Saturday, January 27, 2007

Stacy Shiff tells us what we secretly knew all along — liberals are messier than conservatives. Judging by my desk I should be making a CEO’s salary. Then there’s Maureen Dowd on Darth Cheney, using words like “transcendental daftness" and "exquisite kind of lunacy."

Donald Keyser, the Asia expert and former senior State Department official, was finally sentenced to prison this week. Among other things, Mr. Keyser confessed to keeping more than 3,000 sensitive documents — 3,559 to be exact, ranging from the classified to the top secret — in his basement. His wife had pointed this out to him. I’m going to go out on a limb here: in the history of the world, no one has ever been happy to be told to clean up his room.

Did you already know that it was Get Organized Now month? So the National Association of Professional Organizers has decided, gamely drawing up our to-do list for us. It includes clearing the clutter from under the bed and adopting the “less is more” motto at home. Today’s tip: “Empty your under-the-sink bathroom cabinets and clean them out.” Personally, I have unwavering faith in 20-year-old shoe polish. As for “less is more,” it’s un-American.

It’s not easy to square our materialistic mess with our efficiency-obsessed, Purell-possessed, Hold Everything-enabled, Outlook-ordered times. Help, however, is on the way. From the lineup of counterintuitive volumes that prove that everything bad is actually good for you, even if it makes Frenchwomen fat, comes “A Perfect Mess.” In its pages David H. Freedman, a journalist, and Eric Abrahamson, a Columbia Business School professor, argue that “moderately disorganized people, institutions and systems frequently turn out to be more efficient, more resilient, more creative and in general more effective than highly organized ones.”

Passions run high on this one, as nearly 80 percent of us report from the home front. Or ask the citizens of Bradford, Pa., which, according to the book, fired its police chief because of his messy desk.

Mr. Abrahamson and Mr. Freedman bundle together Bach’s improvisatory genius, Joyce’s magic and Alexander Fleming’s moldy lab to prove their point. Theirs is the only volume I know that attempts to make sense both of Governor (no fixed schedule) Schwarzenegger and Albert (random molecular activity) Einstein, that equates procrastinating with “prioritizing,” and that worries less about dust bunnies of mammoth size than hobgoblins of little minds. By extension, Mr. Abrahamson and Mr. Freedman offer the real reason why Martha Stewart went to jail. On Page 219 they flat-out declare that “mess and disorder can be beautiful.” This is the kind of ammunition you’re always looking for but never have, especially when there are 3,559 classified documents lying in your basement. It was time to call Mitch.

Mitch cross-indexes his DVDs, alphabetizes his spices and has introduced the Dewey Decimal System into his home. On Mr. Abrahamson’s scale — you have to admire anyone who can classify disorder — Mitch is either an “order terrorist” or an “order pervert.” Neither is what I called him when we shared an apartment.

What did he make of the fact that Apple had gone to all that trouble to put categorizing features on the iPod, only to discover that the shuffle function was the hit? Did he know that messier offices correlate with higher education and higher pay? That jaywalking saves lives? More pedestrians die in crosswalks than outside them, which finally explains the population of law-abiding Canada.

Mitch was unimpressed by the anecdotal evidence. Also unapologetic. “We all have our thresholds,” he granted. It is very hard to argue with a man whose computer cables are sorted by type. The shuffle function only reminds him to edit his playlists more precisely, to avoid the clunkers. He does not jaywalk. Yesterday he had rolled his quarters and taken them to the bank.

He perked up only when I mentioned “The Secret Lives of Liberals and Conservatives,” the work of a group of psychologists including Dana R. Carney of Harvard and John T. Jost of New York University. It seems that order, too, has a political orientation. If F.D.R.’s notoriously messy White House was not the tip-off, then this week’s revelation that Senator Chuck Schumer is a highly unmotivated bed-maker — is there an Oscar Madison of the U.S. Senate? — should have done the trick.

You guessed it: liberals turn out to be messier than conservatives. They have more clutter, more documents, more books, more maps. Conservatives not only embrace more order, but they buy more organizational tools and cleaning supplies.

We may never learn why Donald Keyser did what he did, at home or abroad. But after three illustrious decades in the Foreign Service, he should have known better than to take a liberal approach to basement storage. Partisanship doesn’t pay.

Stacy Schiff is the author, most recently, of “A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France and the Birth of America.” She is a guest columnist.

Here’s Maureen Dowd on Darth Cheney.

Dick Durbin went to the floor of the Senate on Thursday night to denounce the vice president as “delusional.”

It was shocking, and Senator Durbin should be ashamed of himself.

Delusional is far too mild a word to describe Dick Cheney. Delusional doesn’t begin to capture the profound, transcendental one-flew-over daftness of the man.

Has anyone in the history of the United States ever been so singularly wrong and misguided about such phenomenally important events and continued to insist he’s right in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary?

It requires an exquisite kind of lunacy to spend hundreds of billions destroying America’s reputation in the world, exhausting the U.S. military, failing to catch Osama, enhancing Iran’s power in the Middle East and sending American kids to train and arm Iraqi forces so they can work against American interests.

Only someone with an inspired alienation from reality could, under the guise of exorcising the trauma of Vietnam, replicate the trauma of Vietnam.

You must have a real talent for derangement to stay wrong every step of the way, to remain in complete denial about Iraq’s civil war, to have a total misunderstanding of Arab culture, to be completely oblivious to the American mood and to be absolutely blind to how democracy works.

In a democracy, when you run a campaign that panders to homophobia by attacking gay marriage and then your lesbian daughter writes a book about politics and decides to have a baby with her partner, you cannot tell Wolf Blitzer he’s “out of line” when he gingerly raises the hypocrisy of your position.

Mr. Cheney acts more like a member of the James gang than the Jefferson gang. Asked by Wolf what would happen if the Senate passed a resolution critical of The Surge, Scary Cheney rumbled, “It won’t stop us.”

Such an exercise in democracy, he noted, would be “detrimental from the standpoint of the troops.”

Americans learned an important lesson from Vietnam about supporting the troops even when they did not support the war. From media organizations to Hollywood celebrities and lawmakers on both sides, everyone backs our troops.

It is W. and Vice who learned no lessons from Vietnam, probably because they worked so hard to avoid going. They rush into a war halfway around the world for no reason and with no foresight about the culture or the inevitable insurgency, and then assert that any criticism of their fumbling management of Iraq and Afghanistan is tantamount to criticizing the troops. Quel demagoguery.

“Bottom line,” Vice told Wolf, “is that we’ve had enormous successes, and we will continue to have enormous successes.” The biggest threat, he said, is that Americans may not “have the stomach for the fight.”

He should stop casting aspersions on the American stomach. We’ve had the stomach for more than 3,000 American deaths in a war sold as a cakewalk.

If W. were not so obsessed with being seen as tough, Mr. Cheney could not influence him with such tripe.

They are perpetually guided by the wrong part of the body. They are consumed by the fear of looking as if they don’t have guts, when they should be compelled by the desire to look as if they have brains.

After offering Congress an olive branch in the State of the Union, the president resumed mindless swaggering. Asked yesterday why he was ratcheting up despite the resolutions, W. replied, “In that I’m the decision maker, I had to come up with a way forward that precluded disaster.” (Or preordained it.)

The reality of Iraq, as The Times’s brilliant John Burns described it to Charlie Rose this week, is that a messy endgame could be far worse than Vietnam, leading to “a civil war on a scale with bloodshed that will absolutely dwarf what we’re seeing now,” and a “wider conflagration, with all kinds of implications for the world’s flow of oil, for the state of Israel. What happens to King Abdullah in Jordan if there’s complete chaos in the region?”

Mr. Cheney has turned his perversity into foreign policy.

He assumes that the more people think he’s crazy, the saner he must be. In Dr. No’s nutty world-view, anti-Americanism is a compliment. The proof that America is right is that everyone thinks it isn’t.

He sees himself as a prophet in the wilderness because he thinks anyone in the wilderness must be a prophet.

To borrow one of his many dismissive words, it’s hogwash.


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