Archives for May, 2006

Oh, But They Will.

Apparently, the latest issue of National Review has a piece on the “50 Greatest Conservative Rock Songs of All Time,” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again” is number one.

Criteria for selection: “The lyrics must convey a conservative idea or sentiment, such as skepticism of government or support for traditional values.” “Skepticism about government”?! Oh, my side…

Posted on May 21, 2006 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Great American Novels

The NYT book review has a feature on the greatest American novels of the last 25 years. I’m pretty much a philistine and I usually don’t read novels unless they have private detectives in them. So I was surprised that I’ve read nine of the 22 finalists (or 14 of 27, since they count the four Rabbit novels and Cormac McCarthy’s Border Trilogy as one each). Some of these I’d never touch–I wouldn’t read Toni Morrison or Dom Delillo with your brain. And I’ve tried Confederacy of Dunces several times–most recently right after Katrina–but I can never get past the part where the repulsive lead character pleasures himself to thoughts of the family dog.

The ones on the Times’ list that I read, though, I liked:

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy: I love this book, though it’s really an Iron Maiden album with a literary/intellectual veneer. Somebody on the book jacket called it a meditation on regeneration through violence, though what it’s meditating isn’t clear to me. It’s really just an appallingly cool horror story. And Judge Glanton, with his warped Nietzschian pronouncements on war, God, and overcoming, is at turns frightening and hilarious:

“The judge titled his great head. The man who believes the secrets of the world are forever hidden lives in mystery and fear. Superstition will drag him down. The rain will erode the deeds of his life. But that man who sets himself the task of singling out the thread of order from the tapestry will by the decision alone have taken charge of the world and it is only by such taking charge that he will effect a way to dictate the terms of his own fate.

I dont see what that has to do with catchin birds.

The freedom of birds is an insult to me. I’d have them all in zoos.

That would be a hell of a zoo.

The judge smiled. Yes, he said. Even so.”

Rabbit Angstrom: The Four Novels by John Updike. Of course, the best of the four, Rabbit Redux, was published more than 25 years ago. A while back, one of the National Greatness liberals at the New Republic opened up an essay on the politics of meaning post-9/11 with Rabbit’s question (from the last novel) “without the Cold War, what’s the point of being an American?” The answer, of course, is baseball, the electric guitar, love, work, laughter and a million other things that have not a Goddamned thing to do with grand national crusades imposed from above. The writer of this particular essay seems not to have noticed that in the novels, Rabbit’s pretty much a schmuck and a loser.

American Pastoral by Philip Roth. I remember a lot about Newark, and a crazy daughter who became a Jainist. I think I liked this best of Roth’s last several novels.

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. Great stuff. I liked In the Lake of the Woods as well.

Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson. The movie was terrible, save for the soundtrack. But this is a wonderful little book of short stories about drug addicts in Idaho, if you’re into that sort of thing. I love the story “Work.”

Independence Day by Richard Ford. It’s been a while, but I remember liking this story of a lousy, guilty father driving his troubled son up to Cooperstown for some father-son bonding. When the kid leans head-first into a pitch in the batting cage to hurt his father the best way he can, by hurting himself–it’s jarring and awful.

Sabbath’s Theater by Philip Roth. I know I read this. I can’t remember a damned thing about it except the name Mickey Sabbath. Philip Roth’s never been as good as he was in Goodbye Columbus.

Border Trilogy by Cormac McCarthy. Much of it’s too sentimental, and the third book is rotten. But the second, The Crossing, is very good.

The Human Stain by Philip Roth. Clinton. PC. Not bad.

On the whole, I’d rather be reading nonfiction.

Posted on May 21, 2006 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Philosophy Tees


I would probably hate anyone who would wear these shirts. I have an image in my head of the insufferable Ethan Hawke character from the insufferable movie Reality Bites. And yet, I kinda like these shirts. I especially like the Bertrand Russell one above, and the Hegel, which reads, “no one understands me.” Hat tip: political theory info.

Also, someone should make an “I Hate What You’re Reading” T-shirt.

Posted on May 17, 2006 in Uncategorized | Comments Off

“Mouthy, Pushy Wives?”

Now that kind of talk just makes me want to go all Tawny Kitaen. Or get even more vengeful.

Posted on May 16, 2006 in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Cato Blogstorm

Cato’s new blog, Cato@Liberty, has really taken off today, with a riot of new posts on NSA datamining, endangered flies, and British teeth.

Also, Cato’s blog magazine, Cato Unbound, made David Brooks’s column today, for its ongoing discussion of the prospects for limited government.

All in all, some of the most exciting stuff to happen in the DC thinktank world since the Nixon administration contemplated firebombing Brookings.

Posted on May 11, 2006 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Fear Itself

The WaPo’s Sunday Outlook section reminds us that we’ve gone 56 months without a major followup to 9/11. Some will see that as a result of the unparalleled competence of our intelligence and law enforcement bureaucracies. Others will wonder whether there are really that many folks in-country willing to kill themselves to kill Americans.

In any event, the Outlook section, in two separate places, then tries to come up with reasons to be afraid, be very afraid about the threat of terrorism. In this piece the author laments that America is replete with soft targets, like malls, and schools, and, uh, parks, and sidewalks, and pizza parlors, and the corner store, and your front porch, and everywhere else:

“A single suicide bomber in a shopping center in Topeka, or a single bomb-carrying car rammed into a movie complex in Omaha, could bring the nation to its psychic knees.”

I knew a guy with a psychic knee once.

In any event, there is no way, at any price worth paying, that we can terror-proof America. And wouldn’t it be cheaper, and more sensible, to encourage the old stiff upper lip? To try to acclimate people to the idea that, yes, we can be hit anywhere, at any time. And if the last five years are any indication, we can expect that every few years, somewhere in the West, there will be a subway bombing, or a school shooting, or perhaps something worse, but in any event your chances of dying in a car wreck or ordinary foul play will always outweigh your chances of dying in a terrorist incident. In no case do we face an existential threat to our way of life [.pdf]. Unless in a spasm of panic we impose it on ourselves collectively. So buck up. You wouldn’t want to live in a society that tried to terror-proof itself. And you don’t have to.

Instead, the author of the piece, Clark Kent Ervin, “director of the Homeland Security Initiative at the Aspen Institute and former inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security,” concludes ominously:

“The upshot is a deadly double irony. The very fact that there hasn’t been an attack on a soft target in the United States increases the danger of one. And, the harder we harden hard targets, the more likely an attack on a soft target becomes.”

OK. And then what? That means they win?

Christ, you’d think it would be good news that AQ had been reduced to bloody gestures of futility, as yet hypothetical. Yes, they can shoot up a school. They can bomb a library. But any group of determined and crazy individuals can do the same. But when Columbine happens, when the D.C. Sniper happens, when the Fairfax police station shooting happens, we go on about our lives. We recognize (or most of us do) that it’s damned silly to recommend major policy changes because in an open society of 300 million people you can’t put the homeland security equivalent of a bike helmet on everything.

Conservatives see this when it comes to things like school shootings and gun ownership. They reject the chimera of a risk-free society, and recognize that, while in a costless world, the optimal number of school shootings is zero, we don’t live in such a world. However, when it comes to the entirely speculative chance of a WMD attack by a Third-World thug who never dreamed of it, they become tightly wound bundles of fear and rage, and cheer a costly, destructive war. If the Iran debate is any indication, “bomb today for a brighter tomorrow” hasn’t lost much of its appeal for the Right.

Meanwhile, George Will–who has been excellent of late–falls off a bit this week. Will has gone to see Flight 93. And he says “The message of the movie is: We are all potential soldiers. And we all may be, at any moment, at the war’s front, because in this war the front can be anywhere.” You can almost picture George on the way to the elevator at ABC, eyes coolly scanning the lobby for anything amiss, one hand in pocket, clutching his hidden quill pen with steely purpose.

Yes, any of us could find ourselves in the middle of a terrorist attack. And we hope that if the call comes, we’ll be able to acquit ourselves half as well as the brave men on Flight 93. But we should also realize that the opportunities for such heroism are likely to be vanishingly rare. There’s more likely to be a truck or a bloodclot or a cluster of cancerous cells with your name on it. And one ought not to be hysterical about any of it.

Posted on May 9, 2006 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

White House Correspondents’ Dinner Litmus Test

Which do you find more offensive: 2006’s jokes? Or 2004’s?

“Those weapons of mass destruction have got to be somewhere,” Bush joked. “Nope, no weapons over there … maybe under here?”

Heh. Funny stuff.

Posted on May 8, 2006 in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Crisis is the Health of the State

Bleg: I recall reading a few years ago an interview from Bill Clinton in the waning days of his presidency where he complained that he never really got the chance to be great because he didn’t have a major war. I found that perverse. Can anyone point me to that quote? The closest I’ve come is the following:

“I envy Kennedy having an enemy,” Clinton said, thinking it must have been a good deal easier to sell programs and ideas negatively, just by shouting that the Russians were coming. “The question now is how to persuade people they could do things when they are not immediately threatened.”

–Richard Reeves, “Why Clinton Wishes He Were JFK,” Washington Monthly September 1995

Posted on May 6, 2006 in Uncategorized | Comments Off

The People Everywhere

In this week’s New Yorker, George Packer quotes President Bush’s account of his decisionmaking process in foreign affairs:

“I base a lot of my foreign-policy decisions on some things that I think are true,” he said. “One, I believe there’s an Almighty. And, secondly, I believe one of the great gifts of the Almighty is the desire in everybody’s soul, regardless of what you look like or where you live, to be free.”

Some people will laugh (nervously) at this. But the thing is, the people everywhere, they do want to be free. They just don’t necessarily want the guy down the street, with his inscrutable religion and his alien folkways, to be free. Leave the Almighty and his mysterious ways to one side (though I would be more comfortable if President Bush seemed a little less sure that he had God all figured out) and just phrase it in terms of human nature: most of us want to be free, to do our own thing, make a living, raise our families, without interference. We’re all natural members of the “leave me alone” coalition. Joining the “leave the other guy alone” coalition, though, is an entirely different proposition, which may explain why achieving a liberal order is often a long, bloody, mysterious process. And one not best carried out militarily.

Posted on May 2, 2006 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Clean Freak

Violations of the constitutional oath of office are pretty routine on the Hill and in the White House today. But it’s not often that an elected federal official openly acknowledges that if the Constitution stands in the way of his preferred policy, so much the worse for the Constitution. Here’s Senator McCain flouting convention:

He [Michael Graham] also mentioned my abridgement of First Amendment rights, i.e. talking about campaign finance reform….I know that money corrupts….I would rather have a clean government than one where quote First Amendment rights are being respected, that has become corrupt. If I had my choice, I’d rather have the clean government.”

–John McCain on Don Imus Show, April 28, 2006

This must be some of that bracing “Straight Talk” I’ve heard so much about.

Posted on May 1, 2006 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

New from Cato

The Cato Institute’s new blog, Cato @ Liberty, is live today.

Also, Tim Lynch and I have a new Cato study called “Power Surge: The Constitutional Record of George W. Bush.”

Posted on May 1, 2006 in Uncategorized | Comments Off