Monday, June 29, 2009

But at least they don't paint themselves blue any more

Brad DeLong passes along this tidbit:
Caesar, in writing home, said of the Britons, “They are the most ignorant people I have ever conquered. They cannot be taught music.”
Would Handel have disagreed?

Alas, DeLong's update suggests that a better rendering of the source (Cicero writing to Atticus, 4.16.7), as this by Shackleton-Bailey, is less amusing:
... A letter from my brother contains some quite extraordinary things about Caesar's warm feelings towards me, and is corroborated by a very copious letter from Caesar himself. The result of the war against Britain is eagerly awaited, for the approaches to the island are known to be 'warded with wondrous massy walls.' It is also now ascertained that there isn't a grain of silver on the island nor any prospect of booty apart from captives, and I fancy you won't expect any of them to be highly qualified in literature or music!
Walsh's new Oxford translation has "sliver of silver," but does silver come in slivers? "Grain" seems more plausible.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Froomkin's finale

Dan Froomkin, indispensable White House Watcher whom the WaPo fired in its relentless (and very successful) war on journalistic quality and independence, posts his final column today, reviewing the Bush years and the media's failure to provide the public service they pretend to offer:
I started my column in January 2004, and one dominant theme quickly emerged: That George W. Bush was truly the proverbial emperor with no clothes. In the days and weeks after the 9/11 terror attacks, the nation, including the media, vested him with abilities he didn't have and credibility he didn't deserve. * * *

How did the media cover it all? Not well. Reading pretty much everything that was written about Bush on a daily basis, as I did, one could certainly see the major themes emerging. But by and large, mainstream-media journalism missed the real Bush story for way too long. * * *

Obama is nowhere in Bush's league when it comes to issues of credibility, but his every action nevertheless needs to be carefully scrutinized by the media, and he must be held accountable. We should be holding him to the highest standards – and there are plenty of places where we should be pushing back. Just for starters, there are a lot of hugely important but unanswered questions about his Afghanistan policy, his financial rescue plans, and his turnaround on transparency.
Read the whole thing, and when we see where Froomkin ends up, we'll pass it along.

Return of a bookslut

Michael Schaub is back at the Bookslut blog, as acerbic as ever. Yay, Michael!
This piece on Thomas Maier's Masters of Sex: The Life and Times of William Masters and Virginia Johnson, the Couple Who Taught America How to Love might actually be the first time the New York Times has printed the phrase "a clear Plexiglas dildo nicknamed Ulysses" since J. Edgar Hoover's obituary.


In New Zealand, a school is bribing kids to read with Coke. They're doing the same thing in Miami, only the "c" isn't capitalized.
... Is "How to Love" really quite the right verb for what Masters and Johnson taught America how to do, or do better?

Bar codes, younger than I am

The NYT notes the 35th anniversary of the bar code. First product scanned, presumably in a "real" transaction: a pack of Juicy Fruit gum.

Somewhat shamelessly, the Times repeats its canard about Bush 41 and the scanner:
They even played a role in the 1992 presidential race, when then-President George H. W. Bush, at a campaign stop, seemed surprised by what had already become a technological staple of everyday life. notes that the Times' Andrew Rosenthal (still dispensing misinformation today) hadn't even been present, and that Bush was really being politely impressed by "a new type of scanner that could weigh groceries and read mangled and torn bar codes."

Anyway, I am old enough to remember vaguely when bar codes came in. Googling hasn't turned up a cartoon that delighted me at the time (it was in Omni, if that tells you anything): two bar codes, having reared up slightly to expose numerous pairs of creepy arthropodic limbs, are shown, with bar code 0000000002 reporting to 0000000001 that "our infiltration of the enemy's food supply network is nearly complete."

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Me, I feel fine ... I think.

Ed McMahon and Farrah Fawcett, I kind of expected.

Michael Jackson, not so much.

Coming to an episode of South Park near you, I'd imagine.

Fortunately, his attorney is Robert Blarney

I'm always charmed by people whose names undermine their goals, like the murder defendant named Butcher.

Add one to the files. A fellow stabbed his cheerleader ex-girlfriend 16 times (then botched slashing his own throat), and his defense at the murder trial is that his acne medication made him do it.

Maybe, maybe not. But does it help that his name is John Mullarkey?

(J/k re: the attorney, one Robert Stewart.)

The "Saudi State Secrets" privilege?

Mark Kleiman has a great post up on "the continuing Saudi-American coverup of 9/11." You should read the whole thing, which begins like this:
So the Justice Department continues to support the legal position of the Saudi government that (1) the families of the 9/11 victims can't sue various Saudi parties they claim were accessories to the crime; and (2) some of the evidence, which is classified, shouldn't be made public.
Not something I remember hearing about in any detail, which is a pity. Fortunately, our vigilant media are doggedly publicizing this story chasing GOP adulterers.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

One of our governors (was) missing kissing

If I were a politician, I'd feel like cutting out some of the time too, so I'm sympathetic in principle to Mark Sanford and his little Argentine jaunt.

Yglesias's post I just linked speculates whether Sanford was conducting an affair, which seems silly to me -- there must be a lot better ways to have sex in secret than flying off to Buenos Aires without telling anyone.

Josh Marshall's blog passes along some like speculation, which is all too thinly sourced to mean much.

If there *is* something fishy, I suspect it's along the lines suggested by Matt's first commenter, who says that Buenos Aires is "the gay Mecca of South America." But that's just wishful thinking on my part, I'm sure.

... Well, so much for my superficial sense of the plausible:
POLITICO Breaking News:

South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, apologizing to his wife, children, staff, “and anybody who lives in South Carolina,” says he’s been unfaithful to his wife and has been in a relationship with another woman in Argentina.
A *woman* in Argentina. Sigh.

Anyway, I'm now curious about Gov. Sanford's position on immigration reform.

... My friend has a better line: "No wonder he wouldn't take stimulus money -- he was already stimulated!"

... It's always a comfort to know that, however wrong one is, RedState is more wrong:
First, we need to be clear on the facts — not the media speculation:

-Sanford did tell his staff and family where he was going.
-Because he was traveling without a security detail, it was in his best interests that no one knew he was gone.
-His political enemies — Republicans at that — ginned up the media story.
-When confronted by a pestering media, things went downhill.
-Again though, at all times there was no doubt that Sanford’s staff and family knew where he was.
"Honey, I'm going to Buenos Aires to sleep with my mistress -- tell the staff where I am, but don't let the media know!" "Okay, honey, have a nice time!"

... Hm. The media's known about the mistress since December 2008 & kept quiet, despite having e-mails between Sanford and "Maria":
You have a particular grace and calm that I adore. You have a level of sophistication that so fitting with your beauty. I could digress and say that you have the ability to give magnificent gentle kisses, or that I love your tan lines or that I love the curve of your hips, the erotic beauty of you holding yourself (or two magnificent parts of yourself) in the faded glow of the night’s light - but hey, that would be going into sexual details ...
Yes. Yes, it would.

Conservatism, and the Bookshelf of the Future

By "conservatism," for example, we do not mean what is meant by the word in the contemporary United States: a blend of American patriotism, evangelical religion and free-enterprise values.

--J.G.A. Pocock, introduction to Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France

... Compared to Russell Kirk's definition, for instance, Pocock's has superior plausibility.

I've also picked up Schuettinger's volume of readings in The Conservative Tradition in European Thought (thanks again, CJ Colucci), which annoying reprints snippets of Burke without being particular as to whence they came. Scheuttinger introduces the book with his own five-point definition. Divinely-inspired morality, variety of social forms, and limits of reason overlap Kirk's (1), (5), and (6); Scheuttinger also praises tradition (Kirk's # 3), as a means to "order and stability," and aiming at "the good life, not just life itself," which means placing "honor and duty" before "personal indulgence."

Desultory reading in the first half of the anthology reminds me of a heritage that conservative thought takes from Burke: it's written in opposition to revolutionary change, often quasi-imaginary revolution. "Socialism" for more recent authors plays the role of the French Jacobins. This accounts somewhat for the polemical quality I'd noted in conservative though. It also raises the issue of that thought's utility. Revolutionary socialism was indeed a credible danger in part of the 20th century, and the selection from Jewkes, for instance, has the unusual virtue of actual citations to opponents and empirical facts; but the question today seems to be what kind of capitalist state to have, not whether to replace it with socialism.

So, I hope to read further in conservative thought; but there is so much else to read! Glancing over the bookcases, I see 30 books itching to be read or, less bad, finished (indicated below with a +): 21 nonfiction,

  • Nabokov, Speak, Memory +

  • Fukuyama, End of History & the Last Man

  • Kennedy, Rise & Fall of the Great Powers +

  • Finkel, Osman's Dream +

  • Jenkins, Asquith

  • Hegel, Outlines of the Philosophy of Right +

  • Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France

  • Taylor, Sources of the Self

  • Roberts, Salisbury

  • Kendall, Louis XI +

  • Gibbon, Rise & Fall of the Roman Empire +

  • Mommsen, Provinces of the Roman Empire

  • Fox, Pagans & Christians

  • Benn, China's Golden Age

  • Heer, The Holy Roman Empire

  • Churchill, Marlborough

  • Rounding, Catherine the Great

  • Freida, Catherine de Medici

  • Bosworth, Mussolini's Italy

  • Beschloss, Crisis Years

  • Friedman, History of American Law

  • and 9 novels:

  • The Names

  • If on a Winter's Night a Traveler

  • Empire of the Sun

  • The Master & Margarita +

  • Oblomov

  • The Solitudes (Aegypt vol. 1)

  • The Death of Virgil +

  • J R

  • The Easter Parade

  • I am taking a semiserious resolution to buy no more books until these have succumbed.

    (Oh, and how did I forget Schroeder, Transformation of European Politics 1763-1848? ... Freeman on Rawls? Wolfe on The Future of Liberalism?)

    Tuesday, June 23, 2009

    Remembering the *whole* Holocaust

    June 22 was significant not just for Operation Barbarossa itself, but for its commencement of the race war on the Eastern Front, which began with the Einsatzgruppen and culminated in the death camps, of which Auschwitz is the best known -- typically, the *only* one known to the guy on the street.

    Timothy Snyder reminds us that the symbolization of the Holocaust by Auschwitz has a certain Western European bias to it:
    The very reasons that we know something about Auschwitz warp our understanding of the Holocaust: we know about Auschwitz because there were survivors, and there were survivors because Auschwitz was a labor camp as well as a death factory. These survivors were largely West European Jews, because Auschwitz is where West European Jews were usually sent. After World War II, West European Jewish survivors were free to write and publish as they liked, whereas East European Jewish survivors, if caught behind the iron curtain, could not. In the West, memoirs of the Holocaust could (although very slowly) enter into historical writing and public consciousness.

    This form of survivors' history, of which the works of Primo Levi are the most famous example, only inadequately captures the reality of the mass killing. The Diary of Anne Frank concerns assimilated European Jewish communities, the Dutch and German, whose tragedy, though horrible, was a very small part of the Holocaust. By 1943 and 1944, when most of the killing of West European Jews took place, the Holocaust was in considerable measure complete. Two thirds of the Jews who would be killed during the war were already dead by the end of 1942. The main victims, the Polish and Soviet Jews, had been killed by bullets fired over death pits or by carbon monoxide from internal combustion engines pumped into gas chambers at Treblinka, Belzec, and Sobibor in occupied Poland.

    Auschwitz as symbol of the Holocaust excludes those who were at the center of the historical event. The largest group of Holocaust victims--religiously Orthodox and Yiddish-speaking Jews of Poland, or, in the slightly contemptuous German term, Ostjuden--were culturally alien from West Europeans, including West European Jews. To some degree, they continue to be marginalized from the memory of the Holocaust. The death facility Auschwitz-Birkenau was constructed on territories that are today in Poland, although at the time they were part of the German Reich. Auschwitz is thus associated with today's Poland by anyone who visits, yet relatively few Polish Jews and almost no Soviet Jews died there. The two largest groups of victims are nearly missing from the memorial symbol.

    An adequate vision of the Holocaust would place Operation Reinhardt, the murder of the Polish Jews in 1942, at the center of its history. Polish Jews were the largest Jewish community in the world, Warsaw the most important Jewish city. This community was exterminated at Treblinka, Belzec, and Sobibor. Some 1.5 million Jews were killed at those three facilities, about 780,863 at Treblinka alone. Only a few dozen people survived these three death facilities. Belzec, though the third most important killing site of the Holocaust, after Auschwitz and Treblinka, is hardly known. Some 434,508 Jews perished at that death factory, and only two or three survived. About a million more Polish Jews were killed in other ways, some at Chelmno, Majdanek, or Auschwitz, many more shot in actions in the eastern half of the country.

    All in all, as many if not more Jews were killed by bullets as by gas, but they were killed by bullets in easterly locations that are blurred in painful remembrance. The second most important part of the Holocaust is the mass murder by bullets in eastern Poland and the Soviet Union. It began with SS Einsatzgruppen shootings of Jewish men in June 1941, expanded to the murder of Jewish women and children in July, and extended to the extermination of entire Jewish communities that August and September. By the end of 1941, the Germans (along with local auxiliaries and Romanian troops) had killed a million Jews in the Soviet Union and the Baltics. That is the equivalent of the total number of Jews killed at Auschwitz during the entire war. By the end of 1942, the Germans (again, with a great deal of local assistance) had shot another 700,000 Jews, and the Soviet Jewish populations under their control had ceased to exist.
    Read the whole thing, which goes on to discuss Nazi war crimes eclipsed by the Holocaust as well as Stalin's mass murders.

    That torture we collaborated in? It was terrible!

    Now perhaps that a new sheriff's in town -- no conscious reference to Blazing Saddles! intended -- the American Psychological Association figured this was good time to reiterate that torture is just awful.

    Sullivan links to what the APA left out:
    Unfortnately, the styatement, while an improvement on recent communications from APA, is still deeply flawed. Notice that they fail to mention that among the “some psychologists[that] did not abide by their ethical obligations to never engage in torture or other forms of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment” were likely several members of their PENS [Psychological Ethics and National Security] task force that formed ethics policy for the association. Any claim that the APA leadership acted in good faith as they confronted this isssue is belied by that leadership’s actions in creating and long standing behind this deeply flawed unethical task force with multiple conflicts of interest at its core.
    More details here.

    Monday, June 22, 2009

    June 22

    Today's the anniversary of Operation Barbarossa in 1941.

    Also, therefore, the anniversary of Operation Bagration in 1944, which culminated in the Red Army's pushing the Germans back to about where they'd started.

    Oddly, neither anniversary came to mind last night, when I received a welcome Father's Day present of Axis & Allies. Which looks to be glorified Risk, but at least playable, compared to this for instance.

    NYT on Rafsanjani

    The paper of record catches up with the internet: "Former President at Center of Fight Within Political Elite."

    It appears that Rafsanjani's daughter & other kin have been released; no telling what to make of their temporary detention. (1) Shot across the bow -- "we nabbed 'em & we can do it again"? (2) Left hand detains, right hand releases?

    Other than saying that he's given Moussavi especial support, nothing about the relationship b/t Moussavi and Rafsanjani, which seems to be a major question. But an article worth reading nonetheless.

    ... Ah, this is pretty much what I'd been thinking:
    In a Financial Times article, reporters Najmeh Bozorgmehr and Roula Khalaf tease out evidence that what some analysts have likened to a clerical-state bureaucracy elite are deftly manipulating the legitimate popular outrage against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's regime as a way of hoisting themselves (back) to power.
    The FT story is subscriber-only, but this has seemed correct from early on: how can we harness this political uprising?, Rafsanjani et al. have surely been asking themselves.

    Sunday, June 21, 2009

    Nabokov's mother's faith

    Her intense and pure religiousness took the form of her having equal faith in the existence of another world and in the impossibility of comprehending it in earthly life. All one could do was to glimpse, amid the haze and the chimeras, something real ahead, just as persons endowed with an unusual persistence of diurnal cerebration are able to perceive in their deepest sleep, somewhere beyond the throes of an entangled and inept nightmare, the ordered reality of the waking hour.

    -- Nabokov, Speak, Memory, ch. 2.

    ... Also in chapter 2, Nabokov manages to drop "palpebral" (relating to the eyelid), "photism" (luminous hallucinatory image), "quinsy" (an abscess of the tonsil), and "aquarelle" (painting in transparent watercolors). Nabokov evidently stands with Faulkner against Hemingway on the value of a reader's pausing to consult a dictionary (or Google). (I kind of knew what an aquarelle is ....)

    And some people are better heard than seen

    Hendrik Hertzberg, apropos of the Iran (non-)coverage, perfectly encapsulates the uselessness of our 24/7 "news channels":
    As many have noted, cable TV news has turned out to be useless; it’s little more than talk radio with pictures of the hosts.
    ... The regime is now holding hostage Rafsanjani's daughter & other family members. We can see who *they* think is "behind things."

    Friday, June 19, 2009

    Quite right.

    When you see that the House voted 405-1 to condemn the Iranian regime's violence against protesters, naturally, you wonder who the "1" was. Ron Paul, of course.
    Rep. Ron Paul, a Texas libertarian, cast the sole opposing vote because he said it wasn't the House's place to judge "events thousands of miles away about which we know very little."
    Constitutionally quite right. Judging distant events from a vantage of utter ignorance is the Senate's job.

    ... Whether Paul intended the Chamberlain echo is a good question:
    How horrible, fantastic, incredible it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas-masks here because of a quarrel in a far away country between people of whom we know nothing.

    Ormazd akbar?

    Daniel Larison notes an infelicity by David Ignatius --
    Muslim parties and their allies have suffered election setbacks over the past several years in Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco and Pakistan.
    --and slips the knife in:
    What’s wrong with this sentence? Of course, we know what Ignatius meant to say. He meant to say Islamist, but isn’t it odd that the word he did use was Muslim? Who exactly does he think is marching in Tehran at the moment? Zoroastrians?
    He does have a serious point:
    if Mousavi’s forces prevail, who will have won? The Islamists or the non-Islamists? Silly question. For all the talk of democracy, the protesters are invoking the legacy of the Islamic revolution, which they believe has been betrayed, and they are employing the rhetoric of that revolution, which is nothing if not Islamist. Indeed, at the moment their hopes rest to a disproportionate degree with anti-Khamenei clerics who might decide to oust him. Should that happen, I hope that we will not be treated to some convoluted explanation that velayat-e faqih is actually a profoundly secular idea embodying the separation of religion and state, but given the commentary of the last few days I wouldn’t be surprised.
    The equivalence of "secular" and "acceptable" is something that Larison is right to point a finger at, and those who assume that equivalence only lend ammo to the Islamists who stay in power by condemning the secular Americans.

    Thursday, June 18, 2009

    Iran's regime: Blame Rafsanjani

    Reports that Rafsanjani's been busy behind the scenes must gain some credibility from the news that, according to the regime, Rafsanjani's to blame for the unrest.

    One child for one dog

    Ammianus tells us that once Lupicinus had prised much of the barbarians' wealth from them in exchange for black market food, he began an even more sinister trade. The Goths were desperate enough to sell their children for paltry amounts of dog meat. The going rate was one child for one dog -- Lupicinus' men were organised enough to have gathered up stray dogs from a wide area.

    -- Adrian Goldsworthy, How Rome Fell, p. 252.

    ... I wonder how many of the Goths who faced the Romans at Adrianople had sold their children for dog meat a few years prior? Might've added a little zest to their morale.

    Wednesday, June 17, 2009

    TMI about sudden death in the air

    That Air France plane lost off the coast of Brazil probably broke up in mid-air ... judging by the corpses found thus far:
    "Typically, if you see intact bodies and multiple fractures — arm, leg, hip fractures — it's a good indicator of a midflight break up," said Frank Ciacco, a former forensic expert at the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board. "Especially if you're seeing large pieces of aircraft as well."

    The pattern of fractures was first reported Wednesday by Brazil's O Estado de S. Paulo newspaper, which cited unnamed investigators. The paper also reported that some victims were found with little or no clothing, and had no signs of burns.

    That lack of clothing could be significant, said Jack Casey, an aviation safety consultant in Washington, D.C., who is a former accident investigator. "In an in-air break up like we are supposing here, the clothes are just torn away."

    Casey also said multiple fractures are consistent with a midair breakup of the plane, which was cruising at about 34,500 feet (10,500 meters) when it went down.

    "Getting ejected into that kind of windstream is like hitting a brick wall — even if they stay in their seats, it is a crushing effect," Casey said. "Most of them were long dead before they hit the water would be my guess."

    When a jet crashes into water mostly intact — such as the Egypt Air plane that hit the Atlantic Ocean after taking off from New York in 1999 — debris and bodies are generally broken into small pieces, Ciacco said. "When you've had impact in the water, there is a lot more fragmentation of the bodies. They hit the water with a higher force."
    Be sure to bookmark this post for review before your next flight. Also to remind yourself not to go to work in the forensics section of the NTSB.

    ... Much better to turn to the Onion: Investigators Determine Air France Disaster Caused By Plane Crash:
    French and Brazilian authorities said their first hint that the tragedy was caused by a plane crash came last week, when divers recovered several large metal fragments from Air France Flight 447 that were not fused together in one solid mass, as is typical of a functioning aircraft. The fragments were then analyzed and found not to be airborne or otherwise soaring intact across the sky. The final clue, they said, was that certain key features of the crash site in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean seemed to be consistent with a huge commercial airliner having crashed there.

    The discovery of deceased Flight 447 passengers further supported the so-called "plane crash" theory, as investigators claimed these men and women would most likely have already arrived in Paris had the Airbus jet not gone down.

    "Objectively" Bolshevik jargon?

    Jonathan Chait takes perennial dumbass Robert Kagan to task. Kagan wrote:
    His [Obama's] strategy toward Iran places him objectively on the side of the government's efforts to return to normalcy as quickly as possible, not in league with the opposition's efforts to prolong the crisis.
    Kagan provides no evidence here, either. He simply falls into the neocon habit of using the word "objectively" to avoid the need for reason * * * In fact, it's anything but "objective" that Obama's restraint is helping the Iranian government. It's a highly subjective proposition, one that Kagan does absolutely nothing to defend.
    True enough. But where does this "objectively" tic come from?

    Presumably, Orwell's at fault:
    Objectively, whoever is not on the side of the policeman is on the side of the criminal and vice versa. In so far as it hampers the British war effort, British pacifism is on the side of the Nazis, and German pacifism, if it exists, is on the side of Britain and the U.S.S.R. Since pacifists have more freedom of action in countries where traces of democracy survive, pacifism can act more effectively against democracy than for it. Objectively the pacifist is pro-Nazi.
    Leaving aside its status as "the worst thing Orwell ever wrote," I never thought about the origin of this obnoxious phrase, until I was reading in Service's biography of Stalin, where Stalin is railing against the Czechs' interest in the Marshall Plan (p. 505):
    Whether you wish it or not, you are objectively helping to isolate the Soviet Union. You can see what's happening. All the countries which have friendly relations with us are refraining from participation in this gathering whereas Czechoslovakia, which also has friendly relations with us, is participating.
    Ah so. A little googling finds Lenin extending the Red terror to anyone who "gave help objectively" to the regime's foes. In other words, never mind what someone *thought* he was doing; the Bolshevik leaders, from their panoramic theoretical viewpoint, were the ones who could decide what one was "objectively" doing (remember, History is at work, not "subjective" individuals), and order one shot or incarcerated accordingly.

    Not at all a surprising locution for the neocons, of course, whose Leninist qualities we were reminded of the other day.

    Another GOP Angelo

    TBA has always had a soft spot for hypocrites who pronounce on everyone else's sexual morality while themselves carrying on in private.

    Hence, our warm greetings to Sen. John Ensign (R-NV), Harry Reid's GOP colleague, who's been cheating on his wife with the wife of one of his staffers. Or a former staffer married to a former aide. Or someone like that.

    Joyner points us to some things that Ensign maybe wishes he hadn't said now, or at least, wishes weren't so readily available on the internet:
    Ensign called [Sen. Larry "Wide Stance"] Craig a “disgrace” after he was arrested in June 2007 in an airport men’s restroom on disorderly conduct charges. But when Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) acknowledged having an affair, Ensign didn’t call on him to resign.
    Well, *that* was certainly thinking ahead. This, not so much:
    The effort to pass a constitutional amendment reaffirming marriage as being between a man and a woman only is being undertaken strictly as a defense of marriage against the attempt to redefine it and, in the process, weaken it .... Marriage is an extremely important institution in this country and protecting it is, in my mind, worth the extraordinary step of amending our constitution.
    Yes. Clearly, adultery should be made a federal crime.
    There's too many people that paint with a broad brush that we're all corrupt, we're all amoral. * * * And having these kinds of things happen, whether it's a Republican or Democratic senator — we certainly have had plenty of Democratic scandals in the past — we need people who are in office who will hold themselves to a little higher standard.
    Just a *little*, mind you.

    Thanks for brightening our day, Senator Ensign!

    ... Not to mention Darlene Ensign, who makes a compelling case for federally *mandating* adultery:
    Ensign's wife, Darlene, was not at her husband's side during the short briefing but issued a statement saying the couple's marriage has become "stronger" after the affair.

    "I love my husband," she said in her statement.
    Marriage is an extremely important institution in this country and strengthening it is, in my mind, worth the extraordinary step of amending our constitution ... to require spouses to cheat at least once every 3 years. DO IT FOR THE KIDS!

    Tuesday, June 16, 2009

    Khamenei's rival speaks out?

    Iranian politics are not my strong suit, but one thing leaping out at me from Andrew Sullivan's coverage of the post-election unrest is this statement by Grand Ayatollah Montazeri, which reads in part (not correcting the evidently clumsy translation):
    1- A legitimate state must respect all points of view. It may not oppress all critical views. I fear that this lead to the lost of people’s faith in Islam.

    2- Given the current circumstances, I expect the government to take all measures to restore people’s confidence. Otherwise, as I have already said, a government not respecting people’s vote has no religious or political legitimacy.

    3- I invite everyone, specially the youth, to continue reclaiming their dues in calm, and not let those who want to associate this movement with chaos succeed.

    4- I ask the police and army personals not to “sell their religion”, and beware that receiving orders will not excuse them before god. Recognize the protesting youth as your children. Today censor and cutting telecommunication lines can not hide the truth.
    No, tell us what you really think, sir!

    Montazeri was Khomeini's original pick for his successor, but after Montazeri spoke out against various regime abuses, the death of Khomeini was followed by the sudden promotion to ayatollah, and enthronement as Supreme Leader, of Ali Khamenei, who continues today in that post.

    For Montazeri -- still considered the #1 spiritual authority by many Iranians -- to speak out like this, after having spent much of the past decade under house arrest, must surely be important.

    ... FWIW, compare this from Robert Baer:
    ... Khamenei's legitimacy has been in question from the day he succeeded Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989. It was widely understood among intelligence analysts that Khamenei did not have the religious credentials to succeed Khomeini as supreme leader, Iran's head of state who is supposed to be the most learned religious cleric. In fact, Khamenei is not even really an ayatollah--his license was in effect bought--and he has no popular religious following as other legitimate ayatollahs do. * * *

    A sure signal of Khamenei's political weakness occurred when Ahmadinejad attacked former president Rafsanjani for corruption during the election campaign. Rafsanjani is and always has been a threat to Khamenei's legitimacy. Not only is he more of a real ayatollah, but he is also Chairman of the Assembly of Experts and the Expediency Council, two powerful government bodies. The Assembly of Experts has the power to remove Khamenei and appoint a new Supreme Leader. And though facts are impossible to come by, it is almost certain that Ahmadinejad's attack on Rafsanjani could not have been made without a green light from Khamenei, who knew that charges of Rafsanjani's corruption would strike a chord with Iranians. Khamenei saw and probably still sees Rafsanjani as a threat to his power, even to his position as supreme leader, and this was an effective way to pounce.

    Still, if the protests and demonstrations in Tehran cannot be controlled, we should seriously start to wonder about Khamenei's future. Rafsanjani is rumored to be in the holy city of Qum plotting against Khamenei, seeing if he has enough votes in the 86-member Assembly of Experts to remove Khamenei. A vote recount is unlikely to change the results of the election, but it could lead to more demonstrations, which backed by Rafsanjani and the other mullahs, might just end Khamenei's 20 year run.
    Ya think Rafsanjani and Montazeri have been chatting in Qom?

    Monday, June 15, 2009

    A Gestapo for our time

    Over at 3Quarks, there's a picture of the aftermath of a Tehran dorm raid by Iranian "security forces":

    They know what to be afraid of.

    (Also, I realize the flatscreen on the desk probably isn't hooked up to internet, or its CPU was smashed, or something like that, but it's funny to see it spared, as if the goons didn't know what it was, or like it's gloating over its obsolescent peers' fate.)

    ... Of course, they can destroy the terminals, but what about the internet? Hey, where is the internet, anyway?

    Monday morning

    Looking like a stereotypically bleak Monday.

    I note that Andrew Sullivan is all over the Iranian election; for something more concise, Laura Secor writes on "Iran's Stolen Election."

    Meanwhile, Jose Padilla's civil suit vs. John Yoo has largely survived a motion to dismiss -- look now for interlocutory appeal, as Yoo (and Obama's DOJ) struggle to avoid the discovery process ("state secrets," anyone?). And Jane Mayer writes about Panetta at CIA.

    ... The part of Mayer's article garnering attention is this:
    Panetta, pouring a cup of coffee, responded to Cheney’s speech with surprising candor. “I think he smells some blood in the water on the national-security issue,” he told me. “It’s almost, a little bit, gallows politics. When you read behind it, it’s almost as if he’s wishing that this country would be attacked again, in order to make his point. I think that’s dangerous politics.”
    Cheney responds:
    I hope my old friend Leon was misquoted. The important thing is whether or not the Obama administration will continue the policies that have kept us safe for the last eight years.
    Eight years prior to June 15, 2009 = June 15, 2001.

    Safe. Yeah.

    Friday, June 12, 2009

    Your deadly solar system

    See? I told you it was dangerous:
    A 14-year old German boy was hit in the hand by a pea-sized meteorite that scared the bejeezus out of him and left a scar.

    "When it hit me it knocked me flying and then was still going fast enough to bury itself into the road," Gerrit Blank said in a newspaper account. Astronomers have analyzed the object and conclude it was indeed a natural object from space, The Telegraph reports.

    Most meteors vaporize in the atmosphere, creating "shooting stars," and never reach the ground. The few that do are typically made mostly of metals. Stony space rocks, even if they are big as a car, will usually break apart or explode as they crash through the atmosphere.
    Freak accident ... or warning shot?

    If you needed another reason to ignore him completely

    Daniel Pipes, neocon fearmonger extraordinaire, tells us whom he'd vote for in Iran's presidential election:
    “I’m sometimes asked who I would vote for if I were enfranchised in this election, and I think that, with due hesitance, I would vote for Ahmadinejad,” Pipes said. The reason, Pipes went on, is that he would “prefer to have an enemy who’s forthright and obvious, who wakes people up with his outlandish statements.”

    Although it is rather remarkable to see a prominent neoconservative admit this in public, it’s clear that many Iran hawks in American and Israel are similarly hoping for an Ahmadinejad victory next week. After all, the Iranian president’s outlandish statements have been a propaganda gold mine for those pushing military action against Tehran, and no warmongering op-ed would be complete without a ritualistic invocation of his (mistranslated) call to “wipe Israel off the map”. At last month’s AIPAC conference, Ahmadinejad was the undisputed star of the show; large glossy photos of him touring nuclear facilities in a lab coat were distributed to every conference-goer, and the largely geriatric audience was bludgeoned into a state of terror with constant juxtapositions of Hitler and Ahmadinejad, Auschwitz and Natanz. An alien who descended on the conference might be forgiven for thinking that Ahmadinejad was president of Israel or the U.S. rather than Iran, since he was far more discussed and displayed than Benjamin Netanyahu, Avigdor Lieberman, or Barack Obama.
    (Via Kleiman.)

    This preference for extreme enemies who will facilitate conflict, rather than moderate opponents with whom one can negotiate ... isn't there something, well, Leninist about that? Perhaps Pipes has learned all too much from his old day job.

    Thursday, June 11, 2009

    The bookshelf

    Lots of slacker reading over the past month:

    George R.R. Martin, A Song of Ice and Fire: Went back through volumes 2 through 4 of the series. Classic swords-and-politics fantasy that features the words "fuck" and "cunt" too often for me to try to inveigle my 13YO into reading 'em. If you read this kind of thing and haven't picked up A Game of Thrones, do so.

    Dungeons & Dragons 3.5: No good reason for me to've picked these up, since I can't imagine ever running another D&D game. But the new 4th edition is so appallingly bad (we already *had* computer gaming, thanks), I thought I might should snag these while I could. I like what the 3d edition did with skills and feats -- it's entertaining to try to reconstruct Uma Thurman's Kill Bill character -- but combat seems like it must take FOREVER now.

    Paul Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers: A book that seems like I should've read it 10 years ago. It's good as it goes, but his crow's-eye view of the last 500 years in terms of military and economic competition seems like a well-worn tale. I'm hoping that when I hit the 19th century, it will all sound a bit less like my college textbooks.

    David Reynolds, In Command of History: Churchill Fighting and Writing the Second World War: As someone who always suspiciously avoided reading Churchill's big book, I found Reynolds' study vindicating; he meticulously studies what Churchill omitted or spun, and often relates those changes to postwar issues revolving around the Cold War and Churchill's quest for the premiership (again). One has to be a serious WW2/Churchill buff to find this interesting rather than painful, n.b.

    John Conroy, Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People: The Dynamics of Torture: His assessment of Aristotle may be dubious, but this is a must-read book on torture in democratic states: how it happens, how it's addressed, how it's swept under the rug. Soldiers in Israel, police in Chicago, spooks in Britain -- they all torture, they all lie about it, they all get slaps on the wrist.

    Adrian Goldsworthy, How Rome Fell: His Caesar biography was a from-the-library read, as he didn't seem to add much beyond a more careful appreciation of Caesar as soldier; but I picked this one up on the strength of its contention with such works as Peter Heather's The Fall of the Roman Empire. Rather than "the Barbarians, on the Frontiers, with a Battleaxe," Goldsworthy's culprit is "the Romans, amongst Themselves, with a Gladius" -- civil war brought down the empire, without which there's no particular reason why Rome couldn't have continued to fend off the barbarians. Or so I gather from reviews and the preface. Right now I've only just seen Alexander Severus into his untimely grave, so the thesis hasn't unfolded very much. (The best Caesar bio IMHO continues to be Meier's, btw.)

    Robert Service, Stalin: A Biography: Stalin's never been as fleshed-out a baddie as Hitler in my reading, so I picked this one up to gather what the current view seems to be. It still reads nothing like, say, Kershaw's Hitler (being, for one thing, less than half the length), but I suspect we still just don't have anything like the degree of documentation of Stalin -- there are advantages to being a successful despot. The author goes to some length to be fair to Stalin where called for, which I gather is going to make the 1930s look just that much worse.

    Wednesday, June 10, 2009

    That low-key sense of dread -- explained!

    And here I was thinking I needed Zoloft or something. But no, it's perfectly rational:
    A force known as orbital chaos may cause our Solar System to go haywire, leading to possible collision between Earth and Venus or Mars, according to a study released Wednesday.

    The good news is that the likelihood of such a smash-up is small, around one-in-2500.

    And even if the planets did careen into one another, it would not happen before another 3.5 billion years.
    It is however 99% likely that all the inner planets will survive to be devoured by the Sun as it lycanthropically swells into a red giant and scorches the Earth down to its rocky crust, 5 billion years from now. Adjust your Outlook calendars accordingly.

    Representatives from Venus expressed their displeasure that the article's headline was "Earth-Venus smash-up possible in 3.5 billion years: study," completely omitting Mars's possible culpability.

    ... Of course, the nightmare scenario for life on Earth is a nearby supernova. I was imagining a disaster movie to that effect: gamma and x-rays suffuse the Earth, killing everyone in moments. Bit of a bummer. I'm not sure who survives for the last reel of the film. People in really deep mines or submarines?

    Or, the universe could really be a vacuum fluctuation, after all.

    Tuesday, June 09, 2009

    The elephant would have been less contentious, surely

    Harvard once considered hiring Nabokov to teach literature; Roman Jakobson, then a professor of linguistics there, is supposed to have asked whether the university was also prepared to hire an elephant to teach zoology.

    -- Louis Menand, "Show or Tell: Should creative writing be taught?"

    ... The anecdote may carry a little more force for those who recognize Jakobson as a structuralist whose work held out the prospect of a scientific study of literature (a prospect more often mentioned than achieved).

    Monday, June 08, 2009

    Torture news

    Another torture news update from TBA!

    (1) The NYT breathlessly reports on three e-mails by Jim Comey (he of the famous hospital-bed showdown with Andy Card and Alberto Gonzales), which the NYT takes to show that Comey agreed with the 2005 torture memos by Steven Bradbury. As Emptywheel and Glenn Greenwald demonstrate, the NYT's line is not compatible with a reading of the actual e-mails, which are fascinating in recounting how torture issues were actually addressed, or left unaddressed. Read all three.

    (2) Jake Tapper interviews Lakhdar Boumediene, whom we held at Gitmo for 7+ years without enough evidence to shake a stick at.
    In 2001, Boumediene, his wife and two young daughters lived in Sarajevo, Bosnia. He worked for the Red Crescent Society, having done stints for the organization in Pakistan and Albania.

    He was arrested by Bosnian police in October 2001 and charged with conspiring to blow up the U.S. and British Embassies. He called the charges false and ludicrous.

    "They search my car, my office, nothing. Cell phone, nothing. Nothing. Nothing," he said.

    The charges were dropped, and the Bosnian courts ordered him and five others freed. But under pressure from the Bush administration, the Bosnian government handed him over to the U.S. military. * * *

    Boumediene said the interrogations began within one week of his arrival at the facility in Cuba. But he thought that his cooperation, and trust in the United States, would serve him well and quicken his release.

    "I thought America, the big country, they have CIA, FBI. Maybe one week, two weeks, they know I am innocent. I can go back to my home, to my home," he said.

    But instead, Boumediene said he endured harsh treatment for more than seven years. He said he was kept awake for 16 days straight, and physically abused repeatedly. * * *

    Oddly, Boumediene said no one at Gitmo ever asked him about the alleged plot to blow up the embassies in Sarajevo. They wanted to know what he knew about al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, he recounted, which was nothing.

    Boumediene said it was in his interest to lie to the interrogators, who would reward the detainees if they admitted guilt.

    "If I tell my interrogator, I am from Al Qaeda, I saw Osama bin Laden, he was my boss, I help him, they will tell me, 'Oh you are a good man,'" he said. "But if I refuse? I tell them I'm innocent, never was I terrorist, never never, they tell me. 'You are, you are not cooperating, I have to punch you.'"
    Well, that's certainly the way to get valid intel.

    ... Dan Froomkin has a nice writeup on (1) above.

    Thursday, June 04, 2009

    Translating Nietzsche

    Via Jessa Crispin (is she in Berlin, GERMANY, or some other Berlin?), novelist-jeweler-professor Clancy Martin talks about translating Nietzsche:
    Can you describe some of your difficulties, or frustrations, or something, in doing a new translation of Beyond Good and Evil?

    Well, part of the difficulty is adding value, because unlike Thus Spoke Zarathurstra--which still has not been translated properly, my own translation sucks as do all of the others--the existing translations of Beyond Good and Evil are not bad. Kaufmann’s is the best, and improving on him is the challenge, while not making changes just for the sake of making changes. He made some textual errors and over-edited and missed some philosophical subtlety, especially in the use of terminology--Nietzsche is very careful and precise about his word choice, Kaufmann often is not--so all that is helpful. But the major frustration in translation, for me, is when you sense that you are wrestling with an intelligence much greater than your own, and a writer whose talents far exceed your own, and trying to do justice to the subtlety of that intelligence, and the elegance, range of connotation in the writing. You can puzzle over a sentence for hours. That’s the other frustrating part about it, of course, is making the time to do it properly. I am email acquaintances with Richard Pevear, the great translator with his partner Volokhonsky of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy and others, and we have talked a little bit about this--I don’t know how they do it, or how someone like Lydia Davis does it--but I think they are extremely disciplined people, and they work very regular work days, and work over it and over it until they get it right. I am still not disciplined enough, and I tend to do too many different projects at the same time: I need to learn to focus. “Purity of heart is to will one thing,” as Kierkegaard reminds us. I don’t have a pure enough heart to ever be a really good translator, I don’t think. But I will keep at it, and hope to continue to translate for the rest of my life.
    Shocking to confess for TBA, I know, but I've never actually cared much for TSZ, whose faux-biblical prophetic air bores me. I think of it as a book that Nietzsche really needed to write, but that we do not necessarily need to read. But I've seen Martin's edition at Barnes & Noble before & found it attractive; maybe I will have to give it a spin now.

    Tank Man

    20 years after Tiananmen Square, nobody's sure who he was, still.

    A new photo's surfaced, showing him in the background at ground level, waiting for the tank column.

    Non-lethal decapitation

    It's a serious problem, according to Justice James Kitchens of the Mississipppi Supreme Court:
    Although the defendant frames the issue in the context of a jury instruction, I cannot overlook the curiously-drafted indictment’s coming dangerously close to omitting an essential element of murder: that is, that the defendant killed the victim. * * * This indictment alleges that Neal “did willfully, unlawfully, and feloniously decapitate Lakeshia Cleveland, a human being; Jermaine Neal acted with the deliberate design to effect the death of Lakeshia Cleveland, in direct violation of Section 97-3-19(1)(a).” (Emphasis added.)

    * * * The majority opinion correctly finds the indictment sufficient “because decapitation is a certainly deadly act when done with the deliberate design to effect the death of a human being.” Maj. Op. at ¶ 11, n. 2. Obviously, decapitation is a deadly act only if the victim is still alive when beheaded, and post-mortem decapitation would constitute only mutilation of a corpse, not murder. The indictment is saved, not by the word decapitate, but by the words a human being and the phrase to effect the death of.
    Four more justices signed onto this concurrence in full, one more in part (presumably a still-attached part).

    I suppose one can never be too careful. (Btw, Mr. Neal did indeed perform the decapitation of his ex-girlfriend post-mortem, having shot her twice in her sleep. "When asked what prompted him to murder Cleveland, Neal responded that 'it was just a lot of pressure.'" Nothing relieves stress like a good shooting-decapitation, I suppose.)

    Killed Bill

    David Carradine, of Kung Fu and Kill Bill fame, appears to've committed suicide in Bangkok:
    BANGKOK – Actor David Carradine, star of the 1970s TV series "Kung Fu" who also had a wide-ranging career in the movies, has been found dead in the Thai capital, Bangkok. A news report said he was found hanged in his hotel room and was believed to have committed suicide.

    A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy, Michael Turner, confirmed the death of the 72-year-old actor. He said the embassy was informed by Thai authorities that Carradine died either late Wednesday or early Thursday, but he could not provide further details out of consideration for his family.

    The Web site of the Thai newspaper The Nation cited unidentified police sources as saying Carradine was found Thursday hanged in his luxury hotel room.

    It said Carradine was in Bangkok to shoot a movie and had been staying at the hotel since Tuesday.

    The newspaper said Carradine could not be contacted after he failed to appear for a meal with the rest of the film crew on Wednesday, and that his body was found by a hotel maid at 10 a.m. Thursday morning. The name of the movie was not immediately available.

    It said a preliminary police investigation found that he had hanged himself with a cord used with the room's curtains. It cited police as saying he had been dead at least 12 hours and there was no sign that he had been assaulted.
    Sad news; I wonder what precipitated it. Just watched Kill Bill vol. I again the other night while the family was out of town (watch DVD's while folding laundry, that's how I party). And my lunch box in 1st grade featured Kung Fu, and thus Carradine's shaven head.

    I hadn't realized that Ingmar Bergman cast him in a movie.

    ... Onion AV Club interview here.
    What [Tarantino] does is, when he wants to write a character, he'll take somebody he knows a lot about, and he'll pattern the character after them. He'll say, "This character is a lot like David Carradine," so he'll make the character as much like David Carradine as he can. There wasn't any research for me to do, you know? "I'd like you to study your own movies, David." What's he going to do?

    ... It appears that Carradine may have been a victim of, ah, recreational hanging. The so-called Tyler Durden has a pertinent observation:
    If you’re trusting that the 15-year-old prostitute you picked up in a foreign land can undo your life-threatening knots while her tiny hands are covered in Astroglide and semen, it’s possible you didn’t really think this plan all the way through.
    The man has a point there.

    What syllable of "Easterbrook" gets the accent, anyway?

    We mentioned the con-troversy over Sotomayor's holding that the Second Amendment is not, on present SCOTUS precedent, incorporated vs. the state.

    The Seventh Circuit has now ruled the same way, leading Scott Lemieux to note that
    She's so radical that her opinion on the incorporation of the 2nd Amendment against state governments matches well-known Trotskyite Frank Easterbrook!
    As the Seventh Circuit observed:
    Repeatedly, in decisions that no one thinks fossilized, the Justices have directed trial and appellate judges to implement the Supreme Court’s holdings even if the reasoning in later opinions has undermined their rationale. “If a precedent of this Court has direct application in a case, yet appears to rest on reasons rejected in some other line of decisions, the Court of Appeals should follow the case which directly controls, leaving to this Court the prerogative of overruling its own decisions.” Cruikshank, Presser, and Miller have “direct application in [this] case”. Plaintiffs say that a decision of the Supreme Court has “direct application” only if the opinion expressly considers the line of argument that has been offered to support a different approach. Yet few opinions address the ground that later opinions deem sufficient to reach a different result. If a court of appeals could disregard a decision of the Supreme Court by identifying, and accepting, one or another contention not expressly addressed by the Justices, the Court’s decisions could be circumvented with ease. They would bind only judges too dim-witted to come up with a novel argument.

    Anyone who doubts that Cruikshank, Presser, and Miller have “direct application in [this] case” need only read footnote 23 in Heller. It says that Presser and Miller “reaffirmed [Cruikshank’s holding] that the Second Amendment applies only to the Federal Government.” The Court did not say that Cruikshank, Presser, and Miller rejected a particular argument for applying the second amendment to the states. It said that they hold “that the Second Amendment applies only to the Federal Government.” The Court added that “Cruikshank’s continuing validity on incorporation” is “a question not presented by this case.” That does not license the inferior courts to go their own ways; it just notes that Cruikshank is open to reexamination by the Justices themselves when the time comes.
    (Sorry, too lazy to go back & italicize the case names.)

    Lemieux adds the interesting observation that Cruikshank was a really evil decision.

    Tuesday, June 02, 2009

    What about philosophy -- does it matter if it's true or not?

    A public-health message, via Jim:

    Novel A/H1N1 influenza: updated Q&A from the CDC

    Can I get novel H1N1 swine flu from reading novels?

    Recently there has been heightened public concern about the risk of contracting H1N1 influenza from exposure to large literary works, based in part on media reports of a pediatric case following a reading of “Charlotte’s Web”. The CDC has a few similar cases:

    --In Wilkes-Barre, PA, a 43-year-old male fell ill with flu-like symptoms after finishing one Dostoyevsky novel and reaching chapter 65 in a second one.

    --A male teen in Skokie, IL, was hospitalized briefly after reading the collected short stories of John Cheever.

    --Two high-school English teachers and a librarian reported dizziness and high fever partway through Lampedusa’s “The Leopard” (Colquhoun translation).

    The CDC is investigating these incidents, but has not yet found any association between the reading material and H1N1 influenza.

    I just finished reading “The Three Little Pigs” to my daughter. Do I need Tamiflu?

    The CDC is not advising any special precautions related to swine-themed literature. However, certain groups who are exposed to large amounts of reading on a regular basis may be at risk, including literature professors, book club discussion leaders, proofreaders, and bookish recluses. Until further information is available, the following precautions should be observed:

    --Postpone novel-reading if you are in contact with others who have symptoms of reading.

    --Choose Cliff’s Notes or Reader’s Digest condensed versions when available, or rent the video.

    --Skim through long descriptions.

    --Avoid skipping back to earlier chapters to remind yourself of character names.

    Should my school close down their English classes?

    The CDC is monitoring the end-of-year term paper season carefully, and will issue appropriate guidelines for educational institutions. Certain volumes of Faulkner, Austen and Melville have been determined safe by CD laboratory reading. For a complete list, see the web site.

    Monday, June 01, 2009

    Stendhal on blogging

    It's all in the translation.

    Sotomayor on guns ... er, nunchuks?

    Tom Freeland does some yeoman analysis on whether Sotomayor is "anti-Second Amendment." Worth forwarding to one's wingnut acquaintances and relatives, if they have the patience to read logical discussions.

    And while I'm on Sotomayor, Tom Goldstein's analysis of her jurisprudence on racial discrimination is likewise not going to be the focus of a Fox News Special Report any time soon. The contrast with Jeffrey "Can I Pretend That Was Just a Blog Post?" Rosen could not be greater.