The Rittenhouse Review

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

Thursday, May 29, 2003  

Conspirators Huddle in West Philadelphia

Last night, around 7 p.m., I made my way to a quiet, little-known, but excellent restaurant in West Philadelphia to meet Sidney Blumenthal and his wife for dinner.

I can't tell you the name of the restaurant as I'm sworn to secrecy. The dinner was arranged by an intermediary, a man with a deep-throated voice who refused to identify himself. The man told me to be careful that I wasn't followed from Center City: Apparently Camille Paglia is on the loose again, and, for reasons unknown, Mike Smerconish remains free to roam the city's streets. I was instructed to place a tiny bust of Kenneth Starr on my table so that Sid could find me.

I arrived early and quickly ran up an $18 bar tab, planning all the while to stick Sid with the bill. Why not? His book, The Clinton Wars, has just been published and is a success. As for my book, well, it's around here somewhere.

I was eager to hear what Sid thought about some of the bizarre and inventive reviews published recently (cf. Slate's review as shredded by Bob Somerby at the Daily Howler).

I was also hoping I could get Sid to ask Hilary Clinton for my watch.

You can imagine my disappointment when, at the appointed hour, in walked not Sid, but the mysterious Atrios, of Eschaton. With him -- and this was no let down -- was the brilliant and charming Mrs. Atrios.

I knew there had been some idle speculation that Atrios is really Sid Blumenthal, or vice versa, speculation Sid has denied, so for a few moments I was confused. I had met Mr. and Mrs. Atrios before and I didn't notice any physical resemblance between the two men. The same was true last night. They are two different people. I think. But it was dark. I was already in a Hitchens-like haze. And only now do I recall that Atrios said we should avoid direct eye contact.

Soon afterward another guest arrived: Jesse Taylor of Pandagon. Perhaps Taylor was the deep-throated gentleman who arranged the evening? I was determined to find out. Or, I thought, is Taylor Blumenthal? Nah.

The evening turned into a veritable bloggers' salon. We discussed politics, economics, and the media, and argued over the significance and meaning of the great Old English, Norse, and Finnish epics, Beowulf, The Poetic Edda, and The Kalevala, respectively.

Arlen Specter's name came up, of course, at which point I was certain I saw the curtains behind Mr. and Mrs. Atrios move ever so slightly. In the course of discussing a possible campaign, my deeply furrowed brow was judged to be genuine. I relayed that I am now cutting my own hair. I revealed I have no Jewish ancestors. We planned my first visit to Wal-Mart: a terrific photo opportunity, we all agreed.

After dinner we dropped off Taylor at a well-known Philadelphia landmark. Mr. and Mrs. Atrios invited me to have an after-dinner drink in their palatial and very chic Rittenhouse Square apartment, but I declined. I knew Neal Pollack would have said yes, but with questionable intentions. Besides, I suddenly remembered Lloyd Grove was in town on the Washington Post's dime. He owes me a few.

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Wednesday, May 28, 2003  

Infectious Diseases Get in the Way of the Really Fun Stuff

Here's some good news for a change: There's less spitting going on in China.

Elisabeth Rosenthal writes in today's New York Times ("SARS Makes Beijing Combat an Old but Unsanitary Habit"):

In its battle against severe acute respiratory syndrome, China is tackling a unique challenge. Spitting is a longstanding Chinese tradition, and spitting potentially spreads SARS.

As a result, to supplement temperature checks and hand-washing posters, the Chinese government has contributed a new weapon to the world's war against SARS: little white plastic spit bags that are handed out in parks and malls, the hardware for a wide-scale antispitting campaign.

Last week on Wanfujing, a shopping street, volunteers dressed as Lei Feng, the legendary Chinese soldier and do-gooder, pressed bags into the palms of passers-by. At the gate of Bei Hai Park last weekend, pretty girls wearing sashes promoting the 2008 Olympics staffed a table where bags were dispensed.

The bags read: "Spitting on the ground is dangerous to your health, and spit contains infectious diseases. But with one small bag in your hands, your health will always be invincible."

Invincible? Isn't that overstating the protection offered by a Baggie? Who wrote that? The same people who write for fortune-cookie makers? (Most memorable fortune: "Toreador pants make your legs look fat too.")

Apparently, one may still spit in China, it's just a matter of where:

[N]o one is suggesting that spitters give up the habit altogether, just that they avoid spitting on the ground. For most older Chinese men, phlegm is regarded as an unavoidable byproduct of heavy smoking and pollution, and it is taken for granted that it must go somewhere. The government recommends that phlegm be spit into a tissue or a spit bag and then thrown in a bin.

"I used to spit," said Lu Xiufeng, 68, a retired machinist in Bei Hai, with a stubble of gray on his head and on his chin, "but not anymore, since we are paying a lot more attention to ordinary hygiene. You wait and then use a tissue when you have to spit."

Hang in there, Xiufeng. We know you can do it. Besides, invincible health awaits you.

[Ed.: Thanks to Professor Pinkerton.]

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Monday, May 26, 2003  

The Perfect Deck for This Timeless Game

I wonder, do kids still tease each other with the question, "Ever play '52 Pick-up'?"

The naïve respondent, typically younger than the questioner, says, "No," whereupon the instigator scatters a full deck of cards on the floor and says, with considerable amusement, "Well, now you have! Pick 'em up!"

A reader drew my attention to a new deck of cards that is tempting me to play the game again. earlier this month published "Les 52 Plus Dangereux Dignitaires Americains" -- The 52 Most Dangerous American Dignitaries -- "le jeu de cartes du régime Bush," the card-game of the Bush regime.

It's a brilliant response to the Bush administration's juvenile 52 most-wanted cards. (The text, however, is in French.)

There's one card for each of the gang: Donald Rumsfeld (the Ace of Spades), Paul Wolfowitz (the King of Spades), Condoleezza Rice (the Queen of Spades), Richard Perle (the Jack of Spades), Vice President Dick Cheney (the Ace of Diamonds), President George W. Bush (the King of Diamonds), George Tenet (the King of Clubs), Karl Rove (the King of Hearts), Victoria Clarke (the Queen of Hearts), Colin Powell (the Jack of Hearts), along with many others, and two surprise Jokers as well.

Think of it this way: It's probably the only time the Bush administration will ever be playing with a full deck.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


Adding Names to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial

There's a very moving article in today's New York Times ("Black Granite Roll Call Is Now 58,235," by David Stout) about the ultimate sacrifice so many men and women have made for this country and its people -- for us.

Six new names are being added to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, the names of men who died long after the conflict ended but who, in many cases, lived painful and challenging lives for years afterward.

Specialist James Rogers [of Waynesville, N.C.] was 20 years old, almost through his one-year tour, on Dec. 14, 1968. That day, while on a patrol near the Cambodian border, his unit came under fire and he was struck in the head by several pieces of shrapnel.

"Death would have been a blessing," his brother Joseph Rogers of Waynesville said this week. But instead of dying, James Rogers lived on in twilight for almost 22 more years.

"He was helpless," his brother said. "There wasn't anything he could do."

James Rogers was hospitalized for a year before their parents, Joseph and Flora Rogers, brought him home. Sometimes, he seemed to recognize his parents and four siblings. He might hold up a finger in response to a question.

But as for how much he really understood and felt, "nobody knows for sure," his brother said.

James's wife divorced him, and the Rogers family did not blame her. James could not eat or drink without help. His food was blended. He had to be propped up on the toilet. "If you could envision a 180-pound infant," his brother said, voice trailing away.

Despite heavy doses of tranquilizers, James had frequent seizures, so violent that his thrashings once broke a wheelchair. "He suffered unbelievably," his brother said. "I can't describe what he went through."

His end, at least, was peaceful. James Rogers died in his sleep on Nov. 14, 1990. He was 42.

The Times profiles four of the names that are to be added to the wall today.

Essential reading for Memorial Day.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |

Sunday, May 25, 2003  

Two Profiles of the Country's New President

As a Philadelphian, I feel a certain kinship with Argentina. Like Philadelphia, Argentina has never achieved its full potential. Every time the country seems to be making headway, one or another crisis comes along, either from within or without, that sets it back.

But Argentina today has a new president now (yes, another one), Néstor Kirchner, and in Argentina, hope springs eternal, even with the presidency is won, as in this case, by default. (Kirchner's opponent in the anticipated run-off, former president Carlos Menem, withdrew in the face of polls showing a landslide loss in the offing.)

Larry Rohter, in "Argentina Looks to a New Leader," (New York Times, May 25), captures the perennial quandary in Argentina:

What is not yet clear to Argentines, though, is whether Mr. Kirchner, the obscure Peronist governor of a remote province until he was catapulted into power in an unlikely turn of events, is the great reformer and renovator he claims to be or just another slick politician who will let the country down.

According to Rohter, Kirchner appears ready to take a hard line in talks with the International Monetary Fund. In addition:

He has also taken a tough stance on corruption and human rights. He has indicated that he favors reopening impeachment proceedings against a Supreme Court that is seen as loyal to Mr. Menem and has presented himself as a representative of the generation that was brutalized under the old military dictatorship and now wants justice.…

Today [May 24], newspapers here reported that Mr. Kirchner has decided to force the retirement of more than half of the armed forces' generals and admirals.

Kirchner's standing, reports Rohter, will also depend upon the outcome of congressional, mayoral and gubernatorial elections in the months ahead.

Meanwhile, Kirchner has made "cabinet choices that analysts said were designed to provide stability," including Finance Minister Robert Lavagna ("New Argentine President Likely to Pursue Different Path," Jon Jeter, Washington Post, as republished in the Philadelphia Inquirer, May 25):

A key cabinet holdover is Robert Lavagna, the finance minister, who has been Argentina's chief negotiator with the International Monetary Fund since the country defaulted on nearly $140 billion in public debt in December 2001. He is credited with fostering a slow but steady recovery in recent months, and analysts say Lavagna is Kirchner's most visible attempt to mollify the financial sector and international lenders.

Sounds promising. It was surprising, though, to learn that Kirchner, who ran on a campaign against Argentina's rampant cronyism, has appointed his sister, Alicia Kirchner, minister of social development. Ah, but that's nepotism, not cronyism. A break from the past, the dawn of a new day.

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The New York Times is at it Again

For a few hearty laughs, be sure to read "The Young Hipublicans," by John Colapinto in today's New York Times Magazine. (Bonus: Photo of Norah Vincent look-alike!)

The magazine has run with this theme several times in the past, the most notable example being the infamous cover story about Washington's fun and hip young conservatives, the one featuring Laura Ingraham in a leopard-print mini-skirt.

The flag, guns, feminism, affirmative action, abortion, the family connections, the seed money from right-wing interest groups. There's nothing new here, right down to the complete lack of any intellectual foundation. Slogans, chants, and groans. Just like the big guys.

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Two Sides of the Same Coin

Maureen Dowd discovers a striking parallel between Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and wrongful-death perpetrator Orenthal J. Simpson ("Yo, Ayatollahs!," New York Times, May 25.)

The C.I.A. is snooping around itself and other spy agencies to see if prewar reports of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and ties to Al Qaeda were exaggerated.

The suspense is killing me.

The delicious part is that the review was suggested by Donald Rumsfeld, a main culprit in twisting the intelligence to justify a strike on Baghdad. It's like O. J. vowing to find the real killer.

There's another: Neither Rumsfeld nor Simpson has been convicted of murder or, at the very least, what might be called unjustifiable homicide.

Dowd also catches this from William Kristol on Fox News:

Indeed, bin Laden's son is probably in Iran. And that looks like the place where they are reconstituting Al Qaeda. Plus, Iran has been a larger sponsor of terror, including perhaps the terror, indirectly at least, that hit Jerusalem today. Are you willing to get serious about Iran?

Adds Dowd, "Kristol is obviously ready to watch another war from his living room."

The guy's some kind of war junkie or something. For Kristol, as the saying goes, one is too many, but a thousand will never be enough. Is there a rehab program somewhere for people like Kristol?

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |

Thursday, May 22, 2003  

The Resignation of Christine Whitman

From today's Philadelphia Inquirer ("Whitman Quits at EPA, Saying She Misses Home," by Chris Mondics, May 22):

Former New Jersey Gov. Christie Whitman said yesterday that she would step down as Environmental Protection Agency administrator at the end of June, bringing to a close a turbulent tenure in which she was buffeted both by industry and by environmentalists.

Yes, there was that, but she repeatedly was strong-armed by the White House -- at least when she wasn't being completely ignored there.

And in the New York Times ("Whitman Quits as E.P.A. Chief," by Katharine Q. Seelye, May 22), we read:

"This is the kind of job when you come home at the end of the day, you really like to have someone to sound off to, and the plants just weren't doing it for me," [Whitman] added.

Just one question: Is Whitman here talking about potted plants or electric-power plants?

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Wednesday, May 21, 2003  

When Proved Wrong, Just Say You Were (Sort Of) Right All Along

David Frum, who apparently fancies himself something of an amateur, albeit but very vocal and very public, economist, has a "free-market" solution to the problem of declining fish stocks. (See also: "I Think We're Eating Too Much Fish," The Rittenhouse Review, May 16.)

Herewith a brief excerpt from Frum's May 19 post at National Review Online:

I don't know about you, but I've been worrying about this story about the depletion of major fish stocks: I suppose I feel rather responsible, because I do eat quite a lot of fish. Here's my standing on one feet suggestion: ban all existing fishing fleets from the North American continental shelf. Then auction fishing rights off the Atlantic coast to a single purchaser for each major species, ditto for the Pacific, and ditto for the Gulf of Mexico coast. These rights should run for a long time -- 20 years at least, maybe longer -- to give the buyer every reason to worry about his future returns. The reserve price should be set high enough so that the purchaser could not earn a profit by fishing existing stocks to extinction. If the minimum bid were set high enough, he'd only earn a profit if he could land more fish in 10, 12, and 14 years than are available today -- and the only way to do that would be to curtail his current catch sufficiently to encourage regrowth in the outyears [sic].

Probably some competent economist can shoot all kinds of holes in this plan, but it is a suggestion -- and I'm not hearing many others.

Well, shoot holes they did -- "fish in a barrel" jokes apparently held in abeyance -- and the e-mail he received in response to his piece was, well, not exactly supportive or flattering, judging from his post at NRO today.

Yet Frum today has the gall to write:

We have to figure out a way to make wild species somebody’s property -- and if my scheme of long-term leases is faulty, it is at least a pointer to the right answer.

Says who? David Frum?

Readers, this is not an example of chutzpah, it's the very definition thereof.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


Pennsylvania Woman Accused of Killing Three of Her Children

Details are still sketchy, but today's Philadelphia newspapers are carrying a wire story about a northern Pennsylvania woman accused of killing at least three of her children and then "the carried the corpses of three [of her] babies from state to state for nearly a decade…before abandoning them in a rented storage unit in a remote Arizona town." ("Corpses Lead to Mother's Arrest," the Philadelphia Inquirer, May 21.)

Yesterday, Dianne Gail O'Dell, 49, of Rome, Pa., in rural Bradford County, was charged with killing the three children.

New York state police also are investigating whether O'Dell killed a fourth child who was found in an abandoned car in 1989.

The three bodies were discovered last week in Safford, Ariz., where O'Dell lived between 1991 and 1992. One was mummified, one was skeletal, and the third was a combination of both, police said.[…]

On Monday, O'Dell drove to New York [S]tate, where the three children were born, for questioning. She was arraigned there on three counts of second-degree murder and ordered held yesterday in the Sullivan County Jail after not posting bail.

New York state police Maj. Alan Martin called the crime "pretty bizarre."

I'll say. And sad, too; don't forget sad. Beyond that...shades of Andrea Yates. I suspect that whole debate may soon be reopened.

[Post-publication addendum (May 23): Reader H.F. in Australia alerts me to a similar case in that country, that of Kathleen Megan Folbigg, this week found guilty of murdering three of her children and manslaughter in the death of her fourth child. ("Guilty: Mum Killed Her Four Babies," The Age [Melbourne], May 22.)]

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


Warren Buffett Takes on the Dividend Tax Cut

I'm a day late and a few hundred million dollars short with this one, but yesterday's Washington Post op-ed by Warren Buffett -- "Dividend Voodoo" -- deserves close attention.

It appears Buffett, chairman and chief executive officer of Berkshire-Hathaway Inc. and long one of the richest people in America, isn't too wild about the crazy notion, aggressively pushed by a wide range of Republicans and a small handful of Democrats, of cutting and then eliminating (and then restoring) taxes individuals now pay on dividend income.

Writes Buffett:

Now the Senate says that dividends should be tax-free to recipients. Suppose this measure goes through and the directors of Berkshire Hathaway (which does not now pay a dividend) therefore decide to pay $1 billion in dividends next year. Owning 31 percent of Berkshire, I would receive $310 million in additional income, owe not another dime in federal tax, and see my tax rate plunge to 3 percent.

And our receptionist? She'd still be paying about 30 percent, which means she would be contributing about 10 times the proportion of her income that I would to such government pursuits as fighting terrorism, waging wars and supporting the elderly. Let me repeat the point: Her overall federal tax rate would be 10 times what my rate would be. [...]

Proponents of cutting tax rates on dividends argue that the move will stimulate the economy. A large amount of stimulus, of course, should already be on the way from the huge and growing deficit the government is now running. I have no strong views on whether more action on this front is warranted. But if it is, don't cut the taxes of people with huge portfolios of stocks held directly. (Small investors owning stock held through 401(k)s are already tax-favored.) Instead, give reductions to those who both need and will spend the money gained. Enact a Social Security tax "holiday" or give a flat-sum rebate to people with low incomes. Putting $1,000 in the pockets of 310,000 families with urgent needs is going to provide far more stimulus to the economy than putting the same $310 million in my pockets. [...]

Supporters of making dividends tax-free like to paint critics as promoters of class warfare. The fact is, however, that their proposal promotes class welfare. For my class.

I've always found the appellation "The Oracle of Omaha" an irritating hyperbole. But this time, Buffett is right on target. I think he's earned it.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


It Was, Perhaps, Inevitable

Partisan Review, the venerable and once authoritative literary and cultural journal established in 1934, is to be no more.

When I first hear the news, I tried to write something about it, but I wasn't satisfied with my early endeavors and so I put it aside. Thankfully, Peter Brooks, Sterling Professor of Comparative Literature at Yale University, apparently had no such trouble. His essay, "Partisan Requiem," in the May 26 issue of The Nation (pp. 36-37; the piece is not, or has not yet been, posted on the magazine's web site), is thorough and precise in its dissection of the quarterly's seemingly inevitable demise.

Brooks begins:

The announcement a few weeks ago that Partisan Review was closing shop after a run of nearly seventy years brought sadness -- since PR at its best was a central site of American cultural life -- but also a sense of inevitability. No one expected the journal to go on much longer after the death last year of its longtime editor William Phillips, who helped found it in 1934. Sadly, PR had been without vital signs for many years, its existence more and more a matter of cryonics.

Reviewing the state of PR circa 1993 and beyond, Brooks adds:

One senses increasing rigor mortis in attitude and in the prose. The move of PR to Boston University, presided over by the ultraconservative John Silber, was itself a bad sign….

One can't then mourn for the demise of PR such as it had become in its long moribundity. But its disappearance is significant, sad[,] and troubling as a sign of our present cultural state….

Probably no quarterly publication could now perform the work of cultural median, bringing high art and smart commentary to a general audience….The more important question may be whether there is any print medium that is willing to take on the strenuous exercises in literature, culture[,] and politics that once animated PR. Laying PR to rest makes us realize how long we've missed what it once did, and how long it's been since anyone else made the attempt.

During graduate school, while researching the history of liberal anti-communism, I spent many hours going through bound copies of PR from the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, often finding myself pulled toward unrelated articles about art and music. At its peak, which includes the aforementioned three decades, PR was a truly remarkable journal, one by which all others were then -- and will in the future -- be judged. It was intelligent, relevant, uncompromising, often scathing in its criticism of literature, art, music, philosophy, and, of course, American politics.

But that was a long time ago -- both PR's peak decades and my graduate-school years -- and I share Brooks's observations about the journal's slide toward incoherence and irrelevance (though I don't think PR moved as much to the right as Brooks implies or states). Occasionally I would pick up a copy on a newsstand and more often than not would find disappointing the essays within its covers.

I doubt there ever again will be a literary journal like PR at its best, for as Brooks asks, does an audience for such a quarterly exist anymore?

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |

Tuesday, May 20, 2003  

No, Not Now -- In the 16th Century

A few nights ago I read A Brief History of Iceland, by Gunnar Karlsson (Mál Og Menning, 2000. English translation by Anna Yates.).

In it I noted with interest this passage (p. 31):

The bishop of the northern diocese, Jón Arason at Holar, was left alone for the time being, and after the death of Bishop Gissur [Einarsson] in 1548 he even started to intervene in the business of the Skálholt diocese. The king [Christian III] attempted to induce his Icelandic followers to arrest the bishop, but nothing was done until the autumn of 1550, when Bishop Jón risked traveling to the west of Iceland with only a small band of men and his two sons (in Iceland Catholic priests commonly lived with women and had children). [Emphasis added.]

This being "a brief history," Karlsson left it at that, leaving me to wonder why it was that 400 years after the Vatican mandated celibacy for priests (the Second Lateran Council, 1139) that in Iceland, at least, they were still marrying and having children.

Granted, Reykjavík is a long way from Rome, and the population of Iceland at the time probably numbered fewer than 30,000, hardly the kind of place to draw much attention, especially during the rift in the Church after Martin Luther launched the Reformation. But why the lapse? And were priests elsewhere "commonly" marrying and bearing children at the time?

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Monday, May 19, 2003  

A Few Notes About Blogging

Susan Madrak, proprietor of Suburban Guerrilla, has called me a "true gentleman." I'm flattered, though I can't seem to convince Susan to remark publicly upon my good looks and status as a single man.

Susan's post took on all the more significance, to me at least, when I ran across a piece written a while ago by Zizka, "Bloggers are not Gentlemen," wherein I again am characterized as "a true gentleman."

In this post, Zizka takes on, among others, one of my perennial antagonists, the talentless Norah Vincent, pummeling the purported pugilist with these remarkable words:

In a more extreme but also more ridiculous instance of the same bias, the marginal print journalist Norah Vincent (in a story titled "Putting the Brakes on 'Blowhard Bloggers'") made a case for internet censorship. Her motive? Some time ago The Rittenhouse Review had asked whether a certain piece of hers had been partly plagiarized, and his question (not even an accusation) had proliferated on the internet. (This happened mostly because there are a large number of people out there in the real world who know and despise Vincent.) Here's the clincher from her article: "As much as the blogosphere is full of brave and vital input, it's also full of the careless, mad and sometimes vengeful ravings of half-wits who will say anything, especially about established journalists and writers, just to attract more attention to their sites. This can get ugly when content is unregulated."

In her piece Vincent, like a nobleperson disdaining even to notice a scurvy peasant churl, made a point of not naming The Rittenhouse Review, much less providing a link. This moderately successful writer [Ed.: This is a reference to Vincent, not to me.] was worried that one of the most popular sites on the web [Ed.: Well, that would be me, of course.] was going to feed on her reputation! Furthermore, from Zizka's point of view, the irony is made more delicious by the fact that James Capozzola of RR is not pseudonymous and is both a professional and a true gentleman (not that Zizka holds that against him in any way). Capozzola's only crime is that he runs a website. And for that alone he has been relegated to the nether regions inhabited by Drudge, Bartcop, and Zizka! (If you really care about this, here are three more pieces on this story: Norah! Norah! Norah!).

Poor Norah. My attempt at reconciliation through her humorless girlfriend, Lisa McNulty, apparently a regular Rittenhouse reader -- And a writer thereto! -- notwithstanding, I suppose there's no hope.

Meantime, I ask readers of the Los Angeles Times, where Vincent's syndicated column appears on Thursdays, except when it's dropped to the cutting room floor: Why do you put up with this waste of such valuable space? The best person to whom to relay your opinions? Vincent's editor, Mary Arno.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


"Beautiful Prose Stylists" on the Right

In need of a good laugh?

Follow TBogg's link to this blogging hilarity:

Part of the disparity also seems to lie in subject matter. The four top lefty bloggers focus pretty exclusively on political or [a]dministration news. The six top "righties" -- InstaPundit (France, nanotech, "crushing of dissent"), Sullivan ([t]he New York Times, gay rights), Volokh (law), LGF (Arafat), Lileks (life), and Den Beste (general global strategy) -- are all beautiful prose stylists.

"Beautiful prose stylists?" Professor InstaLinker? LGF? Den Beste?

I suppose if one makes a living toiling for the rigid and doctrinaire American Enterprise Institute, as does the blogger who wrote and published these strange words, the rambling discourses and uninformative snippets offered up by these right-wing bloggers might strike one as eloquent -- the works of my friends Joshua Muravchik (newly grandfathered, not with respect to our friendship, but in terms of progeny) and Mark Falcoff, both resident at AEI, exempt from the criticism, of course.

The post to which TBogg links, taken as a whole, makes me wonder how much genuine literature some right-wing bloggers actually have read.

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George Bush or Hermann Goering?

"Naturally the common people don't want war, but after all it is the leaders who determine the policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in every country."

Answer: Goering, Nuremberg Trials, 1946.

(Thanks to reader B.P.)

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From the Right, Left, and Center

Excerpts from a few of the better commentaries on William Bennett's gambling problem.

William F. Buckley Jr., writing for what remains of National Review ("Bennett and His Enemies," May 13):

The sad business of William Bennett requires discouraging commentary. There is, first, the existential point, which is that Bill Bennett is through. We speak, of course, of his public life. He is objectively discredited. He will not be proffered any public post by any president into the foreseeable future. He will not publish another book on another virtue, if there is any he has neglected to write about. It is possible that the books written by him on the subject, sitting in bookstores, will work their way to the remainder houses. These are the consequences of the damage he has done to himself.

Katha Pollitt, writing in The Nation ("Bah, Humbug," June 2, posted May 15):

Bennett's defenders make much of the fact that he never condemned gambling and so was not actually a hypocrite. Leaving your own pet vice off a long, long list of sins, and then, when you are found out, exempting that vice as practiced by you but not as practiced by others -- that's not exculpation from charges of hypocrisy, that's what hypocrisy is.

Frank Rich in the New York Times ("Tupac's Revenge on Bennett," May 17):

The puncturing of his dishonest public persona is a huge nail in the coffin of the disgraceful national culture wars in which he served as a particularly vicious commanding general during the 1980's and 1990's....

If Mr. Bennett's gambling has been, as he and his fans maintain, a victimless pastime, his career as both a public figure and government official has been anything but. To see how Mr. Bennett has victimized the public at large, the most instructive example is his shell game with the National Endowment for the Humanities. In the 1970s, he secured a $970,000 grant from its coffers for the National Humanities Center in North Carolina, of which he was then director. In the Reagan administration, he became the endowment's chairman. During the 90s, without missing a beat, he called for the endowment's abolition. Like public television, the humanities endowment helps, however imperfectly, to foster a culture to counter the violent movies and trashy afternoon talk shows Mr. Bennett purports to deplore. The agency gives money to projects like Ken Burns's "The Civil War" and the preservation of presidential papers. Mr. Bennett's campaign succeeded in knocking down its already tiny budget by a third.

And then there's this:

Mr. Bennett was hardly a scrupulous academic. In 1997, he wrote in [t]he Weekly Standard that "the best available research suggests that the average life span of male homosexuals is around 43 years of age."

Uh-oh. Just three years left. If I'm, uh, lucky.

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Sunday, May 18, 2003  

Weblogging Pioneer, Filmmaker, All-Around Great Guy

I just had a lengthy and very enjoyable phone conversation with Brian Linse of AintNoBadDude.

For those out of the loop on the history of political blogging, Linse was one of the first liberal bloggers to make a name for himself -- not only in his own right, but through his adept responses to some of the most blatantly partisan and dishonest of weblogging coming from the right.

Despite living in the greater Los Angeles area, an almost automatic handicap, Linse is an all-around great guy, and, better yet, a filmmaker who likes my latest script idea.

Hey, for a starving, or near-starving writer like myself, it doesn't get much better than that.

Now, how do I get invited to one of Linse's blogger parties -- with someone paying my way from Philadelphia?

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |

Friday, May 16, 2003  

Passport Security Lapse Could Prove Very Costly

Remember about a week or so ago when Microsoft Corp. disclosed yet another a security flaw in its much ballyhooed Passport service?

Well, it turns out the latest lapse by Microsoft, the software behemoth known for its shoddy code, could prove costly. Very costly. $2.2 trillion dollars costly.

[Note: Thanks to reader M.C. for the tip.]

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


But It's Not to Be

As earlier media reports indicated, Ashleigh Moore, the 12-year-old girl from Savannah, Ga., missing since April 18 and found dead on May 14 (and identified as such on May 15), was an honor student with a bright future ahead of her.

In today's Savannah Morning News ("Body Found is Ashleigh's," by Anne Hart), we read:

Before a nearly month[-]long search ended Thursday for Ashleigh Moore, her mother opened a bittersweet letter.

In her hands, Michelle Moore held a certificate of merit for Ashleigh from Duke University. It arrived in the mail the day her body was found behind a riverside hotel.

The Savannah seventh-grader had scored well on the SAT test before disappearing April 18. Well enough to place in the top percentile on the math portion and be accepted for a Duke summer program, said the Rev. C. MeGill Brown, the Moore's [sic] pastor at Second African Baptist Church and family spokesman....

At DeRenne Middle School -- where Ashleigh was in the honors program, played on the basketball team[,] and often sat in the front row wearing her trademark glasses -- teachers told the 800 students of her death Thursday. Extra counselors were on hand for those who knew Ashleigh well. [Ed.: I note here that DeRenne is itself an "honors academy," so Moore apparently was an honor student among honor students.]

Down came the fliers with Ashleigh's picture. After all, it was too much for the students to see them. Instead, many students and staff wore blue ribbons in her memory. A banner made earlier for Ashleigh and a U.S. flag will be flown at half-staff.

Sometimes I really hate the world.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


The Sounds of Music in North Dakota

Now and again I get the urge to chuck it all, what "all" there is these days, and move to some remote location, someplace quiet, or a place that at least moves and works at a slower pace.

Since graduate school I have lived in Washington, D.C., New York, and Philadelphia. I love all three cities very much, and am much inclined to urban living, but sometimes I just want to run away to someplace like North Dakota or West Virginia (both quiet and slower paced, at least in my imagination) or Key West, Fla. (slower paced, if not more quiet).

I've been told this is a not untypical personality profile for a Virgo like myself. Take that for what it's worth.

With this in mind, and having grown up in a small village in the middle of nowhere in Upstate New York, I was intrigued to read about the National Symphony Orchestra's recent performances in North Dakota. ("North Dakota, When It's For Music Lovers," by James R. Oestreich, the New York Times, May 11.)

In reading about the orchestra's tour through the state, I was struck by this passage:

Mariah Rittel, a fifth-grader at Dorothy Moses Elementary School in Bismarck, may have said it best in a letter of thanks to the orchestra: "I play the saxophone. There are four people in orchestra and nine people in band, including me. I really, really, really, really, really like you people as a group. I love you people. Hope your group comes back to Bismarck, N.D. You people are really important."

A band consisting of nine players. Gee whiz, North Dakota may be even smaller, at least in population, than I think.

[Post-publication addendum: (May 17): Thanks to reader D.I. for correcting my error. The original post said the New York Philharmonic was touring. I've corrected the mistake.]

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


Ninety Percent of Large Ocean Species Has Disappeared

I'm usually pretty skeptical about the alarums issued by environmentalists and the like, but today's piece in the Washington Post, "Key Ocean Fish Species Ravaged, Study Finds," is both convincing and disturbing.

It should come as no surprise that the Bush administration is unconcerned:

Some experts warned against reading too much into the latest figures, saying it is unreasonable to expect pristine population levels when an increasing share of the world's growing population is turning to fish.

"The expected outcome of fishing is that stocks will decline," said Michael Sissenwine, director of scientific programs with the National Marine Fisheries Service, which this week released a relatively upbeat annual assessment of U.S. fish populations. "Even with very efficient sustainability plans in place you have to expect declines, sometimes of 50 percent or more. The issue is how much of a decline is reasonable and sustainable."

So, Mr. Sissenwine, what, in your mind, constitutes a "reasonable and sustainable" decline?

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |

Thursday, May 15, 2003  

President Bush, Purported "Stud"

I'm a little late getting to this, but Susan Madrak, a new and aggressive Philadelphia blogger, one much deserving of your regular visits -- at Suburban Guerrilla -- recently posted "Why Bush Will Never Be 'A Hottie' to Liberal Women."

Priceless, though not the type of thing the kind of Moms I know would want to read.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


Body Found Wednesday Identified as Ashleigh Moore

There is very sad news out of Savannah, Ga., today.

The Savannah Police Department early this afternoon confirmed that the body found near the Savannah Marriott Riverfront Hotel Wednesday is that of Ashleigh Moore, 12, missing since April 18.

According to the Savannah Morning News, Moore's death is being treated as a homicide and "[a]lthough police will not identify any suspects, [Maj. Willie] Lovett said they do have 'a number' of them."

WSAV-TV (Savannah) reports the Georgia Bureau of Investigation is conducting an autopsy.

WTOC-TV (Savannah) reports, "The search for Ashleigh may be over, but unfortunately the investigation into her murder is just beginning."

Requiescat in pace, Ashleigh.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |

Wednesday, May 14, 2003  

Eminem, Madonna, Kevorkian, Iacocca -- All Deserving Targets

The Philadelphia Daily News today suddenly decided to really hand it to the city of Detroit. I'm not sure why, exactly. Something to do with pro basketball, I gather.

It's a great article, reflecting, as former Philadelphia resident Neal Pollack once described to me, in our otherwise exceedingly steamy private correspondence, the fact that the Philadelphia Daily News, more than any other newspaper in America, accurately captures and portrays the city and the people upon which it reports. I couldn't agree more.

My favorite quote from the article is, well, a quote:

"The only rock I know that stays steady, the only institution I know that works, is the family." -- Lee Iacocca, apparently uttered before his 18-month second marriage to a flight attendant or his third marriage to a woman he later accused of extortion.

That's Lee, Mr. Family Man.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


Local Police Have Yet to Identify the Victim

The media in Savannah, Ga., today are reporting that local police have found a dead body, as yet unidentified, at least publicly.

Savannah's WTOC-TV reports:

A body discovered by police near Savannah's riverfront this morning has people wondering if it could be that of missing 12-year-old Ashleigh Moore. Police just aren't saying at this point whether there's any indication that this is her body, but it's safe to say the case is being treated in an extreme manner….

"At this point, all I can tell you is that we have a body," Savannah [Police Department] spokesman Bucky Burnsed said. "I'm not going to speculate for you, nor am I going to describe the body."

Just a few weeks ago, police held massive searches across the river on Hutchinson Island, looking for Ashleigh. They say, during that time, this portion of land was also searched, but nothing was found. Police aren't releasing any details about today's discovery, not even if the body is that of a man, woman, or child.

"We've gone beyond the discovery stage," said Burnsed. "We are now in the forensic stage and the identification stage. How long that takes, no one knows."

It seems odd to me that the Savannah police will not yet say whether the victim is an adult or a child, but that may be standard procedure for all I know. In the names of St. Anthony and St. Philomena, I pray it's not Ashleigh Moore.

[Post-publication addendum (May 15, 12:30 a.m., EDT): The latest reports from the Savannah Morning News, WJCL-TV, and WSAV-TV.]

[Post-publication update (May 15, 10:20 a.m., EDT): From today's Savannah Morning News: " Loved Ones Wait to Learn Whether Body is Ashleigh's":

[Police said it may take a day or two to identify the body, found near a wooded area behind the Marriott [Hotel] at 100 General McIntosh Blvd....

[Police would not say whether they suspect the body is Ashleigh, missing since April 18....

[Savannah police treated the crime scene behind the hotel as a high-profile case -- suggesting that they think the body may belong to the DeRenne Middle School seventh grader.

[In contrast to other body recoveries, officials said they wouldn't release details about the body -- including sex, race and approximate size -- until they confirm the identity....

[Police suspect foul play in Ashleigh's disappearance.]

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


Let's Put the Bully Club Away

In response to the latest terrorist attacks, these in Saudi Arabia, that killed seven Americans, the Bush administration's response was just what we would expect:

Vice President Dick Cheney said the United States must continue to aggressively pursue terrorists. "The only way to deal with this threat ultimately is to destroy it," he said in a speech.

"There's no treaty [that] can solve this problem," Mr. Cheney said. "There's no peace agreement, no policy of containment or deterrence that works to deal with this threat. We have to go find the terrorists."

(Source: "U.S. and Saudis Sensed Attacks Were Imminent," by Douglas Jehl and David Johnston, the New York Times, May 14.)

It's time to stop pretending or imagining terrorism is a new phenomenon. It has existed in various forms for centuries, as far back as ancient Greece and Rome. What makes the Bush administration think it can be "destroyed" once and for all? True, it must be fought, obstructed, and with a vengeance. But we are not omnipotent.

There has to be a better way, or at least something more than repeated pledges to "root out" terrorism -- anywhere and everywhere -- with military force. In the long run, Americans will resist this strategy, as will those beyond our shores. With respect to the latter, we can expect not only resistance, but defiance, a bloody and deadly defiance.

I don't have the answer, I admit. And I'm not among those who believe a settlement of the longstanding disputes between Israel and the Palestinians will solve the problem, though I hope to see that come to pass and I expect this would help, at least at the margins, as they say.

So do we pack up and go home, retreat from the entire world to a Fortress America? It's a tempting proposition. The U.S. is probably the only nation on earth that could be almost completely self-sufficient economically should it choose to pursue that route. Yet the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 proved we remain vulnerable here at home, assuming this Fortress America would not evolve into a police state.

Or do we drastically alter our foreign policy, redirecting our attention from the affairs of Europe, both "old" and "new," focusing instead on the Middle East, Africa, Latin America, and South Asia? It would be a start, I think, particularly if accompanied by an aggressive approach to economic aid and development, "nation building," even, if you will.

There's an excellent article in the latest issue of Foreign Policy, "Ranking the Rich," that details the shortcomings not only of the U.S. foreign aid program, but of its trade, investment, and environmental policies, among others. A familiar theme in that journal, of course, but a valuable essay nonetheless. The study on which the article is based, conducted by the Center for Global Development, makes clear, to me at least, that we're not doing enough and what we're doing is not working to anyone's advantage.

Tempting as isolationism might be, I think it's painfully evident we cannot even attempt to keep terrorism at bay (for I don't believe it can ever be destroyed or eradicated), and we cannot do this alone. An effective counter-terrorism strategy requires working with our allies, including, perish the thought, those of "Old Europe," as well as those nations that view American power and policy with suspicion, even contempt.

An editorial in today's New York Times, "Death in Riyadh" makes the point with respect to Saudi Arabia:

The Saudi government, which relies on foreign workers to support key parts of its economy, understands that it must move quickly to root out the people who strove to make a political point by plotting yet another murderous attack. That is the obvious first step. The second must be internal reforms that will reduce the population of unemployed, angry, disenfranchised young people who connect the United States with a government that ignores their problems.

The Bush administration is already embarked on a plan to take American troops out of Saudi Arabia. That is a smart idea that will eliminate one target of fundamentalist ire, put our soldiers where they can be more easily protected and give the Saudi royal family an opening to begin making political and economic concessions to its restless people. Nothing that happened this week should deter the administration from pursuing that plan.

There are no easy answers to the problems of terrorism, and yet the Bush administration continues to put forth the most simplistic, and I think dangerous, of responses. This is not the time for that which I have here in the past called "unseriousness." It's time to put the bully club away, or at least keep it behind our back, and get down to some serious policymaking.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


Whatever Happened To?

Say, whatever happened to Ruth Shalit?

It's a fair question these days, given the Andrew Sullivan's mad ravings about Howell Raines, Jayson Blair, and the New York Times.

Seeking an answer, I did what any good blogger would do: I "Googled" her.

There's a lot to sort through there, and it's getting late, but it looks like Shalit dropped off the face of the earth some time around 1999. Could that be true? A disgraced writer riding off into the sunset? Not begging for her fourth, fifth, or whatever chance she might have thought she was due?

If anyone knows whether and where, or for whom, this once highly protected, repeatedly indulged, and unwarrantedly coddled protégé of Andrew Sullivan is now writing, please drop a line.

Perhaps she's writing a book? That is, after all, the latest thing among former New Republic plagiarists and fabricators.

[Post-publication note: Edited for tone in the light of day.]

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |

Tuesday, May 13, 2003  

Two Signs That Are Enough to Convince Me

I know that tonight all is well and good in the world, or at least in my small corner of it.

My beloved Mildred is asleep and snoring, loudly and deeply, sounds I find not annoying but uniquely calming and soothing.

And my friend Madeleine Begun Kane, a/k/a "Mad Kane," is back and blogging again.

(N.B.: Mildred is neither my wife nor my child. She's my bulldog. Oh, and she would like you to know that her birthday is just a month away, just in case you want to send presents.)

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


Over at the Lighter Side

Some recent posts of possible interest at my other weblog, TRR: The Lighter Side of Rittenhouse:

On The Second Floor of Kmart

Random Thought: Recommendations

That's A Lot of Gray Matter

Life Imitates Art: The Jerusalem "Stripper"

Not Your Typical Country Auction

Is It a Chair or a Throne?

For Your Reading Pleasure: Lusitania

On Parking Lots in Philadelphia (Again)

Ever Put Your Mother In a Headlock?

Your Gloves Don't Match Your Shoes!

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


Recent Additions to the Blogroll

Gee whiz, my blogroll, which now lists 227 weblogs, is probably too large and too long, but what can I do? New, quality blogs keep popping up, and how could I take anyone off the list? I fear there would be hell to pay.

Anyway, the latest additions to the blogroll include:

Abu Aardvark

American Politics Journal

Dennis Kucinich 2004


John Kerry 2004

Musings & Migraines

Pigs & Fishes

Sasha Undercover

Suburban Guerrilla (Susan Madrak)


That Other Blog (Joe Rospars)

With Karate . . .

Please visit these blogs early and often.

(Note that the inclusion of a politician's blog does not necessarily represent or indicate an endorsement of that politician's candidacy for any office.)

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


A New Low in Bottom-Feeding

Jesse Taylor of Pandagon directs our attention to the latest cover of the American Spectator.

Taylor is speechless. Other than an "Oh, my God!" so am I. And you know that's saying something.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |

Monday, May 12, 2003  

And Still Coming Up Short

As a writer who tends to run long and a former editor who has spent countless hours chopping the prose of the similarly afflicted, I have a thing about counting words.

It's not an obsession, I assure you. It's more of a hobby, a pastime if you will, an occasionally amusing and interesting way to while away the hours that would be better spent working on my own dusty writing projects.

When it comes to obsessions, Andrew Sullivan is your man.

Sullivan's obsession, as readers well know, is Howell Raines, executive editor of the New York Times, the man who fired Sullivan from the lofty perch he once preached at the New York Times Magazine.

It comes as no surprise, then, that when the Times published a lengthy exposé of its own failings with respect to a reporter named Jayson Blair, whose stories were found to have included numerous instances of fabrication and plagiarism, Sullivan would be all over it. After all, hell hath no fury like a once-precocious writer scorned.

I admit I barely skimmed Sullivan's rantings on the subject at the "Daily Dish." This was my first foray over there in many weeks and I quickly was reminded why I find his site and opinions so odious. It takes but a sentence or two to catch the narrow path of Sullivan's mind, particularly when there's a personal agenda involved. (Besides, I prefer to keep up with Sullivan through SullyWatch.)

But the sheer volume of sputter and spew currently on display at "The Dish" coaxed me toward another foray into word counting. (By the way, this counting is done mechanically; I don't move a pen across the screen tallying each word.)

"Times Reporter Who Resigned Leaves Long Trail of Deception," by Dan Barry, David Barstow, Jonathan D. Glater, Adam Liptak[,] and Jacques Steinberg: Total Words: 7,213.

Combined posts on the same subject, including reproduced e-mail correspondence, on the home page at "The Daily Dish": Total Words: 3,130.

Sullivan's unceasing rant about Raines, the Times, and Blair, but of course mostly Raines, runs almost half the length of the original self-exposé published by the Times, and something tells me Sullivan isn't finished with this one yet.

To any reasonable observer, Sullivan's reaction is excessive, though I suspect he would protest otherwise, and it is embarrassing, though I'm all but certain he hasn't a clue why.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


Conspiracy, Cabal, Cult, Clique, or None of the Above?

Two more voices recently have weighed in on the seemingly endless debate over the influence of the neoconservatives on the Bush administration's foreign and defense policy, generally, and the war on Iraq, specifically.

Joshua Muravchik, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a self-identified neoconservative and protégé of Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, writing in the International Herald-Tribune ("The Neoconservatives Unmasked," May 6), goes only so far as to say this:

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Vice President Dick Cheney and Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, are certainly not neocons, at least not in their histories. Who knows how [President] Bush decides? All that can be said is that his policies resemble things advocated by neocons, a loose group with a distinct history and well-publicized ideas, not at all a shadowy cabal.

The title of Robert J. Lieber's recent article in The Chronicle, "The Neoconservative-Conspiracy Theory: Pure Myth," speaks for itself. Lieber, a professor of government at Georgetown University, writes, with unconcealed praise, even awe:

Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell, and Rice are among the most experienced, tough-minded, and strong-willed foreign-policy makers in at least a generation, and the conspiracy theory fails utterly to take into account their own assessments of American grand strategy in the aftermath of 9/11.

The theory also wrongly presumes that Bush himself is an empty vessel, a latter-day equivalent of Czarina Alexandra, somehow fallen under the influence of Wolfowitz/Rasputin. Condescension toward Bush has been a hallmark of liberal and leftist discourse ever since the disputed 2000 presidential election, and there can be few readers of this publication who have not heard conversations about the president that did not begin with offhand dismissals of him as "stupid," a "cowboy," or worse….That kind of disparagement has left critics ill prepared to think analytically about the administration or the foreign-policy imperatives facing the United States after 9/11.

Whether one favors or opposes the Bush policies, the former Texas governor has proved himself to be an effective wartime leader….

Ultimately, the neocon-conspiracy theory misinterprets as a policy coup a reasoned shift in grand strategy that the Bush administration has adopted in responding to an ominous form of external threat. Whether that strategy and its component parts prove to be as robust and effective as containment of hostile Middle Eastern states linked to terrorism remains to be seen. But to characterize it in conspiratorial terms is not only a failure to weigh policy choices on their merits, but represents a detour into the fever swamps of political demagoguery.

In his IHT essay Muravchik calls neoconservatism "an obscure ideological label, the stuff of doctoral dissertations." In my case, he's almost right about that. Neoconservatism and American foreign policy was the subject of my master's thesis. But surely Muravchik knows the term has been bandied about in political magazines and on editorial pages for a generation. I'm not convinced "obscure" is the correct word here.

And while Secretary Rumsfeld's resumé is not that of the typical neoconservative intellectual, he has been known at least to have consorted with the neocons: He was a founding member of the Committee on the Present Danger and served as chairman of the Committee for the Free World.

Given the amount of time I spent on that paper, though it was many years ago, this is a subject to which I should devote more thought and consideration than I have in recent weeks. For now, though, I'll just ask a simple question:

Why are the neoconservatives today denying any particular influence on U.S. foreign and defense policy when in the 1980s, during the Reagan administration, they could hardly contain their gleeful boasts of having accomplished the very same thing?

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


The Latest Reports from Archaeologists

Those interested in learning the details of the cultural devastation resulting from the war on Iraq would do well to direct their browsers to Archaeology magazine.

"Taking Stock in Baghdad" provides almost daily updates, from April 15 to today, about what is known and not known about the looting and destruction at Iraq's National Museum of Antiquities and the Iraqi National Library, along with efforts to identify and recover stolen and damaged artifacts, books, and manuscripts.

The web site of the American Association of Museums also has a page devoted to the subject, Iraqi Cultural Heritage Crisis, with links to numerous organizations working on the recovery effort.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


The New York Review of Books Slams Media War Coverage

In not one but two articles the New York Review of Books this week is giving the media, particularly the cable networks, their due: ravaging critiques of their fawning obsequiousness to the dictates of Washington.

"The Unseen War," by Michael Massing, is the longer of the two articles, both of which deserve your attention.

Writes Massing:

Before arriving in Doha, I had spent hours watching CNN back home, and I was sadly reminded of the network's steady decline in recent years. Paula Zahn looked and talked like a cheerleader for the U.S. forces; Aaron Brown kept reaching for the profound remark without ever finding it; Wolf Blitzer politely interviewed Washington's high and mighty, seldom asking a pointed question. None of them, however, appeared on the broadcasts I saw in Doha. Instead, there were Jim Clancy, a tough-minded veteran American correspondent, Michael Holmes, a soft-spoken Australian, and Becky Anderson, a sharp and inquisitive British anchor. This was CNN International, the edition broadcast to the world at large, and it was far more serious and informed than the American version. [Emphasis added.]

The difference was not accidental. Six months before the war began, I was told, executives at CNN headquarters in Atlanta met regularly to plan separate broadcasts for America and the world. Those executives knew that Zahn's girl-next-door manner and Brown's spacey monologues would not go down well with the British, French, or Germans, much less the Egyptians or Turks, and so the network, at huge expense, fielded two parallel but separate teams to cover the war. And while there was plenty of overlap, especially in the reports from the field, and in the use of such knowledgeable journalists as Christiane Amanpour, the international edition was refreshingly free of the self-congratulatory talk of its domestic one….

CNN International bore more resemblance to the BBC than to its domestic edition -- a difference that showed just how market-driven were the tone and content of the broadcasts. For the most part, U.S. news organizations gave Americans the war they thought Americans wanted to see. [Emphasis added.]

For his part, Russell Smith, in "The New Newsspeak," is pointed and direct in his critique of coverage of the war by both the American and Canadian media:

The coverage of this war in the press and on television has been disgusting. North American reporting, and in particular on the U.S. television stations, has been cravenly submissive to the Pentagon and the White House.

The worst culprit was also the one with the most "embedded" reporters and the most exciting live footage, and so it was, sadly, the one that I watched most of the time: CNN, the voice of Centcom. CNN was more irritating than the gleefully patriotic Fox News channel because CNN has a pretense of objectivity. It pretends to be run by journalists. And yet it dutifully uses all the language chosen by people in charge of "media relations" at the Pentagon….

To recite from a Pentagon press release that an Iraqi division has been "degraded by 70 percent" is an astounding abdication of journalistic responsibility….The graphic reality of "degradation" is a large pile of dismembered bodies. Surely some picture or explanation of what the wiping out of an entire division with high explosives actually looks like is called for.

The rescue of Jessica Lynch aside, I can't help but wonder how many years it will take before we learn what really happened in Iraq.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |

Monday, May 05, 2003  

And Mine?

I'll admit it: I love to play blackjack. I could play it for hours. In fact, I have played it for hours, though most often on the web and with "play" money. I've played blackjack with real money on only a handful of occasions, and when I've done so, I've usually done quite well. I'm quite certain that over the years I'm ahead of the game, so to speak.

Blackjack, as most experienced gamblers will tell you, is one of just two or three games in which you stand a decent chance of beating the house. "Video poker and high-stakes slot-machine play," apparently the preferred games of the High Priest of Neoconservative Morality, William Bennett, are suckers' games. They're practically rigged. Gee whiz, I thought everyone knew that.

Two of my most notable -- and lengthy -- visits to the tables were on cruise ships, on trips taken while I was working for the much-missed Individual Investor magazine. On the first occasion I had the pleasure of sharing the table with my then boss, Jonathan Steinberg, and his wife, Maria Bartiromo. They played for a reasonable and civilized length of time. I did not. I played until the casino closed for the "night," and I enjoyed every minute of it, in their company and afterward, particularly when I cashed in my winnings.

But I learned long ago that I have a compulsive personality. Why this is, I do not know. Thankfully, though, I have learned to watch for potential and actual danger zones, and gambling generally, and blackjack specifically, are clearly among my weak spots. Thus, I know enough not to seek opportunities to play the game.

And yet I recently moved to Philadelphia, a mere 60 miles from Atlantic City.

Uh-oh. Temptation?

No, not really. Not at all, actually.

I haven't been to Atlantic City in nearly 20 years and I don't expect ever to return. And I have absolutely no interest in going to Las Vegas, except to see the horrors at which archaeologists centuries hence will gasp in astonishment.

I don't play the lottery or "the numbers." (Actually, I despise lotteries and numbers games. I think they're an insidious tax on the poor, and the proceeds never seem to go where the state says they're going, e.g., New York and the schools.)

Yes, I visit the track at Saratoga Springs every few years, as most of my family is in the area and it makes for a nice late summer outing, but I typically have bet only on a few races and sometimes on none at all.

Oh, and before you throw out the obligatory anti-Catholic joke, I've never played bingo for money.

Now that I think about it, I haven't played blackjack, for real money, in more than two years. I feel pretty good about that. And while I enjoy the game, I don't think about it all that often; it's not on my mind at all. So I think it's fair to say that while I don't have a gambling problem, I suspect I have a potential gambling problem. And a gambling problem, ranging from mild to serious, is a disaster that I will not allow into my life. Please. I've made enough mistakes already.

What to do then?

I would be among the last to call myself a "virtuous" person. Avoiding millions of dollars of losses from gambling doesn't necessitate so lofty a concept. It's simply a matter of personal restraint, acknowledging and recognizing my real and potential weaknesses and vices, and taking responsibility for my actions.

Just a bit of "moral clarity," if you will.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |

Friday, May 02, 2003  

Some Oddities in the Missing Girl Case

[Ed.: Most of this post was written yesterday, Thursday, May 1, but it was not completed until today. So if it seems out of order on the blog, that's the reason.]

For those following the case, Thursday's Savannah Morning News has a brief article about Ashleigh Moore, the 12-year-old honor student missing since April 18.

You can find the article on the SMN's web site. No, not on the home page. To find it, look on the home page, about halfway down, for the section "Local Headlines," where you will find five stories, including one about an FBI agent celebrating 50 years on the job.

No "Local Headlines" about Ashleigh Moore. Keep looking. You'll have to click on the even smaller link, "More Local Stories," which takes you to a page where the update on the Moore case is the eighth story. [Ed.: Note that those paragraphs were written with respect to yesterday's edition, but I'm trying to make a point, one I think is fairly obvious.]

Some excerpts:

Georgia Bureau of Investigation agents said no Amber Alert went out for missing 12-year-old Ashleigh Moore -- contrary to what Savannah police initially reported.

Last week, Police Chief Dan Flynn said that such an alert -- known as Levi's Call in Georgia -- was issued, even though no evidence indicated Ashleigh was taken out of the local area.

She vanished April 18. Investigators suspect foul play, but no one has been charged….

Police can activate Levi's Call only by asking the GBI. GBI spokesman John Bankhead said police asked the GBI to issue the alert on April 21, three days after Ashleigh was reported missing. [Emphasis added.]

"It didn't meet the parameters for Levi's Call," Bankhead said. "It was designed for activation soon after the child is abducted, to get the word out. But days afterward doesn't meet the parameters."

If police had contacted GBI the day Ashleigh was reported missing, the alert likely would have been issued, Bankhead said.

Savannah police at first thought she might have run away and didn't notify local media about her until two days after she was reported missing….

"Ashleigh's case doesn't fit the profile. Levi's Call/Amber Alert is for abducted children," Burnsed said. "To qualify, you have to have a suspect description, to be able to tell everyone[,] "Stop what you are doing, we're looking for this car, this person this tag number etc."

But a few days after she disappeared, police said they suspected foul play, and her status at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children was changed to "lost, injured or otherwise missing."

Police eventually tried to have the statewide alert system issued for her to give the case more exposure, Burnsed said.

But GBI said they were too late.

This case is one sorry mess.

"Savannah police at first though she might have run away and didn't notify local media about her until two days after she was reported missing." Based on what information was this conclusion reached?

Ashleigh Moore is an honor student -- not the typical runaway, I would think. And she cannot see without her glasses: her primary set was found in her bedroom and her only spare set was found at a relative's house. I'm no Dick Tracy, but something doesn't sound right here. I mean, if Ashleigh Moore is even half as near-sighted as I am, she can't cross the street without her glasses. Did the Savannah police think she was going to set up an optometrist's appointment -- and pay in cash -- while on the lamb?

And we also learn that in Georgia at least, and I can only wonder where else, that when the police consider a child to "missing," based on what by my reading seems a rather cavalier determination in this case, rather than "abducted," an Amber Alert (or, in Georgia, a Levi's call) cannot be issued. Then, if, two days later, the police suspect homicide -- little information has been released about this decision -- she gets no attention at all, hers just another homicide.

But aren't those first days the most critical when a child is either missing or abducted?

I'd be intereseted in seeing statistics on the number of 12-year-olds who run away. Isn't that more of a 15-, 16-year-old kids' thing? And how many 12-year-old honor students? And how many 12-year-old honor students that the SMN's coverage has revealed have a loving and supportive extended family? It's clear from the SMN that Ashleigh's aunt, grandmother, and great-grandmother all have close relationships with the child. That doesn't sound to me like the set-up of a 12-year-old who has no one to go.

Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe I'm just hyperventilating, but I think someone really dropped the ball on this one.

(Does the fact that Miss Moore's disappearance was reported on a Friday mean anything? I've never worked in law enforcement, so I would ask: Are police departments as fully staffed on weekends as they are on weekdays?)

And, okay, even if Ashleigh doesn't meet the technical requirements necessary for the issuance of an Amber Alert or a Levi's Call, and even if there is associated with this case an apparently questionable character by the name of Bobby Bruckner, why is her disappearance being treated almost as a non-event?

There is nothing, repeat, nothing, in this case that justifies the nearly complete silence of the newspapers in Georgia (outside of Savannah) and surrounding areas, including the southern portion of South Carolina and northern Florida, along with the national media, all of which are too busy fawning over President George Bush's disgracefully cynical Pacific Ocean photo opportunity to bother with a black girl from a single-parent family whose mother may have made an unfortunate choice in choosing her boyfriend.

A reader writes to tell me "It's different," that it's different because of Bruckner [See: "Ashleigh Moore Update," below.], implying the police have every reason to suspect Bruckner and there's no cause for alarm.

I don't think so. The handyman at the Smart residence was pretty sketchy, as was the Van Damms' creepy neighbor. Maybe Bruckner is involved, but until more is known, it's fair to no one, not to Bruckner, nor least of all to Ashleigh Moore to assume otherwise.

Something's not right here. Until we find out what that is, let's all hope and/or pray for the best.

[Post-publication addendum: The Moore case finally made it into the pages of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Today. Near as I can tell there is nothing yet in the Charleston (S.C.) Post & Courier. Nor in the Florida Times-Union of Jacksonville, Fla. The Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle, to its credit, has published at least one article about Miss Moore, as far back as April 26.]

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


Bear With Me, I'm Slowly Catching Up

Throughout my home there are stacks of magazines and journals, as well as articles printed from the web, all of which I continue to swear I will get to one day.

They're in my office, in the living room, on the nightstand, in the dining area, even in the kitchen. I have fallen very far behind in my reading, so far that I care not to hazard a guess as to how many individual issues are laying about, let alone how many words are contained within their pages.

One advantage, though, of falling behind in one's reading is that it makes going through the stacks more efficient. How many articles about Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's hubris can one read, after all?

Regardless, last night I read an outstanding article in what may or may not be from the latest issue of The Nation -- I'd have to go through five or six piles to make that determination -- that was at once so brilliant and so scary that I knew I would have to blog about it today.

Well, this morning I discovered to my dismay that while the article "Rolling Back the 20th Century," by The Nation's national affairs correspondent, William Greider, is from the May 12 issue, it was posted on the web on April 24.

That's eight days ago, roughly equivalent to a decade in the blogosphere and a certain indication that dozens of bloggers -- you know, the kind that weren't, like me, always finishing their homework during homeroom -- already have cited the article.

My belated discovery of this essay notwithstanding, I shall press forth and exhort you: If you read nothing else today, read Greider's masterful article. (Tempting bonus: Truly frightening Grover Norquist quotes.)

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


"America's Most Wanted" to Air Case on Saturday

Someone's finally listening.

The Savannah Morning News reports today that the FOX program "America's Most Wanted" will feature the case of Ashleigh Moore, 12, of Savannah, Ga., on its program tomorrow night, Saturday, May 3.

Moore has been missing for two weeks. [Ed.: See "Ashleigh Moore is Missing," April 29.]

Today's SMN again reports investigators suspect foul play, though no one has been charged in the case and Savannah police have not named any suspects.

Among those not named is Bobby Buckner, the live-in boyfriend of Miss Moore's mother. Although his car was searched, Savannah police have said little about any aspect of the investigation related to Buckner. However, Buckner has been arrested for violating the terms of his probation, specifically, being alone with girls under the age of 16, related to a prior conviction.

According to police spokesman Bucky Burnsed authorities next plan to search waterways and estuaries near areas already searched using underwater cameras and waterborne side-scanning sonar. The SMN article does not say whether such technology was used during the first search.

Ashleigh Moore
Savannah, Ga.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |