Archive for February, 2003

Applying dynamite

Thursday, February 27th, 2003

to feet of clay: John Leonard (Andrew’s dad) takes down Norman Mailer in the New York Review of Books:

But his footwork is fanciest when he gets to style. Why Are We in Vietnam? does not seem to have been written by the author of Ancient Evenings. There is clearly a Mailer vocabulary, with adjectives like brave, corrupt, existential, inauthentic, primitive, and vertiginous to modify nouns like angel, aura, blood, cancer, cloaca, death, devil, dread, evil, fame, fetish, fever, grace, guilt, gut, hysteria, imperative, lividity, lust, magic, miasma, ontology, orgasm, ovaries, plastic, swine, taboo, underworld, virus, and void. It is the vocabulary of a shaman, and comes with its own drum. But it’s not a style. From so much skinwalking, shape-shifting, and baying at phases of far-flung moons, such wayward torque, and all those cantilevered paragraphs gasping for vertical support, you get, instead of a style, the bends.


Wednesday, February 26th, 2003

On a train to Manchester

well, the chief executive thinks were being a bit too generous with this chap, so I thought, why not ignore the first fifty million?

Nothing odd about that, you may think: but the middle-aged stockbroker who said this, with a Mercedes enthusiasts’ magazine to read when he had finished on the phone was travelling second class. The recession really must be biting, even for stockbrokers.


Wednesday, February 26th, 2003

This morning I dreamed that Neal Ascherson and I were hunting a childhood neighbour of mine through some woods with submachineguns; I got bored and confident left Neal to kill him. The bursts of fire moved further off into the darkness and suddenly they stopped and I realised that I had got Neal killed. I had two thoughts: ‘Oh, shit! what am I going to tell Isabel?’ and that now I would have to go out into the woods myself. Then I woke up.

Pax Americana

Tuesday, February 25th, 2003

Barlow makes the best case for a strategy behind the war that I have ever read.

I hear you laughing already. But it’s time that someone put the serious argument in favour of imperialism explicitly.

A modest proposal

Tuesday, February 25th, 2003

Ben Hammersley cuts through an enormous amount of the crap that has been written even by sensible people like John Naughton about how blogging democratises journalism: Want to be a journalist? Write something good.


Monday, February 24th, 2003

I’ve always thought this was a myth; but apparently it really happened. I don’t doubt he believes it. Just odd to find he would say it.

Update. It turns out it was his father. Still, a pretty remarkable thing to say and yet another example of the ways in which America resembles Victorian, or perhaps Edwardian England.

Alden Pyle comes clean

Thursday, February 20th, 2003

Thomas Friedman is one of the rare American journalists who understands that foreign affairs involves dealing with foreigners. He walked with Robert Fisk thorugh the steaming remains of Sabra and Chatila after the massacre. He doesn’t believe most of the Bushies’ propaganda about the war. Yet still he can write this:

Tell people the truth. Saddam does not threaten us today. He can be deterred. Taking him out is a war of choice — but it’s a legitimate choice. It’s because he is undermining the U.N., it’s because if left alone he will seek weapons that will threaten all his neighbors, it’s because you believe the people of Iraq deserve to be liberated from his tyranny, and it’s because you intend to help Iraqis create a progressive state that could stimulate reform in the Arab/Muslim world, so that this region won’t keep churning out angry young people who are attracted to radical Islam and are the real weapons of mass destruction.

Can someone please explain how the UN is worse undermined by Saddam concealing his weapons than by the Americans using theirs in a war which will very probably have been vetoed by the security council?

Can someone please explain how a war against a sovereign state which does not threaten us today and can be deterred can be legitimised by pious intentions?


Thursday, February 20th, 2003

The Conquest profile just got linked from Arts & Letters.

Two documents

Sunday, February 16th, 2003

Douglas Feith is now a very senior Pentagon official: the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy. Here is what he had to say in favour of invading Iraq in 1996. Note all the weird mystical stuff about “national exhaustion”; the urge to make Israel less dependent on foreign aid, and — which I find a little odd in American citizens — the exhortations that it stop being bossed about by America.

Here is what he told a congressional committee last week about America’s plans for governing Iraq.

Ask yourself whether the Netanyahu/Feith/Perle strategy laid out in 1996 has in fact made Israel richer, more secure, and more respected. Now figure out the chances of the Bush/Feith/Perle strategy in Iraq. You need not show your workings, but at some stage, you should include the most striking phrase in the whole 1996 document: “Israel has a chance to forge a new relationship with the Palestinians”.

An interesting explanation

Sunday, February 16th, 2003

for the triumph of American conservatism comes from this interview with Eric Alterman

There are some good liberal funders, but it’s a very complicated question. The genius of what Scaife and Coors and those people did is, they just threw manure onto a field and decided to see what grew. What Scaife did is, he just gave everybody money, he said, fine, let’s see what grows, whereas liberals are much more focused on programmatic money. They don’t fund things that might turn into something useful that you can’t predict.
You have to able to fund things where you can’t predict how they’re going to work, and liberals don’t do that. They want control, they want reports; they don?t fund basic research, they don’t fund operating expenses. All of the liberal organizations are always begging to keep going, they don’t pay their people very well, and so they’re never going to let a thousand flowers bloom and see which of them is the prettiest.

I like this partly because it is exactly the explanation for why the MRC funding model has been so successful, and the Wellcome Trust one relatively less so. When you’re trying to find out things you don’t know, whether these are the facts of helminthology or the most effective way to tell lies, you should start from a recognition that you probably don’t know how to find out what you don’t know, either.

But it also does something to explain the hatred of the Right for real universities. These are meant to be places where research is conducted on exactly these free-wheeling lnes, by people who don’t know what they are going to find out, nor how to discover it. Yet, unlike the stuff that’s funded by interest groups, this is not filtered at the end to ensure that only the right results are published, and only the right-thinking people get the money.