Archives for August, 2007

Bad Mad Men

I thought this piece in the New Republic was dead-on about the new AMC show Mad Men. It sure must have been hard to get anything done around the office in the early ’60s while smoking three cigarettes at once and slapping your secretary’s ass and holding a martini with the other hand. It seems as though every. single. scene. is designed to reinforce the point that the past is another country, and one we ought to bomb. The self-congratulatory narrative of moral progress that informs it is the mirror image of a sentimental orientation that sees everything as better in a mythic past, and it’s just as silly.

Posted on Aug 28, 2007 in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Animal Rights

Jim Henley asks for libertarian theories that might justify animal cruelty laws. Here’s Nozick on animal rights. I find him pretty convincing, though not convincing enough to give up steak. (Which isn’t really his fault). In Anarchy State and Utopia, though not, I think, in the linked excerpt, he has a hypothetical about alien beings whose consciousnesses are so advanced they are to us as we are to cows; Nozick asks whether they’d be justified in making us into Human Jerky snacks. It’s a good question, but I don’t know how you avoid taking the point to the point of Jainism. And I’ve never been able to develop an animal rights perspective that isn’t based heavily on cuteness. That’s why dogs have more rights than dolphins and I don’t care what marine biologists say.

I find the headline “Michael Vick Convicted of Federal Dogfighting Charges” ridiculous, but only because of the “federal” aspect. I’m a hard-core decentralist and so long as the jurisdictions are small enough and the costs of exit low enough, I think there’s room for moralism in local exercise of the police power. And banning abuse of animals is something I’d vote for at the local level. If you’ve seen The Shooter (if not, you should) then you know what I mean when I say I can relate to Marky Mark’s best line in the movie: “you don’t understand. Those guys killed my dog.”

Hell, if we ever get to the anarchocapitalist utopia, I’m going to pay extra to my private protection agency to investigate animal cruelty in my neighborhood (no invading Korea). My premium will still be a lot lower than the private protection policies of some anarchists I could name, what with their special riders for Nation Building and World Liberation.

Interestingly, though, I know far more Vegelibertarians than I know Crunchy Cons, despite the fact that I know at least as many conservatives as libertarians. Maybe somebody should write a book.

Posted on Aug 21, 2007 in Uncategorized | 13 Comments

Broken Windows and Bowling Alone

So that was a little rant-like even for this blog, but nothing sets me off like the notion that hey, war is hell, sure, but it brings us together. It’s sort of a non-economic, even more pernicious version of the Broken Window Fallacy. Sure, total war can force us together in a lot of common activities, but only at the expense of not doing things we’d otherwise prefer to do. I expect the whole experience looks a lot rosier in “Greatest Generation” retrospectives than it does at the time, when it’s more like what Paul Fussell describes in his book Wartime.

One of the worst recent examples I can think of is this piece from Lawrence Kaplan in the New Republic: “FOUR YEARS AFTER SEPTEMBER 11, WE’RE STILL BOWLING ALONE,” lamenting the fact that the post-9/11 unity hadn’t translated into an atmosphere of fervid common purpose, marked by a host of large national greatness projects. Kaplan begins with Rabbit Angstrom’s comment, from Updike’s Rabbit at Rest, “without the Cold War, what’s the point of being an American?” If you can’t think of a thousand answers to that question without furrowing your brow, you weren’t much of an American to begin with. Kaplan seems not to have noticed that Rabbit was a complete loser, the sort of clod whose life really was empty enough that it could be enriched by rooting for Richard Nixon.

And can somebody please tell me what’s so bad about bowling alone? I know it’s sort of a metaphor, but first of all, “alone” isn’t literally alone–almost nobody bowls alone. It means heading to the bowling alley on a lark with a couple of friends. But neoliberals and neocons seem to feel you’re not doing your part as an engaged citizen until you join a league and wear a silly jacket.

Posted on Aug 19, 2007 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

The Force That Gives Us Meaning

Julian Sanchez, Ross Douhat, and Matt Yglesias are all talking about the following quote from Christopher Hitchens, which appeared in a celebrate-the-first-anniversary-of-9/11 column:

In order to get my own emotions out of the way, I should say briefly that on that day I shared the general register of feeling, from disgust to rage, but was also aware of something that would not quite disclose itself. It only became fully evident quite late that evening. And to my surprise (and pleasure), it was exhilaration. I am not particularly a war lover, and on the occasions when I have seen warfare as a traveling writer, I have tended to shudder. But here was a direct, unmistakable confrontation between everything I loved and everything I hated. On one side, the ethics of the multicultural, the secular, the skeptical, and the cosmopolitan. (Those are the ones I love, by the way.) On the other, the arid monochrome of dull and vicious theocratic fascism. I am prepared for this war to go on for a very long time. I will never become tired of waging it, because it is a fight over essentials. And because it is so interesting.

Well, happy days.

I agree with Yglesias on this: Why would Hitchens get tired of waging it? How often does one get really tired of a war that consists of drinking scotch and writing Vanity Fair columns? Once more into the breach!

Douthat says some of what I think about the quote, but stops a bit short. The point is, the sentiment Hitchens expresses is demented and repulsive.

I, like Rudy Giuliani, was a 9/11 survivor. And I use that term in the sense that Giuliani does, which means I was sort of near stuff that was going on–across the Potomac from the Pentagon(!)–and I didn’t cry, so therefore you should think of me as an American Hero and elect me president.

Anyway, I remember what I thought and how I felt. I felt sick and I felt angry and I felt anxious. But I never for a second thought that anything good was going to come out of this, and the idea that this would be a great unifying moment, a clarifying moment, a moment that would allow us all to fight the Great Patriotic War Against Medieval Retards in Caves without which our lives were vacant and shallow–well, I have to say, that idea never once occurred to me. And though I am generally self-righteous only about my utter lack of self-righteousness, I feel pretty goddamned self righteous that it didn’t.

I noticed Hitchens’ column when it first came out, and my reaction hasn’t changed from what it was then:

There’s something a little warped here, a baby-boomer conviction that, in the end, it’s all about me. Disgust, yes, rage, of course–but exhilaration? Pleasure at the prospect of fighting (in Hitchens’ case on the battlefields of Vanity Fair and the Atlantic Monthly) in such an interesting war? After the initial disbelief and rage, for me the feeling that remained [in the wake of 9/11] was a kind of nausea: History was back and it was going to grind a lot more people under its wheels before it was through. I guess that’s interesting enough, but I can’t take even a grim pleasure in it. I’d rather be back talking about Chandra and Condit.

Last week, some clown named Stu Bykovsky wrote a column for the Philly Inquirer called “To Save America We Need Another 9/11.” In it, he said:

Because we have mislaid 9/11, we have endless sideshow squabbles about whether the surge is working, if we are “safer” now, whether the FBI should listen in on foreign phone calls, whether cops should detain odd-acting “flying imams,” whether those plotting alleged attacks on Fort Dix or Kennedy airport are serious threats or amateur bumblers. We bicker over the trees while the forest is ablaze.

America’s fabric is pulling apart like a cheap sweater.

What would sew us back together?

Another 9/11 attack.

Now, more than I care to remember, I’ve heard it said, and even more often, intimated–because people don’t always have the stones to put it plain, right to your face–that war skeptics are “rooting for failure” in Iraq. I’ve sometimes thought, what would be the equivalent slur going the other way? Do folks on the Right secretly wish for another terrorist attack, because that would (in their minds at least) validate their perpetual hysteria, discredit civil libertarians, and impress on the dull and credulous the importance of unifying the country around the idea of waging more wars and concentrating still more power in the hands of the president? But, not being gifted with the ability to look in men’s hearts, I’ve been decent enough not to believe that folks I disagree with want people to die so that they could feel intellectually validated and come out a point or two ahead in various blogfights.

But I’ll go this far. There’s a touch of Bykovskyism in Hitchens’ post-9/11 piece, albeit with prissier language and a few more ten-dollar words. And he’s not the only one. Here’s David Brooks, less than a month after people jumped from the north tower of the WTC to avoid burning to death:

DOES ANYBODY BUT ME feel upbeat, and guilty about it? I feel upbeat because the country seems to be a better place than it was a month ago. I feel guilty about it because I should be feeling pain and horror and anger about the recent events. But there’s so much to cheer one up.

In the first place, there are flags everywhere…

I can’t go on (you must go on); but I won’t.

Neither Brooks nor Hitchens are “rooting for another terrorist attack.” But they’re both expressing the sentiment William James captured in “The Moral Equivalent of War,” for all its faults, an effort to find an alternative to killing scads of people in order to achieve the Progressive dream of national unity. It’s the idea that we’re all better off engaged in a grand ideological crusade, collecting ration cards, saving bacon grease and scrap metal, and dutifully attending War on Terror bond rallies. We’re all called to different tasks in this crusade. Some of us take point in Sadr City. Some of us cheer them on in the Weekly Standard. But they also serve who only sit and write op-eds.

The notion that our lives lack meaning unless the collective unites us all in service of a higher calling and that mass murder can provide that happy occasion is as old and atavistic as the first cave painting. It’s also as natural, human, and evil as all the faults to which flesh is heir.

Posted on Aug 17, 2007 in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Tinfoil Dunce Cap

So I was poking around a little at the NSA website, trying to fill in some basic historical details on the founding of the agency for something I’m writing, and I came across their “Frequently Asked Questions.” Here’s number 16:

I’ve seen NSA/CSS in movies and on TV. Do you assassinate people? Do you secretly perform experiments on us?

Because we work with highly sensitive information, we are frequently the subject of speculation – and highly imaginative and creative fictitious pieces in the media. However, it is important to distinguish fact from fiction. The fact is that the Executive Order 12333 (EO 12333) strictly prohibits any intelligence agency from conducting these unethical activities, and we strictly abide by that Order.

To specifically answer your two questions, here are excerpts from Executive Order 12333:

Regarding human experimentation: “No agency within the Intelligence Community shall sponsor, contract for or conduct research on human subjects except in accordance with guidelines issued by the Department of Health and Human Services. The subject’s informed consent shall be documented as required by those guidelines.”

Regarding assassination: “No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination.”

I have to wonder, how large is the set of people who both (a) worry about the NSA experimenting on them and/or assassinating them, AND (b) would have their worries easied by an assurance on the NSA website that the agency wouldn’t do anything like that? “Whew, that’s a relief!” Somebody over there actually took the time to think up and type out the answer to that question and send it up the chain to get approval to post it. Wow.

Posted on Aug 12, 2007 in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Dead Blog

Apologies for the lack of posts. I’ve been busy trying to finish the book. Meanwhile, here are two discoveries that have dramatically improved my life and may improve yours.

1. Pandora.com. Maybe I’m the last person in America to try this out. But personalized radio kicks ass. I’m hearing new songs, but because of the magic of the, er, “Music Genome Project,” they’re songs that sound like songs I like. I’ve always always wanted a radio station that would play boozy, depressing alt.country with some Hank Williams and Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard, but never any upbeat rockabilly shit. I’ve always wanted a punk/post-punk radio station that wouldn’t dare try to play any Green Day for me. God bless narrowcasting. I don’t cheer the coming of the Brave New World as much as my friends at Reason, but I always thought World Controller Mustapha Mond had the right attitude: “There isn’t any need for a civilized man to bear anything that’s seriously unpleasant.”

2. Cold-Brewed Iced Coffee. Yes, it is much better than the cooked-and-cooled stuff. Recipe:

1/3 cup ground coffee (medium-course grind is best)

1) In a jar, stir together coffee and 1 1/2 cups water. Cover and let
rest at room temperature overnight or 12 hours.

2) Strain twice through a coffee filter or a fine mesh sieve.

3) In a tall glass filled with ice, mix equal parts coffee concentrate
and water, or to taste.

I keep it right in my fridge, in my Brita pitcher, having removed the filter and put the pitcher to better use.

Posted on Aug 5, 2007 in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

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