Archives for June, 2005

It Depends on What the Meaning of “Throes” Is

Cheney on CNN:

“If you look at what the dictionary says about throes, it can still be a violent period, the throes of a revolution,” he said. “The point would be that the conflict will be intense, but it’s intense because the terrorists understand that if we’re successful at accomplishing our objective Ã?Â?Ã?¢Ã?¢?Ã?¬Ã?¢?? standing up a democracy in Iraq Ã?Â?Ã?¢Ã?¢?Ã?¬Ã?¢?? that that’s a huge defeat for them.”

I think he’s disassembling here.

Posted on Jun 24, 2005 in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Books I Have Known

I’ve been been memed with the book meme.

1. How many books do you own?

Nobody who reads enough has any idea, nor time to do an accurate count.

2. What was the last book you bought?

Dark Star by Alan Furst. I got it a couple of years ago as a Christmas present from my dad, but somehow lost it, and I’ve been reading about what a kickass book it is, so I reaquired it.

3. What was the last book you read?

Stephen King, On Writing. People look down their nose at SK, but he’s fun to read, and if you want to write, how can you not want advice from a guy who’s written dozens of bestsellers? Plus, the account of his near-death–run down by a toothless trailer park ghoul who was headed “to get some of them Marzes bars they have up to the store”–is riveting. “My God, I’ve been killed by a character from one of my books,” thinks King as he looks down at his broken body.

4. What are the five books that mean the most to me?

I interpret this, as others have, as, not necessarily my favorite books, or desert island reads, but as books that made some difference to how I think about things. I suppose if I knew I was going to be stranded on a desert island, I’d take books I hadn’t read yet. “What about your books, Cady?” the prison guard asks DeNiro in the Scorsese remake of Cape Fear, as he’s leaving prison, “Read ‘em already,” says Cady.

In no particular order (and more than five, but five groups):

Robert Wright, The Moral Animal. My introduction to evolutionary psychology ten years ago, a discipline that is equal parts unsettling and comforting. It’s good to know that there are constants to human behavior and to explore the reasons for those constants. But it’s disturbing to think that, even in our deepest feelings we may be puppets of our genes. But then again, it’s nice to be able to blame your own bad behavior on emotional hardwiring developed over tens of thousands of years on the African savannah.

The Black Book of Communism: speaking of unreformable human nature… Here’s a 757-page prosecutors’ brief proving that man is wolf to man, full of hideous details, like:

The Red Guards, who took themselves extremely seriously, thought it was a good idea to ban “wastes of revolutionary energy” such as cats, birds, and flowers. The prime minister himself was forced to intervene to prevent legislation that would have made a red traffic light mean ‘go.’

or, under the Khmer Rouge:

There were also strict codes of behavior: all public displays of affection were banned, as were arguments, insults, complaints, and tears… “Men and women were often killed to make fertilizer. They were buried in the mass graves located near the crop fields… often when you pulled out the manioc roots you would pull up a human bone that the roots had grown down into.”

I also find it fascinating that Kim Jong Il is apparently freaked out by dwarves. He has publicly stated that “the race of dwarves must disappear.”

On this theme, I might add Lord of the Flies, which made a huge impression on me as a grammar school kid, innoculating me from any Rousseauian notion that man is naturally good and civilization spoils him. When you’re that age, 12 or so, in school, you can easily picture your classmates killing Simon or Piggy, you can picture yourself being Piggy, and you can probably if you squint hard enough, also picture circumstances in which you’d be weak enough to participate in killing him yourself.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations and Epictetus, Enchiridion. Self-help books I’m not embarassed to own.

Terry Teachout, The Skeptic and Mencken’s Chrestomathy and Second Chrestomathy. The stoics weren’t exactly a barrel of laughs. Marcus Aurelius actually condemns humor. Which is silly, because a sense of man’s ridiculousness, of one’s own ridiculousness, is an essential psychological self-defense mechanism, especially if you’re weird enough to care about politics. The worldview expressed in Mencken’s essay “On Being an American” is what I strive for. Or as Elvis Costello put it, “I used to be disgusted, now I try to be amused.”

As for Teachout, he didn’t try to paint a flattering portrait of Mencken–he spends an inordinate and uninteresting amount of time trying to figure out whether Mencken was an anti-semite–but whatever his intentions, I found it hard not to love the guy. He did what he liked, he loved his wife, and he made people laugh, and sometimes think.

You may have noticed I’m short on fiction. I can’t help it. I’ve decided most novels are crap, and I’m mad that I made four tries at Saul Bellow before I realized it was ok that I didn’t like him. Besides, stuff that actually happened is leaps and bounds more amazing than stuff that didn’t. To underscore that point, two more recommendations: Tom Barry’s Guerrilla Days in Ireland and Bernal Diaz del Castillo’s The Conquest of New Spain.

5. People to tag: Balko, Brito, Torrance, Logan, and Lee.

Posted on Jun 22, 2005 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Good to Know

Based on the Flag-Burning Amendment vote, the “libertarian wing” of the GOP is no stronger than an even dozen.

Posted on Jun 22, 2005 in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

“Kicking Against the Pricks”

I don’t know about this alleged right-wing hackery at the Economist. The mag hardly seems right wing to me. But I was surprised to see the phrase “kicking against the pricks” in the latest issue (and not just because it seemed an unintentionally ironic reference to John McCain). But it seems that “kicking against the pricks” is a phrase from the New Testament, and it has a different meaning than I’d thought. No, I don’t have a point. But it’s a great phrase, and now that I know it’s from Acts I feel like I can use it with abandon in polite company.

Posted on Jun 22, 2005 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Carol Schwartz Republicans

If I were a Republican, I’d be a Carol Schwartz Republican. Unlike the hideous prudes she’s fighting, she has a sense of humor. She’s a smartass after my own heart:

Seventy-two years after prohibition was repealed, one lawmaker member suggested Tuesday that alcohol once again be off limits in the bars and restaurants of the nation’s capital.

Councilwoman Carol Schwartz, R-At Large, introduced her bill in response to a proposed ban on smoking in those same establishments. Her proposal imitates the arguments for a smoking ban, citing health concerns, worker safety and the nuisance of drinkers.

“I never thought I could ban drinking just because I didn’t like it, but now I know I can,” Schwartz said. “The impending smoking ban has empowered me.”

Several hours later, Schwartz pulled the bill, saying she had made her point. She hoped the incident would serve as a “wake-up call that once you start toying with people’s liberties, you never know where it might end.”


Schwartz said she wouldn’t allow the smoking legislation out of her committee unless there’s a compromise. She argued that “if government is going to start banning legal substances” there’s a whole list of things to ban – starting with alcohol.

“Let’s be honest, people are dying,” Schwartz said, mocking arguments from other council members on the smoking ban. “Pure and simple, drinking kills.”

Fellow council members Kathy Patterson and Jim Graham rolled their eyes and shook their heads.

Schwartz rattled off statistics from Mothers Against Drunk Driving that three in 10 Americans will be involved in an alcohol-related crash. She said the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported 40 percent of all crimes are committed under the influence of alcohol.

“People are still free to drink at home – for now,” Schwartz said. But she said beverages at bars and restaurants should be limited to “tea, sodas and milk.

“And if the drinkers insist on drinking alcohol – and they will – they can just step outside on sidewalks with their flasks and drink.”

When Schwartz was finished, Council Chair Linda Cropp referred the bill to committee, calling “a very thought-provoking piece.”

What a gal. I don’t care what she does from here on out. She could nationalize heavy industry for all I care, and I’d still vote for her. Luckily, this being D.C., we don’t have any heavy industry, or any productive activity whatsoever.

Send Carol an email of support. And email the other council members to let them know where you stand on the smoking ban. Info available at the Ban the Ban site.

Posted on Jun 22, 2005 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Batman Begins

The City Paper reviewer complains about the movie trafficking in the stereotype of the inscrutable, menacing oriental. You’d think he’d be more upset by the fact that Bruce Wayne goes to ninja college… in China. To say nothing of the insult to Italian-Americans everywhere represented by casting doughy Brit Tom Wilkinson in the role of “Carmine Falcone,” mob boss.

Posted on Jun 21, 2005 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Things I’d Prefer Not to Pay for

1. PBS ads funded at least in part with taxpayer dollars, hectoring public television viewers to lobby their congressman to keep taking money from other taxpayers.

2. A lawsuit brought by the National Treasury Employees Union in order to enforce Homeland Security workers’ constitutional right to wear cargo shorts on the job. I for one am never made to feel more secure by the sight of a grown man on the job in shorts.

Posted on Jun 21, 2005 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Come on: Really?

David Brooks says “[Bill Frist's] memoir, ‘Transplant,’ is one of the most laceratingly honest books you could ever hope to read.” I’ll take his word for it, I guess.

Posted on Jun 20, 2005 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments


My God, the surgeon general of the United States (profiled today in the NYT) really is dumber than a bag of hammers. I thought it was bad enough when Jocelyn Elders suggested teens needed masturbation lessons, but this takes the prize:

Q: The U.S. Supreme Court just ruled to uphold a federal law forbidding patients from using physician-approved marijuana to ease their pain. Do you agree with their decision?

I approach this not as a legal issue but as a health issue, and I cannot recommend to anyone that they smoke, first of all. Smoking is so bad for you.

Yeah, particularly if you already have cancer, and are taking it to combat chemotherapy-induced nausea, and keep on enough weight to stay alive.

Posted on Jun 19, 2005 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Loathsome People for a Loathsome Town

I missed this when it first came out, but it’s worth a link: taking a page from the NYPress, DCSOB has a list of Washington’s 20 Most Loathsome People. I fully agree with his choice for Number One, though I can also appreciate the case for another candidate.

Posted on Jun 19, 2005 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Ugh, They Did It Again

Today’s little homily on my Starbucks cup:

The Way I See It #28
Our schools can be fixed! It is my belief all children deserve a quality school in their neighborhood that will not only serve as a place of learning, but a haven of safety. I believe that educators along with the citizens of our country can make this happen.

–Betsy Rogers
2003 National Teacher of the Year

Maybe it can happen if schools hire some teachers who can write clear English prose that doesn’t sound like a Miss America acceptance speech and who understand the basic rule that one should never use an exclamation mark unless one is writing a letter to a Russian.

Anyway, as far as education goes, I’d have preferred something from disgraced (but not embarassed) former Washington Teachers’ Union head Barbara Bullock, who embezzelled some $5 million in union funds during her tenure:

“I love to shop.”

Posted on Jun 17, 2005 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Baltimore Sun

I have an op-ed there today. About drug warriors on crack.

Posted on Jun 17, 2005 in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Let’s Be Reasonable

The Volokh Conspiracy: your source for painfully reasonable right-wingery. In which Orin Kerr conducts an elaborate internal dialogue with himself over the thorny, perplexing issue of whether in America’s capital it should be illegal for a bar owner to allow his customers to smoke. I’ve followed this issue for some time, but this was a new one on me:

CON: But we can let the market decide this. If some people want to smoke, they can go to a smoking bar or restaurant. If some people want to go to a place than bans smoking, some businesses will ban smoking on their own volition to cater to that audience. The market will adjust to have some smoking places and other non-smoking places. It’s a win-win.

PRO: That sounds good in theory. But you’re missing the fact that decisions to go to a particular restaurant or bar are usually group decisions, in which the least offensive option for the group wins out. Smokers usually are addicted to nicotine; if given the choice between a smoking place and a non-smoking place, they will voice a very strong preference for the smoking place. Non-smokers may strongly prefer going to a non-smoking place, but they’ll voice less objection about going to a smoking place because it’s not a chemical addiction for them. This means that even if most individual people prefer a non-smoking place, most groups will choose smoking places, and most bars will permit smoking.

Government: it’s not just to protect you from force and fraud anymore. It can also help you overcome collective action problems in your social life! Maybe next it can sort out double-date night, in which the irrational preference for chick-flicks often trumps the desire to see the latest Jet Li movie.

Posted on Jun 16, 2005 in Uncategorized | 7 Comments


A colleague recently drew my attention to an (unwebbed) piece by John Lukacs in the Chronicle of Higher Education. It’s about the decline of the word “liberal”–its trajectory from a term of praise to one of abuse. Lukacs has even Joseph McCarthy using the term positively as he accused George Marshall and Dean Acheson of complicity in: “a conspiracy of infamy so bleak that, when it is finally exposed, its principles shall be forever deserving of the maledictions of all liberal men.” Here’s the gist of the Lukacs article:

Two hundred years ago–and for a long time thereafter, especially in the English-speaking world–“liberal” was a term of praise, unquestionably so. It not only suggested but meant genereosity–nay, magnimanity; not only breadth of a mind but strength of soul; a reference to someone “free from narrow prejudice,” and “worthy of a free man,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

Broad-minded, magnanimous… hmm. Check the comments sections at Ban the Ban for representative samples of the modern liberal. You’ve come a long way, baby.

Posted on Jun 16, 2005 in Uncategorized | Comments Off

“I See No Need for Any Tobacco Products in Society”

On Tuesday I kept hearing “nobody wants to ban tobacco… nobody, NOBODY, nobody would advocate such a thing.” Interesting, then, that no less a leading public health figure than the Surgeon General is in favor of banning tobacco:

Testifying at a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on smokeless tobacco and “reduced risk” tobacco products, Carmona was asked if he would “support the abolition of all tobacco products.”

“I would at this point, yes,” he replied.

He declined to state whether he would support a law to ban tobacco — saying “legislation is not my field” — but did say that he “would support banning or abolishing tobacco products.”

“If Congress chose to go that way, that would be up to them,” he said. “But I see no need for any tobacco products in society.”

I miss Jocelyn Elders.

Posted on Jun 16, 2005 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments