Vile Bodies

This is Waugh’s second novel. It’s a very funny, very brutal satire of British society “between the wars.” It’s filled with drunks, frauds, tabloid journalists, offended sensibilities, harried inn keepers, and put-upon servants. Everyone seems to be living a Zelda & Scottie lifestyle filled with drinking, witty quips, and the occasional car crash. The plot is as heedless as the lives of its characters; it defies summary. It’s mostly a look at a glittering, hard drinking group of Bright Young Things, and the endless destruction they leave in the wake of their endless party. 

Waugh’s secret weapon is not airtight plotting, but his glittering dialogue. It’s not just the sparkling wit of its characters. Waugh captures the rhythms of speech for literally dozens of characters. These are British characters; most authors are satisfied with a bit of “’ow’s ye drink, guv’nor?” Waugh does not settle for such lazy devices. Every character’s voice seems to be pitched a particular way. You can almost hear their voices in your inner ear. 

For all of the humor and wit at work here, Waugh’s book also has a distinctly dark edge. Several characters are killed. One commits suicide. Reminders of then-contemporary events are in the background. Waugh describes a Tube platform filled with office workers wearing poppies on their lapels, a reminder that WW1 was less than a decade in the past. Waugh also hints that another destructive war (he was writing in 1930) was on its way. While the plot seems to simply shift from one drunken party to another, it also suggests that the dissolute scenes in the book are as much a result of the characters’ uncertain future, as they are a result of the characters’ relentless pursuit of pleasure. Alternatively, Waugh is also describing a fallen world whose inhabitants are stumbling drunkenly into oblivion. 

“Decline and Fall” is not just the title of Waugh’s first novel. it is also his great theme; that of the fallen state of Britain (depicted as much with humor as it is with melancholy) in the years before WW2. This book fits well within that theme. 

Protecting Creepy Little Things Since 1973

One of the hardest fought battle grounds of the culture war lies in environmental regulations. And in this battle, the Left wins virtually every time they step on to the killing fields. These are battles fought often in the obscure corners of government - courtrooms, administrative proceedings, subcommittee meeting - and away from the general public. The only ones who really care are the environmental activists, and they care a lot. ANY effort by a Republican administration to establish environmental regulations is met with cries that they are destroying the environment, selling out to Big Business, and etc. As if Republicans sit around breathing in deeply and say, "Nope, not sooty enough."

The Bush administration has tried to make a few changes. First, they have promulgated a reg, which would allow an agency to use its discretion to decide whether the environmental impact of a proposed development would be too trivial to require a full scale scientific analysis. Second, they had the temerity to suggest that global warming is not covered by the Endangered Species Act. This seems like a reasonable interpretation since the Act was passed in 1973 before the glitterati had discovered global warming, and everybody believed that the world was in danger of Global Cooling (it wasn't). 

Predictably, the cries have gone across the land that the Evil Bush is "seeking to gut" the Act, and other unholy misdeeds. California's hard left Attorney General has now joined the grandstanding and is suing to contest the new regs. AG Brown is a genuinely decent man, and I am sure he is deeply concerned over global warming (he couldn't otherwise travel in the circles he does). But, he is acting to ensure that any development, including large scale public works projects, will be carried out slowly, if at all. While the P.R. arms of the Greens emphasize the "cute fuzzy animal" aspects of nature, their legal arms are dedicated to making sure that manufacturers, developers, and engineers - in other words, people with real jobs - have as little to do with their time as possible. 

It has become fashionable to decry our state's crumbling infrastructure. But it is not crumbling because no one gives a damn. It's crumbling because you can't turn a spade without triggering years worth of environmental reviews by activists who use cry crocodile tears over a ravaged environment to accomplish their real goal: stifling any sort of economically productive development. 

Cool, Clear Water

There is such a thing as too much democracy (as opposed to a republic), and California is Exhibit A. Start with voters who want endless services coupled with low taxes, and combine that with a political class that simultaneously caters to both of these contradictory impulses. The end result is our current financial mess. But, even amid all of this, California's politicos - from Schwarzenegger on down - have shown more interest in passing a $10 billion high speed rail bond than in doing the practical work to preserve California's existing infrastructure. A case in point, California's water works, which are "crumbling under the pressure of a booming state population, aging infrastructure, on going environmental battles, and a two year drought." 

Y0u would think that maintaining the water supply would be a priority, and it is, in the sense that there is a state department and a line item in the budget. The average voter would certainly expect that the state would not literally have to be reminded of the importance of maintaining the water supply. But, clearly it's much more fun to engage in "on going environmental battles" and "engage the future" with high speed rail, rather than provide basic services. 

A Time For Choosing

Media stories about "struggling" americans are one of the few growth industries during a recession. With a crash as dramatic as the one we are living through, such stories have exploded in value. You might say there is a bubble in hard luck tales. But there is always something a little off about them, where the media's clear desire to tell a tale of Dickensian woe ultimately collides with the reality that the U.S. remains a wealthy country. Take this article in the W$J about the increasing use of pawn shops by the (former) upper middle class. The story begins with the sad story of a "fashionably dressed young man" who tries to pawn his Movado watch to make his $2,500 mortgage payment. He is strapped because he lost his tech job earlier this year and has been reduced to washing airplanes at the airport. He is turned away at the pawn shop because Movados, while expensive, are not desirable in the pawn shop world (does that help or hurt the Movado trademark). The young man says he is "not sure what (he's) going to do." He then turns and gets into his Cadillac Escalade. Here's an idea as to what to do, kid: SELL THE FREAKIN' ESCALADE!!!

P.S. I hope this guy didn't kick anyone on his way up, because he is going to need plenty of help while on the way down.

Sparks Along The Third Rail, Part 2

Californians can be forgiven for wondering why their state - with an economy larger than many of those in the developed world - exists in a permanent state of financial crisis, and is now facing a full scale budget meltdown. Well, one problem is that many of California's resources have been locked away, or seen their economic worth diluted by, the state's very active environmental lobby. 

Now, some have dared to suggest that it might be time to allow drilling off of the California coast. - something that hasn't happened since the notorious Santa Barbara oil spill of 40 years ago. This is an idea whose time has come. For one thing, the oil drilling industry has learned a lot since 1969 with the result that spills are not as dangerous a possibility as they once were. While many drilling platforms were damaged during Hurricane Katrina, not one led to a spill. The San Francisco Bay suffered a spill last year that, while destructive in the short term, ultimately led to little permanent damage. 

The benefit of drilling would seem to be obvious. Right now, California is importing the vast majority of its oil. A domestic drilling industry could at least bring some low priced competition into the marketplace, not to mention good paying working class jobs. Even if California oil were not sold here, it would have to be sold somewhere. Royalties from such sales could go a long way towards filling the state treasury. I'm sure many would object to raising funds in this manner. Maybe. But some of our current funding sources are expensive (the sales tax, motor vehicle fees) or tawdry (lotteries, casino gambling). Why these are preferable to sales of oil is beyond me. 

Still, there's a long way to go, at least if the above article is any indication. The reporter manages to push all the right buttons: Bush, James Watt, and oil soaked birds, boo! Barak Obama, solar, and wind, yay! Still, "green" politics are ultimately a luxury, not a necessity. We may see oil rigs off the coast, yet. 

Sparks Along The Third Rail, Part 1

California's public university system - despite it's many flaws - has actually managed to live up to the ideal of the public university - some of the campuses are indeed "world class" but tuitions have made them accessible to the general public. Now, however, the UC system has decided that the state of affairs in higher education and in the budget negotiations in Sacramento are such that they need to fight for their share of the funding pie. The Regents have approved a budget proposal which they say "represents the true cost of running the University of California, and maintaining it as an economic engine and beacon of excellence." That proposed budget asks for a 23% funding boost.

Now, this may indeed represent the "true cost" of operating UC. But, it does not represent an attempt to grapple with the very real funding issues that are testing government at all levels, along with the world of higher education. UC is asking for $3.6 billion per year to fund their operations "as is." Well, "as is" won't cut it right now. I would feel a lot better if there were any signs that UC is trying to economize, rather than keep things at an unsustainable level. Sure, keep UC Berkeley, UCLA, UC Davis, and UCSF. Those are great schools, each fulfilling a distinct mission. But, what's going on at UC Riverside that is so important? Or UC Merced? Why should we keep current levels of funding for the rich kids who go to UC Santa Barbara, or the tenured radicals at UC Santa Cruz? 

Honestly, given the choice between funding UC and funding the thousands of useless state boards, I'll choose UC every time. But, UC's haughty demand for an increase, even as the rest of us tighten our belts, is insupportable. 

Your Grandpa's Hope & Change

Ron Dellums is one of those frustratingly permanent fixtures on the political scene whose very presence is a rebuke to the idea that The People! United! Will Never Be Defeated! When he won the race for Mayor of Oakland a couple years ago, the Bay Area progressive community salivated at the thought of a true radical leftist taking the helm of a major American city. Well, his first two years in office have been a disaster, and even media outfits that have been prone to support him have noticed. 

Is it a surprise that crime has skyrocketed while policing has declined? Absolutely not. Dellums has demonstrated the disdain that all true leftists show for crime fighting and he has the crime wave to prove it. 

Is it a surprise that a thug like Yusef Bey IV has been able to extract $$ from the city of Oakland even as he has led a criminal enterprise that assassinated a journalist, just like you would expect in a Latin American "people's republic?" Of course not, guys like Bailey-adept at mau-mauing the flak catchers-thrive under a left wing government. 

I was surprised that Dellums has had trouble filling top spots in his administration. Progressives usually live for opportunities like this.

Oakland will be able to lurch along, regardless of who is in the mayor's office. Still, you have to wonder about Oakland's voters. Dellums has huge appeal for the white progressive college crowd because of his race, his progressive rhetoric, and his "inspirational" story. Will they be able to turn away from him when his reality has not lived up to his promise? 

The Congress We Deserve

If there is one thing we have learned from history it's this: it's probably too much to expect our congressmen to be excessively burdened by smarts, good sense, or good morals. Still, this article  (in the Times style section!) is an embarrassment. The Sanchez sisters show themselves to be silly, over emotional, and shallow (Loretta has a myspace page!). But, they always vote the "correct" way so all is forgiven. The thought that people like this having been voting on TARP, the auto bailout, the Iraq War, the Patriot Act, etc. is unnerving. 

The bulk of the article concerns Linda's pregnancy. Oh, you didn't know that a member of Congress is pregnant? And that she is not married? And that the "man" who knocked her up is the sort of non-commital bounder who says things like "we have the rest of our lives to get engaged, get married, have a party" when asked whether he is going to marry his pregnant girlfriend? I'll give Linda an "A" for keeping the baby and an "F" for good judgment. And I'll give the "Times" a "C" for at least publicizing this lapse, although one wonders how the Times would have covered this if Linda wasn't so "colorful". 

It goes without saying, I think, that a Republican woman who bent the rules to get her office painted a "special" color, who posed for sex kittenish photos, and who was pregnant with an out-of-wedlock child would not be getting this sort of glowing coverage. 

Rx for Bailoutitis

One of the most depressing aspects of the bailout mania gripping the economy is the absence of any effort to include critics like Peter Schiff, who saw the credit crisis coming, and were roundly ignored. You would think that these would be the guys policy makers would turn to for ideas on getting out of this mess. Instead, the Paulsons, Rubins, Greenspans, Franks, and Dodds who led us in are also proposing to lead us out. 

Schiff has a good piece in the W$J, in which he argues that a recession is the most efficient way to get out of this mess. I strongly suspect that the average American understands, and accepts, this on a gut level (although they would reserve the right to bitch and moan the entire length of any downturn). However, the political and business class obviously has no stomach for such a painful, but necessary, cure. It's not just that they don't want to lose their power and prestige; they are also afraid that the world they have inhabited and mastered - that of a gov't structure built in the Thirties married to a business model built in the Eighties - is not long for this earth. 

Simon For Guv'nor? Only If It's Absolutely The Last Resort

Bill Simon is back, and he is - again - "considering" a run for Governor. With all due respect, this is the last thing the California GOP needs. Bill Simon is a good man, of course. But California is in serious need of reform and redirection and Simon - the son of an investment banker (and Nixon appointee) who spends his days jetting around administering a foundation - just isn't the man for the job. California's gov't is not just too big and too underfunded, it is also a chaotic stew of boards, commissions, districts, and bond projects, each one of which has an implacable lobby that will fight to the death to preserve. Democrats and their allies have grown rich in power and $$ as a result of the bankrupting of California gov't and a mere financial crisis will not stop them. California Republicans need a hard headed limited gov't type who can not just make cuts to the budget, but also defend them vigorously from the Leftist attacks that will follow as night follows day. Bill Simon, who couldn't beat Gray Davis his last time out, simply isn't up for that job. Next, please. 

Money for Nothing

People in S.F. love the idea of a minimum wage. It warms them to the core to imaging that "their" gov't is ordering Big Bad Business to pay their workers a "minimum." But does anyone think a wage of nearly $10/hr is any sort of minimum? 

The conceit of these sorts of things is ridiculous. The sentence "San Francisco's labor force will get a small dose of good cheer" because of the minimum wage increase makes it sound like thousands upon thousands of Bob Cratchetts  are sitting around waiting for progressive gov't to bestow their new wage. As if. The guy in the article who is getting ready to spend 4 weeks in South America is much closer to the true state of affairs. 

The truth is: this is an artificially inflated wage level that will hurt workers more than it will help. For one thing, a true minimum wage would be a training wage, with further wage increases for those employees who can master skills like enthusiasm, friendly service, team work, and coming to work on time. With a "minimum" wage of $10, most retail and restaurant workers will be stuck at that pay level for eternity, as their cash strapped, low-margin employers struggle under artificial gov't mandated wage levels.     

You still lose when you lose fake friends

It's hard to believe that a well run company could allow a $ 225,000/yr vice president to operate a $65 million kickback scheme without someone noticing a lot sooner. Fry's might want to have a chat with the entire chain of command. They might also want to speak to the vendors who participated. Fry's spokesman Manuel Valerio called the arrest of Siddiqui, who had a solid business friendship with company president and co-founder John Fry, "distressing, dismaying and disheartening." Um, Siddiqui was not your friend. He knew where the $$ were and went there.

Too Good to Be True

I swear, if Joel Stein didn't exist, we would have to invent him. He is the very image of the smug, comfortable, over educated progressive that conservatives see in their mind's eye. Now he "admits" what conservatives tend to secretly believe: that U.S. liberals do not love America. Best line "we liberals claim our love is deeper because we seek to improve the United States by pointing out its flaws. But calling your wife fat isn't love." Couldn't have said it better myself. 

Harold Pinter Has Died

Harold Pinter has died. Like many western artists, Pinter's crabbed anti-American leftism overwhelmed any aesthetic qualities his work may have had. His Nobel acceptance speech was an embarrassment; an old man's rant against a nation whose wealth and culture was big enough and open enough to accept and exalt Pinter's groundbreaking works. Even if Pinter was too twisted to stop himself, surely his wife - a literary figure in her own right - should have known enough to stop him. 

It's notable that Pinter's obituaries have to go back decades to find works that captured the public imagination. Eventually, people stopped going to see Pinter's plays because of their power, but simply because the great man had written a play. Attending a Pinter premiere became yet another obligation of the culturally dutiful. Perhaps leftist rants - like alcohol & drug abuse - become the refuge for fading literary lions who have lost their spark. 

it's another crazy san francisco protest!

If it's Christmas, it must be time for another nutty San Francisco protest. This enterprising young man has decided to protest impending funding cuts to the City's public health budget. The City, you see, is facing a half BILLION dollar budget shortfall, so the obvious thing to do is chain oneself to the "Tree of Hope" (groan!) and make a spectacle of oneself. Kid, those cuts have to come somewhere, and the DPH is the biggest bloated bureaucracy in the City's bloated bureaucracy. I have been hearing about the horrors of draconian budget cuts all of my life, but I have yet to see the large-scale Dickensian poverty that guys like this forecast. Put him in jail for a day so he can get up close and personal with some real poverty.  

The fix is in

Did anyone honestly expect Jerry Brown to stand up in front of the Supreme Court of California and argue in favor of Prop. 8? The fix has been in on gay marriage for a long time. All three branches of California's government has come out in favor of gay marriage. Brown could have made a perfunctory attempt to defend Prop. 8, but that would have done no one any good. At least Brown was honest enough to say what he really thinks. Prop. 8 proponents are better off with Kenneth Starr as their advocate, rather than rely on a hostile advocate like California's left wing AG. 

The Honorable Thing To Do

Now we have the first Crash of '08 suicide-a French blue blood, who lost a billion investing in Bernie Madoff.I know that people will take grim satisfaction in de La Villehuchet's fate. And maybe they should. Certainly, a dignified suicide is perhaps a better way to go than the way many of Wall Street's fallen have chosen to go, which is: (1) not at all, or (2) pouting before a congressional committee, or (3) staying at least one step ahead of the SEC.  

Still, this is a tragedy. He had a wife (don't know about kids), a thriving business. He was a passionate sailor. I'm sure there are people out there who are devastated today. But that brings up a question that has bothered me ever since Bear Sterns imploded. Why didn't these guys (the banking and investing class) act more to protect themselves? 

Forget the macroeconomy. Forget the shareholders and bind holders. Forget their fiduciary obligations. Why did they take risks that placed themselves at risk of spectacular losses? These guys had wives, children, employees, and others who were absolutely dependent on them for their support. They were the heads of banks and brokerages that had been built over the span of decades. They had enormous wealth and prestige, and the freedom that comes with such blessings. Jimmy Caynes lost a billion dollars when Bear Sterns died. His story has been repeated thousands of times. Just desserts many would say. Certainly, Pete Seeger is not going to start singing mournful dirges about "The Investin' Man's Hard Times"

Maybe the Fed or the SEC couldn't stop them, but couldn't the sense of self preservation of the investment class have given them pause, so they could stop themselves?

Decline and Fall

Evelyn Waugh's Decline and Fall is pungent British satire at its best. PlotwiseThe story wanders all over the place: young Paul Pennyforth is expelled from Oxford, gets a job teaching at the worst public school in the UK, gets engaged to a corrupt heiress, and then winds up in prison. The story is simply a means for Waugh to slay every sacred cow available in 1928. The dialogue in this book is incredible; there are dozens of eccentric characters, each of whom is given a chance to declaim in their own peculiar brand of Edwardian humbug. The names of the characters are great, too: Solomon Philbrick, Colonel Simpleforth, Cuttlebuck, Lord Tangent Circumfrence, etc. Mostly, Waugh plays for laughs, until the prison section when a bit of melancholy comes over the proceedings. There's also a serious theme at work: the conventions of British gentlemanliness is so smothering that its strictest adherents are reduced to the status of a feather blowing in the wind. This is satire, but it's satire with a strong literary quality. Decline and Fall

Cough! Cough!

The EPA has gotten out their gyros, beakers, satellites, and assorted gizmos, and concluded that the S.F. Bay Area has failed to meet some U.S. clean air mark. Do I believe this? Oh, sure! Makes sense! The Bay Area - the land of the Prius, a region with 3 million acres of undeveloped land, a region filled to the brim the environmentalists - is a pollution hellhole. Right. Just look at what's at the link. Supposedly, a big "problem" is wood burning. Excuse me? Isn't wood, like, a natural product? Since when is it a pollutant? 

What this really is a sign that US environmental regulations are impossible to comply with. I mean, really, if a clean air regulation can't make it here, it won't make it anywhere. 

An Injustice! Yes! Absolutely!

"An injustice!". That's always the cry when folks like the "Fort Dix Six" (wow, man, it's like the Chicago Seven!) get their comeuppance. Look, boys, there is really no philosophical or moral difference between what you were doing (running around the woods practicing paramilitary maneuvers while plotting jihad) and what neo-nazis and other white supremacists do; namely preach and act out a murderous and totalitarian ideology. The only difference: no punk with a cheap swastika armband tries to make himself into a cause celebre' with the legal Left. Good bye, and good luck. 

Regulator Enables S&L Crisis; Moves On To Enable The Subprime Crisis

This is our government at work. You have to feel sorry for Bush or Obama. No matter what they do, the bureaucracy is shunting and shifting guys like this up and down the chain of command. This is the real danger of Big Government. 

As usual, the Times misses the point. These stewardesses are excellent examples of traditional feminine values: beauty, dignity, class, subtlety. And very sexy, in an adult (not sorority sister) way. The one in the middle is especially impressive; very poised and classy. 

I was going to try to do a little "Girlfriend or Fling" with these three, but I just couldn't. U.S. feminists could only dream of living up to the feminine ideal in the same way these women do. 

SF Police Chief Retires/Goes Away

SFPD Chief Heather Fong has retired. Good riddance. She was an uninspired dull chief with no obvious leadership qualities who declared the discovery of some goofy cop videoes to be the "darkest day in SFPD history." Please. She really owed her career opportunities to the virulent attacks that progressives in SF have made on the police this decade. She became chief after lefty-DA Terence Hallinan indicted virtually the entire command structure of the SFPD on a bogus conspiracy charge. After everyone was exonerated, the smart thing would have been to bring everyone back an apologize, but the good progressives at City Hall decided they were tainted, and so we were left with Chief Fong. Her sole accomplishment was becoming the First! Woman! Police chief! Of the SFPD! so there is that. However, she lacked the fire and spirit of a true pioneer, so what exactly was the point?Now, that we've had our fun busting the glass ceiling, how about finding a police chief who (1) has some leadership qualities, and (2) is interested in police work? What a concept!


And we're off!

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