Sep 182005

Sudoku is no longer the strangest fad of 2005. Ladies and gentlemen, the caviar facial:

There should be nothing unusual about ordering a few ounces of sevruga caviar in Beverly Hills – unless you’re on your back in a cool, dark room, and the caviar is smeared on your face with a spatula.

……..bunch of dots to simulate the stunned pause you must be experiencing………

Okay, you say. But that’s Beverly Hills. They’re insane out there. If Eva Longoria burned herself with a lit cigar, you’d have “Luxury Burn Boutiques” opening up within the week.

Yes, true. However. I am appalled to further report that the reason I found out about this is, there’s a tiny little day spa within walking distance from my house, and they, too, will happily rub caviar on your face in exchange for your credit card number. The words ULTIMATE CAVIAR FACIAL were written on a whiteboard outside the door, and I stopped so abruptly I almost threw my kids out of the wagon I’d been pulling.

I really don’t know what to say about this except the obvious: If you are paying somebody to smear caviar on your face, you officially have too much goddamn money.

Sep 142005

Liveblogging the Hitchens/Galloway debate:

7:20 p.m.: It’s nowhere near starting. The line is still down the block, they say. A major security problem… because there may be people there from right wing Web sites. Really, they said that.

Oh, good, they just said they’re going to start at 7:30 promptly.

In the meantime, it’s a discussion of New Orleans. The hosts are upset that military recruiters approached evacuees in the Astrodome. Geez. Of all the things that happened in New Orleans over the last couple of weeks, that doesn’t even begin to move the needle on my outrage monitor.

Hitchens would seem to have the deck stacked against him. The debate is sponsored by Democracy Now!, a hard left wing Web site. Hell, the debate itself is occuring as a part of George Galloway’s book tour. Whether that means the audience is entirely in his favor is another thing. (After all, there may be people there from right wing Web sites.) In the chatroom for Democracy Now, people seemed to be about evenly divided, or even leaning Hitchens’s way. We’ll see.

Galloway’s book-tour rep is making announcements. Anti-war protest in Washington in the near future — big cheers in response. Definitely not a Hitchens-friendly audience.

Announcer: “We’ll have an interview with the president of the Christopher Hitchen’s fan club — his mother.”

It’s starting. The moderator is Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! Long list of other sponsors. Stay after and get your book signed.

The timekeeper for the event: Elizabeth Wrigley-Field. Really. (“No, she has never been there.”)

The first mention of Hitchens got a very large round of applause. Maybe not as stacked a deck after all. But Galloway’s supporters are in the majority, for certain.

First up: Hitchens’s opening statement. Wants to start with a moment of silence for the 160 people killed today. “You can take it out of my time.”

“If the anti-war movement had been heeded, then Saddam would have annexed Kuwait. Kosovo would have been ethnically cleansed. The Taliban would still be in Afghanistan. And Hussein and his crime family would still be in Iraq. If I had that record, I would be extremely modest.”

(None of my quotes are really going to be quotes because I can’t type that fast. But I’m getting the gist.)

Arguing that Iraq was justified on an international basis based on Iraq’s own actions. The state, too, was imploding, and if had been allowed to implode, then Turkey, Iran, and… Syria? (missed it) would have invaded for their own purposes. Big round of applause for his basic premises.

We make no excuses about the negative consequences, but we would also like to focus a bit on the positive consequences: A man who delighted in torture, and invader of two neighboring states, is in jail now. This is a long overdue justice.

The constitution. “Debated on six television stations and perhaps 100 newspapers.” Thank you. This is obviously my big bugaboo, that Iraq’s newly free press is just taken from granted, or completely ignored. (I don’t think Hitch himself even mentioned it his recent article about the positives of the war, in the Weekly Standard.) “Three years ago, it would be death to distribute a leaflet.”

Hitch is saying that Libya’s capitulation is a direct result of the Iraq war. Personally, I think so, too, but it’s hardly a provable connection. Expect a big wallop back on this point.

Ah: “Not all of this can be attributed to the war, but you notice that when Qaddafi wanted to capitulate, he didn’t go to Kofi Annan. Or Chirac.”

Here come the attacks on Galloway. Not quite following the specifics of the attacks, but he has enraged Galloway’s supporters. Accusing Galloway of benefiting of the oil-for-food. Of going to Damascus and telling the Syrians that they should be thankful for the leader. “He should be beneath your contempt,” and finis. Whew.

Galloway begins. Oh boy — quite an accent. I need to retune my antenna. Galloway starts off my thanking Hitchens for a speech he (Hitch) made 25 years ago that supported terrorism in some way. And for standing against the war in Iraq in 1991. In other words, reminding us that Hitchens used to be a far-left pundit himself. Which I think we knew.

Man, he’s wasting a lot of time on Hitchens’s former positions. “You are watching the first ever metamorphosis: A butterfly returning back to a slug. And a slug leaves behind a trail of slime.”

Accusing Hitchens of “half truth and untruth” regarding Galloway’s positions. And continuing on about Hitchens’s quotes about Cindy Sheehan. “People like Hitchens are willing to fight to the last drop of other peoples’s blood.” Big applause line. When does this debate start?

I really have got to say — I’m on Hitchens’s side here, but I think even if I wasn’t, I’d be disappointed with Galloway here. He’s been talking a long time and has hardly even addressed the subject of the evening. He’s talking about a historic British figure who supported the American revolution. A metaphor, obviously, but not a lot to hang one’s argument on.

“My point is this: For us in the US and the UK, there is only one big question: Are you with foreign invasion of Iraq, or are you with the right of the Iraqis to be free?” I find that an amazing, amazing question. He really… he really thinks the Iraqis were free under Saddam? I can’t even get my mind around that.

“Hitchens wants a moment of silence for the victims today, but what about Fallujah?” Big applause. “How I wish Hitchens would pick up a gun and go fight this war himself.” Another big line.

Wowee: “The US and the UK are the two biggest rogue states in the world today.” And that’s pretty much his closing line.

Back to Hitchens. Denies ever making the speech that Galloway claims he made. Happily admits he was wrong to oppose the first Gulf War. Wonders how Galloway, who positions himself as a pacifist, can go to Damascus and praise the “resistance” in Iraq, being lead by an Al-Qaedian.

“Among the people killed by these “operationists” was Casey Sheehan, who was trying to protect the infrastructure of Iraq. Is it right to go to Damascus and appeal to those who support Sheehan’s murderers, and then come to the US and support Casey’s mother?” Big applause, some shouting back. There might be fistfights in the audience by the end of this.

“While you’re masturbating and pretending to revolt against Dick Cheney, the Iraqi left-wing is fighting a bitter struggle against fascism.”

Hitchens is certainly the calmer speaker of the two. Back to Galloway, who can’t believe that Hitchens dared attack the Lancet article saying that there was 100,000 dead. (He did that. Hey, I’m not the club secretary.)

Galloway goes back to attacking Hitchens’s former positions. He also says that the terrorists — not that he uses that word — he says it’s the Iraqi people — would be using planes and tanks instead of suicide bombers if they had planes and tanks.

“You may think the airplanes came out of the clear blue sky on 9/11. I believe they came out of a swamp of hatred created by us.” HUGE reaction. Big boos, big applause. “For General Sharon’s crimes against the Palestinian people…” More boos, catcalls. “By propping up the corrupt kings from one end to the other, the US has created this swamp of hatred. And it won’t matter how many Patriot Acts we pass. If you live by the swamp, no number of flyswatters will save you from the monsters with in. We have to stop Israel’s crimes against the Palestinians. Reverse your policy towards Israel and Palestine! Reverse your policy against dictatorships!” Big applause.

Hitchens again. “If anything might have inspired the hatred of the Muslim world, the Soviet murder of tens of thousands of Afghans might be a better candidate than holding free elections in Iraq.”

Wow. Hitchens chides Galloway for invoking 9/11 — in New York, in September — and is roundly booed. Sheesh.

“I think it’s a bit much to say that these terrorists wouldn’t be like this if we weren’t so mean to them.”

Wants Mr. Galloway to address the oil-for-food program, and to sign an affidavit that he benefitted from it in no way. Galloway says he’ll sign it. “Nobody ever discussed oil revenue with me. That smokescreen will not wash!”

Galloway says that Hitchens supports dictators in Saudia Arabia, Kuwait, and Egypt. Hitchens is openly puzzled. That Hitchens supports a dictatorship in Lebanon — if it was a democracy, the Syrians would still be there. Makes sense to me! Anyway, Galloway’s supporters are eating this with a soup spoon.

The first part of the debate is over — now, amazingly, it is to become more freewheeling. Amy Goodman, the host, starts by asking Hitchens about WMD. Did Bush engage in a systematic campaign to deceive?

Hitchens: Bush laid out a “full menu” of reasons to invade Iraq. “I have written that Bush and Blair have done the world a disservice by trying to frighten people” instead of talking more indepth about the deeper reasons to invade. But he does remind people that Saddam actually used WMDs, that Saddam had an “elaborate system of concealment,” tried to buy weapons from North Korean, attempted to bribe UN officials. “What reasonable person would give Saddam Hussein the benefit of the doubt?”

Question for Galloway: Has Saddam committed any crimes. “Yes. Most of them in the 80s, when he was the closest friend of the US and UK. He invaded Iran at the behest of the US and the UK. I denounced Saddam at the time and was denounced as a Communist troublemaker!”

They are now taking turns attacking each other as hypocrites. Dum de dum.

Galloway keeps coming back to the most basic points we’ve been hearing from the very beginning of the war – “illegal occupation,” “no authority,” and so forth.

Oh, now this is just getting silly. “Were you lying in 1991 or are you lying now?” asks Galloway, because Hitchens was against Desert Storm. “How can anybody trust you when you have such crazed shifts of opinion?” As if nobody in the world became a wee more hawkish after 9/11. It’s really all true: Galloway is volume over substance.

Hitchens is then more than willing to discuss his transformation from dove to hawk, which seems to counter Galloway’s insistence that Hitchens only wants to gloss it all over. He also congratulates Galloway for his “unwavering support for thugs and criminals.”

Question: What needs to happen in Iraq now? A timetable for leaving?

Galloways calls the Iraqi government a puppet regime, for the benefit of Halliburton. He really does seem to think our motives are just that simple. “Do you think they plan to leave anytime soon of their own volition? They will never allow Iraq to be free! But the Iraqis have decided otherwise, and that’s what you can’t stand.”

Memo to Jon Delfin: Galloway just cited, and recommended, Juan Cole’s essay against Hitchens’s essay in the Weekly Standard.

Galloway: “The vast majority of Iraqis want this occupation to end, and the vast majority fighting to end it are Iraqi. Get used to it!”

Should the forces be removed immediately? Galloway: Yes. Hitchens chides the audience for cheering the “resistance” — reminding them of the specifics of this resistance, including the bombing of the UN headquarters there — and is booed loudly. Galloway says Hitchens has fallen out of the gutter and into the sewer.

Hitchens: The real resistance is the Kurdish army, and we at last fight on their side. Galloway’s “resistance” want nothing more than to keep the Iraqis in fear, after three decades of fear.

Question from the moderator: What about the costs? Did the money spent in Iraq affect the response in New Orleans? And if the government failed in its response in New Orleans, what makes you think they’re doing any better overseas?

Hitchens blows this one utterly. “Bush can’t send troops to one of the United States without being asked.” Laaaamme. “But the soldiers did a fine job once they got there.”

Galloway: “You’ve ended up a mouthpiece for the Bush family.” He calls up Barbara Bush’s nutty quote from last week, as if Hitchens remotely supported that. Yes, Hitchens is now agreeing that was a stupid thing to say. Hitchens then goes to say that soldiers that served in Iraq learned valuable skills that helped them in New Orleans. Cursing is heard in the audience. That is indeed not the strongest argument for supporting the war — not even those on his side applauded it.

Hitchens asks if should also abandon Afghanistan, leave it to the warlords. Yesses are clearly heard from the audience. Some of these people are really beyond help. “Anything is better than imperialism, eh?” says Hitchens.

Last question to Hitchens: Does he feel the media is friendlier to him since he changed his views? “Sort of a waste of a question. I didn’t leave the Nation to improve my prospects.”

Galloway wraps up. “Religious fundamentalism has been put in power in Iraq by Bush and Blair.” Blink. “The number of people who hate us in the world has been greatly enlarged.”

Hitchens is given the last word. “My losing my friends from the world are well worth it for the friends I have made. You would have more to be proud of, ladies and gentleman, to have done something to help build up the new Iraq. To offer your solidarity with the terrorists is something you will look back on with real regret. Many Iraqis are crying out for help. Do not appear to be deaf. And that’s the end of my pro bono bit — from now on, if you want to talk to me, you will need a receipt.” And with that, on to the book signing.


The radio hosts are back. I am waiting for them to say how splendid was Galloway’s victory. But first of all, they couldn’t believe how many Hitchens fans were around. They go on to say that Hitchens “never” answered questions directly. Give. Me. A. Break.

Oh, phooey — at this point, I have lost my connection to the server. Damn, I wanted to hear the wrapup.

Well, here’s my own: This is obviously not the kind of debate that anybody is going to “win,” as all the attendees, including me, went in rooting for one side, and would never admit the other side won. That said, it certainly seems to me that Hitchens landed far more body blows — by bringing up Galloway’s present-day visits to Damascus to support the insurrection and the Syrian dictatorship — than Galloway landed by repeatedly reminding us that Hitchens wasn’t always hawkish. Hitchens’s positions today regarding the war can be debated as good or bad; Galloway’s continuing support of dictatorships (Christmas in Iraq with Aziz? WTF?) can’t possibly be lauded by anybody. Or so I thought until I heard his supporters in the audience tonight.

I guess in the end I’d have to say this was a pretty insubstantial debate. Very few points were made about Iraq except in the light of the other debater’s words and actions — it wasn’t a debate pro or con Iraq, it was a very personal grudge match between two strong personalities who deeply hate each other. Not that I am dismissing the entertainment value in that. People still go to cockfights, don’t they? That’s illegal in New York. Maybe that’s why so many people turned out for this.

Sep 142005

A bit of an understatement: Rep. Tom Tancredo is one of many stunned by the notion that the 9/11 memorial out in Pennsylvania, where Flight 93 crashed, resembles a red crescent (scroll down), a symbol of Islam. (The story I link to attempts to quell this controversy thus: “The crescent associated with Islam is the lunar crescent, which is wider in the middle and tapers to points on each end. The crescent in the Murdochs’ design maintains a steady thickness all the way around.” Thanks for that clarification! How silly people are not to have noticed that!)

Anyway, The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) steps in to the fray to call Tom Tancredo an Islamaphobe. The opening paragraph of its press release staggers belief for its artful phrasing:

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) today dismissed Rep. Tom Tancredo’s (R-CO) comments on the design of a memorial to those aboard a plane that crashed in Pennsylvania on 9/11 as a cynical political ploy designed to gain national attention.

Yep, just a plane that crashed. Somehow. It was up in the air, and then it was on the ground. Funny how these things happen sometimes.

(Via Little Green Footballs.)

Sep 142005

Great moments in political chutzpah: According to the Washington Times, “House Majority Leader Tom DeLay said yesterday that Republicans have done so well in cutting spending that he declared an “ongoing victory,” and said there is simply no fat left to cut in the federal budget.”

Simply no fat! In the FEDERAL BUDGET! The mind boggles.

Sep 132005

I’m gonna jump around a little bit here, but stay with me. Unless you hate it when I talk about anything except my kids, in which case, see you tomorrow. Today’s going to be a kid-free day.

Megan McArdle had an interesting post a few days ago on why the poor stubbornly insist on remaining poor. She pins a good deal of the problem on difficult-to-break cultural and social attitudes — that, basically, the impoverished have permission to make the bad decisions that will keep them impoverished, because everyone around them is making those bad decisions, too:

I go to work every day, pay my bills on time, don’t run a credit card balance and don’t have kids out of wedlock because I am planning for my future. But I also do these things because my parents spent twenty or so years drumming a fear of debt, unemployment, and illegitimacy into my head. And if I announce to my friends that I’ve just decided not to go to work because it’s a drag, they will look at me funny–and if I do it repeatedly, they may well shun me as a loser. If I can’t get a house because I’ve screwed up my credit, middle class society will look upon me with pity, which is painful to endure. If I have a baby with no father in sight, my grandmother will cry, my mother will yell, and my colleagues will act a little odd at the sight of my swelling belly.

Take a minute right now and try to imagine how your friends would react if you announced that you’d decided to quit work, have a baby, and go on welfare. They’d make you feel like an outsider, wouldn’t they? And isn’t that at least part of the reason that you don’t step outside of any of the behavioural boundaries that the middle class has set for itself?

Bad peer groups, like good ones, create their own equilibrium. Doing things that prevent you from attaining material success outside the group can become an important sign off loyalty to the group, which of course just makes it harder to break out of a group, even if it is destined for prison and/or poverty. I think it is fine, even necessary, to recognize that these groups have value systems which make it very difficult for individual members to get a foothold on the economic ladder.

I think she makes some excellent points about poverty in this country, and its stubborn intractability. Conservatives say, “Why don’t they just get a job?” and liberals say, “Why don’t we just give them money?” and neither side expresses any interest in getting at the root of the more difficult problem: Changing the attitudes of the entire troubled group.

Oh, some people try. They escape to college, but, nobly, they come back to put down a new set of roots, to lead by example. Any number of non-profit organizations try to counter the socially ingrained lessons learned since birth. It’s a tough fight.

It would be an even tougher fight if it was actually a fight — if the poor had leaders absolutely determined to keep their charges impoverished, and were willing to kill or imprison those who came in preaching something new.

That’s right, I’m changing channels. I think McArdle’s basic thesis also applies to the problem of Islamic extremism. McArdle discusses the implausibility of you, Mr. or Ms. Middle Class Person, deciding to quit your job just for the hell of it, with no thought to the future. Might I also suggest it is unlikely you might decide to one day become a suicide bomber. Even if you really, truly, and sincerely felt, deep in your bones, that the opposing political party was evil, I don’t think anybody who reads this blog would take that final, desperate step.

Why is it so easy, then, to find willing suicide bombers in Palestine and in Iraq? (Or, more likely, Syria.) We are told that America is creating the suicide bombers. We are told that Israel is creating the suicide bombers. Me, I’m of the opinion that the Muslims are creating the suicide bombers. They are taught a withering scorn of religions and cultures other than Islam — they are taught this in the mosques, and in the home, and in the schools. This guy quotes an article from a 2003 Daily News story about textbooks used in private Muslim schools in the United States in which it is taught that “Christians ‘worship statues,’ that Jews are obliged by their religion ‘to call down curses upon the worship places of non-Jews whenever they pass by them,’ and that ‘lying, alcohol, nudity, pornography, racism, foul language, premarital sex, homosexuality and everything else’ are accepted in the Christians’ churches and the Jews’ synagogues.” Splendid. And click on the link to read what they’re saying about Jews in Saudi Arabian schoolbooks. It does not include a decent recipe for matzo ball soup.

I keep waiting for mainstream Islam to step up and put a stop to all of this, to reclaim their religion from the zealots who have turned it into a death cult. I think I’m going to be waiting for a long time. Last week on public access television, I heard a Farrakhan clone at “Muhammad’s Mosque” in Bridgeport, Connecticut, preaching to his congregation. He said flat out that the Koran states clearly that Jews edited from the Bible all the stuff they didn’t like. No chapter or verse was cited for this fascinating piece of trivia, and I could find no further discussion of this theory online. Nonetheless, the preacher continued: “And what was in the chapters they edited out? And what did it say about them?

This is the leader of a mosque not thirty miles from my doorstep. Is this gentleman an example of a mainstream Islam? Of course, I like to think that he is not — that he is just another hate-preaching extremist, no more representative of “true Islam” than Osama bin Laden himself. But I am no longer sure that this is the case. How prevalent is this brand of nonsense in American mosques? I have no idea — they are not all good enough to broadcast their bile on public access television. I don’t want to believe this crap is widespread, this irrational despising of the Jews and Christians, but how can I possibly believe otherwise? I am trying to summon up the image of a legion of calm, Muslim leaders, off on the sidelines, preaching tolerance and understanding to their congregations. I just can’t seem to get very far with that little thought experiment. Can you?

Bad peer groups, like good ones, create their own equilibrium. Take what that Bridgeport preacher was saying, multiply it by 1,000, and you’ve got a good indication of what is going on in Arab countries. The well-taught enmity of other cultures becomes so well taught that one can even convince scads of young men to blow themselves up. With the foundation of experience they’ve acquired in the home and in the mosque and in the school, one can easily teach them that the Jewish kids on the bus you’re about to blow up would just grow up one day to hurl curses at you. The Muslims you’re about to blow up outside the police station are plainly open to loathsome Western ideals, and must be destroyed.

How does one break this cycle of non-stop hatred? Where is there room for a dissenting voice? What can we do about any of this?

Maybe we should simply ignore the whole problem — declare it to be not a problem. You guys want to hate us? Um, fine. Sorry to hear it. Well, if we can’t change your minds, then we’re just going to go about our merry way… and if there has to be a 9/11 every ten years or so, so be it. We’ll just have to live with that. And if you can keep that whole business about honor killings down to a minimum, we’d appreciate it.

That’s the isolationist view, adopted by the Buchanan right and a good deal of the left. Lord knows it’s an easy solution, simply stated, and easy solutions are always so nice. But, the thing is, I don’t want another 9/11 every ten years or so. I want the average Arab to realize that he has been poisoned, not by the evil West, or the evil Jew, but by his own leaders, and schoolteachers, and newspapers. They have been taught, both consciously and unconsciously, that their hatred is acceptable.

But let me ask you a question: Can you conceive of a scenario in which young Arab men are finally, regularly exposed to a more tolerant message… without their countries first becoming democracies? Without any hope of freedom of speech, or freedom of the press? You can? Please explain. Because I just don’t see it.

And that is why I still support the war in Iraq — the war that, we are told, has nothing to do with 9/11. Well, I maintain that it has everything to do with 9/11. That entire region has to change, and those changes have to begin somewhere, and Iraq was a fine candidate for a starting point.

A genuine democracy plunked down right in the middle of that region can’t not have an effect on the corrupt regimes surrounding it — surely more of an effect than a couple of weak-word UN resolutions, or the diplomatic equivalent of “Pretty please with sugar on top.” No, I do not kid myself that the effect will be instantaneous… or predictable. But I think it has a better chance of affecting change over there than what we were doing before 9/11, which was nothing.

This was meant to be posted a couple of days ago, obviously, but it took me a long time to get down what I’m trying to say… and I wish I were a better writer, so I might make my points sharper and more coherent. But I’m not, and it probably doesn’t matter anyway. Most of my readers were very, very against the war, and I can’t believe that anything I could write could change that.

So then why write this at all? Eh, I don’t know. I’m a blogger, so I must blog. Perhaps we can start smaller. Perhaps I shouldn’t try to convince you about the war one way or another. Perhaps, instead, I can convince you that the next time someone asks rhetorically, “Why do they hate us?,” that you might reply, “Because they have learned to since childhood.” And when the someone asks the question, “How are we going to change to make them happier?”, you can correct them, that the question should be, “How do we make their attitude less acceptable to them?” How do we replace the non-stop intolerance and scorn with a more peaceful message? If you have a way of accomplishing that, and one that does not require the paradoxical use of military might, now would be an excellent time to speak up.

Sep 122005

See if you can tell when the solemnity of the moment vanished forever: The scene is the ceremony preceding the opening kickoff of the NFL season; the ceremony is beamed to every football stadium. A large honor guard, in full military dress, is on the field. Fighter jets ready themselves for their flyover. The camera picks up on people in the crowd wearing FDNY caps, waving American flags. A man shakes a placard that says “9-11-01 — NEVER FORGET,” and under that a diagram of two tall, thin rectangles, and a pentagon, and an airplane. The announcer, in a rich tenor voice, says something close to the following: “To honor the memory of those lost four years ago in the National Tragedy at the World Trade Center, we ask that you please stand. And now, to sing “America the Beautiful,” please welcome Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey!”

I know nothing of Nick Lachey. Maybe he’s a decent guy. It’s hard to tell, since he is the victim of a permanent eclipse; his wife’s shadow blacks him out completely. She is bestowed with an unholy combination of star power and vapidness never before seen on this earth. She makes Britney Spears look like one of the great thinkers of our time. I have never seen a picture of her that even hints at the possibility that Jessica Simpson’s brow has ever been darkened by a serious thought. Thinking of all the money she and Paris Hilton and wackmobile Courtney Love have at their disposal makes me want to rethink Communism.

Fine, fine: Jessica Simpson isn’t the first pop culture icon to horrify me. There’s always a rotating line-up of money-drenched dingbats. But does she now also have to be the go-to singer for patriotic events? Is she guiding herself towards a reign as the new default American Singer, in the grand tradition of Kate Smith or even Ray Charles? If so, then we are definitely in trouble as a country. I grant you, she can sing. But it’s all show-off, American Idol belting — it’s all about the notes. She might not even know what the words mean.

Anyway, at least the ceremony meant that football season has arrived. And not only did the Giants win, but in the process, they occasionally looked like a coordinated team. That’s nice. Still, the Arizona Cardinals played a big part in defeating themselves, with a few choice plays possibly stolen from a Three Stooges short. The jury is still out on whether the Giants can beat a team with its act together.

It’s always strange, early in the football season, when they show score updates, including some from other sports. My eye is dragged to that corner of the screen by the anomalous numbers: 4-1?? What the–? Oh. Baseball. I’ll be glad when we get to midseason, and football is the only game in town, and scores are mostly divisible by 3, 7, or 10, which is as it should be.

Actually, I am in no rush to get to midseason. Time is flying by ridiculously fast as it is.

Kid notes: We are hereby renaming our son “Banjo.” In the playground this weekend, there were four boys, and three of them were named Alex. This is just unacceptable. Banjo — not much chance of duplication there! Banjo Berlin. I kinda like it.

The slide at the playground is a tricky device. The metal of the slide is affected by tiny changes in humidity and air pressure. One day my kids will stick to it like refrigerator magnets, and have to crab-crawl their way down. (Lea nonetheless saying “Whee!”) The next day, they’ll suddenly find themselves in training for the luge. The other day, Lea shot down the slide much faster than she had been prepared for, and landed on the wood-chip carpeting with a pronounced thud. There was much holding of breath while we waited to see which way this would go: Tears? Would there be tears? She stood up and brushed wood chips off her shorts, looking a little rattled. Then she looked up and said, “That was awesome,” and ran back to do it again.

Today before football was another playground — the one at the mall. They’re doing major construction there for a Spring 2006 expansion, and I fear they may have accidentally broken some physical laws of time and space. The parking lot is always jammed. Day-before-Christmas jammed. But the mall itself is empty. For a few minutes Alex and Lea were the only kids in the play area. It’s very strange. How can so many cars translate into so few people?

Bought I Am Charlotte Simmons in paperback — I’ve been meaning to get around to this one. Wolfe’s A Man in Full is one of my favorite novels. Also at the bookstore, I saw a new hardcover collection — We’re All In This Together, a novella and a handful of short stories from a new writer named Owen King. Hails from Bangor, Maine. Wow, he must be a seriously good writer if his first book is just a novella and a few short stories! Unless maybe he has connections of some kind. I dunno.

Eh. I’m not very good at maintaining snarkiness. I don’t begrudge Owen his parentage. I’m sure the stories are just fine. If I have any bitterness about this — and, in truth, I don’t; not really — it would be aimed at the book industry. Who can doubt that if Owen King’s stories came, word for word, from nearly any other new, young writer, that nobody other than friends and family would ever get the chance to read them? And yet, featured among the new hardcover fiction today was the new novel from… Pamela Anderson. Something is very, very wrong here.