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From “Too Big to Burn: AIG plays God in a man-made firestorm,” in the October 2009 Harper’s Magazine.
The first light we ran was at Main Street and Jamboree Road, near the Hyatt, and we ran it mostly because we could. Chief Sam flicked on his siren, and eighteen lanes of traffic froze in place. We nudged into the intersection. We accelerated. We swerved. We accelerated again. Our red Ford Expedition, topped with red lights, emblazoned with the word fire, shot onto the 405, tires screeching. Car after car pulled over to let us by until, as we merged onto I-5, some civilian in a Civic didn’t. “Look at this guy,” Chief Sam muttered, and then he cut into the median to race past him.
The traffic died down near Disneyland, but the Santa Ana wind picked up—a hot wind coming from the desert, an arid wind, a wind that sucked any remaining moisture from the landscape. It funneled through the canyons in gusts, carrying brush, bits of cloth, plastic bags, and clouds of dust. The dust blasted across the freeway, ocean-bound, and our truck, now going seventy-five in the center lane, shook from side to side.
It was October 2008 in Los Angeles, less than a month after the initial, $85 billion bailout of American International Group, less than a week after the government gave the insurance company $37.8 billion more. But Chief Sam’s division of AIG, the Wildfire Protection Unit, was proceeding as if nothing had changed. The actuaries had determined that it was cheaper to prevent houses from burning than to replace them, and even as AIG was preparing to be taken over by the government, it was sending out its private army of firemen. Chief Sam stepped on the gas. He offered me a protein bar. He put headphones in his ears, picked up his Blackberry, and began making calls.
A call to his crew: “Right now, Pump 31 should be partnered up or out patrolling. Pump 42 should be teamed up and ready to be deployed. No delays. Just be out and about. A good staging location. Out of bed and get ’em married. Right now.”
I compare the actions of the U.S. team (and the U.S. government since at least 1995) as the dog chasing the bus — what do you do with it when you catch it? As far as I could tell, the pursuit of sanctions was essentially an end in itself. What if the US actually succeeded in putting together a reasonable set of sanctions (as, in fact, we have)? Maybe our efforts will please the Israelis and a few others, but does it stop Iran? To be honest, the Iran team scarcely paid any attention to all this massive policy exertion. Admittedly, we felt lonely at times. But we never felt that our core objectives (freedom to proceed with our nuclear plans and our growing appetite for domestic political repression) were at risk, much less the survival of our rather peculiar regime, which was of course our most immediate concern. –Gary Sick, quoted in “How Unilateral Iran Sanctions May Backfire,” Laura Rozen, Politico
I propose that Google set up a Journalism Innovators’ Fund with an initial annual budget of $100 million—less than 0.5 percent of the more than $20 billion it takes in annually. The fund would seek not to subsidize existing news operations but to support creative ideas and new programs aimed at reinventing the news as Schmidt suggests. It would support start-ups and fledgling enterprises engaged in investigation, international reporting, policy analysis, blogging, and other forms of probing and provocative reporting and commentary undertaken by the independent journalists who, given the severe retrenchment taking place at traditional organizations, are making up an ever-larger part of the field. More and more journalists are becoming entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs need start-up capital, and who better to provide it than Google, itself a product of, and tribute to, the entrepreneurial spirit? –“The News Crisis: What Google can do,” Michael Massing, The New York Review of Books
What matters is that she does, and that her readers feel they are hearing an authentic voice. I find the voice undeniably authentic (yes, I know the book was written “with the help” of Lynn Vincent, but many books, including my most recent one, are put together by an editor). It is the voice of small-town America, with its folk wisdom, regional pride, common sense, distrust of rhetoric (itself a rhetorical trope), love of country and instinctive (not doctrinal) piety. It says, here are some of the great things that have happened to me, but they are not what makes my life great and American. (“An American life is an extraordinary life.”) It says, don’t you agree with me that family, freedom and the beauties of nature are what sustain us? And it also says, vote for me next time. For it is the voice of a politician, of the little girl who thought she could fly, tried it, scraped her knees, dusted herself off and “kept walking.” –“Sarah Palin Is Coming to Town,” Stanley Fish, the New York Times (via)
I recently spent a semester teaching writing at an elite liberal-arts college. At strategic points around the campus, in shades of yellow and green, banners displayed the following pair of texts. The first was attributed to the college’s founder, which dates it to the 1920s. The second was extracted from the latest version of the institution’s mission statement:
The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.
Let us take a moment to compare these texts. The first thing to observe about the older one is that it is a sentence. It expresses an idea by placing concepts in relation to one another within the kind of structure that we call a syntax. It is, moreover, highly wrought: a parallel structure underscored by repetition, five adverbs balanced two against three.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A naked man believed to be under the influence of LSD rammed his pickup truck into two police cars.
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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”