August 2007

2007 08 31
Ignatieff on puffins

Michael Ignatieff wants to make the puffin a symbol of the Liberal Party of Canada:

“It’s a noble bird because it has good family values. They stay together for 30 years,” Ignatieff said Thursday outside a Liberal caucus retreat in the Newfoundland and Labrador capital.

“They lay one egg (each year). They put their excrement in one place. They hide their excrement.… They flap their wings very hard and they work like hell.

“This seems to me a symbol for what our party should be.”

A bird that carefully hides its excrement is actually appropriate for the Liberals, come to think of it.

A single voice crying in the wilderness (1)

2007 08 29
Fuck the lunate sigma

Posted by in: Odds and ends

Sing it, brother.

Howls of outrage (6)

2007 08 25
Recently read: Paul Wells’ Right Side Up

The first few years I spent outside of Canada I kept up with Canadian politics fairly well. The last few years my grasp of what is going on from day to day has gotten considerably weaker. Still, that’s not going to stop me from voting in the next federal election, and it’s not going to stop me from recommending Paul Wells’ Right Side Up, his highly entertaining book chronicling of the rise of Steven Harper and the Conservatives in Canada. Wells is as clever as he is cheeky, and although the occasional spot might be rough going for an outsider, on the whole I thought that Right Side Up would be as entertaining an introduction to the last few years of Canadian politics for a non-Canadian as it is a pleasant review of the same for a Canadian.

Wells has a great eye for hypocrisy and sham, and one of the great things about Right Side Up is the way he pauses to savour moments that the more jaded might let slip by. I think this passage illustrates this nicely:

For lo, the night had come when Paul Martin became the leader of the party to which he had given his life. Liberals from across the country repaired to the Air Canada Centre in downtown Toronto for the great moment.

“Over the years, in various leadership conventions, a small number of Canadians have stood on a stage like this,” Martin said from the floor of the hockey arena on the evening of November 14, 2003.

“In the past while, I have thought about them. And wondered just how I would feel as I stood before you at this moment. And what I would say and what I would do.

“As it turns out, it is deeply moving—and much more difficult than I thought.”

What a touching admission of vulnerability at the moment of triumph. Also: what transparent dime-store fiction. Even as Martin was confiding to a few thousand of his closest friends that this was harder than he had thought it would be, dozens of reporters, loosely herded in a bullpen on the floor of the arena in front of the new leader, were reading along with the prepared text, which Martin’s legions of helpers had handed to us before he began speaking. Sure enough, there it was, a third of the way down Page 1: Much . . . more . . . difficult . . . than . . . I . . . thought.

Earlier that afternoon Martin had read the speech (“. . .much more difficult than I thought . . .”) at that same podium, in a dress rehearsal [. . . .]

Which means that among the small number of Canadians who had stood on stages like this, before Paul Martin did, was . . . himself. Paul Martin. De deux choses l’une, as we say: either this deeply moving experience was precisely as difficult now as it had been during months of draft speech rewrites, meetings, and conference calls, as well as at the big dress rehearsal this afternoon—or it was even more difficult now than then, in which case Martin and his communications team had factored in the requisite increment of difficulty, aiming ahead of the hurtling clay pigeon like so many ace skeet shooters, and included their eerily prescient hunch about that supplementary burden in the text of the big guy’s acceptance speech.

I also enjoyed Wells’ description of the David Emerson kerfuffle. Emerson switched sides to the Conservatives very shortly after the 2006 election, much to the consternation of a bunch of Vancouverites who were under the distinction impression that they had just voted for a Liberal.

The Conservatives were helped by the fact that David Emerson is one of the most beatifically gormless amateurs ever to stumble into electoral politics without pausing to consider how it works. His excuse for switching parties wasn’t political conviction but its perfect absence. He had run as a Liberal, he told pie-eyed reporters, only because a Liberal was offering cabinet seats. Now that Liberal, Paul Martin, had quit as Liberal leader, so David Emerson was a free agent again.

“You’re saying that if Paul Martin had become prime minister you would have stayed with him and become a minister in his cabinet?” one reporter asked.

“Yes, absolutely,” Emerson replied cheerfully.

Wells is also very funny on the subject of Michael Ignatieff, who shows up in the final part of the book devoted to the Liberal leadership race that followed Paul Martin’s election defeat. He begins with a little poke at Ignatieff for trying to pass as common folk:

I haven’t heard anyone drop so many g’s from the ends of his participles since Hee Haw went off the air.

“Yeah, people have got questions about—bein’ out of the country,” Ignatieff said. Here, “bein’ out of the country” is a genteel euphemism for the fact that until he moved to Toronto to run for Parliament in 2005, the rookie MP for Etobicoke-Lakeshore had not resided in Canada since 1969. He spent some of that time teachin’ at Harvard. “I genuinely got a lot of people sayin’, ‘It’s great. It’s great. Good for you.’ Behind the you’ve-been-out-of-the-country question, it’s not really—I think Canadians rather like the fact that somebody’s been out and has done stuff and has come back. What they want to be assured is that the guy knows the country, right? He’s not some kind of Martian.”

Oh, surely that a bit harsh. Where would any Canadian get the idea that Michael Ignatieff is a Martian? I mean, where besides the preface to his book The Rights Revolution, published in 2000? In that preface, Ignatieff admits that he is writing about the Canadian conception of rights and that it “may read oddly” to an audience of actual Canadians. “To them, this book may seem like a report by a visitor from a distant planet,” Ignatieff writes. “I want to alert readers that I am a Martian outsider.”

And so on, and on, and on (for several pages afterwards, Wells drops the “g” from every single participle, a deliciously cruel little touch). It’s passages like these – gotcha passages – that make the book so highly entertaining.

So much for entertainment. What about edification? Well, here I think the verdict a bit more mixed. Wells really is, as I said, awfully bright. And in the course of providing context for some of those very funny gaffes, Wells treats his reader to a bit more substance that we might find in a regular news column. Still, I found myself wondering at times if the book didn’t reflect (as I confess this post does), in some modest way, one of the vices of Canadian reporting, which is to allow gaffes and gotcha moments to organize the presentation of the issues rather than the other way around. (Toward the end of the book, Wells makes a few comments on Harper’s attitude to the media that suggests sympathy for this view of the Canadian media.) I can see that since this is the way that Canadian politics is so often done, a history of Canadian politics will need to reflect that. And I can see that there is some difference between writing a bunch of gotchas and writing about a bunch of gotchas. Still . . .

I’ll leave aside my irritation with Wells’ brief treatment of Harper’s foreign policy towards the end of the book to make just one complaint about substance. Wells seems to think that the relative moderation of the early Harper government shows that critics were wrong to complain that the sky would fall if Harper got into power. But Harper didn’t win a majority in 2006, and his government lives on borrowed time, with a very strong incentive in the meantime to act in as nonthreatening a way as possible, in the hopes that the Conversatives can sweep to power later with a solid majority. And it seems pretty clear to me that if Harper can do that, we can expect very different things from him. So, the sky may yet fall.

Howls of outrage (2)

2007 08 24
Paging Dr. Paul? Dr. Paul to the winner’s lounge?

Posted by in: Academia

All of we-sa be-sa waitin’ to hear how you spek!
image source

Howls of outrage (10)

2007 08 22
Summer light/winter light

Posted by in: Anecdotal

It’s a gray day, and the light coming in my window now has a sort of wintry quality to it. This had the effect of momentarily putting me in a winter frame of mind, and the coolness of the room probably helped with that too. I don’t know what it’s like for you, but for me, winter and summer go along with entirely different frames of mind, so it’s very odd to be reminded of the one when I’m in the other.

I was originally about to describe these as different moods. But they’re more than moods, so “frames of mind” is probably better. I think I’m sometimes inclined to call them moods because the respective frames of mind are emotionally coloured. It’s very hard to describe but: Winter: cozy if I’m inside, a little sad, thoughtful, reserved, a sort of focussed energy. Summer: Happier, less complicated, a less focussed energy, and a part of me that stays clenched throughout the entire winter relaxes. And something about the quality of each gets projected onto the world, so it’s not just a way of feeling; it’s a matter of feeling a certain way about everything I come across.

I remember vividly the first time I noticed this. I was in high school, and I remember getting out of the shower on a summer day. It was overcast, like today, and something about the way that the light was striking the blinds made me suddenly think of winter. Seeing the light strike the blinds in that way suddenly made me aware of how very different the frames of mind are. It’s not that I had missed it previously because the difference is subtle. Rather, it’s because the difference is so total that it’s hard to remember the one way of feeling about the world from within the other.

Howls of outrage (4)

2007 08 21
Recently read (Catching up edition)

Posted by in: Books

Gosh, it’s been a long time since I did this. I suppose I’ve been embarrassed at how few non-work books I read. But here are some recent and not-so-recent ones, with more to follow:

Arnaldo Momigliano. The Development of Greek Biography

When I read Momigliano’s The Classical Foundations of Modern Historiography, I was so unfamiliar with most of the primary and secondary literature he was discussing that all I could really do was luxuriate in his prose and hope that he wasn’t bullshitting me. Fair enough for beach reading. The subject matter of The Development of Greek Biography is a bit more familiar, though again there were lots of places where it was hard for me to judge. But wherever Momigliano did touch on some subject I know a bit about — the Socratics and the development of Socratic literature, 4th Century biography, Peripatetics like Aristoxenus or Hermippus, Isocrates — I ended up admiring him more, rather than less. I was especially interested to read Momigliano on the literature generated by the Socratics on Socrates. Momigliano is quite out of step with a lot of the work done in this area since Vlastos, who basically framed the contemporary discussion of the issue. But since I’m entirely unsympathetic to Vlastos’ approach to the subject, I came away even happier with Mr. M than before.

I read this book twice in a row, which I do all the time for work-books, but which I’ve never done for any other book read for pleasure.

Philip Pullman. The His Dark Materials trilogy

A children’s fantasy trilogy that Nick recommended to me. I had sort of a mixed impression of this one: On the one hand, Pullman seems to have been determined to fit every idea he ever had into a single narrative. That meant all kinds of stuff about witches, and quantum mechanics, and theology, and a whole lot of other things all tangled up together. And call me fussy – go ahead, just do it – but it seems to me that there’s a difference between a richly imagined world and a mess of things that don’t fit together. On the other hand, the books were ambitious, especially in tackling some big questions about religion. There was also a lot more moral complexity than you find in most kids books, or even in most adult books. So I certainly don’t feel that I wasted my time.

Susanna Clarke. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

I loved this book from the first page. Clarke depicts a Napoleonic Era England with a twist: it’s an England alive with magic and magicians. Not my sort of thing, usually. But Clarke’s writing is so deft, and her characters so well drawn that she could write about anything and make it pleasing.

James C. Scott. Seeing like a State

In Seeing Like a State, Scott explores the various ways in which the modern state has transformed its subjects and their environments in order to render them more intelligible (and pliable) for its own purposes. To this end, Scott considers Tanzanian land reforms, planned cities such as Brazilia, the imaginary planned cities of Le Corbusier, and the 19th Century revolution in German forestry science, among many other examples. In each case, a scheme was forced from on high on hapless subjects, in ways cautioned against by local forms of knowledge, for reasons idealistic or bureaucratic or even aesthetic, with predictably detrimental results.

I found especially interesting his discussion of high modernism in urban planning as an aesthetic phenomenon.

Jane Jacob’s The Death and Life of Great American Cities

This book had long been on my read-because-it’s-good-for-you list. It was only when I actually started reading it that I discovered that all along it should have been on my read-because-it’s-great-fun list. This one deserves a post of its own, which I’ll get to some day.

So . . . what have you been reading?

Howls of outrage (12)

2007 08 14
Romney and sons

I came across this the other day:

So now his spirit drove on godlike Sarpedon
to make a rush at the wall and break apart the battlements.
And now he spoke in address to Glaukos, son of Hippolochos:
‘Glaukos, why it is you and I are honoured before others
with pride of place, the choice of meats and the filled wine cups
in Lykia, and all men look on us as if we were immortals,
and we are appointed a great piece of land by the banks of Xanthos,
good land, orchard and vineyard, and ploughland for the planting of wheat?
Therefore it is our duty in the forefront of the Lykians
to take our stand, and bear our part of the blazing battle,
so that a man of the close-armoured Lykians may say of us:
“Indeed, these are no ignoble men who are lords of Lykia,
these kinds of ours, who feed upon the fat sheep appointed
and drink the exquisite sweet wine, since indeed there is strength
of valour in them, since they fight in the forefront of the Lykians.”
. . .’

That’s Book XII (lines 307-321) of the Iliad. Soon after in Book XVI Sarpedon bites it after Patroklos downs him with two well-placed spear throws.

As a peace-loving democratic egalitarian, I’m bound to take a dim view of the warlike aristocratic ideal articulated here, and an even more pessimistic view of how commonly that ideal was ever honoured in practice. Still, there is something to what Sarpedon says: Hey, we get a great deal, and this is what it costs us.

At any rate, a frankly aristocratic ideal at least opens up a conceptual space for the notion that the aristocrats owe something back. These days, we have a quasi-aristocratic class, but because its public face, and to a certain extent its self-conception, is democratic, we have perhaps less in the way of corresponding obligations:

Romney’s gaffe occurred on August 8, while at an “Ask Mitt Anything” Town Hall meeting in Bettendorf, Iowa. That’s where Rachel Griffiths got up and asked Romney if any of his five sons were serving in the military, and if not, how did they plan to support the war against terrorism? “The good news is that we have a volunteer Army and that’s the way we’re going to keep it,” Romney told the crowd, adding, “[O]ne of the ways my sons are showing support for our nation is helping to get me elected, because they think I’d be a great president.”

Romney later apologized for comparing military service to helping your Dad get elected.

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2007 08 11
Smoked salmon

Posted by in: Food

Smoked salmon, originally uploaded by Chris and Yoon.

Yoon’s brother gave us a smoker a while ago and this evening we finally got around to trying it out. The salmon is wild caught Alaskan salmon.

We cooked it as long as the instructions said to, but it just didn’t seem done. We tend to be jumpy about undercooking, especially with fish. So we ended up cooking it for too long and it turned out a bit dry. But still delicious! It was a very simple meal: salmon, sauteed arugula, plum tomatoes. That’s it.

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2007 08 05
“It’s obviously not *all* Dems,” just the ones that matter.

Posted by in: U.S. politics

Steve Benen at TPM:

Caroline Fredrickson, the Washington legislative director for the ACLU, said the other day that Democrats “have a Pavlovian reaction: Whenever the president says the word ‘terrorism,’ they roll over and play dead.”

It’s obviously not all Dems. In giving the president sweeping new surveillance powers, 16 Dems broke ranks in the Senate and 41 in the House.

Isn’t the main point that Pelosi and Reid allowed these votes in the first place? They are the leaders of the House and Senate Dems. They can determine what it means to “break ranks.” They can control whether or not any feckless Dems have the very ability to break ranks. But they don’t. Instead we get shit like this:

The House Democratic leadership had severe reservations about the proposal and an overwhelming majority of Democrats opposed it. Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the measure “does violence to the Constitution of the United States.”

But with the Senate already in recess, Democrats confronted the choice of allowing the administration’s bill to reach the floor and be approved mainly by Republicans or letting it die.

We’ve seen this before. And there’s no doubt we’ll see it again. There will be no meaningful impediment to Bush’s consolidation of power until we have an opposition party. And we are nowhere close to having that.

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2007 08 05
Today’s primary commentary, yesterday

Posted by in: U.S. politics

From a 2004 pre-election piece by Alexander Cockburn (New Left Review v. 29 [sub req]):

Congress is an infinitely drearier, more conformist place than it was two or three decades ago. Vivid souls like Wright Patman and Henry Gonzalez of Texas, in whose hearts the coals of populist insurgency still glowed, are long gone, along with men like Gruening, Morse and Harold Hughes of Iowa. Hughes, a former truck driver and reformed alcoholic, was a tremendous fellow, who in 1976 explained to a tv interviewer who had asked him if he was a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination: ‘When I tell you that if, as president, I was informed that the Soviets had launched a surprise nuclear attack and its missiles were speeding towards our shores, I would order No Response, you will understand that I am not a candidate for the nomination’. Probably the most independent soul in the current House is Ron Paul, the libertarian Republican from Texas.

Howls of outrage (6)

2007 08 04
Domestic and international policies

Here’s a point I’ve been meaning to make for a while now: When you’re looking at the platforms of candidates in the Democratic primaries, you can’t judge the domestic and international policies and priorities of the candidates independently of one another. If a candidate, such as, oh, just to take a random example, Hillary Clinton, favours Bush-li— excuse me, a more aggressive foreign policy posture that is likely to keep troops entangled in Iraq for a long time, that policy is bound to interfere in all sorts of ways with that candidate’s ability to achieve goals on domestic issues. Wars are costly, not just in the funds that need to be appropriated to them, but also in the political capital that they drain away from a politician when they’re unpopular or controversial.

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2007 08 03
Gig on Sunday

Posted by in: Music

Yoon Sun Choi’s “Beyond Borders”

Yoon Sun Choi – voice
Loren Stillman – alto sax
Jacob Sacks – rhodes
Thomas Morgan – bass
Gerald Cleaver – drums

Sunday, August 5th

55 Bar
(55 Christopher Street)
1/9 Train to Christopher station

Cover: $10

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2007 08 03
Gates, Petraeus’s Right Hand Man: Surge Strategy Invalid

Posted by in: The Iraq War

As quoted in this post, the executive officer to General Petraeus, Colonel Peter Mansoor, was quoted as saying:

“If eventually the Iraqi government and the various sects and groups do not come to some sort of agreement on how to share power, on how to divide resources and on how to reconcile and stop the violence, then the assumption on which the surge strategy was based is invalid, and we would have to re-look the strategy…”

Yesterday Defense Secretary Robert Gates provided the minor premise:

“I think the developments on the political side are somewhat discouraging at the national level,” Gates said. “And clearly the withdrawal of the Sunnis from the government is discouraging. My hope is it can all be patched together. In some ways we probably all underestimated the depth of the mistrust and how difficult it would be for these guys to come together on legislation, which, let’s face it, is not some kind of secondary thing.”

For those in Congress who really want to end America’s involvement in this war–and in the end this crowd may be smaller than it appears–Monsoor and Gates have provided all we need. Now we not only have a mantra, but a syllogism:

(1) If reconciliation fails, then the surge strategy is invalid.

(2) Reconciliation has failed.

(3) Therefore, the surge strategy is invalid.

Politically, this is all the cover any antiwar legislator needs.

Of course, it is likely that Gates, Patraeus, et al. will point to security improvements to make the case for progress. Anyone paying attention, however, knows that security is miserable, as is life for the typical Iraqi. But even here the official goalposts remain years away:

“I think the key is, not only establishing the security, but being able to hold on to those areas and for Iraqi Army and police to be able to provide the continuity of security over time,” he said. “It’s under that umbrella I think progress will be made at the national level.” Mr. Gates would not give a timetable.

The “clear and hold” line was, of course, the line offered in the run up to the surge. That was why we needed more troops. How’s that working? Let’s go to those on the ground:

But some officers in Iraq sharply disagreed with the assertion that the United States finally has enough personnel to bring security to the country. “I believe we have enough U.S. troops for this specific operation,” said a U.S. military strategist there, referring to Phantom Thunder. “I do not believe we’ve ever had enough troops to do all of the tasks we should be doing in Iraq.”

In terms of the fighting, the question may be academic. “There isn’t much more land power available for use in Iraq and Afghanistan,” retired Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, a former Army chief of staff, recently commented. “We are now ‘all in’ ” – that is, in poker terms, the U.S. armed forces have put all their chips on the table. …

A senior commander in Iraq, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said that U.S. plans do not call for holding cleared areas. Rather he said, the “Battle of the Baghdad Belts,” as some in the military call the new offensive, is a series of raids designed to reduce attacks on the capital and thus support the main effort, which is to improve the security of Baghdad’s population.

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2007 08 02
We have a running joke in my household…

Posted by in: Odds and ends

…it’s: “Come quick!! Lou Dobbs is talking about illegal aliens!!”

That really has nothing to do with this post, except that Dobbs apparently ran a story about the video below, and perhaps many of you saw it there or elsewhere on the intertubes. I saw it for the first time today, and figured it was bloggable. So here ’tis:

Howls of outrage (2)