“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Friday, July 11, 2003

Once upon a time there was a peasant woman and a very wicked woman she was. And she died and did not leave a single good deed behind. The devils caught her and plunged her into the lake of fire. So her guardian angel stood and wondered what good deed of hers he could remember to tell to God; 'She once pulled up an onion in her garden,' said he, 'and gave it to a beggar woman.' And God answered: 'You take that onion then, hold it out to her in the lake, and let her take hold and be pulled out. And if you can pull her out of the lake, let her come to Paradise, but if the onion breaks, then the woman must stay where she is.' The angel ran to the woman and held out the onion to her. 'Come,' said he, 'catch hold and I'll pull you out.' he began cautiously pulling her out. He had just pulled her right out, when the other sinners in the lake, seeing how she was being drawn out, began catching hold of her so as to be pulled out with her. But she was a very wicked woman and she began kicking them. 'I'm to be pulled out, not you. It's my onion, not yours.' As soon as she said that, the onion broke. And the woman fell into the lake and she is burning there to this day. -- Grushenka's story in The Brothers Karamazov

My guardian angel in New York City, T., must have remembered some onion I had given away, because he sent me the money to deliver me from my current hell. Now the question is -- am I any better than that miserly peasant woman?

Why do I have a heavy suspicion the answer is no?

Since my time, right now, is dedicated to finding an extra-literary position and finishing a novel I have idly been scribbling for the last couple of years, I am not going to be putting out these dense posts any more. But I'll put them out now and then.

Bollettino

Lately I've been thinking about the politics of oil. I felt, at the very beginning of the fight over the War, that the petro aspect of the thing was horribly distorted by misunderstandings about the oil business.

When OPEC formed, the seven sister oil companies did everything they could to destroy it. But after the seventies, the international structure of petroleum production stabilized, with OPEC in the center. Sure, some oil cowboys dreamed of upending the cartel, but oil companies adapted and, inevitably, took advantage of OPEC's structure.

Bush is a mediocre oilman, and absorbed all the floating prejudices in the trade. So I think, at least, that he was not inclined to upset a system in the Middle East that he, and his buds, were accustomed to. The revolution in his thinking occured after 9/11, when he was genuinely persuaded to act against his previous biases. In a sense, the belligerents were right: the War wasn't about oil.

But they were only half-right, and the half they were right about is typical. The thinking about the War didn't extend beyond the War. And that is turning out to be... another war. Actually, the second phase of the old one. The occupation, we think, is all about oil. The stupidity of the occupiers derives from their grand, and ultimately futile, scheme. This scheme is to resurrect that old dream of breaking OPEC.

In the oil business, such turn-about of projects are not uncommon. The wildcatter myth is a strong and persistent cultural constant among these people. And that is exactly what Bremer's administration is acting like: it's a wildcatter occupation.

Why are we in Iraq? Beyond the claims about security and democracy, there is always entwined a little phrase about promoting "free enterprise." When Colin Powell was last interviewed on NPR, he managed to slip that in to his responses so smoothly that he was never asked about it. However, it isn't a little thing: it is the only thing. The goal of selling off Iraq's nationalized oil business is at the dead center of the behavior of the occupiers.

It is, of course, futile. As we are learning, and will learn, oil in Iraq depends on a delicate and easily disruptible infrastructure of pipes. It is going to be quite easy for any resistance group to do significant damage to those pipes. But that is a minor technical point. The major point is that there is not only not a popular demand in Iraq to privatize the oil biz -- there is almost no demand to privatize the oil biz.

For that reason, the occupiers are keeping Iraqis from exercizing any authentic authority. But notice how these things build. As we try to move towards re-constructing Iraq in our fantasy image, we have to secure ourselves as occupiers. As we secure ourselves as occupiers, we alienate more and more of the occupied. As we alienate more and more of the occupied, we have to put off devolving power on Iraqis for fear that they will represent that alienation.

If, in fact, we simply wanted an ally in the Middle East, we had, and still, perhaps, have a perfect opportunity. We accrued considerable good will for evicting Saddam. How can that good will be dissipated most easily? By a continued resistance to giving power to Iraqis. The idea that Iraqis will like us more in the future, which is the premise of Bremer and crew, is counter-intuitive. That doesn't usuallly happen in occupations. Sure, when the US and Russia occupied Germany, and when Japan was occupied, that might have happened. However, that is because Germany and Japan were absolutely devestated. The firebombing of Tokyo that happened in one single night killed four times as many people as died on all sides in the late War. Having broken the spirit of the people, occupation was not resented -- at least consciously -- by the occupiers, who felt considerable guilt and shame. And even then, the traditional economic structures of both countries -- Japan and Germany -- survived pretty much intact. The Iraqi occupation is in the mode of Napoleon's occupation of Spain, Japan's occupation of China, or the Nazi occupation of France -- the people in those countries were not cowed. Or, one could say, in the case of France, gradually recovered their spirits. Iraqis in particular aren't cowed -- they don't feel defeated as a people.

Eventually, someone will ask Colin Powell about the 'free enterprise' he slips into his responses. Maybe in, what, a year?

Tuesday, July 08, 2003

Bollettino

Writing as hell

The casualty report, today, is all autobiographical. It has been forty days and forty nights since LI was last paid by a major client. They float us, and they don't care, and that is ... life. We wrote, in good faith, reviews that were as good as we could make them, to deadlines that the newspapers laid down, and in return we get... this. The Sunday before last we begged a hundred dollars from our brother. That check came on Thursday, and foolishly we deposited it, where it was eaten by the money that we owed the bank from bounced checks. Since then, we�ve had nothing.

It is now Tuesday, July 8, 2003.

Hmm. The rent check will bounce in two days. The phone isn�t paid. And the electrical company is going to put a 24 hour notice on the door in about a day.

We went to the store today, and took stock of our wallet. Five dollars. We bought a can of peas.

What to do? We don�t have a clue. The money that is coming in might as well not, by now. We are too far into this dark tunnel. We went for a walk around the lake and tried to think it out, but nothing suggests itself. Or, actually, much suggests itself, and none of it is to our taste. It is ninety degrees in Austin at the present time. This isn�t good weather to be on the street. And, really, we don't know how to be on the street. In another ten days, the AOL account will be history, so if we were going to continue this, we'd have to work from a library. And it isn't worth it. We have no credit. Yesterday, we were looking at our clothes. We have one presentable shirt left.

We are about done, here.

So, our guess is: this is the last post for a while. We can�t go on in this vacuum.

So, my companeros -- you'll have to read the papers yourselves.
Bollettino

Casualty report: Reuters reports three U.S. injuries yesterday, one from a land mine. Another mortar attack last night in Balad, no injuries. And two more Saddam tapes have popped up, although no Saddam to go with them. LI is reminded of the numerous pretenders that appeared in the time of troubles in Russia.

Berlusconi

Viewing the most rightwing leaders in the world right now -- Bush and Berlusconi -- one has to wonder if it is necessary to be quite that stupid in public. But of course, stupidity in public is actually a shock technique of power. It is a way of suddenly casting a light upon what is said and unsaid. Power over the distinction is power, indeed. And so misspeakings, or crudeness of various sorts, acquire the fascination of a dirty joke -- taboos that run just beneath the surface, employed on the surface, have the power to make us laugh, and in that laughter crystalize both disgust and complicity. Comparison between Bush's "bring em on" remark and Berlusconi's 'invitation,' as Le Monde delicately puts it, to a Germany deputy in the European parliament to play the role of a kapo in a film being shot in Italy, demonstrate the use of political stupidity, insofar as they signal to a certain constituency the utter contempt of the "leader" for the forms of negotiation -- the whole paraphernalia of democracy, with its indirections, procedures, compromises, and deliberately fractured powers. Stupidity on this level is a blow, a coup, a tactic.


In fact, Italian politics now gives us a rather dark scenario for a possible American future; at least the one that beckons if the FCC succeeds in taking apart restraints on monopoly media. Berlusconi is getting credit for escaping jail -- this has added to his prestige in Italy. He's the Robin Hood escaping the censorious prosecutor. For the same reason, his stupidity in making a crude joke in his first session as EU president adds to his credit. Although it isn't as though Italians get to watch the event themselves. As the Guardian has reported:

"While coverage elsewhere in the world centred on Mr Berlusconi's offensive remarks - made as the prime minister took the helm of the European presidency - news programmes in Italy presented the incident as a vicious attack by Martin Schulz, leader of the German socialists in the Strasbourg assembly, which provoked the jibe. One evening news show on Radio Televisione Italiana (RAI), dubbed over the prime minister's voice as he delivered the joke that prompted uproar in the assembly and led to diplomatic protests from Berlin. Having seen only TV reports of the "squabble" and a "small incident", the Repubblica editorial concluded:

"The average Italian cannot understand why foreign ministries are on the move over such a trifle."

Amid growing controversy over state television coverage in general, directors of the three RAI channels have been summoned to explain themselves at a parliamentary commission on broadcasting standards next week."

It is the jokes, the jokes that are killing us.

Monday, July 07, 2003

Bollettino

Stephen Nadler, in a review of Jonathan Israel's Radical Enlightenment, Philosophy and the Making of Modernity 1650�1750 published in the British Journal for the History of Philosophy, expresses the core idea of the Radical Enlightenment as being derivative, ultimately, of the thought of Spinoza -- or at least an interpretation of the thought of Spinoza:

"As Israel demonstrates at great length, and through the examination of a large variety of thinkers and an enormous body of published and archival material, �the essence of the radical intellectual tradition from Spinoza to Diderot is the philosophical rejection of revealed religion, miracles, and divine Providence, replacing the idea of salvation in the hereafter with a highest goodin the here and now�. The providential God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is an anthropomorphic .fiction, and sectarian religion nothing but organized superstition. And then there is the secular conception of eudaimonia, along with a rejection of monarchy (or even oligarchy) in favour of democracy."

We like to think of ourselves as the children of Spinoza, too -- that is, we subscribe, in broad terms, to the above program. So we were surprised, a couple of days ago, to be accused of having a soft spot for theocracy. A friend of ours who shall be nameless has very strong, negative feelings about the present party in power in Turkey. It is, she claims, the reincarnation of the Virtue party, and stands for the revival of an Islamic state. Now, we think she is probably right about a central current in the government of Erdogan; however, we think he probably pursued the only possible path in the lead up to the War. Our friend thinks he screwed the pooch -- he should have aligned Turkey, as is the tradition, with the U.S. The Turkish hesitancy was a definite signal to the Islamic states that Turkey is moving in the direction of Shar'ia.

To us, there's a certain ... well, vulnerability in the ideological shields available to a person of liberal sensibilities confronted with the revival of the theocratic impulse. The critical impulse that we have nourished has fed upon attacking and analyzing a secular order --- so we read our Dostoevsky, we read our Foucault, we concentrate upon the damage wrought by the erection of Western superstructures that enrolled populations in an order of production and exchange that was wholly alien to the symbolic order that proceeded it, etc. etc. But we thought the imp in the pre-capitalist, pre-enlightenment impulse was dead -- we thought we were dealing with treated pathogens. We thought ... or we didn't think, that God had been chased pretty thoroughly from the polis.

Apparently, he hasn't.

However, it won't do to retreat, to recapitulate the old gesture of totalitarian secularism. We know the wound there too intimately. That the theocratic direction of the party in power in Turkey is limited by the military is a scandal; it is a scandal, specifically, of the radical enlightenment, a failure in the core of the program. The scandal is shaped, as so often, by the utter corruption of the secular powers, socialist and capitalist alike; and by the brute force of the powers of coercion. In Iran, the convergence of stupid force and massive fraud was the outward shape and inward character of the Shah's regime. As Enlightenment collapses like an old Sadean fouteur in his castle of horrors, outside the forces of anti-Enlightenment turn ugly.

So -- we want to do something typically LI-ish, and examine the work of a French libertine from the seventeenth century, M. Gabriel Naude. Naude was the author of one of the first books of library "science" -- Advis pour dresser un biblioteque. He was also the author of a short treatise on the art of the coup d'etat, a phrase he invented. And finally, he wrote a book against the witch hysteria,
Apologie pour tous les grands hommes qui ont est� accusez de magie

The combination of info geek, demystifer, and authoritarian is, well, all too contemporary. Naude isn't as well known as his friend, Gassendi, but he was certainly known to humanists at the time. The book on libraries was translated by John Evelyn. The book on the politics of the coup d'etat was, if not read, at least practiced, in part, by Louis XIV.

As you know, we often promise to bite off more than three or four men with real jobs and libraries can chew. But we think we'll do this post some time.
Bollettino

Casualty report this morning: 3 Americans have been killed in the last 24 hours. 2 Iraqis charging American troops have been killed. 4 Americans were wounded in Ramadi.


There's a very nice article in the LAT this morning about Iraq's 'minister' of telecommunications, one Shakir Abdulla. Abdulla is a guerilla of the peaceful kind: a man who, with ad hoc equipment and an ever changing plan, is trying to put the telephone system back together again. With minimal help from the Americans, even though, presumably, some American slug is serving as an "advisor" to the group. As the article puts it:

"Like many Iraqis, Abdulla cannot understand how the governing U.S.-led occupation authority has allowed things to crumble so utterly.

"The coalition has a responsibility to create security. They created the situation that eliminated it," he said. "They must replace it."

In the meantime, the man must deal with a system that has no billing capability. A system that is more valuable in looted pieces than as a unit:

"So far, there has been little in the way of actual equipment delivered by the American overseers, Abdulla said.

"They are very cooperative, very nice people, but we didn't get any hard things from them," he said.

Repairing the telephone exchanges and building a new cellular system are, theoretically, not daunting tasks. The bombed-out exchanges can be worked around, and a skeletal wireless system is being installed.

"It is not only a technical problem," Abdulla said. "Technically, it's not very difficult. The difficulty is to have security. This is the most important issue."

An admirable instance of an enterprise being crushed, or that is one's pained sense, between a revanchist and accumulating Iraqi resistance and a clueless American occupation. And a brief glance at this newsletter article by a telecommunications group regarding the reconstruction of Iraq's system gives a much bleaker picture than the LAT. In fact, the two articles seem to be about two different worlds. According to Pulse, the Bremer people have been reluctant to start any national telecommunication project. They want such projects to be mounted in the indefinite future, by the Iraqis themselves. This heartening confidence in Iraqi autonomy, coming from the Bremer folks, is suspicious. Here's Pulse on the latest:

"Whether or not the State Department recommendation for a USAID contract will materialize is unclear. State has indicated that they are seeking to incorporate telecom infrastructure repairs into the already awarded Bechtel Capital Construction contract. If this were the case, the scope of telecom reconstruction would be limited to repairs and much smaller than indicated in the original State Department recommendations outlined above. Furthermore, to include telecommunications repairs under the already awarded Bechtel contract would require Congressional approval. In sum, the State recommendation seems to be a positive step, but the jury is out as to whether such a contract will happen any time soon -- if at all."

And here's the last graf, like the dying fall of some gut shot fat man:

"Circumstances under which future telecom contracts are issued are unclear. However, recent actions by the CPA and USG indicate that new contracts for large-scale telecommunications infrastructure will not be USG funded. Without USG funding, it is uncertain what company will be willing and/or able to pursue a contract that requires private or other forms of alternative funding. Iraq is far from being a safe/stable environment, and the cost of doing business there will be discouragingly high for the unforeseeable future." -- note: CPA=coalition provisional authority; USG=U.S. Gov.

The Iraqis have an uneasy feeling that the US purpose in Iraq is to render them perpetually helpless, a servile state . Reading PULSE's article, one understands how that feeling arises.
Bollettino

Casualty report this morning: 3 Americans have been killed in the last 24 hours. 2 Iraqis charging American troops have been killed. 4 Americans were wounded in Ramadi.


There's a very nice article in the LAT this morning about Iraq's 'minister' of telecommunications, one Shakir Abdulla. Abdulla is a guerilla of the peaceful kind: a man who, with ad hoc equipment and an ever changing plan, is trying to put the telephone system back together again. With minimal help from the Americans, even though, presumably, some American slug is serving as an "advisor" to the group. As the article puts it:

"Like many Iraqis, Abdulla cannot understand how the governing U.S.-led occupation authority has allowed things to crumble so utterly.

"The coalition has a responsibility to create security. They created the situation that eliminated it," he said. "They must replace it."

In the meantime, the man must deal with a system that has no billing capability. A system th Patriot
The Flag Shop is Out of Stock
I hang myself...via live telecast.

Coming live from my own funeral...the beautiful weather offered a nice shine,
Which is suitable for a full view of a forever altered skyline.
It's times like these I freestyle biased opinions every other sentence.
My journalistic ethics slip when I pass them off as objective.
Wondering how after it settles we'll
find who provided power to radical rebels. The Melting Pot
seems to be calling the kettle black when it boils over, But
only on our own soil so the little boy holds a toy
soldier... And waits for the suit and tie to come home. We
won't wait 'til he's older, Before we destroy hopes for a
colder war to end. "Now get a close up of his head..."
Makeshift Patriot
The Flag Shop Is Out Of Stock
Hang Myself...Half Mast


That's

Sunday, July 06, 2003

Bollettino

Here's an item from the NYT.


"Military families, so often the ones to put a cheery face on war, are growing vocal. Since major combat for the 150,000 troops in Iraq was declared over on May 1, more than 60 Americans, including 25 killed in hostile encounters, have died in Iraq, about half the number of deaths in the two months of the initial campaign.

Frustrations became so bad recently at Fort Stewart, Ga., that a colonel, meeting with 800 seething spouses, most of them wives, had to be escorted from the session.

"They were crying, cussing, yelling and screaming for their men to come back," said Lucia Braxton, director of community services at Fort Stewart."

And here is an item from Aristophanes:


LYSISTRATA We will explain our idea.
MAGISTRATE Out with it then; quick, or... (threatening her).
LYSISTRATA (sternly) Listen, and never a movement, please!
MAGISTRATE (in impotent rage)Oh! it is too much for me! I cannot keep my temper!

LEADER OF CHORUS OF WOMEN Then look out for yourself; you have more to fear than we have.
MAGISTRATE Stop your croaking, you old crow! (To LYSISTRATA) Now you, saywhat you have to say.

LYSISTRATA Willingly. All the long time the war has lasted, we have enduredin modest silence all you men did; you never allowed us to open ourlips. We were far from satisfied, for we knew how things were going;often in our homes we would hear you discussing, upside down andinside out, some important turn of affairs. Then with sad hearts,but smiling lips, we would ask you: Well, in today's Assembly did theyvote peace?-But, "Mind your own business!" the husband would growl,"Hold your tongue, please!" And we would say no more.

CLEONICE I would not have held my tongue though, not I!
MAGISTRATEYou would have been reduced to silence by blows then.
LYSISTRATA Well, for my part, I would say no more. But presently I would cometo know you had arrived at some fresh decision more fatally foolish than ever. "Ah! my dear man," I would say, "what madness next!" But he would only look at me askance and say: "Just weave your web, please;else your cheeks will smart for hours. War is men's business!"
MAGISTRATE Bravo! well said indeed!
LYSISTRATA How now, wretched man? not to let us contend against your follies was bad enough! But presently we heard you asking out loud in the open street: "Is there never a man left in Athens?" and, "No,not one, not one," you were assured in reply. Then, then we made upour minds without more delay to make common cause to save Greece. Open your ears to our wise counsels and hold your tongues, and we may yet put things on a better footing.
MAGISTRATE You put things indeed! Oh! this is too much! The insolence ofthe creatures!
LYSISTRATA Be still!
MAGISTRATE May I die a thousand deaths ere I obey one who wears a veil!

Michael Massing examines one of Bush's "expert" appointees in Iraq, a man named James Haveman. Here's his bio, starting from the point at which he was appointed "advisor" to the Health ministry:

"Haveman, 60, was largely unknown among international public health professionals. A social worker by training, he has no medical degree or any formal instruction in public health, and he hasn't been in the military. From 1991 to 2002, he served in the cabinet of John Engler, the Republican governor of Michigan, directing state health programs. Most of Haveman's recent overseas experience had come through International Aid, a Christian relief organization that provides health care and spreads the Gospel in the Third World."

It gets much worse. Haveman's expertise seems to be in closing down health care units in Michigan, under the ever egregious Governor Engler. He's an evangelical pur et dur. International Aid is an organization dedicated to preventing birth control whereever it happens, and bringing the heathen to the Lord. The former might be more than acceptable to Iraq, but the latter is bound to cause trouble. In fact, it is ridiculously bound to cause trouble. Could you appoint a person more likely to burn Iraqi sensibilities if you made a search?

Ah, but Haveman does have one thing going for him. He's a Republican activist.

The US made its position in Vietnam one bad decision at a time. Bush seems determined to make his bad decisions all at once, in big clumps.

Finally, a casualty report from Bloomberg:

"A U.S. soldier was shot and critically wounded in Iraq, bringing to at least 28 the number of U.S. casualties in the country in the past four days. The soldier, from the 352nd Civil Affairs Command, was shot in the head while guarding Baghdad University in the center of the capital, U.S. military spokesman Corporal Todd Pruden said in an interview. The soldier was taken to hospital, Pruden added.

Attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq have become an almost daily occurrence since the beginning of June. At least 26 have died since President George W. Bush declared an end to major combat operations on May 1. Six British soldiers were killed in southern Iraq in June."

We need a Lysistrata.

Bollettino

"A dearth of general information is almost necessary to the thorough-paced coffee-house politician; in the absence of thought, imagination, sentiment, he is attracted immediately to the nearest commonplace, and floats through the chosen regions of noise and empty rumours without difficulty and without distraction. Meet 'any six of these men in buckram,' and they will accost you with the same question and the same answer: they have seen it somewhere in print, or had it from some city oracle, that morning; and the sooner they vent their opinions the better, for they will not keep. Like tickets of admission to the theatre for a particular evening, they must be used immediately, or they will be worth nothing: and the object is to find auditors for the one and customers for the other, neither of which is difficult; since people who have no ideas of their own are glad to hear what any one else has to say, as those who have not free admissions to the play will very obligingly take up with an occasional order. It sometimes gives one a melancholy but mixed sensation to see one of the better sort of this class of politicians, not without talents or learning, absorbed for fifty years together in the all-engrossing topic of the day: mounting on it for exercise and recreation of his faculties, like the great horse at a riding-school, and after his short, improgressive, untired career, dismounting just where he got up; flying abroad in continual consternation on the wings of all the newspapers; waving his arm like a pump-handle in sign of constant change, and spouting out torrents of puddled politics from his mouth; dead to all interests but those of the state; seemingly neither older nor wiser for age; unaccountably enthusiastic, stupidly romantic, and actuated by no other motive than the mechanical operations of the spirit of newsmongering." -- Hazlitt

Swift and Johnson had denounced coffehouse politicians in the eighteenth century, but Hazlitt was, we believe, the first to really paint the species in all the colors of its modernity: that is, connecting the triumph of the "moderns" over the ancients and with the triumph of a new mode of knowledge -- the triumph of the sensationalism of the newspapers (or of the laboratory) over the precepts of authority. Newspaper knowledge was the parody, the sotie, of science. In the latter, all that is ephemeral is true; in the former, all that is true is ephemeral.

There's an obvious cultural contradiction in the mournful theme. Johnson, Swift and Hazlitt both lived as literary journalists. In Hazlitt's case, this contradiction achieved pervasive surface expression -- one of the constants in his essays is his dislike of the role of essayist.

LI is making these Wizard of Oz like literary reflections because we are about to duck into cultural contradiction ourselves. That is, we are about to swell about in full coffehouse politician regalia. So be warned.

The WP reported, this week, that Howard Dean collected 7 million bucks this quarter. This is more than any other candidate, for the quarter. The e WP responded to Dean's sudden pre-eminence by publishing articles heavy with disdain for the man. The WP is as offended by Dean as some Hollywood movie mogul might be by internet movie trading among teens. It just isn't business. The WP beau ideal is beau ideal is a 'centerist' Democrat in the JFK mode. As in the headline, Centrist In Debt To JFK: Living Religion, Honing Ambition The headline was about, of all people, Joseph Lieberman, whose likeness to JFK is well disguised. As is his connection to the accounting industry and his bullying of the SEC in the nineties, when the head of the joint was trying to reign in corporate fraud on the books. About that topic, the WP profile is discretely mum.

Compare and contrast the headline about Dean: Short-Fused Populist, Breathing Fire at Bush. The profile is a hatchet job through and through, picking through Dean's flip flops, and leaving heavy, winking winking signs that here's a man who doesn't have a chance against Bush. They treat Dean more like some slightly disreputable shock-jock than, say, as a 'centrist in debt to JFK.' Here's a sample:

"In recent months he has been called "brusque," "brash," "blunt" and "belligerent"; a few more choice words on his part, and critics will be questioning whether Dean has the diplomatic skills needed to be the leader of the free world.

One story circulating in Washington is about the time he met with the editorial board of Roll Call. Elections analyst Stuart Rothenberg, who writes a column for the Capitol Hill newspaper, asked Dean why, if he was so proud of signing the first same-sex civil union bill in the country, he had done so in a closed-door meeting rather than in a public ceremony, as a Democrat in Vermont had described. Dean, Rothenberg recalled, paused, leaned back in his chair and exclaimed: "That's [expletive]! Nobody from Vermont said that!"

"Sometimes Howard's tongue is faster than his brain," said Peter Freyne, a columnist for Seven Days, a weekly newspaper in Burlington, Vt. It doesn't help matters that Dean speaks off the cuff; out of hundreds of campaign speeches he has delivered, only four were written in advance. The rest were ad-libbed. "He's smart and energetic," Freyne said. "I've been calling him Ho-Ho for years, because he's like the little engine that could."

This is in stark contrast to the mellow tones that aureole Lieberman's moral agons as he ascends to that summit of all things good, the senatorial seat from Connecticut, at the conclusion of which we are given a dose of the true pap:

"All of this bespeaks a man of driving ambition, but it does not answer the question of what lies behind the ambition. What makes Joey run?"

Whether it's self-aggrandizement, selfish ambition or ambition to really do a good job, they all come out looking the same," said Peter Kelly, a Hartford lawyer and veteran of Connecticut and national Democratic politics. "It's really hard to picture Joe Lieberman as somebody who says I'm going to do this because it's going to get me something. That's just not the way the man thinks."

Lacking JFK's Charisma

Lieberman is 61 and, like so many others of his generation, he came of age politically with the 1960 election of Kennedy, the dashing Democrat from neighboring Massachusetts. Since Kennedy's assassination in 1963, all Democratic presidential hopefuls have paid homage to his memory, and none more so than Lieberman.

He describes himself as "still a Kennedy Democrat," almost suggesting that, if JFK were alive today, he, too, would be a member of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council." Etc., etc.

The subhead, Lacking JKF's Charisma would be humorous if the article wasn't so filled with kisses for Lieberman. Other subheadings suggest themselves: Lacks Orrin Hatch's Charisma. Lacks Nixon's Charisma. Lacks Gerald Ford's Charisma. Etc., etc.

But the WP is uneasily aware that, for some reason, Dean seems to be popular among voters. So -- in what will probably be the first of many similar articles -- they lightheartedly profile the antics of Karl Rove, Bush's Svengali, who wants Bush to opposed Dean -- signal to voters, don't get your panties in a wad for this Dean character.

Under the headline, Rove spends the fourth rousing voters for Dean, they portray a prank of Karl Rove's -- getting a bunch of Republicans to cheer for Dean at a parade -- in an attempt to insinuate that Dean is a sure loser. Insinuate might not be the word. Contemptuously state, in so many words is probably closer to it. It the old trick: don't vote for the sucker candidate - vote for the centrist loser.

So what, coffeehouse politicians everywhere wonder, should Dean do?

He should confront this contempt head on. Not in the attack mode of the media is too conservative -- that is silly. Rather he should confront the contempt as unprofessional. This is a line of reasoning that will resonate with the WP. Dean really has nothing to fear from quotes that compare him to the little train that could. But he does have a lot to fear from the press using him for target practice.