The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Monday, December 23, 2002  

A Few Quick Comments to Fellow Bloggers

Rather than relying on the dubious completeness of my e-mail address book, I thought I would post a few notes to my fellow bloggers here.

E-mail Addresses: If I can resolve certain technical glitches I am experiencing at the moment, I expect to change my e-mail address soon and will alert you to that change on the site and in a message to as many active bloggers as are currently in my address book. In preparation for doing so, it struck me to ask that if you change your e-mail address, drop me a line to let me know so that I can keep my files up to date. I can’t say enough positive things about I highly recommend other bloggers adopt its technology or something similar. Blogrolling provides a great service to your readers, enabling them to see which sites on the blogroll recently have been updated. It is simple to set up, integrate, and update, and I say that as one who is somewhat technically impaired.

Site Retirement: In the unfortunate event that you decide to retire from blogging, please let me know. The blogroll, published in the sidebar in the right-hand column of this page, already is longer than I ever expected it would be. Although I haven’t sent a firm upper limit on the number of links that list may include, deleting retired blogs from that collection would create space for links to other bloggers.

New Blog Recommendations: I welcome suggestions for links to bloggers, both to established sites that I may have overlooked or to those who are just getting started. The authors or proprietors of such sites should not feel shy about directing me to their own blogs. Normally I will spend a few weeks looking at a blog on a prospective basis in order to avoid certain missteps I have made in the past, namely, linking to bloggers of dubious personal integrity and questionable mental stability.

Notable Posts: I welcome e-mail from bloggers who wish to draw my attention to particularly significant posts at their sites, though I cannot promise to note each piece or to acknowledge each e-mail received. Please avail yourself of this invitation judiciously.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


What the Kool Kids are Writing Now

Jeanne d’Arc of Body & Soul has published a moving essay on Christmas charity, “Would you like to hear my Ebeneezer Scrooge impression?” that has me feeling pretty conflicted because the other day I heard an angel died. She wasn’t really an angel, she was a nun in Camden, N.J., but that’s what people there called her when they weren’t calling her Sister Peg.

[Post-publication addendum: In today’s Philadelphia Inquirer there is a second article about Sister Mary Margaret Hynes, “Nun’s Death Leaves Void in Camden and Church.” In a sidebar to the article that is not included in the online version of the story, the Inquirer reports that donations in memory of Sister Peg may be sent to the Sisters of St. Joseph, 9701 Germantown Ave., Philadelphia, Pa., 19118.]


The Liberal Oasis catches the Sunday political talk show hosts in their usual sleeping-on-the-job mode with “10 Things About Frist Unsaid Yesterday.”

I wonder what causes Sunday’s talking heads to so consistently overlook significant issues. Is it poor research, bad memories from the pre-show prep session, ignorance, political bias?


I think Jay Caruso and Jane Finch of the Daily Rant may have the potential to become the James Carville and Mary Matalin of political blogging . . . if only they would sign and return the consulting contract I sent them.


Easy Bake Coven has the “Holiday Stress Diet,” a sure-fire nutritional regimen to help you beat the tensions of the holiday season. It starts with a simple breakfast of one-half of a grapefruit, one slice of whole-wheat toast, and eight ounces of skim milk, but from there it’s all downhill.

Presumably Susan has enough light bulbs in stock to keep her oven working overtime this week.


Admitted Catholic-basher Matthew Yglesias asks, “Who’s Deluded?”, a post in which he quite rightly takes me to task for misunderstanding a previous post of his, and for that I apologize.

Actually, for the record, I don’t think Yglesias is a Catholic basher per se. Rather, I believe his writing at times reflects a more narrow understanding of Catholicism, the history of the Church, and the manner in which Catholics try to live their faith than is needed to tackle some of the issues he has addressed. I simply don’t think the culture of Catholicism ranks among his many strong suits.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |

Friday, December 20, 2002  

Westman To Sub For the Newly Parental Neal Pollack

Neal Pollack tells me the inestimable Lizz Westman, who is pretty much revered around here, tentatively will sub for him at his weblog, Neal Pollack’s Maelstrom, from December 23 through December 31.

I don’t know, something about Pollack’s new parental obligations, I think. Gee whiz, is that scary or what? It’s odd, I think, that one doesn’t need permission from any governmental authority to reproduce. But I digress.

Contrary to the currently circulating urban legend, Westman is a real person. A real woman, in fact, and not Pollack in drag.

Anyway, this is great news. Westman is one of the funniest writers I’ve ever encountered. She’s often funnier than, well, never mind.

Westman will make what is too often the dreariest week of the year a time to remember. I can’t wait. Be sure to pay her a visit during her interregnum.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |

Thursday, December 19, 2002  

Los Angeles Times Columnist Smears The Rittenhouse Review
The Blog That Dare Not Speak Its Name

Hey, I made the Los Angeles Times today!

No, I'm not in the news section, I'm on the op-ed page. No, I didn't write an article, I was mentioned in one. No, not by name, merely in a cowardly veiled reference. And not by anyone of any significance, just Norah Vincent.

In her usually-Thursdays column, this week entitled "Putting the Brakes on 'Blowhard Bloggers'," Vincent's ostensible topic is free speech and the web, as she discusses, at least in passing, a recent libel case in which a court ruled Dow Jones & Co., the parent company of The Wall Street Journal and Barron's, can be sued for damages in Australia under Australian libel law. After first overstating the significance of the case, she quickly moves to her true agenda: "It's all about me!"

For those of you who missed out the first time around, Vincent since August has been in a froth over an incident in which she claims "another blogger" accused her of plagiarism and, indeed, "libel."

As Vincent writes in today's Times:

In the major media world, editors and fact-checkers try to catch inaccuracies, excise lies and slanders and print corrections and retractions for mistakes that slip into print. But few bloggers follow this protocol. What they say, however outrageous or unfounded, tends to stick.

Full disclosure: This happened to me when I integrated four words from a Jackson Browne song into a piece I posted on my blog. Another blogger accused me of plagiarism, and the unmerited charge spread across the Web at frightening speed.

"Another blogger," as Vincent employs the phrase here, refers to me and to this site, The Rittenhouse Review, and probably to others, also unnamed, as well.

One wouldn't know that by reading Vincent's column. Nor would one know it by reading the initial defense Vincent published on her defunct weblog, Norah's BlogJam, on September 3, nor the second defense published there on September 4. For whatever reason, Vincent has chosen not to reveal the name of her purported accuser(s). I presume she thinks doing so will put her in the untoward position of assisting me/us in "trolling for hits" from someone so established and respected as she believes herself to be, a ludicrous and self-aggrandizing presumption upon which Vincent has relied in the past.

However, I can't help but wonder if the reason she refuses to name me or this weblog is because doing so would enable readers -- and perhaps her editors as well -- to review the facts of the matter. Instead, the self-styled renegade, the oh-so-put-upon Vincent takes to the pages of the Los Angeles Times of all places to smear my name and reputation using words and phrases like "blowhard," "any old varmint," "pipsqueak," "careless," "mad" [Ed: Angry?], "vengeful," and "half-wits." (I suppose all of this makes The Rittenhouse Review the Blog That Dare Not Speak Its Name.)

What we have here is Vincent accusing another writer of having accused her of plagiarism, and supposedly libeling her in the process, a charge from which she has defended herself repeatedly and vociferously, and now from the pages of the Los Angeles Times, while at the same time refusing, or at the very least declining, to identify publicly her alleged accuser(s). One would think a writer so outraged would have the courage and conviction to name the offending party. Instead, Vincent's posture is one of, "I was libeled. I won't tell you by whom. Just take my word."

She cannot have it both ways.

Regardless, the vaunted superiority Vincent today claims on behalf of the traditional print media's editors and fact-checkers for catching and correcting errors obviously doesn't apply to her and the Times. Her piece is tendentious, misleading, and dishonest. It's clever, though, the manner in which she attempts to use the traditional media's alleged superiority to her advantage. It goes like this: A blogger I will not name said something mean about me. I wrote in the L.A. Times that it's not true. The L.A. Times has editors and fact-checkers to make certain errors are corrected. Therefore, what is said about this matter in the L.A. Times must be true. End of story.

I don't think so.

The public record

Let's step back in time and review the public record. At The Rittenhouse Review on August 28 I published a piece entitled, "Norah Vincent: Tracing Noonan's Footsteps." In that article I criticized a post on Norah's BlogJam, published on August 28, a piece she described as a manuscript of hers that was rejected by the editors of the New York Sun.

I can no longer remember what her scribblings were supposed to be about, and the brief selections from the piece that I cited in my August 28 post, being typical of the rambling and discursive nature of Vincent's prose, provide few clues in retrospect. It hardly matters, as I cannot imagine her article was so interesting that it justifies my returning to it once again and I am very familiar with the particulars of the fall-out that ensued.

The following day, August 29, I received, in the form of an e-mail, a letter from a reader, the award-winning journalist Charles Pierce. I asked Pierce whether I could publish his letter at the site and he gave me permission to do so with his name attached. The letter was published, in its entirety, at the Review on August 29. In that letter, Pierce said certain words in Vincent's essay "rang familiar" and he questioned her originality, this on the basis of the similarity he noticed between Vincent's prose at a particular point in the article and, as he came to recall, the lyrics of an old Jackson Browne song, Browne not having been mentioned or cited in Vincent's essay.

Since Vincent has never named her purported accuser, it's not entirely clear whether she is aflame over Pierce's comments, which did not include the word "plagiarism," or over the headline that I attached thereto, my sole contribution to the exercise aside from deciding to publish the letter at all, which reads, wholly and entirely:

Norah Vincent: Jackson Browne Fan -- And Plagiarist?

Was "plagiarist" the right word to use in this situation? I wasn't entirely sure then and I'm not sure now, and that's why I attached a question mark to the end of the sub-headline. In today's Times Vincent applauds weblogs because "unlike in the gated confines of print newspapers and magazines . . . anybody can participate in public debate on the Net." Well, participate they did, some defending Vincent and some not. The debate just didn't turn out the way Vincent wanted it to, and she's still not over it. Public debate is either healthy or it isn't, it doesn't depend upon the outcome, real or perceived.

She cannot have it both ways.

Instead of viewing the aftermath of the incident as a freewheeling exchange of ideas, Vincent in her self-contained, self-referential world found herself unfairly maligned, her reputation under attack, and her self-esteem, it would appear, almost mortally wounded. She lashed out, albeit ineffectively, a reaction that has continued in form and tone to this very day.

Vincent published her first defense against charges or suspicion of plagiarism at Norah's BlogJam on September 3, saying the accusation, such as it was, "requires a brief dismissal here." She continued:

The offending material? A famous Jackson Browne lyric to which I tipped my hat in an unpublished piece about 9/11. I said: "Reality hit hard that day, so hard that even Pearl Harbor seemed small by comparison, the fitful dream of this rude and much greater awakening." In his hit song "The Pretender" Browne sang "I want to know what became of the changes we waited for love to bring. Were they only the fitful dreams of some greater awakening?"

Leaving aside the dubious contention that Browne's lyric is "famous," coming, as it does, from a song that hit the airwaves in 1983, Vincent obfuscates the entire matter by referring to her essay as "an unpublished piece about 9/11."

"Unpublished" in what sense? Unpublished in the New York Sun, of course, which rejected the manuscript, a decision that, having been made by an upstart newspaper that isn't exactly bursting with copy, speaks volumes. But Vincent herself published it at Norah's BlogJam. Does Vincent mean to imply that posting an essay on her weblog means the article has not been published at all? By her faulty logic, if the piece wasn't really published at Norah's BlogJam then the alleged accusation of plagiarism wasn't really published at The Rittenhouse Review.

She cannot have it both ways.

Vincent similarly obfuscates when she tries to explain how the lyrics ended up in her essay:

I had, in fact, been listening to that song on my MP3 player about the time I was writing that piece, having downloaded it from the web. I've been a huge Browne fan since high school. Those four words crept, as lyrics are wont to do, into my subconscious, a place where, as anyone who actually makes a living as a writer knows, a great deal of one's work is done.

Well, as one who actually makes his living as a writer and has done so for more than 15 years, I ask: Which was it? Was Vincent deliberately tipping her hat and paying "obvious homage" [Ed: See quote, infra.] to a favorite songwriter? Or did the words emerge from her subconscious while she was writing the essay?

She cannot have it both ways.

Vincent's September 3 defense concluded:

There's no crime here. Nothing even beyond fair use, and obvious homage to a great and well known songwriter. End of story. The ridiculousness of this "charge" merits no further discussion.

Fine, she said her piece. But despite her contention that the matter "merits no further discussion," Vincent returned to the topic the very next day. At Norah's BlogJam on September 4 she complained of -- again unnamed -- webloggers who, in her words, try to draw attention to themselves by criticizing "legitimate targets":

By legitimate targets I mean people who have actually had some measure of success in their professional lives, people who get published regularly in the mainstream press because, yes, they have a certain degree of talent, but moreso because they have something more to say on a weekly basis than "boo hoo" or "look ma, no hands."

(I'll leave it to the readers of the L.A. Times to judge that last remark.)

With this little post, which, by the way, was where she first invented the charge of libel, Vincent disparaged and offended countless bloggers who take it as their right and duty to criticize not only public officials but the pundits who profess to monitor them. The very same bloggers, in fact, whom Vincent pretends to champion. For her own part, until she abandoned her erratic weblog, Vincent enjoyed straddling both sides of the fence: casting herself as a fiercely independent blogger breaking new ground in a democratizing new medium, but simultaneously posing as a writer who "had some measure of success" in her professional life, a lofty status that rendered her impervious to criticism from the "nasty riffraff" below.

She cannot have it both ways. (And, given that her site has been gathering dust for two months, it's clear Vincent prefers to lecture the hoi polloi from on high.)

Vincent concluded her September 4 post thusly:

As for the aforementioned -- though unnamed -- blogmonsters [sic], I have hereby railed enough against your poor and shallow tactics and will do so no more. You haven't earned respect from anyone, but I'll at least make an effort not to berate you any further. Instead I'll ignore you. So back to the swamp with you and the deserved obscurity from which you slithered.

I suppose it's not surprising that Vincent, who couldn't keep the pledge she made on September 3 even beyond September 4, has once again returned to this incident.

The heart of the matter

The heart of the matter here is that the determination of whether Vincent's use of Browne's lyrics, no matter how modest in scope, required her to refer the reader to the original writer is an editorial decision. That is, it would be incumbent upon Vincent to inform her editor that she was leaning on Browne and it would be up to Vincent's editor to determine whether an obscure 20-year-old lyric was sufficiently known and absorbed within the popular culture that the typical reader would knowingly catch Vincent's "tip of the hat."

However, by publishing the manuscript on her weblog, and doing so without saying it had been edited by the Sun (Actually, any reasonable reading of her August 26 post would lead to the conclusion that it had not been edited: rejected as "too rhetorical," she said they said.), Vincent was operating in the very same "virtual Wild West" about which she so crudely complained in her Times column: No editors, no fact-checkers, just Norah, writing and posting on her weblog, just like one of the peons.

Slyly, Vincent today says, "Common journalistic standards of accuracy and fair play exist for good reasons, and bloggers, like the rest of us, must abide by them." [Ed.: Emphasis added.] So now, at least as of today, Vincent is no mere blogger. She is a journalist, an assertion she makes without having even the slightest hint of experience as a reporter. She's not one of them, she's better, her once a week, 600-word, no doubt heavily edited Times piece presumably serving as prima facie evidence thereof.

As she approaches the end of her little piece, Vincent writes in high dudgeon: "So when bloggers willfully defame those with professional reputations to defend, that is a serious breach for which they should be held accountable."

I couldn't agree more.

Vincent is perhaps unaware, though she should not be -- nor should her editors and fact-checkers at the Times -- because this fact has been published on my site as well as those of several other writers: Although I don't earn any money from blogging, I am a writer and editor by profession.

It bears repeating: I earn my living by writing and editing.

Thus, I too have a professional reputation to defend. And neither Vincent nor the Times should be so presumptuous as to treat that reputation with such a reckless disregard for the facts and to so gleefully and carelessly throw around the disparaging terms that Vincent used and was allowed to use today. (Vincent's editor at the Times, who I have been informed is Mary Arno, has not returned my calls.)

Says Vincent:

Blogging is one of the best things that has ever happened to freedom of expression and the press, and we should make every effort to protect its scrupulous practitioners. But freedoms come with responsibilities. Common journalistic standards of accuracy and fair play exist for good reasons, and bloggers, like the rest of us, must abide by them. By drawing attention to libelous Web content, the Australian case may force them to.

Vincent's fit of pique notwithstanding, I consider myself to be a scrupulous practitioner of my craft, and I faithfully abide by the standards of accuracy and fair play. I have on several occasions published corrections when the circumstances warranted doing so. If Vincent disagrees, she can either continue to rant and rave to that effect from whatever forum may host her or she can use whatever other resources she has at her disposal to prove her contention.

She cannot have it both ways.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |

Wednesday, December 18, 2002  

What the Kool Kids are Saying

Are you reading or have you at least visited Andrew Tobias’s weblog on “Money and Other Subjects”?

Tobias, whose book, The Best Little Boy in the World (which originally was published under a pseudonym), changed my life, writes primarily about money and finance, something I’ve spent more than 15 years doing without applying anything I’ve learned to my own life.

Today Tobias has a smart piece about funding the Securities and Exchange Commission that I highly recommend, though that part about his trading in increments above $10,000 sort of gets on my nerves.


I hope things are okay chez Madeleine Begun Kane et mari. Sounds like things were a little testy there for a while. (See second item.)


Have you ever heard of or seen a “volcanic bomb”? I hadn’t either, until recently, but then again, I’m not Beth Bartel and I don’t live and work in Antarctica. Why not? Because I’m not insane. Just kidding. Bartel’s weblog, IceBlog!, a journal of her work way the hell down there, complete with outstanding photography, is fascinating.


How many bloggers can say they have linked to a blog written in Swedish? Visit I Dåligt Sällskap, just for the helluvit.


Roger Ailes -- No, not that one! The other one! -- of Roger Ailes, Over and Out, is definitely the kind of guy you would want to have a couple of drinks with. At least I would. But he’s never asked.


The proprietor of Seeing the Forest is writing about events in Venezuela and making me feel really guilty about not keeping up on all that. I hope he sticks with the subject.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |

Tuesday, December 17, 2002  

Welcome to the Wide World of Weblogging, Mickey!
There Are So Many More of Us Than You Could Ever Imagine.

Does the physically and developmentally stunted weblogger Mickey Kaus really believe that Atrios of Eschaton is Sidney Blumenthal?

As Andrew Sullivan would say, I am, at that, “RAOTFLMAO,” an acronym that Sullivan helpfully informed his dopey readers means, “Rolling around on the floor laughing my ass off.”

As I have mentioned on this site before, I have had the pleasure of enjoying the company of Atrios and the brilliant, talented, and lovely Mrs. Atrios for a dinner engagement, and I can assure the diminutive, balding, and unfurrowed Mickey Kaus that Atrios is definitely not Sidney Blumenthal.

How shocking it must be to realize that a man with a full-time job and career aside from his weblog -- i.e., Atrios -- has done so much to outshine the purported “professionals” of our punditocracy.

Try again, Mickster.

[Post-publication addendum: And now I learn from Hesiod of Counterspin Central that Professor InstaLinker thinks Atrios is really Robert Shrum. And Matthew Yglesias shares the delusion. RAOTFLMAO. These guys just don’t get it, do they?

On the other hand, Chris Andersen of Interesting Times does, in fact, get it.]

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |

Monday, December 16, 2002  

DON’T MISS . . .
Miscellany from Weblogs and the World Beyond

Jeanne D’Arc of Body & Soul on race, politics, and Billie Holliday in “Lady Sings The Dixiecrat Double Entendre Blues.” Outstanding.


John Nichols on why the Democratic Party leadership fears -- and mocks -- Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) in the December 6 issue of In These Times, “Saving the Democrats from Themselves.”


John Nichols (again) on the risks associated with “biofarming,” which isn’t at all what I thought it was, in the December 30 issue of The Nation (posted December 12), “The Three Mile Island of Biotech?


David Yaseen of A Level Gaze on the phony argument about the rich paying too much in taxes that lately has reared its ugly head in “Rising tax burden on the rich? What about tax benefits?”


Tom Leonard on whether Leonardo DaVinci was a Renaissance Peacenik in the December 14 edition of The Age (Melbourne), “Da Vinci War Machines ‘Designed to Fail’.”


Ann Rostow at PlanetOut with a too-brief look at how justice is meted out in the home state of wannabe Senate Majority Leader Sen. Don Nickles (R-Okla.) in “Oklahoma Executes Gay Man; Appeals Fail.”

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |

Saturday, December 14, 2002  

That’s odd. I didn’t make the list. Maybe next year, Steve.

By way of Coherence Theory of Truth today I read The Beast’s 50 Most Loathsome People in America, 2002.

Two of my favorite loathsome write-ups are those for #10, Ashleigh Banfield, and #13, Sean Hannity, but these two, reprinted below, are just a fraction of what The Beast has to offer.


Misdeeds: Uses glasses to upgrade her image from WASP-y soccer mom to WASP-y soccer mom who reads. Thought dying her hair black would make her a real journalist. Cried on camera while reporting from Ground Zero.

Aggravating Factor: Has quite possibly the whitest name you can imagine. Her name is the equivalent of a black person named La’ Shawna Jackson-Watkins.

Aesthetic: Co-chair of the Elk Woods Country Club charity golf tournament.


Misdeeds: Without question one of the most smarmy, vile, hypocritical talking heads on television. Has the uncanny ability to vilify and generalize those who disagree with him, and then state that he’s not a partisan person. Exploits his devout Catholicism and patriotism to the point that it makes you think he’s selling something—like his book, whose cover features his giant head in front of one of the glossiest, waviest American flags ever. Much of his wrath can probably be traced to his displeasure that Reagan still can’t remember his name although he’s met him many times.

Aggravating Factor: Since 9/11, pretends to be genuinely convinced that anyone who disagrees with the Bush administration does not want America to be safe. [Ed.: Pretends?]

Aesthetic: Repressed kid from Long Island who got to college, was scared of sex, discovered other repressed white kids in conservative student group, joined them, devoted rest of life to blasting people who didn’t.

I’m not going to tell you who’s #1, the person identified as the single most loathsome person in America. I’ll just say it’s a title that is well deserved.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |

Thursday, December 12, 2002  

A Quick Look at Some Recent Blogging

If the words spoken by retiring Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) back in 1948, the same words endorsed last week by Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.), don’t scare the behoosis out of you when you see them in print, take a quick walk over to Mikhaela’s News Blog for a link that will enable you to hear just how enthusiastically Sen. Thurmond spoke when he made those explicitly racist remarks.


Hey, guess what? You know that crazy project that convicted criminal John Poindexter is working on somewhere in the Pentagon, probably near the dumpsters and stuff? Yeah, the “Information Awareness Office.”

Well then you know that the IAO, as I suppose they’re already calling it, plans to track everything you and everyone else in the country buys, signs up or registers for, sends or receives e-mails to and from, blog, blog, blog. It’s all part of the war on terror.

What you may not know is that there is one thing the IAO won’t do and one specific piece of data in which the IAO is not interested, namely, anything that pertains to any firearms you’ve purchased. For the “No duh” on this, nonetheless wisely noted, visit Natasha’s The Watch.


Martin Wisse, who justifiably cannot help himself from correcting my faulty Dutch grammar, is doing an excellent job with the still quite new site, Progressive Gold. It’s a great place to find the best of the center-to-left blogs every day.

As the otherwise human right-winger Jay Caruso of the Daily Rant would say, “Just go check it out.”


As duly noted by several bloggers, Ted Barlow of Ted Barlow is back, and he’s tanned, rested, and ready, as they say. Don’t miss it. Him. The blog. Ted Barlow. (My lesson from Barlow’s return: I’m taking a longer break next time.)


Tom Tomorrow of This Modern World hits what he calls, quite rightly, “the special Eli Lilly Payback Provision” of the Homeland Security Act.


Berkeley Student: “But Professor DeLong, they said there would be no math.”

Professor Brad DeLong: “Um, this is an economics class.”

Berkeley Student: “I know, but my adviser said there would be no math.”


[Post-publication addendum: Looks like I need to pull out an old civics book or something. A smart reader wrote in to correct me on the order of presidential succession, a line in which I incorrectly placed Sen. Lott were he to become Senate majority leader. That error in the original posted has been corrected.]

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


Nothing to See Here
Just a Little Constitutionally Protected Bedroom Cross Burning

In the spring, when the Supreme Court hears oral arguments on the appeal of Lawrence v. Texas (in re sodomy), we would all do well to remember this remark by Justice Antonin Scalia, made yesterday while the court was hearing arguments in Virginia v. Black (in re cross-burning):

“Surely one can burn a cross in the sanctity of one’s bedroom.”

Oh, I get it. Cross-burning in the sanctity, or privacy, of one’s bedroom is allowed, protected even, but all that other stuff, well, you can forget about it.

And a word to the wise: If you ever find yourself a guest of Justice and Mrs. Scalia and you accept their invitation to stay overnight, ignore the smoke alarm. It’s really nothing.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


Ticky Tacky Taki

Here’s a tip from the Greek half of the dynamic duo that puts out a new little leaflet in Washington known as the American Conservative, Taki Theodoracopulos: If you dress up a joke as anti-Zionism, they’ll probably overlook the anti-Semitism. They may groan, but you’re pretty likely to be invited back again next year.

And I had to go to Lloyd Grove’s column to find this? Where’s the outrage?

Andrew Sullivan, please call your office.

(Actually, I found this by way of the increasingly indispensable Roger Ailes. No, not the creepy Republican one. The other one.)

[Post-publication addendum: Tapped took note of Taki’s little stand-up routine yesterday. That’s what I get for putting off the penitential rite of reading Grove on the day he’s published.]

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |

Wednesday, December 11, 2002  

Media Beta Girl Enters the Echo Chamber

National Post (Toronto) and Telegraph (London) columnist, New Criterion theater critic, and quintessential Media Beta Girl Mark Steyn today was given space on the op-ed pages of The Wall Street Journal to expound upon two of the greatest concerns of the American people today, or at least of Americans, among others, in the media who curry favor with the likes of Matt Drudge and Mickey Kaus.

One only need glance at the title of Steyn’s essay -- “Lather, Rinse, Repeat” -- to know where this sorry exercise, this pathetic excuse for informed opinion, is headed.

Naturally, the topics of discussion are the price Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) pays for his haircuts, the latest (demonstrably false) “scoop” of would-be journalist Drudge, and the senator’s now notorious “furrowed brow,” one of the more recent obsessions of the diminutive right-wing pundit Kaus.

The word according to Steyn:

John Kerry’s hairdresser continues to make waves in Washington. The news that the Massachusetts senator . . . gets a $75 coiffure from Cristophe’s has riveted the Beltway and distracted from his message. . . . To be honest, it’s not entirely obvious where the 75 bucks goes. I mean, I haven’t seen the back of his head in awhile, so it’s possible he has an attractively angled nape. Otherwise, the most likely explanation is that it’s 15 bucks for the stuff on top but he pays $30 per eyebrow for some Ann Miller industrial-strength lacquer that freezes them into that permanently furrowed look.

Interesting, isn’t it, the way Steyn covers up Drudge’s false assertion that Sen. Kerry pays $150 for a haircut? This as if by some miracle of textual transposition it wasn’t a $150 haircut that “riveted the Beltway” -- and, I assure you, nowhere else -- but a still heinous and character-challenging $75 haircut.

Regardless, more than 10 days after the haircut scandal emerged at the factually challenged Drudge Report and roughly the same period of time after weblogger Kaus cast aspersions on Sen. Kerry for the lines on his forehead, Beta Girl Mark Steyn continues to feel compelled to weigh in with his worthless fulminations on the same subjects.

Gee whiz, Steyn, get with the program! According to the media’s Alpha Girls, those whose lead you are all too transparently following, that Kerry stuff about haircuts and wrinkles is, like, sooo last week!

Interesting, also, that Steyn -- whose visage suggests a man lacking familiarity with basic grooming implements, including combs and beard trimmers -- doesn’t share the details of his own visits to the salon with Journal readers. He does, however, drop a hint. “I always enjoy the bit at the end of the haircut where the stylist holds up the hand mirror so you can see the back and sides,” Steyn writes.

Note, “the stylist.”

Not “the barber”?

Given that Steyn reviews musicals on Hilton Kramer’s homophobic dime, one would think he might at least try to butch it up a bit.

And then, out-Steyning even Mark Steyn, Steyn concludes his piece with a lie, a proved-beyond-a-shadow-of-a-doubt lie, in fact, by writing, in a context that is not worthy of your time or consideration: “If we’d spent more on light rail infrastructure, it wouldn’t matter if a president shut down LAX traffic control so he could get a $200 haircut on the runway, because everybody else would be on the 4:07 to Buffalo via Phoenix, Grand Forks, Oklahoma City and Duluth.”

The reference here is to former President Bill Clinton, a man about whom the media and its right-wing friends clucked and chuckled for years because in 1993 he purportedly held up air traffic on the West Coast and beyond so that he could get his locks trimmed for two “c” notes.

The problem with this little yarn is that it’s simply not true.

The problem with Steyn is that he continues to believe this story is true -- or wishes desperately that it were -- or that he couldn’t care less.

And the problem with The Wall Street Journal is that Paul Gigot & Co. are so unconcerned with facts, so ideologically driven, that they would let this lie go to print nearly 10 years after it was proved false.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |

Tuesday, December 10, 2002  

Who’s Driving This Car?

On John Snow, to be nominated secretary of the Treasury: “assistant general counsel, U.S. Department of Transportation, 1972-73; . . . deputy assistant secretary for policy, plans and international affairs, DOT, 1973-74; assistant secretary for governmental affairs, DOT, 1974-75; deputy undersecretary, DOT, 1975-76; administrator, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 1976-77.”

On William H. Donaldson, to be nominated chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission: “a wealthy and powerful Wall Street executive who served in the administrations of Presidents Richard M. Nixon and Gerald R. Ford.”

Cruising Midland, Texas

This may not be your father’s Oldsmobile, but each day the Bush presidency looks more and more like your father’s administration. Or someone’s father, anyway.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


Vote for Mad Kane!

It’s a shame when bad things happen to good people, though I understand Harold S. Kushner has built a cottage industry around helping the woeful make the most of such misfortune. (“Making lemons out of lemonade,” as my friend Mike Signorile once put it.)

And it’s a good thing, at least in my opinion, when bad things happen to bad people.

But what’s even better is when good things happen to good people, and such is the case today.

Humorist, blogger, oboist, attorney, and insomniac Mad Kane, whose driver’s license more likely reads Madeleine Begun Kane, has been nominated for two -- not one, but two -- of’s 2002 Political Dot-Comedy Awards:

Best Parodies (Ongoing Achievement) for her site, Mad Kane’s Political Humor; and

Best Bush Humor for yet another of her sites, Dubya’s Dayly Diary.

As the incomparable Ms. Mad Kane herself notes (Ever notice that almost no one could ever say Peggy Lee’s [Dead!] name without prefacing the appellation with the words, “the incomparable Miss,” as in, “The incomparable Miss Peggy Lee”?), the competition is fierce, and while Kane humbly professes not to expect to win, we all know it’s much more fun to show up at Morton’s with a statue than without one.

Visit her sites first if you feel you need to, but join the fun and do what the rest of the kool kids are doing: Voting for Mad Kane! (<===Click there to vote.)

And you know what? A win, even a decent showing, might help make up for all the times Mad’s mother, with a heavy sigh, introduced guests to her miniature poodle as “my only grandchild.”

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |

Monday, December 09, 2002  

But If Not, The Hell With All of You

I can’t help but wonder what, if anything, is going through the minds of the likes of Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.), Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), and Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) today, that in light of the latest, and only the latest, evidence of the poorly disguised racism that is one of the defining characteristics of soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.).

In the event that Sen. Lott declines to resign or even to apologize for having heaped praise upon the 50-year-old, thoroughly discredited, and unconscionably heinous agenda of the 100-year-old, quasi-corpse known as Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), the refusal of Sens. Chafee, McCain, Snowe, and Specter to abandon the oh-so-cleverly-subtle racist enterprise that is today’s Republican Party will speak volumes, not only about American politics today, but about political power generally and the morality and character of these particular senators.

In this country only a very select few -- 100 men and women at one time -- occupy the lofty, prestigious, and powerful post of U.S. Senator. We as a polity are right and just in holding these 100 persons to the highest of ethical standards.

And so, if, in the face of such disgraceful conduct by their own elected leader, these Republican senators, these otherwise reasonable men and women, again, namely, Sens. Chafee, McCain, Snowe, and Specter, and whoever else might choose to surprise us -- Sen. Ben Campbell (R-Colo.), perhaps? Ha ha ha! -- decide to stand by and stand behind the despicable white supremacist known as “Trent Lott,” then the hell with all of them. I’d rather not have them join the party and in such case I hope we will hear none of such “party-switching” nonsense again.

[Post-publication update, December 12: Today’s New York Times quotes Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) on the subject of Sen. Lott’s trip down memory lane: “His comment was an inadvertent slip, and his apology should end the discussion.”]

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


Human Events Speaks to Strom Thurmond

Ahead of the “celebration” marking the 100th anniversary of the appearance in flesh, blood, and bones of that which has become known as Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), the conservative weekly Human Events shared with its readers an interview with the “patriot, veteran, and statesman” conducted by John Gizzi. [Note: Their words, not mine.]

The interview with “Ol’ Strom” was conducted in 1996. You have to go back six years to find a walking, talking Thurmond. More nostalgia, I guess. It’s always nostalgia with these people.

Anyway, here’s a choice quote from the vaporizing senator from South Carolina:

When I ran for President on the States’ Rights Party ticket in `48, it was not a segregationist campaign. It was about just that: the rights of states against the power of the federal government. We carried four states [South Carolina, Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi], but President Truman never forgave me. When I went to his inauguration . . . he and Vice President Alben Barkley drove by in an open car and my wife and I waved. Barkley started to wave back, but Truman grabbed his arm and said “Don’t wave at that [expletive deleted].”

He did some good things, I suppose, like dropping that bomb to end the war. But he was also a very small man toward those who disagreed with him, like Gen. MacArthur and me.

And here’s Gizzi of Human Events putting it all in perspective for us:

Because of his “Dixiecrat” race for President in 1948 and his steadfast opposition to civil rights legislation that included speaking for 24 hours and 18 minutes on the Senate floor (the record for filibusters) in opposition to the 1957 Civil Rights Act, it has been easy for the national media to characterize Thurmond as a racist. In truth, just like more liberal Southern senators such as J. William Fulbright (D.-Ark) and John Sparkman (D.-Ala), Thurmond did defend the segregationist practices of Southern states against what he deemed “a new kind of police state centered in Washington.” But he was not a hater of the Bilbo stripe and, while governor from 1946-50, successfully sought the abolition of the poll tax and more funds for black, albeit segregated, schools.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |

Sunday, December 08, 2002  

I’m Going to Pass on This One

I have to say that I can’t help but wonder why anyone thinks, would think, or thought, that “Good King Wenceslaus” is, was, ever would have been, or even would be considered, a Christmas carol.

It’s not.

[Post-publication addendum (December 9): To the many readers who have written, yes, I know arguments can be made on both sides of this. If I were feeling better, I would expand upon my position, but, in truth, I’m really just yanking Skippy’s chain and whatever that is that’s barking beside him on this subject.]

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |

Friday, December 06, 2002  

In the New York I Used to Know, Five Bucks Could Break a Window

Peggy Noonan -- “The loons! The loons!” -- today once again demonstrates her supernatural talents, this time reading the mind of the man on the street, or, more accurately, a man in the candy store:

Mayor Mike Bloomberg had just come on to do a live news conference. They had the TV on in the candy store to get updates on the weather. Mr. Bloomberg announced this was “the first big test” of his administration. The guy next to me caught my eye; we smiled and thought: Thanks for the context--we thought this was about the storm. We forgot it’s about you! It wasn’t obnoxious, just comic, a pure moment of the inevitable solipsism of a modern mayor in the media age.

Impressive as this sounds, I’m afraid Noonan got it wrong. You see, I happen to know the Brooklyn man with whom Noonan exchanged her knowing glances, and at that particular moment, the man in the candy store tells me, he was thinking:

Oh, God, there’s that nut Peggy Noonan. The one with the dolphins. She even looks crazy. Why is she staring at me? Maybe if I just smile and turn away she won’t try to start a conversation. She’s freaking me out. Man, I gotta’ get out of here!

Oh, and a quick walk through Brooklyn Heights with a tape measure (“seven feet tall and 40 inches wide”), perhaps a map (look for the church with a statue of Our Lady of Fatima in front -- my bet is on Our Lady of Lebanon, on Remsen St.), and five bucks for an enterprising neighborhood kid ought to take care of that window of hers pretty quickly. At least it would in the New York I used to know.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |

Thursday, December 05, 2002  

To Understand the Media, Listen to an American in Britain

Why is it that Howard Kurtz, Washington Post “media critic,” is paid, what, $200,000 a year, to yammer on and on for hundreds of words only to reveal his complete and utter cluelessness about politics and the media -- about anything, really -- while a “mere” blogger, namely Avedon Carol, who while an American, doesn’t even live in this country, can write, offhandedly and as part of her sideline activities, and from the other side of the Atlantic -- Britain -- no less, four sentences that more accurately and concisely portray the pathetic and deteriorating state of the “prestige” media in the U.S. today, and do so in a manner and with a flourish that puts to shame any of the random, nonsensical thoughts that might, just might, happen to pass through the pea brain of the man known to his protective buddies as “Howie,” but to those in the know as The Next Mrs. Rush Limbaugh?

Here is Carol writing, as it happens, primarily about her “hometown” paper, one she knows well, the aforementioned and perpetually declining Washington Post, though in context she clearly is referring to every leading print outlet in the U.S., the four sentences that say all too much about all too little:

[I]t just feels like such a waste of time to try to read stories by journalists who are really just reporting on what’s going on inside their own heads. Fair enough for me to do it on my own weblog, but no one’s paying me for this. But in The Newspapers of Record? It’s like a horrible joke, except that it’s not funny.

Ringing any bells, Alpha Girls?

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |

Wednesday, December 04, 2002  

The Price of My Haircuts and the Furrow of My Brow

I thought I would save anyone so inclined the trouble of a little investigative reporting -- “A little what?”, the leading lights of our nation’s media cry out in unison -- and inform you of my own volition that I normally pay $40, plus tips, for a haircut, and I do so every three weeks.

And also, for the record, I have a furrowed brow, a deeply and perpetually furrowed brow, and a brow that has been furrowed -- and thoroughly unfurrowable -- for nearly twenty years.

I assert it is and always has been genuinely furrowed. And since I am some twenty years younger than the similarly encumbered Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), a man whose furrowed brow I had not noticed until it was brought to a shocked and disgusted nation’s attention on Sunday, I now wonder whether I am experiencing the repulsive and shameful condition known as “premature furrowed brow.”

In my defense, I believe I inherited my furrowed brow from my father. However, I have not read any studies proving a genetic link to or predisposition toward furrowed brows, as until this week I regarded furrowed brows, including mine, my father’s, and those of countless others, as mere facial traits and not evidence of character flaws, this an ignorant oversight for which I sincerely apologize.

My assertion of the authenticity of my brow’s furrows aside, I will, in preparation for a possible run for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, graciously allow second third-rate blogging hack Mickey Kaus to issue the definitive verdict to a waiting nation.

Brows, especially the furrowed kind, and even more so furrowed brows of the “phony” type, apparently are of great importance to Kaus, who, for the record, is balding and has a suspiciously shiny forehead and an unusually small skull.

Thank you for your attention. We may all now return to the critical issues facing this country: former President Bill Clinton’s birthmarks, former Vice President Al Gore’s facial hair, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s jewelry.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |

Monday, December 02, 2002  

NOW PLAYING AT |||trr|||
Take a Walk on the Lighter Side

Modesty, ahem, prevents me from regularly drawing readers’ attention to |||trr|||, my other weblog, known offhandedly as “The Lighter Side of The Rittenhouse Review,” as if there were any other.

Lately, however, I have been spending more time working on the site, for too long my overlooked stepchild. If you care to, stop by |||trr||| for a quick look at the recent posts there, including: “100 Things I’ve Never Done,” “Despair in the Streets of La Páz,” “Misguided Mass Mailings,” “Warm Summer + Early Snowfall = Drunken Moose,” “A New Definition of Joy,” “And You Laughed at Me?,” “Five Gastronomic Disasters That Explain Why I Will Never Understand the South,” “Making -- and Paddling -- Butter,” “The Ingredients May Surprise You,” “I Really Need to Cook More,” “Whoops! Wrong Number!” and “Life and Death and Bonsai.”

And in the continuing series, “Philadelphia: Love It or Hate It (The Best and Worst of the City of Brotherly Love Arranged in Thoroughly Random and Unrelated Pairings)”: Longwood Gardens and the Subway System; Easy Shopping and Missing Street Signs; The PSFS Building and Litter; and Quaint Alleys and Places That Don’t Deliver.


Or hate.

I don’t really care.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |

Saturday, November 30, 2002  

Something to do With the Showers Again, No Doubt

From a piece by Kevin Drum at his weblog CalPundit, picked up from Charles Kuffner of Off the Kuff, I learn that Rice University football coach Ken Hatfield recently has been feeling a little insecure in his masculinity, or quite full of the Holy Spirit, or both.

Hatfield, a purported and self-professed “devout Christian,” said recently that he would consider removing from the team any player who publicly (which I think it’s fair to interpret to mean, “vocally” or “verbally”) revealed a gay sexual orientation.

In a subsequent op-ed piece in the November 28 issue of the Houston Chronicle, there rises to Hatfield’s defense -- this despite an earlier private and public reprimand of the coach by Rice University President Malcolm Gillis -- junior-college history teacher Tom Lovell, of Tomball College.

The Chronicle, seemingly ignorant of Rice University’s policy on the matter and not realizing this really is a “case closed,” published Lovell’s pointless little jottings. In them, Lovell characterized the criticism to which Hatfield has been subjected for what he called the coach’s “squeamishness over coaching out-of-the-closet gays,” as the height (or depth) of “political correctness.”

Then, taking a giant leap into the realm of fantasy, Lovell said the controversy proved that everyone at Rice -- a school that with its emphasis on science and engineering heretofore had not been known as a hotbed of incipient revolution -- must adhere to “the leftist party line,” lest they be “targeted for abusive public pillory.”

Well, what was it that Coach Hatfield said that stirred up such a ruckus? In an article in the November 1 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education, “The Loneliest Athletes” [Note: Referred to in the link provided above.], Hatfield, a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, indicated that homosexuality is contrary to the FCA’s “sexual purity” policy, which, according to the CHE, states:

God desires His children to lead pure lives of holiness. The Bible is clear in teaching of sexual sin, including sex outside of marriage and homosexual acts. Neither heterosexual acts outside of marriage nor any homosexual act constitute an alternative lifestyle acceptable to God.

According to the CHE reporter, Jennifer Jacobson, Hatfield said that while not a single player has come out to him in his 36 years of collegiate coaching -- Big surprise! -- he “would be concerned both about the effect on the team and about what the parents of other athletes would think, he says. He would ask the player, ‘What happened? What changed since we recruited you? When did this come about?’”

Implying, as this statement does, that the pious Christian Coach Hatfield has better gaydar than I do, it is a challenge to respond to such laughable ignorance. Many have tried, with noble effort and greater intellectual resources than I can command, to respond to such lunacy, but few have succeeded, at least when it comes to convincing those persons who make such statements.

I’ll save this challenge for another day, but suffice it to say that I do not know even one gay man who, just like his heterosexual friends, was not aware, on at least some level, of his sexual orientation before the age of 14. Not one. Some adjust to and accept this realization quickly; for others, depending on a variety of psychological and social factors, it takes more time. Often quite a bit more time is required, even today.

And if it so happens that this acceptance occurs to a member of the Rice football team between the ages of 18 and 22, or 24, or 26, or whatever ages Hatfield’s players are (and coincidentally, the ages at which most men I know finally accepted their sexual orientation), well, that’s just too bad for him. Rice’s anti-discrimination policy, as Hatfield learned, but Lowry apparently did not, applies to everyone at the university, including the school’s revered and reverential football coach.

One might also ask how concerned Coach Hatfield is that the heterosexual players on his team might be engaging sexual activity outside of marriage. There’s nothing in the FCA statement on “sexual purity” that would lead a reasonable person to conclude that fornication of this sort is not at least as abhorrent to the organization.

Until Coach Hatfield and Professor Lovell start chastising the Rice football team’s heterosexual players for sleeping with their girlfriends and groupies, and that (the chastisement, I mean) with a fervor even approaching that which these two have reserved for the team’s gay players -- out or not -- neither man has any moral ground upon which to stand and neither deserves even the slightest bit of our attention on matters moral or political, let alone the ink needed to splatter a handful of incoherent mutterings on Chronicle newsprint.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |

Wednesday, November 27, 2002  

The Pathetic Case of Rush Limbaugh

If there is even one person reading this piece who believes the right wing is committed to the free exchange of ideas and information, and that Rush Limbaugh is the embodiment of this noble stance, I suggest he visit Scoobie Davis Online and then get back to me.

Davis reports that Limbaugh -- the object of Howard Kurtz’s latest crush and everyone’s favorite Ditto Butt -- while “talking policy” on his nationally syndicated radio program, today once again had his cyst-covered ass pressed on the mute button, though, as always, only when doing so served to advance his agenda or when the pressure relieved that painful itching and dryness.

By the way, if it’s not too much trouble, should you decide to respond, please do your best to write in complete sentences, spell correctly those words in your message that are typical of the vocabulary of the average fourth grader, and try to refrain from onanistic vulgarities.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


A Pre-Holiday Trio

“THE LOONS! THE LOONS!”: I know many people associate Peggy Noonan first and foremost with her dolphins, but for me, it’s loons. Whenever I read Noonan’s columns I hear Katharine Hepburn [Still living!] as Ethel Thayer in “On Golden Pond”: “The loons! The loons!”

Paul Musgrave, with his essay “Get Your Noonan On,” has helped me understand why.

[Post-publication addendum: Prompted by something a colleague said about it, I just reread Musgrave’s piece on Noonan. Let me add here that this guy is some kind of genius or something, I don’t know what.]


WEIGHTY MATTERS: The fun folks at PETA sure don’t care for anyone, any human beings at least, who are carrying a few extra pounds. Their latest target: John Madden.


WHAT’S A SYCOPHANT TO DO?: Atrios at Eschaton ponders the odd contortions we soon may see displayed by the newly minted right winger and former Trotskyite Christopher Hitchens.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |

Monday, November 25, 2002  

Bloggers and Others Who Make Me Laugh

There are several webloggers who make me laugh out loud, not all of them with every post, but when they do, it is a welcome respite from the day’s drudgery.

Among those offering this relief:

TBogg, of course -- And how exactly did I get through a rough day before he appeared on the scene?; Über-Beagle Neal Pollack of Neal Pollack’s Maelstrom (and let’s not forget his sidekick, the revered, at least around here, Lizz Westman -- Um, Lizz, everything required for me to carry your child has been obtained.); Mad Kane of Mad Kane’s Notables; David Ehrenstein of David E.’s Fablog; Tom Tomorrow of This Modern World; Atrios of Eschaton; SullyWatch; Slacktivist; Uggabugga; and Smarter Andrew Sullivan.

And, in an entirely different league of mirth generators:

Andrew Sullivan of the “Daily Dish” and his similarly named Washington Times column, the “Weekly Dish”; the sporadic and erratic Norah Vincent of Punching Out Liberals I Hate or something like that; and Mickey Kaus of Kaus Files. (And, though she doesn’t maintain a weblog but is offered life support -- and, presumably, insurance coverage for rehab -- from a site that purports to be one, Peggy Noonan.)

And in the remaining group -- I don’t think “weblog” is the right term for his site -- there is the essential Bob Somerby of the Daily Howler.

It’s not often Somerby makes me laugh -- usually when I read the Howler I find myself becoming so agitated I reach for the nearest benzodiazepine -- but he made me laugh out loud today with his latest piece, “That’s Rich!”, from which this quote was taken:

“By the way: Mort [Kondracke] is on the Beltway Boys to ‘balance off’ Fred [Barnes], the conservative.”

If you’re not RAOTFLYAO, as they say, you need to start watching more of the dreck that is regularly featured on the cable “news” channels.

Thanks for everything, Mr. Somerby.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


The Enduring Power of Cliques in a Post-High-School World

First names only: Pam, Mary, Cheri, Debby, and Angel.

The five most powerful girls in my senior class. In that order. The five most powerful people in my high school during my senior year. Period.

And before them: Diane, Christine, Debby, Debbie, Carol, Jeanne, Ardith, Debbie, Sandy, and Fay. And after them: Denise, Shannon, and Jodi, and beyond those, the many girls I have forgotten and those much younger than me who I never knew, a chain that no doubt runs up to and including the present day.

All of these girls, during their final years of high school, were members in good, albeit fragile, standing of the most powerful female clique at W.C.S.

These girls could make you or break you: male or female; student, teacher, or administrator; even parent. Your “making” wasn’t always clear-cut. It took a considerable amount of self-confidence to conclude that you had been made and to act accordingly. And even after having been made, your position was perpetually and permanently precarious, and you knew it. They made certain you knew it. And the onus of maintaining one’s made status was on you, not the clique. Oh, but the breaking . . . that’s another story entirely. When they broke you, there was no doubt. Your day-to-day existence was rendered miserable, those you counted as friends abandoned you, humiliation and isolation defined your existence, and your ability to face each new day was shattered.

I was luckier than most of my classmates, female or male. I understood what was happening and I knew Pam, Mary, Cheri, Debby, and Angel had made me, and, even better, they made me during our junior high school years, if not earlier. And only once in four years of high school, and that for just a few months, did I slip.

They made me because I was good-looking, a jock, and a stud. No, not really. I became a jock and a stud later in life. Actually, Pam, Mary, Cheri, Debby, and Angel liked me because I was smart and because I was funny, but mostly because I was funny. And I was funny in a cutting, caustic, and nasty way that served their agenda and sustained their power. It is not without shame that I recall having fed them some of their meanest and most hurtful putdowns.

I loved these girls then, and I love them now, confident they have matured as least as much as I have. (I say at least as much because women are like that: the discussion here notwithstanding, pertaining as it does to the behavior of young girls, women, as a group, are and always will be more mature than men of similar age.) I’m disappointed that my last contact with any member of the group was dinner nearly ten years ago with Pam, who was as pretty, smart, and funny as ever, and probably more so. Oddly, I loved them even when I temporarily fell from grace during sophomore year.

What brought on this wave of nostalgia? A trip through the yearbooks? The yearbooks that we made and that only we could make -- that “we” being comprised of the girls’ top clique and the boys they endorsed. No. In fact, truth be told, I had to dig out my old yearbooks to remember the names of some of the school’s top dogs -- a misnomer if ever I saw one, given their uniformly above-average to well-above-average looks -- who preceded and anteceded my senior year.

What sparked these memories was, of all things, the recent treatment by the media, and in particular by the conservative punditburo, of former Vice President Al Gore.

“Girls Just Want to be Mean”

Watching the media’s unrelenting pig pile on Al Gore in recent weeks revived these teenage memories, many of them unpleasant, even painful. And as I thought about the matter and observed purportedly mature men -- mostly men anyway -- attack Gore with a ferocity I had not witnessed since I said good-bye to the Class of 1980, I thought also of “Girls Just Want to be Mean,” an article by Margaret Talbot in the February 24 issue of the New York Times Magazine.

I found Talbot’s essay spellbinding, fascinating, and extraordinarily accurate, at least with respect to my own high school years and much of what I had heard about kids today from friends and colleagues. I was surprised to see Talbot’s piece greeted in many quarters, the predictable and otherwise, with venomous hostility and transparent denial. In the article, which was based upon visits to several schools and extensive interviews with students and teachers, Talbot identifies the characteristic traits and behavioral patterns of the most selective girls’ cliques, the members of which she refers to as “Alpha Girls” and “Queen Bees.”

Alpha Girls, Talbot wrote, armed with intelligence and cunning, devote considerable time and energy to waging complicated, intricate, and highly personalized battles with other girls of similar age, the intent of which is to damage the other girls’ friendships, relationships, and reputations, all in an effort to enhance and sustain their popularity and status.

The Alphas accomplish their goals through a wide variety of means, including spreading rumors -- some true or at least based on truth, others wildly false -- using the power of information and the means of its distribution to assault their prey. With an uncanny ability to identify and exploit their victims’ weaknesses, their opponents’ most vulnerable Achilles’ heels, the Alphas mercilessly exclude from membership -- or “merely” reduce the social standing of -- those who don’t make the cut.

Membership in the group is uncompromisingly exclusive -- like the all-male Augusta National Club, obvious eagerness to join is certain to result in rejection -- and unquestioning loyalty to the group’s mores and agenda is required for a girl to maintain membership in good standing. Even the most petty offense -- wearing the wrong clothes on the wrong day, eating the wrong food in the cafeteria or even eating in the cafeteria at all, or joining the wrong extracurricular activity, to say nothing of speaking with, or worse, dating, the wrong boy -- is grounds for immediate expulsion.

Alliances, many of them temporary and fleeting, are a critical element of the Alphas’ strategy. When it suits them, Alphas will befriend a girl with whom they would not ordinarily be associated with the sole intent -- not always apparent to the newly befriended girl -- of inflicting revenge and retribution on their latest victim. Although Alphas can be mean and cruel, they aren’t physical; catfights aren’t their thing. Rather than engaging in physical altercations, they rely on words, insults, rumor, gossip, innuendo, and manipulation. And the Alphas use others who are not members of the clique, including girls aspiring to this lofty status, and boys, naturally the most popular boys whenever possible, in their campaigns to ruin the reputations of others they find threatening or morally, intellectually, socially, or physically superior.

(Allow me to interject here that my friends, Pam, Mary, Cheri, Debby, and Angel, weren’t nearly as vicious as the girls portrayed by Talbot. I’m sure it’s because they’re much better human beings, but the school was also too small for them to be that aggressive. After all, a clique with just two members cannot wield much power.)

The Betas and the Gammas

In her Times essay, Talbot identified two other groups in the social hierarchy of high school girls: the Betas and the Gammas.

The “Beta Girls,” or “Alpha Wannabees,” rank just below the Alpha Girls. Although the Betas generally earn better grades than the Alphas, demonstrate greater achievement in extra-curricular activities, and typically enjoy the favor of teachers and parents, most wish desperately to become Alphas. Their self-directed, usually independent, Alpha-directed membership drives can border on the obsessive and even the pathetic. Beyond their quest for membership in the school’s highest-ranking clique, the Betas’ most clearly identifiable motivation is fear of offending the Alphas, this out of a justifiable reluctance to become the group’s latest target.

Finally, according to Talbot, there are the “Gamma Girls,” girls who generally fit the standard characteristics of the familiar label, “Most Likely to Succeed.” These girls, while not the most popular or most successful girls in school, also happen to be among the most well adjusted. They view themselves and evaluate their peers on the basis of their accomplishments and personal qualities rather than their appearance or social standing; they are often the most consistently congenial girls in school, this despite their often depressed self-esteem; they form new friendships easily and end them without conflict or animosity; and their relationships are more circular than hierarchical in nature, a testament to their more advanced mental and emotional development. The Gammas differ from the Betas, however, in that the Gammas profess a complete lack of interest in becoming Alphas, and this lack of interest, sometimes affected by a few Betas, is genuine.

(My own observation, one not developed by Talbot, is that the Alphas, knowingly or not, tend to define themselves in opposition to the Gammas, those who are, in truth but in secret, the Alphas’ most dreaded adversaries. The Gammas, though, are not cognizant of this latent power and therefore are consigned to operating at an unwarranted disadvantage.)

The Mean Girls and the Media

Talbot did not examine or expound upon the social stratification typical of high school boys, this out of a belief that the mechanics of friendship and popularity among boys are far less complex and far less worthy of an anthropological investigation than those of girls. Although high school boys are not blameless in this regard, something of which I’m certain Talbot is aware, I believe her differentiation among the genders is valid. This certainly has been my experience, and, based upon what I have learned from family and friends with children of teen age, I have no reason to believe things have changed much in the last 20 years.

And yet our punditburo, dominated, and heavily so, by men -- I guess because we talk louder, are more interruptive, and are less likely to hear the words coming out of others’ mouths, thus making us more “opinionated” and “provocative” -- shares many of the attributes, features, and pathologies of girls’ high school cliques we learned from Talbot. The media has its Alphas, its Betas, and its Gammas, but the members of those castes are neither uniformly nor even predominantly female. There are in the American media female and male Alphas, female and male Betas, and female and male Gammas, and the hierarchical relationships among them are remarkably similar to the society Talbot described.

Starting from “the bottom” and working upward, it’s sadly obvious that despite the “Most Likely to Succeed” label, Gammas, male or female, do not fare well in the media’s highest echelons. To obtain one’s own column in a major or even mid-level American newspaper, or to win one’s own program on a major broadcast network or somewhere in the upper reaches of cable television’s double-digit land, requires something more than the affable, consensus-oriented, respected-but-not-feared personality that typifies the Gamma. I suspect this will never change.

In the American media, the Betas are legion. It is not without reason that Andrew Sullivan, himself one of the media’s most brazen self-propelled climbers and perhaps the industry’s most desperately scheming and self-promoting parvenu, maintains a “suck-up watch” for his would-be colleagues. Nor is it a coincidence that Sullivan in his insecurity casts “suck-up” aspersions on journalists far more talented than he.

Moreover, the prevalence of Betas, shackled by their Alpha aspirations and their fear of alienating their would be peers, has done considerable damage to the media and its transmission of timely, reliable, and accurate information to its readers and viewers.

Not long ago a newly found colleague, if I may call him that, lamented the harsh tone adopted by many webloggers. (He did not put this comment directly to me, but we both knew he well could have.) My response was that webloggers, some of whom I find smarter, more eloquent, and more perceptive than a sizable portion of their professional counterparts, do not share the punditburo’s status anxiety and do not join with the punditboro in enthusiastically casting aside whatever principles they might have in a craven effort to curry favor with their colleagues.

The media’s Betas, in their quest for higher professional status and a more public personal profile, fear nothing more than alienating the industry’s powerful Alphas. And for this reason, Betas hold back, mute their voices, temper their criticisms. Regularly. Consistently. Shamelessly. The Betas know who the gatekeepers are. They know that arguing too strongly against eliminating the estate tax would hurt their chances of appearing in The Wall Street Journal. They know that any hint of recognition that the Palestinians are human beings and not animals will result in their being permanently blackballed by the New Republic. And they know that expressing opposition to school vouchers or the privatization of Social Security will keep them from securing a plumb appointment in the Bush administration. The media consumer is poorly served by this rampant but well hidden journalistic deceit.

The Blogging of Sally Smith

To explore this further, let’s look at the case of Sally Smith, a hypothetical blogger. Smith, although a conservative Republican since college, nonetheless recently has become a vocal critic of at least two well-known conservatives, one a high-ranking member of the Bush administration, the other a prominent pundit.

The targets of Smith’s ire are Mitch Daniels, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, whom she has described several times as a “a prominent player in the recent Lillygate scandal,” and William Kristol, an occasional contributor to the Washington Post’s op-ed page who is best known as the editor of a still comparatively new Washington-based right-wing magazine called the Weekly Standard.

Smith’s fellow conservative bloggers have chastised her for deviating from the party line. They have called her “shrill” and “emotional,” as well as “unpatriotic” and “an apologist for Saddam Hussein,” the latter two labels coming despite the fact she hasn’t written about the situation in the Middle East since Election Day. Right-wing bloggers are shocked to see Daniels and Kristol, men who normally are treated by other conservatives with kid gloves if they are publicly criticized at all, subject to such scrutiny. Her professional counterparts in the media, a few of whom have considered asking her for a submission or two, are even more mystified. Why is Smith acting like this?, they ask. Why has she strayed from the fold? Is she addled with amateurism? Is she insane? Is she stupid? Or is she just a bitch?

All of these questions are misguided. The hypothetical Smith has a good job, separate and apart from, and wholly unrelated to, her politically oriented blogging project. And she has a full and happy life. It is actually because of this -- not despite this -- that Smith writes with incomparable fervor about Daniels and Kristol, along with a few other conservatives she finds woefully lacking in intelligence and perspicacity, because she believes passionately in the issues she addresses at her site. More important, because Smith has a good job and a full and happy life, one in which her comments on pundits, commentators, and journalists of varying authenticity have no bearing, she has no reason to fear offending Daniels or Kristol or any person, institution, business, or enterprise with which they are associated, affiliated, or related.

Although Smith is a brilliant thinker and an outstanding writer, she cares not one whit about ever being published in conservative magazines like the Weekly Standard (Kristol’s home base, though one it is obvious is the subject of little of his purportedly brilliant mind’s attention), Commentary, the Public Interest, or City Journal (to name just a few of the little magazines where Daniels, Kristol, Kristol’s father, Irving Kristol, and their friends have influence). Nor does Smith expect or wish ever to appear on the op-ed pages of the New York Post, the Washington Times, or the Washington Post. However, as a conservative, Smith appreciates the Post’s increasingly evident enthusiasm for right-wing writers, both in the editorial section and even more obviously in the “Style” section -- that portion of the paper that used to be called “the Lady’s Page,” now home to gossip columnist Lloyd Grove and consummate television-watcher Howard Kurtz.

Smith is not bothered that Pat Buchanan might think she’s too much of an internationalist to warrant calling herself a conservative. Or that William F. Buckley Jr. objects to her criticism of Pope Pius XII. Or that Martin Peretz and William Safire are irritated by her favorable remarks about Israeli Labor Party candidate Amram Mitzna.

Smith doesn’t care that the Heritage Foundation will never come calling. Or that as a judge in southern Vermont she effected a dozen lawful gay unions last year, acts that forever have rendered her persona non grata to the self-appointed high priests and Pharisees of First Things and National Review.

Smith has no desire to appear on the radio with the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Laura Schlessinger, or the incredible-shrinking Laura Ingraham. Nor does Smith worry that because she has a career and only one child that Ann Coulter, who has a career and no children, will question her femininity, disparage her devotion to her child’s well being because she works outside the home, and insinuate that Smith has mothered only one child because she killed the rest of her babies.

And that’s all because unlike her Alpha and Beta counterparts in the media, Smith doesn’t suck up to anyone. She never has and she never will. Her weblog’s readers know this, appreciate this, and respect her for it. On the other hand, the subjects of her recurring critiques, particularly Kristol, will kiss anyone’s ass, at least anyone, in the case of politicians, after whose name the notation “(R)” appears, and regarding Kristol’s friends in the media and at Washington “think tanks,” after whose names it can be assumed the notation would comfortably appear.

Some of Kristol’s readers know this, but many do not. And those who do not apparently are happy to wallow in their ignorance, pleased to view one of the Republican National Committee’s most reliable media mouthpieces as a brave and lonely voice against the alleged power, corruption, and nefarious influence of that straw man to end all straw men, the “liberal media.”

“We are the Alpha Girls!”

In stark contrast lie the Alpha Girls of the media, a clique dominated by preening and presumptuous conservatives. We are all familiar with their names, their visages, their biases, and their enlarged personas. About those that have become veritable celebrities -- all too many, all of them unworthy, I might add -- we know from various reports a great deal more: That Limbaugh, who lives like a fatted calf in Palm Beach, avoided military service during the Vietnam War because of a few troublesome boils on his butt; that the traditional-family-values-defining-and-mandating Schlessinger is divorced, cannot maintain civil relations with her mother or sister, was an unfaithful wife, and gleefully posed for nude photographs; and that Ingraham once shoved a running garden hose through the mail slot of the Georgetown home of a lover who spurned her unwanted attention, pulled a gun on yet another boyfriend who grew tired of her demented obsessions, and refused to let her claimed love for her openly gay brother stop her from engaging in some of the most homophobic and unethical activities of any journalist, real or imagined, of her generation.

The Alphas of the media are the big guys and gals, the heavy hitters, the swinging dicks of popular political commentary, the fever-pitched voices that have developed a supernatural ability to reduce complicated political issues to the distorted and misleading five-word sound bites they use in both their written work and in their seemingly endless television and radio appearances.

As with teenage Alphas, this is a self-perpetuating elite, one that selects and grooms its latest recruits, thus remaking themselves in their own image and likeness, aided by the largesse of cooperative foundations and ideological training camps. Worse, within this clique, nepotism is rampant and the evidence for this is abundant: Witness the otherwise inexplicable status of the unbearably mediocre Tucker Carlson, John Podhoretz, Lally Weymouth, and, of course, the aforementioned Kristol, among many others.

As for apostates, forget it. The few that have dared to break away from the Alphas -- David Brock comes immediately to mind -- are at best given the silent treatment, shunned in an almost officially sanctioned manner just a step shy of that accorded to Jehovah’s Witnesses who leave the fold. Beyond that, the media’s Alpha Girls, adopting the modes of action typical of snotty 16-year-old cheerleaders, subject their heretics to character assassination, scurrilous rumors, and campaigns of disinformatzia that would make the old K.G.B. blush. And, of course, the access of the disloyal to such lifelines -- or gravy trains or pig troughs, if you will -- as the Scaife Trusts and the Smith Richardson, Olin, Coors, Lilly, Murdoch, DeVos, and Bradley Foundations, is terminated post-haste. Only the cool kids get to party with that money!

Membership in the media’s Alpha-Girl clique varies depending upon the subject at hand and the intensity of the public’s interest in the issue, though some Alphas have achieved so much clout that their status is permanent and unquestionable: These are the Über Alphas, if you will. However, based upon the criteria established by Talbot, it’s evident that on the subject of Al Gore, these are the punditburo’s Alpha Girls:

Fred Barnes, Robert Bartley, Tucker Carlson, Ann Coulter, Maureen Dowd, Paul Gigot, Jonah Goldberg, Sean Hannity, Mickey Kaus, Michael Kelly, Morton Kondracke, Howard Kurtz, Charles Krauthammer, Rush Limbaugh, Peggy Noonan, Robert Novak, Frank Rich, William Safire, Andrew Sullivan, and George Will.

Not all of the Alpha Girls are conservatives and not all conservatives are anti-Gore Alpha Girls. Some right-wing pundits have managed somehow to avoid becoming mired in the Gore Obsession. Others, while critical of Gore in the specious and sniveling form preferred by the Alpha Girls, are merely Betas, still aspiring for acceptance by the nastiest, most vicious, and most self-absorbed coterie of scoundrels the American media has ever seen.

When the subject is Al Gore, each of the pundits named here, each member of this gaggle of giggling geese can be counted upon to reveal him- or herself to be the quintessential 17-year-old Alpha Girl: immature, insecure, dishonest, manipulative, selfish, developmentally stunted, and desperate for the approval and affection of others.

These are the players. These are the purveyors and shapers of opinion today. Enjoy, America, this is your media.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


Slandering Democrats

The Rittenhouse Review on Friday posted a recently published quote in which the cited writer accused Democrats of, in my words, “waft[ing] through life blissfully unaffected by the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001[,]” and of suggesting that Democrats are “degenerate pacifists, trapped in a 1970s mindset, hostile to their own country, and indifferent to its fate.”

Readers were asked to try to identify the author and the source of publication.

The correct answers:

The quote is from an article, “Hurry Up,” in the November 25 issue of the New Republic. It was written by Ray Lizza, an associate editor at the magazine.

This particular issue of TNR is chock full of lame attempts to smear the Democratic Party’s leadership. It’s obvious the well married Martin Peretz and the rest of the gang are going to be pretty cranky for the foreseeable future.

If you’re interested in gleaning the tone of future issues of TNR, don’t miss the November 25 issue’s cover story, “Follow the Leader” by Michael Crowley, an article that while intermittently aiming for fairness is nothing more than a thinly disguised hatchet job on House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |