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There’s no mistaking what’s going on in the speech delivered last week. No preliminary niceties; just a rehearsal of Obama’s actions and expectations. Eight “I”’s right off the bat: “Just over two months ago I spoke with you… and I laid out what needed to be done.” “From the beginning I made it clear that I would not put any more tax dollars on the line.” “I refused to let those companies become permanent wards of the state.” “I refused to kick the can down the road. But I also recognized the importance of a viable auto industry.” “I decided then…” (He is really the decider.) Accompanying the “I”’s are a bevy of “my”’s, which reach out to embrace the universe. The third time he says “my auto task force,” it sounds as if he were referring to a lap dog. Ditto the mention of Karen Mills, “my Small Business Administration” chief. When he thanks Canada and Germany for doing their part, it is as if those sovereign nations were doing him a personal favor to which he was entitled. When he invokes “my administration” you might think he was talking about some prized possession. (My daughter… my ducats.) It is always “I couldn’t in good conscience,” “I became convinced,” “I wanted to ensure,” “I instructed,” “I recognized,” “I want” (three times), “I’m calling on Congress.” At least he doesn’t say “my Congress,” although that is certainly implied. –“Yes I Can,” Stanley Fish, The New York Times
Obamas, in town for D-Day, decline dinner with Sarkozys, and “Philippe Duron, the Mayor of Caen, has minted a slogan for his town in honour of Mr Obama: ‘Yes we Caen!’”; Obama/Merkel relationship chilly; Sotomayor’s lack of national security experience likely no big deal; National Review cover uses Chinese iconography of Indian prince to caricature Hispanic lady
Berlin is remembered by philosophers for defending ethical pluralism– the claim that human values make conflicting claims that cannot always be rationally reconciled– and arguing that this pluralism is the true basis of a liberal society. The argument is hardly demonstrative– if values can conflict in ways that have no rational solution, what reason can there be for favouring individual choice over other goods? But Berlin’s achievement was not to give liberalism a watertight foundation. It was to present liberalism as an attractive vision of life, and one that is not tied to a quasi-religious belief in progress. Though Berlin was solidly committed to the values of the liberal Enlightenment, he never shared the faith of Enlightenment thinkers that growing knowledge could resolve fundamental conflicts of value. For him such conflicts were part of what it means to be human, and any philosophy that offered to deliver us from them was both deluded and illiberal. –“The Cosy Philosopher,” John Gray, Literary Review
Bill Moyers talks to Jeremy Scahill about the continuing use of mercenaries in Afghanistan and Iraq; North Korea sentences U.S. journalists to 12 years (most dangerous nations for journalists); Colbert in Baghdad; Star Wars chipmunk
It used to be a central ambition of novelists to capture the experience of working life. From Balzac to Zola, Dickens to Kafka, they evoked the dynamism and the beauty, the horror and the tedium of the workplace. Their books covered the same territory as is today featured at copious length in the financial pages of newspapers or in the breathless commentaries of the 24-hour newscasters, but their interest was not primarily financial. The goal was to convey the human side of commerce, where money is only one actor in a complex drama about our ambitions and reversals. Yet today’s writers seem to be losing their nerve. There has been an unfortunate inward turn. Attention, brilliant though it might be, too often falls merely on the domestic and the natural. Consider some of the great Booker Prize-winning fiction writers of the last two decades: Anne Enright, John Banville, Yann Martel, Peter Carey, Kazuo Ishiguro – fine writers and deserving winners, yet all of them writing to one side of the working realm. The territory of the novel seems inevitably to be defined by the domestic subject matter tackled by Pulitzer Prize-winning writers like Anne Tyler or Michael Cunningham. When a new writer like Joshua Ferris does finally devote a novel to tracking the antics inside a corporation, the critical reaction is peculiar and telling: he attracts renown and praise for his courage in tackling the fresh and entirely unexpected subject matter of going to the office. –“Portrait of the Artist as a Young Data-Entry Supervisor,” Alain de Botton, The Boston Globe (via)
Clemson University games the U.S. News rankings (slides from the talk; Clemson’s official response); Department of Justice asks for two imprisoned Alaskan legislators, one with extraordinary hair, to be released (Governor Sarah Palin is now “wildly curious what went on in DOJ back then”); former Liberian dictator Charles Taylor converts to Judaism (via); chaste dating for cash in NYC; prison nurse Judith Lovelace accused of causing 55-hour erection
Number of people who attended the World Grits Festival, held in St. George, South Carolina, last spring:
The brown bears of Greece continued chewing through telephone poles.
In Peru, a 51-year-old activist became the first former sex worker to run for the national legislature. “I’m going to put order,” she said, “in that big brothel which is Congress.”
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“Civilization masks us with a screen, from ourselves and from one another, with thin depth of unreality. We habitually live — do we not? — in a world self-created, half established, of false values arbitrarily upheld, largely inspired by misconception, misapprehension, wrong perspective, and defective proportion, misapplication.”