Blighted Albion

Via everyone's favorite "smart conservative" Ross Douthat, I see that Zadie Smith is sounding a lot like Jonathan Coe in The Closed Circle (as well as someone called Theodore Dalrymple) in her take on contemporary England. They all seem to think that it's undergone a weird transformation in the last 10 or 20 years, and that whereas English people used to be polite and well-behaved and basically content, they're now all rude and angry and antisocial. And it seems sort of true. I don't have any big thoughts on how or why this has happened but it seems like more and more people are starting to notice it.

Wait, so the part about not having any big thoughts on this was true at the time i wrote it, but untrue 5 seconds later. I began to notice something in the air in English culture right around 1993, but i thought of it as positive. It had something to do with the football league getting richer and more open to foreigners, and something to do with London starting to be a hip cultural capital type place again, and something to do with alot of new buildings going up and French and Italian cafes popping up on every street corner. And people seemed better looking than they had previously been, a trend which seems to have continued to this day. Anyhoo, I know this is all impossibly vague, but i kind of think that stuff is not totally unrelated to what people like ZS and JC are identifying now in a much more negative way. And the way it's related, maybe, is that the idea of a world where you could get rich easily and watch satellite football and eat Italian food outside somehow got confused with the idea that there were no longer any rules at all, and all the norms of civilized society sort of got thrown out the window. This is all very jumbled up and is starting to sound weirdly conservative but what you can do? Help me out here.

What will we tell the children?

So David Dreier, the guy replacing Tom DeLay as House Majority Leader, turns out to be gay.

I'm confused. I thought putting gay people in positions of power would send the wrong message to our children about deviant lifestyles. I guess its okay if they have a 92 rating from the Christian Coalition.

UPDATE: Looks like I blogged too soon. Should have known they wouldn't do that.


Reality Show Thrills for the NYT Mag Set

I don't ususally spend a lot of time thinking about the visual presentation and illustration of magazine articles (although now that my job is as editor of a magazine i probably should). But there was something really weird and disturbing about the pictures and captions that went along with the piece by Joan Didion in the NYT Mag on Sunday.

About the piece itself, I don't have much to say other than that i initially resisted reading it since it felt like too much death on a Sunday morning and i didn't know if i could cope. But then I did and it was fine, although not that compelling since her patented Didion prose style, when applied to personal things rather than political or social ones, just feels kind of vague and imprecise.

Anyhoo. Whether you liked it or not, this was a piece about the experience of having your husband die. But the photos and their captions made it seem like the point was that readers were getting some kind of intimate peek into the home life of a famous person. Check out these two pictures, especially the one with the pen. I mean what the fuck? Is that supposed to generate some kind of frisson of excitement, knowing that Joan Didion and her now dead husband keep pens and notepads around their house as "idea catchers"? It's like Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous or whatever.

I get that a certain amount of scene-setting detail can help make these people seem real, and so make the piece more powerful. Maybe even showing the armchair where the guy used to sit. But the thing with the pens isn't on that level at all. It's about using a piece of writing on just about the most personal subject there is to create some cheap reality-show-style thrill for readers.

Did you have that reaction?


Virtual nerds get each other sick ...

According to ArsTechnica, a virtual plague has gotten loose in World of Warcraft, the hugely popular online game:

The trouble started when Blizzard programmers added a ... separate area ... that players can enter and attempt unique quests. One of these instances, Zul'Grub, contained the god of blood, Hakkar. Hakkar was a powerful foe that could cast spells of his own, including a spell called Corrupted Blood. This spell did a large amount of damage to any player within the vicinity....

What happened next was something Blizzard did not expect. Some of the players who had gone into the instance emerged back into the main world of Azeroth, and started spreading the Corrupted Blood disease to others who they came into close contact with. The infection soon spread into many of the cities and towns in the virtual world....

Instead of being angry about the deleterious effects of a bug, many are treating this as an exciting and unprecedented event in the WoW universe.


Not to make this the Matt Yglesias show or anything...

...since he does have a bunch of his own blogs and everything, but this is so so worth reading if you haven't yet maxed out on the "Iraq: No Good Options, Really" theme. (It continues below the date and time line, and the best stuff is toward the end.)


I have been waiting a long long time to point out that Matthew Yglesias has gotten something wrong

At last the glorious day has arrived. He writes:

BETTER CRONYISM, PLEASE. I appreciate the desire to associate the president with the highly successful invasion of Afghanistan, but the notion being floated here that General Tommy Franks would be a good candidate for Gulf Coast Reconstruction Czar (or whatever) doesn't really withstand cursory scrutiny. Running CENTCOM is nothing like running the sort of project that's being envisioned.
Obviously, it would be asking too much to ask George W. Bush to reach outside his circle of political allies to find a competent professional, but really all a president needs to do is think a little about the cronies he has at his disposal. USAID Administrator Andrew Natsios has done disaster relief, has worked in administration, financial management, and urban infrastructure. And that's just off the top of my head; surely the White House has access to some personnel files that could let them find somebody.

But this assumes that the White House's goal here is to find the person who can most efficiently rebuild the Gulf Coast. It isn't. It's to find the person who can best "project strength" and thereby give the public the impression that the White House is spearheading an effective response. Looked at in that way, choosing Tommy Franks makes perfect sense.

It's Funny Because It's True, Part Deux

Scott McLellan at home

It's funny because it's true

John Roberts declines to answer questions on Logan v. Wayne.


Karl Rove is Smiling

This is bad bad news. If there's one thing the GOP could use right about now, it's an opportunity to start talking about how Democrats want to stop people from being Christians.

Metcalf on Smith

So Metcalf, no fan of Hornby, doesn't seem to like Zadie Smith much either, or at least her latest. I am still weirdly excited to read it. It just sounds, like White Teeth, sort of big -- lots of characters and ideas and stuff, and those kind of books are always more enjoyable than any other kind, I think.

Metcalf's review also contains maybe the best and most elegant description of the challenge of writing fiction that I've ever seen. Virgina Woolf said that E.M. Forster's problem was:

"How to connect the actual thing with the meaning of the thing and to carry the reader's mind across the chasm which divides the two without spilling a single drop of its belief."

Brilliant huh?


Playing Twister in the wind

It's pretty clear that the worse things get for FEMA director Mike Brown, the better it is for the president and the rest of the administration. It's a given that Brown will be fired soon -- the only question is, how long can they keep him around to absorb the lion's share of the flak?

UPDATE: Why else drag it out like this?


A first for rothbrothers

In response to Zack's last post, we got our first comment that wasn't by one of the blog's authors. It was posted by someone named 101493, who has a fascinating blog of his own. Check it out.

Race, Katrina, and Greyhound

I had to travel on a Greyhound bus last Friday. It was Labor Day weekend and everyone was traveling and there were a million people there and all the buses were delayed and everyone was having to wait around in the hot bus depot, with almost no reliable information about when and how they’d be getting where they needed to go. Your basic nightmare traveling situation. Having spent the whole week reading about New Orleans, the whole issue of race and access to services was sort of in the forefront of my mind, and I kind of started interpreting every development in those terms. And the main thing that struck me was how I, along with the other white middle class people there, were way more dissatisfied with the whole situation than any of the black people were. To us, the fact that we were having to wait, and no one was giving us good information, and Greyhound had clearly done an appalling job of catering to its customers' needs in an efficient way, was totally outrageous. We got out of line and demanded answers from people in uniform, and when those answers weren’t forthcoming, we laughed and shook our heads sadly at each other to indicate how pathetic we deemed the whole situation, and how grievously we’d been wronged. But the black people just waited, and joked around, and generally acted like nothing was owed them. And it seemed like this was just something that was totally in keeping with their everyday lives. I mean, not to generalize too much, but a lot of them probably spend a good part of every day waiting a while for the bus, or waiting around at some underfunded government agency, or waiting to have their kid see a doctor in some understaffed public hospital, or whatever. The way things are set up just means that that kind of inconvenience is just a built in feature of their lives. I know this is kind of obvious, and I don’t have any grand conclusions to draw from this but it just sort of struck me in a new way.


Hopefully, America's misbegotten love affair with Barbara Bush is finally over.


Oh, well that's a relief

From the NYT web site (and the grammatical error is sic):

Mr. Bush took note that the Mississippi home of Senator Trent Lott had been destroyed, the president said he saw himself one day sitting with the former Senate Republican leader on his rebuilt front porch.

UPDATE: Want to sit on the porch with them? Buy the bumper sticker.

Why Didn't They Just Hire a Limo Like That Other Family?

Most of the time I try not to let myself think that the people running our country literally couldn't care less if black people die. But sometimes it's hard to avoid that conclusion.

Via Josh Marshall, here's what Michael Brown, the head of FEMA, said on CNN yesterday:

BROWN: Well, I think the death toll may go into the thousands. And unfortunately, that's going to be attributable a lot to people who did not heed the evacuation warnings. And I don't make judgments about why people choose not to evacuate.

But, you know, there was a mandatory evacuation of New Orleans. And to find people still there is just heart wrenching to me because the mayor did everything he could to get them out of there. And so we've got to figure out some way to convince people that when evacuation warnings go out, it's for their own good. Now, I don't want to second guess why they did that. My job now is to get relief to them.

I can't stand these fucking people any more.