Recuperation Time

Austin Dispatches
No. 106
Mar. 7, 2008

I looked seedy and unkempt when I could stand to view my reflection in the ambient light filtered through the draw Venetian blinds. Several days’ stubble failed to conceal the flax-colored bruise on my left jaw line. I looked like a parolee in a halfway house.

Ernest Hemingway, one of my favorite writers, said somewhere once about the true test of writing was to do it with a hangover. Well, I wrote most of this issue – and filed my taxes – and bought a birthday gift for my niece – while in post-surgery pain.  Top that, Hemingway.

And that was the aftermath of a successful routine dental surgery. Late last month, I had my last two wisdom teeth extracted. I used the same surgeon as before. But this surgery was slightly more painful – and not just because I paid for it.  On the other hand, I negotiated about $300 off the fee, and afterward, I drove myself to the pharmacy to pick up medication. Also, the extraction seems to have diminished my allergies somewhat.

Political Follies

Indonesia’s U.S. Sen. Barack Hussein Obama was unable to knock out senatorial rival That Corrupt Bitch of New York in the Mar. 4 Democratic primaries.1 Now both campaigns must continue to burn through even more donor money, at a critical time, for one or the other to clinch that party's presidential nomination.2  The longer the contest drags on, the less likely the Democrats are to have enough campaign funds and to be able to unite behind a nominee, which costs them swing and undecided voters, which could cost them victory over Mad Dog McCain in November.3 

Such a scenario is likelier because the Obama and Hillary Clinton campaigns are increasingly nasty toward each other.4 Democratic identity politics at its finest. Moreover, the Democrats at best could look forward to a narrow victory over putative GOP choice John McCain,5 who’s burdened by his pro-war position,6 by Republican affiliation after years of tyranny and failure from Dubya and his flunkies,7 and by being McCain.  He also can only look forward to a narrow victory.

Either way, we Americans can anticipate a new president with minor differences to a continuing agenda of death, debt, depravity, degradation and decline.8 That is, unless enough of us alter our voting habits. Unfortunately, even beyond the establishment duopoly, there’s a dearth of presidential candidates willing to break with the policies of the last 20 years
For example, Ralph Nader is running for president again, as an independent. However, he’s been vague about wanting the Green Party nomination. His independent bid split the Greens in 2004, his new running mate resigned from that party to avoid certain ballot access hassles, and according to outside observers, Nader’s attitude seems to be the Greens have to offer him the nomination, but he’s not interested enough to make an effort, like seeking support or even formally joining the Greens.9 On the plus side, Nader’s campaign could do to the Greens what he’s done to American business.  I’m tempted to contribute money on that basis.

Down-ballot, local black incumbents reamed the white homosexuals trying to unseat them in the Democratic primary. I’m just guessing here, but my hunch is that the most colorful comments by the players on election night were never uttered within earshot of reporters.10 
e106fig1 William F. Buckley Jr., entertaining faux-WASP and quisling to the republic,  was found by his servants prone on the kitchen floor of his Connecticut mansion on Feb. 27. He was 82.11  He was a better light novelist12 and diarist13 than polemicist, where the chief theme behind his polysyllabic feuilletons was that he thought he was hot shit. (The secondary theme was that a secular corporatist warfare-welfare state was more important than preserving America’s liberties and cultural foundations.)  As teen-agers, I and my friends enjoyed watching “Firing Line” for Buckley’s facial tics – including the ability to move his forehead back without also moving his ears – and his flagrant nose-picking.14 His son, Christopher, also an able writer, inherited those tics, plus the ability to look like he’s trying to dislodge a booger from one of his nostrils without using his fingers.15 On this, perhaps, the old man had the right idea.

Media Indigest

Despite Buckley père’s authorial ability, his National Review was an amazingly dull magazine. Instead, I subscribed to the H.L. Mencken-inspired American Spectator in its heyday.16 Nowadays, National Review is both dull and smug. Even the opinion magazines that share its general stances – Commentary, The New Republic, The Weekly Standard, and, increasingly, Reason – are livelier.

At Reason, Nick Gillespie, a 40-something homeowner and family man who dresses like Fonzie but whose opinions are strictly Ralph Malph,17 has been replaced by a new magazine editor-in-chief who sports pink vests with rhinestone buttons.18  These jamokes don’t need denunciations from the Mises Institute – they need mockery from Mr. Blackwell.19 Anyway, I learned that in honor of Gillespie, Reason’s longstanding motto, “Free Minds and Free Markets,” is being changed to “Attitude Without Substance.”

That’s Gillespie’s signature contribution to Reason, fully staffed by people trying too hard to be cool.20 Except for the increasingly rare contributions of Brian Doherty and Jesse Walker, there’s scarcely any reason to read Reason, unless you want to see the continuing downward spiral that began during Virginia Postrel’s editorship. With the clique running it now, Reason’s unlikely to be cool enough to run, for example, an article on the sleazy machinations and deluded post facto rationalizations about the U.S. government and the Panama Canal.21 But once upon a time, it was.22

Cheeseball Entertainers Reconsidered

The second season of “Saturday Night Live” has been released on video. Surprisingly, the show is worse than in the first season.23 In the second season, breakout star Chevy Chase left – and has regretted it since.24 In retrospect, he showed remarkably good comedic career timing – far better than his average choice of material since.25 It’s been popular to speculate when the show first declined;26 the DVDs reveal the show’s actors and writers really straining for jokes in too many episodes as early as Fall 1976 (Notable exceptions: Dan Ackroyd and Michael “Mr. Mike” O’Donoghue).27  A number of episodes are as mirthless as anything I saw in the ‘80s. Of course, using thoroughly unfunny hosts like Nader and Lily Tomlin didn’t help.28  Perhaps the cast and crew needed either fewer or better drugs.29 More likely, the phasing out of the variety-show and other elements, such as the Muppets, that were in the first season, created a gap the comedians weren’t able to fill.30

Inspired by the rant of one of my readers, I investigated Sammy Hagar’s oeuvre. Now, the conventional view, from that reader to the snotty wretches of rock criticdom, is that Hagar is a mediocre knucklehead who ruined Van Halen’s sound.31 But listening to everyone’s output from 1986 on makes me wonder whether they didn’t mutually alter each other’s sound in favor of power ballads, heavy on the synthesized atmospherics.32 Musicians’ styles do change over time. Pre-Van Hagar Hagar knew how to put together a band that made him sound good while he shouted about fast women and faster cars.33  By the style’s standard criteria, Hagar’s early solo work rocks, with enough variety to undercut one of his better-known claims: In reality, there is more than one way to rock.34 As for being a knucklehead, he’s had a successful career in a fickle field for decades, and now his tequila brand and Mexican resorts underwrite his band tours, while his band tours promote his tequila brand and Mexican resorts.35 I don't have strong opinion about him one way or another, but after 20-odd years, I still don’t understand the animosity toward Hagar. Perhaps he personifies the rock mindset just a little too perfectly for comfort: an aging drooler with a limited technique, trying to recapture a youth that never was.36 Anyway, rock has been displaced as the dominant popular music for some time. Roll over U2, and tell Bob Dylan the news.37

In other music news, Dad has released his long-awaited CD of bluegrass instrumentals, “Lost Tribe.” My brother was the recording engineer.

Austin Death Watch

A new study concludes Austin is one of the least stressful U.S. cities.38 

Mayor Will Wynn finally apologized two years after choking some guy at a party at his condo.39 Who does Wynn think he is, Buddy Cianci?40 Of course, Wynn’s been choking the life out of Austin since he decided being a real estate broker wasn’t good enough.41 In a related vein, Austin police announced they arrested the reputed local boss of the Mexican Mafia.42

For all its jaw-jerking about supporting the arts, on Mar. 6 the City Council kiboshed an entertainment studio and production facility outside city limits but within city jurisdiction, because City officials didn’t want to give up control of the pasture, including taxing, regulating and possibly annexing anything that happens there. In turn, the developers said the City’s terms hamper their ability to get financing.43 The next morning, they told KUT-FM they’re probably going to build elsewhere. Nice job supporting the arts, Council. 

In his Feb. 29 Chronicle column, Louis Black declares “SXSW celebrates the best of what I am and what I believe.” Well, that explains a lot – mostly why the event’s so annoying. He’s also quite thin-skinned about criticism against SXSW.44 Keep up the good work, critics.45  Coincidentally, Black confirms Statesman columnist John Kelso that the SXSWers lack a sense of humor.46

The “traffic-calming” speed bumps along Travis Heights Boulevard are agitating that snooty South Austin neighborhood’s yuppie socialists, who demanded the damned things in the first place, learned all they do is agitate people, and now can’t get the City to remove them.47 Friend Wes Benedict, who rents in Travis Heights and there plays the token libertarian and token lower-income resident, must be laughing uproariously.

Neighborhood News

City officials are thinking of creating an infrastructure district to help subsidize developers in the North Burnet/Gateway area to accelerate turning it into the “second downtown.”48

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1 Lindell, Chuck. “With Hard-Fought Wins, Clinton Revives Campaign.” AAS 5 Mar. 2008: A1+; Mioli, Teresa. “Clinton Victorious in 3 States.” DT 5 Mar. 2008: 1-2A.
2 Baker, Peter, and Anne E. Kornblut. ”Even in Victory, Clinton Team Is Battling Itself.” WP 6 Mar. 2008: A1.
3 King, Michael. “Democracy Rocks!” AC 7 Mar. 2008: 19-20.
4 Ball, Andrea. “Central Texans Jam Caucuses in ‘Record-Shattering Turnout.’ ” AAS 5 Mar. 2008: A11; Mosk, Matthew, and Paul Kane. “Tempers Flare as Contests Heat Up.” WP 5 Mar. 2008: A14.
5 Herman, Ken. “McCain’s Sweep Locks Up Nomination; Rivals Give In.” AAS 5 Mar. 2008: A1+.
6 “No Country for Old Men.” The Economist 1 Mar. 2008: 37.
7 Anonymous [Scheuer, Michael F.]. Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror, rev. ed. Dulles, Va.: Potomac Books, 2005; Brasch, Walter M. America’s Unpatriotic Acts: The Federal Government’s Violation of Constitutional and Civil Rights. New York City: Peter Lang, 2005; Cassel, Elaine. The War on Civil Liberties: How Bush and Ashcroft Have Dismantled the Bill of Rights. Chicago: Lawrence Hill Books, 2004; Corn, David. The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception, rev. ed. New York City: Three Rivers Press, 2004: Ch. 4, 6, 8-9;   Dorrien, Gary. Imperial Designs: Neoconservatism and the New Pax America. New York City: Routledge, 2004: Ch. 6; Eisner, Peter, and Knut Royce. The Italian Letter: How the Bush Administration Used a Fake Letter to Build the Case for the War in Iraq. Emmaus, Pa.: Rodale, 2007; Eland, Ivan. The Empire Has No Clothes: U.S. Foreign Policy Exposed. Oakland, Calif.: The Independent Institute, 2004: Ch. 5-7; Flynn, Steven. America the Vulnerable: How Our Government Is Failing to Protect Us From Terrorism. New York City: HarperCollins Publishers/Council on Foreign Relations, 2004; Friedman, George. America’s Secret War: Inside the Hidden Worldwide Struggle Between American and Its Enemies, rev. ed. New York City: Broadway Books, 2005; Glantz, Aaron. How America Lost Iraq. New York City: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2005; Halper, Stefan, and Jonathan Clarke. America Alone: The Neo-Conservatives and the Global Order. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge UP, 2004; Hersh, Seymour M. Chain of Command: The Road From 9/11 to Abu Ghraib. New York City: HarperCollins Publishers, 2004; Isikoff, Michael, and Corn. Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal and the Selling of the Iraq War, rev. ed. New York City: Three Rivers Press, 2007; Kelley, Kitty. The Family: The Real Story of the Bush Dynasty, rev. ed. New York City: Anchor Books, 2005: Ch. 27; Krogh, Egil "Bud," and Matthew Krogh. Integrity: Good People, Bad Choices, and Life Lessons from the White House. New York City: PublicAffairs, 2007: Ch. 13; Kuo, David. Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction. New York City: Free Press, 2006: Ch. 9-11; Mann, James. Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush’s War Cabinet. New York City: Viking, 2004: Ch. 17-21;  Naylor, Sean. Not a Good Day to Die: The Untold Story of Operation Anaconda. New York City: Berkley Caliber Books, 2005; Norton, Anne. Leo Strauss and the Politics of American Empire. New Haven, Conn.: Yale UP, 2004: Ch. 5; Packer, George. The Assassins’ Gate: America in Iraq, rev. ed. New York City: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2006; Perret, Geoffrey. Commander in Chief: How Truman, Johnson, and Bush Turned a Presidential Power Into a Threat to America's Future. New York City: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007: Ch. 24; Prados, John. Hoodwinked: The Documents That Reveal How Bush Sold Us a War. New York City: The New Press, 2004; Risen, James. State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration, rev. ed. New York City: Free Press, 2007; Sperry, Paul. Crude Politics: How Bush’s Oil Cronies Hijacked the War on Terrorism. Nashville, Tenn.: WND Books, 2003; Suskind, Ron. The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America's Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11, rev. ed. New York City: Simon & Schuster, 2007; Suskind. The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul O'Neill, rev. ed. New York City: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2004: Ch. 6, 8-9; Taibbi, Matt. Smells Like Dead Elephants: Dispatches From a Rotting Empire. New York City: Black Cat, 2007: passim.; The Torture Papers: The Road to Abu Ghraib. Ed. Karen J. Greenberg and Joshua L. Dratel. New York City: Cambridge UP, 2005; Unger, Craig. House of Bush, House of Saud: The Secret Relationship Between the World's Two Most Powerful Dynasties, rev. ed. New York City: Scribner, 2004: Ch. 12-13; United States. Cong. House. Committee on Government Reform — Minority Staff. Special Investigations Division. Iraq on the Record: The Bush Administration's Public Statements on Iraq. Washington, D.C.: GPO, 2004; Woodward, Bob. Bush at War, rev. ed. New York City: Simon & Schuster, 2003; Woodward. Plan of Attack. New York City: Simon & Schuster, 2004.
8 Hess, David. “GAO Chief Reprises Warnings of Unsustainable Deficits.” CongressDaily 29 Jan. 2008: 8.
9 Recio, Maria. “Nader Choose S.F. Running Mate.” The Sacramento (Calif.) Bee 29 Feb. 2008: A13.
10 AD No. 105n13 (Feb. 27, 2008) ; Copelin, Laylan, and Corrie MacLaggan. “Duke Breezes, Says She Won on the Issues.” AAS 5 Mar. 2008: A7; Nichols, Lee. “Tax Assessor: Spears Pounds Maxey.” AC 7 Mar. 2008: 34; Toohey, Marty. “Spears Win Clear Shortly After Polls Close.” AAS, op. cit., A9; Whittaker, Richard. “HD46: Dukes Routes Thompson.” AC, op. cit., idem.
11 Martin, Douglas. “William F. Buckley Jr., 82, Dies; Sesquipedalian Spark of Right.” NYT 28 Feb. 2008: A1+.
12 Buckley, William F. Jr. Tucker's Last Stand. New York City: Random House, 1990.
13 W.F. Buckley. Overdrive: A Personal Documentary. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1983.
14 W.F. Buckley. On the Firing Line: The Public Lives of Our Public Figures. New York City: Random House, 1989.
15 Buckley, Christopher. Steaming to Bamboola: The World of a Tramp Freighter. New York City: Congdon & Lattès, 1982.
16 Conant, Jennet. “The Hazing of the President.” Esquire June 1994: 86; Tyrrell, R. Emmett Jr. The Conservative Crack-Up. New York City: Simon & Schuster, 1992: 57-58; York, Bryon. “The Life and Death of The American Spectator.” ATLM Nov. 2001: 91-110.
17 Hein, Jon. Jump the Shark. New York City: Dutton, 2002: 68-69: xi-xii, 35; McNeil, Alex. “Happy Days.” Total Television: The Comprehensive Guide to Programming From 1948 to the Present, 3rd rev. ed. New York City: Penguin Books, 1996: 357-359.
18 Hesse, Monica. “Reason’s Libertarians, in Pursuit of Happiness.” WP 23 Dec. 2007: M3
19 Blackwell, Richard [Richard Sylvan Seltzer], and Vernon Patterson. Mr. Blackwell: 30 Years of Fashion Fiascos. New York City: Pharos Books, 1991.
20 Hesse, op. cit.
21 Marina, William. “From Rape to Seduction: Panama and the Shifting Strategy of the American Empire.” Reason Jan. 1978: 33+.
22 Rothbard, Murray N. "The Conspiracy Theory of History Revisited." Idem.,  Apr. 1977: 39-40.
23 AD No. 96n32 (Feb. 6, 2007); Hill, Doug, and Jeff Weingrad. Saturday Night: A Backstage History of Saturday Night Live. New York City: Beech Tree Books/William Morrow, 1986: Ch. 20-24; Shales, Tom, and James Andrew Miller. Live From New York: An Uncensored History of “Saturday Night Live”, rev. ed. Boston: Back Bay Books/Little, Brown & Co., 2003: 106-108.
24 Hill and Weingrad, op. cit., 213-225, 255; Shales and Miller, op. cit., 99-103, 128-132; Woodward. Wired: The Short Life and Fast Times of John Belushi. New York City: Simon & Schuster, 1984: 101-102.
25 Fruchter, Rena. I’m Chevy Chase – and You’re Not: The Authorized Biography, 1st ed. New York City: Virgin Books, 2007.
26 Gillete, Amelie. “Lashing the Backlash.” The Onion 6 Mar. 2008, Austin ed.: 17; Hein, op. cit., 68-69.
27 Hill and Weingrad, op. cit., 142-144; Perrin, Dennis. Mr. Mike: The Life and Work of Michael O’Donoghue. New York City: Avon Books, 1998; Shales and Miller, op. cit., 34-35, 123-124, 126.
28 Hill and Weingrad, op. cit., 38-40.
29 Woodward, Wired, op. cit., 108-110.
30 Hill and Weingrad, op. cit., 143-144.
31 Robert Christgau’s Record Guide: The ‘80s. New York City: Pantheon Books, 1990: 423; Hein, op. cit., 173-174; Steele, R. Anthony. “Re: Where the Neocons Really Get Their Foreign Policy Ideas.” E-mail to Dan Eisler, 4 Dec. 2007.
32 Christe, Ian. Everybody Wants Some: The Van Halen Saga. Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley & Sons, 2007: 137, 151, 164-166, 187-188, 192, 216, 221.
33 Ibid., op. cit., 130-131, 158, 297-298.
34 Hagar, Sammy. “There’s Only One Way to Rock.” Standing Hampton. Geffen 2006, 1981.
35 Christe, op. cit., 129-133, 161-162, 242-245; Koski, Genevieve et al. “Nectar of the Demigods.” The Onion 7 Feb. 2008, Austin ed.: 19.
36 Doherty, Brian. “Rock, Paper, Scissors.” Liberty Sep. 1994: 62.
37 AD No. 70n38 (Aug. 26, 2004); AD No. 96n12 (Feb. 6, 2007); Berry, Chuck. “Roll Over Beethoven.” 1956. Johnny B. Goode: His Complete ‘50s Chess Recordings. Hip-O-Select 9473, 2007.
38  Thomas, G. Scott. “Study Ranks Austin as One of the Least Stressful U.S. Cities.” ABJ 29 Feb. 2008: 15.
39 Kelso, John. “Short a Bouncer? Mayor ‘Raging Bull’ Wynn can Pinch-Hit.” AAS 7 Mar. 2008: B1; Plohetski, Tony. “Mayor Apologizes to Austin After Assault Charge.” Idem., B1+.
40 Stanton, Mike. The Prince of Providence: The True Story of Buddy Cianci, America's Most Notorious Mayor, Some Wiseguys, and the Feds. New York City: Random House, 2003.
41 AD No. 104n18 (Dec. 22, 2007).
42 Liscano, Miguel. “Police: Gang Leader Arrested.” AAS, op. cit., idem..
43 Morton, Kate Miller. “Villa Muse Plan Takes a Hit.” AAS 7 Mar. 2008: A1+.
44 Black, Louis. “Dream of Life.” AC 29 Feb. 2008: 4+.
45 Kalmbacher, Colin. “Welcome to the $uck.” DT 7 Mar. 2008: 4A.
46 Kelso. “SXSW Money Can Buy Lawyers – but Not Sense of Humor.” AAS 29 Feb. 2008: B1.
47 Lisheron, Mark. “Traffic-Calming Devices Are Source of Agitation in Travis Heights Neighborhood.” Idem., AAS 5 Mar. 2008: B1+.
48 Kwon, Jean. “City Evaluates Ways to Fill Out ‘Second Downtown’ Up North.” ABJ 29 Feb. 2008: 11.