Monday, October 30, 2006

Fine art.

The Guardian's new art blog has a list of twenty paintings to see before you die. (I'm hoping to fit in a few more than that.) There's a purported link to a slideshow of the twenty, but it didn't work for me. Assuming that you'll need to travel to see them, here's where they are:
Madrid (3)
New York (2)
Rome (2)
Florence (2)
Colmar, France
The Hague
Syracuse, Sicily
St. Petersburg
Cape Town
That's a lot of ground to cover.

Now enabling the best in two-way communication.

Welcome to the blogosphere, Bob Malone!

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Pundit does not mean "deep thinker."

Glenn Greenwald has Peggy Noonan's number:
The most corrupt and worthless pundits are those who never do anything other than spout the most conventional and recent partisan wisdom -- even if it directly contradicts what they had repeatedly said in the past -- and who always pretend that they possess the superior wisdom even when they have been so plainly wrong about everything. It's that dynamic that explains how hordes of Bush followers in the public sphere (such as Noonan) who spent years loyally defending his every step -- and demonizing those who opposed him ("criticizing the Commander-in-Chief during a time of war") -- are now posturing as hard-nosed critics who, all along, realized that Bush wasn't a "real conservative" and was too flawed for the job.

One thing that you can say about Bush is that, by and large, he doesn't change. Any basis for criticizing him has been glaringly apparent for quite some time. All that has changed is the fact that he is now wildly unpopular and that his failures are too glaring for most to deny. Because of that dramatic change -- and for no other reason -- these Bush-worshipping pundits are desperate to shed their Bush-following skin and pretend that they have been open-eyed realists and critics all along.
The mistake is in thinking of pundits as intellectuals. Most of them are providing content.

Chitchatting about cadmium and puce.

From Adam Goodheart's review of Charles Frazier's new novel, Thirteen Moons, in today's New York Times Book Review:
How, then, to explain the much more frequent patches of bad -- really bad -- writing in "Thirteen Moons"? This starts with the book's very first sentences, which are so awful that they beg to be read aloud: "There is no scatheless rapture. Love and time put me in this condition. I am leaving soon for the Nightland, where all the ghosts of men and animals yearn to travel." To be sure, there were plenty of passages like this in "Cold Mountain" -- of prose that somehow managed to be simultaneously potentous, folksy and cloying, like banjo music on the soundtrack of a Ken Burns documentary. But the volume in "Thirteen Moons" has been cranked up considerably.

The problem, I think, is that Frazier writes almost exclusively to create effects. He seems to be in love with the supposed gorgeousness of his own prose, a backdrop against which his characters emerge merely as dim figures, without consistent motivations or even personalities. Tolstoy and Virgil -- and, come to think of it, Margaret Mitchell -- credibly describe human beings driven by ambition, greed, drunkenness, and fickle lust. Frazier can't even get the drunkenness right. When Will is reunited with an old Cherokee buddy, "at a certain point of whiskey camaraderie, we contested to name all the colors the mountains and their foliage are able to take on. . . . We went on down the colors, even all the purples, including puce. And the yellows including cadmium." Now that's what I'd call a couple of tough old-timers, getting plastered and chitchatting about cadmium and puce! (Unfortunately, they run through the rest of the color spectrum, as well.)
Stephen Metcalf didn't like the way Frazier writes either.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Run Lola Run.

Another place I need to go.

Tyler Cowen loves Sweden.

Something cool.

Via Eszter at Crooked Timber, here's a sort of music box. Make sure your sound is turned on.

But then, who does?

David Letterman doesn't like Bill O'Reilly.

When do pitchers and catchers report?

It's always sad when the World Series ends and you realize that it'll be the spring before baseball is back.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Deficient, in so far as reasonableness is concerned.

I go over to Marty Peretz's blog every so often on the theory that if he doesn't get his page hits he'll inflict his writing on The Plank instead of helpfully segregating it. But I can't stomach it for long. In the second paragraph of the lead item there now, he explains that Edward Said's star is dimming because the Orientalists were right:
[T]he Palestinian people . . . have not shown that they are yet capable of political reason . . . [and] are, in so far as reasonableness is concerned, as deficient as those who studied them as Arabs thought them to be.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Toad licking.

NPR's Laura Mirsch has the heartwarming story of a family, a dog, and a drug problem:
Lady "was really perky, and happy, and generally excited to see you when you came in the door every day," recalls Andrew Mirsch.

But that was before the Mirsch family moved into a new house.

"We noticed Lady spending an awful lot of time down by the pond in our backyard," Laura Mirsch recalls.

Lady would wander the area, disoriented and withdrawn, soporific and glassy-eyed.

"Then, late one night after I'd put the dogs out, Lady wouldn't come in," Laura Mirsch says. "She finally staggered over to me from the cattails. She looked up at me, leaned her head over and opened her mouth like she was going to throw up, and out plopped this disgusting toad."

It turned out the toads were toxic -- and, if licked, the fluids on their skin provided a hallucinogenic effect.

What followed was the Mirsch family's quest to stop their cocker spaniel from indulging herself. But it wasn't easy. Lady was persistent, and resourceful.

The situation seemed to resolve itself when the toads went into hibernation for the winter.

But when they returned, so did Lady -- and with a vengeance.

"We couldn't keep our dog's addiction a secret any longer," Laura Mirsch says. "The neighbors all knew that Lady was a drug addict, and soon the other dogs weren't allowed to play with her."

In the end, Lady seems to have found a way to manage her problem.

"She seems to have outgrown the wild toad-obsessed years of her youth," Mirsch says, "and now only sucks on weekends."

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Don't put me on the front page of the Salt Lake City Tribune.

One more reason -- longer and funnier than the others -- that this blog remains anonymous.

Six words.

Via Fascination Place, six-word stories.

The secret parts of Kerr.

Ron Rosenbaum, on whom I rely to tip me off to hidden gems like the novels of Charles Portis and Stanley Elkins, has just discovered the noir thrillers of Philip Kerr, set in Germany and Austria before, during and after World War II. I was onto Kerr a year ago!

An old crystal ball.

Via Matt Yglesias, here is a prescient take on Bush's foreign policy by former British diplomat Jonathan Clarke, published in 2001 before the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon but still very much worth reading.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Grow rich.

The Big Picture has an abbreviated version of CNN Money's 25 Rules to Grow Rich By.

Five! So big!

Bailey Quarters says "Happy Birthday" to the iPod.

A little reading to catch up on.

Here's a list of "1001 books You Must Read Before You Die," via Marginal Revolution, which has some comments. I've read 82 of them -- I'd better get busy.

How many pocket squares?

The Sartorialist wonders whether you need another pocket square for your suit when you wear one with your overcoat. You'll have to click through to find the answer.

David Brooks, pwned.

This just has to hurt. Live by quicky cultural analysis, die by the quicky cultural analysis.

Updated: Speaking of which, Majikthese asks, "Why is it that David Brooks can spend the better part of his career prattling about patio furniture and still be considered a serious pundit while Barbara Ehrenreich's work on the American class system is dismissed as fluff?"

Voter information.

For an explanation, see here.
--AZ-Sen: Jon Kyl

--AZ-01: Rick Renzi

--AZ-05: J.D. Hayworth

--CA-04: John Doolittle

--CA-11: Richard Pombo

--CA-50: Brian Bilbray

--CO-04: Marilyn Musgrave

--CO-05: Doug Lamborn

--CO-07: Rick O'Donnell

--CT-04: Christopher Shays

--FL-13: Vernon Buchanan

--FL-16: Joe Negron

--FL-22: Clay Shaw

--ID-01: Bill Sali

--IL-06: Peter Roskam

--IL-10: Mark Kirk

--IL-14: Dennis Hastert

--IN-02: Chris Chocola

--IN-08: John Hostettler

--IA-01: Mike Whalen

--KS-02: Jim Ryun

--KY-03: Anne Northup

--KY-04: Geoff Davis

--MD-Sen: Michael Steele

--MN-01: Gil Gutknecht

--MN-06: Michele Bachmann

--MO-Sen: Jim Talent

--MT-Sen: Conrad Burns

--NV-03: Jon Porter

--NH-02: Charlie Bass

--NJ-07: Mike Ferguson

--NM-01: Heather Wilson

--NY-03: Peter King

--NY-20: John Sweeney

--NY-26: Tom Reynolds

--NY-29: Randy Kuhl

--NC-08: Robin Hayes

--NC-11: Charles Taylor

--OH-01: Steve Chabot

--OH-02: Jean Schmidt

--OH-15: Deborah Pryce

--OH-18: Joy Padgett

--PA-04: Melissa Hart

--PA-07: Curt Weldon

--PA-08: Mike Fitzpatrick

--PA-10: Don Sherwood

--RI-Sen: Lincoln Chafee

--TN-Sen: Bob Corker

--VA-Sen: George Allen

--VA-10: Frank Wolf

--WA-Sen: Mike McGavick

--WA-08: Dave Reichert

Monday, October 23, 2006

Top lit.

The Observer (UK) polls critics about the best novel written in English outside America between 1980 and 2005. JM Coetzee's Disgrace wins the nod, but the fun is in the chase.


Arnold Kransdorff on hyperinflation in Zimbabwe:
If one disregards the recent removal of three zeroes from the local currency and its 60 per cent devaluation, it takes less than 50p to turn one of Robert Mugabe's "comrades" into a local millionaire on the country's black market.

The latest "official" rate for the pound is Z$470, with the black market figure Z$2,300. This compares with an exchange rate of Z$2 to £1 in 1980, the year Mr Mugabe assumed office. With a current inflation rate of up to almost 4 per cent a day - 1,200 per cent a year - the octogenarian nationalist leader, who has cheated his way into power in at least two elections, has vowed to keep the money presses rolling.

This will not help the inflation rate; only the volume of paper currency that individuals need to carry around. Ahead of his zero-trimming wheeze, money was mostly handled in elastic-banded "bricks" of Z$20,000 and Z$50,000 notes (the Z$11m version was about three-inches thick). On current form, the bricks will be returning soon.

Yet while everyone complains, no one begs, people are generally well dressed and mobile phones deafen the smog-filled streets when petrol is available. It is more than puzzling. How, then, are people surviving? And why is conventional economic theory not working? First, about one-quarter of Zimbabwe's population has fledMr Mugabe's administration's loose grip, with about 3m in South Africa, 1m in the UK and many of the rest in the US. Of the Zimbabweans who stay, the unemployed (80 per cent) and those infected with HIV/Aids (at least 35 per cent) have become almost invisible, most having returned to their tribal homes to live and die inexpensively. For them, inflation is not a problem so long as they can grow their own food.

The relatively small political, professional and entrepreneurial classes subsist well, many of the former on huge government salaries, perks and corruption. Most professionals charge fees at South African rates while the businessmen trade, trade and trade again. So long as they can buy and sell quickly, they can keep ahead of inflation.

For the rest - the employee middle class - life is hard, with inflation constantly eating away at earnings and savings. Into this group fall the military and the police, to whom Mr Mugabe has given regular, inflation-linked increases to buy their loyalty. Meanwhile, a combination of unrelated factors keep the economy afloat.

First and foremost is the support of Zimbabwe's neighbour, South Africa, whose president, Thabo Mbeki, cannot bring himself to disapprove of a fellow nationalist revolutionary, whateverMr Mugabe's despotic behaviour or economic mismanagement.

Second, Mr Mugabe's 5m disaffected citizens working abroad send money back to their unemployed and starving relatives and friends, a sum thought to be worth US$100m a year.

Third, shopkeepers keep going through a system of "runners", who travel with mostly black marketforeign currency to neighbouring Zambia, Botswana, South Africa and Mozambique to buy both necessities and luxuries.

Fourth, Zimbabwe is not finding it too difficult to sell its deposits of chrome, gold, silver, platinum, copper and asbestos.

Finally, while tourism is dead on its feet, game-shooting is thriving. For almost every flight from abroad several 4x4s are waiting, with padlocked lockers containing high-powered guns. In attendance are bronzed, khaki-shorted former farmers holding up name cards of wealthy Americans, Britons, Russians and Germans who have paid big bucks to shoot elephant, lion, leopard, kudu, crocodile and rhinoceros.

Realistically, there's no end in sight.

I have to wait a month, though.

I envy Edward Champion.


Read Spencer Ackerman on recent events in Balad, and then hope that he will keep the new blog going instead of letting TAPPED monopolize him.

Kenny Rogers cheated.

A pitching coach explains how:
"It was pine tar. It couldn't be anything else. Pitchers use pine tar, shaving cream and suntan lotion. Pitchers use them to help them grip the ball and make the ball move more. Bullpen guys sometimes keep suntan lotion in the ball bags. It's not for a tan. Pine tar works the best. It's been around the longest. But lately, more and more guys are using shaving cream and suntan lotion. There's no chance to be caught with shaving cream or suntan lotion. . . .

"I am guessing Rogers didn't really know how to use pine tar, because he put too much on. It probably spread from his glove to the palm of his hand.

"You have to try to be inconspicuous about it. He probably put the pine tar on the glove but it started to leak and build up on his hand. There was nothing he could do about it. It started to cake up too much. Pine tar also makes a stain on the ball. . . .

"He definitely was using pine tar. It can cake with pine tar and rosin. Maybe after the second inning, he went back to the shaving cream and added moisture. I'd say he was either hiding it better or he went back to the shaving cream or suntan lotion.

Sunday, October 22, 2006


Why is a Pentagon bureaucrat frustrating efforts to cover the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan?


On top of what Atrios was saying the other day, here's another good reason for internet anonymity. Bummer.

Who is Hans Beckert?

Aside from being #90 on USA Today's list of the 101 most influential people who never lived.


Why do people take Glenn Reynolds seriously? This sort of junk is typical. So was there any suspense about whether -- or why -- he would vote for Corker in Tennessee's Senate race? Scott Lemieux has more.

Behind the veil.

Two weeks after 9/11, Yvonne Ridley donned a burqa to sneak into Afghanistan. Five years later, she has converted to Islam, and the veil she wears exposes her to attention. She writes about the veil in today's Washington Post:
[W]hy are Western men so obsessed with Muslim women's attire? Even British government ministers Gordon Brown and John Reid have made disparaging remarks about the nikab -- and they hail from across the Scottish border, where men wear skirts.

When I converted to Islam and began wearing a headscarf, the repercussions were enormous. All I did was cover my head and hair -- but I instantly became a second-class citizen. I knew I'd hear from the odd Islamophobe, but I didn't expect so much open hostility from strangers. Cabs passed me by at night, their "for hire" lights glowing. One cabbie, after dropping off a white passenger right in front of me, glared at me when I rapped on his window, then drove off. Another said, "Don't leave a bomb in the back seat" and asked, "Where's bin Laden hiding?"

Yes, it is a religious obligation for Muslim women to dress modestly, but the majority of Muslim women I know like wearing the hijab, which leaves the face uncovered, though a few prefer the nikab. It is a personal statement: My dress tells you that I am a Muslim and that I expect to be treated respectfully, much as a Wall Street banker would say that a business suit defines him as an executive to be taken seriously. And, especially among converts to the faith like me, the attention of men who confront women with inappropriate, leering behavior is not tolerable.

I was a Western feminist for many years, but I've discovered that Muslim feminists are more radical than their secular counterparts. We hate those ghastly beauty pageants, and tried to stop laughing in 2003 when judges of the Miss Earth competition hailed the emergence of a bikini-clad Miss Afghanistan, Vida Samadzai, as a giant leap for women's liberation. They even gave Samadzai a special award for "representing the victory of women's rights."

Some young Muslim feminists consider the hijab and the nikab political symbols, too, a way of rejecting Western excesses such as binge drinking, casual sex and drug use. What is more liberating: being judged on the length of your skirt and the size of your surgically enhanced breasts, or being judged on your character and intelligence? In Islam, superiority is achieved through piety -- not beauty, wealth, power, position or sex.

Ridley also points out that Islam has no monopoly on men who abuse women:
[F]or those who are still trying to claim that Islam oppresses women, recall this 1992 statement from the Rev. Pat Robertson, offering his views on empowered women: Feminism is a "socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians."

Now you tell me who is civilized and who is not.

Brooks on Sully.

His op-ed columns usually leave me cold, but David Brooks' review of Andrew Sullivan's new book, The Conservative Soul, is thoughtful and -- if you have any interest in Sullivan's recent apostasy -- worth reading. Sullivan suggested he'll write a response soon, and when he does I'll link to it here.

He took B.D.'s leg.

The Washington Post's Gene Weingarten has this terrific profile of Doonesbury author G.B. Trudeau. Weingarten will be doing an on-line Q and A here tomorrow.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The fall of Easter Island.

If you've read Jared Diamond's account, now hear this.

David Remnick.

The Guardian (UK) tries to figure out what David Remnick is doing to make The New Yorker tick.

Michael Frayn.

Here's a nice profile of Michael Frayn.

Diane Nash.

Erik Loomis reminds us of an unjustly neglected hero of the civil rights movement, Diane Nash.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Once no larger than life.

Before John Henry was mythic, perhaps he was real flesh and blood:

In “Steel Drivin’ Man,” Scott Reynolds Nelson argues that the John Henry story was no tall tale, and Henry himself no myth. Historians have long speculated that the John Henry ballads, which began circulating in the 1870’s, referred to a real railroad worker, but Mr. Nelson, with extensive documentation in hand, proposes a candidate. His John Henry is a former Union soldier, imprisoned for theft while on a work assignment in Richmond, Va., and leased out with other inmates to blast tunnels through the Allegheny Mountains for the new Chesapeake & Ohio Railway.

. . . Mr. Nelson . . . stumbled on his evidence while writing “Iron Confederacies,” a study of Southern railroads during Reconstruction. In the early 1870’s, he found, large numbers of convicts from the Virginia State Penitentiary died while working on the C&O Railway. Recalling a version of the John Henry ballad with the lines, “They took John Henry to the white house, and buried him in the san’,” he made a connection: the main building of the penitentiary was white. Nearby, in 1992, workers demolishing the prison had dug up about 300 skeletons. Mr. Nelson ransacked state archives and came up with the name of a prisoner: John William Henry.

The historical record is sketchy, but most of the verifiable facts about Mr. Nelson’s John Henry make him plausible as the real steel-driving man. First, of course, is the name. In addition, Henry worked on the team assigned to drill the Lewis Tunnel in West Virginia, where steam drills were put to the test against workers with hammers. By 1874 he has disappeared from prison records, with no mention of pardon, parole or release, strongly suggesting that he died while working on the railroads and not inside the prison, where his death would have been recorded.

So who was John Henry? Mr. Nelson can do no more than offer a tantalizingly incomplete biography. He was from New Jersey and, in some capacity, worked for the Union Army at City Point, a landing near Petersburg, Va., in 1866, when he was 18. In April of that year he was arrested for stealing from a grocery store and sentenced to 10 years in prison. He was sent to the Virginia State Penitentiary, where the warden, desperate to raise revenue, had begun leasing prisoners to the railroad for 25 cents a day. John Henry was one.

. . . [T]unnel drilling involved . . . manual workers with hammer and chisel and . . . new steam drills that promised a cheaper, quicker way to bore the holes that workers filled with blasting material. The hammer man worked in partnership with a shaker, who would hold a chisel-like drill against mountain rock, while the hammer man struck a powerful blow with a sledgehammer. Then the shaker would begin rocking and rolling: wiggling and rotating the drill to optimize its bite. Work songs like the early John Henry ballads, often rhythmic chants with no melody, set the pace and synchronized the movements of hammer man and shaker.

As Mr. Nelson tells it, the contest between worker and machine was less than equal. A smoothly coordinated human team had an advantage over the early drills, which constantly broke down. The machines were highly efficient, however, at generating clouds of silicon dust. Contrary to the picture presented by the ballads, John Henry would have died not of exhaustion or a burst heart, but of silicosis, a fatal, fast-moving lung disease that took the lives of hundreds of railroad workers.

Via Robert Farley. I keep meaning to read Colson Whitehead's John Henry Days -- someday soon.

For the bibliophiles.

The Nonist has some well-lit shots of smoking hot libraries.

Rachel Ray is everywhere.

I'm not the only person upon whom Rachel Ray snuck up. Grant McCracken attempts to explain.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Throwing the baby out.

An editorial in the Rochester (N.Y.) paper is headlined:
Don't condemn the entire G.O.P.
A little late to regret turning the party over to the Southerners, I think.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Share the wealth.

Here's a good piece by Richard Tomkins in today's Financial Times arguing that the benefits of globalization ought to be spread to the middle class, rather than left to the rich and the very poor.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Cows in Greenland?

Jared Diamond readers, take note: Warming conditions mean a longer growing season for potato farmers and plans to introduce dairy cattle to Greenland.

Elect Dems.

If you want to follow hot races around the country, or if you want another way to help out, check out this new site:
A friend helped set the site up, and I'm posting on a couple of the races. If you like what you see, spread the word. There is a moment here, and a chance to grab.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

A yokely-dokely pastiche.

Stephen Metcalf doesn't like the way Charles Frazier writes:
Sacred water, huckleberry juice, wolf teats—Thirteen Moons, you may have guessed, is a catalog of faux naive Americana. Much of the book is written in a "ye olde" diction: People go "a-roving," and get "a-plenty of oats," and "travel retrograde to [their] anger," whatever that means. It's a yokely-dokely pastiche, of Faulkner (by way of Toni Morrison) and of the King James Bible (by way of Jack Handy), and it is to the actual American idiom, past or present, roughly what the Rainforest Café is to the Amazon basin.

Oddly enough, Slate doesn't link to James Woods' 1997 trashing of Frazier's Cold Mountain, on grounds so evocative of what Metcalf writes now that I assumed he had written both reviews. Woods was so persuasive that I have never opened the copy of Cold Mountain that I had bought.


Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Not so bleak?

A letter to the editor in today's Financial Times:


Your report on Robert Putnam's research ("Harvard study paints bleak picture of ethnic diversity", October 9), by focusing almost exclusively on the challenge posed by ethnic diversity, painted a distorted picture of his research, as reflected in his recent inaugural lecture at the University of Manchester. Prof Putnam spoke here on the topic "E Pluribus Unum: Immigration, diversity, and community", based on his September 30 2006 Skytte Prize lecture (soon to be published in Scandinavian Political Studies). The talk made three points: the first was that immigration and increasing ethnic diversity are both inevitable and beneficial in all modern societies. Immigrants comprise a vastly disproportionate share of America's Nobel Laureates, for example.

The second was that, in the short term, ethnic diversity challenges community cohesion.

The third was that, in the longer term, successful immigrant societies renew their cohesion by deconstructing lines of ethnic difference and constructing a new, more capacious sense of "we". Among the techniques for achieving this objective, Putnam said, are national symbolism, education, and popular culture. A generation ago, he reminded us, Americans spoke of "Jewish humour", but nowadays people think of Woody Allen as an American comedian, not a Jewish comedian. As the very title of the Putnam lecture indicated, he focused on creating "one out of many".

The FT article focused only on the second point.

Alistair Ulph,

Vice-President and Dean of
the Faculty of Humanities,
University of Manchester,
Manchester M13 9PL

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Diversity and trust.

Bleak news from Harvard political scientist (and author of Bowling Alone) Robert Putnam:

His research shows that the more diverse a community is, the less likely its inhabitants are to trust anyone - from their next-door neighbour to the mayor.

This is a contentious finding in the current climate of concern about the benefits of immigration. Professor Putnam told the Financial Times he had delayed publishing his research until he could develop proposals to compensate for the negative effects of diversity, saying it "would have been irresponsible to publish without that".

The core message of the research was that, "in the presence of diversity, we hunker down", he said. "We act like turtles. The effect of diversity is worse than had been imagined. And it's not just that we don't trust people who are not like us. In diverse communities, we don't trust people who do look like us."

Prof Putnam found trust was lowest in Los Angeles, "the most diverse human habitation in human history", but his findings also held for rural South Dakota, where "diversity means inviting Swedes to a Norwegians' picnic".

When the data were adjusted for class, income and other factors, they showed that the more people of different races lived in the same community, the greater the loss of trust. "They don't trust the local mayor, they don't trust the local paper, they don't trust other people and they don't trust institutions," said Prof Putnam. "The only thing there's more of is protest marches and TV-watching."

Yesterday's Financial Times has the story.

A letter from Iraq.

Take a look at this letter of highlights and lowlights from a Marine officer in Iraq, reported to be Col. Pete Devlin, the Corps' chief of intelligence there. A few choice bits:

Most Surreal Moment - Watching Marines arrive at my detention facility and unload a truck load of flex-cuffed midgets. 26 to be exact. I had put the word out earlier in the day to the Marines in Fallujah that we were looking for Bad Guy X, who was described as a midget. Little did I know that Fallujah was home to a small community of midgets, who banded together for support since they were considered as social outcasts. The Marines were anxious to get back to the midget colony to bring in the rest of the midget suspects, but I called off the search, figuring Bad Guy X was long gone on his short legs after seeing his companions rounded up by the giant infidels.

Most Profound Man in Iraq - an unidentified farmer in a fairly remote area who, after being asked by Reconnaissance Marines (searching for Syrians) if he had seen any foreign fighters in the area replied "Yes, you."

Coolest Insurgent Act - Stealing almost $7 million from the main bank in Ramadi in broad daylight, then, upon exiting, waving to the Marines in the combat outpost right next to the bank, who had no clue of what was going on. The Marines waved back. Too cool.

Biggest Outrage - Practically anything said by talking heads on TV about the war in Iraq, not that I get to watch much TV. Their thoughts are consistently both grossly simplistic and politically slanted. Biggest offender - Bill O'Reilly - what a buffoon.

Best Intel Work - Finding Jill Carroll's kidnappers - all of them. I was mighty proud of my guys that day. I figured we'd all get the Christian Science Monitor for free after this, but none have showed up yet. Talk about ingratitude.

One nation, under the South.

Chris Bowers:
One thing few people ever both to point out about the 1994 Republican takeover of the House of Representatives is that "the South" never lost control. Democrats still have a majority of non-southern seats in the House of Representatives, just as we had before the 1994 election. Although it happened to little fanfare, Democrats re-took their non-southern majority in the elections of 1998, and have never lost it since (although it was tied from January of 2003 until February of 2004). However, when the south switched to majority Republican control in 1994, Republicans took over Congress. Whatever transfer of power took place between the two parties in 1994, the majority of the south has remained in unbroken control of the House of Representatives since 1955, the year after the Brown vs. Board of Education decision by the Supreme Court.
Bowers further points out that very few of the congressional seats seemingly at play in next month's election are in the South. If the Democrats win Congress back, they probably will do so without taking a majority of the seats in the South.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Dem Bones.

Ron Rosenbaum on the Skull and Bones angle to Rhode Island's Senate race.


In "The Hugoliad," a 1935 pamphlet against Victor Hugo, the playwright Eugene Ionesco, who was twenty-six and still living in Romania, wrote, "The characteristic of the biography of famous men is that they wanted to be famous. The characteristic of the biography of all men is that they did not want to be, or they never thought of being, famous men. . . . A famous man is disgusting."

Let us try to sharpen the terminology: a man becomes famous when the number of people who know him is markedly greater than the number he knows. The recognition enjoyed by a great surgeon is not fame: he is admired not by a public but by his patients, by his colleagues. He lives in equilibrium. Fame is a disequilibrium. There are professions that drag it along behind them necessarily, unavoidably: politicians, supermodels, athletes, artists.
Milan Kundera, "What Is A Novelist?," The New Yorker 41, 43 (Oct. 9, 2006).

Some perspective on Social Security.

Brad Setser:
I am growing tired of reading editorials complaining about a failure to take “Social Security’s long-term problem” seriously.

True, projections show a deficit of something like 1.5% of US GDP in Social Security starting around 2045. See Figure 1-3 in the CBO’s outlook. That of course assumes the US treasury doesn’t default on its obligations to the Social Security trust fund.

However, I don’t get why a 1.5% of GDP deficit after 2045 is a bigger problem than the current 3.5% of GDP gap (per the CBO – see the on-budget deficit in 2006 on p. 22) between the revenues of the government (excluding social security) and its current spending (excluding social security). The current on-budget deficit came even with more revenues from the tax on corporate profits than at any time since the 1970s. That may not last (even if the stock markets seems to think it will).

Deficits in the non-Social Security part of the government now, usually financed by borrowing from the central banks of non-democratic countries v. smaller deficits in Social Security after 2045. Which is the bigger problem?


Here's an interesting piece by Jack Shafer about Bloomberg, which has grown by perceiving and meeting a need for business news that old-line newspapers were not addressing. Political bloggers too often fail to consider the media as business, but it's worth thinking about how Bloomberg is stealing the action.

Gladwell on the decline?

Tom Scocca thinks Malcolm Gladwell has lost a step. "At times, lately, Mr. Gladwell sounds like someone trying to tell other people about something he read once in a Malcolm Gladwell piece, after a few rounds of drinks."

Back when the Geneva Conventions meant something to us.

On the issue of waterboarding, the United States charged Yukio Asano, a Japanese officer on May 1 to 28, 1947, with war crimes. The offenses were recounted by John Henry Burton, a civilian victim:
After taking me down into the hallway they laid me out on a stretcher and strapped me on. The stretcher was then stood on end with my head almost touching the floor and my feet in the air. They then began pouring water over my face and at times it was impossible for me to breathe without sucking in water. The torture continued and continued.
Yukio Asano was sentenced to fifteen years of hard labor. We punished people with fifteen years of hard labor when waterboarding was used against Americans in World War II.
Sen. Edward Kennedy (D.- Mass.), speaking on the Senate floor, September 28, 2006.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

"No prawns at this altitude!"

Calvin Trillin profiled Johnny Apple three years ago in The New Yorker.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Screwing workers.

If a Democratic congressional majority is looking for an issue to focus on in late January, how about undoing the NLRB's most recent decision to undo labor-law protections for 8 million workers. That number surely understates the impact, since companies will now find ways to make more workers ersatz "supervisors."

Jet down.

Via Bailey McQuarters, yesterday's New York Times had a wrenching account from the Times writer who was on the executive jet that escaped a mid-air collision with a passenger plane over the Amazon Jungle recently. Those on the other plane were not so lucky -- all 155 aboard died. Today news comes that the pilots of the executive jet may be charged with manslaughter. Although it's too soon to jump to conclusions, the most recent report strongly suggests that under international protocols the executive jet was at the wrong altitude.

Wax cake.

An ornamental cake is absolutely and totally essential to every wedding and to the years of marriage that follow. Even the modern Japanese have adopted the custom. Their cakes are just like the white three-tiered Anglo-American model, except that they are inedible, made of white wax (with a small zone of real cake to allow for the ceremonial cutting) and can be used again and again by the company from which they are rented.
Jeffrey Steingarten, "Tiers and Laughter," in It Must Have Been Something I Ate 144, 145 (Alfred A. Knopf 2002).

Johnny Apple.

R.W. Apple died today, having filed his last piece for the New York Times on good eats in Singapore.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The wrong week.

What Billmon said.

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