Archive for April 2008
Two Reasons to Love NASA
There’s been a fair bit of coverage of London’s maybe-important mayoral election, which is tomorrow. Anne Applebaum offers the best, and most entertaining primer I’ve seen.
The candidates haven’t exactly gone out of their way to discourage this kind of commentary. Though he’s been more staid than usual during the mayoral campaign, Boris is a man who can’t stop telling jokes, whether at the expense of the aforementioned mistress or the people of Portsmouth (a city of “drugs, obesity, underachievement and Labour MPs”).
Adjectives like mop-haired, blustering, and old Etonian appear in just about every profile of him ever written. So does his most famous quotation—”Voting Tory will cause your wife to have bigger breasts and increase your chances of owning a BMW M3”—though that line is misleading since his sense of humor is usually far more self-deprecating. “Beneath the carefully constructed veneer of a blithering buffoon,” he once remarked, “there lurks a blithering buffoon.”
Ken, by contrast, isn’t funny or self-deprecating at all. His need to attract attention manifests itself in other ways: the expensive celebration he had planned to commemorate 50 years of Fidel Castro’s dictatorial rule, for example, or his public embrace of a Muslim cleric who defends suicide bombing and advocates the death penalty for homosexuals. Like Boris, Ken often offends people, though his insults are less likely to have started out as jokes. He called the U.S. ambassador to Britain a “chiseling little crook” and told a Jewish journalist he was behaving “like a concentration camp guard.”
The dismissiveness of the title Time gave this excerpt (it’s the same one I used above) bothers me a bit. What Rutka Laskier, a Polish Jew who died at Auschwitz when she was only 14, wrote could certainly stand on its own merits. This juxtaposition struck me:
I am writing this as if nothing has happened. As if I were in an army experienced in cruelty. But I’m young, I’m 14, and I haven’t seen much in my life, and I’m already so indifferent. Now I am terrified when I see “uniforms.” I’m turning into an animal waiting to die …
Now to everyday matters: Janek came by this afternoon. We had to sit in the kitchen … I told him that I had given away all my photographs. He got very upset. We were joking around; we spoke about “Nica and the gang.” While we were talking he suddenly blurted out he’d like it very much if he could kiss me. I said “maybe” and continued the conversation. He was a bit confused; he thought I was Tusia or Hala Zelinger. I would have allowed [myself] to be kissed only by the person I loved, and I feel indifferent towards him.
Jeffrey Goldberg got a blog at The Atlantic yesterday. His first post included a number of clever lines. Like:
Friends tell me that I will take naturally to blogging because I am in possession of many poorly considered opinions about issues I understand only marginally.
Sounds like a passable description of this blogger.
As nominally communist countries who believe firmly in capitalism as a way to economic development, China and Vietnam obviously have a lot in common. From this week’s Economist’s Special Report, an explanation of some of the ways they differ:
A foreign diplomat in Hanoi who used to serve in Beijing says that “everything here is more moderate than in China.” Vietnam is a bit less harsh with dissidents than China, and its capitalism too is less red in tooth and claw. Its health and education services have adapted more successfully to the transition to a market economy. Its press is strictly controlled, as in China, but the growing numbers of internet surfers have free access to most foreign news websites: there is no Vietnamese equivalent of the Great Firewall of China.
Whereas China is led from the top down and one man is clearly the paramount leader—Hu Jintao, who is both the head of the Communist Party and the state president—Vietnam has a consensual leadership. Its triumvirate of president, party boss and prime minister must reach accommodations with an increasingly independent national assembly and a host of other forces, and avoid upsetting the many surviving heroes of Vietnam’s independence wars.
From the large stack of old reading I’ve been meaning to do, I found this:
Offices in the 1970s and 1980s seemed to their critics burdensome remnants of an older age, symbolic shackles of bureaucracy—a system as inhuman as it was ineffective. Cubicles, by contrast, seemed to lack the fixity, and the constraints of bureaucracy of the old office. Moreover, cubicles eliminated the hierarchical distinctions between managers and workers; every cubicle had an open door, everyone was equally a worker. Empowering and humane, cubicles seemed to create a workplace with a soul.
I’m not quite sure how to explain twistori without all the magic escaping. Just go give it a look.
Shmuel Rosner’s argument against Jimmy Carter’s recent plea for engagement is rather inelegant. I did, however, find this contention interesting.
There’s no moral virtue in talking to one’s enemies. Engagement is a tool, but so are disengagement and isolation. Both are effective, if used wisely; both can be damaging if used in haste. Talking to one’s enemies is a tool—as is complaining about one’s reluctance to talk to one’s enemies. This is the tool now being used by Hamas and Syria—assisted by Carter—as they try to escape and counter the isolation being applied to them. Making the case for engagement helps them achieve their strategic goal.
Only 18% of the people live in a country whose press is rated “free” by Freedom House. You may be heartened a bit by the fact that that’s actually 36% or the countries, but it still seems a terribly sad state of affairs. A map (PDF) is available as well.
Also of note, The Economist’s Asia.view column examines how censorship has changed in recent years.