Our Daily Labors

In the run-up to and in the midst of "major combat operations" in Iraq, many throughout the blogosphere embraced Salam Pax, the Baghdad-based Iraqi blogger whose frequent posting and relative isolation from the political biases of Western writers made him the go-to guy for unique war reporting.  The warbloggers, in particular, hailed Salam Pax both as a valued writer and as an example of the modern Iraqis for whom the war (in some warbloggers’ view) was being fought.  Many petitioned the Western media to give Salam Pax a job, and his acclaim hardly diminished when he signed with the lefty Guardian.

A couple of weeks ago, Salam Pax reported that a friend of his was unfairly detained and assaulted by U.S. military personnel in Baghdad.  A few Bush-apologist bloggers picked it up, expressing the suspicion that it was an anomalous incident and the hope that the American military authorities would take steps to minimize such incidents in the future, "lest this develop into a public relations problem for the U.S."  Last week, U.S. military personnel invaded the home of Salam Pax’s family, acting on a tip based on the suspicious comings and goings of the carpenters renovating the kitchen.  After helping themselves to Salam Pax’s father’s Johnny Walker, the Armies of One asked the Pax family "several pointless questions," and then left.  Salam Pax posted his report of the incident Thursday night Pacific Time, but as of this writing I haven’t seen any of his former boosters mention it, let alone comment on how it reflects on the wisdom of the Bush Administration’s occupation liberation policy.

I guess someone should have filled Salam Pax in on the American observance of Labor Day ("It’s not in May?") and it’s effect on filing deadlines.  Yeah, that’s it.


Jonah And The Wail

Why do I read The Corner?  There are plenty of other blogs out there with whose opinions I disagree almost 100%, and some of them have fewer typos.  Part of it is the "influence" argument; other web pundits, some of whom I enjoy and admire, find reason to read and comment on The Corner, and it’s helpful to grow a baleen of independent opinion before swimming through the blog-plankton.  The relative frequency of posting on The Corner is another selling point, particularly in August.  The chief attraction for me, however, is The Corner’s solipsism; while partisan blogs are a centime a century, few can touch The Corner for incestuous exclusivity in its opinion and imagined audience.  Watching the "Cornerites" (has anyone managed to trick the Derb into guilelessly calling himself "Cornholio"?) pile on over the course of a day with homo- and Francophobic appositive posts is reminiscent of what my high school’s Key Club would have sounded like had they had a private chat room.

The latest example: Rush Chairman Jonah Goldberg is back with tales from his vacation in Alaska, on his way to which he detoured through Vermont in order to collect hooks on which to hang a few swipes at Howard Dean.  Goldberg’s myopia isn’t limited to political provincialism, however; he also finds time to bash Vermont park rangers for failing to clairvoyantly divine that his disregard for posted park regulations and traffic signage was driven by his child’s and dog’s pressing metabolic needs.  Knowing that all breeders suffer the ill-will provoked by our more selfish fellow parents, I was moved to drop Goldberg a note:

Date: Wednesday 20 August 2003, 09:40 PDT
To: Jonah Goldberg
From: Eric Scharf
Subject: The Birds and the Bees

Dear Mr. Goldberg,
Thank you for sharing piquant anecdotes from your vacation. Colorful caricatures of local denizens are essential to any travel memoir; they simultaneously provide educational justification for the journey while congratulating the traveler for having the good sense to live where he does.  Permit me to welcome you back to a region unpopulated by people who communicate their shallow world-views through their appearance.
I am dismayed, however, by your unfair characterization of the motives of the Vermont state park employees who received your family at Thetford State Park.  From your writing, I know you are keenly alert to instances of blind narcissism in all forms.  As the parent of a small child myself, I have experienced countless occasions where I have let my child’s needs override any obligation I might have to respect either public ordinance or private property.  On no occasion, however, have I had the self-absorption to expect others either to be aware of my child’s needs or to share my sensitivity to them.  As a free-market conservative, surely you can appreciate the principle of bearing the costs of your decisions (in this case, taking a small child and dog on a long road trip) with grace and forbearance.
I’m glad you enjoyed Alaska.  I have always wanted to visit it, but for some reason I’ve been concerned that Alaskans would refuse to rub my wife’s back after the long drive.
Eric Scharf


Big Lies

Over at Salon (sitting through a brief commercial is required), Joe Conason is excerpting his smarter, more helpful effort on much of the same subject as Al Franken’s recent flame-bait.  Here’s Matthew Yglesias’s remarks for lefty media critics:

[C]omplaining that your political opponents have a propaganda machine is like complaining that the jockey you’re riding against has a horse.

Of course.  But the righties have gotten pretty far spurning such advice, and I don’t see this changing so long as lefties continue to pay service to notions of journalistic objectivity.


Everything Has Changed

In the world of 13 August 2003, we slept the sleep of the air-conditioned, our hard drives spinning endlessly, our driveways illuminated by motion-sensing arc lights.  We trusted our appliances to be there when we needed them, to switch on when we clapped.  Electricity had promised us a world of instant and universal communication, comfort, and entertainment.  Family, friends, and colleagues might disappoint us, but we could always count on television.

But on the deceptively bright afternoon of 14 August 2003, that world disappeared forever.  Televisions went black.  Cell phones fizzled out.  Hair dryers lost their wind.  Even the Internet, that eternal chorus of joyful noises, fell mute.  Millions were trapped in dark offices and silent homes, robbed of any meaningful diversion or purpose.  Who can forget the astonishing footage (seen hours later) of the exodus of newly-conscripted pedestrians streaming out of Manhattan, bound for a world without CD players, automatic-ice machines, or Queer Eye for the Straight Guy?

Power may be restored in some areas, but we can never go back to our previous guileless experience.  We know now that while electricity may be our servant, it will never be our friend.  Our over-reliance on electrical appliances is our wired weakness, our Achilles Fuse.  When the nation has recovered from the shock, we will finally realize that we are at war, and have been for some time.  The forces of electrification have been at work for over a century, and our vigilance has been sapped by a climate-controlled lethargy.

We shall not despair; if we whine, the blackout will have won.  This country was founded by brave, resourceful men, women, and children who knew how to thrive and prosper without clothes dryers or DVDs.  It is on these inner resources that we shall draw in the coming struggle.  As we recall the wisdom of our great-grandparents and re-learn to hand-wash our dishes, cook without microwaves, and communicate by U.S.P.S., we will be able to say that we, too, could be a greatest generation.

Remember 8/14: The Day That Ironing Died.



Despite the facts that 1) many respectable blogs have excused themselves from opining on the California recall, 2) my familiarity with California state politics is woefully passing, and 3) my only stake in the outcome is that of the rest of the country "politically downwind" of the Golden State, I’m going to wade in with one question that seems curiously unanswered in this over-examined affair.  Many political writers who otherwise would have been adrift in the August news doldrums have embraced and played up the circus sideshow angle of the hordes of candidates for governor.  The prospect of dishing on der grosser Grazer and other "celebridates" seems to have so enchanted the chattering class that they are disinclined to ask: where were all these candidates nine months ago when California held, you know, an election for governor?  The filing requirements aren’t any lower for recall elections.

I suppose part of the reason for the large number of candidates is a phenomenon that helped make the recall possible in the first place: the low voter turnout for the November 2002 election.  Had the turnout been higher, the greater number of signatures needed to launch the recall might have been too many for the recall’s sponsors to gather (or might have deterred them from trying at all).  The low turnout also gave the impression that Gray Davis won by being the biggest fish in a very boring pond, leading to the conclusion that name recognition and/or gimmicky novelty might have outweighed political acumen.

But it seems clear to me that the chief attraction for all these gubernatorial candidacies is their brevity.  The candidates have less than two months to make their case to the single largest regional electorate in the nation.  There is much less time to raise money, hire focus groups, produce ads (and counter-ads and counter-counter-ads), hold debates, and kiss babies.  In a longer campaign, the costs of supporting all these activities gives the advantage to those candidates backed by established networks of volunteers, donors, and professionals.  In this relatively short "lightning campaign," the pols are on a more level playing field with colorful amateurs.

However one feels about the recall, the candidates, or the ultimate victor in California, the 2003 recall election will almost certainly compare favorably with the spiritual death march of the 2004 presidential primary and general elections.  While most election reform treads too heavily on freedom of speech for my comfort, I can’t help longing for some way to shorten the campaign season, which for quadrennial elections has now reached eighteen months, which is longer than the most advanced hype for the next Harry Potter movie.