I idly ran across the fact that I share a date of birth with former Pixies drummer Dave Lovering, who I saw opening as The Scientific Phenomenalist for Frank Black a few years back at Berbati’s Pan. Then I saw from his biography that we also shared some educational (electrical engineering) and employment (Radio Shack) experiences.

One really big difference: I have absolutely no sense of rhythm.

McGovern for Change

Eighty-six years ago today, in the little town of Avon, South Dakota, George S. McGovern was born.

The son of a Wesleyan Methodist minister, McGovern entered college at Dakota Wesleyan Univertisy in Mitchell, South Dakota in the fall of 1940, where he began a degree in history that was interrupted by his deployment as a B-24 bomber pilot to the European theater in 1943. He flew thirty-five missions, winning the Distinguished Flying Cross for his actions during a flight in which his plane was seriously damaged.

After the war, he returned to finish his degree, then briefly studied for the seminary at Northwestern University before returning to his first interest: history.

For a few years, he taught at Dakota Wesleyan, the school where he met his wife, Eleanor, during the war, but in 1953 he accepted the challenge of the state Democratic chairman to rebuild the party in solidly Republican South Dakota.

A short stint in the House and his political work led to President John F. Kennedy appointing him as the country’s first director of the Food for Peace program. He ran for and won the 1962 Senate campaign in South Dakota while suffering from an attack of hepatitis picked up from a contaminated needle used to give him a yellow-fever injection. In the White House.

In the Senate, McGovern used his sense of history attempt to affect the conventional wisdom held by both Democrats and Republicans with regard to foreign policy. His first floor speech in 1963 — coming just a few months after the Cuban Missile Crisis — was titled “Our Castro Fixation versus the Alliance for Progress.” It concluded with these words:

It is no longer possible to separate America’s domestic health from our position in world affairs.

Yet he’s been labelled as an “isolationist” for the past 45 years.

McGovern voted for the Gulf of Tonkin resolution that gave President Lyndon Johnson the authorization to use force against North Vietnam. This is how he described the incident in his 1976 autobiography, Grassroots.

I was uneasy about the request, despite private assurances that it was primarily a ploy to defuse the Vietnam issue during the presidential campaign. As I walked to the Senate floor with Gaylord Nelson he showed me an amendment which said in effect that nothing in the resolution should be construed as changing the American policy of limited intervention. NElson and I went to see Senator J. William Fulbright, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and the floor manager of the resolution. Fulbright reiterated the plea that we had to help Johnson against Goldwater. We were just backing the President on his Tonkin response, not giving him a blank check for war. The resolution was “harmless,” Fulbright insisted. It would have to go to conference if there was an amendment and that would frustrate Johnson’s purpose — “to pull the rug out from under Goldwater.” Nelson agreed to withdraw his amendment in return for a colloquy on the floor in which Fulbright emphasized the resolution’s limited effect.

I accepted ther scenario, though I was still disturbed. Only Senators Wayne Morse and Earnest Gruening voted against the Tonkin Resolution; they were truly right from the very start. My vote for the resolution is the one I most regret during my public career. It violated my own record against the Eisenhower resolution authorizing American action at presidential discretion in the Middle East. I should have known better than to rationalized out of my conviction in the Tonkin case. Later I commisserated with Bill Fulbright; he was just telling Nelson and me what Johnson had told him. He was more than to make up for his own mistake in the turbulent years ahead. The lesson the Tonkin vote taught me — never to trade what I see as a truth for a winking assurance in a back room — probably explains why I now have a habit of speaking out publicly what some of my colleagues in the Senate prefer to say privately.

McGovern, of course, lost the 1972 general election to Richard Nixon. Many say that the reason he lost is precisely because wasn’t willing to compromise on some issues. But a lot of the blame for his loss can be placed on the lack of vision the leadership of his party, who didn’t grab that brass ring when it went by 36 years ago. preferring instead to hunker down and try to be more “tough” than the criminal enterprise that was the Nixon administration. There was an opportunity nearly four decades ago to change the way America interacted with the rest of the world, and George McGovern pointed the way.

At 86, he’s still pointing, but I don’t know if the chance is still there.


I’m beginning to see more smart cars out and about. The other day as I was driving back to the house in the morning, I saw a yellow and black hardtop waiting at a light, just a couple of blocks from my house.

Then, this afternoon, I walked out of the barbershop on Hawthorne to discover that while I’d been in there, another (or the same) yellow and black smart was parked right in front of the door (I’m betting that the owners were in the newly-reopened Nick’s Coney Island, next door). Then I saw that the number on the license plate was just off in the last digit from ours — which we got from the dealer — so it was probably the next car sold at smart Center Portland.

I would have left a note, but I didn’t have a pen on me.


General Wesley Clark got himself into trouble a couple of weeks back when he responded to a remark from CBS Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer made about how Barack Obama didn’t have the experience of riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down by saying “Well, I don’t think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president.”

Perhaps Clark had in mind this quote from then-Speaker of the House Henry Clay, who wrote a letter in 1825 mentioning Andrew Jackson, the hero of New Orleans, who was running in a field of candidates for president (including Clay and the contested winner, John Quincy Adams):

Mr. Adams you know well I should never have selected, if at liberty to draw from the whole mass of our citizens xor a President. But there is no danger in his elevation now, or in time to come. Not so of his competitor, of whom I can not believe that killing two thousand five hundred Englishmen at New Orleans, qualifies for the various, difficult, and complicated duties of the chief magistracy.

From PBS’s Andrew Jackson: Good, Evil, and the Presidency.

Check the Math


Barring a career-destroying scandal, it’s hard to come up with a scenario (aside from very popular third party candidate) such that either major party candidate drops much more than a point or 2 below 40% in the general election. In those landslide Republican wins, Carter got 41%, Mondale got 40.6%, and Dukakis got 45.6%.

The Mondale loss actually was a landslide win for the Republicans. He did worse in the electoral college than George McGovern in the 1972 election (13 for Mondale vs. 17 for McGovern).

And that point or two below 40%? McGovern got 37.3% of the popular vote.

Better-Managed Imperialism

Some years ago, I wrote a little letter to The Nation in response to a review of The Bell Curve by the eminent political scientist Adolph Reed, Jr., agreeing with him wholeheartedly but adding my own wry little take on things. It wasn’t well received by Reed, and he wrote a somewhat scathing response, which was published directly after my letter (which I think was the only one of mine The Nation ever published). Kind of scary.

Nonetheless, I’ve always admired his style, and it’s good to see someone else on the other end of the skewer, especially when I can’t help but agree, in this excerpt from a take on the Obama campaign:

Lesser evilists assert as indisputable fact that Gore, or even Kerry, wouldn’t have invaded Iraq. Perhaps Gore wouldn’t have, but I can’t say that’s a sure thing. (And who was his running mate, by the way?) Moreover, we don’t know what other military adventurism that he – like Clinton – would have undertaken to make clear that he wouldn’t be seen as a wimpy Democrat. As to Kerry, even though like all the other Dem presidential aspirants who voted for it, except Edwards, he claimed later that he thought he was voting for something else, he did vote to invade Iraq, didn’t he? And, moreover, during his campaign didn’t he say that, even if he’d known then what he knew in 2004, he’d still have voted for it? No, I’m not at all convinced that the right wouldn’t have been able to hound either Gore into invading Iraq or Kerry into continuing the war indefinitely. Sure, neither Dem would have done it as stupidly and venally as Bush, but that’s no comfort to the Iraqis, is it? Nor does it suggest a break from the military interventionism – old school imperialism – that’s defined our foreign policy increasingly since Reagan. Obama is on record as being prepared to expand the war into Pakistan and maybe Iran, now apparently even generically anywhere in “Mesopotamia” (NYT, 7/14/08), after he does the Randolph Scott move and “talks” to his targets a couple of times. He’s also made pretty clear that AIPAC has his ear, which does it for the Middle East, and I wouldn’t be shocked if his administration were to continue, or even step up, underwriting covert operations against Venezuela, Cuba (he’s already several times linked each of those two governments with North Korea and Iran) and maybe Ecuador or Bolivia.

This is where I don’t give two shits for the liberals’ criticism of Bush’s foreign policy: they don’t mind imperialism; they just want a more efficiently and rationally managed one.

Beemer smart

Another weekend, another trip to the Grocery Outlet, and another smallish car photo opportunity.

I was kind of admiring of the BMW Z3 convertibles, and if I’d had the scratch, I would have bought one long before the smart became available, but the 2001 Z3 (which now sells used for less than the smart cost) is only rated for 20mpg in the city (probably because it has two-and-a-half times the horsepower of my cabrio).

I’ll just think of all the gas I’ve saved.

Four Gallons

I hate needles.

And as anyone who knows me is well aware of, unless I’m really intrigued by or incensed about something, it’s unlikely I will get off my fat, lazy ass. I’m not a joiner of groups. I don’t have any friends I hang out with. I don’t do any civic good works.

I know that makes me a bad person, all around.

What I do to try to make up for it in my own small way, however, is bleed. So — more or less regularly for the past twenty years — I’ve given blood to the American Red Cross, most of the time at the Oregon Trail chapter’s headquarters on North Vancouver.

I say “more or less regularly” because today I donated my 32nd pint of blood, bringing me up to four gallons so far. You can give every eight weeks, and if I’d been really regular I could have hit four gallons in just under five years instead of twenty. But I really hate needles.

My first donation was while I was at Reed, and I was surrounded by petite female students chatting happily with their phlebotomists. I, on the other hand, started sweating profusely and going into shock, so they yanked my rig, laid me flat, and made me wait for thirty minutes before I left. I knew then I’d found my calling.

Apparently, my body really hates to give up its blood. My veins are always hidden somewhere. Rare is the time when I’ve had just a single person trying to mark the sticking point. About a third of the time, the needle has been inserted multiple times to find the vein. One time my blood just decided to stop flowing and it began to clot in the line. But I keep going and marvelling at the people around me whose bags seem to fill almost magically in a couple of minutes, arriving after me and leaving before me, while I sit there trying to beat the timer they use to cut you off, dribbling AB+ into mine.

There have been a couple of stretches of time when I wasn’t able to donate for one reason or another. The year after my pulmonary embolism while I was on blood thinners, I had to keep telling the volunteers who called: “Not yet.” However, years of donating blood by then actually helped during that whole incident, especially the forty-five minutes in the emergency room the doctor and nurses spent trying to find veins for the IVs. Everyone had to get in on that action.

It’s my minor penance for not doing volunteer or any other types of good works. I know it’s not enough. But I really do hate needles.

And they seem to hate me.