Monday, February 28, 2005

"You're not even a nigger. You're African"

James Glassman is moved by Hotel Rwanda to write about how badly Africa is treated by the US, Europe and the UN. It's a marvellous, edifying piece. Read it.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

The first time

How does it feel to have written your first novel? The Guardian speaks to six debutants, who tell all.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Friday, February 25, 2005

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Whee, I'm a rocket!

The LA Times reports that scientists have discovered that a key component in rocket fuel, perchlorate, which is a toxic substance, has been found to be present in breast milk. Human breast milk apparently contains five times as much of the substance as cow's milk. The chemical inhibits thyroid hormones, and can cause neurological defects.

In other words, you could grow up thinking that you're a rocket.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

The good, the bad and the forgotten

From the Washington Post Magazine:
He puts on a brown overcoat, shuffling toward the door, then stops abruptly. Over his shoulder, hung in a hallway, is a framed photo of himself on the cover of what appears to be the November 13, 1972, issue of Newsweek magazine -- or a News-week from a parallel universe. The headline says, "THE GREAT UPSET." Beneath those words, alongside the candidate's beaming visage at age 50, is the cover's subtitle: "President-Elect McGovern." Newsweek prepared the cover, [George] McGovern explains, just in case he beat the odds and won the '72 race. It is one more reminder for him of what might have been.

He lost in a landslide to Richard Nixon, who in turn fell to Watergate but whose name is immortal, synonymous with scandal and savvy despoiled, whereas McGovern's notoriety recedes with each passing year. Like most presidential nominees who never won the big prize, he has become less a major figure than an intriguing footnote for all but the most passionate political junkies, another answer to a set of trivia questions whose correct responses include the names Dukakis, Mondale, Humphrey, Goldwater, Stevenson, Dewey, Willkie, Landon, Smith, Davis, Cox, Parker, Bryan, Blaine and McClellan -- the good, the bad, the forgotten.

This is from "What Might Have Been", Michael Leahy's marvellous feature on people who have lost presidential races, with George McGovern as its prime focus. An evocative and moving piece, it contains some delightful snippets from McGovern's life, such as this one:
He [McGovern] occasionally saw [Barry] Goldwater, who, nearly a decade removed from his own landslide loss, had discovered a new perspective on defeat, marveling over how dreadful it would have been to lose a close election. McGovern recalls: "Barry said to me, 'You and I got beat badly. Just imagine how awful it must have been for that son-ofabitch Nixon [in 1960], getting so close to the White House but losing to Kennedy by a hundred thousand votes."

Read the full thing.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Iraq, Iran and ...

Niall Ferguson writes in the Guardian that there are three essential areas of difference between the USA and Europe. One, Iraq. Two, Iran. And three, China.

Why China? Ferguson explains:
It is not widely recognised that the US is currently being subsidised by foreign monetary authorities, mostly Asian. Central banks, led by the People's Bank of China, are financing about 75%-85% of the US current account deficit. In essence, the Chinese are buying dollars and US bonds to prevent their own currency appreciating against the dollar, which would in turn hurt exports.

Not only are the returns on these dollar holdings miserably low, but as the US "twin deficits" grow, the exposure of China's central bank to a dollar devaluation grows. According to a recent estimate, if the yuan appreciated by 33% against the dollar, it would inflict a capital loss on the People's Bank equivalent to 10% of GDP.

From an American perspective, this arrangement is just fine. American consumption and foreign policy are effectively being paid for with low-interest loans from Asia, allowing the Bush administration to give American voters both butter (tax cuts) and guns (the occupation of Iraq). And economic interdependence notionally reduces the risk of Sino-American disagreements on strategic matters, notably North Korea but also Taiwan. Yet the Chinese must be feeling nervous. It clearly makes sense for them to reduce their economic dependence on the US export market and their exposure to the dollar.

And how do they do this? Why, by turning to Europe and the euro. Ferguson posits that French president Jacques Chirac's visit to China a few months ago was "to woo China from the American embrace."

George W Bush must be thinking, "darn, I know I can handle Iraq, and Iran and North Korea. But how the hell do we beat these Europeans?"

Monday, February 21, 2005

How do you fight sludge?

With sludge, says Anthony dePalma in the New York Times.

There's a nice comic book in this somewhere.

Toffee for France, Candy for Germany

Mark Steyn writes in the Telegraph:
[T]his month in Washington is Be Nice To Europe month. For weeks now, the Administration's hardline Zionist Christian fundamentalist neocon unilateralist warmongers have been coming into the office to find smiley-face reminders from the White House pinned to the desk: "Have you hugged a European foreign minister today?" And they've been doing their best to comply: Condi Rice flew in to the heart of "old Europe" and launched a big charm offensive. Then Donald Rumsfeld flew in and launched what felt like a faintly parodic charm offensive, insisting that the disparaging remarks about "old Europe" had been made by the "old Rumsfeld".

And now the President himself is on his way...

Read the full thing.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

No more urinals

"21st Century Art Makes Its Escape From the Toilet," proclaims a wonderful piece by Daniel Henninger in the Wall Street Journal. Henninger writes:
It is time for both Modernism and Post-Modernism to go away. The 20th century is over. We don't need it anymore. We don't want it anymore.

What we need is an art, a culture, an aesthetic appropriate to the age in which we live--the 21st century, the Age of the Digital and the Age of September 11. Modern art isn't it.

The "urinal" in the title of this post, and the "toilet" of Henninger's, is, of course, Marcel Duchamp's "Fountain," that icon of modernism. The "cultural signifier" of our age, writes Henninger, might well be the iPod.

On a related note, though it's not quite about art, here's another piece I enjoyed immensely when I first read it: "Postmodernism Disrobed" by Richard Dawkins.

Marital squabbles are good for the heart

Please nobody show this to my wife.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Ian "Baby" McEwan

The Booker international shortlist is out, and the youngest of the 18 nominated authors is Ian McEwan, at a cherubic 56. Yes, the lad shows promise.

On leaving Iraq

Fareed Zakaria writes in Newsweek that the Americans shouldn't think of leaving Iraq anytime soon. He writes:
Does anyone really believe that America's leaving Iraq will improve the situation there? It will create a power vacuum; the insurgency will get stronger; the Shia might retaliate against Sunni violence, setting off a civil war, and the Kurds could be tempted to secede. Iraq would then be exporting terror and instability. Some Americans might say, "That's fine, we'll be gone." But any withdrawal will take months, during which the violence will mount. The last American forces to leave under these conditions might not get a more ceremonious exit than they did off the embassy roof in Saigon in 1975.


Remember those often-cited studies that said having a large force to secure the peace is crucial in nation-building? Well, all of them point to another, perhaps even more important, requirement for success: don't leave. During the 1990s the places the United States and its allies left—Haiti, Somalia—were failures. The places where they stayed—Bosnia, Kosovo, East Timor—have been relative successes. Look at Afghanistan. It's faring decently today, but were foreigners to leave, it would almost certainly regress, probably into some kind of failing narco-state.

But why take Zakaria seriously, you ask, he's just an armchair-columnist. Well, ok. Let's take a head of state then. Hameed Karzai, in an interview with India Today, says:
The US presence is essential for Afghanistan's stability. The US helps us a lot to fulfil our desires. We visited the US for 5-6 years during the Taliban rule for their support. Now without the US or international presence, do you think three million refugees would come back? International presence in our country is extremely important. [...] Till Afghanistan stands on its feet and has its own economy and education capability, we will need help from the US and the rest of the world. [...] As for the outside forces, if they leave Afghanistan may go back to chaos.

Ditto Iraq, wouldn't you think?

(The India Today site is only accessible by print subscribers, and they require you to key in a four-digit code to enter. My advice: try out a few!)

Friday, February 18, 2005

What race would you like to be?

The options you are given include Afro-American, Caucasian, East Asian, West Asian, Manga and Modigliani. For more, check out the Face Transformer.

I got this link via Apul's post on Sepia Mutiny, where he gives us not one, not two, but five Aishwarya Rais to choose from. And five George W Bushes if you're, ahem, so inclined.

The meaning of the piece

The book I'm currently reading is a magnificent collection of essays by Jacques Barzun titled A Jacques Barzun Reader. Here's a thought from that, from an essay titled "Is Music Unspeakable?", which has some food for thought for critics of any of the art forms:
[W]e have all heard the anecdote of the composer who played his latest piece to his guests, after which one of them asked what its meaning was. The composer sat down at the piano again and played the piece through once more.

The composer's answer was entirely right. But it holds good not just for music. The meaning is inside any work of art and it cannot be decanted into a proposition.

And still we try in vain!

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Freedom envy, and persuasion bunches

Furious at having one of their own (Eason Jordan) brought down, and at being reduced to an acronym, MSM (mainstream media) has hit out at bloggers. As Peggy Noonan puts it in a piece in the Wall Street Journal titled "The Blogs Must Be Crazy":
"Salivating morons." "Scalp hunters." "Moon howlers." "Trophy hunters." "Sons of Sen. McCarthy." "Rabid." "Blogswarm." "These pseudo-journalist lynch mob people."

This is excellent invective. It must come from bloggers. But wait, it was the mainstream media and their maidservants in the elite journalism reviews, and they were talking about bloggers!


When you hear name-calling like what we've been hearing from the elite media this week, you know someone must be doing something right. The hysterical edge makes you wonder if writers for newspapers and magazines and professors in J-schools don't have a serious case of freedom envy.

The bloggers have that freedom. They have the still pent-up energy of a liberated citizenry, too. The MSM doesn't. It has lost its old monopoly on information. It is angry.

But MSM criticism of the blogosphere misses the point, or rather points.

Noonan goes on to list, comprehensively, the many different ways in which blogs provide a public service. It is one the finest pieces I've read on blogging, and I urge you to read it.

Accusations of being part of a mob aren't exactly new to me, and Eugene Volokh points out in a lovely post how misplaced the analogy of bloggers as a mob really is. He writes:
... I realize that "lynch mob" is figurative, and hyperbole at that. Still, figurative references and analogies (even hyperbolic ones) only make sense to the extent that the analogy is apt -- to the extent that the figurative usage, while literally false, reflects a deeper truth.

The trouble is that here the analogy is extremely weak. What's wrong with lynch mobs? It's that the mob itself has the power to kill. They could be completely wrong, and entirely unpersuasive to reasonable people or to the rest of the public. Yet by their physical power, they can impose their will without regard to the law.

But bloggers, or critics generally, have power only to the extent that they are persuasive. Jordan's resignation didn't come because he was afraid that bloggers will fire him. They can't fire him. I assume that to the extent the bloggers' speech led him to resign, it did so by persuading the public that he wasn't trustworthy.

So Jordan's critics (bloggers or not) aren't a lynch mob: If they're a mob, they're at most a "persuasion mob." What's more, since they're generally a very small group, they're really a "persuasion bunch."

I got the link to Volokh's post via Instapundit, who also has an excellent summary of the aftermath of Easongate at

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Chocolate and gold coins

Since I’ve started blogging, every once in a while I have received an email that had made me wonder why I am doing the blogging and the person writing to me isn’t. Regular readers of this blog know my complaints about receiving abuse, but I also get fair amounts of intelligent, insightful, beautifully written mail that has resulted in dialogues and friendships that I have come to cherish.

One such is with Michael Higgins.

Michael lives in Fairfax County, Virginia, and he first wrote to me in the days when I wrote just one blog, the one on cricket, 23 Yards. We soon started exchanging mails, often disagreeing, especially over economic and political matters. But our disagreements were civil, always a reasoned exchange of facts and logic, with no empty rhetoric, shrill polemic or, the one thing I dread, ad hominem attack. I told him a couple of times that he must start a blog, and to my delight – as a reader as much as a friend – he has finally obliged. It is called Chocolate and Gold Coins.

He explains the reasoning behind the name:
Chocolate and gold coins are two of my favorite commodities. And naming a blog that deals with economic issues after commodities makes sense, especially commodities that symbolize consumption and income. However, the name “Chocolate and Gold Coins” refers to something else. It refers to types of writing you might find on this blog.

Gold coins are something with intrinsic value. You might find something like that here buried deep under the rubbish if you search long enough. Chocolate is another commodity altogether. It is something to be enjoyed briefly and soon forgotten, like a frivolous but fun piece of writing. There will be more chocolate than gold in this blog. In any case, I hope you find something you like here.

He hasn’t been at it for too long, but I have found both chocolate and gold. You can taste some chocolate here and here; and enjoy some gold here and here. Do visit his site, I’m sure you’ll like it.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Also a mighty superpower

BR Myers writes in the New York Times:
In the West, attention is almost exclusively focused on the official pronouncements released by Pyongyang's Central News Agency - statements that, for all their strange rhetoric, strive to present North Korea as a misunderstood country eager for more normal relations with Washington. Last week's announcement that North Korea has nuclear weapons, for example, said that while the country had "manufactured nukes for self-defense," it still sought only "peaceful coexistence" with the United States.

But the propaganda dinned every day into the North Korean people is of a different order. School textbooks, wall posters, literary works: all celebrate a cynical "attack diplomacy" that makes a frightened and uncertain world dance to the drum of Kim Jong Il. Again and again, comic effect is derived from stories of stammering American and international officials trying to placate the relentless "warriors" of the Foreign Ministry. Washington's refusal to follow through on veiled threats of military action is mocked as a failure of nerve.

The novel "Barrel of a Gun," for example, released in 2003, is an official "historical" work about how Mr. Kim's iron resolve forced the Clinton administration to its knees in 1998. "Excellency," the American negotiator says at the end of the book, groveling shamelessly before his North Korean counterpart, "you are also a mighty superpower."

Read the full thing. The Iraq conflict is getting resolved now, and North Korea will be more in the news during George W Bush's second term. Watch that space.

(Link courtesy Chandrahas.)

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Hating America

Dominic Hilton writes in openDemocracy:
Anti-Americanism, when not perpetrated by true haters, is often a stale mockery of America, born of our own fascination. This is our (the world’s) problem, not America’s. Jean-Francois Revel suggests that we “project our faults onto America so as to absolve ourselves”. As he says of his native France, and Barry Rubin and Judith Colp Rubin say of the last four hundred years, some of this “Hating America” is born of fear, some of plain old weakness, some of outright jealousy. The left, in particular, is green with envy. 20th-century Communism only served to augment belief in the American Dream. “The success of America was thus a devastating blow to the Left,” writes Michael Ledeen. “It wasn’t supposed to happen. And American success was particularly galling because it came at the expense of Europe itself, and of the embodiment of the Left’s most utopian dream: the Soviet Union.”

Read the full thing. And if you don't agree with the essay, check out openDemocracy's forum on this article, and join the debate if you wish to.

I've just finished a fascinating book on a related subject: Occidentalism, by Ian Buruma and Avishai Margalit. An excellent read, more on it later.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

The occupational hazard of being a blogger in Iran

The Houston Chronicle carries a scary piece by a blogger in Iran who spent 36 days in jail because she ... blogged. Farouz Farzami writes that after being arrested while exiting a bookstore, she was taken to one of the most notorious prisons of Iran. And there ... :
I was photographed and asked my height, weight, eye color and the number of children I have. "I am single," I said. All this was humiliating.

"That's why you are making trouble for our system," the woman said. "If you were married, you would not have time to write such nonsense."

After a Kafkaesque couple of days, Farzami is finally told what her charges are. This is how it goes:
"Do you accept the charges?" the interrogator asked.

"What charges?"

"That you have written things in your Web log that go against the Islamic system and that encourage people to topple the system," he said. "You are inviting corrupt American liberalism to rule Iran."

"I've tried to write my ideas and opinions in my Web log and to communicate with others in Farsi all over the world," I said.

He was displeased. "These answers will lead us nowhere, and you will stay here for years. Tell us the truth. How much have you received to write these offenses against the Islamic state? How are you and your fellow Web loggers organized?"

How should I respond? I knew my mother must be terribly worried about me. What could I say to make sure I got out? "We are not organized against the state," I said. "I write because I want to criticize the system. There are some things in our state that should be corrected."

"Why don't you write an e-mail directly to the supreme leader's office?" he asked. "The supreme leader considers all criticisms and takes corrective actions."


Friday, February 11, 2005

Rebranding the Democrats

Terry Michael feels that America's Democratic Party has lost its brand equity, and needs to reposition itself. The title of his article, "A Return to Liberalism's Jeffersonian Roots", indicates where he would like to take it. He explains:
Born in the agrarian era of its founder, Thomas Jefferson, the Democratic Party's original story was of a small central government serving self-sufficient "little people" (farmers, shop keepers, frontiersmen), prizing and preserving individual liberty -- juxtaposed against the elitist federalists, and their monarchical, big central government ambition.

The Democratic Party story was refashioned in the industrial era, particularly with arrival of the New Deal, when one-size-fits-all, central authority, wealth-redistributive policies were appealing to those little guys. Most of them had traded self-sufficiency for wage labor. Their economic lives revolved around big impersonal corporations, against which they were represented by big labor.

But in a post-industrial, information economy, the little guys, who Democrats have always claimed to represent, are again more self-sufficient, empowered to make -- tailor-make, in fact -- choices for themselves ... The "Central Authority Solutions" story offered by Democrats, from the mid-19th to mid-20th centuries, lost luster.

In contrast, he looks at the Republicans:
You could reduce the GOP brand to this: "Government bad. America good. The marketplace will provide. In God we trust. Equal opportunity, but not equal outcomes, for all."

The Democrats needs similar clarity. But what do they have? John Kerry.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Tragic, and ironic

Sandeep points to a moving piece by David Sheff in the New York Times called "My Addicted Son", in which Sheff writes about his son Nick's struggle with drug addition. At one point, when he ponders on what his own culpability in his son's addiction might have been, he writes:
When I told Nick cautionary stories ... and warned him about crystal [methamphetamine], I thought that I might have some credibility. I have heard drug counselors tell parents of my generation to lie to our children about our past drug use. Famous athletes show up at school assemblies or on television and tell kids, "Man, don't do this stuff, I almost died," and yet there they stand, diamonds, gold, multimillion-dollar salaries and fame. The words: I barely survived. The message: I survived, thrived and you can, too. Kids see that their parents turned out all right in spite of the drugs. So maybe I should have lied, and maybe I'll try lying to Daisy and Jasper. Nick, however, knew the truth. I don't know how much it mattered. Part of me feels solely responsible -- if only his mother and I had stayed together; if only she and I had lived in the same city after the divorce and had a joint-custody arrangement that was easier on him; if only I had set stricter limits; if only I had been more consistent.

As Sheff writes later, drug-and-alcohol counsellors routinely console the parents of addicts that it is not their fault, citing the three Cs: "You didn't cause it, you can't control it, and you can't cure it." Indeed, reading Sheff's account, one gets the sense that he was a concerned, sensitive father who did everything he could to save his son.

Now consider the irony of this: Nick Sheff, the kid in question, once wrote an article which won a 1999 Hemingway Writing Awards for high school students, and his piece was titled "Parents Do Matter". It was essentially a review of Judith Rich Harris's groundbreaking book, The Nurture Assumption, which Sheff Jr misunderstood as being "a cop-out for parents who don't want to accept the responsibility for their children." Sheff argued that parents are responsible for how their kids turn out, and wrote:
Parents influence their children by what they say and what they do. By building an environment of equal respect, parents can prove themselves trustworthy so their children can talk to them. If children can be honest with their parents, they won't feel afraid to face their mistakes. Parents should love without strings attached in order to build the self-esteem that will help their children make the best choices in life.

A pity, then, that young Nick's life went on to become an illustration of the opposite of what he had written. It is fashionable to blame the parents when their kids go wrong, but as Nick's story and Harris's seminal book show, there's only so much that parents can do.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Confusing description with prescription

Steven Pinker writes on the Larry Summers controversy:
Summers's critics have repeatedly mangled his suggestion that innate differences might be one cause of gender disparities (a suggestion that he drew partly from a literature review in my book, The Blank Slate) into the claim that they must be the only cause. And they have converted his suggestion that the statistical distributions of men's and women's abilities are not identical to the claim that all men are talented and all women are not--as if someone heard that women typically live longer than men and concluded that every woman lives longer than every man. Just as depressing is an apparent unfamiliarity with the rationale behind political equality, as when Hopkins sarcastically remarked that, if Summers were right, Harvard should amend its admissions policy, presumably to accept fewer women. This is a classic confusion between the factual claim that men and women are not indistinguishable and the moral claim that we ought to judge people by their individual merits rather than the statistics of their group.

While you're at it, also read Ruth Marcus's view in the Washington Post.

The anti-Cassandras

Jaithirth Rao remembers what critics of the Iraq war were saying not long ago:
“The US will get stuck in a quagmire in Afghanistan. Look what happened to the British and the Soviets. This is a land war. You cannot rely on bombing as they did in Kosovo. Once the casualties start, public opinion in the US will turn against the war. Americans have no stomach for body-bags.”

“Kabul will never fall. The Pushtuns will resist. The northern insurgents will be of no help.”

“Kabul may have fallen, but Kandahar is another matter. They will fight so hard. American troops will be stuck there.”

“Afghanistan was easy. Iraq is another matter. Coalition troops will get trapped on the long, hot road to Baghdad. Supply lines will not hold.”

“Entry into Iraq may have been easy. But once they get to the outskirts of Baghdad, the Republican Guard will fight fiercely.”

“Once inside Baghdad, there will be door-to-door fighting. It will be an impossible trap.”

“The Shias will never agree to a constitution where they do not dominate. The Islamists will never agree to a constitution where women have the right to vote. The Sunnis will definitely sabotage any election where their pre-eminence is threatened.”

I think it is now time for the media pundits to apologise. They do not need to be very profuse. A simple “sorry” will suffice.

Um, Jerry, obese opportunity. Or, in other words, fat chance.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

You're the king!

In a piece in the New Yorker titled "The Customer is King", that excellent writer, James Suroweicki, gives us some perspective on Procter & Gamble's mega-acquisition of Gillette. The deal happened, he writes, "to create a manufacturing giant with enough bargaining clout to stand up to Wal-Mart." He elaborates:
The story goes something like this: once upon a time, companies that made things had the whip hand in the American economy. They could charge premium prices for their goods, and raise prices when costs went up, without losing their customers. In other words, they had pricing power. But in recent decades the rise of retailers like Wal-Mart and Target has changed all that. Today, the companies that sell things dictate the terms. The P. & G.-Gillette deal, in this rendering, is an attempt by a pair of manufacturers to take back a little of the power that they’ve lost.

But, Suroweicki continues, manufacturers lost that power not to Wal-Mart and Target, but to you and me, the consumers. He writes:
The real transformation of the past thirty years is the rise not of the American retailer but of the American consumer. That’s why Wal-Mart is so tough to negotiate with, and so relentless in its quest for lower prices and lower costs. American consumers now consider it their due to have access to a wide variety of cheap, reliable goods. Their allegiances are fickle; brand loyalty is in fast decline. Wal-Mart is often spoken of as the most powerful company in the world, but it earns less than four cents on every dollar of sales, and its profit margins have stayed roughly the same year after year—which means that when it cuts costs with suppliers it passes along those savings to the customers, instead of padding its own bottom line. Wal-Mart can’t charge more; if it does, its customers will go elsewhere. The same is true of Target and Costco. In a sense, Wal-Mart is the elected representative of tens of millions of hard-bargaining shoppers, and, like any representative, it serves only at their pleasure.

That is, of course, exactly as capitalism is meant to work: at our pleasure.

Monday, February 07, 2005

The man who stood up for Iraqi freedom

No, not George W Bush, writes Glenn Reynolds, but Bill Clinton. Regime change in Iraq became US government objective because of the Iraq Liberation Act that Clinton signed in 1998, he points out, and Al Gore supported it wholeheartedly.

If it was Clinton's idea to begin with, why are Democrats like Ted Kennedy and John Kerry so vociferously in denial about how well the Iraqi elections went? Reynolds writes:
I think it's jealousy. Bush-hatred has become all-consuming among a large section of the Democratic Party, and they can't stand the thought of anything that reflects well on him, even if it's good for the country, and if it's something that was their idea originally.

The question is whether the Democratic Party -- which ought to be cheering events that vindicate Clinton's policies -- will do itself fatal damage by giving in to envy. Such small-mindedness doesn't suggest a party that's ready to govern.

(Link via Vinod.)

Self-portraits of a mirror

"How, you might wonder," wonders Peter Conrad in the Observer, "does a man without a self to portray turn into a compulsive, versatile self-portraitist? Andy Warhol was a mirror ... and, as he once remarked, when a mirror looks in the mirror there is nothing for it to see."

Conrad is writing about an exhibition of 85 self-portraits of Warhol that opens next week. So what do they reveal? Conrad writes:
[T]he more earnestly Warhol aspired to merge with everyone else, the more he stood out as an eccentric, complex self-creation, at once gormless and ghoulish, trivial and tragic, a ditzy socialite and a moralist who stoked up the bonfire of vanities and then consigned himself to the flames.

No comments

Crossposted at India Uncut.

I keep getting mails from people asking why I don’t have comments enabled, and to deflect any more questions on that subject, I am posting on it. I disabled comments not because I don’t want the kind of intelligent interaction that I see on so many other sites, but because, while writing my cricket blog on Cricinfo, 23 Yards, I got flamed too often for my liking. As some of that audience also follows my other blogs, I thought that it was safer to keep comments disabled, and avoid abuse on my site. I envy those bloggers whose readers provide civil discourse – as I’d written in an earlier post, comments can make a good blog stand out – but mine is read by all kinds.

Some of the queries I have received on this subject have been aggressive ones, with one gentleman asking me: “How dare you start a blog in the public domain and not have comments? This is the public space, and all blogs should have comments.”

Well, firstly, there is no convention that "all blogs should have comments". Instapundit and Andrew Sullivan, to name two of the most widely read bloggers, don’t have comments enabled. Secondly, this blog is not public property, but my space. As Bill Vallicella writes in his pithy post on why he disabled comments: “A man's blog is his castle.” And while I would be glad to let civil people wander into this particular castle, given my past experiences, I’d rather keep that drawbridge up.

Vallicella, interestingly, did eventually enable comments. But I don’t see myself doing that anytime soon. No disrespect is meant to you by this, and you are always welcome to write to me.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Open source? Try a car pool

In a piece titled "The economics of sharing", the Economist examines whether social sharing, as seen in open-source software, can work outside the field of information technology. Read the full thing.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

The choices men make

Maureen Dowd has a complaint. In a piece titled “Men Just Want Mommy”, in the New York Times, she points out that successful women have a tough time finding a sucessful mate, because men who are high-achievers tend to marry below themselves. She writes:
I'd been noticing a trend along these lines, as famous and powerful men took up with the young women whose job was to tend to them and care for them in some way: their secretaries, assistants, nannies, caterers, flight attendants, researchers and fact-checkers.

Women in staff support are the new sirens because, as a guy I know put it, they look upon the men they work for as "the moon, the sun and the stars". It's all about orbiting, serving and salaaming their Sun Gods.

She gives a few examples of this from popular films – like Love Actually - and then quotes a couple of studies that are relevant to her subject:
As Dr Stephanie Brown, the lead author of the study, summed up: "Powerful women are at a disadvantage in the marriage market because men may prefer to marry less-accomplished women. Men think that women with important jobs are more likely to cheat on them. The hypothesis is that there are evolutionary pressures on males to take steps to minimise the risk of raising offspring that are not their own," Brown said. Women, by contrast, did not show a marked difference in their attraction to men who might work above or below them. Men did not show a preference with one-night stands.

A second study, by researchers at four British universities, suggested that smart men with demanding jobs would rather have old-fashioned wives, like their mums, than equals. The study found that a high IQ hampered a woman's chance of marrying, while it was a plus for men. The prospect for marriage increased by 35 per cent for guys for each 16-point increase in IQ; for women, there was a 40 per cent drop for each 16-point rise.

But why is Dowd complaining? Part of the reason for that comes because she is perhaps making the same mistake as the researcher she quotes, Stephanie Brown. She quotes Brown as saying: “Men think that women with important jobs are more likely to cheat on them. [My emphasis.]” Now, this is, at the very least, mixing up proximate causation with ultimate causation. Even if the tendency in men to avoid having accomplished women as their mates originated for the reason Brown puts forth, it is an ultimate cause for the tendency to exist, not a proximate one for the men to think that way. If men actually thought, as Brown surmises, that successful women would be more likely to cheat on them, then Dowd might be justified in castigating them for their sexism, or hypocrisy, or whatever. But people can’t help falling in love with whoever they fall in love with.

Even as ultimate causation, though, Brown’s hypothesis seems flawed to me. James Miller, writing in Tech Central Station, comes up with a more plausible one. He writes:
Although children are a blessing, they're also time sinks. Two married people can't both work jobs for 60+ hours a week and have enough time to raise a few kids properly. Realizing this, many men who intend to have several children and time-intensive jobs often seek women who are more child- than career-oriented.

Um, I’m not sure about the “realizing this” bit, and I think the tendency that draws successful men towards old-fashioned homemakers is at least as instinctive as reasoned out. Miller says that Dowd is wrong because “it's women, not men, who are at fault here.” He explains:
I teach at Smith College, an elite women's school. Almost all of my students would rather date a selfish investment banker than a nice, attractive administrative assistant. But for a Smithee who hopes to raise several children while making partner at a top-law firm, an administrative assistant might make a far better match than an investment banker. True, the investment banker would earn much more money, but what anyone with a time-consuming job and children really needs is a spouse who can devote much more effort to children than to career.

Much as I like Miller’s writing, I think he is on the wrong track here. He is criticising an instinctive choice – and the instinct is programmed by natural selection – by demonstrating that a rational choice would serve women better. Well, of course it would. But women cannot help who they fall in love with any more than men can, and judging such choices either in terms of morality, as Dowd is doing, or reasonableness, as Miller is doing, serves no purpose. We can only judge acts of volition in that manner, not who we fall in love with.

[Note: Dowd’s piece in NYT requires subscription, and in the likely event that you’re not a subscriber, you can view a syndicated copy of it here, at the Sydney Morning Herald. This would require free registration.]

Friday, February 04, 2005

Prince Harry's sensitivity journal

On Tuesday I explored people of color. Just by peering out of my palace window, I glimpsed so many wonderfully varying tonalities, rather like paint chips. And I pondered: Wouldn’t it be marvellous, and an ideal illustration of brotherhood, if we could just line up everyone in the world by gradation, with the English people right at the front? Immigration is simply a matter of every nation assembling a complete box of human crayons, and never forgetting even those shades which no one ever uses, not if it’s a picture of a bright sunny day.

Paul Rudnick has some fun in this week's Shouts and Murmurs.

The perils of exercise

Time to join a gym? The Guardian warns that in your quest to lose a few pounds you could, well, lose a few pounds. Read the small print.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Monkey porn

Scientific American reports that monkeys like prurient pictures. Researchers at the Duke University Medical Center have just finished a study on male macaque monkeys, in which these monkeys "received juice rewards while looking at a variety of images of other macaques on a computer screen. The pictures included a neutral target, male monkeys that differed in social standing and the hindquarters of a female monkey, which reveal her sexual receptiveness."

Needless to say, the macaques were willing to sacrifice quite a lot of juice for the chance to view "female behinds". Or maybe they just didn't like the juice.

"Too much sugar in this darned orange juice," said Tog. "Why aren't they feeding us bananas today?"

"No idea," said Champ. "Hey, look, there's your mom's ass!"

Unnatural selection

The New York Times reports that in schools across the USA, teachers are skipping the chapter on evolution, "fearing protests from fundamentalists in their communities". And, apparently, principals of schools frequently discourage their teachers from discussing the subject in class.

This makes a mockery of education, of course, as Darwin's theory answers the most fundamental question humans can ask about themselves: How are we here? Besides natural selection, there is only one answer to that, and it is the wrong one.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Four more dictatorships

Mark Steyn concludes, in an essay titled "Bush means business", in the Spectator, that George W Bush will bring down four more dictatorships in his second term, including the one in Iran. On the way to reaching that conclusion, he bursts the myth of geopolitical stability, explicates the nature of vanishing penises, and compares the Shia parties, favourably, to Barbara Boxer. This man is a virtuoso writer, and his substance matches his style. Read it all.

Blogs, and Iraq

Glenn Reynolds, aka Instapundit, writes in Tech Central Station:
For some time, I've been predicting that the blogosphere would move more and more from punditry to newsgathering and reporting, in competition with (or at least in supplementation of) the traditional media. And that's been happening. We saw it with tsunami coverage, and now we're seeing it with reporting on the Iraqi elections.

Reynolds makes some important points about both Iraq and the failure of Big Media in their coverage of it. Read the full thing.

Returning from hell

"As I watched the images of Iraqis lining up to vote, even in the face of terrorists who threatened to wash the streets with blood, I couldn't help thinking of Whittaker Chambers," writes David Brooks in a moving piece in the New York Times titled "Stepping Out of the Tar Pit". Who is Whittaker Chambers? Read the full thing.

(Registration required for all NY Times content, but it's free, and worth the time.)

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Gladiatorial combat

"Like acting, writing novels is a profession in which not to be very successful is to be very unsuccessful," writes John Sutherland in the Guardian, as he contemplates the effect of literary prizes on literature.