Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Might he be a Danton?

During WW2, the U.S. Army briefly ran a program of selecting bright recruits for college training, including one Heinz "Henry" Kissinger. A classmate recalled:
The guy was so damn bright and so damn intellectual it was strange to most of us -- and we were the ones who had been selected for our intelligence. . . . He'd come into the living room of our suite. Three or four of us would be talking, probably about sex. He'd flop on the couch and start reading a book like Stendhal's The Red and the Black -- for fun!
-- Walter Isaacson, Kissinger, p. 41.

One could discern a great deal about Kissinger's soul by knowing how he responded to that novel. Did he, the young immigrant trying to conform and make his way in a new country, identify with the social-climbing would-be hypocrite, Julien? Or did Kissinger already sympathize more with Marquis de la Mole and even Kissinger's future idol, Metternich (who has an uncredited cameo, as it were, in the novel)?

(Compare two avowed fans of The Red and the Black: Al Gore and Richard Posner.)

Headline of the day

The Clarion-Ledger's crack headline squad delivers another classic:
Pascagoula police kill man with machete
Couldn't they just have shot him?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Bertie Russell, comic-book hero!

Via 3QD, we get:
Well, this is unexpected — a comic book about the quest for logical certainty in mathematics. The story spans the decades from the late 19th century to World War II, a period when the nature of mathematical truth was being furiously debated. The stellar cast, headed up by Bertrand Russell, includes the greatest philosophers, logicians and mathematicians of the era, along with sundry wives and mistresses, plus a couple of homicidal maniacs, an apocryphal barber and Adolf Hitler. * * *

The story proper opens on Sept. 4, 1939, three days after the Nazi invasion of Poland. Bertrand Russell is giving a public lecture at an American university on the role of logic in human affairs. Angry isolationists in the audience challenge Russell to explain how logic could justify participating in a world war. Ah, he responds, but what is logic?
The review notes some gratuitous tinkering with facts, but still finds that it's a good read. Click through to see a page of Russell and Wittgenstein, arguing on a snowy stroll.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Shadow over Lovecraft

Lovecraft's fiction has always made it evident that his racial views were less than progressive for his time, and as this review of his biography makes evident, the fiction didn't lie:
Lovecraft’s racial opinions were indeed strong even for the decade that saw publication of Madison Grant’s and Lothrop Stoddard’s work. During his life in New York, he wrote to a friend about a walk he and his wife took in the Bronx: “Upon my most solemn oath, I’ll be shot if three out of every four persons--nay, full nine out of every ten--wern’t [sic] flabby, pungent, grinning, chattering n–gers.” Similarly, six years later he remarked, “The population [of New York City] is a mongrel herd with repulsive Mongoloid Jews in the visible majority, and the coarse faces and bad manners eventually come to wear on one so unbearably that one feels like punching every g– d— bastard in sight.” These are only two more printable expressions of his views that are commonplace in his letters.
The similarity to Hitler in Vienna is tangible.

The reviewer, one Samuel Francis, won't buy that this has no connection to his writing:
Although Mr. Joshi tries to argue that Lovecraft’s racialism was largely irrelevant to his writing, that is not quite true.
So what is that connection?
Mr. Joshi is correct about the cosmic level of meaning in Lovecraft’s stories, but he largely neglects another, social level of meaning. On that level, Lovecraft’s stories are dramas of modernity in which the forces of tradition and order in society and in the universe are confronted by modernity itself--in the form of the shapeless beings known (ironically) as the “Old Ones.” In fact, they are the “New Ones.” Their appearance to earthly beings is often attended by allusions to “Einsteinian physics,” “Freudian psychology,” “non-Euclidean algebra” (a meaningless but suggestive term), modern art, and the writing of T.S. Eliot and James Joyce. The conflicts in the stories are typically between some representative of traditional order (the New England old stock protagonist) on the one hand, and the “hordes” of Mongoloids, Levantines, Negroes, Caribbeans, and Asians that gibber and prance in worship of the Old Ones and invoke their dark, destructive, and invincible powers.

What Lovecraft does in his stories, then, is not only to develop the logic of his “cosmicism” by exposing the futility of human conventions, but to document the triumph of a formless and monstrous modernity against the civilization to which Lovecraft himself--if almost no one else in his time--was faithful. In the course of his brief existence, he saw the traditions of his class and his people vanishing before his eyes, and with them the civilization they had created, and no one seemed to care or even grasp the nature of the forces that were destroying it. The measures conventionally invoked to preserve it--traditional Christianity, traditional art forms, conventional ethics and political theory--were useless against the ineluctable cosmic sweep of the Old Ones and the new anarchic powers they symbolized.
As a summary of what Lovecraft probably believed, this is probably astute. One wishes, however, that Mr. Francis did not give the impression of agreeing with Lovecraft:
Lovecraft believed that his order could not be saved, and that in the long run it didn’t matter anyway, so be jogged placidly and cynically on, one of America’s last free men, living his life as he wanted to live it and as he believed a New England gentleman should live it: thinking what he wanted to think, and writing what he wanted to write, without concern for conventional opinions, worldly success, or immortality.
Well all right then.

I found Mr. Francis's article linked at NRO's Corner, by who else but John Derbyshire?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Our galaxy has an expiration date

Larry Niven's short story "At the Core" speculated that our galaxy might be exploding in a chain-reaction of supernovae in or near the crowded galactic core.

AFAWK, Niven had it backwards. The galaxy's center isn't exploding; it's falling into a supermassive black hole.

Here, the Chandra x-ray observatory gives us a picture of the culprit:(Via LGF, which says it's the bright spot at center right.)
The mosaic of 88 Chandra pointings represents a freeze-frame of the spectacle of stellar evolution, from bright young stars to black holes, in a crowded, hostile environment dominated by a central, supermassive black hole.

Permeating the region is a diffuse haze of X-ray light from gas that has been heated to millions of degrees by winds from massive young stars - which appear to form more frequently here than elsewhere in the Galaxy - explosions of dying stars, and outflows powered by the supermassive black hole - known as Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*). Data from Chandra and other X-ray telescopes suggest that giant X-ray flares from this black hole occurred about 50 and about 300 years earlier.

The area around Sgr A* also contains several mysterious X-ray filaments. Some of these likely represent huge magnetic structures interacting with streams of very energetic electrons produced by rapidly spinning neutron stars or perhaps by a gigantic analog of a solar flare.
Here's a close-up of Sagittarius A*:Cf. the Wikipedia entry.

Tolkien at the Somme

I hadn't realized that Tolkien's WW1 experience was at the Somme, which shared with Passchendaele the honor of the very worst places for a British soldier to be in the Great War. (N.b. "soldier" -- obviously, being on an exploding battle cruiser was no treat either.)

This via Teresa Nielsen Hayden, who points out Wikipedia's casualty figures for the Somme and Verdun -- 1,070,000 and 708,000 respectively. I had thought that Verdun's figure was higher; I'm nearly finished with Prior and Wilson's really excellent book on the Somme, so haven't seen where they peg the casualty total.

... Anyway, back to Tolkien: he was in reserve the cataclysmic first day of the Somme (you still got shelled, just not so heavily), but participated in a July 14 attack that ran into the uncut barbed wire that did for so many; then he later "participated in at least one of the disastrous stormings of the Schwaben Redoubt, an impregnable fortification of the German trenches." Not a happy task to be given. Trench fever took him out of the line in October 1916, while the battle ground on for another month; since his battalion was annihilated at the Chemin des Dames in 1918, the disease may've saved his life.

... Prior and Wilson (300-01) put British casualties at 432,000, German at 230,000 (the latter a ballpark figure). They don't discuss where they get their numbers, but don't seem to regard the British ones as controversial (the German numbers were provided to Churchill by the Germans when he was writing The World Crisis and are deemed probable by Prior & Wilson).

The Wikipedia article on the Somme puts the British (including Dominions) casualties at 419,654 and the Germans at 465,000. The latter number is frankly very dubious, given that the Brits were doing most of the attacking, and smells of the retroactive attempts to justify the battle as an attritional success.

Prior & Wilson's figures yield 662,000 British and German dead; the French dead aren't addressed by them, but the Wikipedia article claims 204,253 (which seems a bit high -- the French participated in the battle, but to that great an extent?). Anyway, that would yield a total of some 866,000 casualties, which is high but not near the 1,070,000 claimed by the Wikipedia article. It is however either way higher than the casualties at Verdun, which Alistair Horne agrees are fewer than the Somme's and somewhat over 700,000: "the accounting in human lives was never meticulous in that war" (The Price of Glory 327).

Monday, September 21, 2009

Yes, Virginia, torture *does* make us less safe

Via Emptywheel, here's that rare thing, a big media (AP) story casting doubt on whether torture actually works:
The CIA's harsh interrogations are likely to have damaged the brains of terrorist suspects, diminishing their ability to recall and provide the detailed information the spy agency sought, according to a new scientific paper.

The paper scrutinizes the techniques used by the CIA under the Bush administration through the lens of neurobiology and determines the methods to be counterproductive, no matter how much the suspects might have eventually talked.

"Solid scientific evidence on how repeated and extreme stress and pain affect memory and executive functions (such as planning or forming intentions) suggests these techniques are unlikely to do anything other than the opposite of that intended by coercive or enhanced interrogation," according to the paper published Monday in the scientific journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences.

In the paper, Shane O'Mara, a professor at Ireland's Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience, wrote that the severe interrogation techniques appear based on "folk psychology" -- a layman's idea of how the brain works as opposed to science-based understanding of memory and cognitive function.

O'Mara told The Associated Press on Monday he reviewed the scientific literature about the effect of stress on memory and brain function after reading descriptions of the CIA's Bush-era interrogation methods. The methods were detailed in previously classified legal memos released in April.

"The assumption is that the (methods) are without effect on memory, or indeed facilitate the retrieval of information from memory," O'Mara said.

But overwhelmingly, scientific literature shows the opposite: Chronic stress and trauma -- the likely result of the CIA's methods, particularly for long-term prisoners, according to O'Mara -- can damage the hippocampus, the part of the brain that integrates memory. * * *

Those methods cause the brain to release stress hormones that, if their release is repeated and prolonged, may result in compromised brain function and even tissue loss, O'Mara wrote.

He warned that this could lead to brain lobe disorders, making the prisoners vulnerable to confabulation -- in this case, the pathological production of false memories based on suggestions from an interrogator. Those false memories mix with true information in the interrogation, making it difficult to distinguish between what is real and what is fabricated.

Waterboarding is especially stressful "with the potential to cause widespread stress-induced changes in the brain, especially when these are repeated frequently and intensively," O'Mara wrote.

"The fact that the detrimental effects of these techniques on the brain are not visible to the naked eye makes them no less real," he wrote.
Well! It's almost as if someone had concocted these methods, not to obtain true intel, but to obtain false confessions ... oh, wait ....

Building Jerusalem in America

LGF linked to one "Frank Schaeffer, son of the late Calvinist preacher Francis Schaeffer, [who] has some very interesting insights into the nature of the Christian far right — the extreme fundamentalists behind much of the home-schooling movement — and their almost total withdrawal from American culture."

What particularly struck me in Schaeffer's piece was this quotation:
The stranger in ancient Israel did not serve as a judge, although he received all the benefits of living in the land. The political question is this: By what biblical standard is the pagan to be granted the right to bring political sanctions against God's people? We recognize that unbelievers are not to vote in Church elections. Why should they be allowed to vote in civil elections in a covenanted Christian nation? Which judicial standards will they impose? By what other standard than the Bible?
As the technical Latin term has it: wowzers.

That's attributed to Gary North of the "Institute for Christian Economics," who is said to be an exponent of "Christian Reconstructionism" or "Dominion Theology." I find the above quotation of North, and this discussion of Reconstructionist homeschooling, in this 1999 piece by one Mary McCarthy:
Sometimes termed 'dominion' or 'kingdom' theology, "dominionism revolves around the idea that Christians and Christians alone, are Biblically mandated to occupy all secular institutions until Christ returns. * * *

In his excellent 1996 book, With God on Our Side, William Martin used a sampling of the views of several noted Reconstructionists to give a sense of how a Reconstructed America would be: "The federal government would play no role in regulating business, public education, or welfare…[S]ome government would be visible at the level of counties…but citizens would be answerable to church authorities on most matters subject to regulation…income taxes would not exceed ten percent - the biblical tithe - and social security would disappear…[P]ublic schools would be abolished in favor of home-schooling arrangements, and families would operate on a strict patriarchal pattern. The only people permitted to vote would be members of 'biblically correct' churches. Most notably, a theonomic order would make homosexuality, adultery, blasphemy, propagation of false doctrine, and incorrigible behavior by disobedient children subject to the death penalty, preferably administered by stoning…a reconstructed America would have little room for Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, atheists, or even non-Reconstructionist Christians. 'The Christian', one Reconstructionist author has asserted, 'must realize that pluralism is a myth…R.J. Rushdoony, also regards pluralism as a heresy, since, in the name of toleration, the believer is asked to associate on a common level of total acceptance with the atheist, the pervert, the criminal, and the adherents of other religions."
Frank Schaeffer thinks that the far-Right today is in large part driven by the products of Reconstructionist homeschooling:
In the early 1970s the evangelicals like my late father and James Dobson decided that the our society had fallen so far "away from God" and so far from "America's Christian history" that it was time to metaphorically decamp to not just another country but to another planet:. In other words virtually unnoticed by the media and mainstream political operatives, a big chunk of American society seceded from the union in all but name.

What they did is turn the white race-based in "Christian school" movement of the 1950s into a countercultural phenomena. As tens of thousands of new Christian schools opened, it was no longer just about "protecting" white kids from minorities and African-Americans. It was about protecting your children from Satan in other words the United States government's long reach through the public school system. * * *

We are now several generations into this experiment of holier-than-thou withdrawal from our American mainstream culture. If you wonder who it is that's both running and underwriting organizations such as the Family Research Council, Focus On The Family, Freedom Works and other organizers of the 9/12 March and who are most faithful followers the likes of Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh or viewers of Fox News your answer is: it's the home school/Christian school generation of men and women now hitting their thirties and even forties who might as well have been raised on a different planet. * * *

Who are Glenn Beck's foot soldiers? In effect what we have is a group of indoctrinated people who have never actually lived in America because they were brought up deliberately cloistered from it by their parents and churches.
Spooky stuff.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Waterboarding at Groton

There was, however, a method of punishment that was not officially sanctioned but was nonetheless permitted. When younger boys were deemed to have broken the Groton code -- by cheating, for example -- or were considered too "fresh," physical punishment was inflicted. There were two ways of doing so: the less severe, "boot boxing," consisted of being put into a basement locker assigned to each boy for the boots he wore outdoors. While in the box, the culprit would be painfully doubled up for as long a time as he was forced to remain in his tiny prison.

The second and more terrifying punishment was "pumping." This consisted of having one's face shoved under an open spigot in the lavatory for as long as it took to induce a sensation of drowning. If a boy was consistently out of line, two or three pumpings usually sufficed to curb any outward expression of his rebellion.
-- James Chace, Acheson: The Secretary of State Who Created the American World (1998), at 23.

... Chace's source is a 1939 Harper's article by George Biddle. Googling "waterboarding Groton" produces other attestations:
The miscreant was bent back over the edge of a trough in the laboratory, face up, and water was poured in his face from an open spigot to simulate drowning. There was a 10-second limit to the torture, but it could be conducted more than once on any given occasion.

Little Teddy Roosevelt, Jr., a few weeks before his father was inaugurated as Vice-President, was pumped for being “fresh and swell-headed.” Half-drowned but still spouting defiance after two immersions, he escaped being put under for a third time: the boys admired his pluck. Malcolm Peabody, the rector’s own son, was pumped because the older boys didn’t like his “tone.”

These punishments were certainly still occurring in 1905, and for some years after that.
The italicized passage is quoted from an article in American Heritage (see the previous link). See here for similar testimony in a biography of Col. Robert McCormick, of Chicago Tribune notoreity. Wiki places McCormick at Groton from 1893-99, which scotches my incipient theory that practices from the Philippines counterinsurgency had migrated back to prep schools; perhaps the causation went in the opposite direction?...

Due process: notice, and an opportunity to go through the motions

Via LGF -- no, really, they're positively sane these days -- this story about creationist-inspired shenanigans in Louisiana:
The state’s top school board Wednesday approved procedures for residents who object to materials that challenge the teaching of evolution in public school science classes.

The rules, which were praised by evolution critics, stem from a law approved last year by the Legislature.

Backers say the law is needed to give science teachers more freedom to challenge traditional theories, including Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.
Because that's what teaching grade-school science is about -- "challenging" the best-established theories. Hopefully they'll take on that silly Second Law of Thermodynamics while they're at it.
Critics contend the measure, called the Louisiana Science Education Act, is aimed at injecting religious themes into public schools.

The statute allows science teachers to use supplemental materials, in addition to state-issued textbooks, to teach evolution and other topics.

“What’s left hanging are the procedures when a complaint is raised,” said Scott Norton, assistant state superintendent for student and school performance.

The department recommended that any complaints undergo an initial review by a three-member panel named by the agency, then go to the state board for a final decision.

But Dale Bayard, of Sulphur, chairman of the committee that tackled the issue, changed that and the committee went along.

Under Bayard’s change, two reviewers will be named by the department to review the science materials in question as well as one reviewer each named by the challenger, the school and the publisher.
Sounds like a lot of 4-1 votes on the horizon. The real motive is all too candidly stated by one of the kibbitzers:
Gene Mills, president of the Louisiana Family Forum Action, praised the rules and said Bayard’s plan was better than the department’s recommendation.

“Arguably this is the closest thing that would mimic due process,” Mills said in a telephone interview after the meeting. “That seems equitable to me.”
Expect to see those words quoted in an appellate brief in a year or two, after "due process" has been "mimiced" ("mimicked"?) sufficiently to allow for federal-court review.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Nerd in chief

At least it's not a red lightsaber.
President Barack Obama uses a light saber as he watches a demonstration of fencing with Tim Morehouse who won a silver medal in Men's Saber Fencing at the Beijing Olympics, Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2009, during an event supporting Chicago's 2016 host city Olympic bid, on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington. At rear is Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, and first lady Michelle Obama. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Via OTB, click link for their caption contest.

... HuffPo has a better pic:

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

"As a movie about a flesh-eating cheerleader, it’s better than it has to be"

That would be Roger Ebert's praise for Jennifer's Body, starring Megan Fox's body. (H/t WWTDD.)

Dysfunctional economics ----> dysfunctional economy

Remember TBA noting Paul Krugman's claim that the Chicago-School economists not only disagreed with Keynes, but didn't even read him? Mark Blyth's analysis of the Wall Street collapse corroborates Krugman:
Part of the blame rests with the influence of three persistent, flawed ideas about markets. First is the "microfoundations critique": Truths about aggregates must be ground in truths about individuals. As such, the financial system has no identity apart from the sum of its parts. Second is the "efficient-market hypothesis": Prices of publicly traded assets like stocks reflect all known information -- a theory mistakenly treated as a rule. Third is the proposition that investors have "rational expectations": That is, investors use information efficiently so that while individual investors may make mistakes, the market as a whole tends to an optimum. Thus, the market price is by definition right. * * *

Before Lehman collapsed, microprudential regulation ruled. Each bank used a variety of internal risk models to measure exposure and obeyed requirements to keep a certain amount of capital on hand to cover losses. At the end of each day, each bank thus calculated its "value at risk" and hedged. The problem was that the banks used similar models, meaning they produced common positions with common hedges across enormous, disparate portfolios. So though any one bank was diversified, the system as a whole was not -- exposing the whole system to far greater risk than anyone could have foreseen when staring at their own models.

We had built a system around the assumption that if you look after the micro then there is no macro to worry about. A year ago, that world ended. The U.S. government had to guarantee payrolls a week after Lehman collapsed. Iceland, an OECD country, went bust. Asian exports collapsed. The doctrines of Keynes replaced the doctrine of "there is no alternative."
Macroeconomics was pretty much invented by Keynes, so when Blyth writes, "there was no macro to worry about," that meant pretty much ignoring macroeconomics, including Keynes and those who enlarged upon his work.

Unusable endorsements, part two

Hot on the heels of our "Unusable endorsements" post comes another:
After you read the suggested books, you will know the truth, and you will be greatly shocked by the scale of concealment that has been exercised on you.
-- Osama bin Laden.

The books are (1) Walt & Mearsheimer, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy; (2) Jimmy Carter, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid; and (3) (apparently) John Perkins, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man (Osama doesn't seem to recall the title precisely, which is no surprise to any bookseller).

This via the NYT's Lede Blog, which also suggests that Osama is no longer the functional leader of al-Qaeda:
Unlike Mr. Bin Laden, who seems to regard Americans as a nation of intellectuals who just need to read the right books, Mr. Abu Yahya, who was in American custody in Afghanistan until he escaped in 2005, formed his impressions of Americans first-hand. At Bagram airbase, Mr. Brachman writes, “he passed time by intimately studying his American captors as they aimlessly surfed the Internet or complained to him about their dysfunctional childhoods.”
Oh, dear.

Bush, Palin, and conservatism

Via Drum, the latest Bush-admin tell-all (speechwriter Matt Latimer) demonstrates that Dubya is not a stupid man:
I was about to be engulfed by a tidal wave of Palin euphoria when someone--someone I didn’t expect--planted my feet back on the ground. After Palin’s selection was announced, the same people who demanded I acknowledge the brilliance of McCain’s choice expected the president to join them in their high-fiving tizzy. It was clear, though, that the president, ever the skilled politician, had concerns about the choice of Palin, which he called “interesting.” That was the equivalent of calling a fireworks display “satisfactory.”

“I’m trying to remember if I’ve met her before. I’m sure I must have.” His eyes twinkled, then he asked, “What is she, the governor of Guam?”

Everyone in the room seemed to look at him in horror, their mouths agape. When Ed told him that conservatives were greeting the choice enthusiastically, he replied, “Look, I’m a team player, I’m on board.” He thought about it for a minute. “She’s interesting,” he said again. “You know, just wait a few days until the bloom is off the rose.” Then he made a very smart assessment.

This woman is being put into a position she is not even remotely prepared for,” he said. “She hasn’t spent one day on the national level. Neither has her family. Let’s wait and see how she looks five days out.” It was a rare dose of reality in a White House that liked to believe every decision was great, every Republican was a genius, and McCain was the hope of the world because, well, because he chose to be a member of our party.
The Palin choice -- so bad, even Bush could tell as much.

Bush: careless, incurious, evil, but not stupid.

... N.b. that the movement conservatives were the ones who fell at Palin's feet, whereas Bush never was on that bandwagon; a strange thing about Bush is that, like his father, he's not a conservative ideologue. See this too from Latimer:
In 2008, Bush also told Latimer to take out a reference to the “conservative movement” in a speech. “Let me tell you something,” the President said. “I whupped Gary Bauer’s ass in 2000. So take out all this movement stuff. There is no movement.” When Latimer was “perplexed,” Bush explained, “Look, I know this probably sounds arrogant to say,” the president said, “but I redefined the Republican Party.”
"Redefined" in the sense of "did whatever I felt like doing, and called it 'Republican.'"

Bush's presidency was for his own ego, tax cuts, and (after 9/11) overseas ass-kicking. If he cared about anything else while in office, I've forgotten what it was.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


While I'm hating on Barnes & Noble today, this remark by Kevin Drum --
As near as I can tell, consumer-facing businesses these days virtually never think about how they can make things genuinely more convenient for people. Rather, they seem almost obsessively concerned with calculating the maximum amount of pain people will put up with before they finally get pissed off enough to take their business elsewhere. * * * It's sort of exhausting. Is it any wonder that so many people are so angry all the time?
-- instantly reminded me of calling B&N the other day to look for a book. I had to listen to a recording telling me the store hours. Fine.

But then I had to listen to an advertisement for the in-store cafe. No one wants to hear that. No one wants the simple call to find out if a book's in stock to drag on for 15 or 20 extra seconds for a freakin' ad. It even defeats the store's own goals, since calls in are presumably opportunities to sell something, and frustrating the caller makes some people more likely to hang up and just order the g.d. book off Amazon.

So why do that? Drum's explanation makes sense.

(The punch line is that when I got through, the clerk told me the book I wanted was out of print, which matches what the B&N website says, but Amazon begs to differ. Amazon, $12.71; B&N, $-0-. Too bad I wanted a book on Luther instead of a book by Hitler.)

Bad vibrations

Eugene Volokh notes the Alabama Supreme Court's upholding of its ban on sex toys (or more particularly, on those "designed or marketed as useful primarily for the stimulation of human genital organs" -- butt plugs, etc. meet with the Alabama Legislature's stamp of approval), and wonders whether this will be the case to get the issue before the U.S. Supreme Court, given that a circuit split already exists between the 11th (which itself had upheld the Alabama law) and our own 5th (which struck down Texas's similar law, and by implication Mississippi's as well). (Links to all these decisions helpfully provided at Volokh link.)

If so, I hope that Prof. Volokh is mistaken in predicting that the Alabama court's decision will be affirmed, but I confess to doubting that there are four votes for cert on the present bench.

Unusable endorsements

You won't be seeing this on the back cover of Julian the Apostate's writings anytime soon:
The book that contains the reflections of the Emperor Julian should be circulated in millions. What wonderful intelligence, what discernment, all the wisdom of antiquity! It's extraordinary.
-- Adolf Hitler.

... This reminds me of my local Barnes & Noble, whose inventory calls for it to carry 3 copies of Mein Kampf in paperback and one hardcover (suitable for a graduation gift?). I asked an employee about it one day while she was doing inventory, and she confirmed that the store's modeled for that. Surely one paperback would suffice?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Ignorance -- it's not just for Christian fundamentalists

Apropos of his little history of the downfall of macroeconomics, Paul Krugman observes why the Chicago-school ("freshwater") economists say such pitifully ignorant things about Keynes -- it's not hypocrisy, it's that they literally do not know any better:
When freshwater macro came in, there was an active purge of competing views: students were not exposed, at all, to any alternatives. People like Prescott boasted that Keynes was never mentioned in their graduate programs. And what has become clear in the recent debate — for example, in the assertion that Ricardian equivalence rules out any effect from government spending changes, which is just wrong — is that the freshwater side not only turned Keynes into an unperson, but systematically ignored the work being done in the New Keynesian vein. Nobody who had read, say, Obstfeld and Rogoff would have been as clueless about the logic of temporary fiscal expansion as these guys have been. Freshwater macro became totally insular.

And hence the most surprising thing in the debate over fiscal stimulus: the raw ignorance that has characterized so many of the freshwater comments. Above all, we’ve seen the phenomenon of well-known economists “rediscovering” Say’s Law and the Treasury view (the view that government cannot affect the overall level of demand), not because they’ve transcended the Keynesian refutation of these views, but because they were unaware that there had ever been such a debate.

It’s a sad story. And the even sadder thing is that it’s very unlikely that anything will change: freshwater macro will get even more insular, and its devotees will wonder why nobody in the real world of policy and action pays any attention to what they say.
Let's hope Krugman is too pessimistic, and that some schools will realize that orthodoxy of any kind is not the proper study of any discipline.

Gradually, and then suddenly.

August 24: Anderson gets BlackBerry Curve, his first internet-enabled cell phone.

September 13: Anderson notices that he can now access Amazon.com via his BlackBerry.

September 19: Projected financial ruin of Anderson household.

What's YOUR Dark Ages tea party list?

I have amused myself while writing this book by trying to identify which, if any, late antique or early medieval writers (that is, those whose personality we can recapture, at any rate in part, with least mediation) I could imagine meeting with any real pleasure. It comes down to remarkably few: Theodoret of Cyrrhus, Gregory the Great, Einhard, maybe Braulio of Zaragoza -- and, with less enthusiasm, Augustine, for his remarkable intelligence and self-awareness however, not for his tolerance.
-- Chris Wickham, The Inheritance of Rome: A History of Europe from 400 to 1000, at 553.

Land of enlightenment

A biopic about Charles Darwin is playing at the Toronto Film Festival, and has openings set everywhere except the Muslim world, whose denizens are too fraught with religious prejudice and inferior education for the prospect of a Darwin movie to excite distributors.

Oh, wait:
The film was chosen to open the Toronto Film Festival and has its British premiere on Sunday. It has been sold in almost every territory around the world, from Australia to Scandinavia.

However, US distributors have resolutely passed on a film which will prove hugely divisive in a country where, according to a Gallup poll conducted in February, only 39 per cent of Americans believe in the theory of evolution.

Movieguide.org, an influential site which reviews films from a Christian perspective, described Darwin as the father of eugenics and denounced him as "a racist, a bigot and an 1800s naturalist whose legacy is mass murder". His "half-baked theory" directly influenced Adolf Hitler and led to "atrocities, crimes against humanity, cloning and genetic engineering", the site stated.

The film has sparked fierce debate on US Christian websites, with a typical comment dismissing evolution as "a silly theory with a serious lack of evidence to support it despite over a century of trying".
I'm not entirely thrilled about a flick that could imply that Darwin's theory was motivated by grief-inspired atheism, but good heavens.

Friday, September 11, 2009

September 11

Eight years later.

2,974 dead.

Khalid Sheikh Muhammad still not tried.

Osama bin Laden still loose.


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Romanticism and capitalism

It's a little odd, after ten years of marriage, to peruse one's bookshelves in vain for the Library of America volume of Whitman that you know you got for (temporarily) subscribing (along with their Emerson and Thoreau, which you find sitting snug in their slipcovers) ... and suddenly remembering that, for reasons of alleged fairness that you can't quite recall in detail, you gave that LOA volume to your ex-girlfriend in the post-breakup allocation of worldly goods, a fact that had slipped your mind for a good decade.

It also tells you how little time you spend reading Whitman.

Anyway, Amazon to the rescue, and I was reading back through "Song of Myself," which seems like a love poem to the entire country. But not *quite* the whole country. Walt does not seem to have much love for the merchant class.

He takes it as self-evidently absurd that one should "cipher and show me to a cent, /
Exactly the value of one and exactly the value of two, and which is ahead." Buying and selling, dollars and cents, do not figure much. There are a great many people working, and presumably selling those goods and services, but I don't find much love for merchants per se.

This would make for an amusingly indignant post at the Volokh blog or somesuch, but it occurs to me that, assuming we can infer any antipathy from this omission in "Song of Myself" (and I am much too ignorant of Whitman's poetic corpus to make any broader generalization), the omission is a meaningful one.

If anything's clear from "Song," it's that Whitman allows exactly one person to place a value upon himself, and that person is Walt Whitman. The Romantic poet's self is intrinsically valuable.

Whereas it's fundamental to capitalism that the value of something is its exchange value, what someone else will give you for it. Value is external to the object.

Hence, alienation. Marx was a Romantic economist in this respect.

Now, we can get one more turn of the screw here, if we notice that there are two very important words in "Song," one of which is "I" and the second, "you"; much of the intimacy and power of the poem comes from this insistence upon "you." "I" and "you" are the first and last words of the poem, surely by design, and "you" indeed does not take long to appear in the first lines:
I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

* * *

Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you.
There in the first verse we find the rejection of ownership/property -- "I" and "you" are deconstructed all throughout "Song of Myself" as a fundamentally flawed distinction which, nonetheless, pervades and haunts the poem. It does not seem too much to suppose that Whitman cares very much indeed what value "you" places upon "I"; indeed, by his own terms, they ought to be identical, and any difference is outside his philosophy.

Desert island books, as it were

So you've got a lot of time on your hands. Whatcha gonna read? Tom Ricks reports:
The three most popular books at Guantanamo's library for detainees reportedly are:

1. The Harry Potter novels
2. Miguel Cervantes's Don Quixote
3. Barack Obama's Dreams From My Father

I don't know what this means.
It would be helpful to have a list of the books available for comparison's sake. And I presume the absence of the Qur'an is due to its being available to prisoners in their cells.

(Why is it, btw, that we so often fall into calling the prisoners "detainees"? Is Gitmo not a prison? Is the implication that one becomes a prisoner only after being convicted and sentenced?)

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Another one bites the dust

TBA is always amused when politicians who drum up support by extolling moral virtues find themselves caught out behaving badly.

We rarely find something *this* droll:
Michael Duvall is a conservative Republican state representative from Orange County, California. While waiting for the start of a legislative hearing in July, the 54-year-old married father of two and family values champion began describing, for the benefit of a colleague seated next to him, his ongoing affairs with two different women. In very graphic detail.

For instance:

She wears little eye-patch underwear. So, the other day she came here with her underwear, Thursday. And so, we had made love Wednesday--a lot! And so she'll, she's all, 'I am going up and down the stairs, and you're dripping out of me!' So messy!
Makes Mark Sanford seem downright reticent. Not to mention, prudent:
Duvall's sophomoric braggadocio, of course, was picked up by the microphone in front of him, and wound up on a tape for the legislature's in-house TV station.
But isn't it wrong to pry into the doings of consenting adults? Apparently not:
As the OC Weekly reports, Duvall has "blasted" efforts to promote gay marriage, and got a 100 percent score from the Capitol Resource Institute, which describes its mission as to "educate, advocate, protect, and defend family-friendly policies in the California state legislature". In March, a spokeswoman for the group called Duvall "a consistent trooper for the conservative causes," adding that "for the last two years, he has voted time and time again to protect and preserve family values in California."
He has resigned, doubtless to pursue other skirts, er, "interests."

"A class of yeowls arose."

I've seen the dumb-lines-from-student-papers bit done before, but it's worth revisiting now and again:
During the Middle Ages, everybody was middle aged. Church and state were co-operatic. Middle Evil society was made up of monks, lords, and surfs. It is unfortunate that we do not have a medivel European laid out on a table before us, ready for dissection. After a revival of infantile commerce slowly creeped into Europe, merchants appeared. Some were sitters and some were drifters. They roamed from town to town exposing themselves and organized big fairies in the countryside. Mideval people were violent. Murder during this period was nothing. Everybody killed someone. England fought numerously for land in France and ended up wining and losing. The Crusades were a series of military expaditions made by Christians seeking to free the holy land (the “Home Town” of Christ) from the Islams.

In the 1400 hundreds most Englishmen were perpendicular. A class of yeowls arose. Finally, Europe caught the Black Death. The bubonic plague is a social disease in the sense that it can be transmitted by intercourse and other etceteras. It was spread from port to port by inflected rats. Victims of the Black Death grew boobs on their necks. The plague also helped the emergance of the English language as the national language of England, France and Italy.
The merchants sound like Cathars.

... The funniest thing a student of mine ever did, back in my salad days as a TA trying to teach Comp 102, was to write a paper on Mary Gaitskill's "Secretary" (a first-person narrative) in which he failed to use quotation marks, or any other device, to set off text from the story. Haven't the paper or the story in front of me, but the effect was rather like this:
The girl in this story is completely crazy in her sex life. I went home and masturbated, thinking about my boss spanking me. This shows how crazy she is.
Wondering whether to give it a D or an F, I gave it to my fellow TA/roommate, who burst into laughter on the first page. From which I inferred The Laugh Test: if your essay makes people laugh at you (and such was not your evident purpose), it's an F.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Cf. "Waldheimer's Disease"

General Richard Myers, who headed the Joint Chiefs of Staff while America began to practice torture as official policy, has written a memoir. Happily, the NYRB gave a copy to Philippe Sands, who had already written about Myers in Torture Team. Sands finds that Myers is not terribly interested in candor:
Myers writes that he supported the Geneva Conventions, arguing that they should apply to the Taliban although they should not get prisoner of war (POW) status. But he also held that "the Geneva Conventions did not apply to al-Qaida." According to Myers this view was shared "by most everybody involved in the discussions."

In fact, the Justice Department decided that the Geneva Conventions did not apply either to the Taliban or to al-Qaeda, and it is not true that either Myers's view or that of the Justice Department was shared by most everybody. Colin Powell's State Department, for example, expressed a contrary opinion. Nor were the views of General Myers and the Justice Department shared by senior military lawyers with knowledge and experience of the Geneva accords. These lawyers were cut out of the decision-making process—a fact on which Myers is silent. The view that Geneva rights did not apply was later rejected by the majority of justices on the Supreme Court: in June 2006 they ruled that all detainees at Guantánamo--Taliban, al-Qaeda, and everyone else--had the minimum rights set forth in Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. It was this decision, unmentioned by General Myers, that caused the collapse of the Bush administration's policies on the treatment of detainees and opened the way to potential criminal liability for abusive interrogations.

Against this background it is surprising that the words "Common Article 3" do not appear anywhere in Myers's book. Common Article 3 makes it clear that there are no legal black holes: it establishes a rule of general application for prisoners captured in an armed military conflict to the effect that no detainee (whether captured in uniform or not) can be treated cruelly or tortured or subjected to outrages against human dignity, in any circumstances.

* * *

Myers does not mention that documents proposing the new interrogation techniques arrived on his desk in late October 2002, from General James T. Hill, the commander of US Southern Command, based in Miami. In an article published in May 2008, I described how Haynes had personally intervened to stop the review process that was initiated by then Captain, now Rear Admiral Jane Dalton, Myers's counsel at the Joint Chiefs, after Myers had passed the documents on to her. During testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee in the summer of 2008, Dalton confirmed the accuracy of my piece, but went much further, revealing that she had initiated a "broadbased legal review," sending out General Hill's memo to the various branches of the military.

The responses came quickly. "All of the [four armed] services expressed concerns about the techniques that were listed in the memo," she said. "So, the next step, then, was to proceed with a larger general and policy review, which is what I intended to do."

That never happened: she was told to stop the review. "Exactly how you were told," asked Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, "was it in writing, or was it verbal?" It was not in writing. "The best of my recollection as to how this occurred is that the Chairman [General Myers] called me aside and indicated to me that Mr. Haynes did not want this broadbased review to take place," Dalton said, referring to a brief meeting with Myers. "He called me aside and said, ‘Mr. Haynes does not want this process to proceed.'"

By then serious concerns about interrogation techniques had been expressed by representatives of the four armed services, which were communicated promptly and without ambiguity. The Air Force thought some of the techniques "may constitute criminal conduct," including "torture." The Office of the Army Judge Advocate General thought that many of the techniques violated the provisions against torture and inhumane treatment of the International Criminal Court, warning that the Category II and Category III techniques "will not read well in either The New York Times or The Cairo Times." The Marine Corps said the proposed plan was legally insufficient and "would expose our service members to possible prosecution." The chief legal adviser to the DoD's Criminal Investigation Task Force believed some techniques "may subject service members to punitive articles of the Uniform Code of Military Justice." The Navy wanted more detailed interagency legal and policy review.

In the face of such clear opposition to the proposed techniques from each of the armed services, one would have expected General Myers to adopt a firm position. There is no evidence that he did so. It might also be expected that General Myers would explain why he seems to have caved in without a fight. Nowhere does he do this or express regret that it was during his chairmanship that the US military embraced cruelty as an official policy, apparently for the first time since 1863.
Sands also notes some interesting silences by Douglas Feith (no surprise) and by Jack Goldsmith, whose book The Terror Presidency was critical of Addington and others but which was scarcely a tell-all memoir:
Another approach is partial silence, the mode adopted by Jack Goldsmith in a skillfully written but partial account of his time as head of the Office of Legal Counsel, from October 2003 to July 2004. He glosses over his earlier period assisting the Bush administration, from September 2002 when Haynes appointed him as his "Special Counsel" and provided him with "an endless stream of fascinating legal problems," including "Guantánamo detentions." Again, Goldsmith makes no mention of al-Qahtani or Haynes's role in securing Pentagon endorsement for the use of torture in military interrogations, despite the fact that it occurred at the very time he served under Haynes.
Sands notes that Goldsmith supported Haynes's appointment to the federal bench, a nomination which thankfully failed to succeed.

(The "Waldheimer's" joke, which betrays TBA's age I guess, refers to the mental disorder of not being able to remember that you were a Nazi.)

Monday cat-god blogging

You can buy at Target for $4.99 a costume which no normal cat will consent to wear:I had thought that Simon would embrace his African heritage and traditional divinity, but apparently, not so much.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Friday kid blogging

Q. proudly sports his Oxford bookstore shirt, rather than that lazy-ass Jackson bookstore's colors ...This shot inspired by his new interest in photography: "Take a picture, Mommy!"

(N.b. his coaster, a/k/a Space Case by the Marshall bros., whose location is evidently still known; perhaps it won't be the latest missing children's book for which I have to pay $25 to the library. They should name a room after me.)

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Gonzales "doesn't recall what he said on Tuesday"

The post title is stolen from Emptywheel, because it can't be improved upon. On Tuesday, the Moonie Times reported:
Former U.S. Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales on Tuesday defended the decision of his current successor, Eric H. Holder Jr., to investigate alleged prisoner abuse by CIA interrogators over President Obama's desire to look forward.

"As chief prosecutor of the United States, he should make the decision on his own, based on the facts, then inform the White House," said Mr. Gonzales, who was appointed to the post by President George W. Bush in 2005 and resigned in 2007.

Mr. Gonzales also said Bush administration lawyers clearly defined what interrogation techniques were legal and the few who went beyond the rules should be investigated, despite the so-called chilling effect it might have on future intelligence-gathering.

"We worked very hard to establish ground rules and parameters about how to deal with terrorists," he said. "And if people go beyond that, I think it is legitimate to question and examine that conduct to ensure people are held accountable for their actions, even if it's action in prosecuting the war on terror."
That was published on Sept. 1. Today:
On Thursday, in a follow-up interview with The Times, Gonzales said despite reports that he supports Holder’s probe, “I don’t support the investigation by the department because this is a matter that has already been reviewed thoroughly and because I believe that another investigation is going to harm our intelligence gathering capabilities and that’s a concern that’s shared by career intelligence officials and so for those reasons I respectfully disagree with the decision.”

Regarding his earlier comments, Gonzales said he was not endorsing the investigations, simply Holder’s right to conduct the probe. He said, “It’s an endorsement of his right to exercise his discretion,” adding, “I’m just saying I would have exercised my discretion in a different manner, given the information I have.”
Oh, for a copy of Gonzales's phone log between those two dates.

... Okay, so it can be improved upon: Monday, not Tuesday.

Whitehouse to Torture Team: Sue me ... come on, I dare ya?

Is Sheldon Whitehouse fishing for a defamation suit?
The judicial branch (which, under Marbury v. Madison, has the ultimate duty to determine "what the law is") has determined that waterboarding is torture (see U.S. v. Lee, decided in 1984 by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit). The Bush administration has admitted to waterboarding captives. The corpus delicti of that crime exists. For there to be investigation now is unexceptional.

The only exceptional thing is the parties involved: the former vice president of the United States, his counsel David Addington, Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) lawyer John Yoo and their private contractors Bruce Jessen and Jim Mitchell, psychologists who designed the torture program. But in America, high office does not put one outside the law. Indeed, it borders on unethical for a prosecutor to refuse to investigate the corpus delicti of a crime because of concern as to where the evidence may lead.
This comes close to Whitehouse's daring them to sue him. It gets better:
Looking only at the evidence that has become public so far, is there a viable theory of criminal liability arising out of this corpus delicti, the torture of America's captives?

There is substantial evidence of legal malpractice by lawyer Yoo. His opinions were even withdrawn under the Bush administration, and they are the subject of an unprecedented internal investigation by the Department of Justice. For one thing, the precise case on point was overlooked. The analysis is bad enough that it could be a sham. Investigation would reveal whether this was the result of incompetence, ideology or instruction.

There is substantial evidence of a back channel between Addington and Yoo. It is not yet clear what information or instructions passed along that back channel. It does appear to have sidelined regular chains of reporting, including the attorney general. Investigation would determine whether this was communication or conspiracy.

There is substantial public evidence of exceptional access provided to the private contractors. They were allowed to repeatedly interrupt and ultimately compromise one of the most productive interrogations in our fight against terrorism. As contractors, they were outside the military and government chains of command and reporting and thus were potentially a means of direct secret access between the White House and the torture chamber. Investigation would reveal whether this was abused.
Read the whole thing -- it's remarkable to see something so straightforward and informed from a sitting U.S. senator (the article made me check whether Whitehouse is still in office).

Wouldn't Whitehouse love for Yoo, Jessen, or Mitchell (Cheney and Addington surely are too savvy) to sue him, and then plead truth as a defense? Remember how Oscar Wilde ended up in jail.

Crumby Bible

Bookforum reviews R. Crumb's comic of the unabridged book of Genesis:
Unlike these bowdlerized versions, Crumb’s doesn’t hide the fact that the holy book is filled with stories of incest (Abraham marrying his half sister, Sarah; Lot being seduced by his daughter), frenzied bloodlust (God’s various acts of mass murder, the terrible slaughter of a village after a young boy seduces Jacob’s daughter, Dinah), and general unsavory behavior (the theme of fraternal violence that runs from the story of Cain and Abel to the concluding saga of Joseph and his spiteful siblings). Images can cut deeper than words, especially when those images are executed by so psychologically alert an artist as Crumb. It’s one thing to read about the daughters of Lot seducing their father in a desperate attempt to repopulate their tribe after the destruction of Sodom; it’s quite another to see Crumb’s depiction of the sodden Lot, his eyes in a daze, straddled by a zaftig Amazon who looks vaguely troubled by her reproductive mission.
I would be curious to see what Jack Miles (author of the very worthwhile God: A Biography) thinks of Crumb's version.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009


I don't know who William Logan is, but his review of Louise Glück’s new book is one of the meanest things I've seen in a long time.
“A Village Life” is a subversive departure for a poet used to meaning more than she can say. All these years that Glück has been writing her stark, emaciated verse, there has been an inner short-story writer itching to break out. (The publicity optimistically refers to the new style as “novel­istic”; but there is no novel here, only patches of long-windedness.) * * *

Perhaps I’m not the only reader who finds Glück hilarious, in a ghoulish way — like a stand-up vampire. * * *

It's good to see a poet old enough to draw Social Security making new contracts with the language. Unfortunately, Glück doesn’t yet have control of these long measures — the lines are slack, the fictions drowsy and the moments of heightened attention like oases in a broad desert (the poems don’t argue, they merely accumulate). Without the energies of her short lines and sharply drawn moods, she turns out to have an imagination almost as conventional as anyone else’s.

Glück is still a poet of sensibility more than sense, which means that the mortal pressure of her verse exceeds her ability to make memorable phrases. * * *

Glück remains our great poet of annihilation and disgust, our demigoddess of depression. At her discomforting best, she reminds me of no poet more than Rilke, who was also a case of nerves and who also lived close to the old myths. Though her comments about him have been hedged, of all the Americans now writing Glück is the closest to being his secret mythographer. Her silences fall at times like moral resistance, and the most striking lines of her chatter are as haunting as an elegy for herself.
Not just catty mean, but your-entire-career-has-been-a-bathetic-waste-of-paper mean.

Stevens no longer to hang on?

The tea leaves suggest that Justice Stevens may be getting close to hanging up his robes:
Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens has hired fewer law clerks than usual, generating speculation that the leader of the court's liberals will retire next year.

If Stevens does step down, he would give President Barack Obama his second high court opening in two years. Obama chose Justice Sonia Sotomayor for the court when Justice David Souter announced his retirement in May.

Souter's failure to hire clerks was the first signal that he was contemplating leaving the court.

Stevens, 89, joined the court in 1975 and is the second-oldest justice in the court's history, after Oliver Wendell Holmes. He is the seventh-longest-serving justice, with more than 33 years and eight months on the court.

In response to a question from The Associated Press, Stevens confirmed through a court spokeswoman Tuesday that he has hired only one clerk for the term that begins in October 2010. He is among several justices who typically have hired all four clerks for the following year by now. Information about this advance hiring is not released by the court but is regularly published by some legal blogs.
(H/t LGM.)

... Despite the demise of Air America, "Hang On, Stevens" can still be heard (or its lyrics perused) here.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Beep boop beep!

Sometimes Tyler Durden, or the blogger kinda named after him, sparkles:
Jayde Nicole issued a statement through a representative last night saying she was attacked from behind (editors note - *tee-hee*) Thursday night in a West Hollywood bar by ‘Girls Gone Wild’ founder Joe Francis, who then punched her, pulled her hair, threw her to the ground and kicked her. But that silver-tongued devil has an answer for everything.

Francis maintains Nicole poured a drink on him that night, and, in turning around, he may have grabbed her hair.
He told E! News Friday that, after security had helped him get outside, it was an unprovoked (Brody) Jenner who hit him in the face.

Well there you go. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve turned around and inadvertently pulled some woman to the ground by her hair. Because I’m a robot with magnetic snapping claws for hands, and women are made of metal. “Beep boop beep.” That was me calculating a complex task. Joe must be the same way. His explanation makes a lot of sense if you think about it.
Oh, absolutely.

September 1

The 70th anniversary of Hitler's invasion of Poland, which became the Second World War on September 3, 1939, when the British and French ultimata expired.

Brad DeLong memorializes the anniversary with Auden's "September 1, 1939," which I suppose is inevitable but which I have never particularly admired, in contrast with this reader. I do not think that this --
Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.
-- either wears well 70 years later, or carries any moral sense whatsoever. The Germans invaded Poland because of the evil done to them? Huh?

And I do not quite understand what this verse is even saying:
Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism's face
And the international wrong.
What follows the colon -- is it the vain competitive excuse, or is it Auden's commentary on the vain competitive excuses? It seems clear that we ourselves bear guilt for "Imperialism's face" -- okay, got it, but what did that have to do with September 1, 1939 -- and "the international wrong," which is like some right-winger's parody of Liberal Guilt.

These lines do not show Auden's having progressed much beyond his notorious line about "the necessary murder" for which Orwell scalded him.

That said, let's give the poem credit for some of its better lines:
Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.
... Carried my Auden-trashin' to the DeLong thread, where the interested may see what response it engendereth.

... Silbey has a good post up on September 1.