Obama didn't get elected to warranty your muffler. He's here to warranty your life.You know, I share Krauthammer's sentiment--no, really--that "the notion of presidential car warranties strikes me as simply too bizarre, too comical, to mark the beginning of Yankee Peronism." At the same time, I find the persistent insistence by Chuckles and company that technomanagerial efforts to direct this or that facet of the economy distract the President from his real job as enemy-devouring Imperator, dieu-donné, charged with the mortal existence of all 300 million of his charges simply too bizarre, too comical . . . well. I mean, yes, let us by all means grant the President not only the right but the solemn duty and obligation to construct a worldwide panopticon enforcing its all-seeing Defense-diktat with death drones and killer robots and preemptive wars and a global gulag of black-site prisons, just so long as he stays away from our boards of directors.
-Charles Krauthammer 40,000
Friday, April 03, 2009
You too have had lousy pad thai with a sauce composed of one part ketchup, one part fish sauce, and two parts icky vegetable oil. Fuck that. Real pad thai is closer to what we think of when we think of Vietnamese food, a subtle, light blend of bright and savory flavors, but with the characteristic piquant kick of thai cuisine. Although it's a simple recipe, even the experienced cook can run into trouble with the unfamiliar palate of Southeast Asian ingredients. Trust your senses of taste and smell, by which I mean, taste and smell anything unfamiliar before hand. Yes, raw. You'll live. You'll need a powerful flame to cook this dish properly, and either a wok or a very large frying/sauté pan. The contents of this recipe should be easily available at any Asian grocery. I use refined safflower oil for its clean flavor/odor and very high smoke point.
1 package thai rice noodles (thin, but not "vermicelli")
6 cloves garlic, crushed and minced
4-5 medium shallots, finely diced
1/2 large carrot, roughly grated
1 1/2 cup mung bean sprouts
4-5 thai ornamental chili peppers, diced
1 1/2 cup blanched peanuts, crushed or ground (I use a food processor)
2 tbspns coriander, freshly and roughly ground
2 tbspns tamarind pulp
1 1/2 cup diced firm tofu
2 eggs, scrambled together
1/2 cup fish sauce
juice of 1 lime
1/4 cup vinegar (rice wine or plain white)
fresh cilantro and asian basil, chiffonade
Bring a large pot of water to boil for the noodles. Make sure you check the package carefully. Some rice noodles need to be actively boiled like Western wheat noodles; others are introduced to boiling water which is then removed from the heat. In either case, slightly undercook your noodles, drain, and set aside.
In your wok or pan, heat a generous amount of oil (in a flat-bottomed pan, the bottom should be thoroughly covered; in a wok, you'll want oil perhaps a half-inch deep at the center) until very hot. Add the garlic and shallots. Toss several times. Add the chilis, carrot, half the sprouts, and the tamarind, tossing together. Use your spoon or spatula to help break up the tamarind pulp. Add the coriander and half the peanuts. The nuts will quickly absorb oil and you may need to add a little more. Continue frying and tossing. Deglaze the pan with the vinegar and a bit of fish sauce. Add the noodles. Fry and toss together for a minute or two.
Push the noodles to one side of the pan and add the egg and tofu to the other. Cook the egg until slightly underdone and then fold it and the tofu into the noodles. Add the rest of the fish sauce and a nice handful of the fresh herbs. Salt to taste. Toss together until the noodles are well coated, tangled, and beginning to clump a bit. Transfer immediately to a large serving dish, garnish with the rest of the peanuts, fresh herbs, cracked black pepper, and raw bean sprouts.
Ladies and gentlemen, my hometown.
Thursday, April 02, 2009
Pax Americana, unlovely but effective, has endured for more than 60 years, the consequence of the post-war development of the United States as a European and Asian power. It has averted the worst, but it is safe to say that it is closer to the end than the beginning of its life.Let's see, 2009 . . . minus 60 . . . 20 to 19 . . . 10 less 6 . . . So, 1949. Now, it is true that since then no one has repeated America's neat trick from foedeefie, but on the other hand there was Korea, with hundreds of thousands of dead, a series of conflicts in Vietnam, first French colonial revanchisme and then the American war, which ended up killing a couple of million Vietnamese, not to mention all the folks that had the bad luck to live in Cambodia or Laos. There was the Khemer Rouge, the Iran-Iraq war, the Soviet war in Afghanistan, several post-Partition wars between India and Pakistan, the French war in Algeria, millions dead in post-colonial civil conflicts in Africa, everything that went on behind the Iron Curtain, the various coups and dirty wars in South America, the conflict in Northern Ireland, the wars fought by and against Israel, the Gulf War, the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, the brutal Russian-Chechen war, the US war in Afganistan, the US occupation of Iraq . . . And, mean, these are just the highlights.
The oddest thing about American triumphalism, even this backwards-looking sort that wonders if we may not now be facing inevitable decline, is that it so assiduously ignores its own mythos, so that in Roger Cohen's estimation this 60-year peace did not include any of the above wars nor yet the half-century Cold War that was so central, fundamental, and essential to America's national identity. Behind the weaseled language of "greater disasters" lurks the Turgidsonian arithematic: "two admittedly regrettable, but nevertheless, distinguishable post-war environments: one where you got twenty million people killed, and the other where you got a hundred and fifty million people killed." In other words, yeah, it's regrettable that millions died, but at least we didn't destroy all multicellular life on earth!
Wednesday, April 01, 2009
This is the most amazing thing I have ever seen. It is like someone found a series of extraordinary synchronicities between Matthew Barney's Cremaster 3, Terminator 3, and Jurassic Park 3
and then alchemically transformed it into a FOX News program. Magick.
This is a beautiful animal. Here is the article. I'm a fine amateur gardener but know next to nothing about animal husbandry, so I'm always impressed by this sort of thing. Who wants to take a trip to the Berkshires?
It would be easy enough to criticize Saletan for being hopelessly out of his depth in the fields of "science, technology, and life" that his blog-column purports to cover, for being a scientific illiterate, for engaging in endless moral persnickery on questions about abortion and sexuality in which he extrapolates from his own juvenile discomforts broad social mores. But that beat is already covered in blawgonia, so let me say this instead: what columns like his prove, albeit unintentionally, is that psychology and psychiatry are total frauds, more pseudoscientific than more infamous fields like eugenics, which at least managed a pretense of consensus. The therepeutic fields are full of totally contradictory ideas and practices that are nevertheless held to have commensurable value. As a science, they lack predictability and repeatability. Any two psychologists can examine the same patient under the same conditions and draw almost diametrically opposed conclusions about diagnosis, treatment, or both.
If you had paid attention to the most pro-war voices over the last four years or so, you would have noted that their opposition to withdrawal of any sort from Iraq was based in part on an unarguable conclusion: that departure would lead, at least in the short-to-medium term, to an increase in violence as newly unconstrained factions sought political dominance. And during the great, gung-ho months of The Surge Is Working, you saw a few lonely voices making a similar point: that assuming an end to the occupation, or at least a reduced American presence, the result would be to empower and arm a restive domestic faction that would turn its attention back to warfare with its factional Iraqi rivals as soon as the opportunity presented itself. Unlike supporters of the war, I don't believe that these sorts of contingent arguments provide either moral justification or ethical necessity for a continued occupation--foisting problems into an ever-receding future hoping that the chimera of reconciliation will turn out to be real is not a plan. That said, it's plain that these predictions are coming true. The certainty of a reduction in US forces and the approaching sunset of US patronage for the various "Awakening" groups is prompting a subtle but noticeable repositioning of indigenous Iraqi power centers for a resumption of civil conflict.
Here in America we will play a bipartisan game of Ungrateful Iraqis, and lament that after delivering them from tyranny they proved to be too degenerate to take advantage of the gift of democracy, even as we bumble over to Afghanistan and the Pakistani border regions to repeat our blunders within a political and cultural context that, if anything, is even more hostile to American intentions. It is worth bearing in mind that Iraq was a modern nation state with a reasonably coherent pre-Occupation identity, broad literacy, a 20th-century infrastructure, a system of public works and social provision, experience with modern medicine, technology, manufacturing, resource extraction, agriculture, etc. That is to say that for all the obvious flaws and failings of our colonial dreams, it was at least conceivable that a recognizable modern nation could be grafted with a more Western-style social compact. No such conditions are present in the part of the world we're currently groping toward; Afghanistan has several sprawling mega-city-states and is otherwise an illiterate backwater riven by linguistic, ethnic, and cultural divisions--many predating the arrival of Islam itself. The Pakistani cosmopole, meanwhile, is fiercely nationalistic and enraged by foreign intervention in its affairs, even as it is terrified of the destabilizing and violent forces at play in its vast hinterlands, which are egged to greater violence by American bluster and bombs. Simultaneously, India and Pakistan continue to walk the knife-edge along their own disputed borders, and the US has no senior military or diplomatic personnel who speak any of the dozens of native languages or have lived for any amount of time in the dozens of native cultures.
Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Making advocacy for the legalization of marijuana into an issue of crisis economics rather than an issue of personal autonomy is a terrible idea. Yes, proponents of the former argument say, it's true that it's harmless, etc., etc., but the real reason to make it legal is that it is a hugely popular commodity that could be exorbitantly taxed, providing a substantial new revenue stream for Federal and state governments, which, presumably, could be turned around and spit out in the form of more "stimulus." Do we extrapolate from such arguments that all sin should be both legal and taxable? If someday we legalized sex work, would we charge a consumption tax? Would madams have to make monthly remittances of sales tax to their state IRS?
Legalizing drugs is no way to end the recession. It may be a better way to deal with it, man, but let's not overdo our enthusiasms.
Monday, March 30, 2009
When Archimedes said, “Give me a lever that is long enough, and I will move the world,” he was talking about how you can think your way into a new actuality.And, no. When Archimedes made this comment, and it has several variants, all apocryphal, he was talking about the principle of the lever. Magnitudes are in equilibrium at distances reciprocally proportional to their weights.
The cruel, if funny, irony gnawing at the effete heart of these arguments--that what's really missing in the world today is some class of Intellectuals to debate grand Concepts and Meanings--is that those who make such arguments never seem to know what the fuck they're talking about. LeeSiegelLeeSiegelLeeSiegel, to take the above and most glaringly fatuous example, doesn't know anything about the history of science and mathematics, and so he assumes Archimedes, who was an "intellectual" after all, was speaking metaphorically when in fact the quotation is quite literal. He assumes that because Archimedes was one of these so-called intellectuals, he could not possibly have been talking about something so banal as a basic principle of mechanics.
Oh, LeeSiegelLeeSiegelLeeSiegel. A man who's made a minor cottage sub-industry of lamenting the coarsening of culture and the decline of intellect in the public sphere turns out to be a real intellectual vulgarian, a guy seeking to transform an undergraduate sophomore's beer-addled recollection of skimming the Durants' The Story of Philosophy in last semester's survey course into some kind of morally meaningful intellectualism:
Arguments about small versus big government used to entail reflections on the nature of man and society, the question of balancing the highest good against the greatest number of people who might benefit from that good, the meaning of power and of authority. Not anymore.Arguments about "small versus big government" took place in the op-ed pages of wide circulation newspapers and popular news magazines during the reigns of Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton with a brief respite in the two-pair-ah-socks interregnum of George H.W. Bush. A political neologism unfitting any sober--or drunken--reflection on the "meaning of power and authority," it was a handy term for those who sought to present an illusory diminution of the scope and scale of the state by tinkering with social programs even as they ceaselessly expanded military and police powers, surveillance and detention. "Big government" is not a term you'll find in Hobbes, or Locke, or Montesquieu, or whichever theorist of state, government, or social contract you find most relevant.
Now just about every political debate comes down to one phrase: economic policy. Occasionally, things grow more specialized, and just as intellectual disputes over class conflict once spilled over into philosophical differences over “dialectical” change, the issues of taxes and spending branch out into the exciting topic of “earmarks.” Sometimes things get fancy: You might hear the term “moral hazard.” But just when the intellectual wheels start to turn—Aristotle’s Ethics! William James’ pragmatism! Sartre’s existentialism!—you realize that you’ve eavesdropped on a conversation between an insurance broker and a management consultant about the proper way to structure a transaction.
Likewise, while I suppose someone might hear the term "moral hazard" and think of three unrelated philosophers (Sartre!?), I took a moment to avail myself of those mysterious tools, The Google and The Wikipedia, to discover that the term has its origins in . . . English insurance companies, dating to the 1600s.
LeeSiegelLeeSiegelLeeSiegel's intellect soon appears unsurprisingly anti-intellectual.
Of course, no one should blame the intellectuals for not being able to grasp our fathomless economic mess. An old joke went that only two people in history understood Hegel, and even they misunderstood him. Well, the only people who understand the present crisis are economists and tax lawyers, and even they misunderstand it. I have seen award-winning poets and novelists nearly reduced to tears trying to comprehend the relationship between mortgage-backed securities and recession.The relationship between mortgage-backed securities and the recession isn't in the least bit difficult to understand, unless your sole source of information is the willful obscurantism of the financial press. Companies used outstanding mortgages as if they were valuable assets, treating the hundreds of thousands of dollars owed on a home as if it were money in the bank (you'll pardon the expression). They used these phony assets to get credit (leverage) for investments. For a while, like any pyramid scheme, there were enough people entering on the bottom of the scam (buying new houses at inflated prices) to keep it going. Eventually, there weren't enough new suckers getting conned into the game. People who depended on selling their homes at inflated prices to pay off their mortgage loans began to default. Mortgage companies began to raise rates on variable rate loans to keep cash flowing. Monthly rates rose dramatically and more mortgaged homeowners defaulted. The collapsing, underlying debt base smashed the foundation of all those leveraged investments. Huge amounts of paper wealth were destroyed because the assets backing the credit used to make the investments in the first place are fictional, unrecoverable. The decline in the financial sector, which was a huge, immense, gargantuan portion of the economy precipitated a recession.
Anyone who can balance a check book can understand these concepts. Perhaps that leaves out the poets. The rest have no excuse.
"Ideas," LeeSiegelLeeSiegelLeeSiegel writes
drove the various responses to the economic calamities of the 1920s--the result was totalitarian ideologies on the left and the right and the annihilation of tens of millions of people, all in the name of one idea or another. The Cold War provoked an incredible intellectual ferment, not just in political rumination, but in every area of culture, from the postwar novel to abstract expressionism, yet that conceptually heated atmosphere also created paranoia across the political spectrum, as well as an endless cycle of payback and score-settling. And the rifts produced by the idea-besotted '60s continue to bedevil us.Confusing the totalitarianism systems of the twentieth century with "ideas," with ideological purity of some sort or other, is fatuous. Yes, Nazism and Soviet Communism had ideological components, but to take the former, more ridiculous example: eugenic Wagnerian post-Norse pagan mysticism is not an "idea" in any sense that Siegel means it. Also, the Russian Revolution began in 1917. Also, does anyone think that Joseph Stalin was an intellectual, an ideologue? Tens of millions of lives were indeed snuffed out. Thanks, technology! Had Napoleon access to airplanes, tanks, modern artillery, can we imagine his wars of conquest operating with less brutal efficiency than those of Hitler's Wehrmacht? Would Alexander I have shown greater concern for the lives of his subjects than did Joseph Stalin? Tyranny wasn't cooked up in a café; not created by Karl Marx; not created.
LeeSiegelLeeSiegelLeeSiegel seems truly to believe that without "intellectuals" no one noticed that corporate doublespeak was dissembling or that the cable news is full of morons, clowns, and lunatics.
For months, while the economy was slipping backward, the phrase du jour, used by people throughout business and media, has been “moving forward.” As in: Dear Employees, Moving forward, we are laying off several thousand of you. And the dishonest, weasel-ish phrase keeps advancing, with no one to stop it. Language like that is a lubricant to the calamity all around us.Those "Dear Employees," Lee Siegel, they knew what it meant. It's not even a good goddamn example. My comapny just right-sized to manage the challenges of the changing environment by emphasizing efficiencies and competencies while targeting redundancy and waste. That means we fired people. Anyone who works, has ever worked, in an office, or on an assembly line, or anywhere other than The New Republic ever, for any amount of time, has heard and understands what it means when management starts talking positive gibberish.
I don't by any means overestimate the intelligence of the American people. At the same time, the sheer pretension of imagining that what they really, really need is Lee Siegel and some bud off the Buckley clan grappling with categorical imperatives, now over to Bob for the weather, Bob!, is fairly stunning, and I am a pretentious motherfucker.
If nothing else, intellectuals, who are compulsive scrutinizers and falsehood-exposers, console us for our troubles by blowing the whistle on just such petty insults to our dignity. (And no, Jon Stewart can’t do it all himself.) Their abstract models of what ought to be instead of what is even sometimes inch reality a little closer to becoming bearable.Nothing convinces of the need for falsehood exposure like a guy who writes his own mash notes warbling on about the necessity of his own kind of smart guy in a publication on a medium he recently took a whole fucking book to denounce.
Too bad even the proverbial rocket scientist can’t understand the forces that are afflicting us now. Brother, can you spare a paradigm?
My phrenology is a bit out of practice, but I'm reasonably certain just by lookin at im that DA George Skumanick, Jr. has seen his fair share of glossy teen girl titties. Watch him stumble through this hilariously garbled interview wherein he accuses the family of one of the persecuted girls and the federal court that will hear their suit of traducing some kind of "separation of powers" by preventing him from filing charges . . . if the federal court intervenes, which it might not, because, among other things, it hasn't yet heard the case, and moreover DA George Skumanick hasn't filed any charges. This, folks, is why we seriously need to outlaw elections. People voted for this dude. Separation of powers is a phrase that has a very specific, particular meaning in our constitutional republic. DAs in their capacities as prosecutors and public office-holders are officers of the court. There may be some jurisdictional issues in Federal courts restraining state and local prosecutors--I don't know. But separation of powers?
While it is perhaps the nature of cultural references to drift from the original referent and become clichés of independent meaning, it seems to me that given the ubiquity of video and the ease of accessing it, a person could actually watch Lumet's and Chayefsky's Network and familiarize themselves with the plot before drawing unintentionally unflattering comparisons. Because Howard Beale, the character, is not actually a prophet; because Howard Beale is an old, broken, and pathetic figure, whose one moment of cogent, leonine rage is immediately co-opted by the very people he railed against, and, believing himself to be touched by god, he goes right on serving them until, quite by accident, he offends a power even higher than his own crass corporate masters, who just happens to be even madder than Howard Beale, in the British sense. Then Beale takes a new line that fails to capture the public imagination, and the network execs, who can't very well contradict their own boss' whims, assassinate him. The end.
Anyway, Glenn Beck. I admit that I was getting a bit concerned about his ratings, but I knew he wasn't the Headline News type. No business traveler wants to find himself in the lousy bar of an airport hotel while a weepy Mormon harangues him in an odd, breathy whinespiel about The Country That Wuz from up on the teevee. On the other hand old people gumming "chicken cacciatore" from the retirement-castle kitchen at 5pm . . . they can definitely get behind that sort of thing, and they have. As I endlessly seek to explain to my timorous, easily-spooked proggle acquaintances, FOX News is not a conservative network, but an elderly one, thus the bright graphics, endless harumphery, fear of change, and Maximum Volume. The average age of the O'Reilly viewer is one hundred and seventy-four. Tune into Beck at the early-bird-special hour and pay attention to the advertisements for a flavor of his demographic. He is the Large Print edition of the book of ressentiment.
The proper cultural equivalent to Beck is less Howard Beale than it is the Teletubbies. After all, isn't senescence in many senses just a return to infancy? Loud, bright, repetitive, and painted in the broadest possible emotional brushstrokes. Designed for people no longer able to appreciate the subtle gradations of human sentiment, just as young children are not yet able to do the same, when Beck is happy, he is very happy, when he's a-scared, boy, he's a-scared, when sad he weeps, when angry he yells. Insofar as he may nightly prevent several millions of grandparents vivants from strolling into busy intersections in their flannel pajamas, he does this nation a service. Beck, you are an American treasure.
Update: Topically dissimilar, but it appears that I had a Mr Smith post title roiling my brain.
That which it is, it’s not. Forget what you
were taught to think was real and good; instead
accept that Man, the State, and Nature too
are all inept, and all eventually dead.
Beneath each stale prediction is a foam
of indeterminate and indirect-
ly interacting quanta. There is no home
nor earth nor space: the real is circumspect;
there is no hope nor gods nor states of grace
nor human fate. We do not sink or swim,
but both obtain, entangled. Let us face
the absence even of ineffable whim.
It all occurs. Thus pointless. No retreat
to beat against the certain, sure: defeat.