It’s Gnat’s fourth birthday Friday. I’m in Merlin mode: as she gets older I feel younger. I can’t imagine what my life would be like without her – I’d just be kicking the sawdust, measuring my life by the piles of magazines I take out to be recycled every other week. She saved my life; giving her every Barbie in the world is the least I can do.

It’s late, I’m beat, this is unedited blather. Just so you know.

I don’t know why people feel compelled to post their dreams on their blogs, because the sensations and visions of a good dream rarely translate to the page. They just come off as half-arsed surrealism. That said:

I was traveling with some reporters, covering the presidential race. We were in upstate New York, and came to a city called Bearstein. I was surprised I’d never heard of the place before, because it seemed quite large – a vast and ancient downtown that had flourished in the 20s but sunk into disrepair. Grand hotels with facades stripped of ornamentation; spindly WW1 era office buildings now empty and dark. A few 1950s modernist facades. The most remarkable building was designed to look like a classical column, much like Adolph Loos’ spoofy entry for the Tribune Tower competition. Four stone angels kneeled at its base. It was old and dirty, the terra cotta stained and cracked, but as we passed by I had a quick & intense view of how it must have looked when it was built, when the buildings around it were two or three stories, when the streets had as many horses as cars, when the sheer audacity of a ten-story column must have struck the locals as a frightening sign of the scale to come. And now it was lost in the canyons of subsequent skyscrapers – which were also now old and empty. I woke and thought:

The wind blew through. And the wind moved on.

I know that because I wrote it down. O how deep that sounded this morning. But it’s true; it’s one of those things you have to realize to keep you from going daft with the news of the day. You’ve seen those films of old train engines? The shaft drives the wheel. It goes forward with great effort, pulls back. Goes forward. Pulls back. In your life you generally see three iterations – some people are cursed and get two examples of the shaft pulling back, with only one of the shaft pushing forward. Others are lucky enough to see it move forward when they’re young, back when they grow up, then forward again as they decline and expire. I think I’m one of the latter. At least I hope so. In any case you only get to see what happens in your time, and bright meat has a brief tenure. In the end: the wind blew through. And the wind moved on.

This colossally depressing notion makes you turn back to your own time with renewed enthusiasm, and throttle every day to get some meaning out of it. And sometimes that meaning consists of sitting at the kitchen table at 11:37 PM thinking, does it really matter if I don’t reconcile the wind and train metaphors?

In the long run, no.

I need to do something different. Something besides childrearing and domestic reorganization. Take up the ocarina, perhaps. Write a concerto for the ocarina. Hone my body into a killing machine, infiltrate Iran, and play the ocarina on streetcorners. Team up with a popular TV show guy to invent a new coffee drink, score the commercials for the ocarina, add a Latin beat, and call the tune the Mo Rocca Mocha Ocarina Macarena.

Or so I thought around noon today. Three workmen in the house, Gnat and giggly friend, dog barking, mom-in-law out for the moment but due back any moment, maybe, phone ringing again and again and again. Two columns due at day’s end. Ideas? Mais non! That’s when I thought I needed something different, completely out of the norm, without interruption. Because interruption is the rule now, and it’s one the things that gives me that haunted, twitchy Peter Lorre look. What if I devoted half an hour a day to something that required no interruption?

And where would I do it? I could hide in the garage and play solitaire or build birdcages out of toothpicks, I suppose. But I can’t do something stupid just for the sake of doing something different. Or vice versa.

Then I realized what I should – nay, must do. Part of my Elementary Sanity Restoration Project. First, I finish my room. In the fall, the big digitization project where I get all my video work on disk, and throw out ten tons of VHS tapes. Then I digitize the old Diner shows and put them up on the site. Then I do a weekly “radio” show from the storage room, the only place in the house where I can shut the door and not be bothered. A man, a laptop, a mike. It won’t be live, but it won’t be edited. 2005: the Diner returns, for what it’s worth.

Gnat had her ballerina recital today; it was priceless. Mostly inexpert disorganized prancing, but cute beyond compare. My wife cut out of work to catch it, which was nice – thrilled Gnat to the core, and I could spend the entire time videotaping it, knowing one parent used the old first-hand “retinal” method of observing our child’s progress. Went home, made dinner, etc. Later tuned in to some highlights from the Kerry speech. He said he would respond if America was attacked. Well, duh. I take something else from this distinction: he will not attack if America is provoked.

"I defended this country as a young man, and I will defend it as President."

This really intrigues me. I agree that Vietnam was a defense of the United States, inasmuch as we were trying to blunt the advance of Communism. So: only Nixon can go to China. (Only Kirk can go to Chronos, for you Star Trek geeks.) Only Kerry can confirm that Vietnam was a just war. This completely upends conventional wisdom about the Vietnamese war, and requires a certain amount of historical amnesia. Why does this get glossed over? The illegitimacy of the Vietnam war (non-UN approved, after all) is a key doctrine of the Church of the Boomers; to say that service in Vietnam was done in defense of the United States is like announcing that Judas Ischariot was the most faithful of the disciples. Imagine if you were a preacher who attempted such a revision. Imagine your private thrill when everyone in the congregation nodded assent. The past was more malleable than you had ever expected.

"The future doesn't belong to fear; it belongs to freedom."

A passive platitude. Try this: “The future cannot belong to fear. It must belong to freedom.” Because that tells me you intend to shape history, not sit back on the couch and see how it all turns out. In any case, the two are not necessarily symmetrical; it is possible to be fearful and free, for a while. Ask the Brits in WW2. And just saying that the future belongs to freedom does not make it so, I fear. I think this is an appeal to those who believe that the administration has created a climate of fear so they can take away our freedoms. You know, the neocons who danced a jig of joy on 9/11 because they saw an excellent opportunity to subpoena library records.

And so on. All the stuff about restoring trust and credibility is nice, but note how no one is questioning the trust and credibility of the Brits, the French, the Russians and the UN, all of whom shared the same opinions about Iraqi capability. What it says to me is this: if John Kerry had been president after 9/11, he would have looked at all the intel about Iraq, studied its history, examined its strategic value, shaped up the nature of its leadership, and declined to depose Saddam.

Fine; I understand that position. I understand that he defended America by serving in Vietnam.

One question: did Vietnam attack America?

Ah! The Gulf of Tonkin incident and subsequent resolution made it seem as if they had. So he fell for that, as everyone did. He voted to wage war against Iraq because he fell for that, as everyone did. He's learned. Next time he needs hard proof, like a smoking crater in New York.

Make that another smoking crater in New York.


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c. 1995-2004 j. lileks