Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Wingnuts Want To Protect Us From the Ultimate Enemy

A quick addendum to the Michael J. Fox / Rush Limbaugh "controversy": The right-wing spin on Fox's pro-stem-cell-research ad seems to be that the ad "exploits" Fox's disease for political purposes. (Try Googling "Michael J. Fox exploitation"--there are over 820,000 websites that link the terms.) Now, like most people, I am certainly opposed to the idea of someone with a terrible illness being "exploited." But since Fox himself opted to appear in the ad in order to express his personal commitment to supporting research into the causes of Parkinson's disease, who exactly is supposed to be exploiting him? Is Fox supposedly exploiting himself? How does one do that? What does it even mean?

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that a "conservative" movement that considers it appropriate for the government to try to control adult sexual behavior wouldn't balk at trying to dictate the proper ground rules for individual relationships. But I must say I'm surprised that this includes, apparently, one's relationship with oneself. I guess you've got to be eternally vigilant; you never know when you might find yourself being taken advantage of . . . by yourself.

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Sunday, October 29, 2006

All the English You Need To Know . . . If You're French

The other night, I had occasion to look up the meaning of a word in French, so I pulled out the 1975 edition of the Petit Larousse Illustre, the wonderful French dictionary (salvaged, in the case of my copy, from the discard bin at the Chappaqua Public Library). As I invariably do, I found myself browsing its pages, which are temptingly laden with all manner of black-and-white and color pictures. To cite a few random examples:

  • Page 138: A full page devoted to black-and-white pictures illustrating the sport of boxing, with photos clearly depicting eight standard moves (from the "Uppercut du droit au menton" to "Crochet du gauche a la face") and tables showing the weight limits of eleven categories of fighters (from "Mouche" to "Lourd").
  • Between pages 192 and 193: A page with nine full-color pictures of edible mushrooms, contrasted with ten pictures of "Champignons mortels ou tres dangereux en France." (This page alone is worth the cost of the book--after all, it could save your life next time you go mushrooming in the French countryside.)
  • Between pages 384 and 385: A full-color diagram of a nuclear power plant, each part numbered to show how the atomic reaction is used to generate electricity, backed by a plate containing 19 full-color illustrations of different "Fleurs ornementales."
  • Page 752: A collection of black-and-white line drawings, deftly squeezed into less than a quarter-page, illustrating and naming no less than twenty different kinds of birds' feet, from "hirondelle" (my favorite, as a fan of Miro) to "autruche" (sound it out--yes, it's an ostrich).
  • Between pages 864 and 865: Four full-color pages with ravishing reproductions of 21 paintings, illustrating three categories of artists: "Peintures de la Renaissance," "Romantisme-Realisme," and (getting pride of place, in first position), "Ecole de Paris."

You can see why this book is hard to put down once you've picked it up. But what I really intended to write about was a curious sixteen-page insert, printed for some reason on pink paper, which lists "Locutions Latines et Etrangeres"--in other words, Latin and other foreign phrases and sayings that the editors of Petit Larousse felt their readers would most want to know.

The Latin expressions are interesting and somewhat predictable--phrases familiar from logic ("ad hominem"), philosophy ("cogito, ergo sum"), religion ("ecce homo"), and law ("jus privatum"). But the English expressions are something else again. Here are the seventeen phrases chosen, from the virtually infinite possibilities, to represent the genius of the English language (this is, I swear, a complete and accurate list from Larousse's pink pages):

All right. At home. English spoken. For ever! Go ahead! God save the king! Honest Iago. Much ado about nothing. Remember! Rule Britannia. Self-made man. Shocking. Struggle for life. That is the question. The right man in the right place. Time is money. To be or not to be.
It's interesting to try to trace the attitudes and assumptions of whoever compiled this list. He (let's assume male gender) was fond of Shakespeare--four of the expressions (including, of course, "That is the question") are from the plays.

He wanted, for some reason, to include phrases that might be used during the toasts at an old-fashioned English club; hence, "God save the king!" and "Rule Britannia," but also "For ever!" (which Larousse defines as the equivalent of "Vive a jamais!" as in "General X for ever!") and "Remember!" (which Larousse defines as "Dernier mot de Charles 1er, roi d'Angleterre").

He wanted to provide expressions that evoke the mercantile ethic of the Anglo-Saxon races; hence, "Self-made man," "Struggle for life," "The right man in the right place," and "Time is money."

Finally, he threw in a few miscellaneous expressions that one might find useful in English society, such as "At home" and "Go ahead"--although why he included "English spoken" is beyond me. Surely a French reader of Larousse who had to turn to the pink pages to discover the meaning of the phrase "English spoken" would not be seeking out shop fronts bearing those words. Instead, he'd be looking for shops with signs reading, "Ici on parle Francais," where a French visitor could shop without the necessity of periodically declaring "God save the king!" and "Rule Britannia!" to placate those jingoist Brits.

In short, it's impossible to scrutinize this list of essential English phrases without wondering, "What were they thinking?"

It's amusing to dissect a list like this and shake our heads about those silly Frenchmen. (I never claimed to be above a cheap laugh or two.) But as I pointed out here in a slightly different context, it's more useful to turn the lesson around and remember that our impressions of foreign cultures are almost always equally myopic. Which is one of the many reasons why it's probably not a good idea to hand foreign policy over to cowboys who pride themselves on their ignorance of the world beyond our shores.

It's never easy to understand a foreign culture--even when you're actually trying.

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Saturday, October 28, 2006

George Bush and the Dorian Gray Effect

In his White House Briefing column in today's WaPo, Dan Froomkin offers this tidbit about Bush's session last week with several conservative journalists:
Daniel Henninger, another participant in the interview, writes in the Wall Street Journal: "The burden of war . . . has not sapped Mr. Bush physically as it did Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. Recalling the deep toll that war and partisanship imposed on their presidencies, I looked closely at Mr. Bush for similar evidence: none. The hair's gone gray, but there is little sign of fatigue in his face or demeanor. I asked how he stays normal: 'Prayer and exercise.' . . .
Bush supporters, I suppose, will take this as a tribute to Bush's character--the conservative evangelical Christians may even consider it evidence of his being blessed by God. But for me it underscores Bush's infuriating quality of being blissfully oblivious to the toll his policies are taking in the real world.

Say what you will about Lyndon Johnson--and I considered him worthy of impeachment for the dishonest manner in which he embroiled the nation in Vietnam--he was at least personally engaged and concerned about the realities of the war. He agonized over every troop deployment and bombing run, visited with wounded soldiers continually, and grew increasingly depressed over the effects of the war on his administration's domestic initiatives.

Johnson's own son-in-law Chuck Robb was a Marine who served for a couple of years on the front lines in that war, and Johnson insisted on listening to each of the audio cassette tapes Robb sent home to his wife Lynda, in which Robb spoke about the hardships and dangers of life in the jungles of Vietnam. No wonder Johnson looked twenty years older by the time he left office.

Don't get me wrong--Johnson's personal engagement didn't save him from making decisions that were disastrously arrogant and wrong-headed. But at least he had the integrity to face the reality behind his policies--and he paid a personal price for it.

By contrast, Bush floats happily above it all. Daniel Henninger considers this "staying normal." I guess he's right--if wreaking havoc on the world, causing the needless deaths of tens or hundreds of thousands of people, and remaining personally untouched is what you consider "normal." I might be more inclined to use a word like "pathological."

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Cardinals Win World Series on Behalf of the Mets

During the (just-ended) World Series, I was asked by several people whether I had a rooting interest, given the fact that neither my beloved Mets nor my hated Yankees were involved.

I long ago developed a method for judging such questions that is analogous to the approach some elderly Jews take toward analyzing any news event. They ask, "Is it good for the Jews?" It's a straightforward criterion to apply when the event in question is something like a suicide bombing in Jerusalem (obviously Bad For The Jews) or Eliot Spitzer's rise to prominence in New York politics (Good For The Jews). When you're talking about something like Madonna's attempt to adopt a boy from Malawi or Korea's detonation of a nuclear device, it requires a more convoluted chain of reasoning--but, hey, the people who gave us the word "Talmudic" are certainly up to the task.

In a similar vein, I ask about any event in the world of baseball, "Is it good for the Mets?" On this basis, I give the Cardinals' five-game victory in the World Series my thumbs up. The Cardinals were the team that eliminated the Mets in a seven-game NLCS. Now that they've won it all, I can console myself through the winter by saying, "Oh well, at least we were beaten by the best team in the world." It makes it easy for me to harbor, at least privately, the belief that this makes the Mets the world's second-best team--not a bad perch for a franchise that was wallowing at the bottom of the NL East a couple of years ago.

In addition, I'm pleased that the National League representative won the Series. All season long, purveyors of conventional sports wisdom kept asserting that the American League was vastly superior to the National League, making claims like "Seven of the eight best teams in baseball are in the American League," "The best team in the National League would have trouble competing in the American League," and offering the Mets' powerhouse offense backhanded compliments like, "The Mets have almost an American League lineup."

Once this meme had sunk in, it was possible for anti-Mets propagandists like Mike Francesca and Chris Russo on WFAN radio to practically treat the Mets' dominance of the National League as a cute but meaningless feat, like finishing first in a Little League tournament.

Maybe the Cards' easy demolition of the Tigers--the team which, let's remember, easily demolished the mighty Yankees just two weeks ago--will put a big dent in the myth of American League supremacy. I hope so. After all, that would be Good For The Mets.

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Friday, October 27, 2006

Nomadic Carnival

Got a minute? Check out Carnival of the Liberals #24, now available at Scott Brown's Perspectives of a Nomad (and yes, it sounds as though Scott really is something of a nomad--check out his bio . . . ).
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Alex P. Keaton Discovers What Modern Conservatism Is Really Like

Over at The American Prospect, Ezra Klein makes the point that many conservative spokespeople who scoff at the importance of a social safety net do so, in part, because they assume that their own backgrounds of wealth and privilege insulate them from the need for such a net. He goes on to observe:
I like to say that if a neocon is a liberal who got mugged, a progressive is a conservative who got sick. You see it over and over: Andrew Sullivan is a lefty on gay rights, Nancy Reagan came to appreciate the importance of stem cell research, Bob Dole was for intervention in Bosnia (his doc in WWII was a Slav), and so on. A bit of personal experience goes a long way. But it's hard, when you're rich, to experience being poor. And it's hard, if you got rich, to realize you were lucky as well as good. And that paucity of insight impoverishes the discussion. It's not that folks who've had membership in a group will necessarily come to the right conclusions -- see my friend Ben "Badler" Adler for more on that -- but they'll at least know the stakes.
In an ironic, meta sort of way, doesn't the Michael J. Fox stem-cell-research ad (famously and disgustingly mocked by Rush Limbaugh) illustrate the same point? Remember that Michael J. Fox first became famous as the obnoxiously smug young conservative Alex P. Keaton on the eighties sitcom Family Ties. (According to Keaton's biography in Wikipedia, the character grew up to become a Republican senator from Ohio.)

Wingnut Keaton is exactly the sort of person who would have suddenly become a convert to stem-cell-research as soon as he got the diagnosis of Parkinson's. And as we see from their vicious treatment of one-time allies like John Murtha and (most recently) Jim Webb, many partisans on the right wouldn't have hesitated to smear him the minute he deviated from the Rovian line--especially in the run-up to a crucial election.

Hey, sorry about the public ridicule for your condition, Alex--but I'm sure you understand it's all just politics, conservative-style.

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Thursday, October 26, 2006

Update from Paris

Well, Leo the dog has arrived in Paris, and as I predicted, he was my entree into my first real conversation with a French person, sitting in a park during his morning walk. The conversation was quite difficult-- Leo's admirer has worse English than I do French, which is saying quite a lot. We got to talking politics-- upon learning that I am American, he was quickly interested to know what I think of George Bush-- and I think he said that he is against abortion but in favor of assisted suicide for crazy people. Needless to say, it was not too much longer before I extricated myself from the situation, although I can't say which of those two views creeped me out more.

More importantly, I have had some great experiences at the local market this week. I went to the supermarket for the first time on Sunday-- this is amazingly similar to the American supermarket, although much smaller. (In other words, amazingly similar to the New York supermarket.) But here I am talking about the indoor market with individual stands selling produce, wine, cheese, meats, etc. Tonight I bought a container of those beautiful strawberries I mentioned in my previous post, and they were as good as they looked. Each of them was the Platonic ideal of a strawberry-- perfect in shape and color, exactly as a illustration of a strawberry would look. Normally, at home, the strawberries at the bottom of the container are bruised and maybe even beginning to rot, but each of these strawberries was perfect.

I also went to the Italian specialities booth, where the man working the counter is friendly, makes jokes, and explains the dishes he has available in French, and then realizes that I am a foreigner and explains again in English. A couple of days ago I bought a small game bird from him, already cooked, along with some carrots and onions it had been cooked with. Tonight I bought two tomatoes stuffed with veal and Italian ham, which I had at home with rice, sauteed onions, and green beans, followed by a bowl of those strawberries and a piece of dark chocolate.

This afternoon for lunch I stopped in a local bakery and bought a sandwich for about three dollars. The sandwiches here are much more bread than they are anything else-- this one had just a few thin slices of salami and sliced pickles in it, and today for the first time I understood why. The bread was so delicious-- this was the bakery that my landlord had told me is the best in the neighborhood-- that the sandwich filling is just a flavor accent.

Pretty soon I'll work up enough courage to do some shopping at the cheese booth...
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Sunday, October 22, 2006

Reporting from the Iberian Chapter of the New York Mets Fan Club

I left New York with Mary-Jo on October 6th for a two-week trip to Europe--Paris, Barcelona, Madrid--having first circled the date of our return on the calendar: October 21st, when I fully believed my New York Mets would begin the World Series against the hated Yankees.

Now that date has come and I am blogging from the vast, elegant, ultra-high-tech Madrid airport as we wait for our flight home. I'm looking forward to sleeping in my own bed again. But, of course, there's no Subway Series to look forward to. First the hated Yankees were knocked out of the playoffs--swiftly and ruthlessly--by the much-maligned Tigers. And now, after sweeping the Dodgers in the first round, my Mets have been eliminated--in an excruciating, seven-game series full of plot twists and emotional turnarounds--by the Cardinals. When Mary-Jo and I get home tonight, it will be Cards-Tigers on TV--not Tom Glavine facing off against Randy Johnson.

Mets playoff appearances are reasonably rare. I've been a fan since 1962 and I can tick off every post-season series they've played from memory with ease. It was weird following this year's installment from overseas. Even in this age of international media coverage, it's very hard to pick up baseball news on television: the sports crawl on CNN International will detail a minor injury to a footballer from Birmingham before it will deign to reveal the winner of a playoff game from the American major leagues.

And for various reasons we found obstacles thrown up in the way of Internet access. I ended up paying a piratical 44 euros for two days' worth of online service at one of Spain's hoity-toitiest hotels. That's how I learned, at 8:30 on Friday morning (hunched over the laptop screen in a darkened room while Mary-Jo snoozed peacefully nearby) that Carlos Beltran had watched an unhittable third strike the night before to doom the Mets' World Series hopes until 2007--not live, but some three hours after the fact.

It may be for the best that I was forced to remain at an emotional distance from the wrenching ups-and-downs of the Cardinal series. Rather than agonizing over every questionable piece of managerial strategy by Willie Randolph, every ill-advised steal attempt or sacrifice bunt by the Mets, and every dubious ball-or-strike call by a home plate umpire, I was focused on analyzing the differences between the collections in the Picasso Museum in Paris and the one in Barcelona.

(If you have to choose, take Barcelona. We didn't get to the Picasso Museum in Malaga or any of the others that for all I know may have sprouted in the years since his death. The man was so damn prolific that there could be a Picasso Museum in every city in Europe, just as there's a Hard Rock Cafe with a signed guitar from Chuck Berry and a framed set of John Lennon lyrics.)

So maybe I won't suffer the kind of lasting, vivid heartache I long suffered when looking back on the 1973 World Series loss to the As or the shocking 1988 playoff loss to the seemingly overmatched Dodgers.

Instead I expect to spend my winter sorting through happy memories of Gaudi's Temple of Segrada Familia and the incredible Taller de Tapas in Barcelona's Barri Gotic--alongside memories from June, July, and August of run-scoring triples by Jose Reyes, gritty performances by unheralded pitchers like John Maine and Oliver Perez, spunky double-play turns by Jose Valentin, three-hit games by David Wright, and magisterial home runs off the bats of the two Carloses--rather than torturing myself over October "what-ifs."

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Thursday, October 19, 2006

Conservative Geeks Play Fantasy Games With Real Lives

By now, you've probably heard about this bit of insanity from Rick Santorum--asserting that the US hasn't been hit with another terror attack since 9/11 because the US has been following a strategy derived from the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien:
"As the hobbits are going up Mount Doom, the Eye of Mordor is being drawn somewhere else," Santorum said, describing the tool the evil Lord Sauron used in search of the magical ring that would consolidate his power over Middle-earth.

"It's being drawn to Iraq and it's not being drawn to the U.S.," Santorum continued. "You know what? I want to keep it on Iraq. I don't want the Eye to come back here to the United States."
I don't consider Santorum's statement insane because I disparage analogies to The Lord of the Rings. (Actually, I'm amazed and impressed whenever any American politician makes a semi-coherent reference to any book other than the Bible.) It's because the analogy exposes yet again both the fecklessness and the inhumanity of the Bush administration's so-called "flypaper strategy" in Iraq--"We're fighting the terrorists there so we don't have to fight them here."

First, the fecklessness. In LotR, while the armies led by Aragorn are assembling for a massive though doomed, even suicidal direct attack on the gates of Mordor, the hobbit Frodo and Sam are carrying the west's true hopes for survival on their backs by sneaking up Mount Doom in hopes of destroying the One Ring in its fires.

If this is Santorum's image of our strategy against Osama bin Laden, and if the attack on Mordor is the equivalent of the invasion of Iraq, my question is: What is the real-world counterpart of the mission of Frodo and Sam? Is there some kind of secret mission being undertaken by little hairy-footed CIA operatives that is going to decisively win the war on terror? If so, hasn't Santorum assisted the enemy by revealing it publicly?

And in any case, does it really make sense (in the real world, not the world of fantasy) to think that Osama would be so "distracted" by the war in Iraq that his "eye" would overlook a secret assault upon himself? Does anyone think, for example, that Osama has reduced his personal bodyguard because he is focused on the war in Iraq instead?

It's fun to imagine that the war on terror is some kind of sword-and-sorcery board game, but the analogy falls apart after about ten seconds' worth of scrutiny.

Then, the inhumanity. This has two parts. First, the inhumanity to our own troops. Santorum's analogy implies that our 130,000 soldiers in Iraq aren't serving any actual purpose. They're in the Middle East merely as a feint, to distract Osama from the real, hobbit-led assault (whatever and wherever this might be). Which means that all the talk about democracy-building, staying the course, etc. etc., is just a lot of phony propaganda. That's an interesting bit of information which the senator might want to share when he next meets with the families of servicemen and -women stationed in Iraq.

But this pales, in fact, next to the inhumanity to Iraq. Recently the blogosphere and the MSM have been debating whether the deaths due to our invasion can be pegged at 600,000 or at merely 200,000 to 300,000. But either way, what exactly gives us the right to pick a country and launch a war there--killing hundreds of thousands of civilians in the process--merely as a ploy, in order to distract an enemy from our real purposes elsewhere?

I find it deeply scary how unserious these people are--I mean the Bush administration and its supporters in Congress. You'd think that they would give a few minutes' genuine thought (not just role-playing) to decisions with life-or-death consequences for thousands of people, including not just Iraqis but their fellow Americans. So you'd think--but think again.

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Monday, October 16, 2006

The World--At Last--Meets Muhammad Yunus

By now, you have probably heard that Muhammad Yunus, founder of the Grameen Bank, has won the Nobel Prize for Peace. This is wonderful news for many reasons.

Yunus's invention of "microcredit" has helped improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of rural families in Bangladesh and throughout the third world.

It has helped lift thousands of villages out of poverty, and has done so in a way that enhances their independence and dignity rather than dimiinishing them.

It has empowered women, who receive the vast majority of the loans administered by the Grameen Bank--no small thing in a Muslim country.

And it has accomplished all these things in a sustainable fashion, through an economic program that is self-supporting and even profitable, not reliant upon developed-world charity.

Best of all, the Nobel committee has wisely chosen to make this award not at the end of Professor Yunus's career but at a time when the money and, still more, the worldwide publicity associated with it can do a lot to help expand the work of Yunus and Grameen Bank.

In the last couple of months, when people have asked me about my upcoming writing projects, and I've mentioned that I hope to be working with Muhammad Yunus on a new book about the next phase of his economic development work, the vast majority of people have stared at me blankly and said, "Muhammad who?" Hopefully the Nobel Prize will make Professor's Yunus's name much more widely known and respected--as it obviously deserves to be.

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Tuesday, October 10, 2006

It's Better Than Being Waterboarded . . . Carnival of the Liberals #23!

After three decades in the publishing business, at last I get the chance to test my editorial chops on some of the smartest voices in the progressive blogosphere. The results are in, and here they are--ten posts that make up Carnival of the Liberals #23, and a varied collection they are.

Given what's been in the news lately, you might expect such topics as Foleygate, the suspension of civil liberties, the legalization of torture, and the shredding of the US Constitution would be prominent in this week's Carnival--and you'd be right. But there are other treats in store, written in formats ranging from satirical dialogue to poetry. Do yourself a favor--turn off the cell phone for the next twenty minutes and spend the time perusing the posts below. You'll have fun and maybe even learn a thing or two in the process.

Let's start with my personal favorite of all the submissions I received this week. As a longtime publishing professional, I was fascinated to read in Joshua Rosenau's Thoughts From Kansas about the late, great Fred Melcher--publisher, political activist, and friend of both Joshua and Robert Frost. Joshua's post is not a political position paper or diatribe but a loving personality sketch of a true humanist--a bit of marvelously "liberal" writing in the original sense of the word. Highly recommended.

Ever wished you could find a blog that combined liberal satire with NFL predictions? Me neither. But now that I've discovered Brian Tarcy's WhatZgonnahappen.com, I realize that this is exactly what the world has been waiting for. Read Brian's adroitly snarky post and find out what George W. Bush and Terrell Owens have in common.

At Barry's Lieba's Staring at Empty Pages, you'll find a cogently argued explanation of the problem with the Bush's administration's position on habeas corpus. I suggest you read it before the government gets the disintegration units into operation (and if you don't understand the reference, you really need to read Barry's diary).

Over at Ken Goldstein's The 13th Story, there's a thoughtful post about religious discrimination: How do we really define it? Where are the right places to draw lines? Ken doesn't claim to have all the answers . . . but he is raising some of the right questions.

Interested in reading a bit of tomorrow's news today? Check out this frightening story at Avant News, a website worth bookmarking as your source for accurate, reliable information about the future. It puts a Twilight-Zonesque spin on the definition of "illegal enemy combatants"--one that might make even unreconstructed Republicans think twice about dismantling the Constitution.

Speaking of a fresh perspective on events, Marcella Chester's abyss2hope shows how, in a strange way, the recent Keith Olbermann anthrax scare illustrates how narrow the gap can sometimes be between the terrorist sensibility and our own.

And here is another eye-opener and mind-changer. If you think of business interests and the common good as being permanently and intrinsically opposed, think again. As MBA student Vihar Sheth explains in this important diary on his blog green/rising, for-profit social ventures are a new and growing phenomenon from the world of business--with Google one of the companies in the forefront. Yes, it's possible to "do good" and "do well" at the same time.

Danielle at Aridni is another business maven with a myth to explode--in this case, the myth that Republican administrations are good for the national economy (as well as your personal finances). The title of her post says it all (well, most of it): "If you want money to work for you, vote Democrat!" When she's right, she's right!

If you're like me, you've been wondering how the Democrats will manage to make the Mark Foley page scandal backfire on them. Well, wonder no more. Blogger Jon Swift explains in a post written with tongue and perhaps other body parts planted firmly in cheek.

Finally, the shortest but one of the most eloquent posts of this or any Carnival, courtesy of Mad Kane's Political Madness. Thankfully Mad Kane isn't getting paid by the word . . .

Have fun, everybody, and see you in two weeks for Carnival of the Liberals #24. It's at Scott Brown's Perspectives of a Nomad.

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Thursday, October 05, 2006

David Brooks: Foleygate Is Eve Ensler's Fault

With his usual gift for analogies that obfuscate and distract rather than illuminate, David Brooks in today's New York Times (behind the firewall, of course), draws the following comparison:
This is a tale of two predators. The first is a congressman who befriended teenage pages. He sent them cajoling instant messages asking them to describe their sexual habits, so he could get his jollies.

The second is a secretary, who invited a 13-year-old girl from her neighborhood into her car and kissed her. Then she invited the girl up to her apartment, gave her some vodka, took off her underwear and gave her a satin teddy to wear.

Then she had sex with the girl, which was interrupted when the girl's mother called. Then she made the girl masturbate in front of her and taught her some new techniques.

The first predator, of course, is Mark Foley, the Florida congressman. The second predator is a character in Eve Ensler's play, "The Vagina Monologues." . . . But why is one sexual predator despised and the other celebrated?
Brooks devotes the rest of his column to a pretentious response to this question, claiming that two moral visions are at war for control of our society. One, "expressive individualism," exonerates sexual predation, while an older code, which emphasizes "social roles," condemns it.

Hey, David, I know you've been working hard lately to burnish your credentials as a Deep Thinker, researching all those pseudo-scientific columns about how brain chemistry explains why you and your friends make so much more money than most of the rest of us. But answering your question is a lot easier than you seem to think. Just consider two fairly obvious facts:

1. Mark Foley is a real person. The characters in Eve Ensler's play are not. The power of drama often leads us to temporarily suspend our moral beliefs, as you know if you've ever found yourself rooting for the criminals while watching a caper movie. Would an audience member who applauds the fictional seductress in the play be equally tolerant if a real-life seductress behaved the same with the audience member's own daughter? I doubt it. That's the difference between fiction and reality, which most people instinctively understand.

2. If you nonetheless insist on comparing the real Congressman Foley with the fictitious Ensler character, then consider this: Foley works for us. He was elected by American voters who pay his salary and whose interests he is supposed to represent. Foley used the opportunities available through his office to make sexual advances to young men over whom he exercised professional and personal power. This makes his behavior ipso facto exploitative. None of these factors apply to the Ensler character.

Which is why we care about Mark Foley's depradations--and not those of the make-believe figure whom Brooks apparently regards as such a significant emblem of cultural decay.

It all seems pretty obvious to me. Unfortunately, the obvious explanation puts the emphasis on Foley's hypocrisy and abuse of power--which is exactly what Brooks and his fellow conservatives would rather have us forget about. Instead, he'd prefer we think about some portentous "threat" to the "wider ecology" of "the shared moral order" represented by a character in an off-Broadway play.

Hence the necessity for Brooks' attitudinizing. Thankfully, only a handful of intellectuals will be dumb enough to take it seriously.

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Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Truly "World Wide"

First Karl in Tokyo, now me in Paris...

I'm just beginning nine months in Paris for doctoral research, and hopefully the experience will produce some good material for the blog.

Everyone in the States who heard that I would be in Paris said the same thing: "Oh, you'll have a wonderful time, Paris is so beautiful!" So far I have not seen much of the Paris of tourists, so I can't yet comment on its beauty. I am living in the tenth arrondissement, which strikes me as being akin to an outer-borough middle-class neighborhood in New York. In other words, not beautiful, per se. For now, some early impressions:

  • Despite the recent publicity, the women here are not all thin and beautifully dressed. I think this is neighborhood-specific, as when I was out in a more fashionable part of town I did see an incredible number of beautiful, thin women. The men, however, do all seem to be quite skinny.
  • Parisians are not rude-- many people have been kind to me, despite my almost total inability to speak French. The only people who have seemed annoyed with me were a postal worker (nothing new there-- the postal workers in the States almost always seem annoyed with me, and I speak English!) and a man in the metro who asked me for directions. (I would like to think that was annoyance at himself for choosing a tourist to ask for directions.) Walking on the street, the vibe has been very similar to New York, although the streets here are even more packed with people (which I love). Maybe coming from a city where people are said to be rude as well, I feel right at home.
  • The metro is amazing! Trains come quickly, the stops are quite close to one another, and I have taken some trips across town (one involving three different lines) and have never spent more than half an hour down there. The only possible downside is that the trains do not seem to be air-conditioned. I thought the New York subway in summer was surely a gateway to hell, but at least there you can usually get into an air-conditioned car. Fortunately the weather is cool here now, so I won't have to deal with that for a number of months.
  • The produce! Yesterday I went to an indoor market a few blocks from my apartment with little stalls for meat, cheese, wine, produce, etc. I have never seen such beautiful strawberries! Not to mention all the different types of mushrooms... In a similar neighborhood in New York, you're lucky if the produce isn't rotting in the neighborhood grocery store.

So far this city seems to have the good characteristics of New York that I love-- the energy, the bustle of lots of people out all the time, lots of food options all the time-- with fewer bad ones. The city itself is smaller than New York, so getting around seems easier. A few days ago I walked from the sixth arrondissement on the left bank all the way home to the tenth without any difficulty. In a few weeks I'll find out if the rumors of the Parisian love of dogs are true, when my dog Leo joins me for the rest of my stay.

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Monday, October 02, 2006

Guaranteed To Be the First Time These Two Books Have Been Mentioned in the Same Diary

So how has the Bush administration responded to Bob Woodward's new book? All you need to know is the title.

Kind of reminds me of when ballplayer Jim Bouton published his controversial book Ball Four while he was still working as a pitcher. The rest of the season, whenever he was on the mound and the count got to 3-and-2, the opposition bench jockeys would shout out, "Hey Jim, what's the name of your book?" Wonder if any reporters will have the nerve to shout out something like it during Tony Snow's next news conference . . .

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Sunday, October 01, 2006

It's Carnival Time in October

World Wide Webers is hosting Carnival of the Liberals #23! Know what a web carnival is? Familiar with the treasure trove of eloquent progressive advocacy that is Carnival of the Liberals? Great--you're ahead of the game. Clueless about either or both? Click here and learn what you've been missing.

The Carnival will be posted at noon Eastern Time on October 11th, so I am requesting all submissions by noon Eastern Time on October 10th. You can submit your favorite recent diaries either by linking here or by email addressed to cotl-submissions@carnivaloftheliberals.com.

By the way, the poster above was created in tribute to Barb Howe, the Lucky White Girl who paved the way with her own vintage carnival poster for COTL #13. Collect them all, suitable for framing.

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What do GE, Pepsi, and Toyota know that Exxon, Wal-Mart, and Hershey don't?  It's sustainability . . . the business secret of the twenty-first century.

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