Monthly Archives: November 2008

Washington Babylon — November 30, 2008, 12:22 pm

Accountability, There and Here

There: India’s highest-ranking security official resigned on Sunday, as the government began to reckon with the fallout from a three-day standoff with militants that raised troubling questions about India’s vulnerability to terrorism. As an investigation moved forward, there were questions about whether Indian authorities could have anticipated the attack and had better security in place, especially after a 2007 report to Parliament that the country’s shores were inadequately protected from infiltration by sea — which is how the attackers sneaked into Mumbai. Home Minister Shivraj Patil, responsible for public safety and internal security as one of the most senior members …

Washington Babylon — November 30, 2008, 10:45 am

McCaffrey’s War

From the New York Times: Through seven years of war an exclusive club has quietly flourished at the intersection of network news and wartime commerce. Its members, mostly retired generals, have had a foot in both camps as influential network military analysts and defense industry rainmakers. It is a deeply opaque world, a place of privileged access to senior government officials, where war commentary can fit hand in glove with undisclosed commercial interests and network executives are sometimes oblivious to possible conflicts of interest. Few illustrate the submerged complexities of this world better than Barry McCaffrey… But it was 9/11 …

No Comment, Quotation — November 30, 2008, 12:02 am

Auden’s Musée des Beaux Arts

About suffering they were never wrong, The Old Masters: how well they understood Its human position; how it takes place While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along; How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting For the miraculous birth, there always must be Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating On a pond at the edge of the wood: They never forgot That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s …

No Comment, Quotation — November 29, 2008, 9:39 am

Pico della Mirandola and the Divine Gift to Humankind

Idcirco iam rebus omnibus (ut Moses Timeusque testantur) absolutis, de producendo homine postremo cogitavit. Verum nec erat in archetipis unde novam sobolem effingeretn nec in thesauris quod novo filio hereditarium largiretur, o nec in subsellisp totius orbis, ubi universi contemplator iste sederet. Iam plena omnia; omnia summis, mediis infimisque ordinibus fuerant distributa… Statuit tandem optimus artifex, ut cui dari nihil proprium poteratr commune esset quicquid privatum singulis fuerat. Igitur hominem accepit indiscretæ opus imaginis atque in mundi positum meditullio sic est alloquutus: «Nec certam sedem, nec propriam faciem, nec munus ullum peculiare tibi dedimus, o Adam, ut quam sedem, quam …

No Comment — November 28, 2008, 12:15 pm

Let Us Be Thankful

Like millions of Americans, I took a break yesterday to give thanks. For most of the past eight years starting with Thanksgiving 2001, I’ve had trouble identifying things to be thankful for. It’s never been a case of material shortcoming, of course. Americans for the most part know a sort of material wealth and comfort that was unknown to the species in prior millennia and was unknown to the Pilgrim fathers who instituted the practice of Thanksgiving. My great concern was over the nation’s stewardship, which had been entrusted to incompetent and malicious hands of a sort the nation had …

Washington Babylon — November 28, 2008, 11:51 am

Summers and Hedge Funds

After being named as Barack Obama’s top White House economics adviser, Lawrence Summers resigned from his post as a managing director of D.E. Shaw & Co, a leading hedge fund. “Neither the Obama transition team nor D.E. Shaw would say exactly what Summers had done in his two years of work for the $36 billion hedge fund, or how much he has been paid, Politico reports. A 2007 article in Institutional Investor’s Alpha says only that Summers was hired to work “with the senior management team to ?nd new ways to generate pro?t and manage risk.” D.E. Shaw is a …

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Exiled·

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It has become something of a commonplace to say that Mike Pence belongs to another era. He is a politician whom the New York Times has called a “throwback,” a “conservative proudly out of sync with his times,” and a “dangerous anachronism,” a man whose social policies and outspoken Christian faith are so redolent of the previous century’s culture wars that he appeared to have no future until, in the words of one journalist, he was plucked “off the political garbage heap” by Donald Trump and given new life. Pence’s rise to the vice presidency was not merely a personal advancement; it marked the return of religion and ideology to American politics at a time when the titles of political analyses were proclaiming the Twilight of Social Conservatism (2015) and the End of White Christian America (2016). It revealed the furious persistence of the religious right, an entity whose final demise was for so long considered imminent that even as white evangelicals came out in droves to support the Trump-Pence ticket, their enthusiasm was dismissed, in the Washington Post, as the movement’s “last spastic breath.”

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Just after dawn in Lhamo, a small town on the northeastern corner of the Tibetan Plateau, horns summon the monks of Serti Monastery to prayer. Juniper incense smolders in the temple’s courtyard as monks begin arriving in huddled groups. Some walk the kora, a clockwise circumambulation around the building. Others hustle toward the main door, which sits just inside a porch decorated in bright thangka paintings. A pile of fur boots accumulates outside. When the last monks have arrived, the horn blowers leaning out of the second-floor windows retire indoors.

When I visited Lhamo in 2015, most monks at Serti attended the morning prayers, but not Ngawang Chötar, the vice president of the monastery’s management committee, or siguanhui. Instead, he could usually be found doing business somewhere on Lhamo’s main street. Like all Tibetan monks, he sports a buzz cut, and his gait, weighed down by dark crimson robes, resembles a penguin’s shuffle. When he forgets the password to his account on WeChat, China’s popular messaging service—a frequent occurrence—he waits for the town’s cell phone repairman at his favorite restaurant, piling the shells of sunflower seeds into a tidy mound.

Illustration by Simon Pemberton
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The Pictures·

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As he approached his death in 1987, the photographer Peter Hujar was all but unknown, with a murky reputation and a tiny, if elite, cult following. Slowly circling down what was then the hopeless spiral of ­AIDS, Peter had ceaselessly debated one decision, which he reached only with difficulty, and only when the end drew near. He was in a hospital bed when he made his will that summer, naming me the executor of his entire artistic estate—and also its sole owner.

The move transformed my life and induced a seething fury in lots of decent people. I can see why. Peter did not make me his heir for any of the usual reasons. I was a good and trusted friend, but he had scads of those. I was not the first person he considered for the job, nor was I the most qualified. In fact, I was a rank amateur, and my understanding of his art was limited. I knew his photographs were stunning, often upsetting, unpredictably beautiful, distinctively his. I also knew they were under­rated and neglected. But I did not then really grasp his achievement.

Photograph by Peter Hujar
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Drinking Problems·

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The friendly waitress at the Pretty Prairie Steak House delivers tumblers of tap water as soon as diners take their seats. Across Main Street, the Wagon Wheel Café offers the same courtesy. Customers may also order coffee or iced tea, but it all starts at the same tap, and everyone is fine with that. This blasé attitude about drinking water surprised me: everyone in this little farm town in Reno County, Kansas, knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that the liquid flowing from the municipal water tower was highly contaminated with nitrate, a chemical compound derived from fertilizer and connected to thyroid problems and various cancers. At the time I visited Pretty Prairie, last fall, nitrate levels there were more than double the federal standard for safe drinking water.

Illustration by Jen Renninger.
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Nothing But·

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The truth—that thing I thought I was telling.—John Ashbery To start with the facts: the chapter in my book White Sands called “Pilgrimage” is about a visit to the house where the philosopher Theodor Adorno lived in Los Angeles during the Second World War. It takes its title from the story of that name by Susan Sontag (recently republished in Debriefing: Collected Stories) about a visit she and her friend Merrill made to the house of Adorno’s fellow German exile Thomas Mann in the Pacific Palisades, in 1947, when she was fourteen. It seemed strange that the story was originally …
Photograph by Augusta Wood

Percentage of US college students who have a better opinion of conservatives after their first year:

50

Plastic surgeons warned that people misled by wide-angle distortion in selfies were seeking nose jobs.

Trump fires missiles at Syria, a former FBI director likens Trump to a Mafia boss, and New Yorkers mistake a racoon for a tiger.

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"Gun owners have long been the hypochondriacs of American politics. Over the past twenty years, the gun-rights movement has won just about every battle it has fought; states have passed at least a hundred laws loosening gun restrictions since President Obama took office. Yet the National Rifle Association has continued to insist that government confiscation of privately owned firearms is nigh. The NRA’s alarmism helped maintain an active membership, but the strategy was risky: sooner or later, gun guys might have realized that they’d been had. Then came the shootings at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, and at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, followed swiftly by the nightmare the NRA had been promising for decades: a dedicated push at every level of government for new gun laws. The gun-rights movement was now that most insufferable of species: a hypochondriac taken suddenly, seriously ill."

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