Clive Davis
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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

MORE THAN JUST ECONOMICS

"The point of life is not to become a more satisfied shopper..." Amen to that. Rod Dreher's "crunchy conservatism" manifesto gets a good review from George Nash, author of that definitive account of the evolution of the American Right. [Subscriber-only link] I presume that David Cameron's New Tories have already ordered copies in bulk?

Mr. Dreher is... a passionate environmentalist, a devotee of organic farming and a proponent of the New Urbanism, an anti-sprawl movement aimed at making residential neighborhoods more like pre-suburban small towns. He dislikes industrial agriculture, shopping malls, television, McMansions and mass consumerism. Efficiency--the guiding principle of free markets--is an "idol," he says, that must be "smashed." Too often, he claims, Republicans act like "the Party of Greed." ..."Crunchy Cons" is not a pallid work of sociology. It is a rousing altar call to spiritual secession from an America that Mr. Dreher sees as awash in materialism, consumerism and "lifestyle-libertarian" thinking.

More about Dreher's philosophy in this National Review article. William Buckley meets William Morris, you might say. Sounds good to me:

The music we like - jazz, hard country, bluegrass, Cuban son - is something you can only hear on, umm, public radio or see on public television. When we began talking about buying a house, we realized we wanted something old and funky, in the sort of neighborhood that your average Republican would disdain. We found that though the Shiite environmentalists drive us nuts, there was also something off-putting about the way many conservatives speak with caustic derision about environmental conservation. Two weeks ago, some conservative friends were driving me down the Pacific Coast Highway, and I was overwhelmed by the beauty, as they are. "I'm afraid we have to tip our hats to the tree-huggers," said one. "If it weren't for them, much of what you see would be covered with tract houses and malls."

IRVING VERSUS LIPSTADT, 2000

Irving began to address our allegations about his "racism and anti-semitism" by glancing at the bench with a somewhat conspiratorial smile. "I have the feeling that your Lordship is not overly-impressed by them." Judge Gray quickly disabused him: "Do not get feelings one way or the other about any part of the case, Mr Irving." Smiling a bit sheepishly, Irving shrugged his shoulders: "It was a good try." Irving's comments struck me as a metaphor for his modus operandi. He made "a good try" to prove Hitler innocent, Berlin Jews criminals, gas chambers "Disneyland" creations, and so much else. Until this trial, most of his "tries" had gone unchallenged.

Deborah Lipstadt, History on Trial - My Day in Court With David Irving.

NEW BROOM AT THE BANK

Proof that the neo-con moment hasn't passed just yet? Paul Wolfowitz, former Public Enemy No 1, shakes up the World Bank and wins praise from Washington Post columnist Sebastian Mallaby:

Wolfowitz's World Bank presidency, which had seemed to lack an organizing theme, has acquired one. The new boss is going to be tough on corruption, and he's going to push this campaign beyond the confines of the World Bank; on Saturday he persuaded the heads of several regional development banks to join his anti-corruption effort.

One example:

The bank has frozen five loans to Kenya because of corruption, though it did go ahead with a project to improve Kenya's financial management. On a recent stopover in London, Wolfowitz made a point of having dinner with John Githongo, a senior Kenyan official who left the country after issuing a report exposing cabinet ministers' corruption.

Monday, February 20, 2006

IRVING VERSUS HISTORY

David Irving pleads guilty to Holocaust denial in Vienna:

Irving, handcuffed and wearing a navy blue suit, arrived in court carrying a copy of one of his most controversial books - "Hitler's War", which challenges the extent of the Holocaust. "I made a mistake when I said there were no gas chambers at Auschwitz,'' Irving told the court...

Irving, 67, has been in custody since his November arrest on charges stemming from two speeches he gave in Austria in 1989 in which he was accused of denying the Nazis' extermination of 6 million Jews...

Before the trial began, Irving told reporters he now acknowledges that the Nazis systematically slaughtered Jews during World War II.

"History is like a constantly changing tree,'' he said.

A thought-provoking discussion on the BBC's World at One [about 20 mins into the link] over the rights and wrongs of outlawing Holocaust denial. Irving's old adversary Deborah Lipstadt takes issue with historian David Cesarani. The N-word and the Danish cartoons are touched on too.

Author of a must-read book about her epic libel contest against Irving, Lipstadt has been blogging on the latest case. She's generally opposed to the idea of Holocaust denial prosecutions, but has different feelings about cases in Germany and Austria. As she says on her site:

I have been doing a lot of media interviews from Rome. The issue keeps coming up: are Germany and Austria special cases in terms of Nazi/Holocaust denial laws?

As I have said all along, I think the answer is yes. Their history -- plus the fact that places such as Austria have not really come to a full reckoning with that past -- gives denial as well as the use of Nazi like symbols, e.g. swastika, a special resonance. Therefore, the fact that Irving had to say in court, as he just has, I was wrong, there were gas chambers etc. is important, not for normal folks, but for his neo-Nazi supporters.

I don't think for a minute that they will now say "Eureka, I have seen the light and now that Irving says there were gas chambers I believe it too."
Rather they will say: "Irving had no choice. He was forced to do this."

Then when Irving returns to the UK and recants - as I believe he will - they will say, "Exactly as we said."

NOTEBOOK

The chief film censor in Iran, up until 1994, was blind. Well, nearly blind. Before that, he was the censor for theatre. One of my playwright friends once described how he would sit in the theatre wearing  thick glasses that seemed to hide more than they revealed. An assistant who sat by him would explain the action on-stage, and he would dictate the parts that needed to be cut.

Azar Nafisi, Reading Lolita in Tehran.

BAD NIGHT OUT

Spinal_tap Spinal Tap syndrome seems to be getting out of hand at The Darkness's concerts:

Searchlights sweep the venue, piped bagpipes blare. Drummer Ed Graham, new bassist Richie Edwards, and guitarist Dan Hawkins take their places onstage, launching into 'Knockers', a very silly song about, yes, well, you know. Finally, singer Justin Hawkins hoves into sight, suspended above the crowd in a giant pair of breasts. The nipples light up. It's not quite AC/DC's blow-up doll, Rosie, but it has something of the innocent stupidity of the Darkness's first album, before the cocaine psychosis set in...

Almost as ludicrous as a Kanye West gig. No details, alas, about whether they did Big Bottom as an encore.

THE NEO-CON PROJECT - END OF PART ONE?

Expect lots of responses to Francis Fukuyama's post-mortem on neo-conservatism as we know it. Andrew Sullivan has already aired his thoughts:

We have learned a tough lesson, and it's been a lot tougher for those tens of thousands of dead innocent Iraqis and several thousand killed and injured American soldiers than it is for a few humiliated intellectuals. American ingenuity and pragmatism on the ground may be finally turning things around, but the original policy errors have made their work infinitely harder.

Is it really true, as Fukuyama claims, that the Bush Doctrine is a "shambles"? Is he being too short-termist? I think the jury is still out, but it is hard to argue against his claim that we neo-cons have failed to enough to take account of a deep-seated national trait:

There are sharp limits to the American people's attention to foreign affairs and willingness to finance projects overseas that do not have clear benefits to American interests. Sept. 11 changed that calculus in many ways, providing popular support for two wars in the Middle East and large increases in defense spending. But the durability of the support is uncertain... Americans are not, at heart, an imperial people. Even benevolent hegemons sometimes have to act ruthlessly, and they need a staying power that does not come easily to people who are reasonably content with their own lives and society.

Looking at this from the outside, what strikes me most is the failure to sell the ideas to the rest of the world. Yes, anti-Americanism is rampant in Europe and elsewhere, but one of the great strengths of the neo-con movement, dating back to the 60s, has been its appetite for debate and polemic. Yet apart from Robert Kagan's bestseller, it's hard to think of standard-bearers who've seen the need to take the argument to an overseas audience. (Which is why it was so easy for the likes of BBC wunderkind Adam Curtis to conjure up their own neo-con bogeymen.) Instead, too much energy has been wasted on a "Trust us, we're virtuous" form of rhetoric. Naturally, that plays well with American audiences. But there's no special reason that foreigners should buy it, even if they are old enough to remember D-Day.

COULTER

A commenter chastised me yesterday for being rude about Ann Coulter, suggesting I need to become better acquainted with her work. So I skipped over to her web site and found this column posted at the top:

After an Egyptian ferry capsized recently, killing hundreds of passengers, a whole braying mob of passengers' relatives staged an organized attack on the company, throwing furniture out the window and burning the building to the ground. Witnesses say it was the most violent ocean liner-related incident since Carnival Cruise Lines fired Kathie Lee Gifford.

The "offence to Islam" ruse is merely an excuse for Muslims to revert to their default mode: rioting and setting things on fire.

Not so very different, I'd say, from John Derbyshire's announcement that he's not interested in dead Egyptians. Personally, I stopped paying attention to Coulter when she wrote that "We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity" column just after 9/11.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

NOTEBOOK

I quite sensibly envy his [Updike's] gifts. I defend myself by saying that he has developed an impractical degree of sensibility and that my own stubborn and sometimes idle prose has more usefulness. One does not ask, skating on a pond, how the dark sky carries its burden of sunlight. I don't, in any case.

John Cheever, unpublished journal, The Paris Review, 1993.

IN IRAQ

A chastening article by Farnaz Fassihi in the Wall St Journal on the realities of reporting from Baghdad:

We formed intense friendships with other journalists, monitoring each other for security. If we had people over for dinner, we had to count not just the number of plates, but also the number of beds and linens we could provide; it had become too dangerous for guests to go home after dark.

Michael Totten's dispatch from Erbil [via Instapundit] is almost as troubling:

J's company does not allow him to walk the streets of Iraq, not even in Kurdistan. He lives behind concrete bomb-blast walls. The entrance is guarded by men with guns. He kindly invited me to have dinner with him and his lovely roommates at their house. When I stepped out of the car at the gate he pulled me into the compound by my arm and said, "Let's get off the street."

It seemed a bit much to me. But I wasn't so sure. Was he being paranoid? Or was I being careless? ... His firm had kidnapping insurance policies on all its employees. Kidnapping insurance! I had never even heard of such a thing. At least there's some solace to be found in Totten's photo gallery.

BTW, I should have linked earlier to David Ignatius's column about the challenge of building consensus in the new Iraq. Straight talking from the US ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad:

The security ministries have to be in the hands of people who have broad support, who are nonsectarian, without ties to militias. We cannot invest huge amounts of money in forces that do not get broad support from Iraqis. They will make their choices. We will make our choices, based on their choices.

Ignatius thinks that's the only policy worth pursuing:

This is politics in the raw: bargaining, brokering, backroom dealing. It's a messy process, especially against the ugly backdrop of new Abu Ghraib photos. But it's good news that the people who want a unified, democratic Iraq are fighting like hell to make it happen -- and that America is warning it won't pay the bills for a government that doesn't put unity first.

NOT REALLY SO SHOCKING AFTER ALL

As I've mentioned before, the schlock-merchants known as Gilbert & George have been up to their old tricks in the East End. Nick Cohen gives them a well-deserved thrashing in the Observer. (Of course, being the kind of guys they are, they probably like the idea of a thrashing, but you get my drift.)

Gilbert and George narcissistically present themselves as icons towering over a shrivelled Christ. "God loves Fucking! Enjoy!" reads one inscription. This isn't a brave assault on all religions, just Catholicism. The gallery owners know that although Catholics will be offended, they won't harm them. That knowledge invalidates their claims to be transgressive. An uprising that doesn't provoke a response isn't a 'rebellion', but a smug affirmation of the cultural status quo. If they were to do the same to Islam, all hell would break loose.

[Via Harry's Place]

It seems the CofE is quite at home with G&G. I've run this quote from George once already, but it's a good one, so it's worth repeating:

We had a visit from the Bishop of Stepney recently...I told him we had quite a following among the clergy, which is true. He said, very sweetly, "I'm not surprised at all, dear boy."

PS: More on religious taboos, this time from a Washington Post article by Flemming Rose, the man at the centre of the cartoon wars:

At the end of September, a Danish standup comedian said in an interview with Jyllands-Posten that he had no problem urinating on the Bible in front of a camera, but he dared not do the same thing with the Koran. This was the culmination of a series of disturbing instances of self-censorship. 

[Via Pickled Politics]

FACT V FICTION

It's a shame that fine novelist, Zadie Smith, wasn't moonlighting as a film critic when Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11 were released. She'd probably have done a better job of the BS-detecting than the full-time critics, most of whom simply rolled over and allowed themselves to be tickled.

Here she is in today's Telegraph reviewing the new Ed Murrow biopic:

With regard to "Good Night, Good Luck", George Clooney's strident political docudrama, I find myself in a dificult position. I watched it and loved it... I was filled with righteous pride that a film such as this could be made in the current climate.  And then I spent two hours on the internet and changed my mind.

What remains is still the review I intended but is qualified by the obvious fact that liberal films like this are made to please liberals like me. In terms of historical content, the film is neither quite honest nor quite true.

Some honest arts punditry, for a change, then, although Smith spoils it a bit by drawing an analogy with Michael Moore's right-wing alter-ego:

What follows, then, is a glowing review of a fine piece of agit-prop Leftist cinema which I very much enjoyed in the same spirita person of the opposite sensibility will enjoy Ann Coulter's recent celebratory defence of McCarthyism, "Treason", not because it is entirely true but because she's fighting your corner.

Now, I haven't seen read Treason, but I know enough about Coulter's work to know she is a poisonous clown and a rabid self-publicist. I also doubt that she would never, ever receive a fraction of the industry adulation lavished on Moore. What I mean is, shouldn't we get past the point of praising films - or books - just because we agree with their politics?  As Smith says at the end of her review: "It's a sure sign that things are bad when the Left, like the Right, want their history black and white."

Absolutely. Although the way she phrases that sentence implies that there have been lots of simple-minded right-wing political films lately. Care to name them?

[Nb sorry about the earlier formatting problem - now fixed thanks to Jackie Danicki.]

Saturday, February 18, 2006

COMING SOON

Doktor Frank rejoices at the news that Bernd Eichinger, director of Downfall, is planning a film about the Baader-Meinhof gang. Ed Driscoll is less pleased to hear that Anjelica Houston has her sights on an adaptation of that fine drama about the anti-Nazi resistance, Sophie Scholl.

FLAT-FOOTED

Barefoot In a sudden fit of nostalgia, and being a longtime Neil Simon fan, I  bought a DVD of Barefoot in the Park. One of those perfect lazy Sunday afternoon films - or at least that's how I remembered it. How wrong I was. What used to seem spry and witty now seemed dated and cute, while Jane Fonda's simpering girlie housewife temporarily turned me into a fuming Betty Friedan. Were they really that old-fashioned in 1967?

John Podhoretz had a similarly disheartening time at the Broadway revival:

If you come to New York for a weekend to see theatre and you are in your forties or older, you might be thrilled to see there's a new revival of a show of the 60s with one of the most famous titles of our time: "Barefoot in the Park", a romantic comedy that was made into a hit movie with Robert Redford and Jane Fonda before either of them had become a public political cretin. I've seen it and I think you ought to save your money. Neil Simon's play is sluggish and dull for the most part, and so is the production, despite its glittering star, Amanda Peet. The kooky young wife played by Peet seems like an entirely conventional pleasure-seeking New York twentysomething rather than a crazy wildflower, while the sober and responsible guy played by Redford in the movie seems far more neurotic and needy than she. I don't remember a more disappointing night on the Rialto.

I wonder when JP last saw the screen version? He may find it ain't half as good as he recalls.

PS: Invasion of the Body-Snatchers didn't stand up so well either. Libertas disagrees, however.

MENCKEN, SUPERMAN

The third, and most intriguing, [WW1-era] essay--"After Germany's Conquest of the United States"--talked about the benefits to America of being ruled by the hard men of a superior Kultur. Known only because of the exchange of letters between Mencken and the editor of the Atlantic, the article was withdrawn and never published. Interestingly, despite Mencken's extraordinary efforts to document his own life, the manuscript, according to Vincent Fitzpatrick, curator of the Mencken collection, cannot be found. Mencken's reputation, it seems, was saved by wartime self-censorship...

The man who is still selectively celebrated by people like Rodgers, as if he were nothing more or less than an American iconoclast, was one of a number of anti democratic thinkers on both sides of the Atlantic. Some of them, like D.H. Lawrence, were proto-fascists; others, like H.G. Wells, were apologists for Stalin. But they all denounced democracy in the name of vitalism, eugenics, and a caste system run by an elite of superior men.

Fred Siegel, "Mencken the Teuton".

Friday, February 17, 2006

EUROPE - NOT DOOMED AFTER ALL, PERHAPS

Georgetown University's Charles Kupchan sees reasons to be worried, yet believes reports of Europe's demise are premature:

The health of the European economy is much less grave than he [Theodore Dalrymple] makes out. If one sets aside Germany, Europe's economic growth has been roughly equivalent to America's. That sleight of hand is of course unfair; it would be like evaluating the health of the U.S. economy while setting aside the performance of California. But withholding Germany from the picture does make clear that many EU countries are doing quite well. It is simply not the case that the continent is populated primarily by sclerotic, dysfunctional economies on their last gasp.

STRIKING A BALANCE

Whether or not you buy Robert Wright's argument in the NYT that the cartoon riots are comparable to Watts in the 60s (I'm not at all convinced myself) he makes a strong case for not going overboard on the free speech issue:

Even many Americans who condemn the cartoon's publication accept the premise that the now-famous Danish newspaper editor set out to demonstrate: in the West we don't generally let interest groups intimidate us into what he called "self-censorship."

What nonsense. Editors at mainstream American media outlets delete lots of words, sentences and images to avoid offending interest groups, especially ethnic and religious ones. It's hard to cite examples since, by definition, they don't appear. But use your imagination.

Apart from Hugh Hewitt, most of the blogosphere seems to have taken a strident line that could be summarized as "We might as well get that clash of civilisations over and done with..." Tunku Varadarajan adminsters a rebuke in the Wall St Journal:

Ultimately, newspapers have stewardship responsibilities. That is what makes discourse civilized. It's a lot harder to manage ethical decisions when the constituency to consider is larger than one guy in his boxer shorts - blogging away in his own living room.

Below the belt (if you'll pardon the pun) but somebody had to say it. Varadarajan makes a persuasive case for everyone to cool it:

To the free-speech absolutists in the blogosphere, I say that making this episode the test of our Western manhood is not the right way to go -for a number of reasons... Freedom of speech and imagery is sacrosanct; but it is not compulsory. The First Amendment means that you can, but do not have to, exercise the freest lawful speech. It means that you are responsible for your speech, not the authorities. The absence of legal restrictions also means that institutional dispensers of speech--such as newspapers and TV channels--need to exercise their freedom wisely.

What does that wisdom involve in the current situation? The U.S. is fighting a propaganda war against bin Ladenism. Why hand our foes a gratuitous tactical advantage? Why not collectively deprive the enemy of a detonator?--not because we are forced to; not even because we agreee with or respect the rioters' values; but because we want to make it easier for moderates in the Muslim world (our allies) to take on the obscurantists.

Similar advice from the Huffington Post's. Zachary Karabell, author of a fine book on the making of the Suez Canal:

We have given the radicals exactly what they want and crave: free publicity and de facto validation as the voice of the silent millions who care more about what's for dinner than about what a Danish newspaper printed in its pages five months ago.

PIPE DREAM?

Am I wrong to hope that Condoleezza Rice will run for the White House? In TCS Uriah Kriegel sets out the negatives:

Rice is a strong and independent single woman in her fifties who has never been married. Marriage, with its connotations of tradition and family values, tends to be a sine qua non of a presidential candidacy. Sadly, the probability of a disrespectful whispering campaign about Rice's sexual orientation during the primaries -- in an attempt to rob from her early pivotal contests such as South Carolina -- must be taken into consideration...

More generally, the entire "Draft Condi" movement often comes across as an idealistic, almost messianic, movement with no serious practical bearings or political maturity. The very term "Condistas" reflects a revolutionary and purist zeal that is quite charming in the drafting stages but doesn't work all that well come election time (Note: Howard Dean)...

The Condistas' best and wisest bet would be to get Rice on the 2008 ticket as vice-presidential candidate, preferably coupled with another socially moderate but unquestionably hawkish candidate, such as Giuliani or McCain.

Well, I'm not sure marriage really would be that big a problem. Wouldn't a Rice candidacy overturn all the old rules? Still, even if the worst came to the worst, I'd be more than happy to settle for McCain or Giuliani in the No 1 spot.

"SAW MY BABY THERE..."

The ultimate in niche blogging? A site dedicated to the song St James Infirmary (plus a few New Orleans spin-offs too...) One of my favourite Crescent City pianists, James Booker, makes an appearance lower down.

(Via Alex Ross)

ENCORE: Brave new world detected at On An Overgrown Path:

The photo really is of Maestro Krio, a Sony robot who conducted a Japanese student orchestra in a performance of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony in 2004. I understand the critics found his rhythms rather mechanical. So he didn't get a Baltimore booking, but a Naxos contract is rumoured.

Interesting thoughts, as well, on the pros and cons of Wikipedia.

NOTEBOOK

"It's going to be a history of Nazi Germany based on the captured secret documents and on my own personal experience in Berlin in the Hitler time. It's an opportunity, Stanley, that comes once in a lifetime, if that. With any luck, it's bound to be a pretty important book."

Stanley listened patiently, but to my surprise his face grew cold. I had thought at first that he would leap up from the table in great excitement at the news I had just given him. But instead he was frowning.

"Dear Bill," he finally said. "Please don't ask Little, Brown to publish a book called 'The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich'. Really! We're not interested!"

William L. Shirer, A Native's Return, 1945-1988.

THE SECOND TIME AS FARCE

I couldn't help thinking of Shirer's anecdote  as I read Stephen Hayes's Weekly Standard article about how the US is sitting on a cache of unread Iraq government documents:

Estimates from people involved in the document exploitation project tell us the U.S. government has in its possession some 2 million "exploitable items." Of that number, less than 3 percent--somewhere in the neighborhood of 50,000 items--have been fully exploited.

[Via Hugh Hewitt]

Shirer had a similar experience after WW2. As he relates in his memoirs, huge amounts of Nazi material lay unexamined in the vaults:

One gigantic collection of them had been stored for years in a large US Army warehouse in Alexandria, Virginia. No one in our great government had shown the slightest interest in opening the hundreds of packing cases to see what of historical interest might lie within them. It was only in 1955, ten years after their capture and the year before I contracted to write my book, that the American Historical Association took the initiative to look into the Alexandria papers. Its members got little help from the government.

No changes there, then.  BTW, Any struggling freelances out there might be interested in knowing that Shirer was close to bankrupt when he began working on his book. Even a former star foreign correspondent could struggle to make a living from books in the age of the blacklist. Reading his account of living off vegetables from his garden is a salutary experience.

"THIS HOUSE BELIEVES..."

The anti-American vote triumphs in the city of perspiring dreams. Disappointing news, I suppose. Then again, when was the last time anyone cared what the Oxford Union thought about anything? 1933, perhaps.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

TOP OF THE FOOD CHAIN

There I was, thinking I was a true blog aficionado, yet when I looked at NY Magazine's list of the Top 50, I discovered I only read four on a regular basis. I'd never even heard of a lot of them. I'm suitably mortified.

As for the five coolest sites, I  suspect I can live without Cute Overload.com ("Image after image of teeny-weeny furry animals means you'll never be sad again.")  Fluxblog sounds tempting, though. ("Reading an album review gets one only so far. Perpetua takes you the rest of the way by including a sample MP3 for every track discussed so you can really hear what he's talking about.")

FRESH BLOOD

That Elmer Fudd story about birdshot and bushes may be nonsense, but Peggy Noonan still thinks the time has come to consider a new vice-president:

Dick Cheney has been the administration's hate magnet for five years now... This was not all bad for the White House: Mr. Cheney took the heat that would otherwise have been turned solely on George Bush. So he had utility, and he's experienced and talented and organized... But, at a certain point a hate magnet can draw so much hate you don't want to hold it in your hand anymore, you want to drop it, and pick up something else. Is this fair? Nah. But fair has nothing to do with it.

... The key thing is Iraq. George Bush cares deeply about Iraq and knows his legacy will be decided there.... [He] will want the next Republican presidential nominee to continue the U.S. effort in, and commitment to, Iraq...

This person will not be Dick Cheney, who has already said he doesn't plan to run. So Mr. Bush may feel in time that he has reason to want to put in a new vice president in order to pick a successor who'll presumably have an edge in the primaries--he's the sitting vice president, and Republicans still respect primogeniture. They will tend to make the common-sense assumption that a guy who's been vice president for, say, a year and a half, is a guy who already knows the top job.

Or a guy-ette, of course. I suppose it's too much to hope that Condoleezza Rice can be persuaded?

FAGGED

Like David Aaronovitch, I'm not in the mood to come over all polemical about the smoking ban. I wish I could be more deep and meaningful about this, but as it's half-term and I've had three boys underfoot all day my mental powers are running on empty. Besides, something tells me that if blogs had been around in the 19th century, plenty of them would have mounted "Save Our Spitoons" campaigns.

Last word to Wikipedia:

Some people of this era objected to restrictions on where they could spit as an infringement on their individual rights. None the less, a larger segment of the public favored use of spittoons. Boy Scout troops organized campaigns to paint "DO NOT SPIT ON THE SIDEWALK" notices on city sidewalks.

...After the 1918 flu epidemic, both hygiene and etiquette advocates began to disparage public use of the spittoon, and use began to decline. Chewing gum replaced tobacco as the favorite chew of the younger generation. Cigarettes were considered more hygienic than spit-inducing chewing tobacco...

More hygienic? Such is progress.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

NOTEBOOK

The simple fact is that America is quietly getting past race despite the best efforts of the Soul Patrol to pretend otherwise. My sense is that the period when my "Losing The Race" was published, as the millennium turned, was a kind of last gasp of the Racism Forever routines. When the book was new in 2000 and 2001, my straying from the line expected of any black writer with a Ph.D predictably elicited assorted name-calling, especially from academics and journalists. But even then, I quickly saw a massive gulf between how these people tend to think and how most black Americans elsewhere think.

John McWhorter, Winning The Race.

TOONS, AGAIN

I wasn't planning to post anything about the cartoons today, partly because I don't want to jump back onto the soapbox. But the news about sabotage at Michelle Malkin's site is depressing, whether or not you agree with her.

Interesting goings-on at the Spectator too. (Apologies if you've heard before, but I only just got round to browsing the latest copy.) A definite clash of editorial views in evidence. Turn to the leader column, and you find a reasoned explanation of why the magazine decided against running the caricatures. (Although one did slip into the on-line edition by accident, apparently.)

There is a history of irreverence at The Spectator, but there is a difference between irreverence and causing gratuitous offence. Why humiliate members of another faith by ridiculing what they hold most sacred?

... Printing the cartoons was a childishly provocative gesture. To support publication by quoting the line attributed to Voltaire - I disapprove of what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it - is fatuous. Those editors who have published the cartoons have not just put themselves at risk, but also their canteen staff and classified advertising executives. All this, not to reveal anything interesting about Islam nor to make an important point about the religion, but simply to provoke.

Well said. Yet if you look at the diary item written by outgoing editor Boris Johnson, the message is somewhat different:

I'll tell you why this magazine didn't run those Danish cartoons when they first appeared last year. It was partly a technical problem, in that we couldn't find the wretched things on the web, and Jyllands-Posten was for some reason reluctant to ping them across. But the real reason, gentle readers, was nothing to do with taste. We weren't being responsible. We weren't respectful. At least I wasn't. The truth is we were just a little bit frightened - and so is everyone else now, including Jack Straw - and that is the truly awful thing. Mind you, judging by some of the Christian responses to the controversy, there is a certain discreet nostalgia, a certain envy, for the holy dread that surrounds the Islamic wacko.

PS: Via Pickled Politics, a thought-provoking article by academic Christie Davies on another culture clash, the violence provoked last year by the Sikh play, Bezhti. A must-read. No easy answers here...

DEEP THINKERS?

As William Hague prepares to kiss and make up with Washington, the Speccie's blog offers an insight into the Tory hierarchy's reading habits. Are the Hon Members too busy leafing through Tatler to worry about the big issues?

It is important to keep in mind that most Tory Shadow Cabinet ministers never even read the Wall St Journal, never mind academic journals like Foreign Affairs. Eg. David Davis' leadership "campaign" never subscribed to the Wall St Journal, as per CCO [Conservative Central Office] press office for years.

A HOUSE DIVIDED

One of our age's genuine wise men, James Q. Wilson, sounds a warning about the ever-growing political divide in America:

Denmark or Luxembourg can afford to exhibit domestic anguish and uncertainty over military policy; the United States cannot. A divided America encourages our enemies, disheartens our allies, and saps our resolve--potentially to fatal effect. What Gen. Giap of North Vietnam once said of us is even truer today: America cannot be defeated on the battlefield, but it can be defeated at home. Polarization is a force that can defeat us.

PAUSE

I'm going to a seminar in Westminster this morning, so will be posting a bit later than usual.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

GUNS & POSES

Right Wing Bob gets satirical on the Dick Cheney bloodbath ("It's become clear that the policy of this White House is to hush up the Vice-President's random acts of violence by seeing that they only get reported to local newspapers...") He has the evidence, too. Ha!

And he's been keeping an eye on early responses to the new Dylan musical, The Times They Are-A-Changin'.

BOOK BASHING

After TNR's Martin Peretz stepped into the fray, Christopher Hitchens is the latest to defend Bernard-Henri Lévy. He thinks Garrison Keillor got it all wrong in his review: "How astonishing to see such humourless philistinism served up in a serious supplement devoted to books."

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