Archives for April, 2006

Political Theory Daily Review

This site is good enough to make up for its lack of an RSS feed. Like Arts and Letters Daily except with less kultcher and more politics.

Posted on Apr 30, 2006 in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Accidental Deletion

Incidentally, if you left a comment here in the last month or so and it vanished, it’s not necessarily because I hate you. Cleaning out some comment spam a couple of days ago, I accidentally deleted a lot more comments than I meant to.

Posted on Apr 30, 2006 in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Lucky Goons

So a week ago Thursday my lovely and amazing girlfriend got us tickets to Elvis Costello with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra as a surprise for our third anniversary. And a successful surprise–I was in the dark until we were inside the venue.

As an disgruntled little guy, I was a huge Elvis Costello fan growing up, though I stopped buying albums after Mighty Like a Rose, because I didn’t like the warbling troubadour tack he was taking. Thursday night he concentrated mainly on that later material. Nonetheless, I found the whole performance tremendously affecting. I can’t think of any rock star that’s aged more gracefully. The key–and the difference between Elvis and another of my teenhood faves, Bruce Springsteen–is a sense of humor. (Pete Seeger covers? Jesus.)

You think back to what Costello was like when he broke onto the scene in ’77: an angry, spastic, little whippet of a man. A difficult man, chafing against his own skin and determined to bite the hand that feeds him, motivated only, as he once put it, by “revenge, fear, and guilt.” And then you sit down at the Strathmore, and you’re presented with this character: a portly, charming guy in a tux, a man who’d be comfortable hosting his own Christmas special. A guy punk enough to write songs with Burt Bacharach, because, bugger off if you don’t like it. A man with a twinkle in his eye about the absurdity of performing “Alison” with a string section. A man who’s embraced his inner lounge singer. We all descend into self-parody. Some of us do it with class.

He closed with “Couldn’t Call It Unexpected No. 4,” an ominous, beautiful song that’s about (near as I can tell) embracing life despite (or because of) the fact that death awaits us all. The lyrics are typically dark, but the extended, uplifting musical refrain at the end subverts and recasts them. Costello encouraged the audience to hum the song to a close. And the crowd: beltway lawyers with paunches, Bethesda soccer moms with opera glasses, fiftysomething Elvis fans with mortgages and tuition payments, hummed along. There’s hope for us all.

Posted on Apr 30, 2006 in Uncategorized | Comments Off

RIP Jane Jacobs

She helped me understand what I love about cities, how these impossible unplannable things can work and thrive. And by cities I mean such as you find in Europe and the North Atlantic and some parts of the Midwest (Chicago) and Canada. I don’t mean those soulless burbopolises that flop out depressingly over the West and the South. Anywhere with lower population density than suburban New Jersey, anywhere you have to get into your car to get a cup of coffee–that’s not a proper city.

Dante: You hate people!
Randall: Yeah, but I love cities. Isn’t it ironic?

Some of my Jacobs-inspired blogging here and here.

Posted on Apr 27, 2006 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

War Is a Force That Deprives Us of Reason

Conservatives recognize that the presidency can be captured by exceptionally venal, corrupt men. Remember how they talked about Clinton? Here was a guy (they said), who was a serial abuser of women, a probable rapist, possibly guilty of complicity in a series of gangland-style hits, a man who would stop at nothing to retain power–and yet he ascended to the most powerful office in the land. Two years later, most of the movement can be found endorsing a theory of presidential power that would allow the president to lock up American citizens without trial or even perfunctory review by the courts. By early 2006, they’ve extended that theory to allow the president to tap phones at will, and heaped scorn on anyone who expresses reservations. This despite the fact that the ogre’s wife may be on deck. Is this a political movement with the collective time horizon of a meth addict? Or just one that’s too scared and angry to see straight?

Posted on Apr 25, 2006 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Disturbing Image of the Day

In Sunday’s NYT Mag, former Secretary of State Madeline Albright claims she can “leg-press up to 400 pounds.”

Posted on Apr 24, 2006 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Quote of the Day

“Give me the order to do it and I can break up Russia’s five A-bomb nests in a week,” he said. “And when I went to Christ, I think I could explain to Him why I wanted to do it now before it’s too late. I think I could explain to Him that I had saved civilization. With it [the A-bomb] used in time, we can immobilize a foe [and prevent] his crime before it happened.”

–Major General Orville Anderson, commandant of the Air War College, telling a newspaper reporter in 1950 that, given the authority to do so, he would order a nuclear strike against fledgling Soviet atomic capabilities.

From Jeffrey Record’s Cato Policy Analysis “Nuclear Deterrence, Preventive War, and Counterproliferation,” [.pdf], which outlines several occasions during the Cold War when America considered and, thankfully, rejected preventive war in the name of peace.

Posted on Apr 20, 2006 in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Cell Hell

The Washington Post’s advice column recommends an interesting tactic to induce civility in people who blatter away on their cellphones like whereever they are, it’s their living room: stare as if you’re intently interested in what they have to say; follow them around the store; if necessary, take notes.

A couple of months ago I read Stephen King’s latest, Cell, which is dedicated to zombie-flick director George A. Romero. It’s great fun. You can tell that King has become a grumpy, curmudgeonly old man–the entire book practically growls “Goddamned kids!” Plot: for some reason on one particular spring day at 3 PM ish, everyone in North America has their cellphone go off. It’s not entirely clear why (overly successful terror attack? experiment gone wrong?) but the cells transmit a pulse that brainfries everyone who answers. Somehow (technological plausibility has never been King’s strong suit) the pulse infects them with a sort of computer virus. They don’t become zombies, exactly–they’re not dead–but the pulse reduces them to pure, horrifying Id. Teen mallrats are chattering away one minute and ripping each others’ faces off the next. Most of the people left unzombified are those so retro that they never bought cellphones, and thus remain morally pure. When the zombies begin to evolve, adopting flocking, “smart-mob” behavior, and our heroes devise new, increasingly gruesome ways to kill them, it feels like old man King getting his revenge on cyberwhippersnappers. It’s the most hilariously crotchety and reactionary horror novel ever.

Posted on Apr 20, 2006 in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Best Metaphor in a Political Science Paper

…perhaps ever. From “Musical Chairs: Pocketbook Voting and the Limits of Democratic Accountability,” by Achen and Bartels:

First, the voters are poorly informed, as so many have noted. But second–and here we part company with the consensus–citizens cannot perform sensible retrospective judgments at election time. They reward and punish for events no administration can control. Moreover, while they know how they feel at the moment, they lose all track of how they have felt over the course of the administration’s term in office. Like medical patients recalling colonoscopies, their assessments of past pain and pleasure are significantly biased by “duration neglect” (Kahneman 2000; Redelmeier, Katz, and Kahneman 2003).

Posted on Apr 19, 2006 in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Desert One

You can’t beat Mark Bowden for sheer readibility. In this month’s Atlantic, he chronicles the aborted Desert One mission–the Delta Force mission ordered by President Carter to rescue the hostages being held in Iran. Bowden’s account feels like one of those frantic, miserable stress-dreams where you’re trying to pass a college class or get somewhere you have to be or but at every turn you’re discovering something you’ve neglected and that’s sure to do you in. Except here it’s life and death. I liked this part, describing the helicopter/C-130 crash after the decision to abort had been made:

In the chopper, Schaefer at last came to. He was sitting crooked in his seat, the chopper was listing to one side, and flames engulfed the cockpit. “What’s wrong, Les, what’s wrong?” he asked, turning to his co-pilot. But Petty was already gone. He had jumped out the window on his side.

Schaefer shut down the engines and sat for a moment, certain he was about to die. Then, for some reason, an image came into his mind of his fiancÃ?Â??Ã?Â?Ã?©e’s father–who had never seemed much impressed by his future son-in-law–commenting a few days hence on how the poor sap had been found roasted like a holiday turkey in the front seat of his aircraft. Something about that horrifying image motivated him. His body would not be found like a blackened Butterball; he had to at least try to escape. He ejected the window on his side, and as fire closed over him, badly burning his face, he dropped hard to the ground and then ran from the erupting wreckage.

After reading the piece, it’s hard to credit the wingnut narrative that Carter “weakening the military” led to the debacle. In fact, they’re lucky they had to turn back. What Bowden describes is the loopiest plan I’ve heard of since the warbloggers’ Trekkie Clausewitz set forth his plan to bomb the Middle East until it gives rise to “Arab Civilization 2.0.” The people who approved it were a bunch of haboobs. As a credentialed blogosphere expert on military tactics and wars and stuff, it’s my considered professional judgment that even at full strength, that was a suicide mission and it would have made Mogadishu smell like victory.

Posted on Apr 19, 2006 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments


A bird shat on me this afternoon, on my way out to lunch. A good one, too. Smack on the dome, and a dollop on the left arm. Lacking a replacement shirt, now I have to go around the rest of the day with suit jacket and white T-shirt, like the Brooks Brothers version of Sonny Crockett.

That’s the second time it’s happened since I’ve had this job. The first I remember very well. It was in November 2001, in the midst of the anthrax scare, those days after 9/11 when menace was in the air and it seemed like every curbside wastebasket might house a dirty nuke. Somebody at the office got a magazine covered in a weird, white powdered substance (turned out to be flour or something), and they called in the space-suited Hazmat guys, who tromped into our lobby in the middle of a reception. One of the event planners snarled at us for standing in the lobby staring, like something was wrong. So a friend and I walked out to get some lunch. Thirty feet from the front door, a bird dropped a full payload on my head. And my friend laughed like she’d just seen somebody smack Gwyneth Paltrow in the face with a wet mackerel.

It’s good to have a bird crap on your head every couple of years. To remind you where you stand in the order of things, and deflate any grandiose ideas you may have developed about your importance and dignity. Truth be told, though, in this town, I’m probably not the person most in need of that sort of reminder.

Posted on Apr 13, 2006 in Uncategorized | Comments Off

“The Sadness of Crews”

I see my site has gone blank, so I suppose I should blog again. I missed the last few minutes of last night’s Sopranos due to a tragic Tivo mishap, but what I saw was terrific. In a sort of Sopranos-meets-Harvey Mansfield script, it explored the theme of masculinity and alpha male hierarchies. (Come to think of it, I’d like to see Paulie Walnuts meet Harvey Mansfield).

You had Johnny Sack (understandably) breaking down in tears in front of the families assembled, as federal marshalls cuff him and ruin his daughter’s wedding. But these aren’t guys raised on the Free to Be You and Me album, and it is most definitely not “Alright to Cry.” In the post-arrest confab, you’re expecting sympathy for the Don. But Sack’s lieutenant Phil Leotardo has only contempt, saying that his estimation of John Sacrimoni as a man has plummeted: “To cry like a woman–it’s a disgrace.”

Throughout the episode, you see Tony taking note of younger wiseguys’ biceps, lamenting that he used to bench three bills, and worrying that even fat Bobby Bacala is getting fit. And you see Tony taking this all in. And even though he’s come out of the coma half-longing to be the workaday schlump of the dream sequence, watching his kids grow up, and too fat and happy to intimidate even Buddhist monks–he realizes that as long as he’s perched atop this chimp pyramid, displays of dominance are not optional. So later at Satriale’s he starts a fight with the toughest young chimp, “Muscles Marinara,” beats him to the ground, and vomits his breakfast into the pork store’s toilet.

There’s a lot of vomiting in this season. It has something to do with existential dread and nausea, but I bailed on the English major early in college, so I don’t know quite what.

Posted on Apr 10, 2006 in Uncategorized | Comments Off