Snow due this weekend. Grrr. Not unexpected; in this part of the world the first few weeks of April are twitchy and inconsistent. I remember April 15ths where I sat on a dock at Lake Calhoun and basked, other April 15ths when I stamped on sheets of ice on the sidewalk. April 15th is a day when you can expect the leave to poke through the dirt at noon, and be flecked with snow by nightfall.

Winter always rallies before it’s defeated for good.

Had enough juice to watch the Sopranos last night. Very good. Very, very good. There are three ways “The Sopranos” can end. Either it concludes open-ended, with Tony continuing on in a greater or lesser role. Not completely satisfying, but it might work – the audience is drawn to Tony as much as they are repelled, and part of us roots for him against our better judgment. . Two: the last season has a trial. Bad idea. Mob trials don’t make for compelling dramas, and they’re always anticlimactic. Either there’s jury tampering and the mob guy gets off, or he’s convicted and we have to endure those boring stretches inside the prison with the obligatory scene of two people sitting on opposite sides of a sheet of glass, talking on the phone.

Or he dies. I think that’s what they’ll do. I think the fall of Tony Soprano would make for a season even better than this one, and this one is exceptional.

Listened to Dr. Rice’s testimony today while cleaning, doing puzzles, coloring – the usual morning routine. I thought she did okay. But the 9/11 commission has changed my view of the administration. I now believe that if Al Gore had been president, he would have invaded Afghanistan right away, fortified the cockpit doors, issued an executive order that made the CIA and FBI share intel, grounded all planes the moment “chatter” started mentioning “a winged victory, like the bird of righteousness,” and subjected all young Arab males to full-body searches in airports. Pakistan would have come around to our point of view right away.


Is it hopeless to think that we can pull together and realize that A) the Marines are fighting some Very Bad Men, and B) it would be good for the region to defeat them? No, it’s not:

"America will not be intimidated by barbaric acts whose only goal is to spread fear and chaos throughout Iraq," Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, said in a moving floor speech last Thursday after the initial attacks that began the weeklong string of violence.
"Yesterday's events will only serve to strengthen America's resolve and seal America's unity. The brave people who lost their lives did not die in vain. Americans stand together today and always to finish the work we started and bring peace and democracy to the citizens of Iraq," he said.
Mr. Daschle repeated those sentiments to reporters yesterday, and Sen. Evan Bayh, Indiana Democrat, said on NBC's "Today" show that the United States must "stay the course."
"This is really as much a test of our perseverance as anything else," he said, though he cautioned that Americans must be prepared for the conflict. "It's going to be difficult. We're going to have too many days ahead of tragedy like yesterday, unfortunately."

Well, that’s more like it. You could be cynical and say that Senator Daschle is eyeing the polls and wants to be reelected, but if that’s the case then he suspects that confidence and resolve will get more votes than mealy miserabilism. Whatever his reasons, I don’t care; good on him, because he seems to have grasped the fact that we are in the 21st century, not the 1960s. Unlike The Senator Formerly Known as a Kluxer:

Mr. Byrd, the chamber's senior Democrat, said yesterday that the Bush administration has "blundered" and that the United States should not be trying to increase troop strength. "We should instead be working toward an exit strategy," he said.

"Surely, I am not the only one who hears echoes of Vietnam in this development. Surely, the administration recognizes that increasing the U.S. troop presence in Iraq will only suck us deeper into the maelstrom of violence that has become the hallmark of that unfortunate country," the West Virginian said on the Senate floor.

I am struck once again by the incomparable hold VIETNAM has over some people. They don’t seem to realize how the use of this inapt example demonstrates their inability to grasp the nature of new and different conflicts. When I was in college, El Salvador was Vietnam. When I was in Washington, Kuwait was Vietnam. Afghanistan was briefly Vietnam when we hadn’t won the war after a week. It’s Warholian: in the future, all conflicts will be Vietnam for 15 minutes.

Vietnam was an anomaly. Vietnam was perhaps the least typical war we’ve ever fought, but somehow it’s become the Gold Standard for wars – because, one suspects, it became inextricably bound up with Nixon, that black hole of human perfidy, and it coincided with the golden glory years of so many old boomers who now clog the arteries of the media and academe. A gross overgeneralization, I know. But it’s a fatal conceit. If you’re always fighting the last war you’ll lose the next one. Even worse: Vietnam was several wars ago.

So now we’re fighting Iranian-backed forces in their backyard. This is not a new war. It began the day the “students” swarmed the US Embassy in Tehran. And Senator Kerry worries that a military response to these thugs will inflame the Muslim world against us? If so, that speaks volumes about the Muslim world he seems to know so much about – by his logic they prefer death and defeat to comity and cooperation.

If that’s truly the case, then it’s best we face it now.

Again, as Daschle said:

Americans stand together today and always to finish the work we started and bring peace and democracy to the citizens of Iraq.

Exactly right. It would be nice if John Kerry would make the same point every day, and do so without dropping a big throbbing BUT about the appalling lack of French participation or UN supervision of the Fallujah operation. But you can’t have everything.

What does Daschle know that Kerry doesn’t?

New Dalrymple. I love this guy. He’s writing about burglars and hookers here, and mentions the last Maupaussant story I read, Boule de Suif. Money grafs:

Maupassant was considered in my childhood to be a rather dangerous and unreliable author, at least for the tender young mind. When the BBC televized dramatizations of some of his stories, parents were advised to ensure that their children were safely tucked up in bed: in those days, evidently, it was still possible to corrupt youth.

But I was educated at the time of the great instauration, when self-control became the queen of the pathogens. Maupassant was taught to me in school, I think, not only because he wrote French of such exemplary limpidity, but at least as much because he could be used to undermine the bourgeois moral certainties that appeared to the intellectuals of the time to have congealed as unattractively as mutton fat on a cold plate, and that impeded their access to immediate self-gratification.

Be that as it may, it was Boule de Suif and La Maison Tellier that I read. The lesson of these stories was that true virtue was not incompatible with easy virtue, that the externals of conventional morality often concealed a deep inner cynicism and amorality, and that goodness of heart and generosity of spirit were to be found in those whom the respectable of the world usually despised. These were lessons that were grateful to the ear of the age.

The rot goes deep, in other words; it goes way back. I had the same reaction when I read the story (at the Hennepin County Government Center, waiting to get my driver’s license photo taken) – Maupassant stacked the deck. It’s not that true virtue would become compatible with easy virtue, it’s that true virtue would become incompatible with manifest virtue - i.e. the good would be suspect because they had the outward appearances of goodness.

As it happens, I’m watching an odd example of the Good Burglar story Dalrymple mentions in his piece: “Bank Shot,” a mid-70s dud with George C. Scott and others. I often TiVo mid-70s movies to look at the credit sequences and hear the theme songs, which are usually the only things that interest me. Well: this one was based on a book by Donald Westlake, a brilliant comic writer – Peter De Vries crossed with Elmore Leonard. Thirty minutes of the movie showed that Westlake, like DeVries, and Burgess, and a few other of my favorites, is mostly unfilmable. Especially in the 70s, when all prison wardens were required to act like refugees from a Smokey and the Bandit movie.

Well: long week, long night, and alas some bittersweet business ahead, as I’ll report on Monday. It's coloring my mood, and making arguments against spring I don't wish to entertain, but can't avoid. Nothing big, but hardly small. I'll explain Monday. See you then; have a fine weekend.

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