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It's a fine line between living for the moment and being a sociopath.

Patricia B McConnell: For The Love Of A Dog.

Pema Chodron: The Places That Scare You

Daniel Wallace: Mr Sebastian & the Negro Magician

All paths lead to the same goal: to convey to others what we are. --Pablo Neruda

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Location: Oxfordshire, United Kingdom

100 things about me

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Monday, November 28, 2005

Too little of the best thing for a few weeks

I've been traveling too much recently: last week in Canada, missions to the Netherlands and Italy, and a silly trip to India -- three days out for one day on the ground to give two speeches.

Today, however, it's Flame-Haired Angel who flies. I won't see her again for three weeks. Is it because we've only been married for four years that we feel each other's absences so intensely? Or, perhaps because we married so late we are more aware than some how little life there is to share, even if we are both granted healthy longevity.

As she flies off to her original home and her family, in advance of Christmas, we're both happy she'll have this extra time to soak up all that only one's old home place can provide. Yet, we feel even these few days of not being in the home of each other's shuffling and rattling around in the blessing that is close proximity.

So, no more Flame-Haired Angel for a few weeks, except the thin strand of her light that travels in photons down the phone line. Although I will distract myself with the affections of indulgent friends, I will eat poorly, drink too much and stay up too late. Not because I can't take care of myself, but because her absence is like a pall. I hide from it. Eating means eating without her. Sleeping means confronting the deserted bed. Drinking means not hearing the lyrics of what she smells and tastes in the wine, and it means not having her to kiss after the indulgent second glass.

I could write some ode to the joy of reunions -- ours is, I'm thankful, but weeks away -- but it would be insincere, no matter how true. Because, as I write this, her plane is taking off, and what I feel is the present forceful thrust of the engines pushing her away.

Is there anything so simply ridiculous as separated lovers pining for one another? And is there anything more true?


Sunday, November 27, 2005

Snow came to Paris on Friday, and came back with friends on Saturday.

Flame-Haired Angel, hot climate girl that she is, squealed and jumped up and down looking out the window. A long romantic walk and snow frolic followed, complete with hot-chocolate destination.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Hey, hey, hey!

It's my one-hundredth post!

(Does happy blog milestone dance.)


Friday, November 18, 2005

This isn't the real America

He was probably one of the worst US Presidents of the 20th Century, but as a man, probably one of the best to hold the office.

Jimmy Carter in the LA Times a few days ago.

(Hat tip to Margot.)

This just in: I want you to think I'm under siege

By far the largest talk radio audiences in America flock to right wing programs.

Fox News outstrips the viewership of its closest rival, CNN, by as much as 2 to 1.

The majority of the most popular political blogs are right wing.

Given that popularity, it seems odd that if you tune in to any of these outlets you're likely to hear someone going off on a diatribe about the "main stream media". It goes something like this: "This piece of bad news unfavorable to the cause of just conservatives everywhere is a cyncial, beat-up distortion by the "main stream media", that bogeyman with a systematic liberal bias that consistently misleads the nation."

What's wrong with this picture is more than a little obvious. You see, when you hold the largest audiences on radio, cable news and the political blogosphere you *ARE* the main stream media!

I don't begrudge the right wing its media success. I hate it, but I can't deny they've earned it. Right wing outlets have out-competed others for the only media influence prizes that matter: the three Rs of ratings, readership and repeat visits. They have won a bigger audience in an open marketplace for attention. (...with only a few exceptions where they tilted the market in their favor, like the Board manipulations at PBS.) The ears and eyes they have today, they won in open combat.

Of course, they still carp about the (declining) viewership of the nightly free-to-air news broadcasts. But it's hard to assign bleeding-heart status to Viacom, General Electric and the Disney Corporation, the owners of CBS, NBC and ABC respectively.

So, you're pretty much left (no pun intended) with assaulting the New York Times and the Washington Post for having a liberal bias. Not that you'd have noticed one from the Times' sycophantic pre-war coverage. Besides, so few people in America read newspapers anymore that it hardly matters.

So, neocons, if you want to point a finger at the media machine that influences the main stream of America, congratulations. You'll find your finger pointing at, well, you.

More poignantly, however, the "main stream media" bias trope is only one soggy vegetable in the right's favorite rhetorical soup. What I'm talking about is the right wing's penchant for portaying itself as persecuted. The right loves to play the martyr, the underdog, the embattled innocent, just barely -- but righteously! -- surviving the slings and arrows of its enemies' onslaughts.

The coalition of odd bedfellows we collectively call the right wing plays victim better than your worst co-dependent ex-girlfriend. To whit:
  • The main stream media is abusing its power and is biased against us! (...even though we have some of the biggest media audiences in the country.)

  • The Godless, anti-Christian masses are driving America toward Hell! (...even though every poll shows Christians to be a clear majority.)

  • Activist judges are a relentless undemocratic force that must be stopped! (...even though we've controlled the judiciary committee for how long, now?)

  • Liberals are ruining America! (...even though we control the White House, the Senate, the House of Reps, a majority of Supreme Court seats, and 28 state governorships.)
"We're being marginalized and we're full of righteous indignation!"

Except, of course, they're neither. Indignation, maybe. Righteous not so much.

But don't expect the right wing to give up its pesecution complex any time soon. You might call it paranoia; they call it galvanizing rhetoric. It's both effective and deeply embedded in what makes the right wing who it is. They are at their most bubbly and effervescent when joyfully united by an enemy. Even if the enemy isn't real, it's existence failing to be borne out by the facts, no matter. Claim you're under siege and that something must be done!

Invent an enemy if you must. Without the Soviet Union, you gotta get a bit creative. Oh, wait... No, you don't. There are the terrorists to worry about. Unfortunately, it's been a while since they attacked us close enough to home to sufficiently scare people, so they're of diminished use to the pundits.

Main stream media! Biased reporting! Liberal journalists!


But, you know, when you own the most popular media outlets and your poster boy still craters to a 36% approval rating, it might just be because nobody believes his shit anymore, and not because of all those nasty liberal reporters out to get you.


See "The End of News" by Michael Massing.


Thursday, November 17, 2005

Not What You Know, But What You Do With It.

Fresh soundbites over the last two days suggest new lines have been drawn in the battle for credulity between Republicans and Democrats. Unfortunately, those lines encircle territory that history will assess as nearly irrelevant. The mud flung in coming days will miss, completely, posterity's most likely reason to ask, "What on earth were they thinking?"

The next episode of tussle over the Iraq debacle is shaping up to turn on whether BushCo lied to get us into the war (Democratic positioning) or whether Democrats had the same intel as the White House when they joined in authorizing the invasion (Republican positioning).

These views each have their implications. If the President misleads the nation into a war, that's something approaching treason. Alternately, if Democrats supported the war on a transparent and identical "fact" base to that used by the White House, they're going to have to do better messaging than "Bush is bad" to raise their credibility in opposition.


What's riling is that, as important as each of those points is, they blithely steamroller an issue of far more profound gravity. It's an issue unlikely to get mentioned because there's no quick political capital in it. Yet, it is far more likely than either set of new talking points to haunt us through the halls of history.

It is simply this: We waged pre-emptive war. Regardless of who knew what when, regardless of whether George ignored inconveniently contradictory intelligence, and regardless of why the Democrats were complicit in the march to battle, we chose to attack Iraq on the justification that they might attack us or our allies in the future.

In using this justifiation to legitimize and pursue pre-emptive attack, we opened the ultimate Pandora's Box of the rhetoric of war: we endorsed attacking anyone we want to, whenever we decide they're a *potential* threat. We made it policy.

We were attacked on September 11, of course. But as a justification for war against Iraq, this simply does not stand up, because (astounding that we need to remind ourselves of this) Iraq didn't attack us. It was a nation ruled by an evil despot (one of many), a nation that mightily pissed us off (again, a long list), and a nation that liked thumbing its nose at us. It was not, however, a nation that had attacked us, and its previous aggression against our allies had been settled for a decade.

Regardless of what the White House and the Senate knew or didn't know, our declaration of hostilities -- calling for the deaths of thousands of American soldiers and tens of thousands of Iraqis -- was unprecedented in recent history. It represented a dramatic doctrinal shift that would have been thought indefensible by previous administrations.

I find thought expreriments and analogies from America's recent history useful because we have, in the past, defined right and wrong differently than has become vogue in the last six years. So, imagine:

...If Japan perceived, in 1941, that America might, at some point in the future, attack Japan or its allies, was Pearl Harbor justified?

...If the Soviet Union, in the 60s or 70s, took the quite realistic view that the United States (a) had weapons of mass destruction, (b) had shown its willingness to use them (ie, against Japan), and (c) might consider using them against the Soviet Union in the future (as reflected in known US military strategy), would the Soviet Union have been justified in launching an offensive war on the United States?

To be clear, I am no pacifist. I cheered when W's dad kicked Saddam's sorry ass out of Kuwait. While I was suspicious of Bush 1's motives -- a la a popular bumper sticker of the day: "What if Kuwait's main export were broccoli?" -- I had no doubt about his course of action. Asshole attacked our ally, and we showed him what having the United States as an ally means. For the same reason, I was perfectly happy to pursue Osama into Afghanistan, even if most of the September 11 hijackers were Saudis.

How different is either of those scenarios from waging a pre-emptive war? Philosophically, it's night and day, chalk and cheese, frogs and horses. Realistically, the difference appears to be one genetic generation and an elapsed time of twelve years.

So, as this messaging skirmish between the Dems and the GOP unfolds over the next weeks, let's all remember that everyone thought Saddam had WMDs: the Hawks, the Doves, even the French. Let's also remember that:

1. Everyone was wrong. So, those who say "If we hadn't, he would've" get shelved under fiction.

2. What we did with our belief was become exactly the kind of military aggressor we thought evil Saddam was threatening to become. We just did it to him first.

As alluded, we won't hear about this in either side's talking points. Both parties signed up for pre-emptive war, so neither can score points from high ground they can't claim. But when history assesses whether or not this was a just war, this will be the issue at the center of what I reckon will be a very short debate.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

100 Things About Me

If you haven't seen this New Yorker cartoon, you don't hang out in many blogs.

A good test of blogger sanity: Do they love this cartoon? It embraces the flip-side of the warning my friend Rob gave me when I started my blog: "Don't be surprised if the reaction you get is ringing silence."

It's a struggle for some bloggers (read "me") to resolve the question of whether blogs are social or narcissistic. One stream of thought is that only the self-absorbed would write a theoretically endless stream of stuff that an audience of potentially no-one will read. Others, of course, call that a diary.

Another school says that blogs are inherently social: like inviting everyone to your house for a party. Except without the beer. And doing it every time you fart.

I think most bloggers bear this dire existential crisis by ignoring it altogether. I, however, have taken a braver stance. Entirely immune to false dichotomy, I'm dead certain both views are right. Blogs are both social *and* narcissitic. They're social to the limited degree that verbose loners sitting solo in the dark yearning to have greater intercourse (ahem) with the world can do so without paying by the minute. And they're narcissistic to the degree that anyone who yearns for a creative outlet of any kind disappears up their own fundamental orifice.

But there's one thing I've seen bloggers do that chucks out all pretense of creativity or social motivation and throws down the gauntlet of shameless narcissism as a badge of honor. The shy ones call it autobiography, but the honest label it more plainly: "100 Things About Me".

Damn it all. I'm in!

So, here, in one stream-of-consciousness draft (if I can pull it off), are (subject to revision)...

100 (or so) Things About Me

1. I wear an old, ratty Mickey Mouse t-shirt to bed when it's cold. (Since writing this, I have retired the t-shirt. Mickey is now framed, holes and all, and hangs above my desk at home.)

2. My wife and I met on a blind date. It didn't work out. We got together eight years later.

3. Before we were a couple, I tried to set my wife up with one of my close friends. Separately, I introduced her to a man who became one of her tragic loves.

4. My relationship with my wife makes me feel like the luckiest man alive.

5. I'm a good husband.

6. I know I could be a better one.

7. I have a goatee because my wife thinks it makes me look like a pirate and she, uh, likes that.

8. My left ear is pierced twice, to boot.

9. I have two tiny tattoos. Neither is in a racy place. You would never guess what either one is.

10. I'm convinced I'm going to die young, but the time for doing that is quickly slipping past.

11. I'm quite conservative in many ways, just not politically.

12. Most of the big risks I've taken in my life I took out of fear: fear of regret, fear of what sort of person I'd be if I didn't grasp opportunity when it came.

13. Deciding to get married was the biggest decision of my life, but it didn't feel even a little like a risk. I swore I wouldn't walk down the aisle unless I could do it with zero doubt. I worried that might mean I'd never marry. It didn't. Take heart.

14. I have been blessed beyond reason, and far beyond deserving, in both love and friendship.

15. When I love someone, it sticks. It doesn't fade with absence or flee from a fight. Only one person I've ever loved really faded from my heart. It was mutual.

16. I started playing drums when I was 5 years old, and formally trained as a jazz drummer for years.

17. I ended up somewhat outside the jazz genre, playing in bands called things like Dave Master & The Baters, and Running Naked.

18. I hadn't played in more than fifteen years, then did a gig in Bangkok a couple of years back, and raced straight back home and bought a new kit.

19. Steve Gadd, John Bonham, Dave Garibaldi and Butch Miles are my favorite drummers.

20. I was sexually precocious. I lost my virginity quite young, with a much older woman. The relationship didn't last, but while it did, she was a gentle, wise, open and daring teacher. The experience was wholly positive, both physically and emotionally, and I'm certain it shaped the central, positive place sex has held in my life since.

21. My Master's thesis was about pornography and erotica, but I'm a social scientist, so it was full of statistics.

22. The biggest age gap between me and a lover was 17 years.

23. My gums are receding prematurely and they tell me there's not a damn thing I can do about it.

24. My first name is Robert. I go by my middle name because there was a time when just about every man in my extended family was named Robert. Something had to give.

25. I was an asshole to three of the first four women I really loved. The fourth was an asshole to me.

26. I have been extremely blessed by friendship and love all my life.

27. I used to live in Paris.

28. I didn't take it for granted.

29. I have lived in five six seven countries on four continents (in reverse order: Mongolia, UK, France, China, Australia, United States, Canada) and have travelled in 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 more.

30. I credit my father with instilling my strong -- some have said over-developed -- sense of justice. It is now the source of all the things on which he and I most deeply disagree.

31. He also gave me respect for learning, a love of words, the value I place on being a gentleman, and his example gave me the courage to travel.

32. I often see myself as an extension of him.

33. I think this would shock the shit out of him.

34. I'm a passionate baker. You know I care about you if I show up with bread or cookies.

35. I've been blessed with lots of great teachers in life. I've also had five great mentors: Mom, Dad, Lawrence Rosenfeld, Donald Simpson, and Ron Spithill.

36. I used to work for a large high-tech multinational. Now I work for a big mining company.

37. I used to be a management consultant.

38. When I was a management consultant, and used to fly at the front of the plane a lot, I sat next to Bob Dylan once and, another time, across from Rod Stewart (who was traveling with his then wife, Rachel Hunter). Both were much uglier than any photo of them you've ever seen.

39. I used to be one of Qantas's top frequent flyers. I miss the foo-foo treatment.

40. I once sat at the next table from Ronald Reagan at breakfast. It was long after he was in office, and he was pretty out of it.

41. I revere the political philosophy in the US Constitution and Bill of Rights.

42. I get choked up at several of the monuments in Washington DC.

43. I also revere the example set by Jesus of Nazareth. I think few follow it. Including most Christians.

44. I love dogs. The way some people go for babies, I go for dogs.

45. But not those little rat-sized ones you can step on.

46. My last dog was named Steve. He was beautiful and epileptic.

47. I have been a passionate photographer, and I will be again, but I am not, now.

48. I haven't taken a serious picture in two years and I miss it terribly, but the muse went out for a paper and hasn't come back.

49. I have a photography website that sorely needs updating: www.humanimages.com

50. I own nine ten cameras.

51. I wish I could draw.

52. I adore the work of Jock Sturges and George Tice.

53. I have a lot of fountain pens. I'm finicky about nibs and ink flow.

54. I always write in purple ink.

55. I'm a paper fetishist. I take the stationery from hotels and spend silly money on handmade stuff.

56. I'm a grammar pedant, but I make lots of mistakes.

57. I believe in god, but not in any conventional form of god. I believe our faculties of perception and understanding are too limited to ever fully grasp the powers that shape the universe and our lives. So, all our notions of god are egotistically reductionist. Most notions of the divine I see are undernourished by wonder and over-fed on naive certainty mistaken for faith.

58. I believe any notion of metaphysical absolute truth is arrogant. And, ultimately, dangerous.

59. I don't have a favorite car. Actually, I don't have a car. Since moving to the UK, I've had to start driving again. I hadn't missed it.

60. I used to love rollerblading in the streets of Paris.

61. I admire my sister, but I'd never say it to her like that.

62. I love my nephews very much, but am not very close to them. I'm flummoxed by how to connect with them from far away.

63. Five of my ex-girlfriends have gone on to have serious lesbian relationships. Not "experiences" mind you, but relationships.

64. My mom claims this is because I spoiled them for any other man.

65. My mom is inspiring. Most of my friends who've met her want to grow up to be like her. When she climbed the Great Wall of China, she celebrated reaching the top by flashing Mongolia.

66. I've had two step-fathers, both great guys: open and loving.

67. The only time the cops busted one of my high-school parties, my mom was sitting on the hood of a car out in the driveway with a beer in her hand and a balloon tied around her neck.

68. I like wine.

69. A lot.

70. I like throwing dinner parties. It gratifies both my nurturing, creative, social side, on the one hand, and my control freak tendencies, on the other.

71. I'm good at staying in touch with people I care about.

72. I'm in pretty close touch with four friends from high school, but almost none from college/university. Bunch from grad school, though.

73. My oldest and best friend killed himself after becoming a suspect in his wife's mysterious death. They had three sons under five years old, one of whom was named after me. No one knows what happened. We never will. No scenario is good. He was one of the best men I knew. I miss him profoundly.

74. My wife has an extraordinary talent for facilitating emotional bonds between other people.

75. I don't do any public service or volunteer work. I'd like to. I always intend to. I'm embarrassed that I don't. I spend a lot of time working for youth leadership organisations, including the world's largest student organization, AIESEC, and social entrepreneurship crucible Starting Bloc. Their missions are all about getting leverage on the world's problems by unlocking the potential of young leaders. My life is full of 23-year-olds. I feel lucky and honoured to work with them.

76. I have a huge music collection.

77. I think the winner of World's Saddest Song is a dead heat between Ferron's "Ain't Life A Brook" and the Pogues' version of "And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda".

78. I regret failing to see John Lee Hooker perform while he was alive. Ray Charles, too.

79. Bands like Trooper and Honeymoon Suite are my guilty pleasures.

80. I'm a US citizen.

81. I'm also an Australian citizen.

82. Before I became an Australian citizen, Jesse Helms helped get me Australian residency.

83. I have scuba dived a lot, but not in a long time.

84. I have jumped out of a perfectly functioning aircraft three times.

85. Once, my parachute didn't open. (The reserve chute did.)

86. I have flown soaring planes.

87. At work, I've been drinking water out of the same big red cup for five years. It finally broke.

88. I have an old favorite pair of boots I've been wearing since my senior year in high school.

89. My taste in writing whip-saws back and forth between artfully crafted prose of rich erudition, on the one hand, and then unadorned no-bullshit directness on the other. I'm glad I don't have to choose between them.

90. I don't have watch much television.

91. I have a deep emotional attachment to William Gibson's out-of-print masterpiece _A Mass For The Dead_.

92. Many of my friends think I'm generous. I think I'm selfish.

93. I'm pretty sure I don't know what people really think of me.

94. I try not to care too much.

95. But I do, anyway.

96. I love dressing up for occasions; I dislike dressing up for work.

97. I have a small collection of Mao Zedong statues. He was evil, but I'm fascinated by his icon status as China's Elvis.

98. I went on a grand total of one internet date. I flew 2500 miles for it. It was a total bust.

99. Our home is full of Chinese antique furniture, a product of having gotten married while living in China.

100. But my desk is an English Victorian mahogany barrel-top. And it kicks ass.

101. I notice women's shoes and new haircuts.

102. I have kilt envy.

103. I have a rich fantasy life.

104. I hide behind libido and restlessness and desire for financial security and cooking, but, really, I'm just afraid that neither my writing nor my photography are much good.



After getting that off my chest last night, I read this piece by John Cusack – of all people – on the way in to work this morning.

Nice timing.

He particularly nails it with this quote from that old lefty Winston Churchill:

"The power of the Executive to cast a man into prison without formulating any charge known to the law, and particularly to deny him the judgment of his peers, is in the highest degree odious and is the foundation of all totalitarian government whether Nazi or Communist."

Wish I'd had that to hand as I was writing my blowjob piece last night, eh?

I always fantasized Cusack would sound, in life, as he sounds in his films. If this piece is anything to go by, he might.

In addition to quoting Churchill, my favorite conservative curmudgeon, he also links to a Bill Moyers piece I like almost as much as the one I linked to a few weeks ago.

“Theology asserts propositions that cannot be proven true; ideologues hold stoutly to a worldview despite being contradicted by what is generally accepted as reality. When ideology and theology couple, their offspring are not always bad but they are always blind.”

And Moyers is an ordained Baptist minister, mind.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Pining for the blowjob dodge

Do you remember a few years back, the howling and hand-wringing that accompanied Bill Clinton's evasive phraseology, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman”?

Bill had gotten legal advice that “sexual relations” meant intercourse, so could later claim that he hadn't lied about only getting a blowjob.

They caught him, a master communicator, the man who had frustratingly out-messaged them for years, out-communicating himself. He lied, whether the legal advice would stand or not. (It didn't.) They pounced.

There was so much posturing about what a weak, morally bankrupt leader would use narrow, legalistic dodges to avoid the substance of the truth. There was even more posturing about plain talk, and about restoring dignity to the White House.

I've thought of the blowjob deception frequently over the last six years. Not because I regard Clinton as a dick for thinking with his pecker (of course he was), and not because I think he was an idiot to let down his family and the nation by lying about it (of course he was). No, I've thought about the blowjob deception because I yearn for a time when that seemed important, and for a time when Republicans thought narrow, legalistic dodges were for un-manly, slippery liberals.

Perhaps you've heard President Bush asserting that he does not condone torture, and that the United States acts in accordance with the law. Nevermind that his administration has re-interpreted both domestic statutes and international treaties to allow for treatment of prisoners unacceptable to previous administrations (including his father's). Nevermind that we have set up a chain of CIA prisons abroad to allow the type of interrogation expressly prohibited in the United States. Nevermind that his Vice President, representing the White House, has actively opposed legislation to ban torture. Nevermind the bald hypocrisy nestled in a fog of “Who, me?” rhetoric.

Let's focus for a moment on what America means. That could be a long essay, so, for the sake of brevity, let's stipulate the ideals ensconced in the Pledge of Allegiance. That should be acceptable to the rightward leaning; the American right has been keen on the Pledge for a long time. They focus on the “under God” part. Just now, however, I'm thinking of the last line, which reads “With liberty and justice for all.”

I think this encapsulates what many of us have in mind when we think about the ideal of American political values. We could equally take something from the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution. To my mind, however, both of those documents are just longer, eloquent expositions on the same theme expressed in that one line of the Pledge. When we talk about exporting freedom and democracy – the current Administration's cause celebre – I assume, similarly, we are saying the entire world should share in the bounties of liberty and justice.

So, I'm not being ironic when I say that I'm confused by the United States Government's view of when it is and isn't acceptable to inflict “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment” on prisoners. Here it is, in short: the various laws and treaties covering this sort of thing -- from the United States Constitution to the US-ratified Convention Against Torture -- don't apply to foreign detainees. In other words, you can't do it in the United States, and certainly not to US citizens. You can, however, do it to foreigners on foreign soil: Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo, say, or at a CIA “black site” prison.

It is okay to do it to them. It is not okay to do it to us.

Here's the source of my confusion: How can we even pretend to be exporting freedom and justice when our policy is to extend neither one to non-Americans? Us: we get freedom and justice. Them: they get as much as we feel like giving them. And sometimes that's not so much.

This can only go one of two ways. Either we call this the bullshit it is, and take torture back out of our repertoire, or we can watch as the us/them line comes closer and closer to us. This administration, and the neo-conservative right, more broadly, is fond of accusing those who discredit it of being “with the terrorists,” or of “hating America”. You're either with us, or you're one of them.

Remember: It's okay to do it to “them”.

I vividly recall us all, right and left together, agreeing Saddam was evil. One of our favorite, most concrete proof points: he tortured his enemies.

As John McCain says, “It's not about who they are. It's about who we are.” So, this is about whether we choose to be like Saddam or different from him. He used torture as a tactic, and we vilified him for it. I think we were right.

To close, here's a small thought experiment. It's World War II. The Nazis are found out to be torturing and occasionally killing Jews. They demonstrate, however, that they are only doing it to non-Germans, and only in other countries. How much does that raise the morality of their actions?

None at all?

Thought so.

Hey, George: What's the legal wangle on “Love thy neighbor as thyself”?

* * *

For deeper analysis, see the article "Who They Are", from last Friday's Slate.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Oh, for a slow news day

Two or three choice moments in my cheerful daily reading, today:

The FBI, under the Patriot Act, was issuing 30,000 “national security letters” a year, 100 times as many as it has issued historically. The letters, which recipients are ordered never to discuss, often demand the release of banking data, credit reports, and other private information.* [Washington Post]

Vice President Dick Cheney was pressuring Republican senators to grant the CIA an exemption from a proposed ban on torturing terrorism suspects. [The Seattle Times]

A poll found that 58 percent of Americans doubt President Bush's honesty, and another poll found that 53 percent of Americans want Congress to consider impeachment if it turns out that Bush lied about his reasons for going to war. [The Guardian]

So, we're harassing our own citizens 100 times more than ever before. We're torturing people all over the world, and arguing for the right to do it more. And we don't trust the people who are making the decisions to do these things.

Should either the Republicans or the Democrats be in the market for a new platform, but are scratching their heads for inspiration, here's my radical platform of fresh ideas for the United States. Any party that wants to can crib them: Stop treating Americans as suspects; treat them as a free people. Stop torture; start building alliances. Stop lying; start trusting the American people so they might trust you.

These ideas would be dramatic innovations, apparently.

About the two polls: I don't put much stock in them, even if they were fairly conducted. Theoretically, we hate how incumbents abuse power. In reality, we vote for incumbents overwhelmingly. Still, the numbers in these polls surprise me: not because they are high or low, but because of the sluggardly pace at which they have risen. For seven years, the Republicans harassed Clinton with the fiction of his involvement in Whitewater. They ended up nailing him for lying about a blow-job. Here we are, in a war that has killed tens of thousands, a war that, it is now obvious to everyone, was sold on a promissory note of lies, and no one is being nailed for nuthin'. Except, of course, Scooter Libby, who apparently betrayed America's security apparatus. I wonder if he got one of those letters from the FBI that is intended to weed out the baddies in America?

*The letters are issued by FBI field supervisors and do not require the signature of a judge, as does a search warrant. [ Washington Post]

Sunday, November 06, 2005

A small bite of lunch

When I started this here blog, I publicly angsted about the worth of writing on subjects as mundane as my daily obsessions. Does anybody care what I had for lunch? Not likely. But, then, why would anyone give a crap about anything else I might have to say?

On that note, here's today's lunch menu. Typical it ain't. Put to task our recent visit to Valpolicella it does. Flame-Haired Angel and I had a few folks over. This is what hit the table. All the food was home made, but can you guess which of us made which bits?

* * *

Prosecco (as an aperitif)

Rosemary and Pepper Grissini

Grilled Zucchini, Eggplant and Red Capsicum with Anchovies (accompanied by Monte Faustino Pelara, 2004)

Butter and Sage Pappardelle on a bed of baby spinach (Monte Faustino Amarone Classico, 2000)

Spiced venison pies with parmesan/pepper polenta and a garnish of wilted garlic spinach (Il Bertarole Amarone, 2000)

Italian cheese plate with almonds and dried figs (Serego Alighieri "Vaio Armaron" Amarone, 1999)

Berries mascerated in balsamic vinegar, honey and pepper, under cinnamon/brandy mascarpone (Monte Faustino "Bure Alto" Passito, 2000)

Dark chocolate tart with toasted coconut crust (Serego Alighieri Recioto, 2000)

Tea and Grappa

* * *

Lunch ended at 8pm.


Friday, November 04, 2005

Bitter Fruit

One of the most powerful things I've seen on the web. Ever. A presentation of one Magnum Agency photographer's personal project.

Caution: Highly politicized.


Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Rubens whine

Even if you like Rubens' art, you might not like the current exhibition at the National Gallery in London, if this review in the Guardian is anything to go by.

"There's something airless about a show conceived and executed from a place so deeply internal to the academy of connoisseurs that you can practically smell the Chardonnay."

I so love that line.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Amarone trivia

While in the Valpolicella, I learned a slew of unexpected things about my favorite wine, Amarone. Three, in particular, came as quite a surprise. None are likely to be of interest to any but the most devout wine wankers out there.

Cepage: Forever, I've been told there are three grape varieties in Amarone: Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara, with the first, Corvina, dominating the wine while the others add fractional perfume, colour, and other attributes. As it happens, that ubiquitously delivered wisdom is just wrong on several counts. First, a lot of Amarone doesn't use Molinara at all. Second, one of the grapes most commonly used in the wine was entirely unknown to me previously: Corvinone. Other grapes are also used in small quantities: Croatina, Dindarella, Oseleta and even, rarely and oddly, Sangiovese (famous for being the backbone of Chianti, which comes from a long way away).

Trellis: The Valpolicella's vineyards have a distinctive look because of the trellising system typical of the area. It's called “pergola”. The vines are trained literally overhead. You can walk down the rows under a canopy formed by the vines on either side meeting above you. (See the slightly twee picture which, unfortunately, shows fairly young vines.) While the system is centuries old, it has slid from favor and is on the way out. All new plantings are being trellised on the more familiar Guyot system: the way you're used to seeing vines trained, in narrow rows. There are apparently two reasons. First, you can comfortably pack a whole lot more vines per hectare. Second, the grapes get more sun and are exposed to warmer air (rather than hanging in the cool under the pergola), therefore ripening more reliably and being less susceptible to rot. The change seems sad, from a romantic and historical point of view, but it also seems sensible. A good portion of the grapes in the Valpolicella are already grown this way, so it's a known quantity.

Happy accident: Up until the late 1950s, the production of Amarone was considered to be the result of poor winemaking. The intended product, for centuries, had been Recioto, a sweet wine. Recioto is made in the same way as Amarone, but fermentation is stopped early by cooling the wine. With fermentation incomplete, there is significant residual sugar that is not fermented into alcohol, resulting in a sweet wine that tastes somewhat like Porto. Amarone, by contrast, is left to ferment completely, turning the sugars into alcohol, instead of retaining sweetness behind. The original Amarones were screw-ups: Reciotos that had been let go for too long by a careless winemaker. There wasn't much of a market for these “mistakes”, and they were sold cheaply, in bulk, considered at first too rich to be much use with food.