Saturday, June 30, 2007
Several experts and officials said the technology behind the foiled bombings seemed to be amateurish. While the attackers did attempt to detonate the bombs using cell-phones, “they didn’t go off because there were not top-grade people putting them together,” the western official said, speaking in return for anonymity because he was not authorized to brief reporters.Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent was published 100 years ago, and it proves beyond doubt that 1907 and 2007 are indistinguisable other than some minor advances in the internal combustion engine and the readier availability of pornography.
-"Britain Hunts for Suspects in Failed Bombs"
In it, Verloc, a lazy fellow-traveller of anarchist and communist radicals has spent the latter decades of his life in the pay of the Russian embassy as an informer and occasional agent provocateur. He's also an informant for the police. One day, he is called to the embassay and upraided for failing in the provacateur portion of his agency. Off goes Verloc, who acquires a bomb and recruits his wife's beloved, mentally retarded younger brother--whom Verloc boards and cares for--to plant the bomb. Needless to say, poor Stevie blows himself up on the way to his target.
GEN. TURGIDSON: Mr. President, if I may speak freely, the Russkie talks big, but frankly, we think he's short of know how. I mean, you just can't expect a bunch of ignorant peons to understand a machine like some of our boys.
Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, friends and countrymen, loonies and toonies. I am off to the cheese counter at Pennsylvania Macaroni to fortify myself with dairy, and afterwards, I shall go to Whole Foods. I cannot say if I shall ever return again, and if I shall come home to you, I cannot say how my body shall be broken or soul shattered at the cruelty of Man and the sorrow of life under tyranny. I know only that our cause is just, our methods necessary, our resistance demanded by our fidelity to the Lord our God and the principles of the Revolution. Vive la France libre !
Friday, June 29, 2007
If it's Friday, Richard Posner must be advocating secret trials. Eh. Yawn. Whatever. Posner's reputation, such as it is, is an arithematical farce, constructed of five arbitrary assumptions and seven forms of long division, which are meant to prove that if you had applied the same made-up methods to identically random numbers, you'd have come to the same conclusions. Fine. 90% of statistics are made up on the spot, as they say.
But it's hard to cavil with Posner's basic notion that Americans by culture and temperment are uniquely ill-suited to the occasional car bomb. I think it's fair to say that the haleness and heartiness of Americans has been on the general decline for years. When Ronald Bailey says he thinks "that there still plenty of Americans who are stirred by Patrick Henry's admonition," I do a jaw-on-the-floor, eyeballs-on-springs double-take. Where are these Americans? The Americans I know empty the grocery store of white bread, canned goods, and milk upon rumor of rain.
This is another way of saying that perhaps democracy really is the perfect form of government. It always achieves for the people precisely what they want, which, as it turns out, is less democracy.
"The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race." A tautology masquerading as a koan. Awesome!
What I find charming is that everyone, including Mr. Chief Justice, goes out of his way to affirm the moral imperative of an integerated society, to lament discrimination, and to identify racial diversity as a laudable, just, and necessary goal. Now conservatives fond of the "color-blind society" turn of phrase want you to believe--and are still stridently convincing themselves--that there is no particularism to see here, thank you very much, move along and quit your rubbernecking. But that's ridiculous. Integration is an explicitly racial goal. It is literally an accounting of races. These are the inescapable facts. You can't ask a man to move a mountain and deny him shovels.
Meanwhile, I think we can all agree that since white people are no longer racist, it must be the black people's fault.
I ate Korean last night, and all those great little sidedishes (marinated, grilled fish bones!) reminded me that Italian cuisine also has a zillion little contorni that make a meal. Here are two I particularly like.
Grilled Golden Beets
Beets are a tragically underused vegetable. They have extraordinary variety, remarkably complex flavors, and they're one of the most beautiful vegetables--ringed like a tree and veined like a leaf. This recipe uses golden beets, which have a milder sweetness and greater delicacy than standard red beets. Their sweetness is accentuated with citrus and fresh herb, while their underlying, savory woodiness is brought out with the addition of a bit of hot pepper and spice.
3 golden beets of a decent size
extra virgin olive oil
Peel the beets and cut them into cubes of about a half inch per side. Halve each lime and then divide it into eighths. Grind the cumin with a mortar and pestle--you want only a pinch, not even enough to fill an espresso spoon. Toss the beets and limes with a spoonful of olive oil, the cumin, salt, pepper, and another tiny pinch of cayenne pepper. Make a fold of aluminum foil, place a sprig of fresh tarragon at the bottom, and then fill it with the beets and limes. Toss it on a medium grill. (You could also do it in a 400 F oven.) I have no idea how long this takes because every time I've cooked this recipe, I've been stoned out of my gourd. I'm sorry. That's just how it is. The juice from the limes will boil, and you'll hear that. Let it keep going for 10 or 15 minutes to steam through the beets. Poke a hole in the container with a fork tine or chopstick. If it smells done, it's done. If it still smells a little fresh-cut, raw-vegetal, give it five more minutes.
Fennel and Celery Salad
Good celery, fresh celery has a very subtle flavor, but it's got a lot of it. Raw fennel, meanwhile, has a very distinct anise flavor, but it is actually quite delicate when properly dressed. A perfect vinaigrette brings them together.
1 large or 2 small fennel bulbs
4 or 5 stalks of celery
extra virgin olive oil
First juice a lemon and finely dice a shallot. Dissolve a little salt in the lemon juice. (Always mix salt into your acid before you add oil in a dressing. Salt will not disolve in oil.) Let the diced shallot steep in the juice. The acid in citrus fruit or vinegar removes the pungency of raw shallot, but preserves their flavor. Set aside.
Cut the fennel bulb and cerlery into even, quarter-inch pieces. Toss with oilve oil in a bowl. Then add the lemon juice and shallots. Toss again. Finish with freshly ground white pepper.
Thursday, June 28, 2007
In tumid prose, something called the Fjordman exposits that the success of Habermasian Christian socialism at diffusing Tolkenien fantasism throughout post-Roman France and England is responsible for Charles Martel's success in bringing Zoroastrianism to China, whereas et hoc ergo proctor zippitus hippitus bippitus boppitus boous, Muslims are all COMMIES! But there's really no point in reading beyond the first paragraph:
My post about the impact of Christianity on Western culture generated some interesting comments. Several readers stated that Christianity is flexible, unlike Islam, and that the United States, perhaps still the most devoutly Christian of Western nations, also has the most dynamic military forces. And it was the Americans who dropped nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which hardly indicates that Christians have to be soft.The image of Jim Morrison screeching "Mother! I want to fuck you . . . whaaaaa-all night looo-onnng!" while flapping his cock at that crowd in Florida appears before me. Yes indeed. From the Sermon on the Mount to Johannite moral asceticism to the Manhattan Project, Christianity leads the way.
This project to lump the whole span of history from the pre-Charmlemagnian dark years in Europe right up to the present moment into one perpetual, Christological Gemeinschaft is nothing if not audacious. Fortunately for those of us in the mocking arts, audacity is no antidote to idiocy, and is often its attendent. This argument was written with the intent to sound learned, and the natural result is that it sounds like a crackpot's pamphlet. This way to the center of our hollow Earth, ladies and gentlemen. I hold no brief for Western Civ, which is largely predicated on making trouble for everyone else, but it deserves better defenders than these.
Every several months since the Iraq war began, some Republican offers a Big Lebowskism: "Nothing is fucked? The goddamn plane has crashed into the mountain!" A dogged group of prog-blog optimists and newspaper opinionists dust off an underused adjective and pronounce such-and-such an "honest Republican." Someone avers that "the debate" has now "moved forward." Then the Republican reneges, and the prog-bloggers go back to plotting the Most Excellent Election of 2008, in which they will win the presidency, and the Democrats, at last, will be ready to steer the ship from the shoals, just as soon as they have all 50 governorships and all nine seats on the Supreme Court. 2024 or bust!
Dudes and dudettes, I shall tell it to you straight the fuck up. These skeevy bastards are not going to end this war. How do I know? Because it satisfies the two conditions of truth: it is regrettable, and it is predictable. This idea that some dynamo of mature judgment will rise from the Republican party and shout, "Stop!" is a psychosis induced the the total failure of the Democrats to do anything about anything. There are arabs to kill and money to be shuffled and permanent bases to be built and a series of self-reproducing imperatives of America's presumed foreign priorities that must be satisfied in order to make room for the next-flowering set of unexamined idiocies. These people have sunk costs that they still intend to recover.
In this and several other items, Jim notes the convolutions and wanderings of our various nominal allies in Iraq. He's also noted that when sheiks explode, those who are there are there, and those who aren't, aren't. This is to say that animosity in Iraq doesn't sit on the neat triangular diagram that's come to represent this conflict. The phrase, "The enemy of my enemy is my friend," isn't true, but truistic. As I've said before, the more likely scenario is that the enemy of my enemy means we're ALL fucking enemies.
To drive the point home, the Times notes that:
The violence is also causing American deaths. U.S. military officials said a soldier was killed during combat operations Wednesday when a roadside bomb exploded near his vehicle in eastern Baghdad. Four soldiers were injured. On Tuesday, a Marine was killed in combat in al-Anbar Province west of the capital, the military reported Wednesday."A show of force meant to raise the sense of security and lower the rate of violence in the capital." Now there's an extraordinary statement. Leaving aside the plain fact that this has achieved exactly the opposite of its intended effect, the slogan by itself typifies the peverse mindset of our authoritarians. When does a "show of force" ever, anywhere, "raise the sense of security." This is not the neighborhood cop tipping his hat as he strolls on by. This is the SWAT team breaking down your neighbor's door in the middle of the night: not comforting--loud, disruptive, terrifying.
Those deaths brought to 92 the number of U.S. troops killed so far in June. There have been 322 U.S. casualties in Iraq since the beginning of April, making the last three months the most deadly period for U.S. forces since the war began in March 2003.
U.S. officials have warned that troop fatalities were expected to spike this summer with the surge of 28,500 additional U.S. soldiers in high-profile positions in and around Baghdad -- a show of force meant to raise the sense of security and lower the rate of violence in the capital. Violence dipped for a while after extra troops started arriving in February, but recent data shows that some kinds of attacks and killings are back to January's pre-surge levels.
U.S. casualty rates also are on the rise because the additional troops are engaging in higher visibility patrols at the same time that insurgents are fighting back with larger numbers of ever-more-powerful and sophisticated roadside bombs, the leading killer of U.S. troops in Iraq.
I think we all recall with slight horror and minor nausea the once-popular notion that George W. Bush was going to be the "CEO President." (Fucks the shareholders. Takes his big payout. Retires to a ranch.) No one was especially keen to grapple with the question of what the fuck it was supposed to mean, but on its bare ruined choirs of a meaning, there hung a connotative fog suggesting something vaguely businesslike, dispassionate, and efficient. Any such sense rests perilously on the odd lionization of the American business model, which is neither much of a business nor much of a model. But to the extent that any sense of Bush's innate corporatism remains in force, one reading of our Iraqi muddle is that a deeply wrong and monumentally flawed project has been directed by people for whom the phrase "human resources" is something other than a cruel, Brechtian joke about the condition of man. Consider how closely American efforts at discerning allies in Iraq resemble the fevered organizational charting that follows any office upheaval. All our efforts in this regard are nomenclatural, but we treat the names like fetishes. None of the titles has any independent meaning, and Bob in Finance on the fifth floor still thinks that Janice in Marketing on the fourth is a towering bitch and probably stealing his bagels. Revenge.
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
There are plenty of free market dogmatists unwilling to grapple even remotely seriously with necessary provision and the public sphere and the interest of society in justice and fairness and the fact that all of these things cost money. I am not certain that it's fair to them to count Andrew Sullivan among their ranks. That isn't to say that Sullivan makes no claims about markets. He does. It isn't to say that he isn't influenced by the doxologies of conservative economics (which, I'd add, are not necessarily the same as "free markets"). He is. I wouldn't deny that when push comes to tax cut or health comes to savings account, Sullivan will almost uniformly offer a default defense of the inscrutable wisdom of the invisible hand. He will.
It's just that Andrew Sullivan's only real interest is Andrew Sullivan, and economic dogmatism, or dogmatism of any kind, would require that Andrew accede to universal terms other than his own, whatever they happen to be at any given moment in time.
At issue is health care, and let me say that in the Libertarian Utopia, I too support market solutions. But neither I nor the Reasonoids nor anyone has ever figured out precisely what those solutions are, and meanwhile for a minor portion of the cost of killing hundreds of thousands of Arabs and garrisoning the entire world, we could make some basic provisions for universal public health. This, I think, is a reasonable trade-off. All the complaints about so-called socialized medicine--that it limits patients choice; that patients lack bargaining power; that there are varying degrees of rationing; that there are waiting lists--describe features of our own bastard system and any viable system for a nation of millions of people. Modern medicine is exceedingly complex, multi-tiered, and labor-intensive. It is expensive, difficult, and at the end of the day, it is staggeringly individualized, requiring people trained for over a decade to exercise thousands of independent judgements about individual bodies any one of which might aid or end a life. No system of free exchange is going to ameliorate these circumstances in the forseeable future. The notion that the sorta-kinda-employer-paid, sorta-kinda-distributed-risk, sorta-kinda-government-subsidized system in America is the last bulwark against a socialized age in which innovation and discovery ceases for lack of funds is a fatuity, absurd on its face.
As is the case with our habits in war, this discussion--too kind a word, surely--is notable in the insistent way it ignores and abstracts the real physical plight of those it affects. Sullivan, a man with HIV, should know better. It is unconscionable that we should argue about the necessary margins to sustain pharmaceutical R&D budgets when people who work and have families nevertheless lack access to basic care, and instead must tax our overburdened and overexpensive system even further by jumping through the emergency-room loophole for matters treated better, more efficiently, and more cheaply at the family doctor. Providers are undercompensated by Medicare and Medicaid; they're obliged to offer treatment when an unisnured stumbles through the door; they are often unable to collect on those bills; the costs of these things are passed along to the rest of us. That is not the functioning of a rational market. There is nothing good about it. Change it.
June 27, 2007
Re: Political blogging
Dear The Internet:
Not every half-assed crazitude yammered forth by your political opponents is a "talking point."
[Stanley] Kurtz is all for small-d democracy. At least when its outcomes agree with his prejudices.Ordinarily, I'm in favor of any slings and darts aimed in the direction of America's journal of remedial conservativism, but here the personalization is a little unfair. We all love small-d democracy when its outcomes agree with our prejudices, and we all run for the Constitutional Republic when the bovine majority threatens to do something expensive, stupid, and rash.
I've got nothing much to add to the gasping banality of Roger Kimball's book review of The Dangerous Book for Boys except to note that there's something weird about his titling it "Boys Will Be Boys . . . pleased by this garden of earthly delights." The garden of earthly delights, recall, is the center panel in Hieronymous Bosch's great triptych. You know. The panel in which lascivious, fallen mankind luxuriates and fornicates and never quite glances stage left where the poor bastards are suffering in hell. I suspect this is cultural illiteracy on Kimball's part, but I'd sure like to believe that I'm wrong and a dedicated ironist slouches through the offices of The Weekly Standard.
It is less the venality of the Washington Post and its sisters in the legacy media of the United States that creates and propogates this nonsense as it is the boudless stupidity of the general readership that allows it.
In 1974, a weary Congress cut off funds for Cambodia and South Vietnam, leading to the swift fall of both allies.I won't be the first to say the following: Cambodia wasn't an ally, but a target, and the Khemer Rouge whose murderation Michael Gerson exquisitely regrets was in its gory success a product of American bombs before "Congress cut off funds for Cambodia." (And really, quel euphemism. Did we have to wrap our funds in explosives and drop them from high altitude?) But the even more pertinent point is that there was no South Vietnam. There was never a South Vietnam. There was only Vietnam, and the rest of it was the fever dreams of American and Soviet cartographers, spies and counterspies, attachés and station agents, French cynics and American optimists. Here was a people that once lived for ONE THOUSAND YEARS under the domination of Chinese empires, and yet we imagined the geopolitical expediencies of a brief epoch to be more meaningful than this collective cultural identity? Millions--literally, millions--of Vietnamese were killed in the pursuit of this fantasy. Yet there remains a large portion of America that's still convinced Vietnam represented at worst a mistake or a failure of patience.
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
Let me get this straight. John Warner and some other grises sans éminence from the Republican Party are going to tell the dauphin to dump Dick Cheney and hop on the Fred Thompson express. This is what passes for political prognostication in Washington these days? The Attorney General of the United States lied repeatedly to Congress under oath in public testimony, and no one did jack shit about it. So now some Republicans, hoping to retake the White House for a third term, are going to screw their screwed party even further by hopping over to 1600 Pennsylvania and attempting a palace coup in which the sitting attack dog will be replaced with a julepized B-list actor with the face of a Hanna Barbera bulldog?
The National Review cruise sounds like a blast. "We have written off Britain to the Muslims," a Canadian judge (and founder of Canadians Against Suicide Bombing!) tells the article's British author. "Come to America."
In between outbidding each others' hysteria and promulgating crude, vaguely eugenic notions about hordes and birth rates, bonding seems to occur around a universal feeling of besiegement. Paris: surrounded by Muslims! This is a common theme. One of the curious features of Paris is that it remains a vast theatre of leisure, wealth, and luxury, one of the greatest centers of global commerce and culture--along with New York, London, and Tokyo--even while beset by such horrors. It remains as yet oddly unlike Baghdad. Il se fait se demander.
It was a dark and stormy night. "General Patton!" I cried.
"I am here," replied Norman Podhoretz.
"Just as well," said I.
Upon my word, the provocations of Hamas have not produced a Churchill with the gumption to throw his own pug at someone, like he did when he met Hitler. The forces of international socialism are near; 15% of America has joined the communist youth league.
Hernando de Soto says we should give people property and not food. Bully, I say.
Romeo, Romeo, whereforth art thou Romeo.
From the halls of Montezuma to the Shores of Tripoli.
A mosque in hand is worth two in the bush. Elementary, my dear America.
The United States Supreme Court wants you to understand that schools have no right to "suppress speech on political and social issues" just because administration disagrees. The United States Supreme Court also wants you to understand that the use of drugs--and illegal drugs alone--is neither a politic nor a social issue, neither thought nor substance, thing nor form, positive nor negative, up nor down, vegetable nor animal nor mineral, alive nor dead, this nor that. It is instead a singular categorical imperative obviating all rights, all privileges, and all the tenets of common sense, for if any person below the age of majority experiences even a momentary lacuna in prohibitory huffnstuff, he or she shall surely die in a rancid shooting gallery with a dirty needle in the arm and a vast overdose of phony China white in the veins.
And Clarence Thomas thinks students have no rights, but you knew that.
Monday, June 25, 2007
Rod Dreher, the Crunchy Con Man, reads All Quiet on the Western Front and discovers that skepticism toward warmaking and a doubtful mind toward those who agitate for combat doesn't spring universally from absolutist pacifism. That a grown man with a family and career has just chanced upon this realization is indicative of something, but I'm not sure how to say it with derision appropriate to its cosmic stupidity.
And yet it's not so uncommon to hear adults, educated beyond most of their peers, relatively aware of Western history, reasonably well-read, and not prone in their daily lives to bouts of simplemindedness, express the utmost shock at the mendacity underlying the war in Iraq. Somehow, though almost every great work by current or former soldiers exposes the horror, cruelty, absurdity, and barbarism of war--the way it cripples the body and maims the soul if you survive--they have to be reminded again and again that warfare isn't a method of national therapy.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,--
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
On the one hand, the idea that climate change will bring about the end of the human species is foolish. The human species survived the last great ice age, and there are now seven billion of us, which is a lot to kill off. On the other hand, it's clear that the current arrangement of coastal populations and population ceters will be detrimentally affected by rising sea levels, and if you care about that sort of thing, well, then you care about that sort of thing. If rising temperatures do indeed cause polar ice to melt, all that chilly water could affect the flow of warm-water currents in the oceans, turning Northern Europe icy and freezing Britain out even as the lower-latitude temperate regions become balmier. In other words, there are consequences short of extinction that may be worth contemplating.
Emily Yoffe, meanwhile, suggests that because she once heard a frightened little girl say something, and because it involves Al Gore, we should probably all shut up about it. The usual idiocies obtain, including the confusion of weather-report meteorolgy and climate science. The last sentence of her article implies that empirical certainty does not account for the delicate sensibilities of the human soul, to which the only response is that there's a reason we reserve the phrase "rest in peace" for the dead.
I suppose if a fellow could join the Hitler Youth and-ah den become-ah da Pope, or if a fellow could join the SS and then become the president of Austria, or if a guy could sort of forget to mention joining the SS and then become Günter Grass, then there's no reason to carp about a national service plan right here in the Peoples Republic of United Statesistan. "Everyone was doing it." "I had no choice."
This plan came to my attention via Nicholas Beaudrot at Ezra Klein's place, who concisely notes that such plans are incoherent mashes of populopatriotic national boosterism that take for granted the premise that a bunch of 18-year-olds cleaning highway berms and sponge-bathing the elderly because THEY MUST will produce a genreation of better--read "more compliant"--citizens. After suitably mocking this silliness, Beaudrot inexplicably offers a tentative endorsement: "But it seems like it's worth considering." But didn't you just say it's not worth considering? Well, qu'est-ce qu'on peut faire alors ?
The first comment is so priceless that I'll quote its entirety:
Properly structured to get impressionable young people out of their homogenized, sanitized suburbs or out of their hopeless ghetto slums, as the case might be, such programs might actually do some significant good. It is not as if American high schools are doing much with the time of these kids."Homogenized, sanitized suburbs!" "Hopeless ghetto slums!" Oh, we are in for a wild ride indeed. Their home lives miserable and their mandatory education having failed to inculcate a sufficiently Democratic Ask-Not-What-Your-Country-Can-Do-For-You-ism, let us put them to work! Lest they join a "criminal youth gang."
I, personally, would not sneer too much at social engineering. A little social engineering to address the problems, say, which are being entrepreneurially addressed by criminal youth gangs, for example, makes a lot of more sense than building more and more prisons.
And, I am concerned enough about the rise of authoritarians in politics, to wonder if a program that got people out of the narrow confines of their youth might not be good, overall, for the country.
It seems to me that this comment addresses unintentionally the basic category confusions of the nominal American left. Concerned about the rise of authoritarianims? Why, mandatory national service should do the trick!
Meanwhile, one of the great merits of Western prosperity over the last few centuries was to allow for the re-creation of a reasonable period of youth, something which the grimmer period between antiquity and modernity had largely obliterated. My own "narrow confines" involved exploration, friendship, a little trouble, a lot of fun. I read books, made goofy movies with my friends, played some sports, wandered in the woods of Western Pennsylvania, imagined conspiracies of local personalities, hung out in coffee shops, smoked some pot, learned to change a tire, mastered a few video games, rode some roller coasters, and worked just enough to make some extra spending money. Granted I grew up in neither a hopeless suburb nor a sanitized ghetto--or have I reversed those?--but I'm tempted to say that a little leisure while one awaits adulthood is salutary. Life's purpose is not love of country, whatever anyone tells you, and to spend a few years in splendid dissipation would in a just world be one of the universal rights of man.