Thursday, August 31, 2006


Just posted on the book blog: Tom Drury's new novel, The Driftless Area.

Now the volume goes to 11.

Cass Sunstein describes ideological amplication:
A few years ago, I was involved in some studies that uncovered a funny fact: When Republican-appointed judges sit on three-judge panels with other Republican appointees, they show unusually conservative voting patterns. So too, Democratic-appointed judges on three-judge panels show especially liberal voting patterns when sitting with fellow Democratic appointees. In short, like-minded judges show a pattern if "ideological amplification."

The presence of even one Republican appointee often makes Democratic appointees much more moderate. Republican appointees often become much more moderate when even a single Democratic appointee is there. . . .

It turns out that ideological amplification occurs in many domains. It helps to explain "political correctness" on college campuses--and within the Bush administration. In a recent study, we find that liberals in Colorado, after talking to one another, move significantly to the left on affirmative action, global warming, and civil unions for same-sex couples. On those same three issues, conservatives, after talking to each other, move significantly to the right. . . .
In the earlier days of the web, there was a lot of back-and-forth between different views. Now it seems that much more linking goes on to confirm rather than challenge what posters are saying.

Not to worry, the water's cold.

Penguins take swimming lessons at the San Francisco Zoo:

Gore got more.

In writing about nutjob senatorial-candidate Rep. Katherine Harris, Jonathan Chait reminds us:

[A] 2001 recount of the Florida ballots by the National Opinion Research Center, conducted for a media consortium, . . . seemed to suggest that Bush would have won even without her or the Supreme Court. The media recount came out just weeks after the September 11 attacks, and the participating newspapers appeared to bend over backward to avoid tainting President Bush's legitimacy. Some press accounts asserted that a statewide recount--which Al Gore had futilely pleaded with Bush to accept and which the Florida Supreme Court ultimately ordered--"would have favored Bush," as The Washington Post put it.

This conclusion, however pleasing to the national psyche, was totally false. . . . It rested on the assumption that only ballots that had registered no vote at all--those pesky hanging chads--would have been counted. In reality, several counties were examining ballots that had been initially disqualified for registering two votes. There turned out to be a large net gain for Gore in such ballots, which typically included a vote for Gore as well as a write-in vote for Gore. The voting machines initially disqualified these votes, but a hand examination counted them because the intent of the voter was clear. And, if those votes had been included, Gore would have carried Florida.

Which is to say nothing of the Palm Beach voters who did not mean to vote for Pat Buchanan.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

No corrections necessary.

Jonathan Franzen has always rubbed me the wrong way, and not it seems that he has written a memoir to explore the unpleasant aspects of his personality.
Just why anyone would be interested in pages and pages about this unhappy relationship or the self-important and self-promoting contents of Mr. Franzen’s mind remains something of a mystery. In fact, by the end of this solipsistic book, the reader has begun to feel every bit as suffocated and claustrophobic as Mr. Franzen and his estranged wife apparently did in their doomed marriage.
Notwithstanding the small thrill of feeling vindicated, I'll, um, wait to take it out of the library.

Inflation myths.

Kenneth Rogoff suggests that central banks didn't figure out how to solve inflation; rather, we've just been living in good times that may not last:

Central banks' near universal success in bringing down inflation over the past two decades has led many policymakers to conclude that they have pretty much solved the problem of high inflation, once and for all. . . . Outside a few developing countries, nobody seems to worry much about a sustained bout of 5 per cent or 6 per cent inflation, much less the double-digit levels of the 1970s. But have central bankers truly slain the hydra of inflation?

. . . one should think of the modern era of rapidly expanding trade and technology progress as providing a spectacularly favourable milieu for monetary policy. With hugely positive underlying trends, central banks have been able to establish and maintain low inflation while delivering growth results that have often outperformed expectations. Rather than face the usual historical trade-off, central banks have let citizens have their cake and eat it. No wonder central bankers have become so popular. . . .

Although not every country has benefited from globalisation as much as the US has, the dynamic has tended to be similar. For example, most of the rich countries have seen spectacular terms-of-trade gains; that is, a fall in the price of imports relative to exports. . . . Even in the developing world, which did not necessarily enjoy the same terms-of-trade gains, the move to more market-based economies has brought such efficiency gains that they have still experienced a sharp increase in trend growth. No wonder that central bankers, who are often given credit or blame for long-term growth trends over which they have little impact, have become such big rock stars. What more can one ask for than low inflation and high growth?

There are other more subtle and long-lasting impacts of globalisation on inflation. These include the impact of greater competition, as well as greater wage and price flexibility, all of which operate to make central banks' commitment to low inflation more credible. But the main story of consistently high underlying real growth explains, more than anything, why globalisation has helped central banks so much. Central bankers . . . did not create the computer chip, nor did they liberalise China.

So the question is: what happens if the winds of globalisation turn? What if a combination of economic and political problems leads to a sharp slowdown in China? What if security checks in the wake of a terrorist attack lead to a sustained pause in the expansion of global trade? What if a slowdown in trend growth exacerbates the fiscal problems that most countries are already going to face as their populations age? Or, more immediately, what if there is a disorderly unwinding of the oversized US current account deficit? . . .

Perhaps central banks will get lucky and not have to face any severe problems for another couple of decades but, unfortunately, that is not likely. . . .

Already today, central banks face steeply higher oil prices combined with a pause in falling import prices from developing Asia. But the current conjuncture is just a small test compared with what might happen if globalisation hits a really large bump in the road. Then, at least in a few big countries, inflation will end up being far higher than policymakers or market participants now seem to think possible. Market convictions that inflation is forever dead will be shattered.

Graceland, two decades on.

David Honigmann looks back at Paul Simon's Graceland:
It was 20 years ago today that Paul Simon's Graceland was released. Enthused by a couple of compilation tapes he had heard, Simon travelled to South Africa to record with some of the country's leading black musicians. The resulting album saved his career, and made several others. Its repercussions were widespread. It kickstarted the whole concept of world music. . . .

Listening closely to Graceland today is a strange experience. At the time, its acoustic instrumentation felt like a welcome relief from the slick artificiality of mid-1980s corporate rock. In hindsight, it is clearly a recording of its time: the drums still crash like Jake La Motta's fists, and odd warbles of synthesizer are apparent in the mix. The last two tracks, "That Was Your Mother" and "All Around The World", recorded in Louisianan and Angeleno styles, do not fit, except for being accordion-driven.

More alarming, for an album recorded in the darkest days of apartheid, is the seeming obliviousness to political context. Simon finds himself at the cinematographer's party, or in a taxi heading downtown, as the music of the townships seethes in the background. On the title track he co-opts Ray Phiri's sparkling guitar into a narrative not about present-day Africa but about the legacy of the American Civil War.

But of course South African radio was not exactly jumping with musical denunciations of apartheid either. Township music was elliptical in the extreme. As Gwen Ansell discusses in Soweto Blues: Jazz, Popular Music and Politics in South Africa, black musicians played a complex game with the censors, sometimes covertly aided by the state broadcasters. Graceland operated in a similar way. It said nothing explicit about the situation in South Africa, but it celebrated its culture and focused attention on the country.

More attention came from the controversy that soon surrounded the project. South Africa was the subject of an ill thought-through cultural boycott, and the commissars of the left decided that Simon had breached it. A stance intended to deprive white South Africans of the pleasure of attending concerts by Queen and Status Quo had become a tool to prevent mbaqanga from being heard in the West. Once Simon toured with the album, the self-appointed guardians of musical isolationism campaigned against it. On stage, the band climaxed with a rendition of the national anthem "Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrica"; outside, pickets tried to persuade audiences not to enter.

For Ladysmith Black Mambazo, participation in Graceland had the commercial impetus of a rocket. South African and southern African musicians found it much easier to get airplay in the UK and US. For a brief time, Sotho squeezebox rhythms were at home on Radio 1. The concept of world music as a marketing label stems from a meeting of luminaries in an Islington pub around this time. It may have happened anyway, but there seems little doubt that all of us who love this kind of music owe Graceland a debt of gratitude. . . .

Nice wedding, lousy reception.

From the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, via reader Hank Chinaski:
SOUTHBRIDGE — A West Brookfield man spent his wedding night in a cell after he allegedly kicked a police officer at his wedding reception yesterday, then violated a restraining order taken out by his new bride.

Deric Gendron, 24, of East Main Street, West Brookfield, will be arraigned today in Dudley District Court on charges of assault and battery on a police officer, assault and battery with a dangerous weapon (shod foot), resisting arrest, disorderly conduct, disturbing the peace and violating a restraining order.

Sgt. Brian Haggerty of Southbridge said police were called to the Gendron’s wedding reception at the Knights of Columbus Hall, 487 Worcester St., yesterday by relatives who said the groom was intoxicated and fighting with members of the wedding party. When officers arrived, relatives were trying unsuccessfully to calm Mr. Gendron, whose tuxedo shirt was in tatters.

“I don’t think he’s going to be getting his deposit back,” Sgt. Haggerty said.

Mr. Gendron was released on $140 bail, which was paid by a family member, police said.

Police said he then went to his brother’s home in Webster and, despite being served with a restraining order that forbade him to contact his wife of five hours, placed a call to her in West Brookfield.

Webster Police Officer David J. DiFusco said police arrested Mr. Gendron just after 9 p.m. and he was being held without bail last night.

Sgt. Haggerty and Officer DiFusco did not know whether the Gendrons had planned a honeymoon.

“We didn’t get that far,” Sgt. Haggerty said.

The incident was a first of sorts for Sgt. Haggerty, who said he’s never arrested anyone at their wedding before.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The big sky.

Alexandra Fuller offers a guide to Wyoming literature. Gretel Ehrlich's The Solace Of Open Spaces and James Galvin's The Meadow are both terrific. Apart from Ehrlich's book everything on Fuller's list was written in the last twelve years, but I'm hard-pressed to think of something older.

A man of principle.

Lieberman was against Rumsfeld before he was for him before he was against him.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Before the fall.

Not the sort of hockey stick you want to see:

Via Atrios.

Garbage in.

This kind of stuff makes the Washington Post a waste of time.

Custom maps.

If you're in the market for this sort of thing.

More books.

New posts up at Words, Words, Words about Michael Chabon's The Final Solution and Lawrence Wright's The Looming Tower.


Another blog, new to me. Good stuff. Here's a good place to start.

Knowledge, thinly sliced.

Here's a saucy new blog. I expect great things.

"Happy, hell!"

Bruce Reed catches the President talking like a Hemingway character, and not in a good way.
In The Sun Also Rises, Hemingway describes the American expatriate, "Mrs. Braddocks, who in the excitement of talking French was liable to have no idea what she was saying." Bush is the same way with English.

Here's Bush at Monday's press conference, reflecting upon his administration's impotence abroad:

Sometimes I'm frustrated. Rarely surprised. Sometimes I'm happy. This is—but war is not a time of joy.

Here's Georgette Hobin, a Frenchwoman reacting to Jake Barnes's impotence in The Sun Also Rises:

Isn't anywhere else [like Paris] … Happy, hell! … It isn't bad here. ... Oh, that dirty war!

George Allen for President.

Because he's the most American:
Only in America can a man who is a French-African Jew by ancestry become a white Southern Confederate-sympathizing Episcopalian with a Roman Catholic football coach for a dad. God bless America, I say -- the land where everyone is free to be whoever they want to be, regardless of who they are, or ever were.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

The wrong kind of ice.

Even if you think things are in the crapper, you could hope for a few laughs and a happy ending.

eta: The maddest of props to foxy hedgehog for the link. Sadly, his blog seems moribund of late.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Vacation: All I ever wanted.

Posting to be light for the next ten days.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Politicize terror.

Ezra Klein:
I assume nobody will be surprised by this, but the Republican Party has apparently settled on its 2006 message: Vote Democratic, and the terrorists will win. That's always been their implicit appeal, of course, but now they're just saying it. On the other hand, why shouldn't they? Terror should be politicized, and if one party or another believes they can do the better job, they should say so. There’s nothing illegitimate about it.

That means, however, that Democrats shouldn't be afraid to mention that the Bush administration is directly responsible for the deaths of thousands of American troops, World Trade Center employees, Iraqi civilians, and adorable little puppies. It also wouldn't hurt to wonder if Bush isn't some sort of Manchurian plant, so dedicated has he been to ensuring that America did exactly what its enemies hoped it would. Block the U.N. from stopping Israel's self-destructive demolition of Lebanon? Why not? Who cares if it'll empower a dangerous terrorist group? Launch a poorly planned, totally inexplicable invasion of Iraq that distracts manpower and media attention from the hunt for al-Qaeda while further radicalizing the region against us? But of course. Refuse to appropriate sufficient funds for port security and WMD detection? Seems sensible. Use tax cuts to deprive the Treasury of needed revenues for war and security measures? Sign him (and thus, us) up!

Democrats too often complain that the GOP politicizes terror. But the response to terrorism is a political issue, and it's to the Democrats' discredit that they refuse to treat it as such. If Orrin Hatch thinks terrorists are "waiting for the Democrats here to take control, let things cool off and then strike again," he should say so. And if Democrats think that Hatch has helped eviscerate our country's security, turn the world against us, and radicalize a whole new generation of potential al-Qaeda recruits, they should let the electorate know.

If the Democrats can't figure out how to attack the GOP, why should they be trusted to attack terrorists?

The Lebanon.

Excellent synopsis by at Belgravia Dispatch of the Lebanon conflict. Depressing, but excellent. The bottom line:
The reality is that Lebanese hearts and minds, certainly Shi'a ones, are going to support Nasrallah even more now, not to mention the many in Cairo and Baghdad and points beyond hailing Nasrallah as a new Nasser. Hezbollah is far further from 'eradication', however absurdly unrealistic a goal that was regardless (particularly given the U.S. and Israeli approaches), than before. What we've just witnessed is a (tragi)comedy of errors, really, featuring incompetence (the bungled Israeli military campaign), fake showmanship (Bush and Olmert finally talking four weeks into the war with Olmert thanking the American President for his help with the UN Resolution, in a butt-covering, farcical coup de theatre par excellence!), historical innocence mixed with hubris (that because Israel unilaterally pulled out of Gaza and south Lebanon, in her self-interest more than anything else, this would mean no attacks from either quarter--in the absence of an overarching settlement--so that any attack would demand a hugely asymetrical response, the better so as to discipline the recently liberated ingrates), another low ebb for America's repute in the region (the disasterous Rome Conference where the world judged, correctly, that only the U.S., and perhaps Tony Blair, to the ire of his government colleagues and people, were willing to give Israel's ill-fated campaign additional time), and more. One that occured, to boot, in the midst of an Iraq debacle that grows worse by the day, where Iranian influence is increasing in lockstep with America's mushrooming impotence there. The entire sad spectacle must look almost amusing from Teheran.

What color is this?

Blue or purple? Your opinion in the comments, please.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Nationalism for me but not for thee.

Matthew Yglesias:
[T]he president seems to be grossly ignorant of how the world works: "the president expressed frustration that Iraqis had not come to appreciate the sacrifices the United States had made in Iraq, and was puzzled as to how a recent anti-American rally in support of Hezbollah in Baghdad could draw such a large crowd." . . .

The great irony of this all is that if there's one thing the Republican Party does understand really well it's the psychology and politics of nationalism. They understand it, that is, in terms of U.S. domestic politics. It doesn't seem to occur to them, however, that these insights might want to be extended to how foreigners -- who are, after all, human beings just like Americans -- react to things.

Airport security.

The same thinking that brought us "zero tolerance" policies -- a suspicion of government decisionmaking, and a desire to solve complex problems with simple rules -- informed TSA's current approach to airport security: lots of poorly trained, poorly paid security guards indiscriminately enforcing rules apparently aimed more at inconveniencing travelers in the hopes of thereby persuading them that someone is making an effort rather than at locating the very few travelers who pose a threat to the rest of us. The inconvenience itself is not irritating, but inconvenience to such ineffective ends is grating.

It doesn't have to be this way. The loathsome Marty Peretz describes how Israel screens airline travelers:
Israel's way of passenger screening is not as invasive as it is here. You don't have to take off your shoes. You are not obliged to remove your personal computer from its case. Every passenger who flies El Al, whether from Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv or from locations outside Israel, is put through a personalized psychometric at point of departure. This is not a machine test. It is an interview, short but probing, with questions that some may experience as a bit invasive, before the passenger gets to the ticket counter.

It is hard to imagine the current crop of Transportation Security Administration employees deployed in U.S. airports performing this delicate function. The interviewers are smart and young, mostly female, and on their way to other jobs. It was one of these El Al personnel who discovered, simply by talking with and closely observing a young Irish woman, that she had carried in her checked baggage a "gift" she had not seen, handed to her by a Palestinian boyfriend. She was also carrying his baby in her stomach. The boyfriend was a ... well, you understand what he was.

I have traveled to and from Israel on dozens of occasions. Each time I am a bit surprised and sometimes even thrown off balance by the questions. The volume of passengers at U.S. and big European airports might preclude relying on a system like Israel's--unless, of course, security service at airports and other vulnerable spots in society were to be made mandatory for a year or so. You can't imagine what a trained young person can discover in watching the subtle behavior of anxious people.

Here is a true story. Do you remember the days when student air discount tickets were available for almost anybody not obviously in middle age? Well, some twenty years ago, a friend of mine, an American who was living in Rome and working in advertising, was to meet me in Israel. He had purchased a bootleg El Al student ticket. When he arrived at Da Vinci Airport, he was greeted by a genial security officer. She looked at his passport and then his ticket. "Oh, you are a student," she exclaimed. "What do you study?" Fishing out of nowhere and quickly, Bill said, "Architecture." "So, tell me," asked his questioner, "when was Palladio born?" He did not get on the plane till the next day when his innocence of malevolent intent was vouched for and proven. Now that is security.

We could do the same in this country, if only our government took the threat of terrorism as seriously as Israel does and determined to actually do something about it.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

More death by PowerPoint.

Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, with the benefits of modern information technology.

Via Marty Lederman.

Fusty translations.

Emily Wilson appreciates the Loeb Classical Library.

Our Christmas cracker foreign policy.

[A] deep bipartisan gloom has descended over the American political class as it contemplates events in the Middle East – and, above all, Iraq.

It has been left to Condoleezza Rice, US secretary of state, to make a stab at restoring the spirit of can-do optimism. When it was put to her recently that the Middle East was in crisis, she remarked perkily that the Chinese word for crisis combines the characters for danger and opportunity. This observation – which might be mildly interesting if you came across it in a Christmas cracker – somehow failed to persuade sceptics that the Bush administration is on top of the situation.

Gideon Rachman in the Financial Times.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Death by PowerPoint.

It would be funny if it were a joke: At the most senior levels, the war in Iraq has been run from PowerPoint slides rather than conventional orders.

Friday, August 11, 2006

A worker's paradise, lost.

Up at Words, Words, Words: Magnus Mills' The Scheme For Full Employment.

Don't get mad, get even.

Left Blogistan has figured out that the White House exploited Great Britain's great police work this week to score political points, even if the mainstream media is blindly following the White House's talking points. Well, the U.S. media anyway -- here is AFP (i.e., Agence France-Presse):
Weighed down by the unpopular war in Iraq, Bush and his aides have tried to shift the national political debate from that conflict to the broader and more popular global war on terrorism ahead of November 7 congressional elections.

The London conspiracy is "a stark reminder that this nation is at war with Islamic fascists who will use any means to destroy those of us who love freedom, to hurt our nation," the president said on a day trip to Wisconsin. . . .

His remarks came a day after the White House orchestrated an exceptionally aggressive campaign to tar opposition Democrats as weak on terrorism, knowing what Democrats didn't: News of the plot could soon break.

Vice President Dick Cheney and White House spokesman Tony Snow had argued that Democrats wanted to raise what Snow called "a white flag in the war on terror," citing as evidence the defeat of a three-term Democratic senator who backed the Iraq war in his effort to win renomination. . . .

"The comments were purely and simply a reaction" to Democratic voters who "removed a pro-defense Senator and sent the message that the party would not tolerate candidates with such views," said Snow.

The public relations offensive "was not done in anticipation. It was not said with the knowledge that this was coming," the spokesman said.

Snow said Bush first learned in detail about the plot on Friday, and received two detailed briefings on it on Saturday and Sunday, as well as had two conversations about it with British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

But a senior White House official said that the British government had not launched its raid until well after Cheney held a highly unusual conference call with reporters to attack the Democrats as weak against terrorism. . . .

On Wednesday, Cheney had suggested that Democrats believe "that somehow we can retreat behind our oceans and not be actively engaged in this conflict and be safe here at home, which clearly we know we won't, we can't, be," he said. . . .

. . . Republicans hoped the raid would yield political gains.

"I'd rather be talking about this than all of the other things that Congress hasn't done well," one Republican congressional aide told AFP on condition of anonymity because of possible reprisals.

"Weeks before September 11th, this is going to play big," said another White House official, who also spoke on condition of not being named, adding that some Democratic candidates won't "look as appealing" under the circumstances.
Anyone surprised by the White House's exploitation of these events hasn't been paying attention for the last five years. The question is, what to do? You could complain about it. Or -- well, let me just turn over the floor to Publius:
You know what I say to that — boo-frickin’-hoo. Get over it. The GOP politicizes terrorism — that’s what they do. They’ve been doing it for five years. They did it to start a war. They did it to win an election. And they’re going to keep doing it until they lose. People can moan and whine all day about how mean and unfair they’re being, or they can fight fire with fire and try to beat them. And so I’m not doing the obligatory “can’t we put partisanship aside in times like this” to show my reasonable centrism. Instead, I’ll take a stab at politicizing terrorism and say this — the failed UK plot illustrates why the people in charge of anti-terrorism policy shouldn’t be in charge of anti-terrorism policy anymore. It also demonstrates the utter failure of the Iraq War as anti-terrorism policy. And finally, it shows why Republicans should lose this fall.

* * * * *

. . . the Dems and the GOP have two fundamentally different ways of fighting terrorism. The GOP believes in fighting terrorism by invading countries and attempting to impose democracy at the point of a gun, which will then through some Rube Goldberg-esque logic lead to less terrorism. The Dems favor a focus on identifying the terrorists through things like intelligence and multi-lateral cooperation. Yes, that’s grossly simple, but it's generally accurate. The neocons fundamentally believe that invading Iraq and Iran are effective anti-terrorism policies. And it’s really hard to overstate just how completely absurd that is. Even if you were sympathetic in 2002, reality should have intruded by now.

In sum, these people simply can’t be trusted with our national security. Let's stop crying and start saying so.

Hey Murky: More Nazis.

The GOP paints a Hitler mustache on Howard Dean. Classy.

Have a safe trip.

How long before most laptops are made with clear cases?

Off the rails in the Middle East.

David Gardner has a good column today in the Financial Times about the flawed Anglo-American Middle East policy. It's hard to pull a single paragraph or two, so read the whole thing, as they say.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Rick Bass.

I have a new post up at Words, Words, Words about Rick Bass's The Hermit's Story. I'm in my fifteenth year of membership in the notional Rick Bass Fan Club.

Painted door.

Where is his Joementum taking him?

It appears for the moment that Joe Lieberman is going to stay in the race as an independent. But while he might win his seat in November, he has now outlived his usefulness to the Republican Party, and Washington will never be the same for him. Lieberman was loved by the GOP because he was the Democrat who crossed over the lines to give them cover. If he's in the Senate next year, he won't have that "(D)" after his name, which pretty much eliminates his usefulness to them. Lieberman may think he's living in a world in which policy is made in the bipartisan center, but he's going to find out what Washington has been like this century. And if he were to change party or caucus with the GOP, well, think about how loved James Jeffords and Arlen Spector are by the rest of Republican Washington -- that's the love Lieberman would be getting.

Lieberman thinks he's trailing at halftime, but what he doesn't realize is that his game is over.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Profiles in courage.

At Lawyers, Guns and Money, Robert Farley says:
[Y]ou have to be either a conservative Democrat or a conservative Republican to be called courageous and independent. Liberal Democrats and moderate Republicans need not apply, but McCain and Lieberman are welcome.

Against The Day.

This is Pynchon's description of his forthcoming novel, Against The Day:
Spanning the period between the Chicago World's Fair of 1893 and the years just after World War I, this novel moves from the labor troubles in Colorado to turn-of-the-century New York, to London and Gottingen, Venice and Vienna, the Balkans, Central Asia, Siberia at the time of the mysterious Tunguska Event, Mexico during the Revolution, postwar Paris, silent-era Hollywood, and one or two places not strictly speaking on the map at all.

With a worldwide disaster looming just a few years ahead, it is a time of unrestrained corporate greed, false religiosity, moronic fecklessness, and evil intent in high places. No reference to the present day is intended or should be inferred.

The sizable cast of characters includes anarchists, balloonists, gamblers, corporate tycoons, drug enthusiasts, innocents and decadents, mathematicians, mad scientists, shamans, psychics, and stage magicians, spies, detectives, adventuresses, and hired guns. There are cameo appearances by Nikola Tesla, Bela Lugosi, and Groucho Marx.

As an era of certainty comes crashing down around their ears and an unpredictable future commences, these folks are mostly just trying to pursue their lives. Sometimes they manage to catch up; sometimes it's their lives that pursue them.

Meanwhile, the author is up to his usual business. Characters stop what they're doing to sing what are for the most part stupid songs. Strange sexual practices take place. Obscure languages are spoken, not always idiomatically. Contrary-to-the-fact occurrences occur. If it is not the world, it is what the world might be with a minor adjustment or two. According to some, this is one of the main purposes of fiction.

Let the reader decide, let the reader beware. Good luck.

Via DJA. Order it now at Amazon!

Tower's end?

DJA notes that several major record companies have stopped shipping product to Tower Records. The news is five days old, so maybe there have been developments since then. I remember when Tower seemed new and fresh, but that was years ago.

Bill Reid.

Robert Capa would not be impressed.

The New York Times is busted.

Spotted in Moscow.

On sale in Smolensk Square: Harry Proglotter and the Magic Shawarmatrix. Maybe something was lost in translation?

The Wright stuff.

"You can compare Zawahiri's relationship to Bin Laden with that of Col. Parker and Elvis Presley."

This and all sorts of other interesting stuff in an exchange between Lawrence Wright and Steve Coll at Slate.

Tunes from Oz.

I've been listening to Foggy Highway, an album by Paul Kelly and the Stormwater Boys. Recommended. Kelly is touring in North America right now, opening for The Waifs, who are excellent themselves.

This is fun, too. And so is this.

Hardly working.

The President has cut back his August vacation to only ten days and appeared in a suit and tie yesterday to further the perception that he is engaged and working on bringing peace and democracy to the Middle East. Based on his performance at yesterday's press conference, maybe it would be better if he put away the suit and tie and just cut brush.


Carolyn Castiglia raps by e-mail.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006


In a statement released late this afternoon, God confirmed that Ned Lamont's campaign was not involved in the denial-of-service attacks on Senator Lieberman's campaign web site. Said God, "I don't like to get involved in partisan politics, but I thought I should set this one straight right now."

Because he's a partisan hack?

Tom Ricks wonders why Hugh Hewitt is aiding and abetting our enemies.

Monday, August 07, 2006

The Battle of Cuito Cuanavale.

In a column at Slate discussing Cuba's (temporary?) change in leadership, Christopher Hitchens mentions Gen. Arnaldo Ochoa Sánchez, arrested 17 years ago in Cuba. Hitchens adds that Sánchez was arrested despite that fact that he had been
prominent in the military defeat of South African forces at the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale in 1987, which contributed handily to the independence of Namibia and the ultimate defeat of apartheid itself.
That's a battle I've never heard of, so I clicked through to Wikipedia. The battle was fought between Cuban and South African forces, both supported by rival Angolan forces (in South Africa's case, Jonas Savimbi-led UNITA). Cuito Cuanavale appears to be an airstrip in southeastern Angolan which the Cuban forces were using as a base for an advance on UNITA-controlled cities. South Africa blocked this offensive, and then counter-attacked towards Cuito Cuanavale.

Curiously, the Wikipedia entry contradicts Hitchens' suggestion that the battle was a "military defeat" for South Africa:
[T]he battle has been called "Africa's largest land battle since World War II"[1]. It has been widely used as a subject of propaganda with all sides claiming victory, and it is still a controversial subject among scholars.

* * * * *

The South African or UNITA forces never captured the city of Cuito Cuanavale and maintained this was never their objective to capture or occupy the city. Many observers agree that they succeeded in their original goal as they clearly halted the original advance of FAPLA forces from Cuito Cuanavale and also inflicted heavy casualties and it would not have made political or military sense for them to occupy a city deep in Angola far from their own controlled territory. The Cuban and FAPLA forces, however, take the failure of the South Africans to capture the city as a victory.
So why does Hitchens adopt Cuba's propaganda about this battle, when the source he cites suggests otherwise? If Cuito Cuanavale was a loss for Cuba, it tends to explain Sánchez's fall from grace.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Not exactly great expectations.

Jim Hoagland says that Condi Rice's diplomacy has been a great success because she accomplished exactly what she set out to do:

Failure, however, is a relative term in diplomacy, which values the art of not making a deal while professing to seek one. Bush and Rice had no intention of pressing Israel to accept a quick cease-fire before it crippled Hezbollah. In the narrow terms of non-dealmaking, Rice succeeded on her trip.

The remainder of the column describes how the White House and Foggy Bottom should set their expectations low going forward. Indeed, as they say.

Friday, August 04, 2006

In other constitutional news . . . .


Thursday, August 03, 2006

Separated by more than a common language.

The Guardian explains how TV viewers in the US and UK are seeing different wars:

The overwhelming emphasis of television and press coverage in the UK was the civilian casualties in Lebanon. Day after day, those were the "splash" stories. The smaller number of civilian casualties from Hizbullah rockets in northern Israel was also covered but rarely made the top headlines or front pages.

Back in DC, watching Lebanon through American camera lenses, the centre of the action seemed to be Haifa.
Even when the focus shifts to Lebanon, the tenor of the coverage is very different:
British journalism generally celebrates eyewitness accounts with a consistency in emotional tone that discourages cool asides to discuss mitigating circumstances; US television reporting out of Lebanon, by contrast, has occasionally been in danger of becoming all context, focusing on Hizbullah tactics to the exclusion of the humanitarian tragedy. Fox News, in particular, has sought to bolster Israeli public relations. An anchor at one point asked Ehud Barak what he would like the world to know about Hizbullah and Hamas.
There is one point of consistency, though:
Meanwhile, more Iraqi civilians are dying every day than Lebanese, but the horror of that war barely appears on television screens in either country any more. Lebanon is newer and much safer to cover. Anyway, Iraq fatigue set in long ago.


A convincing array of Republicans for Lieberman.

Jon Chait:
Lieberman has friendly relations with the most noxious and unhinged elements of the conservative movement, and the relationship is symbiotic. When they hold him up as the one decent member of his party, Lieberman gains prestige, and the conservatives gain an effective way to imply that every other Democrat but Lieberman is a radical or a traitor.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Fly to Marshall, not BWI.

CharleyCarp points out that BWI (a/k/a Baltimore-Washington International Airport) was renamed after Thurgood Marshall last year, and that we can honor a great man by using the official name. I'm with him, just so long as I don't have to call National "Reagan."

Savages anticipate modern intellectual property.

Unable to discriminate clearly between words and things, the savage commonly fancies that the link between a name and the person or thing denominated by it is not a mere arbitrary and ideal association, but a real and substantial bond which unites the two in such a way that magic may be wrought on a man just as easily through his name as through his hair, his nails, or any other material part of his person. In fact, primitive man regards his name as a vital portion of himself and takes care of it accordingly.
James Frazer, The Golden Bough 294 (Penguin 1996).

A door into a dark room.

By the middle of June, when his military advisers were declaiming that Russia would be beaten in no time and when someone spoke of Russia as a "big bubble," Hitler suddenly became thoughtful and said that Russia was rather like the ship in Wagner's Flying Dutchman. "The beginning of every war is like opening a door into a dark room. One never knows what is hidden in the darkness."
John Lukacs, The Last European War: September 1939 - December 1941 137 (Yale University Press 1976).

Estate sales.

Dean Baker says the housing market is crashing.
We have enough data at this point (lower sales, rising inventories, falling median prices) that I feel confident in saying that the crash has begun. We don't yet know the speed of the decline or the full repercussions in terms of the financial havoc or the extent of the economic downturn.

Plaintiff-side defendants.

The New York Observer looks at Milberg Weiss's efforts (e.g., holding a party on a 160-foot yacht) to save the firm in the face of federal prosecution. Other law firms to collapse have suffered from spiraling defections, which burden the partners who stay with increasing shares of the overhead (think rent -- for many firms, office space is the biggest expense). Milberg Weiss may be in better shape than, say, Brobeck Phleger & Harrison was, since the article suggests that its offices are not as plush as many large defense firms. And the firm's business model may give the institution more leverage over departing partners with regard to revenue from fee awards.

Having your cake and eating it too.

In what would be a logical extension of the Republican philosophy of governance, Todd Zywicki proposes that President Bush stop collecting the federal gas tax to score political points in an election year. Sounds great! What's the catch?
The only downside I can see would be that Republicans would take flack from environmentalists and elite opinion for not encouraging short-term conservation. But these groups aren't in play anyway. Moreover, if it is clearly styled as short-term relief, over which demand and supply are highly inelastic, then it shouldn't affect long-term gasoline use anyway.

Focusing purely on the short-term political questions, can anyone think of any reason why President Bush would not want to propose this and have the Republicans roll it through Congress?

While you're at, why not increase spending on federal transportation projects too? And you could promise everyone a pony while you're at it. Or just mint new money and give it away.

But why does he ask people to "focus purely on the short-term political questions?" With conservatives in office, isn't that a given?

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Some things that intrigue me:


For a long time, I thought that Democrats fell too easily into the trap of viewing the President as in over his head -- that he allowed them to misunderestimate him, to their peril. But the recent events in the Middle East bring one back to the notion that he's in over his head.

The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle strikes black.

The New York Times takes on the stereotype of the large, sassy black woman -- newly popular, according to the Times, but not unprecedented:
Large black actresses have had recurring roles in commercials over the years, and often are cast in roles where their aggressiveness is a defining trait. The heavy black spokeswoman for Pine Sol was one of the first to embrace the role. Her aggression was aimed at household dirt, however, not people. In a recent commercial for Captain Morgan rum, a large black woman berates her man for playing dominoes and making her late.
"Her man?"

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