. Do not stay up until two watching three Sopranos if recent experience tells you that your child will wake up at 5:00 . I didn’t take the first shift, but I was a dead lump when it was my turn, a short rumpled golem waiting for Mr. Coffee to carve the animating words on my forehead. I made eggs, wondering for the 90293rd time if it was really, really worth the time extracting the slippery poultry proto-fetal snot - what if I left them in? Would chickens burst from my stomach? I put some bacon in the microwave, moved the eggs around, added a dash of Cholula, and sat down with the morning paper. Read a bit. Wondered what was missing. Right: bacon. Shouldn’t it be done? Well, if I’d set the microwave at 2:45 instead of 20:45, yes, they would have been done. I opened the door, and found three items that looked like something found in the digestive system of that prehistoric man they pried from a glacier.

It was pretty good bacon, though. Maybe that’s the secret. Cook it until the plate glows.

Saturday was much the same, too. My wife went off to see a cabaret on Saturday night, one of those earnest community efforts in which people who have been denied paying jobs in the performing arts demonstrate the myriad reasons. My wife sees it through the prism of a reasonable person with rational criteria, so for her the act of seeing this performance art is, itself, performance art. Then she comes home and tells me about the acts, and I get hives the size of soup tureens just thinking about it. While she was gone Gnat and I watched half of “Dumbo,” a perfectly marvelous little film. She hadn’t eaten much all day, so I shoveled in the food: one container of Blue’s Clues Applesauce, one container of Mandarin Orange wedges, one container of Planet Protector yogurt. This last one gave me pause - it was named because it was Organic, you see; no chemicals or pesticides had been used to grow this yogurt. Fine; I’m all for organic foods. No chemicals for my child - no, I only feed her vegetables nourished with steaming piles of night soil. But “Planet Protector” seemed a rather grandiose role for a four-oz. yogurt container.

Particularly a plastic one.

We read some books, and then she said “it’s time for bed.’ When they stop stalling, you know the spring has wound down completely. I put her down and returned to finish off the Sopranos.

About which I will continue to say nothing; I’m so far behind the curve that nothing I say about the show itself would be of use to anyone. But there was a letter in the WSJ the other day admonishing people for watching the show, because it lacks an ethical construct, and hence means we have been reduced to judging works solely on their aesthetic qualities.

This sort of bluenosed fatuity makes me weary, because it often comes from people who have never troubled to study just what it is they condemn. Never mind that the attraction of the show does come from the collision of different ethical systems - let’s just say it lacks a moral compass altogether, because it uses the tools of art to explore a closed world of thugs, blood, family, power, and sex.

If that’s enough to make it bad, then I guess “I, Claudius” is off the menu too - just to name another show about an Italian family with succession issues and a nasty mother named Livia.

What is it about Castro that makes some Americans turn into bobby-soxers swooning at the sight of Frank Sinatra? Jesse Ventura, a once-promising politician who reverted to his natural state of tone-deaf bully a little too soon for local tastes, went to Cuba last week. His mission: to explore the lucrative trading possibilities between Minnesota and a country where ten people have to pool their resources to rub two pesos together. The newspaper reports were breathless, as usual, with the locals straining to get a glimpse of Castro as he visited an agricultural trade show and peered at a glass of locally-made soy milk.

Our governor had a meeting with Castro. And what did they discuss? The Kennedy assassination. Ventura is one of those people who believes that JFK-assassination speculation is the mark of a serious freethinker. (It's Scholasticism for the 60s generation. How many hitmen can dance on the head of the grassy knoll?) He is also a boundless egotist who believes Castro would tell him the truth, because they are both Men of The World. Or he just wants le frisson magnifique of being lied to in person. Or he just wants to be able to say he asked Castro about it - Me, Jesse Ventura! I had the stones to ask him! Whatever. Minnesotans are beyond embarrassment by now; we’re beyond caring. He’s a lame duck. He’s not even the head of state in our mind; he’s a dead pinky toe that will fall off some day, and we won’t even notice until we shake it out of our shoe.

But the Castro-worship just fascinates me. Why? Some applaud the way he thumbs his nose at the US, which always strikes a certain crowd as the hallmark of integrity; if you wrap your derision in the big red flag you’ll always have a claque of bootlickers eager to excuse whatever you do. (The enemy of my enemy is my President for Life.) The usual gang of collectivists admire the way he organizes society from the top down to the city block, because they love power; they love force; they have a romantic attachment to anyone who uses the cudgel to hasten the arrival of heaven on earth. My favorite defense, though, is “free health care” and “literacy.”

Take the second one first. There’s no excuse for not being literate in America. Oh, we could impose literacy on the illiterate here, but it wouldn’t be pretty. We could make English proficiency a requirement for jobs, institute nationwide standards for graduation that mandated a high degree of literacy - and made the students' fulfillment of those standards a criterion for advancement in the educational establishment.

Let us pause to cogitate how well that would go over.

Health care: supposedly, it’s universal; supposedly, it’s high quality. Egalitarian. (muffled laugh.) Ask yourself this. You’re poor. You have a heart attack. Do you want to be in Havana or New York? Which phone system summons the EMTs faster? Which emergency response team is better equipped? Which hospital is better staffed with highly-paid doctors who have come from all over the world to work here?

Somehow I suspect that a heart attack in Havana at 3 AM means bundling Uncle Raul into your block captain’s ‘57 Belair and hoping it doesn’t break down before you get to the hospital.

But let’s assume that health care in Cuba is the equal of health care in America. If this is the reason to admire Cuba, then this is what some American citizens believe is more important than anything else. Free health care. They will give up elections, the free press, the freedom to travel, the freedom to dissent, the freedom to own a personal computer, for heaven’s sake - they’ve been banned for personal use. But for some, all of those freedoms are negotiable. They’ll give it all up for free health care. That’s their price.


Hardly surprising, though. For some, “freedom” - and they’ll always put it in scare quotes - is a lethal impediment if it doesn’t result in the necessary outcome. An unfree people given what’s good for them is sometimes better than a free people choosing what they want. Let the people choose, but only once, via revolution. Then let the pros handle the details for the rest of your life.

The same people who lecture me about the dark reign of oppression Bush, Cheney and Ashcroft are wreaking on the land are often the same who’d love to meet Castro. They pride themselves on being the champions of freedom, but they celebrate a man whose hands hold the reins of power so tightly they’ll have to saw them off at the wrist when he dies.

Jesse Ventura’s finest moment, then. He looked at the hand that signed the death warrants, signed the orders to shoot refugees, signed the orders to build the hotels the locals couldn’t enter, signed the paper to set up the camps for the people with AIDS. There was The Hand, right there.

And of course Jesse shook it.
. http://www.lileks.com/bleats/archive/02/1002/100201.html#093001
Monday means a play-date at “school,” as Gnat calls it. We play together for an hour, then the tots are supervised by Professionals while the parents slump into a room to vent and dish. It’s a hen party, and I’m the sole rooster - but that doesn’t seem to matter. Today the issue was “fears,” and how our wee replicants are dealing with the ominous iconography of Halloween. I mean, consider it from a two-year old’s point of view. The world’s getting darker and colder, and skeletons and witches and grinning pumpkins are popping up all over the place. There’s no reason to believe that this isn’t the way things are going to be from now on. Happy warm bright summer fun-time’s over. Welcome to Hell!

So we talked about the best way to deal with fears, dead squirrels, the Dark, and miscellaneous phobias. (One mother said her child had developed an inordinate dread of pine cones.) I said that Gnat had a fear of the stock market reaching historic lows in Q4, but that perhaps I was just projecting.

Wouldn’t miss it for anything. Although I think simple human decency demands I skip a week, so they can vent about stretch marks and lackwit husbands if they want.

Note: everything that follows is tendentious. I am working on my Newhouse column as I do this, and waiting for my wife to relinquish the laptop so I can upload the Bleat I have not yet written. And I’m whipped like the middle layer of a Jell-O parfait. Typical Monday, in other words. So . . . here’s some blather, sawdust to fill up the big Bleat feedbag. As I always say on Tuesday: cheerier drivel to follow tomorrow. Promise! If you wish to bail now, hit the link at the bottom of the page for today’s Backfence. It’s drivellicious!

Addendum to last night’s Cuba bleat - there’s the China issue that Ventura brought up before he went to Havana. He said, in effect, that we trade with China, and they’re full of dictators, so what’s the big deal about Cuba.

It is not possible to be a world leader and avoid engagement with China.

It is possible to be the governor of a small Midwestern state and not deal with Cuba.

Jesse wanted to go to Cuba because he thought it would just plain ROCK to meet Castro - not because he loved him or admired him, but because few people got to do so, and Jesse is drawn to those things that set him apart from lesser mortals. This doesn’t make him different from other politicians - sometimes it’s refreshing that the naked self-interest is presented, nakedly. But his egotism, thin-skinnedness and mulish belief that his critics are motivated by envy and party politics made him a tiresome figure in the end. As I’ve said before, I was in his corner when he started. I knew he was a canny man. You could throw any issue at him and you’d get a fresh take presented without spin, without an eye to the polls. I disagreed with him on a few issues, but I knew that he held those views out of conviction, not because his party required him to salaam before their chosen altars. But the qualities that got him elected were not the qualities that helped him govern, and he made an ass of himself over and over and over again.

I know a lot of people who voted for him as well, and they all went through the same stages of grief: bemusement, guarded defensiveness, despair, disinterest, contempt.

Jesse will blame this all on the media, of course. The last refuge of the political scoundrel.

I heard an excerpt today of Dicq Gebhardt speaking at the Brarba Srteysend fundraiser. He made a jokey reference to Bab’s Famous Fax, and said the Republicans were jealous, because they just got faxes from Rush Limbaugh and Pat Robertson.

First of all, I know some Republicans, and very few of them wish Barbra would send them faxes.

I know some Democrats who feel the same way. Smart sharp people who want to hiss SHUT UP at Babs, because she has a knack for taking legitimate concerns and filtering them through the clue-remover. Her polemics have that familiar fatal flaw: her conception of the opposition is based on a caricature of the opposition’s beliefs. In the world of political invective, in which I have some small professional experience, I’ve learned that caricatures are fun and useful - but you have to tether them to an understanding of the oppositions’ actual beliefs in all their varied nuances and manifestations. Otherwise, you’ve succumbed to that thoughtless Manichean division of the world, and that is the death of humor. That’s why so many websites that purport to offer amusement are so baffling to those who don’t have that flavor of Kool-Aid flowing through their veins. The authors confuse their contempt of the opposition with an accurate apprehension of the opposition.

This is a bipartisan delusion. Let’s play partisan ping-pong:

Liberals are socialists.
Conservatives want to ruin the earth and poison the water.
Liberals are baby-killers.
Conservatives only care about rich CEO fatcats.
Liberals hate America.
Conservatives think the free market smiles on slavery.
Liberals believe all criminals should go free.
Conservatives want to put all black people in jail.
Liberals are godless atheists.
Conservatives want to make everyone handle snakes for Jeebus.

I’m not trotting out the Shades of Gray line of which the morally irresolute are fond; there are issues that require moral rigor, a willingness to say yes and no and right and wrong. But while those issues often cohere along party lines, the people who hold these various positions are often on different sides of political spectrum. And if you think that’s codswaddle, then you’ve never talked to an anti-death penality Republican or a pro-life Democrat. Push comes to shove, people retreat to the comforting bunkers of their party, but outside of an election or a great sweeping national issue, push just usually comes to push. Cliches are fun for screeds, but man does not live or govern or coexist by screed alone.

I hope this is as obvious to you as it seems to me.

That said, I love the two-party system - even though I voted Independent in the last goobernatorial election, and went for the Green-endorsed candidate in the last mayoral contest. The two-party model usually clarifies the issues, makes the necessary division: Here’s the yolk and here’s the white. I’m not opposed to either side making merciless fun of the other’s predilections - but for the sake of the national dialogue, can we please just get it right?

In other words: Pat Robertson?

Do the Babsians actually believe that Republican congresspersons care a whit what Pat Robertson says? When I hear this, I think two things: 1) the GOP hasn’t produced many Gingrich-strength bogeymen recently, and 2) Gebhardt is either clueless about the nature of his opposition, or is presuming that his audience is clueless, or just leaning on the Batshit God-bothering Theocrat crutch for a cheap laugh. It’s the last one, probably. It’s a safe crack. When in Rome, make fun of the Gauls.

My point? I don’t know. It’s late, my wife is working at the kitchen table, and by now I should have uploaded this thing and retreated to the sofa to watch TV. I am, alas, just writing for the sake of writing. But since I’ve backed into this, I’ll come up with the following Grand Conclusion:

ummm . . .

It’ll come to me, just wait . . . .

Only you can prevent forest fires! No, that’s not it.

How about: know thine enemy. And be alert for the possibility that here and there they might actually resemble thine friend, and yea, ye shalt accomplish a necessary thing that transcendeth thine applause lines.

Unless thine enemy is Arbbra Sreyslend. A few years ago we could have had a polite conversation about her Art Nouveau collection. But she sold it.
. http://www.lileks.com/bleats/archive/02/1002/100201.html#100102
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