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Skepticism about an excess of brains in government has persisted so long in large part due to the vividness of David Halberstam’s study of the McNamara cohort. His book played into two of the animating political fears of the late twentieth century: liberal worry about the cold rationalism of foreign policy hawks; and conservative panic that the country’s soul was being seduced away by clever young men on the coasts. And so, Halberstam’s title has come to serve as political shorthand for a nervousness, on both the left and right, about governance by technocrat–a fear that braininess carries the built-in risk of failures the size of Vietnam. But Halberstam’s conclusions are both more complex and more elegant than that. The “whiz kids” of the Kennedy era were the book’s most vivid creation, cocksure and empirical; but their pathologies were not the war’s only authors, or even its primary ones. In fact, the disaster of Vietnam, in Halberstam’s full telling, was the consequence not of too much faith in technocratic expertise, but, rather, of too little.–“Worst and Dimmest: Learning the wrong lessons from David Halberstam,” Benajamin Wallace-Wells, The New Republic
The New York Times loves stories about guilt-ridden reporters failing in misguided attempts at quixotic charity;
weak-willed New York parents fear ice cream vendors;
dog-loving couple stalked and killed by dog pack in Georgia (no word on Michael Vick’s whereabouts);
gay gentrifiers improve Flint, Michigan
On a recent Saturday night, Savannah Stern earned $300 to hang out for seven hours at a party in Santa Monica wearing nothing but a feather boa. The veteran of more than 350 hard-core pornography productions took the job to earn extra cash and to network. But the word at the 35th anniversary party for Hustler magazine was not heartening, especially among the roughly 75 other women working there. “At least five girls I haven’t seen in a while came up to me and said, ‘Savannah, are you working?’ ” said Stern, who started in the industry four years ago and, like most adult performers, uses a stage name. “I had to say, ‘No, not really,’ and they all said, ‘Yeah, I’m not either.’ …For Stern, 23, the rapid decline of job opportunities in the porn business over the last year has been dramatic. She has gone from working four or five days a week to one and now has employers pressuring her to do male-female sex scenes for $700, a 30% discount from the $1,000 fee that used to be the industry standard. Less than two years ago, Stern earned close to $150,000 annually, sometimes turned down work and drove a Mercedes-Benz CLK 350. Now she’s aggressively reaching out for jobs and making closer to $50,000 a year. As for that Mercedes? She’s replacing it with a used Chevy Trailblazer — from her parents.”–“Tough times in the porn industry,” Ben Fritz, the Los Angeles Times
Although I am certainly in favor of the O.E.D.’s improving itself… I must confess to a touch of sadness when I come across one of the more whimsical definitions or etymologies that have disappeared as progress and lexicographic accuracy inexorably march forward. For instance, the word murinoid used to be defined as “resembling the mouse or its allies” — a turn of phrase that always evoked Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker.” Alas, ally is an old term of scientific classification and is no longer included in the entry for murinoid. For years I was certain that the O.E.D.’s definition of cretin (“One of a class of dwarfed and specially deformed idiots found in certain valleys of the Alps and elsewhere”) was indicative of a lexicographer’s distaste for the inhabitants of the Alps. But Peter Gilliver, an editor of the O.E.D.’s revision, who is also at work on a history of the dictionary, informed me that it was simply an earlier and specialized use of the word idiot and reflected no bias on the part of the creators of the dictionary. –“Dated Definitions,” Ammon Shea, the New York Times
Acres of hemp grown by “patriotic‚” U.S. farmers in 1942 at the behest of the U.S. government:
A study suggested that the health effects of exposure to nuclear radiation at Chernobyl were no worse than ill health resulting from smoking and normal urban air pollution.
Greenpeace apologized after activists accidentally defaced the site of Peru’s 2,000-year-old Nazca Lines when they unfurled cloth letters reading “time for change” near the ancient sand drawings. “We fully understand,” the group wrote in a statement, “that this looks bad.”
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“I hope that after reading the following pages the leaders of the Y. M. C. A. will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.”