CPUSA 2008

A Pro-Obama Argument:

Bthun points out that we've been unfair, in printing endorsements of Obama only when they come from foreign terrorists. So here is another view, from Americans who stand ready to support him.

The record turnout in the Democratic Presidential primary races shows that millions of voters, including millions of new voters, are using this election to bring about real change. We wholeheartedly agree with them.

While we do not endorse any particular candidates, we do endorse and join in the anti-Bush/anti-right wing sentiments that are driving so many people to activism.

The fact that the Democratic frontrunners are an African American and a woman speaks volumes on how far the country has come. Hillary Clinton’s campaign has attracted large numbers of supporters, especially women. Other Democratic contenders presented some excellent proposals to reverse the devastation caused by the Bush administration’s policies.

Barack Obama’s campaign has so far generated the most excitement, attracted the most votes, most volunteers and the most money. We think the basic reason for this is that his campaign has the clearest message of unity and progressive change, while having a real possibility for victory in November.

As we see it, however, this battle is bigger than the Democrats and Republicans, even though those parties are the main electoral vehicle for most voters today. Our approach is to focus on issues and movements that are influencing candidates and parties.

We will work with others to defeat the Republican nominee and to end right-wing control of the new Congress.

The activism growing out of this election will help guarantee a progressive mandate no matter who is elected.
I think that is pretty representative of the argument as I've seen it framed.

Lost Bearings

Yeah, His Bearings are Lost:

Today's headline: "Barack Obama Sacks Advisor over Talks With Hamas."

OK, McCain wins this round big time.

But this isn't a point-keeping blog, and we already know who we're voting for. So let's tell the whole story, and see what the deeper truth at work here is.

Such talks, he stressed, were related to his work for a conflict resolution think-tank and had no connection with his position on Mr Obama’s Middle East advisory council.

“I’ve never hidden the fact that in my job with the International Crisis Group I meet all kinds of people,” he added.
I know of the ICG. It's an organization of the type of the United Nations -- that is, it was founded as an element of Anglosphere influence in the world. Just as we were the primary influence in the UN's formation, so too was the US and UK responsible for the ICG. It is still mostly dominated by Anglosphere "internationalists," the folks who believe that the US military has an important role to play in the world -- under UN leadership, directed by the Security Council, with input from the EU and other allies.

Its recent recommendations on Iraq aren't half-bad, unlike the "leave at any costs" philosophy so much of our Left here at home has. It has significantly more faith in the UN than I have, but it also is not hostile to the use of US power. It interacts with the US military, and in fact, the ICG rep gave a Hooah speech of sorts to female officers on the occasion of Women's History Month.

(And who was that speaker? Why, Jane Arraf, who was CNN's Baghdad Bureau Chief when they covered up for Saddam. Just who I'd go to for an honest appraisal of the situation in Iraq. But she's 'in the club,' so everything is always forgiven. Anyway, as I said, the specific recommendations aren't bad, so in spite of my distaste for her, she obviously did her job this time.)

What does that mean? It looks to me like Obama's lack of loyalty and courage has burned him again. Once again, he's thrown someone who has helped him and believed in him under the bus, because he's afraid of the conflict. This time, it was someone he really needed -- the weakest area of his candidacy, aside from his personal flaws, is his unspeakably bad foreign policy.

This is the third time, if you count this guy and also Samantha Power -- a smart and informed woman. Whatever disagreements I've had with her on policy and concept don't arise from her being ill informed: they're just honest disagreements about the best way to do things, and the most important things to do.

This guy from the ICG probably knew far more about the structure and function of the US military, and its recent history, than Obama does himself. Obama should have explained to his supporters that working for ICG is a qualification for a left-leaning Administration, not a disqualification. This is exactly the kind of person they should want to have on board: someone who is in favor of engagement, as Obama is, but isn't hostile to the US military and in fact has some understanding of its function and role in the world.

I suppose if he gets elected, he can hire them back on anyway. Maybe they'll understand about the knife in the back.

I don't, though. Loyalty and honor matter in a man, and this obsessive fear of conflict does not bode well for any potential President. He won't fight, not even for his friends and supporters.
"Civilization is hard work."

-Commentor TmjUtah on Jeff Goldstein's explanation of why people should try to figure out what other people mean when they say something, and why this is would be a useful thing for judges to be able to do.

It helps some if you read Goldstein out loud to yourself as you go along.
O, Generous Prince:

Apparently Daniel thought I was in peril of jail for violating the law against having a house without Tabasco Sauce (I'm sure there must be a law about that somewhere). Either that, or he owns stock in the McIlhenny Company.

For what to my wondering eyes should appear today but the UPS truck, with a great big giant package. My wife says, "It's for you. What did you order?" I didn't order anything.

Nevertheless, behold:

Eight bottles of Tabasco's finest recipes.

Many thanks, Daniel, my friend. I promise to use them all.

Oh, My

Oh, My:

And I thought evil defense contractors were bad:

In a speech in 1971, Vice-President Spiro Agnew accused CBS News of disseminating "deceptive, self-serving propaganda". He quoted from reports by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Special Subcommittee on Investigations of the House Commerce Committee. These reports mentioned a CBS documentary called "Project Nassau",an effort to depose the Francois Duvalier regime in Haiti. "The House Subcommittee found that CBS had, in effect, financially subsidized a planned 1966 invasion of Haiti in order to make a documentary on the event."
Slow news week? Commission a war!

Obama accuses

Obama Accuses:

We wouldn't want any name calling.

For him to toss out comments like that, I think, is an example of him losing his bearings as he pursues this nomination. We don't need name-calling in this debate.
Comments like what?

"...a Hamas adviser's apparent affinity for Obama. The adviser, Ahmed Yousef, said in a recent interview: 'We like Obama and hope that he will win the election.'"

Wouldn't want the fact that actual terrorists endorse you to interfere with the debate.



Apparently Code Pink is having some trouble attracting participants to their ongoing protest in front of the Berkeley Marine Corps Recruiting Office. So much so that they have enlisted (pun intentional) the help of practitioners of the dark arts to foil Marine Corps recruitment and end the war. Read the article here.

"Women are coming to cast spells and do rituals and to impart wisdom to figure out how we're going to end war," Zanne Sam Joi of Bay Area Code Pink told FOXNews.com.

I am sure that wisdom is the last thing that will be imparted by this parade of horribles. Nevertheless, I look forward to the final score in this contest:

United States Marine Corps 1
Witches 0



Feddie over at Southern Appeal has an informative post concerning Sen. Grassley’s assault on our First Amendment guarantee of religious freedom. The word needs to get out about this abuse of government power.
Who makes that now?


Or this:

Or this:

Or this:

I'm sure you'll like this:

How about this:

Or this:

Or this:

Can't forget this:

So I say lots of people are making that now. Most of those clips have dragged the music out of the movie, but I think that's similar to playing the overture there without the rest of the opera.

But let's consider Wagner again: Listen to Tannhauser, and you're listening to 1845.

Let's go back a bit:

That's 1724. And I'm going to make a wild ass guess and say Wagner never heard that. But you just did. (Maybe Wagner did hear that, but I betting not because I don't think anyone was playing the Viola de Gamba in 1845 in Germany, in a style of music written a century earlier, in France, for a French King.)

And why did you hear that? Its the technology.

Let's go back another 100 years:

I wonder if Wagner ever heard Monteverdi. Anybody know if Monteverdi got performed in mid 19th century Germany?

And go back even earlier:

I'm sure Wagner never heard that. But now we have.

Now watch these guys mash it up:

Looks pretty fearless too. I wonder what they've heard that influenced and inspired them and how they heard it--and who are they going to inspire someday? Sure, it isn't Wagner, but hell, he was a genius. I bet if Wagner was alive today he'd be making films.

Its the technology part everybody misses here. Its part of the problem with 'classical' music in the 20th century. The original article walked right past it:

We all know that the invention of recorded sound around 1900 made possible an extraordinary dissemination of the riches of the classical repertoire – largely composed for the rich and powerful – to the mass of ordinary people. On the gramophone, the radio, television and, subliminally and hence more powerfully, through the movies, the classical sound in all its variants (even the supposedly rebarbative confections of the Second Viennese School) has insinuated itself into the culture at large. Never before have so many people listened to, or liked, so-called classical music. Yet this extraordinary triumph has culminated in a malaise, a feeling, widespread in the musical profession and elsewhere, that classical music is in crisis and that things have never been so bad. Classical music feels abandoned, left behind as history has moved on, sulking in its tent as the real cultural action happens somewhere else.
(emphasis mine)

Through the technology, everything old is new again. There is so much of it, that one could not listen to it all. And because we are all different, we can now follow our different likes. And through the technology, we don't have to go to an opera house to listen to Piercello play Tannhauser. We can record him and listen to him while typing our blog posts.

So what's been lost? Its not so much lost as it is found. We as listeners have access to all styles of music from all history now. And other cultures too. All because of the technology.

Grim asks "Where are the geniuses like Wagner now?" Which is a fair question (although I'd not call it a "problem" per se).

I don't have a answer, only a hunch. And that hunch is that those geniuses are out there, but they're doing something else. What? well, what ever they want to. The time and place that Wagner grew up in was a more circumscribed culture than was now exists in nearly any Western country Maybe any country. Perhaps he's playing on his xbox right now. I'm not sure.

As to what happened in the 20th century--well, there were close to 100 million people killed off before their time, and who knows what they would have done. Those thread were snipped. One cannot know what would have happened.

Also, musical tastes and forms have changed. Wagner was writing for an orchestra, which is just one kind of musical form. When Piercello gets back, perhaps he can give us some idea of how that has changed over the years.

Or take Jordi Savall, the guy in that video you so liked. He's not composing anything new, he's reviving old stuff. he maybe arranging it, and intrepreting it, but its not really the creation of "new" music, the way it would be if he say, wrote an new opera about the Reconquista or something, even if was in the style of Monteverdi. And that idea there, the revival of the old--especially in terms of music developed in the last century, and to my observation that was new. Before, the old went out style and stayed that way, for the most part.

I googled this phrase: "revival of ancient music" and look what popped up:
WASHINGTON LIKES OLD TUNES.; A Revival of Ancient Strauss Music Due to Mrs. McKinley. (Open the .pdf file) That was in 1899, and Strauss' "Blue Danube" is described as "Ancient". (And notice that the Marine band was chucking Tannhauser aside to play Blue Danube). The New York Times thought it was noteworthy enough to comment on it. Think about that for a minute.

And if this wikipedia article on Early Music Revival is anywhere near accurate, although it started in the 19th century, it seems to have taken off with the advent of recording, and is described as 'fully underway' in the 1950's. When you could record anything you'd ever want to record. To reiterate: this had to have an effect on 'new' music.

Rio Bravo

Fierce River:

Dissent Magazine praises John Wayne (hat tip, Arts & Letters Daily):

Let me offer my own overstatement: If I were asked to choose a film that would justify the idea of America, it would be Rio Bravo.
One of the best elements of Rio Bravo is the way that people of good heart find ways to contribute to the defense in spite of their limitations. In the case of the young gunfighter, oddly, it's his sense of caution that is his primary limitation -- he has to get over the idea that he shouldn't get involved in trouble he doesn't have to.

In the case of Dude, it's drink, and in the case of Walter Brennan's character "Stumpy," it's age and a crippled leg. Chance tells him he can't come to the final confrontation because he'd have to 'move, and move fast.' "You give me a reason," Stumpy admits. The next thing you know, there he is anyway with a shotgun and a bunch of extra shells -- and showing up unexpected, cuts off an enemy flanking maneuver that would have been dangerous for the companions.

The movie is really about a particular kind of friendship, the frith we've talked about here from time to time. As Doc Russia put it:
We hold our ground,
We stick to our guns,
and we stand by our friends.
That's one reason I find myself experiencing genuine disgust and anger at Obama's turning his back on the man who gave him his start, and helped him become a success in Chicago and beyond. The Reverend has his problems, and there's much in what he says to be angry about. But, whatever his weakness, he knows how to fight for what he believes in. When Obama was ready to fight for him too -- not to agree with wrong ideas, but simply to affirm that they were friends and that it mattered -- I was impressed. When he turned his back on a man who had long supported him, I find I got genuinely angry about it. That is no way for a man to act to those who have been his friends.

We've all got our weaknesses and flaws -- I know I have mine. That's one reason it's important to forgive each other when we are broken, to help each other stay strong, and to stand by our friends.

A man who won't do that is no man at all.

A man who will and does is part of a fierce river, rio bravo, that can slowly carve its image in the world. Such an image, based on friendship and freedom, ferocity and forgiveness: like a mighty river, it adds beauty to creation.


On Power:

What is power?

Recently, The London Times wrote on orchestral music, and the difficulties that touched it in the 20th century. Our Eric would say that it never got over World War I; it certainly never got over World War II.

When it came to the great contest of the 1914–18 war, German propagandists like Thomas Mann characterized it as a conflict between the Kultur of Germans and the Zivilisation of their French-led opponents; between, in musical terms, the deep, metaphysical character of the German tradition, and the superficial joie de vivre of the French.

The price paid for classical music’s proximity to power was heavy, and the central chapters of Ross’s book lay bare the moral somersaults composers turned, the degradation into which they sank. The cultural theory which the totalitarian regimes of the twentieth century had inherited from the nineteenth gave artists a dangerous potency, the all too useful capacity to become, in Stalin’s words, “engineers of human souls”. Stalin’s amateur interest in classical music – he reputedly owned ninety-three opera recordings, writing critical remarks on his record sleeves – did nothing to protect composers like Prokofiev and Shostakovich from the cultural policy of a regime which saw no role for anything that smacked of autonomous art. Shostakovich’s output veered between the cryptic privacy of his chamber music, the crassness of his patriotic cantatas and songs, and the still-contested “irony” of the major public works. Ross’s analysis of the possibility of irony in music is at one and the same time sceptical and appreciative. “To talk about musical irony”, he writes, “we first have to agree what the music appears to be saying, and then we have to agree on what the music is really saying. This is invariably difficult to do.” His concluding advice is that one should “stay alert to multiple levels of meaning”, making Shostakovich’s symphonies, the Fifth or even the supposedly propagandistic Seventh, “rich experience[s]”. The consequence of Ross’s superbly nuanced historical accounts of both Prokofiev’s and Shostakovich’s music is to send one back to the music with new ears.

In any aspirant totalitarian regime, cultural producers like musicians have to be overseen, goaded, persecuted and petted. Hitler’s Germany was different only in that a musical vision of politics was uniquely central to the nightmare that was played out in the Reich between 1933 and 1945. It wasn’t that music was too important not to be politicized, more that politics was music in another form; “Politics aspired to the condition of music, not vice versa”, as Ross puts it. The threatening rhetoric of Hitler’s coded language about the Jews from the Kroll Opera speech of 1939 on the eve of war, and the speeches from the period of the exterminations themselves, are drenched in Wagner, and Ross acutely picks out the references to Parsifal in the Führer’s tirades.... For Ross, the Nazi infatuation with music is the crux of his story.
So fell angels.

For listen to this, once:

Theodore Roosevelt, who has been quoted here often lately, once said of America's frontiersmen that they were "a grim, stern people, strong and simple, powerful for good and evil, swayed by gusts of stormy passion, the love of freedom rooted in their very hearts' core."

That phrase, "powerful for good and evil," is the thing that underlies what is at work here. Our ancestors had a power that we have almost lost, a strength that has almost gone out of the world.

Here, in this last century, is where heroes and demons fought. This was the weapon that fell broken from their hands. It lies before us. We have turned from it in fear: but there it rests, for the one strong and brave enough to forge it new.

Do you let a wry mouth turn you aside from that? Wagner did not hide from such things: neither from demons nor broken swords. Cynicism, an affliction with irony, they are shelters for the fearful. Here is the real thing: joy and fury, love and fire, with no looking away. That is the thing we have almost lost.

It is not too late.

If you take it, strike for the good.

UPDATE: To my very great pleasure, I learn that we have a musician among us who has just performed this piece. He offers an insightful comment that I would like to encourage you to read.

Thank you sir, both for the comment, and for your work.
I Don't Know How That Could Have Happened:

So you saw this New York Magazine article by a journalist worrying about the Obama bubble:

If Obama is deemed to be an effete, out-of-touch yuppie, then the effete-yuppie media Establishment that’s embraced him must be equally oblivious and/or indifferent to the sentiments of the common folk.
Is it possible? Well, let's see how the journalist himself describes Obama's appeal:
Born on the very cusp of the baby boom and Generation X, he’s both oldish and youngish. And as a skinny, athletic, gentle-seeming, virtually metrosexual man, he nearly splits the difference on gender as well.
With appeal like that, I don't know how those yokels could possibly think him effete.

Really, though, this goes straight to yesterday's complaint against him. He won't fight, not even for those who will fight for him. Hillary Clinton's snide remark -- "Why can't he close the deal?" -- turns out to be an insightful critique.

He won't fight for it. He won't fight at all. Yet he wants to be President in a time of war.



From several, including Christopher Hitchens:

I vanished to Cuba and spent a hot summer in a camp in the province of Pinar del Río, where sixty-eighters of every stripe had forgathered, ostensibly to plant coffee but mostly to drink it (and rum) and to discuss new horizons of revolution. Cuba was torn between grim austerity for its people and flamboyant hedonism for its revolutionaries, and one’s elementary socialist principles managed to register the gross injustice[.]
Woof. That's an admission to shake the roof.

Wright II

The Reverend Mr. Wright:

The first time Obama spoke about his preacher of twenty years' standing, I said that I was impressed by one thing: that he did not disavow the man. That took courage, and showed a certain decency of character. The worst and most damning thing about Obama's more recent statements is that they show the Reverend Mr. Wright was right about him: he is doing "what politicians do."

That's too bad, because choosing between the pair of them, I like Wright a lot better.

I don't like his ideas, but I don't have to like the ideas to like the man. There are several things about him to like. He was a Marine, and served also in the Navy. He speaks his mind, straight and honest. Honesty is a virtue, even when you're honestly wrong. By God, tell me what you think! We can sort out whether you're right or not, as long as you're ready for the fight.

For example, his ideas about blacks having different brain functions than whites? That's a genuine scientific theory: we can actually test it, and if it's wrong, we can prove it's wrong. There's no dishonor in being wrong about a question of science. Tell us what you think might be true, based on your experience, and let's put it to the test.

I mention his being a former Marine and Navy sailor. I have a cause for mentioning it, which is based in Chesterton:

And what is the matter with the anti-patriot? I think it can be stated, without undue bitterness, by saying that he is the candid friend. And what is the matter with the candid friend? There we strike the rock of real life and immutable human nature.

I venture to say that what is bad in the candid friend is simply that he is not candid. He is keeping something back -- his own gloomy pleasure in saying unpleasant things. He has a secret desire to hurt, not merely to help. This is certainly, I think, what makes a certain sort of anti-patriot irritating to healthy citizens. I do not speak (of course) of the anti-patriotism which only irritates feverish stockbrokers and gushing actresses; that is only patriotism speaking plainly.... But there is an anti-patriot who honestly angers honest men, and the explanation of him is, I think, what I have suggested: he is the uncandid candid friend; the man who says, "I am sorry to say we are ruined," and is not sorry at all. And he may be said, without rhetoric, to be a traitor; for he is using that ugly knowledge which was allowed him to strengthen the army, to discourage people from joining it....

The evil of the pessimist is, then, not that he chastises gods and men, but that he does not love what he chastises -- he has not this primary and supernatural loyalty to things.
Wright is not that kind of man. He does love the thing he chastises. He has fought to defend it, and can likewise fight to reform it. If he believes 9/11 is America's "chickens coming home to roost," that is a proposition we can debate -- but he offers it as a man who has not flinched from serving America.

If he calls God to damn America for putting black men in prison, we may debate whether it is America or the community that permits and defends rampant criminality among its members that is more likely to draw down the curse of Heaven. Yet there is no doubt he is trying to raise up his community, and believes that the broader America would likewise be improved by his suggestions. He may be wrong, but he is not motivated by a secret desire to hurt the nation.

In this, he compares well with Code Pink, and with Michelle Obama -- 'For the first time in my life, I am proud of my country.' These people are the ones that Chesterton would call "without rhetoric, traitors." They do not love the thing they chastise, save in the moment it submits to them. That is not supernatural loyalty: it is not the loyalty of the patriot.

Wright seems to love and to fight for what he loves, and good for him. I'll meet a man like him in the midst of the field any time he likes, and break lances with him honestly.
The wind blew out from Bergen to the dawning of the day
They ride and race with fifty spears to break and bar my way
I shall not die alone, alone, but kin to all the powers
As merry as the ancient sun, and fighting like the flowers!
How white their steel! How bright their eyes! I love each laughing knave
Cry high and bid him welcome to the banquet of the brave
Yea, I will bless them as they bend, and love them where they lie
When upon their skulls the sword I swing falls shattering from the sky
That hour when death is like a light, and blood is as a rose -
You never loved your friends, my friends, as I will love my foes!
Give me a man who will speak his mind honestly, and fight for what he loves! God save his soul, whatever becomes of his body -- or his ideas.

The Reverend Mr. Wright is such a man, and the more I hear from him, the more I like him. Barack Obama is a coward for abandoning him, after sitting in his pews for twenty years while the crowd answered "Amen!" at the call from the pulpit. If he sat there and yelled "Amen" with them, he is the more a coward for running now: and if he did not, he is the more a coward for not calling out his opposition all along.

No coward is fit to be President. But that is almost a minor matter compared to the betrayal of Wright by Obama. What a thin, weak, worthless coward, to run from a man in whose shadow he so long hid, and who so long nutured him! Wright is a vibrant man, a fighter, a man I might respect. Obama has proven himself in this matter the worst sort of creature, without loyalty, without courage, without heart. Give me a man like the Reverend Mr. Wright; and never one like Obama.



Cassandra writes about suing your students:

Ms. Venkatesan lectured in freshman composition, intended to introduce undergraduates to the rigors of expository argument. "My students were very bully-ish, very aggressive, and very disrespectful," she told Tyler Brace of the Dartmouth Review. "They'd argue with your ideas." This caused "subversiveness," a principle English professors usually favor.
Quelle horreur! Can one imagine anything more unprecedented or alarming to a progressive eco-feminist than a classroom full of American college students arguing about ideas? Unless, perhaps, it is the prospect of a classroom full of young people Questioning Authority?

Clearly the dominant patriarchal hegemony is rife with rigid, authoritarians threatened by anyone who challenges their ideas.
The New Criterion published a piece by Roger Kimball called, "What was a Liberal Education?" It makes a useful companion piece.

I believe that the point of education is to build careful, rational, insightful minds; and to give those minds the background knowledge to understand the world and address its problems. The building blocks of education are logic, mathematics and critical thinking: to which capacities are added history, philosophy, literature and a clear understanding of the scientific method. You should have a brain that works rationally, and a clear understanding of the history of the world and the West, the debt you owe to those who came before, and the duty you have to preserve those gains for the generations to come. If you have that, you have an education.

If you got something else out of college, I'm sorry for you. It is not, however, too late to learn on your own.

Dining in the Wilderness

Dining on the Road:

The New York Times apparently believes that it constitutes a great adventure to eat in a chain restaurant. Places like Chilis, Outback Steakhouse, and the Olive Garden are written about as if the reporters were amateur anthropologists writing from a 19th-century expedition to Polynesia:

You go out the back of the sprawling Westchester mall and across a narrow street lighted by the dull glow of a Crowne Plaza Hotel and there it is, a ground-floor box sandwiched between entrance ramps to the parking garage for the smaller Westchester Pavilion mall....

On a recent Saturday night, a companion and I threaded our way through the crowded holding pen beside the host’s station. Table for two? The teenagers staffing the post slid their eyes down the long list of names as though working a particularly difficult problem on an AP statistics test. “Ummm, 70 to 75 minutes,” one finally said. I’m not sure what was more unnerving, the length of the wait or the precision of the estimate.

We were handed one of those coasterlike disks that light up when your table has been called. There were no seats in the bar or waiting area, of course. They had long been snared by people who appeared to have taken up semipermanent residence and were perhaps even having their mail forwarded.

We tried the hotel bar across the street. Would the beeper signal reach? One nursed beer later, only 45 minutes had passed, but as we wandered back to within reach of the restaurant door, the beeper erupted in a mini-Vegas light show.
Exciting stuff, no doubt, when you are the sort of person who nurses a beer for 45 minutes, and is willing to admit it in public.

What struck me most about the reviews was how often they mention the children. A couple of the reviewers had children of their own, and brought them along; but all the reviews mention that, man, there are a lot of children here. I guess I've been to about half the restaurants on the list at one time or another, and a couple of them multiple times, but I don't remember being struck by the presence of children. One wonders what these poor folk would do if they were required to eat in a McDonald's or Chick-Fil-A, complete with plastic playground.

We don't do a lot of eating in restaurants, both for health reasons and because -- with a little practice -- you can make better food than you can buy in a restaurant. But especially on cross-country road trips, we do eat in chain restaurants by the highway. Here's my recommendations for any hipsters who may find themselves forced out on the road:

1) The Texas Roadhouse: good chili, good burgers, good steaks. Not so good beer, but if you're driving, you're not drinking.

2) Longhorn: The Texas Cheese Fries are good. Their take on taquitos are good. The steaks are fine. The beer selection is better, so if you've reached the end of your trip and have a hotel to hand, stop here for the last meal of the day.

3) Cracker Barrel: Beans and greens, sweet tea anywhere in the USA. Their biscuits and cornbread vary by region, which is interesting -- you'll get sweet cornbread and drop biscuits in some places, and proper biscuits and salty cornbread in more civilized regions. Warm fires in the winter, and checkers.

4) Ruby Tuesday's: Used to be better. However, the buffalo burgers are still OK. I like buffalo meat better than beef, and around the Hall, that's what we keep on hand.

5) Applebee's: The only one of these restaurants reviewed by the Times. I can't think of any of their food I really care about one way or the other; but somehow, whenever we go there, we seem to have a good time.

Two kinds of food that no nationwide highway chain knows how to make well: barbecue, and pizza. If you want a good meal of either one of those, you'll have to ask the locals what's all right where you are.