fredcover.jpgBlogger and columnist James Lileks has cornered the market in digging up old display advertisements and other printed reminders of the best-forgotten. Readers in LA should not miss his parsing of the 1977 Frederick's of Hollywood catalogue, which used to be something only people in this city knew about.

Page after page after page of big hair, big zippers (or, as they call them "unzippers"), and copy written by a genius of sleaze and strategic capitalization.

DRAPE SHAPE Draped-and-shaped cowl neck adds fabulous FLATTERY to your bustline. Back-zipped TUNIC and pull-on flare PANTS in Chevacette Acetate knit.

CLING THING Cuddle your curves in a SUPER-SMOOTH clingy dress. Slight gather add extra emphasis. Slips on and OFF in an instant. Peach or mint polyester knit.

Most of the graphics are drawings, but almost every page has one photo of a woman with a humongous pile of hair on her head with one word next to it: "WIG!"

If you're my age, 1977 didn't seem like so long ago. But now I know for sure, it was a way way long time ago, because I don't remember meeting anyone in those clothes…maybe you had to be this guy.

(Thanks to Boing-Boing's Mark Frauenfelder.)


The Good Idea Shortage

Frances Fukuyama is getting great publicity for his new book, "America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power, and the Neoconservative Legacy," in which he parts company with his former neocon allies. I don't have the book, nor the time to read it now, so I was glad the Wall Street Journal published an essay he co-wrote that would present the meat of his argument.

The piece, by Fukuyama and Adam Garfinkle, is called, modestly, "A Better Idea." Given the morass Iraq has become, given the continued fears of a major terrorist attack, I'm not alone in hoping a better idea is out there somewhere, and that one of the 2008 presidential candidates finds it.

Bush was the post-9/11 firefighter. He reacted to the horrible tragedy of that morning, and his reactive stance has rippled through all his policy decisions — for better and for worse. He and his administration were in the battle, day-by-day, trying this, trying that. Everything was done with utmost urgency, with no pause for considered strategy. It was not the way to win a war.

If John Kerry'd had a better idea, he could've beaten Bush in 2004, and given us a fresh start on a more comprehensive strategy. To say the least, Kerry proved a terrible disappointment, both intellectually and as a political craftsman. So the fireman is still on duty. He deserves some credit. But we need a new approach.

So that's what was in the back of my mind in approaching Fukuyama. I didn't care that he was turning his back on former allies. That's a good press angle to sell books, but just frosting from my point of view.

Unfortunately, Fukuyama's got no game. I'll paste in a few quotes, but overall, his WSJ essay reminds me of a speech by Kerry: 'I'd pursue the same policies, but differently.' (That's not a quote — it's just my summary of every Kerry speech on the war and the battle against Islamo-fascism.) Here's what I mean:

That better idea consists of separating the struggle against radical Islamism from promoting democracy in the Middle East, focusing on the first struggle, and dramatically changing our tone and tactics on the democracy promotion front, at least for now.

The essential problem with the administration's approach is that it conflates two issues that are separate. The first has to do with violent, antimodern radical Islamism (on display both in the reaction to the Danish cartoons and in the mosque bombing in Samarra); the second concerns the dysfunctionality of political and social institutions in much of the Arab world.


What the administration sees as one problem ought to be seen as two. Radical Islamism needs to be dealt with separately from democracy promotion. This involves doing everything we can to ensure the political success of the governments in Afghanistan and Iraq. It also involves killing, capturing or otherwise neutralizing hard-core terrorists in many parts of the world, and keeping dangerous materials out of their hands, in what will look less like a war than like police and intelligence operations.


To put it mildly, the Iraq war has not increased the prestige of the U.S. and American ideas like liberal democracy in the Middle East. The U.S. does not have abundant moral authority for promoting the rule of law, since the first thing people in the region associate with America today is prisoner abuse at Guantanamo, Bagram and Abu Ghraib. Many Americans have explained these events to themselves by saying that the abuse was an aberration that has been hyped by enemies of the U.S., and that in any event such things just happen during wartime. Perhaps; but the fact remains that Guantanamo is still open, and nobody except for a couple of lowly enlisted soldiers have been prosecuted for prisoner abuse by the Bush administration. Fair or not, American insistence on rule of law and human rights looks simply hypocritical.


Democracy promotion should remain an integral part of American foreign policy, but it should not be seen as a principal means of fighting terrorism. We should stigmatize and fight radical Islamism as if the social and political dysfunction of the Arab world did not exist, and we should shrewdly, quietly, patiently and with as many allies as possible promote the amelioration of that dysfunction as if the terrorist problem did not exist. It is when we mix these two issues together that we muddle our understanding of both, with the result that we neither defeat terrorism nor promote democracy but rather the reverse.

How empty. How lacking in new thought or vision. Much of what he recommends is basically already happening on a tactical level. The rest is just repurposed criticism of Bush's war plans–criticisms that Bush, among others, have long accepted.

Does this mean there really aren't any better ideas out there?

This is why the Democratic party is so frustrating. They are the opposition. But they've interpreted that role like the Monty Python character who advertises he'll give you an argument but just provides contradiction. "Gotcha" is not a philosophy. "Told ya so" is not a strategy. Liberals used to be seen as the intellectuals in public policy, but they've run dry at the worst possible time.

I have a fearful suspicion that 2008 will end up ratifying Bush's strategy instead of changing it, and that this will be true whichever party wins. There just might not be any better ideas out there.

“Only by letting more people in can we keep the bad guys out.”

I admit I'm attracted to the idea that anyone who wants to move to the United States should obey our laws, put in an immigration application and wait for their number to come up. That would be fairer and more orderly.

However, our slow-moving legal immigration system seems disconnected from the reality that our economy is robust, perpetually growing, and needs more workers. The American public seems to know this intuitively and has, therefore, tolerated decades of illegal immigration, especially from Mexico, but also from other countries. We hear about the supposedly rising tide of anger about illegal immigration, especially on talk radio, but we don't vote that way, not even in the border states where the impact of illegal immigration is most felt.

Issues associated with illegal immigration do cause political backlash. Twelve years ago, it was Proposition 187, which passed overwhelmingly, but was reversed by the courts. That proposition was impractical, but I understood the sentiment behind it as an attempt to achieve rough justice. Yes, immigrants are coming, and if they're coming here to work, fine. But if they're coming here for welfare, then that's not fine.

Prop 187 foolishly went beyond welfare. It wanted to keep illegal immigrants out of public hospitals and health clinics, and their kids out of public schools. On its face, this was not entirely unreasonable. The dollars to pay for these services are scarce. The school and public health systems were designed for the native population, and can't easily absorb hundreds of thousands of non-citizens without diluting the overall delivery of services to everyone.

But let's get real. Do we really want hundreds of thousands of our neighbors with no access to health services, and with their kids receiving no education? That's a decision with devastating consequences for society as a whole. Overcrowded schools and health facilities aren't acceptable either, but if you had to make a choice between two bad outcomes, it's better to muddle through with the system we have. And don't forget, illegal immigrants pay some taxes, including the property and sales taxes that local and state governments use for the public health and education systems.

September 11 created a new slant on the problem. We already knew that a certain proportion of criminals were slipping through the border via the great migration. Isn't it now likely that among their number are members of terrorist organizations?

That's the impetus behind the spate of lawmaking on the issue of illegal immigration, which has reopened the larger debate. My brother Seth Stodder, who was a high-ranking Homeland Security official and is now an attorney in Los Angeles, cowrote with Brian C. Goebel an article now online at the New Republic's website that zeroes in on the national security dimension of the issue. Their thesis: "Only by letting more people in can we keep the bad guys out."

Each year, more people seek to cross our land borders illegally than the Border Patrol, a component of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, has the resources to apprehend. The Border Patrol apprehended a million illegal immigrants last year–but it is generally believed that another 300,000 evaded law enforcement officers and successfully entered the country.

The vast majority of these people are not security risks. Instead, they are economic migrants from impoverished regions of Latin America. But intermingled in this flood of economic migrants lurk dangers, including drug smugglers and potential terrorists. Indeed, the Border Patrol apprehends thousands of people each year from countries in South America, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia where Hamas, Hezbollah, and Al Qaeda and its affiliates are active. Recent press reports suggest that Al Qaeda has started recruiting in Central America and has considered smuggling a weapon of mass destruction into the United States through Mexico.

Given the principal border security challenge facing the Border Patrol–identifying and apprehending a fairly small number of potential terrorists, drug smugglers, and criminals in the midst of well over a million people–Bush and moderates in both parties have correctly asserted that substantially reducing illegal crossings by economic migrants would improve our border security: With a reduced flood of economic migrants, the real dangers would stick out more prominently.

The best way to reduce the ranks of economic migrants crossing our borders illegally is to create a guest worker program.

The advocates of a guest worker program — including President Bush — are routinely condemned on talk radio as capitulating to illegal immigration advocates. But the logic of Seth and Brian's position is pretty strong. We're asking the Border Patrol to do two jobs: Protect the country from terrorists and organized crime, and enforce unrealistic immigration laws. The first job is clearly more important than the second, but the second job is making the first one near to impossible. The hard-line position would not make our country safer.

I hope Seth and Brian are given the chance to expound their views on the anti-immigrant talk radio programs and let their logic begin to dissolve the unreasoning anger out there. It would be a good idea to refocus the illegal immigration debate on what should be our most important objective — keeping our country safe from another 9/11.

The Mystery of Plagiarism

Whenever the topic of plagiarism rears its head in the media, I scratch my head. People write because they want to express themselves and gain recognition. Where's the psychic satisfaction in letting the world think someone else's words are yours? The potential for material gain provides little incentive. For intelligent people like writers, there are usually better choices available if their objective is to make money.

To steal language from someone else's movie review squib, as now-disgraced Washington Post blogger Ben Domenech admits to have done, is somewhat like a bank employee getting caught for embezzling pens. What could Domenech have gotten paid by National Review Online for those movie reviews? $200? Why bother? And it's not like the prose he ripped off was all that scintillating.

ben domenech.jpgAre plagiarists just too busy to do their own writing? I suppose that what motivates college term paper plagiarists. Too many classes, too much partying, oh hell I'll just buy a paper on the Internet. And maybe that was Domenech's excuse. He was a young man in a hurry, perhaps, and needed to see his name ubiquitiously in print. But this kid is 24. He barely remembers a time before e-mail. He should know how easy it is to put a complete sentence or paragraph in a search engine and find its match if one exists. He risked, and lost his reputation for nothing, committing a transgression so easily detected.

Domenech's apologists talk about his selflessness for the cause of conservatism. The blog from whence he came, RedState, initially defended him against the left-wingers who discovered his plagiarism, but then had to backtrack:

If you, as many have done, dedicate thousands of man-hours to scrutinizing of (Domenech's) life's work, you'll find two things: First, you'll find several instances of this behavior, some attributable to youth, and some not. Second, you'll find an amazingly talented writer, a man of principle, and an earnest young activist seeking not to advance himself — though advance he did — but the things he believed in.

Certainly it may seem strange today to describe him as a "man of principle." But those who know Ben — and all of us on the RS leadership team do — know that he is passionate in his beliefs. They also know that he is human. It was ignoring this humanity that led to our earlier posts about the situation. It is fitting then, that he chose “Augustine” as his nom de plume here at RedState – for who could serve as a better reminder of the full potential of fallibility and sin – and yet existing within that peril – real hope of forgiveness.

So let me get this straight. Domenech's copycat reviews of mediocre movies served the holy conservative cause because it allowed Domenech to gain greater fame, such that the Washington Post would sponsor his blog, and thereby bring the good word into the temple of the liberal media? Something like that. How oddly expedient, for a movement that regards itself as the house of principle.

(I guess the right-wing blogosphere does not believe the old media is dead or irrelevant. In their heart of hearts, they want to convert the Washington Post, not kill it. Certainly, even before Domenech's perfidy was exposed, there was uproar on the left about his blog, one that clearly exposed the left's primary foible — a titanic level of intolerance for differing viewpoints. Just ask Sen. Joe Lieberman, he of the Americans for Democratic Action liberal rating of between 85-95, what happens when you vary from the orthodoxy.)

A couple of notable historians have been caught for plagiarism, like Doris Kearns Goodwin. According to Atlantic Monthly, she has never appeared on PBS since she admitted lifting phrases from a Kennedy book for her own. Her plagiarism seems more like an accident. Biographers assemble their work over the course of years from thousands of three-by-five cards (or the digital equivalent) with bits and pieces of information on them along with bibliographic information. When writing the book in question, perhaps Goodwin expropriated the prose on the notecard, unaware that it wasn't her notes at all, but direct quotes. I accept her excuse, even if Jim Lehrer doesn't, especially because she now seems sincerely ashamed at the error.

I would feel differently if it turned out Goodwin did it on purpose. But it would also strike me as mysterious. She obviously loves history and the people she writes about. She's already enjoyed a high level of success. Everyone's bank account could be a little bigger, but I doubt the difference between a house in Tahiti and one in New Jersey came down to a copying a few paragraphs from a writer far more obscure than she.

My attitude toward plagiarism comes from my mother. That I'm a writer at all is due to her insistence that I never copy prose from the encyclopedia for my school assignments. I'm sure every other fourth-grader who had to write about salamanders or Gen. Lafayette took sentences straight from the Brittanica, but my mother wouldn't allow it. So I had to rephrase everything, but it had to be just as good as my source. I spent many hours trying to do this, and emerged from the experience as a writer.

Then, of couse, I went into a profession — PR — that not only condones plagiarism, but ofttimes insists on it. Once your client has settled on "key messages," you're supposed to insert them in all the copy that flows from them. In media training, you tell your clients to "bridge" back to those key messages during interviews, e.g. "That's not the real question, Katie. The real question is, how are we going to (insert key message here.)"

The mind-numbing repetition of the same handful of sentences is supposed to help the client's message to "break through." That's one of those PR magic spells I'm beginning to think has worn off. Nobody watches politicians on the news interview shows anymore, according to the ratings. And why? Because all they do is repeat themselves and they don't answer actual questions. Does repeating the same answer over and over again work if no one's listening? When I hear someone talk, I want to be surprised by the originality of their thoughts and the way they express them. A heavily media-trained interview subject is a guaranteed bore. When were you ever persuaded by a bore?

Whether you're a writer or a speaker, plagiarism is malpractice for writers and speakers. That goes equally for self-plagiarism and plagiarizing your own PR people.

The Hee Seop Choi in All of Us

Sometimes, I could identify with Hee Seop Choi.  Couldn’t you?  You try your best, you maintain a positive attitude, you experience some success, certainly on a par with your peers. But someone just doesn’t like you.

Choi.jpgFor the Dodger first baseman, it probably came down to the fact that he was the most visible symbol of a controversial 2004 trade made by former GM Paul DePodesta.  He got Choi and pitcher Brad Penny in a swap that included beloved (but overrated) Dodger catcher Paul LoDuca. 

That trade came to symbolize not only DePodesta, but the entire sabermetric (aka “Moneyball”) philosophy: No sentiment. No respect for a guy like Dukie who could hit in “clutch” situations (sabermetricians think “clutchiness” is a myth.)  Over-regard for a hitter like Choi whose eye for the strike zone resulted in many bases on balls.  Sabermetricians love bases on balls. Over-regard for “replacement level” players who didn’t cost much.  That was the key, for Choi defenders.  Was Choi great? No, but for what the Dodgers paid him, he more than earned it.

One guy who hated the LoDuca trade was former manager Jim Tracy.  He missed LoDuca so much, he took over his uniform number.  He took his despair and anger out on Choi, benching him as often as he could.  For example, when it became clear that Jason Phillips was an incompetent catcher, Tracy moved Phillips to first base, displacing Choi, who was a much better hitter and fielder.  Phillips was the kind of guy sentimentalists loved.  He played hard; poorly, but hard.  Choi was sort of happy go lucky.  He worked hard, but it didn’t show.  When he stood at the plate, working the count and often getting a walk, he appeared to sentimentalists to be unaggressive. 

Choi was a pretty decent power hitter. If he came up with men on base and the game on the line, Dodger fans loved to chant his metronymic name:  HEE SEOP CHOI!  HEE SEOP CHOI!  He had a kind of sunny charisma.  But the more fans cheered for him, the more determined Tracy was to stick him on the bench.

When Ned Colletti was hired to replace DePodesta, he quite apparently wanted to put his own stamp on the team. Of course, he wasn’t about to oust successful DePodesta acquisitions like Jeff Kent, Derek Lowe or J.D. Drew.  So it would have to be Choi.  With less than two weeks to go before Opening Day, the Dodgers today placed Choi on waivers.  The Boston Red Sox claimed him.  Choi has a fair chance of playing in Boston, because the Sox are starved for power.  Plus, the Sox GM, Theo Epstein, is the most successful sabermetric executive in the game.

There was a lot of affection for Choi on the great blog Dodger Thoughts, and many of its regular posters will continue to cheer him on.  There were also a few posters who didn’t get the love at all.  Choi’s departure promises to halt many bitter arguments that took place on that site and other Dodger blogs — but not for awhile, not til everyone gets last licks.

I think the affection for Choi comes from a place we all have inside us.  We want to please everyone, but we just can’t.  And sometimes our adversary wins.  It doesn’t seem fair, but that’s life, and life goes on.   Choi might be in a better place now — Fenway Park, late summer game against the hated Yankees, the crowd yelling HEE SEOP CHOI! HEE SEOP CHOI! And Choi, blasting it out of the park.  Or maybe walking.  Good enough.