make money from thoughtful, intelligent, compelling blogging, then I don't know that anyone can. It remains a vanity press, at least for those who, unlike Ms. Huffington, don't have a few million dollars to pour into it.

The day of the lone blogger has come and gone. You can feel that the moment has passed for this particular medium. The economics are beginning to bear down. After the first rush the reality has set in. And the reality is that the real world pays the bills and blogging doesn't.

Done With Mirrors is a serious and major literary accomplishment. There ought to be a paycheck in there somewhere.

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