Monday, April 17, 2006

[Quote of the Day] Gone and forgotten

[culture]

"In the short attention span theater of American life, anything that happened more than twenty years ago may safely be assumed never to have happened at all...."

Christopher Byron
"Cornpone Remedy" (NY Post, 4/17/06)

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Really Bad Book Reviews: #26

[books]

In her review in Friday's Times of A.M. Homes's new novel, Michiko Kakutani doesn't waste time getting to the point:

"...Homes's dreadful new novel, This Book Will Save Your Life, reads like a cartoon illustration for a seminar on men and middle age — a pastiche of all that is hokey, hackneyed and New Agey in Robert Bly's Iron John and Gail Sheehy's Understanding Men's Passages....

And that's the nicest thing she has to say.

Meanwhile, over at Slate, Ben Yagoda goes all Kakutani on Kakutani herself in this assessment of the Times-woman's shortcomings as a critic.

Let the games begin!

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NY Post: Bush Is the New Carter

[politics]

More good news for Democrats (I think): Two New York Post columnists have decided that George W. Bush is a dead-ringer, politcally speaking, for a certain Democratic president who happened to be in office during a time of rising oil prices and growing geopolitical tension.

Former Clinton political guru/toe fetishist Dick Morris declares that Bush has become "the Republican equivalent of President Jimmy Carter, out of control, dropping in popularity, unable to resume command."

"He barely skated through 2004 using the issue of terrorism. But his very success in preventing further attacks has eroded the strength of the issue and has undermined its political importance. Tax cuts, the cause celebre of his 2000 campaign, have long since been passed and yielded their economic growth. But they're long gone as a key issue....

"Even when he seeks to develop an issue, his approach is half-hearted and ineffective. It seems that on any issue other than taxes and terrorism, he has attention-deficit disorder...."

Meanwhile, in Cornpone Remedy, business columnist Chris Byron reminds us that
"By the mid-1980s, virtually everything Bush said about ethanol in his State of the Union address three months ago had already been rejected as a way to bring OPEC to its knees three decades ago.

"Back then, ethanol was referred to mostly as 'gasohol,' and scarcely a day seemed to go by without some farm-belt politician insisting that 'biomass — referring to corn, or sawdust, or even flatulent cows - could be turned into the ultimate new secret weapon in America's war for energy independence....

"Ethanol failed as an alternative fuel because — no matter what you start with as the basic feedstock, from corn to wood chips to Hefty trash can liners — it takes more energy to produce a gallon of the fuel than is contained in the gallon of ethanol you finally wind up with...."

Rapidly rising gas prices, a likely showdown with Iran, high-single-digit inflation in commodity prices, healthcare costs, higher education costs... Can you say "stagflation"? Not, apparently, if you work on Wall Street or for CNBC...

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Sunday, April 16, 2006

In Defense of Atheism

Athiests don't have a symbol, but why not this one?

[religion]

"The atheist is merely a person who believes that the 260 million Americans (87% of the population) who claim to never doubt the existence of God should be obliged to present evidence for his existence and, indeed, for his benevolence, given the relentless destruction of innocent human beings we witness in the world each day...."

Earlier this year, Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith, argued in Truthdig that "progressive tolerance of faith-based unreason is as great a menace as religion itself." Read his Atheist Manifesto — and Harris' response to reader comment and criticism.

Meanwhile, Sampo, in Finland, suggests atheists should think long and hard about whether they need a symbol to express their lack of theistic belief. But if they're going to have one, why not one of these?

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Saturday, April 15, 2006

In Passing: Muriel Spark, Stanislaw Lem, V.S. Naipaul, 'the perfect technology'

Muriel Spark's desk

[books]


  • Dame Muriel Spark, best known as the author of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, has passed away at the age of 88. Maud Newton pays tribute.

    (photo caption: A photograph of Muriel Spark's desk in her home in Tuscany, taken by friend and Scottish journalist Alan Taylor in 2003, courtesy of the National Library of Scotland, which holds Spark's personal and professional papers, one of the largest such collections in existence.)

    And over at Doublethink, a quarterly publication of the America's Future Foundation, Kelly Jane Torrance offers this assessment.


  • The Times (of London) remembers Stanislaw Lem.


  • In the UK-based Literary Review, V.S. Naipaul slags ... just about everybody.


  • In the New York Times, Barnes & Noble CEO Steve Riggio says reports of the book industry's demise have been "greatly exaggerated." Quoting the writer Paul Auster, he also argues that books are "the perfect technology ... [they're] user-friendly; [they're] portable. [They're] are relatively inexpensive. They have value as physical objects; they last a lifetime...."

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Happy (belated) Birthday, Sam!

Samuel Beckett

[arts and culture]

"It is right that he too should have his little chronicle, his memories, his reason, and be able to recognize the good in the bad, the bad in the worst, and so grow gently old down all the unchanging days, and die one day like any other day, only shorter...."

Samuel Beckett
(April 13, 1906 - December 22, 1989)

I didn't "get" Beckett when I first read him as a teenager — the age when most people first read him. It was only later, after I had put a few miles on the tires and become the father of twins (living proof that, when it comes to human behavior, nature trumps nurture) that I began to appreciate his deeply pessimistic view of the human condition.

To mark the centennial anniversary of the dour Irishman's birth, The Elegant Variation has put together a wonderful tribute page, complete with links to Beckett's Nobel Prize presentation speech and three of his best-known plays (Waiting for Godot, Endgame, and Play).

Meanwhile, over at Maud Newton's blog, Annie Reid, Maud's weekend sub, links to a Beckett reminiscence of a different sort.

And I offer my favorite quote from our first truly postmodern man:

"Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better."

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Friday, April 14, 2006

Can we grow our way out of our oil addiction?

[energy]

With the price of gasoline edging toward $3 a gallon (and the summer driving season still a month away), the WaPo's Emily Meissner asks, Is Ethanol the Answer?

Meanwhile, down in Louisiana, which long has had its bread buttered on both sides by the oil and gas industry, the editorial page of the Times-Picayune admonishes state legislators to: "Don't just do something, sit there!"

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Time for Unity on Iran

[geopolitics]

Iraq was a (mostly) avoidable mistake; Iran's decision to throw caution to the wind in its pursuit of nuclear weapons is a crisis that will test not only this president, but his successor, regardless of party affiliation.

As such, now is the time, writes John Podhoretz in today's New York Post, for the president to invite intelligence officials and leading Republicans and Democrats to Camp David to forge a bipartisan policy response to the threat....

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'With Malice Toward None, With Charity for All'

Abraham Lincoln

[history]

"This year, Good Friday, the day commemorating Christ's crucifixion, falls on April 14, as it did in 1865. On that evening, in the balcony box of Ford's Theater in Washington, John Wilkes Booth fired a handmade .41-caliber derringer ball into the back of Abraham Lincoln's head...."
Richard Wrightman Fox, in the New York Times, reminds us why Lincoln is a (secular) saint for the ages....

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Good Friday Madness

Good Friday crucifixion in the Philippines

[religion]

From Reuters:"Nine Filipinos were nailed to wooden crosses this Good Friday and scores more whipped their backs into a bloody pulp in a gory re-enactment of the death of Jesus Christ...."

And you thought Islam had a monopoly on irrationality....

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Thursday, April 13, 2006

10 Things We Have Lost in Iraq

[geopolitics]

Former State Department/Pentagon official Wayne Merry in American Conservative magazine outlines the enormous costs of the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz decision to invade Iraq (with a hat tip to The Arabist):

  1. Iraq, even with Saddam in power, would be effectively contained, rather than a powder keg threatening to blow up the entire region

  2. the United States would have much greater military and intelligence assets to devote to the vital campaign against al-Qaeda and to follow up in Afghanistan

  3. the standing and influence of the United States in Arab countries and throughout the broader Islamic world would be much greater

  4. America's global alliance system would be in better shape

  5. America's military — especially critical Army and Marine ground forces — would be in far better shape

  6. the deficit would be substantially smaller, with positive effects for the economy and greater flexibility for Congress and the administration to deal with health care, hurricanes, and the like

  7. the American public would be more positive about their country's proper role in the world and less cynical about their government and its intentions

  8. the integrity of the American Republic would be under less strain, our civil liberties more secure, and our constitutional institutions less endangered by the demands of a wartime executive

  9. the world — especially its younger people — would be much less hostile toward Americans

  10. a great many people — Americans, Iraqis, and others — would still be alive or uninjured

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Iraq not Vietnam (It's Korea)

[geopolitics]

"There are, of course, many dissimilarities between the Korea of 1953 and the Iraq of 2006; history repeats itself only in outline, not in detail. But the similarities are also striking. Both countries endured a long prewar period of oppression that retarded their political maturation — Japanese occupation in one instance, homegrown tyranny in another. In neither case had the population ever known self-government. Both newly hatched governments had, and are having, to master new arts of politics, build an army and all the infrastructure of modern governance under fire and face protracted campaigns against implacable foes. There were those in the West in 1953 who doubted that Asians brought into the modern world only recently could master democracy and free-market economies. A half-century later, we hear echoes of this regarding Middle Eastern people...."
Retired Army colonel Robert Killebrew suggests that U.S. forces could be in Iraq a long, long time....

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[Quote of the Day] Where Have All the Populists Gone?

[politics]

"...[William Jennings] Bryan's persistent failure embodied a larger triumph. Throughout his career, Bryan championed the vision of social democracy that finally (if imperfectly) became embodied in the New Deal. Far more clearly than his successful contemporaries Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, Bryan understood the need for curbing concentrated corporate and government power in the name of genuine democracy. He recognized the fundamental conflict between republican tradition and imperial ambition. He was prescient on nearly every policy matter of his time, from the progressive income tax and banking regulation to union rights and federally funded social insurance. Even his critique of evolutionary thought, however embarrassing to right-thinking secularists today, focused on the dubious and repellent social applications of Darwinian theory — eugenics and similar schemes for eliminating the ethnically 'unfit'...."

from Jackson Lears' review ("When Jesus Was a Democrat")
of A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings Bryan,
by Michael Kazin (at Powell's.com)

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Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The Hillary Watch: Chicago, 4/11/06

Hillary Clinton

[politics]

Speaking of Democratic politicians who fake left and run right, Hillary opened her presidential campaign — er, gave a speech — in front of the Economic Club of Chicago yesterday in which she sounded a number of themes likely to figure in her '08 run for the Big Enchilada: the fiscal irresponsibility of the current administration, the lack of investment in critical infrastructure and education, the fraying social compact with the middle class. I think the last, especially, has legs and is more palatable to the average Red State voter than was John Edwards' harping on "two Americas" in the last election. (There may indeed be two Americas, but we all like to think that some day we'll find ourselves living in the cushy one.)

The question is, can Hill's pantsuit version of economic populism help put her over the top in 2008? I doubt it. After the "brilliant" option trades, the fat book contracts, the $35 million reelection war chest, she's just not believable as an economic populist. Hillary's fundamental electability problem is that she lacks ... authenticity. And not just on economic issues. But time will tell...

(Photo Credit: Washington Post)

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NAFTA and immigration

H. Ross Perot

[politics]

I've avoided comment on the immigration debate this week — both sides have vaild arguments, and the whole situation is a lose-lose situation for everyone.

With all that's been written on the subject, however, I find it curious that no one has asked the following: If NAFTA was such a good deal for Mexicans, how come they're emigrating to the U.S. in record numbers?

Oddly enough, Ross Perot predicted exactly that outcome back in 1993:
"[It is a myth that] NAFTA will reduce illegal immigration. As manufacturing in northern Mexico expands, hundreds of thousands of Mexican workers will be drawn north. They will quickly find that wages in the Mexican maquiladora plants cannot compete with wages anywhere in the US. Out of economic necessity, many of these mobile workers will consider illegally immigrating into the US. In short, NAFTA has the potential to increase illegal immigration, not decrease it...." (Source: On the Issues: Every Political Leader on Every Issue, 2000)
And we thought ol' Ross was crazy...

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Don't Shoot ESPN for "Bonds on Bonds"

The Juiced One

[sports]

Joe Flint, in the Wall Street Journal, argues that ESPN's new ten-part series on the Juiced One isn't, as others have suggested, a deal with the devil:
"...It's sensible to approach all news coverage, and sports in particular, with a certain degree of skepticism. But to suggest that one overhyped docudrama that isn't doing any favors to Barry Bonds has comprised ESPN's entire news division is extreme. If anything, the show provides viewers with a new window onto the car wreck that is Barry Bonds, and for that, perhaps ESPN should even be praised for taking the chance."
(via Romenesko)

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Photo-Ops Gone Bad

I'm not a real fighter pilot, but I play one on TV
Enriched uranium, the solution to our problems!

[geopolitics]

Was anyone else struck by the similarities between the "Allah be praised, we've enriched uranium!" announcement in Tehran yesterday and George W. Bush's "Mission Accomplished" photo-op on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln in May 2003?

Meanwhile, as the saber rattling in Washington and Tehran grows louder, the International Energy Agency has raised its estimates of what OPEC will need to pump this year in order to meet the rising global demand for oil and cover a shortfall from other producers such as Russia.

Anyone want to buy a Hummer cheap?

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Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Fallows: Bombing Iran Not an Option

[Iran]

With respect to Iran, Jim Fallows argues in the May issue of The Atlantic that the Bush administration has — and continues to be — its own worst enemy:

"...The inconvenient truth of American foreign policy is that the last five years have left us with a series of choices — and all of them are bad. The United States can't keep troops in Iraq indefinitely, for obvious reasons. It can't withdraw them, because of the chaos that would ensue. The United States can't keep prisoners at Guantánamo Bay (and other overseas facilities) indefinitely, because of international and domestic challenges. But it can't hastily release them, since many were and more have become terrorists. And it can't even bring them to trial, because of procedural abuses that have already occurred. Similarly, the United States can't accept Iran's emergence as a nuclear power, but it cannot prevent this through military means — unless it is willing to commit itself to all-out war. The central flaw of American foreign policy these last few years has been the triumph of hope, wishful thinking, and self-delusion over realism and practicality. Realism about Iran starts with throwing out any plans to bomb...."
Click here for the complete article.

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Bomb Blast in Pakistan Kills 40

[Islam]

AP is reporting that a bomb exploded during evening prayers at a park in Karachi Tuesday, killing at least 40 people and wounding dozens. According to the report, "an angry mob burned cars and threw stones at police, who fired into the air to disperse the crowd...."

Remind me, why is Islam called the religion of peace?

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