MONDAY, Aug 18

Family was gone all weekend – wife’s mother & sister & kids. I cleaned a closet and played Roller Coaster Tycoon 3 and watched movies. Simultaneously? Almost. RCT3 takes so long to perform certain tasks I could do something with the game, then stroll to the basement, work for ten minutes, return, do something else. Whether the modern world creates ADD or just enables it, I can’t say. But I lost three pounds going up and down the stairs.

 I didn’t do have the things I wanted to do, but that’s what happens when everyone goes away; the weekend looks like a time-lapse movie of an overripe piece of fruit slumping on the counter. Time just rolls over me. No obligations, no meals to cook, no bedtimes, no duties. It’s horrible.

Seriously. One day is great, two’s fine, but three just reminds me of the old single days – and we had no internet then, either. I don’t know what I did. Wandered. Read and wrote and wandered.

Ended up watching a couple of movies; one will be tomorrow’s B&W Theater feature. The other was “The  Mist,” which I rented because  it sounded like a good thing to watch by yourself, alone. Story: secondary characters from various Stephen King novels are trapped in a grocery store while a strange mist envelopes the town. The director grasped the possibilities for deft characterizations, end-of—the-world mood in an ordinary outpost of modern life, and a realistic depiction of the way ordinary people react and cope with the extraordinary. Having grasped that possibility, he opened his fist and set it aside and made a movie about hicks coming under the sway of a ranting Jesus freak.  It’s disappointing when the trajectory of your experience goes from enjoyment to qualified indulgence to mild dismay to irritation to boredom to large-scale annoyance, ending with severe hatred. And then hello, it’s 3 AM. Well. Bed, then.

I've been looking at this all afternoon as I write outside, and I finally figured out what bugs me about it.

Can you tell? Answer later.


Nothing makes for more gripping reading than someone bitching about their internet connection, so I’ll regale you with a few more details. To repeat what I said on the twitter feed, my router used to have a Catskills comic name, Steady Greene; now it has a stripper name, Flashing Amber. Multitudinous calls to India yielded a batch of gibberish about checking the line, and while I’m sure technicians diligently monitored my line to ensure its quality; I’m sure a team of techs with white coats and clipboards with little badges that said TEAM LILEKS worked for 72 hours straight on that one. But  simple up-and-downloads to verify the speed wouldn’t tell them much. The problem isn’t getting a 2.1 MB file, it’s keeping a connection while I download a 10MB file. It seems as if the very act of expecting to watch a stupid YouTube clip to its completion breaks the internet.

The tech said they’d send me a new modem. It would be free if I signed up for another year. It would be eleventy billion if I didn’t. I said I would not sign up for another year without knowing exactly what the problem was, and told them I’d get a modem on my own.

Well, the phone rings Friday, and it’s . . . a guy from Earthlink. Bill. He was in charge of solving things that could not be otherwise solved, and get this: he said he would overnight another modem, free, without contract extension, and drop my monthly rate.

Kinda takes the wind out of one’s righteous ire, no? People complain about Earthlink, and I’ve done my share, but that’s service. 


Well, let’s see what’s up with the Old Scout this week. Garrison Keillor's column - America's most peculiar example of a fine writer willingly demonstrating his shortcomings as a short-form essayist - begins with this startling observation:

"People accuse us old liberals of smarmy self-righteousness and God knows they are right."

They do? They are? People accuse self-righteous people of self-righteousness; seems to be enough to go around regardless of one’s opinion on regulation and taxation, but I suspect he’s winding up to a justification, not a condemnation.

“Self-righteousness is a good old American vice, and we have it, and though preferable to cruelty and cynicism and deliberate dumbheadnedness, nonetheless remind yourself: you are not so different from others.”

It is possible to have all those traits, of course, so setting them in opposition is a false distinction. I’m not exactly sure what the point is. So far. Anyway. He, discusses a lunch with three other like-minded sorts, and in the middle of a political conversation says something unself-righteous about the futility of human endeavor and the likelihood that all convictions are mere charades; it's too long and dull to type. I don’t think he believes any of it, but it chews up the column inches, and gets us to the pith of the gist:

“What I didn’t get to talk about at lunch was my bath last week.”

Last week? Well, it was a special bath.

“I went to a Japanese spa and sat in a steam bath and after 20 minutes felt some of my liberal smugness trickle down my legs. Extreme heat breaks down moral arrogance – look at equatorial peoples; do they lecture the rest of us about our duty to the environment? No, they don’t – and I sat feeling more and more chastened.”

Having never sat a hot room and confuses sweating with chastening, I can’t speak to the convinction one must have that the thing dribbling down your leg is ideological self-righteousness, but  can answer why equatorial people don’t lecture us on our duty to the environment: they’re too busy trying to get a living out of it.

Extreme heat breaks down moral arrogance? Tell that to the Saudis.

You start to wonder if this isn’t something of an apology for the previous columns about having to wait to cross the street in DC while the Freedom Riders passed, or just a general expiation for pounding points home with a sledgehammer week after week. Today’s paper, for example, took him to task:

"Garrison Keillor accuses John McCain of “eagerness to inject race into the race” without any example to support this vile and dishonest claim. Your editors should at least require minimal attribution before allowing such a slanderous bell to be rung. Old Scout? Read the oath; I don’t think so."

Zing! The next letter is from a Reverend in St. Paul and notes that “humble backgrounds do not provide immunity to arrogance. A poor black kid raised in part by a single mom h grown up to be a snob much like a gangly farm boy from Anoka has grown up to be a cultured despiser. Good thing the latter achieved his celebrity through poignant reminiscences of his childhood; he would never make it to the top on the basis of his skills at political analysis.”

So it’s not just me, then.

Anyway, he describes the bath and the massage, but does not have all of his previously held positions beaten out of him. In case you were wondering. Some of that smugness ran right back up his leg:

“I think I still believe what I believe. Liberals hold that the test of a civilized society is how it deals with the weak, the sick, the powerless.”

No, sir, liberal hold that that test of a civilized society is means by which these things are dealt with. It takes a particularly self-satisfied form of self-righteousness to believe that only one side thinks it cares about these things. He quotes Blake and Jesus, then says:

“And so the test of the state is the state of the public schools and the treatment of the elderly, the ill, the demented, the incarcerated.”

Let’s look at each. The state of the public schools is not good, but you can’t say they’ve been under conservative dominion for 40 years. You might even suggest that the failure of schools in cities that have been run by Mr. Keillor’s ideological brethren suggests that the old approaches need to be rethought and replaced. The elderly: well, it was the Current Occupant Mr. Keillor detests so much who signed a new prescription drug benefit, expense be damned. Are we failing our elderly, then? No? Yes? How? The demented: it was not conservative policy to open up the asylums  - although I’m sure it was probably enabled by conservatives for reasons that varied from a short-sighted desire to save money to the usual go-along-get-along approach that lacks the will to fight brave new Theories about managing social problems. Closing down the asylums, putting faith in community centers and drugs – this disaster came from people schooled in the latest academic theories of societal design, which tend not to be overly infested with snake-handling nihilists in golf pants. The incarcerated: well, no one wants inhumane prisons, but if you’re going to toss into the mix of Needy and Worthy the people who prey on others, you might spare a word or two for their victims. You could say that the state of the state depends on how it ensures the safety and well-being of the law-abiding citizen against the depredations of the criminal class.

In short: there are actually different ways to look at common problems, and each has merits, and each arises from a desire to do the right thing in the best way feasible. Imagine that! Another side! A whole big group of people out there who share common goals, but for some heretofore unrealized reason, have a different approach.

“And so the adoption of torture as American policy and loosing the darkness of the soup upon some poor manacle wretch at Guantanamo is no small matter. We are all wretches. But I will spare you the rest of the sermon.”

There’s always next week. He concludes:

“Let’s bring back community baths.”

Must we? Why? Because it helps him get around to the inevitable Obama moment:

 . . .we would be more civil people. Cleaner, too. Before the first debate, put the geezer and the skinny guy in a stream room for 30 minutes and see if it doesn’t bring out something fine in them, something profound and memorable.”

Evidence to the contrary so far. He concludes - and there's nothing excised between the previous graf and this one:

“It’s a great country, no matter what the rich and the privileged say, and the truth, dear hearts, is marching on.”

Gawd. Every column now ends with on-marching truth. But what’s this thing about the rich and privileged saying it’s not a great country? I hear more distaste and dismay about America from one Senator than the other; I hear more disdain from cosseted movie stars than I hear from ordinary folk; I hear more grumpy, costive old burbling about the dark hole into which America has fallen from a rich and privileged Old Scout than I hear from, say, middle-class bloggers who get 40 hits a day but happen to love the actual country we have as opposed to the theoretical variant which Keillor believes is right around the corner. Next week: an attack, probably, on the smug, self-righteous rich and privileged, who think America’s just great. At least we know how that one will end: truth, marching, et cetera.

Oh: Geezer? Tsk. Can we tell the state of the state of a columnist by how he treats the elderly, too? Last week he criticized McCain for not knowing his way around the internet, which he compared to Bush the Elder’s scanner problem – the plastic turkey of 1992. This could indeed mean McCain is out of touch with ordinary Americans, but last week Entertainment Weekly asked both candidate some pop-culture questions. They asked Obama the name of the last video game he’d played.

It was Pong.


Here's what bothers me about the item above. He's back - in candle form!

See you at - where everything goes on as if nothing happened. Because it didn't! And of course microyammering all day on twitter.