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God, I Miss the Cold War

[ 0 ] October 7, 2007 |

Hat tip to Leo. I can’t seem to find any Islamofascist Unicorns.

Bobo’s Burkean Bush

[ 1 ] October 7, 2007 |

Henry Farrell notes a contradiction in Brooks’s embarrassingly belated realization that George W. Bush is not, in fact, a Burke/Oakeshott conservative. My favorite example from the Brooks archives, however, has to be this one:

Because of that legacy, we stink at social engineering. Our government couldn’t even come up with a plan for postwar Iraq — thank goodness, too, because any ”plan” hatched by technocrats in Washington would have been unfit for Iraqi reality.

I tell Oakeshott that the Americans and Iraqis are now involved in an Oakeshottian enterprise. They are muddling through, devising shambolic, ad hoc solutions, and learning through bumbling experience. In the building of free societies, every day feels like a mess, but every year is a step forward.

Yes, an extraordinarily ambitious plan (led by a Secretary of Defense committed to proving theories about warfare that would use as few troops as possible) to depose the government of a society riven by a complex web of sectarian conflicts, economically dependent on a single resource not evenly distributed throughout the country, and long governed by a brutal despotism representing a minority faction and transforming it into a stable pro-American pro-Israeli democracy was an example of the Oakeshottian conservatism of the Bush administration…because they had no idea what the hell they were doing or how they would accomplish their grandiose schemes. Right.

The Iraq War is a case in which Burkean conservatism (or its Foucauldian variants) has a great deal of wisdom to offer, and its advice is “it was an extraordinarily stupid idea.” That Brooks tried to turn this theoretical line into a defense of the war tells you what you need to about him. He was sort of the Oakshottian variant of Hayek-stops-at-the-water’s-edge libertarians, who’s now backtracking after his hack defenses of the war have proven disastrously wrong. I can’t say that I’m terribly interested in what he has to say at this point.


[ 2 ] October 7, 2007 |

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George M. Steinbrenner is principal owner of the New York Yankees.

It’s not just the announcers who can see only one possible explanation for Greatest Pitcher In Known Human History Joba Chamberlain giving up a run:

But with his team teetering on the brink of a knockout, the old Steinbrenner came out swinging on Saturday night, putting Torre on immediate notice and ripping into umpire Bruce Froemming, the veteran crew chief from Friday night’s Game 2 who declined to stop play despite an infestation of Lake Erie gnats.

“The umpire was full of [expletive],” Steinbrenner said of the retiring Froemming. “He won’t umpire our games anymore.”

Boo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo. Granted that Froemming should have retired during the Reagan administration, his decision here was unquestionably correct; bugs are part of playing baseball on humid days on Lake Erie. Moreover, the bugs also affected the hitters — for all we know Chamberlain would have given up a three-run homer pitching in a bug-free environment — and amazingly the bugs didn’t prevent Carmona from throwing that great slider, or Rivera from pitching two scoreless innings.

But it’s not only Joba; it’s the Greatest Athlete In History of Mankind who was affected!

In the wake of that Game 2 defeat, Steinbrenner said the Yankees had complained to baseball commissioner Bud Selig about the decision to play on. “[Selig] just said, ‘That’s in the umpires’ hands,’ ” Steinbrenner said. “But Jesus Christ, it was terrible. It messed up the whole team, [Derek] Jeter, all of them.”

Yes, Jeter is one for eight, and has no range, because of the bugs. It’s all the bugs. They somehow knew to affect only one team on the field; amazing.

The bad news here is that Steinbrenner claims that he’ll re-sign A-Rod no matter what. I would especially like to see the Yankees out before Slappy can get hot to increase the pressure to let him walk, but alas Cashman isn’t nearly as dumb as the median fan or pundit.

As for what will happen tonight, I can’t even predict. Part of me sees this like Game 4 last year, with Clemens pulling up gimpy and the Indians getting out to a big lead and the Yankees losing their discipline. Part of me sees the Yankees — as has been their wont — teeing off on Westbrook and getting right back in it. I’ll say this: I think it goes 3 or 5; I don’t see Byrd beating Yankees Stadium Wang. With Sabathia and Carmona both on full rest a Game 5 wouldn’t be awful, but still, it would be immensely desirable for the Indians to put the boot down now.

Your Demographics

[ 0 ] October 7, 2007 |

Via Yglesias, a fun and interesting Sunday morning diversion: check out this website that uses census data to give you the demographic of your ZIP code. Especially interesting for you new yorkers, where ZIP codes are proxy for income, level of bourgeoisity, and, of course, coolness. My ZIP turns out, like much of Manhattan, to be wealthy and educated. But it’s also interestingly more stable than its neighbors, with over half of residents living in the ZIP for more than five years. Which in Manhattan real estate market terms, is a lifetime.

A Prop for Dramatic Renewal of Purpose

[ 0 ] October 7, 2007 |

As you may have heard, Christopher Hitchens wrote an article in Vanity Fair this week ruminating on the fact that a young man, recently killed in Iraq, may have taken one of Hitchens columns as inspiration for joining the US Army. Hitchens response to this event is occasionally moving, and I’m reluctant to trample into what is clearly an emotional situation both for him and for the family of the young soldier.

Nevertheless, I see something terribly dishonest in Hitchens response. Days after 9/11, by his own admission, Christopher Hitchens decided that this was his moment to shine. He came to believe himself to be a warrior for justice; he correctly understood that this war would require not only bombs and tanks, but also rhetoricians. Hitchens devoted his pen to a rearguard action against fifth column leftists, and lent his formerly radical political persona to an effort to create the veneer of ideological comity around the invasion of Iraq. To his credit, I think he went into this project with open eyes, understanding that he was an element in a rhetorical machine and not a “neutral analyst” like Kenneth Pollack or Michael O’Hanlon. That the result of Hitchens programme was untold column inches of absurd invective, character assassination, bald distortion, and flat out deception is beside the point; Hitchens fulfilled the role of rhetorical warrior quite capably, and got his war. He understood the political force of rhetoric, and correctly assessed his own contribution. In this sense, while I think that there are numerous identifiable individuals who may have had a larger political role in creating and implementing this disaster than Christopher Hitchens, I hold him just as morally responsible for the war as they. Indeed, I would like to think that he’d be comfortable with that.

But here’s the problem; when Hitchens accepted (nay, demanded) the role of rhetorical warrior, he gave up the right to act surprised when people died because of his columns. Warriors don’t have the luxury of belief in their own impotence. While Tom Friedman certainly bears some responsibility for the war, I think I might actually believe an expression of surprise and dismay on his part upon hearing that one of his columns had led to a death. With Hitchens I don’t; I think he understood full well from the very start that the project he was involved in would result in the deaths of many thousands (I’ll grant the small concession that he may not have understood just how bloody the project would be), but that those deaths would be justified by the ideological transformation of Iraq and its neighboring states. Hitchens doesn’t deserve a moment of clarity, because he’s never been unclear about the direction he’s headed.

And so I can’t believe that the experience of meeting the family of Mark Daily is a moving one for Hitchens, or at least in the sense that he wants to tell it. And, unsurprisingly, we find that the column has little about Daily and much about Hitchens. Finding that Daily had copies of Animal Farm and 1984, and that a distant relative of Daily’s had briefly interacted with Orwell in Spain, Hitchens lets loose the Orwell fetish:

To borrow some words of George Orwell’s when he first saw revolutionary Barcelona, “I recognized it immediately as a state of affairs worth fighting for”…

I mention Orwell for a reason, because Mark Daily wasn’t yet finished with sending me messages from beyond the grave.Orwell thought that the Spanish Civil War was a just war, but he also came to understand that it was a dirty war, where a decent cause was hijacked by goons and thugs, and where betrayal and squalor negated the courage and sacrifice of those who fought on principle. As one who used to advocate strongly for the liberation of Iraq (perhaps more strongly than I knew), I have grown coarsened and sickened by the degeneration of the struggle: by the sordid news of corruption and brutality (Mark Daily told his father how dismayed he was by the failure of leadership at Abu Ghraib) and by the paltry politicians in Washington and Baghdad who squabble for precedence while lifeblood is spent and spilled by young people whose boots they are not fit to clean. It upsets and angers me more than I can safely say, when I reread Mark’s letters and poems and see that—as of course he would—he was magically able to find the noble element in all this, and take more comfort and inspiration from a few plain sentences uttered by a Kurdish man than from all the vapid speeches ever given. Orwell had the same experience when encountering a young volunteer in Barcelona, and realizing with a mixture of sadness and shock that for this kid all the tired old slogans about liberty and justice were actually real.

By the end, Daily has ceased to be a human being, and instead has become the other side of Christopher Hitchens. Hitchens idolizes Orwell more than any healthy writer should another, but he’s never quite been able to take the last step, and actually go to Spain (such as it were) and put himself in physical, as opposed to rhetorical, jeopardy. Now, Daily has done it for him, and “by sending messages from the grave” reaffirms Hitchens courage and sense of purpose. Nevermind that he’s given no evidence in his writings of growing coarsened or sickened by the course of the struggle, or that he’s demonstrated ample willingness to keep dancing with the most reprehensible of those who brought us this war; rather, we’re supposed to believe that the sacrifice of this young man, unforeseen by Hitchens, has reinvigorated his sense of what it’s really all about.

No; there’s nothing any less self-serving and destructive here than in any other column that he’s written in the last seven years.

Cubs Lose! Cubs Lose!

[ 0 ] October 6, 2007 |

I have mixed feelings regarding the ignominious participation of the Cubs in this year’s playoffs. I’m happy to see them lose, and glad that the defeat came in the form of a pathetic sweep, rather than through one of the tight “heartbreakers” that Cubs fans invariably fetishize. On the other hand, I was kind of hoping that this year would provide an opportunity to test my hypothesis that the species “Cubs fan,” a creature that derives pleasure primarily from the aforementioned fetishization of defeat, would vanish from the face of the earth on the event of a Cubs World Series victory.

Ah, well. Maybe next year…

A Setback for Operation Enduring Nostalgia

[ 0 ] October 6, 2007 |

After reading the piece about Fort Hunt in today’s WaPo, I’m going to propose a new rule for wingnuts:

All efforts to recruit the historical legacy of the “greatest generation” to amplify the significance of the War on Terra should henceforth avoid conversations with actual representatives of that generation.

Otherwise, if you’re the sort of person who’s prone to extreme displays of hackery, you might be forced to argue that the United States could afford not to torture German POWs because the Nazis were actually quite a charming bunch by comparison with the Islamo-Fascist Menace:

It must be said, however, that [the veterans of Fort Hunt] faced a different enemy in a different war. The Germans fought to expand territory through traditional warfare, at least as arrayed against the US and the West. While they conducted sabotage missions in the US through espionage, they did not use terrorist infiltrators to attempt to kill thousands of American civilians. They also did not face religious extremists who believed that death brought them to Allah and 72 waiting virgins for taking out women and children. One can make a case that the civilized techniques of PO Box 1142 worked because their detainees also believed themselves civilized and members of the Western culture.

If I Were a Betting Man…

[ 0 ] October 6, 2007 |

It’s not wise to attribute too much wisdom to the “wisdom of the crowds”, such that it is, but I’m nevertheless struck by just how dominant Hillary Clinton is in the presidential betting markets. She’s currently priced at $41.20 (for a $100 return), while the next highest candidate (Giuliani) is at $16.00. At that price I’d say that Giuliani is certainly the better bet, but I still find remarkable the presumptiveness of the Clinton candidacy. I also note that the Democrats appear to be slightly extending their lead in the Political Party stakes.

Broom Purchase By a Tribe on Aisle One

[ 0 ] October 6, 2007 |

I missed much of today’s rare instance of justice on Earth at various parental visitation and birthday party related programed activities. But I left dinner to hear descriptions of the tying run score with Sterling complaining about the bugs, went into the subway, and when I got out Sterling was still complaining against the bugs (although, oddly, they seemed to have less effect on Carmona.) And then, somewhat embarrassingly, me ducking out to the TV at the front of the bar to watch the bottom of tenth and eleventh, and then very embarrassingly me jumping up and down in glee after the Hafner single.

As I’ve said many times, there was little question that the Indians would thump the Yankees…

In Case There Was Still Any Doubt..

[ 0 ] October 5, 2007 |

…that the quality and quantity of healthcare is vastly different depending on where you live, what your racial and ethnic background is, and how much money you have. And the differences are especially apparent when it comes to maternal health and infant mortality.

A new study shows that, at least in New York City, while the overall numbers of infant deaths are decreasing, the divide between white people and everyone else continues to grow:

A troubling and persistent phenomenon over the last decade is that infant mortality rates for black and Puerto Rican New Yorkers are more than double those for whites and Asians — a gap persists even when poverty is factored out. Infants born to higher-income black women died at nearly three times the rate of those born to higher-income white women.

Not surprising. Something S-Chip might have helped remedy…

Friday Cat Blogging

[ 0 ] October 5, 2007 |

One of my favorite sections of Thorstein Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class dwells on the “pecuniary reputation” of certain varieties of domesticated animals. In short, Veblen argues that while they invest considerable effort cultivating the aesthetically worthy — which is to say practically worthless — qualities of domestic creatures, the leisure classes are less preoccupied with cats than with the breeding of racehorses, pigeons, or dogs. The cat’s flaw, predictably enough, rests in its utility.

The cat is less reputable than [dogs or fast horses] because she is less wasteful; she may even serve a useful end. At the same time the cat’s temperament does not fit her for the honorific purpose. She lives with man on terms of equality, knows nothing of that relation of status which is the ancient basis of all distinctions of worth, honour, and repute, and she does not lend herself with facility to an invidious comparison between her owner and his neighbours.

For a culture rooted in conspicuous displays of waste, the cat provides little “honorific” benefit. By contrast with the dog, whose character Veblen describes as “fawning” and “servile,” the cat refuses to flatter its master’s sense of authority, as Henry — pictured above — helpfully demonstrates.

For anyone who’s ever lived with cats, there’s a certain “no shit” quality to Veblen’s analysis, but I still take a lot of delight in knowing that the greatest American sociologist of the early 20th century was a cat person.

A First Grade Political Test

[ 1 ] October 5, 2007 |

The major Republican candidates have all endorsed Bush’s appalling veto of S-CHIP. If the Democratic candidate can’t repeatedly hammer his or her opponent throughout the campaign for this, they don’t deserve to win.

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