20th Century’s Top Books

A reading friend (somehow many of my friends are placed in a kind of activity taxonomy; there are overlaps, like my cycling/punk rock or shooting/opera friends) sent me a link to a list of the “20th Century’s Greatest Hits” by Prof. Larry McCaffrey of SDSU.

They probably sent it because it lists “Pale Fire” as #1, and it may well be my favorite book, and Nabokov my favorite author.

I thought I’d burn some pixels commenting on McCaffrey choices. Start with numbers 1 – 10:
# Pale Fire, Nabokov. A freaking brilliant book. An epic poem wrapped in an academic misinterpretation worth killing for. The madness of analysis. But not the book I’d take as an entree to Nabokov’s coruscated world. I’d suggest three others: Lolita, mentioned below; The Defense, a novel about genius; and Ada, a sprawling book that was my personal introduction to the idea that books could do more than tell stories.

# Ulysses, James Joyce. The only book more owned and less read is ‘Remembrance of Things Past.’

# Gravity’s Rainbow, Pynchon. Sorry, ‘The Crying of Lot 49′ takes this and launches it to oblivion. ‘Lot 49′ is still one of the best books about Southern California – and what we have done to America. Funny, wild, and you’ll never look at a W.A.S.T.E. basket (or a mailman) the same way again.

# The Public Burning, Coover. Don’t know it, but I’ll go look for it.

# The Sound And The Fury, Faulkner. Sorry, ‘Absalom’ gets my vote as the best Faulkner.

# Trilogy (Molloy 1953 , Malone Dies 1956, The Unnamable 1957), Beckett. Sorry, again, I’ve never appreciated Beckett.


# The Making Of The Americans, Stein. She was never a great writer, but she led a great life, and reported it well.

# Nova Trilogy (The Soft Machine 1962, Nova Express 1964, The Ticket that Exploded, 1967), Burroghs. Any one of these is enough; worth the read, but tame today, when we’re on the other side of the psychedelic revolution.

# Lolita, Nabokov. God, what a great book. I reread it last year, and was amazed that I had forgotten how funny and sad and brilliantly written it is. One of the best novels, and certainly one of the best American novels (by an author who first wrote in Russian, then in French!!)

# Finnegan’s Wake, Joyce. Somehow, I like this better than Ulysses; I’ll need to go reread it someday and figure out why.

I’ll get to the other 90 as time and space allow, but go check them out for yourself

Schooling A Brit

You know, sometimes while you’re not looking, good things do happen…

Tim Blair directs us (via Instapundit) to another amazing column in the Guardian. This one is by Andrew Gumbel, who’s apparently a Brit expatriate forced to live among the colonials in Santa Monica, CA.

Now Santa Monica is one the places where I spend a lot of time and have many friends; I used to live just south of there is the somewhat more colorful neighborhood of Venice, and now live about thirteen miles away in the bucolic South Bay.

I know Santa Monica, and Santa Monica is just slightly to the right of Berkeley, Madison, and Cambridge. Their city council meetings are one the great sources of entertainment to the politically minded among us, as the council wrestles with weighty issues of international moral import while gradually approving the developments gentrifying the city – much like Berkeley, which has become the playground of the Peets-drinking, Sierra-Designs-wearing thoughtful class.

It’s the opposite of jingoistic.

But, according to friend Andrew, it’s waaay over the top. When the children sing a Barneyfied song that’s a ‘feel good’ version of America the Beautiful, he launches:

Granted, I’m not a big fan of patriotic sentiment in any context. But this got my goat in ways I just couldn’t shake. First, there was the niggly matter of historical accuracy. (What are black, Asian or Native Americans supposed to make of that line about welcoming all the races?) One also had to question the dubious taste of singing about a “do or die land” in the wake of a controversial war in Iraq that many parents in our liberal corner of Santa Monica had passionately opposed. What really riled me, though, was that the song had absolutely nothing to do with education.

With my son’s education at stake, I can’t help but ponder the link between what is fed to children as young as six and what American adults end up understanding about the wider world. There is much that is admirable in the unique brand of idealism that drives American society, with its unshakable belief in the constitutional principles of freedom and limitless opportunity. Too often, though, the idealism becomes a smokescreen concealing the uglier realities of the United States and the way it throws its economic, political and military weight around the globe. Children are recruited from the very start of their school careers to believe in Team America, whose oft-repeated mantra is: we’re the good guys, we always strive to do the right thing, we live in the greatest country in the world. No other point of view, no other cultural mindset, is ever seriously contemplated.

Go, on read the whole thing. But before you do, click over to this report, by the Albert Shanker Institute (am I the only one who thinks of Woody Allen when I hear that name?) – which completely sets out the case of the kind of education Gumbel disdains, and does so with the support of a broad spectrum of the national leadership:

Those who have signed on include former President Clinton; Jeane Kirkpatrick, senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and U.N. ambassador during the first administration of Ronald Reagan; and David McCullough, the historian and author. Dozens of scholars, professors, labor leaders and representatives of school groups have backed it, too.

“It really shows the depth of concern across the country about the status of our civil society,” said one signatory, Lee Hamilton, president of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and a former Democratic congressman from Indiana. “How low voter participation can you have and still have a democracy?”

CNN goes on to say that

The nation’s schools are telling an unbalanced story of their own country, offering students plenty about America’s failings but not enough about its values and freedoms, says a report drawing support across the ideological spectrum.

Without a change of approach, schools will continue to turn out large numbers of students who are disengaged in society and unappreciative of democracy, the report contends.

and

“People have been so anxious to be self-critical, probably with good intentions,” said Sandra Feldman, president of the American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s second largest union of teachers. “But we feel that’s just gone too far over in that direction.

“We definitely have had terrible problems as a nation, but we also have a society that is totally different than that of a totalitarian society. Children need to understand and value what has been built here,” said Feldman, also president of the institute, which is endowed by the AFT.

and concludes

The report says: “We do not ask for propaganda, for crash courses in the right attitudes or for knee-jerk patriotic drill. We do not want to capsulize democracy’s arguments into slogans, or pious texts, or bright debaters’ points.”

But it takes aim at a lack of teaching about non-democratic societies, saying that comparison could show the “genius” of America’s system. Sanitized accounts of real-life horrors elsewhere lead to the “half-education” of children, the report says.

The report calls for a stronger history and social studies curriculum, starting in elementary school and continuing through all years of schooling. It also suggests a bigger push for morality in education lessons.

“The basic ideas of liberty, equality, and justice, of civil, political and economic rights and obligations, are all assertions of right and wrong, of moral values,” the report says. “The authors of the American testament had no trouble distinguishing moral education from religious instruction, and neither should we.”

Well, Andrew might have trouble with that, but it’s just fine with me.

Here’s a quick explanation, in case anyone wants to forward this to him; we are citizens, not subjects. Our patriotism is associated with our shared belief in the core values of the American ideal, not with some garish jewelry stored in a Tower somewhere. In order to function as citizens, we need to raise our children to understand and make a commitment to those beliefs.

That’s not jingoism. That’s not indoctrination in “patriotic conformism.” We share certain things – a flag, a Constitution – and we revere both, often crudely.

That’s OK with me. we don’t need sophisticated patriots. We need thoughtful, honest, passionate ones; passionate enough to push us forward toward our ideals, and to pull along those who are willing to join us.

Potemkin WMD

It’s not on the web that I can find, but the AP has a story in this morning’s Daily Breeze headlined: Iraq’s own weapons count is questioned.

No weapons of mass destruction have turned up in Iraq, nor has any solid evidence for them turned up in Washington or London. But what about Baghdad’s patchy bookkeeping – the gaps that led U.N. Inspectors to list Iraqi nerve agents and biological weapons material as unaccounted for?

Some may represent miscounts, and some may stem from underlings’ efforts to satisfy the boss by exaggerating reports on arms output in the 1980s.

“Under that sort of regime, you don’t admit you got it wrong,” said Ron G. Manley of Britain, a former chief U.N. adviser on chemical weapons.

His encounters with Iraqi scientists in the 1980s convinced him that at times, when told to produce “X amount” of a weapons agent, “they wrote down what their superiors wanted to hear instead of the reality,” said Manley, who noted that producing VX nerve agent, for example, is a difficult process.

American ex-inspector Scott Ritter said he, too, was sure Baghdad’s “WMD” accounts were at times overstated.

“They put so much pressure on scientists to produce world-class systems, they would exaggerate their reports back to the authorities,” he said. As inspectors scrutinized factories and interrogated Iraqi specialists, “you suddenly realized that they weren’t as good as they say they were.”

…as I was saying

Rocking Their Worldview

Take a look at the picture on the upper left of this page of the L.A. Times (go ahead, sign in using ‘laexaminer’/’laexaminer’, it’s worth it).

Notice anything?? Look closely at the U.S. soldier’s hand.

It’s a woman soldier.

Look at the expressions on the faces of all the boys standing around her.

Tell me their views of the world won’t be damn different different five years from now, because of this.

(fixed dumb error…’ago’ should have been ‘from now’)

Forget C.P Snow, Here’s the Real Two Worlds

Two truly depressing articles in today’s L.A. Times (intrusive registration required, just use ‘laexaminer’/’laexaminer’). The first one on schools in St. Louis, and the reaction to change.

ST. LOUIS – The school district was broke – and failing. Half of all high school freshmen quit before graduation. Fewer than 7% of juniors scored “proficient” on a state reading and writing test.

In desperation, the school board took a radical route: They handed control of public education here to a corporate turnaround firm from New York.

Alvarez & Marsal has a 20-year track record of restructuring companies in crisis, from clothing manufacturer London Fog to the Trump Casinos, from Liquor Barn retail stores to Arthur Andersen accounting. But its experts had never applied their business models to public education. The school board here gave them a $4.8-million contract to try.

No other urban school district has ever offered itself up for such an overhaul.

The result has been dramatic change and fierce public anger.

Why the anger? From here, it sounds like he’s doing a good job:

The management consultants put William V. Roberti, a former Brooks Brothers chief executive, in charge of the district, with the title of acting superintendent. He can’t fathom why his reforms have provoked such rage.

Districts across the nation have let teachers go and class sizes swell, but here, Roberti has cut $60 million from the budget without laying off a single classroom teacher. He has made sure that kindergarten, first- and second-grade teachers have no more than 23 students – down from 25 last year. He’s also hired 94 “literacy coaches” to work full time on reading.

In short, he’s doing just what he did in the private sector: helping his client focus on what counts. For Brooks Brothers, that was selling suits. For the St. Louis Public Schools, it’s educating kids. Anything not directly related to that mission goes.

Before Roberti took over, the district ran a warehouse to distribute books, a property management division to tend to 40 unused buildings, even a greenhouse to grow plants for classrooms. He swiftly dismantled those operations.

Sounds good so far, right?

But many in St. Louis have made it clear they don’t want their schools run like a corporation. They want their schools to be community anchors.

“If there is such a budget crisis in this district, why are they spending all this money for an outside firm to come in and bulldoze our community?” asked the Rev. Timothy Tyler, who decided to send his daughter to a suburban district this year rather than face the turmoil here.

It might make business sense to shut down 16 schools with declining enrollment. To parents, though, those schools were often the only safe, stable haven in their neighborhoods.

It might make business sense to privatize food service and custodial work. But to parents, that means hundreds of neighbors will lose jobs with benefits. It means that lunch ladies and janitors who had worked in the same school for decades will be replaced by a rotating cast of minimum-wage contract workers.

“It’s no good for kids and it’s not fair to taxpayers,” said Eric Thomas, 41, a machine operator. He will keep his son, Shawn, home in protest on Monday – and if need be, for weeks to come, until the district is in new hands. “As long as it takes,” he said.

Roberti finds such criticism exasperating. When he took over, the school district had a $90-million deficit out of a $450-million budget. Substitutes were running hundreds of classrooms due to a shortage of credentialed teachers. Test scores were so bad that the district has only provisional state accreditation.

Financial oversight in recent years has been so lax that the district was spending $50,000 a year insuring vehicles it no longer owned. Last year, the district spent nearly $450,000, the equivalent of a dozen teacher salaries, to cater banquets for meetings often attended by just a handful of staff. “The facts are, this place was a mess,” Roberti said. “People in St. Louis have to decide: Do we want to have a great system to educate our kids, or do we want a bloated system that gives a lot of people jobs?”

There, in a nutshell, is the issue that will face anyone who, like me, wants to support government social programs. What is the program for? Is it there to really deliver a service, or to provide stable jobs for people in the communities – a good thing – and political patronage for the powerful – a not-so-good thing. How do you impose the kind of controls that any enterprise needs – which imply a kind of centralization – with the demands of public service?

Before you answer, take a look at another story in today’s Times, and make the contrast:

Born out of the Watts riots and embattled throughout its 31-year history, Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center this week faces one of its greatest challenges yet – saving its ability to train new doctors.

On Tuesday, King/Drew and its medical school will attempt to convince an outside reviewer that they have corrected myriad problems in programs that prepare doctors to specialize in everything from delivering babies to operating on gunshot victims.

The hospital, owned by Los Angeles County, depends heavily on its group of 331 trainees to care for its patients, most of whom are impoverished African Americans or Latinos. Without those physicians, it is unclear how King/Drew would serve this population.

In 2000, the last time the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education reviewed how King/Drew trains residents overall, the council gave the hospital a rare “unfavorable” rating. Nationwide, of the 374 institutions with more than one residency program, only 13 have an unfavorable designation.

And it looks like that designation may well be coming, barring political pressure to change it.


* Six of King/Drew’s 18 residency programs recently have received sanctions from the council conducting this week’s site visit. The radiology program is slated to lose its accreditation in June, meaning it must be closed. Revocation also has been proposed for the surgery program, although the university plans to seek a reconsideration within the allotted 30 days.

The anesthesiology, family medicine, neonatal-perinatal and internal medicine departments either have been placed on probation or received warnings in the last two years. The accrediting council has cited problems ranging from inadequate supervision to insufficient medical research by the faculty.

* Far more King/Drew-trained residents fail the exams required to become certified as medical specialists than at other institutions nationally. Of the 25 King/Drew pediatric residents who took the boards between 2000 and 2002, for example, only 36% passed on their first try – tied for the second-lowest in the country, according to the American Board of Pediatrics.

* The amount of work available for residents has decreased markedly. The number of admissions at the hospital has dropped 40% in the last 10 years and the number of births more than 85%. The accrediting council requires that residents perform a certain number of procedures to practice safely and independently upon completing the program.

But the management team is in denial.

“Of course, we are concerned that the possibility exists that we might not be able to have residencies, but this is something that we have to deal with,” said Dr. Charles Francis, president of Drew University. “We have, I think, successfully responded to every challenge that we’ve been faced with.”

During the last institutional review, the accrediting group cited King/Drew for a lack of commitment, insufficient supervision of residents, overworking residents and using them for inappropriate chores, according to a summary provided by the county.

Here’s a case of a failing institution – failing not only the students who train there but the sick and helpless who come there for treatment.

And it raises a broader question for the communities effected: What’s important to you? And for those of us who fund these institutions, and must deal with the consequences, What’s important to us?

Clearly, something’s got to change. We can’t afford more St. Louis schools or more King/Drew hospitals. And we can’t afford the kids who come out of the schools or the patients who come out – or don’t – of the hospital.

The Question of Ms. Hanson

I’ve followed the Pauline Hanson story recently with a bit of interest, and have some questions I thought I’d toss into the luminiferous ether to see what floats back.

For those who don’t use Google News as a homepage (you all do, right?) there was a brief flurry of stories a few weeks back about a right-wing populist MP in Oz who’d been charged with and imprisoned for electoral fraud (here’s a good overview).Now there’s something in me that rejoices when politicians go to jail, because it shows that we all stand more-or-less equal before the law. But usually it’s for more venal things than this seemed. the base of the charge seemed kind of sketchy. It appears that she turned in petitions with the names of supporters, rather than party members, to get her party chartered. First, I can’t vouch of the exactitude of the charge (it’s only vaguely described in several of the articles I’ve seen). But if it is accurate, it’s potentially kind of alarming; this is the kind of dodgy paperwork that candidates do all the time (I should know, I’ve been an officer in several campaigns, and spent a lot of time cleaning up these kind of messes) and are typically fined for.

So, out there in browserland, I’m wondering. What’s the story here? because the one thing that makes me damn uncomfortable is the thought that a politician unpopular with the authorities may wind up in jail for something others would get a ‘pass’ on. Note: I’m not in any way suggesting that that’s the case here. What I’m trying to do is see if anyone knows more about it and can enlighten me.

The Truth Is Out There…Way Out There

Browsing Norman Geras’ excellent blog, I was referred to a Guardian column by leftist UK MP Michael Meacher that manages to approach Hollywood standards of integrity in speech (“Hello,” he lied being the classic example).

Meacher explains it all for us. It’s titled This war on terrorism is bogus, and contends that the 9/11 attacks gave the US an ideal pretext to use force to secure its global domination. Go read it now, and then come on back for some comments.

“Massive attention has now been given – and rightly so – to the reasons why Britain went to war against Iraq. But far too little attention has focused on why the US went to war, and that throws light on British motives too. The conventional explanation is that after the Twin Towers were hit, retaliation against al-Qaida bases in Afghanistan was a natural first step in launching a global war against terrorism. Then, because Saddam Hussein was alleged by the US and UK governments to retain weapons of mass destruction, the war could be extended to Iraq as well. However this theory does not fit all the facts. The truth may be a great deal murkier.

We now know that a blueprint for the creation of a global Pax Americana was drawn up for Dick Cheney (now vice-president), Donald Rumsfeld (defence secretary), Paul Wolfowitz (Rumsfeld’s deputy), Jeb Bush (George Bush’s younger brother) and Lewis Libby (Cheney’s chief of staff). The document, entitled Rebuilding America’s Defences, was written in September 2000 by the neoconservative think tank, Project for the New American Century (PNAC).

Go read the actual document here.

The PNAC blueprint supports an earlier document attributed to Wolfowitz and Libby which said the US must “discourage advanced industrial nations from challenging our leadership or even aspiring to a larger regional or global role”. It refers to key allies such as the UK as “the most effective and efficient means of exercising American global leadership”. It describes peacekeeping missions as “demanding American political leadership rather than that of the UN”. It says “even should Saddam pass from the scene”, US bases in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait will remain permanently… as “Iran may well prove as large a threat to US interests as Iraq has”. It spotlights China for “regime change”, saying “it is time to increase the presence of American forces in SE Asia”.

Note that the earlier document is unsourced by Meacher; it appears to be from the 1992 Defense Planning Guidance, excepts of which can be found here.

Meacher then goes on to discuss the current document:

The document also calls for the creation of “US space forces” to dominate space, and the total control of cyberspace to prevent “enemies” using the internet against the US. It also hints that the US may consider developing biological weapons “that can target specific genotypes [and] may transform biological warfare from the realm of terror to a politically useful tool”.

I especially love the last part, which if true would convict the U.S. of a genocidal policy (which we’ve discussed ad nauseam here; interesting to note the reference in a serious document which I believe we all missed at the time). Unfortunately, the document doesn’t remotely say that. What it says instead is:

Although it may take several decades for the process of transformation to unfold, in time, the art of warfare on air, land, and sea will be vastly different than it is today, and “combat” likely will take place in new dimensions: in space, “cyber-space,” and perhaps the world of microbes. Air warfare may no longer be fought by pilots manning tactical fighter aircraft sweeping the skies of opposing fighters, but a regime dominated by long-range, stealthy unmanned craft. On land, the clash of massive, combined-arms armored forces may be replaced by the dashes of much lighter, stealthier and information-intensive forces, augmented by fleets of robots, some small enough to fit in soldiers’ pockets. Control of the sea could be largely determined not by fleets of surface combatants and aircraft carriers, but from land- and space-based systems, forcing navies to maneuver and fight underwater. Space itself will become a theater of war, as nations gain access to space capabilities and come to rely on them; further, the distinction between military and commercial space systems – combatants and noncombatants – will become blurred. Information systems will become an important focus of attack, particularly for U.S. enemies seeking to short-circuit sophisticated American forces. And advanced forms of biological warfare that can “target” specific genotypes may transform biological warfare from the realm of terror to a politically useful tool.

The report is obviously dealing with the environment U.S. force planners will have to respond to, not the one they will necessarily create. Nowhere in the document does it contemplate a U.S. effort to develop biological weapons; just to respond to their use by others.

He goes to on explain that the 9/11 attacks must have been deliberately accepted by the Bush administration as a lever to move U.S. and world opinion to accept the coming Middle East war.

I tend to avoid the more conspiratorial side of the web, but for now, I’ll just box this claim as a “Bush Knew” claim and set it aside. He explains the theory that Roosevelt knew about Pearl Harbor, and then says:

Similarly the PNAC blueprint of September 2000 states that the process of transforming the US into “tomorrow’s dominant force” is likely to be a long one in the absence of “some catastrophic and catalyzing event – like a new Pearl Harbor”. The 9/11 attacks allowed the US to press the “go” button for a strategy in accordance with the PNAC agenda which it would otherwise have been politically impossible to implement.

Let’s go back to the document:

Further, the process of transformation, even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event – like a new Pearl Harbor. Domestic politics and industrial policy will shape the pace and content of transformation as much as the requirements of current missions. A decision to suspend or terminate aircraft carrier production, as recommended by this report and as justified by the clear direction of military technology, will cause great upheaval. Likewise, systems entering production today – the F-22 fighter, for example – will be in service inventories for decades to come. Wise management of this process will consist in large measure of figuring out the right moments to halt production of current-paradigm weapons and shift to radically new designs. interests or that of its allies in space or the “infosphere” will find it difficult to exert global political leadership.

In Meacher’s world, it sounds deadly and sinister, In reality, it sounds like the kind of disclaimer analysts make continually (ceteris paribus – if everything stays the same).

His explanation for the war is simple. It’s all about the oiiiiilll…we want Iraq for the oil and gas, and we want Afghanistan for … the pipeline.

On one hand, he’s right…a stable Middle East is an important guarantor of a stable world economy, and in fact that alone is enough to give the West a strategic interest there. But I’ll point out the obvious fact that Saddam was willing to sell all the oil he could to anyone, and certainly would have welcomed U.S. interest in exploiting his resources for cash to build more palaces. There are much more economical and effective ways of guaranteeing a supply of oil from people who want to sell it to us than invading them.

He concludes:

The conclusion of all this analysis must surely be that the “global war on terrorism” has the hallmarks of a political myth propagated to pave the way for a wholly different agenda – the US goal of world hegemony, built around securing by force command over the oil supplies required to drive the whole project. Is collusion in this myth and junior participation in this project really a proper aspiration for British foreign policy? If there was ever need to justify a more objective British stance, driven by our own independent goals, this whole depressing saga surely provides all the evidence needed for a radical change of course.

Personally, I’d start at the next by-election. He’s an embarrassment to the U.K. and to the left in general.

Looking At My Watch

Right about now, Biggest Guy is signing the paperwork to join the Air Force ROTC. As I understand it (looks like I probably won’t see the docs until they’re signed), he’s one step away from the six-year commitment – apparently ten if you’re pilot-trained.

But he’s all happy about the fact that out of the 2002 class, 22 UVA grads applied for pilot training slots and 21 got them.

And if he’s happy, I guess I ought to be too.

But I’m still kinda anxious about the whole thing…

What Goodness Looks Like From the Inside

I followed the referrer logs (as I do obsessively) over to Donald Sensing’s, and got a present. He writes about the nature of poverty in the U.S. and the world, and talks about a couple of hours he spent lessening the burden on one specific poor person he met as she walked down the highway away from her flat-tired car. If you haven’t read it yet, go read it now. He manages in one post to do three things:

* He illuminates what the life of the struggling poor looks like here in the U.S.;

* He compares it effectively with what it looks like in the rest of the world, and talks about the hopeful changes that are happening with little notice (linking to M. Simon’s piece below);

* And most of all, he lets you see what goodness looks like from the inside, and the cascade effect that one good act can have in inducing others to do good.

“She was en route from Murfreesboro, 30 miles distant, to my town of Franklin to appear in court appearance for a non-traffic misdemeanor charge. She was late, so I took her to the court and went in to verify her reason for lateness to the judge if necessary. It wasn’t, but I hung around anyway.

Rhonda was in her mid-thirties, a single, welfare mom with a four-year-old daughter. She had no family in Tennessee, nor any real friends, being a fairly new resident to the area. She had lost her job last week (she had been a restaurant hostess) because no child care was available for her evening shift. She had been taking her daughter to work but management had let her go for that reason.

I had called the sheriff’s dispatch and asked them not to tow her car if possible, but when thunderstorm moved in the deputy on patrol decided it had to go. Knowing the road, I can’t blame him. But the tow charge would cost Rhonda $75, which she didn’t have, and she’d still have to fix her tire.

The judge threw out the legal charge. Her public defender wrangled a deal with the tow operator and the sheriff’s department that if the department called that tow company for the next tow, they’d not charge Rhonda. Everyone agreed, so that was a relief. The tow lot hosed enough air into her tire to get up the road a stretch to a a Marathon gas station that had a garage.”

Now I know that things like this happen almost every day. I make it a habit to stop and help people – I’m a first responder. To be honest, I’m also somewhat less vulnerable than the average highway user, so it’s pretty safe for me. And I’m forever in the debt of people who’ve stopped to help me and mine; Miguel, who stopped his pickup truck and offered his cell phone – mine, being digital, of course had no signal – when Tenacious G had her motorcycle crash outside Bakersfield two years ago, and others over the years as well.

I’ll also toss in a (doubtless controversial) policy suggestion we can take where the French actually do something right: My ex – sister in law runs a creche in Paris. The French have a system of public childcare that plugs directly into the public school system, and can deal with children as young as 18 months.

Sensing commented: “That’s the nutshell problem: babysitting or child care, low wages and generally unreliable transportation.” The leg of this tripod that can best b dealt with is childcare. While in an ideal world, a parent would stay home with children, for low wage workers this isn’t remotely an option.

And while I’m not thrilled with the job our public school systems are doing, they’re nonetheless doing a pretty good job as I can directly testify from the experience of my three sons.

I’ve been lucky (and hardworking and disciplined) enough that childcare for my sons was never an issue, and been able to be at jobs where I could walk off for a day to take care of a sick child without feeling my job was at risk. Rhonda, and the millions like her in the U.S. aren’t.

I’m glad beyond belief that Donald was there to help, and that he’s the kind of man he obviously is.

I’d hope that I, and those of you reading this, might think to do the same.

And, in case you wonder why I’m a liberal, it’s because I’d love to see if there is anything we can do to lighten the burden and smooth the path of all the Rhondas out there.

Mr. Kurtz and President Bush as a Victim

Libertarian Arthur Silber’s rant about the review of the Bush Administration’s conduct of the war (from an article in the Democratic Washington Times) took me to Stanley Kurtz’s (his e-mail) lame defense of today’s actions in The National Review. I know it’s bad form to Fisk in 2003, but sometimes life just hands you a hanging curveball and you have to swing away:

The president’s decision to turn to the United Nations for assistance in the occupation and rebuilding of Iraq makes a great deal of sense. It certainly isn’t the ideal approach, but given the divisions within our country, and our general unwillingness to enlarge our military, the president’s decision is reasonable.

I’m sorry, I thought the President was the one who made decisions about the size of the military; it is after all, his Constitutional legal (under the Budget and Accounting Act of 1921) duty to propose a budget. I wasn’t aware that it was a consensus activity; no one’s asked me, for example.

[Update: Bush to mount ‘very aggressive’ campaign to explain U.S. mission in Iraq. About freaking time.For one thing, it might actually work out. To the extent that we can make use of United Nations troops, while continuing to exercise control, the move will have been a success. But of course, the French and Germans, and the United Nations as a whole, will do their best to wrest control from the United States.

If you believe in fairies, clap your hands now…(and as in “What’s Up, Tiger Lily,” the hero’s gun will be magically reloaded…)

The real point is that politically, this was the least bad option. As I pointed out a year ago in “Supersize It,” http://nationalreview.com/kurtz/kurtz080202.asp our too small military put the president in a political trap. The choice was either to break the budget, eliminate domestic spending and lose the claim to a compassionate conservatism, or repeal the tax cut.

Damn right. Can’t let national security get in the way of a tax cut!! Can’t make any demands on the American people, or lead us in any way whatsoever. Let the other generations sacrifice, we’re on Atkins.

All of these are politically unacceptable. So the alternative was to hand off at least some control of Iraq to the U.N.

No, there were a number of other alternatives, among which was carefully weighing the costs before invading and making sure we had the assets in hand to succeed. We could have done a better job isolating the French and Germans before the war. We could have tried to split the Russians off from the French and Germans after we invaded. Those are three reasonable alternatives, and I’m only a voter.

That actually has the political upside of taking an issue away from the Democrats, who had hoped to run on the claim that the Bush administration was dangerously unilateralist.

Who was it who criticized the Democrats for creating defense policy by worrying about how it would play, and not how it would work?

Is this the best foreign policy? No. The best foreign policy requires not the United Nations, but a united nation. Unfortunately, our nation is not united. The occupation of Iraq is not the occupation of Japan or Germany. This is even more because of the fact that we are different than we were back then than the fact that Iraq is not Japan or Germany.

What kills me is that the victim mentality has, according to this, reached the Oval Office. Bush isn’t a leader, and isn’t to be judged by his success as a leader; he’s just the helpless captive of forces beyond his control. Hang on, I’m going to go rewrite Lincoln’s speeches in that light…

A house divided against itself cannot stand. A nation where the political opposition stands against our foreign policy, and even secretly (and not so secretly) hopes for its failure, cannot reform a region as recalcitrant as the Middle East.

Well, Bush had the opportunity to take that political opposition and weld their feet to a set of policies. He chose short-term political advantage instead. Sorry ’bout that.

A nation where…even after an event like 9/11…a draft can be offered as a political tactic against the hawks, is a nation unready to manage social transformation on the other side of the world. Our culture war is real. Now it has taken its toll.

That’s because the hawks did a piss-poor job of selling the reasons for this war to the general public.

In many ways we are strong. Yet disunited we are weak. Our turning to the U.N. is not necessarily a disaster. But it is a sign that our internal divisions have finally exacted a cost.

He gets paid for this? He’s one of the leading neo-con commentators and he can summarize his argument with this pablum? “…is not necessarily a disaster?” “…have finally exacted a cost?” I’m sorry, I thought the destruction of the WTC and damage to the Pentagon was a disaster. I thought that our incoherent foreign policy over twenty years, which tolerated Wahabbism and radical Islamist institutions, and helped create Al Queida exacted a cost. Bush’s weakness at a critical moment is what’s exacting a cost.

MORE UPDATES:

* In a great post extending this and the post below, Porphy busted me on a point of law; the Constitution says nothing about the President submitting a budget. I will stamp my feet and insist he’s wrong about my use of ‘crowing’ however…it may not be OED, but it’s current usage). See also his follow-up post.

* Caerdroia comments.