"Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored." -Aldous Huxley

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wWednesday, June 30, 2004

MILDEST HANGOVER EVER: That's what I've got this morning after my getting-out-of-town party last night. I know that this is a hangover not from past experience, but from what people tell me the dreaded things are like. A few joints in my left arm are mildly achey, and I don't have a headache exactly but somewhere behind my eyes I can feel what might have become a headache if I had been drinking for seven hours, say, rather than five, and if I hadn't been quaffing water (can you quaff water?) along with beer.

Wonderful night. A dozen or so friends and colleagues -- think tankers, Canadians, fellow ink-and-pixel-stained wretches, computer programmers, seven-year-olds and crazy Southerners -- showed up, and most of them stayed to close the bar down at midnight. Got to the point that every time Elizabeth (our waitress) stopped by to ask if we needed another pitcher, someone would yell "two!" And then another guest would bid it up to "three!" Before long, three pitchers would materialize.

So now off to work. One last time.

posted by Jeremy at 7:38 AM

wTuesday, June 29, 2004

OH CANADA!: You'd think that a magazine with all the Canadian ties that the Spectator enjoys would be able to get a genuine Canadian to comment on the election, wouldn't you? Alas, you're stuck all stuck with my meanderings on a dissapointing night:

Election night can be brutal. All that organization and enthusiasm coalesces into one jittery evening. If the race is close, volunteers linger into the pre-dawn hours at campaign headquarters, hoping that some last minute outlying cluster of votes will swing the election their way. Even before the verdict is rendered, the second-guessing begins: What could we have done differently? What would have put us over the top? What if we hadn't made those missteps along the way? What if we'd been able to scrape together a few more campaign dollars? What if...? Like I said, brutal.

I know whereof I speak. I've been on the losing end of only two elections that I gave a toss about, but they were doozies. The first was Bill Clinton's election in 1992. I was only in middle school but I'd gotten so into the contest that I refused to go to school the next day. I imagine the note from my mother read "Jeremy...was not feeling well."

The second was in '96. Washington state congressman Randy Tate was one of the young conservative firebrands who helped take Congress in '94 and he had really refused to back down or temporize. His staff, including this intern, was unrepentantly right wing. We wanted to roll back government, cut taxes, and stop another runway from being installed at a local airport. Per usual, all the papers editorialized against us, but it was not a Republican year. Tate lost narrowly.

These losses finished off any visceral interest I had in electoral politics. But I sure wouldn't blame most of my Canadian friends for crying into their beers over the piss poor performance of the newly formed Conservative Party of Canada. At press time, Conservatives won between 90 and 100 ridings vs. about 160 seats for the center left Liberals and their likely coalition partner, the stridently left-wing NDP. Conservatives even did poorly in Alberta and B.C. The only party that really stung the Liberals was the French separatist Bloc Québécois, and, trust me on this, an alliance between the now very Western Conservatives and the pea soup eaters isn't going to happen. [more]

posted by Jeremy at 8:27 AM

wSaturday, June 26, 2004

LEAVING ON A JET PLANE/ONE LAST CALL FOR ALCOHOL: July 1, I'll be getting on a plane at Reagan-Norquist National Airport and landing, after one hop, in Washington state. This is not, strictly speaking, a vacation. I put in my notice at the Spectator last week. I'll remain on at the website in some yet-to-be-negotiated capacity at least for the next few months. Let's put any speculation to the sword here and now: I jumped -- after giving it a whole lot of thought. Fairly certain I'll be back in D.C. before too long but it's all (bad pun warning) up in the air at this point.

But I'm Irish, so I don't feel like going out of town without toasting the occasion. Tuesday night, I'll be at my favorite bar, Jay's in Arlington, along with a few other troublemakers (starting at, let's say, 7). Don't know how many readers this blog has in the D.C. area, but if you feel like hoisting a pint or two with me, well, who am I to object?

posted by Jeremy at 12:22 PM

wThursday, June 17, 2004

QUITE AN ENDORSEMENT: Last week, in his New York Press MUGGER colum, Russ Smith was writing about a Prowler story and included the following: "Last week, the American Spectator's website (which is enormously more readable than the monthly magazine's ossified, phone-it-in batch of articles) reported on a lackluster Kerry rally in Tampa." I thought about running it on the site as an endorsement ("enormously...readable" - Russ Smith, New York Press) but then thought better of it.

posted by Jeremy at 8:42 AM

wFriday, June 11, 2004

ONE PREVIOUSLY EATEN POST, BROUGHT TO YOU BY BLOGGER: This Spectator piece was from the other day, when Reagan's body came to D.C. Posted it then but I just checked and nothing. So here it is again, as the body is finding its final resting place. Mr. President, you will be missed:

Waking Reagan
The scene on Constitution Avenue
By Jeremy Lott
Published 6/10/2004 12:07:22 AM

WASHINGTON -- As these things go it was a less-than-ideal day for a wake. It was hot and humid and sticky in a way that only June days in D.C. can be. Except for the local police, no one wore black and very few bothered with anything approaching formal attire. My roommate, a fellow ink-stained wretch, sat across the street on the north side of Constitution Avenue in the reserved stands and stuck in a stifling "monkey suit" the whole time. He saw a woman in front of him pass out just before members of every branch of the armed services transferred the flag-draped coffin from the hearse to the caisson.

On the other side of the street, I bobbed and shifted to watch the servicemen load the casket onto the carriage and play with the flag to make sure that it would stay on. The people in front of me strained against the cordon and tried to capture as much of this on their various recording devices as possible. Behind us, girlfriends and wives sat atop their mates' shoulders to get a better look. Others stood on lawn chairs or stepladders they'd brought from home. Teens scaled the walls in front of the Washington Monument to get a cicadas' eye view of the proceedings.

We heard the officer behind the flag-bearer give the marching orders as the whole thing kicked into gear, and a fit of clapping erupted from this normally restrained crowd. The horses and limos started forward at a pace that was measured to get them from 16th to Capitol Hill in about an hour, where the body will lie "in state" for the next day or so, allowing thousands of visitors to pay their last respects. Nancy Reagan trailed the coffin in a stretched limo and waved to the crowd. Many of the people who started out at the coffin transfer, including yours truly, ran along with the procession, until we were forced to detour.

I followed the parade, several blocks removed, and eventually ended up in front of the reflector pond in front of the Capitol building. One woman next to me called a person with her cellphone and struck up a conversation. She said that it wasn't her choice to be a part of the proceedings but that everything road-wise, had been shut down, and her car was stuck. "And there are people everywhere," she added.

And they were everywhere. I have no idea what the final estimates will be but people packed the steps of the various Smithsonian museums, and the roofs of government and office buildings along the way. Coming in, I watched the armed services marching bands marching from the Washington Mall to an advance position, East of 14th Street. That force, I said, to no one in particular, would be large enough to invade a Third World Country.

Eventually the crowd started to thin and some spectators headed home. The Smithsonian Metro station was backed up with two Metro police officers, in flak jackets and blue short-sleeves, standing on the concrete perimeter of the escalators, trying to keep order. When I finally got into the packed-to-the-brim station, I found a payphone and called my father back in Washington state, and told him what had been occupying me this evening.

"Yeah, Ronald Reagan," he said. "He did a lot of good. Too bad he hasn't gotten much credit for it."

I looked at the crowd and said, "Oh he will, Dad. He will."

posted by Jeremy at 6:51 PM

wWednesday, June 09, 2004

SOMETHING ABOUT MARY: Now this is cool. My review of a Lesley Hazleton's Mary: A Flesh-and-Blood Biography of the Virgin Mother is in the Washington Post's Style Section today. Hazleton, author of, among other works, Confessions of a Fast Woman, thinks she has the goods on the "real" Mary but, as I argue, she's only looking at herself:

At the beginning of the past century, theologian and medical doctor Albert Schweitzer gave Jesus scholarship its own metaphor to rival Plato's cave: the wishing well. While they sifted the historical data for clues into the life of the Christ, he explained, most scholars may as well have been peering down a long dark well. Looking back down the narrow tunnel chiseled out by modern historical methods, they believed they had caught a glimpse of some primitive Jesus, unencumbered by dogma or dressed up with the trappings of faith, but they probably saw only their own reflections. The results of any quest for the real Jesus were so influenced by the assumptions of the inquirers that these men of science were creating their own designer Jesuses.

As with Jesus, so with his remarkable mother. Lesley Hazleton makes explicit in the last sentence of "Mary: A Flesh-and-Blood Biography of the Virgin Mother" what she assumes throughout. To her, the mother of the Christ is a Whitmanesque Everywoman: "we are all her." Nor is Whitman a bad referent here; Hazleton's scattershot portrait of Mary -- whom she stubbornly and quirkily insists on calling "Maryam" -- does indeed contain multitudes. [more]

posted by Jeremy at 12:22 AM

wTuesday, June 08, 2004

SIT DOWN SHUT UP: Yesterday Books & Culture/Christianity Today ran my take on E.J. Dionne's Stand Up Fight Back, right under an instant "CT Classic," my review of Paul Kengor's God and Ronald Reagan. I wasn't very kind to Dionne's book:

According to Dionne, the problem with the press is that it's entirely too conservative. Not in the sense that it's packed with conservatives; surveys of reporters and editors consistently put the lie to that daffy notion. Rather, the press, overwhelmingly composed of liberals and Democrats, is operationally conservative.

Two reasons are given for this. The first, and least convincing, is that most reporters and editors are drawn from a certain class of people: urban, affluent blue state types. This, Dionne grants, has meant that "on social and cultural issues—-abortion and religion come to mind—-journalism was not particularly hospitable to conservative voices." But on economic issues, "especially free trade and balanced budgets," the rootless, upper-income journalists could be found blowing kisses in the direction of Adam Smith and Newt Gingrich. Which would explain why Steve Forbes is now president. [more]

posted by Jeremy at 10:16 AM

wMonday, June 07, 2004

YO, GORBACHEV, ABOUT THIS WALL...: We've posted my review of Bill Buckley's The Fall of the Berlin Wall (from the May issue) as part of our Reagan coverage today. It concludes:

At a press conference on the night of November 9, 1989, East German party chief Günter Schabowski announced that freedom of movement had been reinstated. The Volk took to the streets in celebration. By midnight, hundreds of Germans were dancing atop the Brandenburg Gate. The next day "hundreds of Berliners, West and East, were there with real chisels and claw hammers and screwdrivers and sledgehammers to pry loose their own piece of the wall." These being Germans, they made quick work of it.

The physical destruction of the wall is related in rapid fire fashion -- less than three pages, all told -- because it was almost anticlimactic, and because Buckley has bigger fish to harpoon. The inflexible ideology that built the wall and kept it in place began to tumble long before it did. Granted, the West gave Karl Marx's legacy the decisive push, but it was already teetering and frail, straining under the weight of its own inhumanity. [more]

posted by Jeremy at 8:54 AM

wSaturday, June 05, 2004

DEFENDER OF DRUNKEN SAILORS: Well... I got a tip yesterday morning that Ronald Reagan was in a bad way and might not make it throught the next day. Looks like that little bird was on to something becaue today brings news of Reagan's death, at 93, of various "complications." It's not that words fail me here but it would be nice to have access to whatever he had that made rooms light up when he entered them. Sure, he was a great president, arguably the first or second greatest of the twentieth century. And sure, he was an "optimist," whatever that means. He also struck me as a kind of tragic figure.

His father was a lush who couldn't hold a job. As a kid Reagan moved around so much that he developed a certain disattachment from people that he was never quite able to get past -- he was great at inspiring people but rarely close to anyone. His first marriage ended in divorce. His second one was to Nancy. His family wasn't as screwed up as some but they were never close, and the two tracks didn't help, and Reagan was rather aloof as a father. He was a decent actor but not a superstar, and Hollywood was not so kind to him. As president of the Screen Actors Guild, he negotiated perpetual royalty payments for television and other broadcasts but, in an act of disinterest that would be unheard of today, he exempted his own movies from these payments. It must have chafed in the as Hollywood stars railed against his administration; they could afford to do so in part because Reagan had put them first when it counted.

When Reagan proved successful, on his third attempt, at securing the Republican nomination in 1980, some thought the then 69-year-old didn't have it any more. He wasn't the only conservative candidate in the race and his preference for broad strokes over fine details made him a target for all the smart people to sniff at.

Of course, they were very wrong. Reagan beat Carter even with John Anderson siphoning off a lot of moderate votes and the Libertarian candidate drawing a million votes. And without replaying a lot of the battles of the 1980s, a few facts are worthy of note:

1) When Reagan took office the top marginal tax rate was nearly 70 percent; when he left it was 35.

2) SDI, Star Wars, whatever you want to call it, did exactly what he wanted it to: It turned the arms race into a spending race. By beefing up the military and then by promising to neutralize the one trump card the U.S.S.R. could play -- that is, to rain down fire from above -- he forced the Soviet Union to finally confront the fact that it couldn't compete. In the 1950s, Khrushchev had promised to bury us; Reagan showed a spooked Politburo that it would probably be the other way around.

3) He was impolitic enough to call the Soviet Union an Evil Empire (it was) and tell Gorbachev to "tear down this wall" (as it turned out, he didn't have to).

I don't mean to paint Reagan as a sort of secular saint, as some conservatives are given to doing, or gloss over some of the stupid policies his administration pursued, or the stupid scandals it found itself caught up in. But, get real: He was the right man for the time.

Back to the tragedy bit for a minute: I find it sad and tragic not only that old age has finally accomplished what a sniper's bullet couldn't manage, but also that Reagan spent roughly the last decade of his life wading further and further into a mental fog that finally swallowed him whole. I mean, George H.W. Bush was a bad president who bounces grandchildren off of his knee, writes books, and mucks about with his son's foreign policy. Bill Clinton was a bad and indifferent president who is soon to have a bestseller, and may some day end up the first First Husband. Reagan restructured the economy and backed down the Soviet Empire and then...

Sigh. The other week, I posted the snarky first half of a review of a book on the faith of Ronald Reagan. Here is the rather more adulatory second half:

Fascination with Reagan's faith is nothing new, of course, and Kengor's God and Ronald Reagan isn't the first book to carry the title. Conservative Christians, incensed by Jimmy Carter's ham-fisted attempt to force racial quotas on private religious elementary and high schools, provided the margin of Reagan's victory in 1980, and they never let him forget it. Several books came off the presses during the Eighties that played up the Gipper's statements on religion, his conversion experience, his opposition to abortion and secularism, and his belief that the Bible was the inspired word of God. However, there appears of late to be a renewed interest in Reagan's spirituality. God and Ronald Reagan only narrowly beat Mary Beth Brown's Hand of Providence: The Strong and Quiet Faith of Ronald Reagan (WND Books, slated for a late March release) into print.

This suddenly exotic faith grew out of Reagan's life. Son of a nominally Catholic father and a pious fundamentalist mother, he grew up in the Disciples of Christ church of Dixon, Illinois. There, he honed his oratorical skills as reader of Scripture, got his first taste of acting, and tried his hand at leadership. He taught the boys' Sunday school class for over two years, relinquishing it only when he went to Eureka College. Many members of the local congregation believed Reagan would become a preacher, and he nearly married the minister's daughter, whose unexplained nickname was "Muggs." From the picture Kengor paints, in solid workmanlike strokes, Reagan sounds not unlike some of the Baptist youths I grew up with while the 40th president was watching over the Oval Office.

Though Reagan grew away from his religious upbringing, he never repudiated it. Kengor makes a decent case that certain aspects of the Disciples of Christ—its anti-Communism; its free-church skepticism of the federal government; its emphasis on the horrible this-worldly effects of sin; its insistence that faith, hope, and charity could lay waste to any problem; its belief that God had a special plan for each and every one of us—provided the major themes of Reagan's presidency.

Kengor also sheds light on another mystery of Reagan's faith. In the '84 re-election campaign, conservative journalist Fred Barnes ambushed the president with a question about why, as a man of faith, he didn't make it to church on Sundays. Reagan said that, well, after the shooting, the Secret Service informed him that the security measures would impose an undue burden on a congregation. In truth, he hadn't regularly gone to church for a good many years and didn't appear to be troubled about this. Kengor explains that because of the huge number of moves as a young child, Reagan didn't make friends easily and was more introspective than most. Before the Disciples of Christ provided some stability and community in his teen years, the young Dutch conceived of his relationship with the Almighty in entirely solitary terms: God was there for him when no one else could be. For Reagan, church was but one possible manifestation of that relationship, ending Communism another. [more]

posted by Jeremy at 9:42 PM

wWednesday, June 02, 2004

HERE'S A TIP: When a bunch of drunken jackoffs show up at your place at 2:30 in the morning and start pounding on your locked door, saying that they want to sleep in your room and borrow your TV and generally make asses of themselves, don't open it. When you finally are moved to open it half an hour later, make sure to brandish the most menacing items you can find in the room and have the wild and disheveled look of an Old Testament prophet about you. Works every time.

posted by Jeremy at 9:06 AM

wTuesday, June 01, 2004

WELCOME REASONOIDS: To what has been the world's most sporadically updated, highly idiosyncratic blog. I don't know much about the readership because I lost the hit counter over a year ago and didn't feel like re-installing it. This has been a fairly personal effort that has flashes of faux brilliance and bile followed by long periods of dormancy, or near dormancy. However, I'm thinking about changing that. No promises but stop by in the next few days and you may be surprised.

posted by Jeremy at 8:02 PM