• Home
  • About
  • Guest Post

    A chemical reason / If reason’s your game

    Posted by Sean at 12:44, September 5th, 2008

    To judge from the guy in the orange tie against the green background talking on television last night, I’m guessing…there’s a Protestant Leperchaun running for president of the Irish Republic? How nice.

    Of course, that wasn’t it. It was McCain halting through another speech, yet again flogging the Incumbent Protection Act of 2002 as a victory for the people, extolling the virtues of service (as defined by him and his ideological allies), thirsting for the dreaded “bipartisan cooperation” (more profitably understood in practice as “mutual enrichment through horse-trading”), and nattering moronically about “independence from foreign oil” (perhaps one of those nice free trade types in the GOP could explain to him and Palin, using Tinkertoys if necessary, the rudiments of the global economy). Since it’s de rigueur to say this to avoid seeming like an ingrate, I’ll say it: I admire the man for not buckling under torture as a POW. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make him any less of an all-around jerk.

    The jerk recognizes that we’re at war, doesn’t want to march us further toward nationalized health care, and doesn’t lust after the esteem of officials in E.U. member countries, so I’m still voting for him anyway. (Bonus factor: the press has gone even further off the groupie deep end than it was for him before. It’s not good to have an executive that the supposed watchdogs are so bent on insulating.)

    Of course, Palin’s turning out to be the wild card. Regarding her nomination itself, I agree with Connie:

    I do not yet know how entrenched she is in her social conservatism–if her social conservative beliefs are personal or if she intends to make them into political issues. Since Alaska is a social conservative state (and if socially conservative legislation is passed, it may only be done at the state level), it is difficult to know if she respects the difference at the national level.

    Yes. My hope–and as a classical liberal/free market libertarian, I’m used to having my hopes dashed, so it’s a rather wan hope–is that Palin will turn out to be the right choice for the wrong reasons. The Democrats went ga-ga for Obama despite his thin record as an executive and frantic policy zig-zagging because they loved his hope-change-healing routine and the self-righteous rush of being able to vote for a black candidate; foolishly, they didn’t see that they were giving the Republicans an engraved invitation to show that two can play at that game. I’m not going to claim that I predicted the Palin selection, but I find it amusing that people on the left are so flabbergasted that the GOP dredged up a woman politician (to provide a PC club with which to hit back at critics) with an earthy, family-oriented persona (to make her easy for Middle America to identify with) and pro-life, social-con beliefs (to appeal to pro-life social cons). If the election results see the Democrats getting rope-a-doped, well, they’ll just be getting what they bought.

    We’ll be seeing soon whether she’s able to capitalize on her own momentum. As Eric says, if she doesn’t start screwing up, the wisest way to go after her is probably going to be to paint her as a far-right ideologue, someone who not only has off-beat beliefs–Americans can be pretty forgiving of weirdos who are as polished and media-genic as Palin–but wants to impose them on Americans from on high. We’ll have to watch closely to see whether she actually does.

    Northern Exposure

    Posted by Sean at 00:18, September 4th, 2008

    I wish I were totally on board. Too many questions remain about Sarah Palin’s qualifications. I don’t mean her experience–we all know more or less the extent of that–I mean her inborn gift for running things, for not backing down when challenged directly, and for learning about tough policy matters on the fly. But she has serious gravitas as a speaker that implies that she could be a redoubtable leader, and she knows how to leaven things to appear approachable. She’s doing everything right so far. I realize that those of us who want a modest, ushowy executive branch are in the minority, so her job isn’t to court us; but if it were, she would be doing everything right to this point.

    Added at 12:23: Ooh…my favorite pit-bull, owned by one of my favorite people, agrees!

    “If there’s one thing I know, it’s how to wear the proper clothes.”

    Posted by Sean at 19:25, September 3rd, 2008

    Over the weekend, Deep Glamour posted a Q&A with the girls from Go Fug Yourself. Too bad they weren’t asked to put their claws into Madge, which they’re notably good at doing–and they also apparently think Daniel Craig is hotter than Sean Connery?!–but it’s a fun interview nonetheless. Interesting that they both see Grand Central as glamourous. I love the place–don’t get me wrong–but I’ve spent all my time in New York living five blocks from it, so I tend to associate it more with weaving through people walking through the main concourse or vying with other customers for cheese at the market than with thrilling rendezvous.


    Posted by Sean at 13:42, September 2nd, 2008

    No, I’m still not dead, and yes, I’ve been posting intermittently–thanks to those who’ve asked after me. Lots and lots to think about. If you want to know what I think about the Palin selection, a few scattershot lunch-hour things come to mind:

    1. I’ve been saying until I’m going grey that I don’t think of the president as the rainmaker- or rockstar-in-chief. I’m doing quite well at finding meaning in my life, prioritizing which goals I want to pursue and which will remain wistful dreams, and staying informed so that I can do my best as a man and citizen. I don’t need the president to be an inspirational leader and keep me roused from my complacencies or any of that nonsense. You’re barking up the wrong tree if you expect me to flip out about the Palin nomination because she’s not a super-cool Somebody.

      There’s room to maneuver there–this is not a disaster on par with the Harriet Miers nomination, I submit. Miers was being tapped for a job that required evaluating arguments according to a pretty well-defined knowledge set. There was little indication that she had that knowledge set; she appeared to have devoted her career, instead, to developing her managerial and networking skills. But the job of president or vice-president is somewhat different. Wonk-ish presidents can do disastrous things; talented but untested presidents have been known to learn as they go.

      Understand, Palin is not necessarily the type of Nobody I might have envisioned for the Washington Outsider president of my dreams. I would have preferred someone with long experience in the private sector, accumulating a track record of decades dealing successfully with the ups and downs of market forces and competing parties and priorities in multi-national corporations. And trying to inflate Palin’s experience into something it’s not–her state totally borders on Canada, so she’s practically the Secretary of State!–is ridiculous and is making some Republican commentators look like total idiots. As Leslie Watkins says at Virginia’s place, we have “unclean data” now, but to the extent that we can judge at the moment, there seems to be a good possibility that Palin has the raw materials for and that her learning curve is sufficiently steep for the Executive branch. We’ll certainly see, won’t we?

    2. To all my European and Europhile friends who are always bitching that the American electoral process drags on and on pointlessly, and that it would be so much better if we limited campaigning to just a few weeks before the election–well, you’re kind of getting your wish, aren’t you? We’ve got a candidate who’s coming in out of nowhere two-odd months before 4 November, and she’ll be vetted without having beamed at us from a thousand press conferences and campaign ads since 2007. Don’t even think about screeching that this is a ridiculous situation because there’s not enough time to appraise her accurately.
    3. OMFG, her husband is hot.
    4. Attacking the Palins’ daughter is really, really, really unwise, and I hope the left-liberals who think they’re helping Obama by doing so will wake up. We are not talking about Amy Carter here. Bristol Palin is a teenager (so most Americans want to protect her) who will soon be a young married woman (so most Americans will identify with and admire her). The more good grace with which she and her parents respond to attempts to make her into a symbol of conservative hypocrisy, the more voters will be turned off. I’m not saying that because I want Obama to win; I’m saying it because I think we all benefit when both competitors in a presidential race bring it and don’t screw things up for themselves. If you reflexively think this girl’s life is compromised for good because she’ll be busy rearing a child instead of applying to Yale, you are going to lose huge swathes of the electorate.
    5. The title refers to this Cocteau Twins song, not to anything you speakers of German might think:


    Posted by Sean at 20:44, August 25th, 2008

    Virginia Postrel and her collaborators’ new blog is now live for real. Interestingly, if not surprisingly, they chose a purple color scheme. (I wonder what cemented purple in the imaginations of so many world cultures as the color of royal exclusivity and aspiration.) For some reason, the blog reminded me of this Kylie video:

    The video isn’t dominated by purple–though it is shocking pink + blue, so it’s one shade of purple split into its components. But it does have a female aviator suspended in glamourous unattainability, and it has dreamy wisps of smoke in the external shots of the spaceship. And it’s an excuse to post about Kylie, which I can never resist anyway.

    This world is yours and mine

    Posted by Sean at 19:46, August 16th, 2008

    Time to leave for dinner, but I can’t let the day go by without saying…

    Happy birthday, Madge. You drive us all bonkers, but we still love you anyway.

    Madonna’s frequently been dismissed as someone who couldn’t have gotten attention without frantically courting controversy, but many of her best songs have actually been unassuming and warmly casual.

    I’m such a fag I still listen to the Who’s That Girl? soundtrack:

    There was more to American Life than goofy rhymes about Pilates and hotties:

    Romeo and Juliet / They never felt this way, I bet:

    And if I were exiled to a desert island and only allowed one pop song, it would be…

    Only shallow

    Posted by Sean at 14:39, August 15th, 2008

    Virginia Postrel has started a new blog about glamour, in cooperation with L.A.-based journalist Kate Coe. Virginia has an excerpt from her forthcoming book in the first post.

    Title reference:


    Posted by Sean at 19:18, August 12th, 2008

    So I was waiting for the train and saw on the BBC that Olympics fans the world over had apparently gotten themselves Ashlee Simpsoned by the PRC:

    A pretty girl who won national fame after singing at the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games was only miming.

    Wearing a red dress and pigtails, Lin Miaoke charmed a worldwide audience with a rendition of “Ode to the Motherland”.

    But the singer was Yang Peiyi, who was not allowed to appear because she is not as “flawless” as nine-year-old Lin.


    This is the second “fake” story about the opening ceremony

    Viewers around the world saw a display in which 29 firework “footprints” travelled across Beijing from south to north.

    But a senior official from the Beijing organising committee (Bocog) confirmed on Tuesday that footage of the display had been produced before the big night.

    This was provided to broadcasters for “convenience and theatrical effects”, according to Wang Wei, Bocog’s executive vice-president.

    “Because of poor visibility, some previously recorded footage may have been used,” he told a daily press conference.

    I realize that the birthrate in China is not what it once was, but could a country with 1.3 billion people seriously not find a little girl with both a world-captivating voice and teeth that exceeded bureaucratic standards?


    Posted by Sean at 13:10, August 9th, 2008

    9 August is now over in Japan; mayor of Nagasaki Tomihisa Taue gave the expected speech on the anniversary of the Nagasaki bombing:

    This year is the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Dr. Takashi Nagai, a physician who dedicated himself to caring for victims of the bombing. Nagasaki mayor Tomihisa Taue cited Nagai’s words in his peace address: “In war there is neither victory nor defeat. What there is is only destruction.” He also addressed the world: “Without the abolition of nuclear weapons, there is no future for humankind.” As he did last year, he sought from the Japanese government leadership toward the abolition of nuclear weapons and the codification in law of the three principles of non-nuclearization.

    The three principles are that Japan will not (1) possess, (2) create, or (3) import nuclear armaments.

    I know I harp on this every year, but the fact–in this case as in so many others–is that suffering does not necessarily confer wisdom. The image of Japanese people as innocent burn victims and saintly doctors running about trying to alleviate suffering is not inaccurate in and of itself, but it does lack context. By the time of the Nagasaki bombing, the Japanese Empire had executed its plan of overrunning as much of East and Southeast Asia as it could get its hands on, figuring that if and when it lost the war, it could expect to bargain to retain at least some of its occupied territories. It rejected the Potsdam Declaration, even when it was clear that it could not possibly win the Pacific War. It tried to see whether it could leverage itself a more advantageous deal by approaching Moscow. It balked at surrendering even after the Hiroshima bombing. The suicidal belligerence of the Japanese in combat was well known, as was their egregious treatment of conquered peoples and prisoners of war, so a ground invasion promised to expend even more men and resources on a war that the Japanese knew they had already lost. Japan in 1945 was an extremely tenacious enemy that warranted an extreme response; that it is now peaceably integrated into the world economy as an industrial and consumer powerhouse does not change that.

    Added on 11 August: Rick Moran of Right Wing Nuthouse posted yesterday at Pajamas Media:

    The stories of survivors are harrowing — flames everywhere, people walking by whose flesh had been ripped off their bodies by heat and the blast, the inability to find loved ones. All the ghastliness of Dante’s Hell and a Gothic horror novel rolled into one. We pity them and ache for what they went through that horrible day.

    But once –just once– I would like to hear the horror stories of the men and women of Pearl Harbor as counterpoint to the suffering of the Japanese and a reminder of who started the war and how they did it. I want to hear from those who can tell equally horrific tales of death and destruction. How Japanese aircraft strafed our men with machine gun fire while they were swimming for their lives through flaming oil spills, the result of a surprise attack against a nation with whom they were at peace. Or how the hundreds of men trapped in the USS Arizona slowly suffocated over 10 days as divers frantically tried to cut through the superstructure and rescue their comrades.

    Perhaps we might even ask surviving POWs to bear witness to their ordeal in Japanese prison camps — surely as brutal, inhuman, and gruesome an atrocity as has ever been inflicted on enemy soldiers.

    While we’re at it, I am sure there are thousands of witnesses who would want to testify about how the Japanese army raped its way across Asia. This little discussed aspect of the war is a non-event for the most part in Japanese histories. But the millions of women who suffered unspeakable mistreatment by the Japanese army deserve a hearing whenever the tragedy of Hiroshima is remembered.

    Yes, no more Hiroshimas. But to take the atomic bombing of Japan totally out of context and use it to highlight one nation or one city’s suffering is morally offensive. The war with Japan, with its racial overtones on both sides as well as the undeniable cruelty and barbarity by the Japanese military, should have been ended the second it was possible to do so. Anything less makes the moral arguments surrounding the use of the atomic bomb an exercise in sophistry.

    Yes. He also has much more background about the decision to use the atom bombs.


    Posted by Sean at 22:37, August 7th, 2008

    My, reporters can be uncritical. The Asahi reports that this year, the mayor of Nagasaki will cite the opinions of prominent Americans in calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons:

    In calling for peace at the memorial ceremony, Taue will discuss proposals by Kissinger and three other key U.S. figures who, concerned by nuclear proliferation, have done an about-turn and called for the abolition of the (world’s) “deadliest weapons.”

    “In the United States, the largest nuclear power, those who formerly led nuclear policies are speaking out (against such weapons),” Taue says. “I have decided to take it up so I can more strongly appeal to the United States for what Nagasaki has long sought.”

    Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the world’s only cities to experience atomic bombing, are trying to press the nuclear powers more aggressively for action to eliminate their arsenals.

    Okay, fine. But then there’s this:

    The Bush administration has refused to ratify the CTBT.

    But the two men vying to replace him have both made clear they have different goals.

    “We’ll make the goal of eliminating all nuclear weapons a central element in our nuclear policy,” Democratic Sen. Barack Obama said July 16.

    Earlier on May 27, Republican Sen. John McCain said former President Ronald Reagan’s dream of seeing nuclear weapons banished from the Earth “is my dream, too.”

    You remember Ronald Reagan, right? He helped hasten the collapse of the U.S.S.R. by dramatically cutting back the U.S. defense program.

    I mean, yeah, sure, a world without nuclear weapons was Reagan’s dream. I’m sure it’s McCain’s. It’s mine, too. We all have plenty of dreams. But reality is where we live, and the McCain speech referred to by the Asahi reporters does not indicate that the mayors can expect much from him:

    Our highest priority must be to reduce the danger that nuclear weapons will ever be used. Such weapons, while still important to deter an attack with weapons of mass destruction against us and our allies, represent the most abhorrent and indiscriminate form of warfare known to man. We do, quite literally, possess the means to destroy all of mankind. We must seek to do all we can to ensure that nuclear weapons will never again be used.

    While working closely with allies who rely on our nuclear umbrella for their security, I would ask the Joint Chiefs of Staff to engage in a comprehensive review of all aspects of our nuclear strategy and policy. I would keep an open mind on all responsible proposals. At the same time, we must continue to deploy a safe and reliable nuclear deterrent, robust missile defenses and superior conventional forces that are capable of defending the United States and our allies. But I will seek to reduce the size of our nuclear arsenal to the lowest number possible consistent with our security requirements and global commitments. Today we deploy thousands of nuclear warheads. It is my hope to move as rapidly as possible to a significantly smaller force.

    I’m sure Obama recognizes this, too, BTW–I’m just not focusing on him because no one tried to demonstrate that he was a nuclear abolitionist by comparing him with Ronald Reagan. Sheesh.

    The fact is that nuclear weapons now exist, and we need to maintain them as one of our options in case we again encounter an enemy that’s like, well, the Japanese Empire.

    Yes, Japan knew that it could no longer win the war by August; but it had flouted the Potsdam Declaration and continued to figure that, if it held out, it would be allowed to retain some of the territories it occupied (and perhaps avoid being occupied itself). Who knows how many more Allied personnel would have died if it had come down to a ground invasion? Japan is now a peaceable society; back then it was not.

    The anniversaries are a good opportunity to think about the unprecedented destruction the bombings caused and the agonizing ethical and moral decisions that led up to them. Hiroshima and Nagasaki suffered horribly–but that doesn’t make Japan the victim in the war; nor does it make complete nuclear disarmament practicable.