Friday, March 17, 2006

Blogger is Insufficient

That is all.

Update (clearly, that was not all!):
My apologies for the multiple posts expressing hatred for Blogger, although, I should make clear, my hatred is not abated. There is something about not being able to view one's own sites that makes disappearing posts seem unreal; hence the multiplicity of posts about Blogger's insufficiency. My thanks to those here and at HatingonCharlesBird who suggested Wordpress. I'll look into it.

Blogger seems to have restored operations to normal, for now. For what that's worth.


Thursday, March 16, 2006

Blogger Is Free, Blogger is Free

I've been forbidden from accessing my own damned site for most of the day, no matter how I've tried to approach them.

It's enough to make one wonder where to start looking into Moveable Type and cheap web hosts. Any suggestions?


Something Wrong?

I've been struggling with the Blogger software for my Hatingoncharlesbird site all day. Attempts to connect to it have been denied--as unauthorized, which is rich. Attempts to post to it have encountered errors. I can't even access the site from my Blogger dashboard. At one point today Blogger registered a "we're retooling this site" message. Are there any other problems to report?

And: how can we get off this godawful software/hosting?


Wednesday, March 15, 2006

State Writes: A Meme

Matt Weiner tagged me with a meme--my first! Mercifully, it's a pretty cool meme: write a sentence about each state you've visited.

[Update: *cough* That should be a one-sentence anecdote about one's experiences in that state. Please feel free to follow Weiner's example rather than mine.]

California: While it's easy to talk to anybody there, it's difficult to move beyond talk.

Nevada: The casinos are only touristic fronts for a beautiful landscape and an eccentric and unpredictable people.

Oregon: It's possible to be a Mormon fundamentalist in the Portland suburbs.

Washington: The driftwood on the foggy, deserted beaches were soothing when I contemplated my great-aunt's isolation.

Arizona: A strange mixture of senior-citizen compounds and devil-may-care desert-rat towns, Arizona is a beautiful place where I'd never live.

Utah: Southern Utah has all the natural beauty and the anarchic weirdness; Northern Utah has all the pragmatic discipline.

Colorado: Despite the truly magnificent landscape, the fascinating political divide, and the familial ties, I don't think I could ever live there because it's so damned white.

Massachusetts: So cute, so green, so rural (even when it isn't), so bloody boring: still, it was where I first saw snow in a domestic setting.

New Jersey: What visitor can presume to understand the soul of New Jersey?

Hawaii: More than anything else, I remember my plan for escaping with the car when the rest of my family were consumed by the volcano.

Alaska: "Okay, like, sure, Dad, it's pretty and all that, but, like, what the hell do people do around here because, like, if you have to take a plane to get out of town and this is all the town I see, I really do not understand what people are doing for fun."

New York: The state that contains the pragmatic city that overthrew all of my unconscious, engrained ideas about race still runs its politics as though ethnic-identifications were sacrocant.

When I earn more money, I really do plan to travel more within the US.

Okay, I get to tag three people, eh? I'll tag Liberal Japonicus, Charles Bird, and hilzoy.


Thursday, March 09, 2006

Return of the..Does It Even Amount to Repressed?

When I first started my own blog, after lurking and carefully commenting here and there, I had a couple of nightmares about being harassed and ridiculed by bloggers or followers of bloggers whom I linked to. I got over that fear rather quickly because of course in the scale of influences to be countered, I'm not particularly important. The quasi-anonymity combined with the lack of actual but always potential audience felt liberating.

So, it's almost fantastical to see Tacticus even bother to be an asshole on my other site, in this thread. More annoyance below the fold.

Despite his unpleasant sorties into Obsidian Wings, I really had thought he was above entering into random blogs linking his entries; I had almost begun thinking of him as a quasi-serious journalist, albeit one with whom I have disagreed with and been annoyed by for years.

If he were comfortably above our criticisms, as I really had thought he should consider himself to be, why the hell would he descend into a comment thread (found via Technorati) about his most recent article to bash about critics with the crassest USENET rhetoric?

As obscure as my sites are, I've on occasion used Technorati or Google to find people who disagreed with my postings. When it's looked as though it wasn't worth being an asshole to defend myself and my positions on foreign turf, I haven't bothered to leave a comment.

I'm in no respects a professional blogger and have no machismo to maintain. Maybe if I picked fights with random people I found via Technorati, it might make sense to look into BlogAds, but as for now, that's really not what I'm about.

Oh, and a year-old evaluation of Tacitus's schlocky style does not an obession make. Still, on reconsideration, his style is schlocky. It's almost interestingly so, given the schlock of our times. Given that he has accused me of being an "unhealthy obsessive, would he care to defend himself against my charge that he has an asinine and schlockly prose style?

What seems most useful to me in the recent dust-up is the contrast in visions for blogging. Tacitus's projects seem to be curiously top-down, bordering on ad-hoc astroturf. Some of those projects have managed to develop into actual communities, despite Tacitus's vaunted diplomatic style.

However, those whom Tacitus currently denounces as "splinter, inner-faction" groups apparently managed to set up non-mission-statement-organized groups. ObWi is a more complex group than is (are there *any* women posting at Tacitus now?). Liberal bloggers seem rather more accepting and encouraging when former commenters set up other power structures. HoCB really isn't confined to hating on Charles Bird. I'm astonished that I have to spell this out to a conservative, but then, perhaps it's only liberal academics who read Burke carefully.

Cathartic questions to Tacitus to which I don't expect to get meaningful answers:
--What the hell is wrong with a group of commenters setting up a parallel blog?
--Why should that threaten you?
--Why you think that blogs should have a singular mission?
--If you post an essay, why the hell shouldn't you expect it to be criticized?
--Why should you be an asshole towards people talking about it?
--Would you really rather that those who disagree with you shun you, as appears to be the consensus after your appearance on that thread?
Maybe Tacitus has gotten the wrong idea from the title of the blog. I'm actually rather fond of Charles Bird, who's been short with his detractors and sparse with acknowledgement of his defenders, but a decent sport, for which I'm pretty damned grateful. I'd much sooner vote for Bird than I would for Trevino, or any campaign he was involved in, seeing as I now do how pettily vindictive the latter is.


Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Hey, Thanks

I just noticed that Grammar Police added me to their "Mineshaft" (that's the Unfogged commentariat to the uninitiated) roll. To think I got my fruit basket less than a year ago...


Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The Ninth Life of Louis Drax
This short 2004 novel by Liz Jensen doesn't immediately present itself as a thriller, but midway through, the tension between what the characters understand and what the events describe have created a kind of horrific suspense that creeps up on one.

One of the reasons I like this book is that it's reworking the ambiguities of the Fantastic in a complex, modern fashion. That is to say, it presents multiple self-deluding narrators who take their realities as reality. And, in the best tradition of the Fantastic, the self-delusions can be understood within the context of broader cultural delusions.

There are two narrators in this novel. One is Louis Drax, the "accident-prone," preternaturally intelligent, self-described "disturbed child" central character. He is nine going on ten. This voice is astonishingly well-represented. Jensen manages to capture an intelligent child's partial understanding of the dynamics between the adults who control his life--along with the perhaps inevitable over-interpretation of that understanding. I particularly like how Jensen uses the usual tropes of "smart boys"--fascination with sharks and bats, for example--as vehicles for Louis's repressed emotions. Part of the suspense involves the morally ambiguous nature of the "accident-prone" Louis: malicious but innocent, or adored but evil?

The other narrator is Dr. Dannachet, the neurologist working in an hospice specializing in long-term coma patients, who becomes involved with the unconscious Louis Drax and his beautiful, suffering mother. Here, Jensen may have sacrificed some drama to realism: Dr. Dannachet's obsessions and weaknesses seem--to this weak obesessive--rather too easily overcome. His emotional ambivalences get a few paragraphs, but then he goes to work and reports to the police the new information he learns. However, the costs of his involvement aren't underplayed: the new emotional arrangements after the novel's events are presented as extremely fragile and contingent.

This is a clever book, and it addresses indirectly several very hot political questions (adoption and persistent vegetative syndrome, to name the least plot-giving-away). It's also a quick read.


Monday, March 06, 2006

Goodwill on 79 b/t Bwy and Amsterdam

Sharing this one is sheer altruism on my part; I wouldn't do it if I didn't think that my few readers lived far away. However, if you live in NYC or plan to visit this fair city, you might want to check this second-hand store out.

Upper-Westside ladies have expensive but not always aesthetic tastes. They tend to donate what they have, and that's a pretty big range of wonders and crap. Unlike the second-hand stores I've been to downtown or in Brooklyn, this store isn't as regularly picked over by hipsters. If you go there regularly, you may be the first hipster to consider an item!

I've found some real wonders, like the Alaia skirt at $4.50, or the perfect stilleto boots in my size at $8.Just today I picked up a Kenneth Cole lined wool skirt and a Calvin Klein knit top for $2.99 each. I write this trusting that my circulation is in the low single digits...


What Should He Do?

The role of the UN Secretary General is a strange one: he has a giant bully pulpit but little executive authority. More effectual power for the Secretary would, however, negate the coalition-building mission of the UN. So the Secretary's position would seem to be structured for frustration: diplomat to all, spokesperson for none, he or she even has to worry about crossing the diplomatic tripwires ("genocide" being key among them) that might prove the organization's hollowness.

Personally, I have a great deal of respect for Kofi Annan. I think he has been consistent, measured, and honest during the past few years of wildly fluctuating American discourse. No, he hasn't become an absolutist on some important issues, but, let's be frank, it's only in America that absolutist positions are required in political discourse--and it's to our detriment.

So, flame on about the UN and Kofi's position therein. Just, please, don't be tedious or petty.


Friday, March 03, 2006


I missed this blog's one-year anniversary , which was sometime last month. There's no cause to gloat--I've had 8,000 visitors this year, at least half of which visitors were probably me since I could never manage to get the bloody software to stop recognizing me. Anyway, I ignored all the how-to-make-your-blog-succesful advice. Once an academic linked to me, I started talking about religion. Once the Mormons started to link to me, I started to talk about French Literature. And on it goes. Unless one hopes to make money from blogging, I'm finding that it's important not to care too much about one's very hypothetical audience.


Sephora Tips...

...from a pretty shy person, mind you.

I struck up a genuine conversion with a saleswoman at Sephora in Manhattan (genuine enough that she told me about her family's pet conspiracy theories), and as I was going to the register, I asked her name "so that you'll get your commission." She didn't work on commission! She was just nice because she was nice and because I wasn't being a bitch. I don't know whether Sephora employees usually work on commission or not.

But this woman walked me through every product I was curious about: "Oh, no, that Tri-Vectin doesn't do shit for stretch marks. It's okay for facial wrinkles, though." And she gave me some wonderful free samples, good enough for the next month of moisturizing.

So be nice to the Sephora people. I've been an asshole there many times, when I didn't intend to buy anything (go in, try everything on, get made up, spriz with expensive perfume, and go!), but the employees can be wonderfully pragmatic with their advice and--if you're not a bitch--generous with samples. Admittedly, they'll usually bust out their take-home samples once you declare your intention to buy something, but given Sephora's general try-it-here business model, it's hard to feel taken advantage of.

One last thing: girls, go in with ONE goal. Either you're looking for ONE thing to buy, or you're just looking around, because otherwise the sheer display of products can you convinced *like that* that you need forty-five products just to look "natural."


Adam Smith, Relativist

From The Theory of Moral Sentiments(1759/61/90, V:4):
Few men have so much experience and acquaintance with the different modes which have obtained in remote ages and nations, as to be thoroughly reconciled to them, or to age and country. Few men therefore are willing to allow, that custom or fashion have much influence upon their judgments concerning what is beautiful or otherwise, in the productions of any of those arts; but imagine, that all the rules, which they think ought to be observed in each of them, are founded upon reason and nature, not upon habit or prejudice. A very little attention, however, may convince them of the contrary...
Oh, the historical difference! "A very little attention"--ha!

[Cross-posted at]


Thursday, March 02, 2006

Recent History in US-Iranian Exile Relations

This week's print edition of the New Yorker has a long article on Iranian exile groups and their influence--and lack thereof--in shaping American policy on Iran. Connie Bruck's "Exiles: How Iran's expatriates are gaming the nuclear threat" is more than anything a summary, a catch-up guide of all the behind-the-scenes politicking about Iran that wasn't being reported while we all were looking at Iraq.

And what's heartbreaking is how much overlap there is between our policies towards the two countries: engagement is impossible, the system must be replaced, the people want freedom, a charismatic exile will provide leadership, advocates of moderation are insufficiently visionary! Color me officially terrified.

A fair amount of specific information below the fold--still, buy the magazine and read the article for the full acount.

More specifically, Bruck describes two major exile organizations opposing Iran.

1) Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, son of the former Shah, has been for the past few years trying to make contacts beyond his circle of monarchists, but it seems that US governmental types (as well as a fair number of Iranians) are unconvinced that he's up to--or even truly desires--the job of overturning the theocratic regime and ruling. Reza Pahlavi is, apparently, hoping to be invited in as a constitutional monarch: "Vali Nasr, an Iranian-born political-science professor at the Naval Postgraduate School, whose father was counsellor to Queen Farah, said, 'I knew him when we were young. He's very nice--but he is not perceived by Iranians to be regal. And he wants to be brought back" [emphasis in the orig.]. Even weirder is former "White House aide for Iran" (what the hell does that title mean?) Gary Sick's suggestion that the Washingston Institute was conducting "screen tests" for prospective Iranian exile leaders.

2) The Mujahideen-e-Khalq (People's Mujahideen, or M.E.K.) was a students' group formed in opposition to the Shah but then disagreed with Khomeini. The M.E.K.'s leaders, Massoud and Maryam Rajavi, seem to have formed something of a strange cult around themselves. Funded during the 1980s and 90s by Saddam, the M.E.K. is widely loathed in Iran, and it remains on the US's list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations. During the 2003 invasion of Iraq, US troops very nearly destroyed an M.E.K. compound, before someone decided it would be more useful to court the group. However, it has proved to be a valuable conduit of information about Iran's nuclear facilities:
Shahriar Ahy, Reza Pahlavi's advisor, confirm that account [that the M.E.K.'s information about Iran's secret nuclear sites came from Israeli intelligence]--up to a point. "That information came not from the M.E.K. but from a friendly government, and it had come to more than one opposition group, not only the mujahaideen," he said. When I asked him if the "friendly government" was Israel, he smiled. "The friendly source did not want to be the source of it, publicly. If the friendly government gives it to the U.S. publicly, then it would be received differently. Better to come from an opposition group." Israel is said to have had a relationship with the M.E.K. at least since the late nineties, and to have supplied a satellite signal for N.C.R.I [M.E.K.'s political wing] broadcasts from Paris to Iran. When I asked an Israli diplomat about Israel's relationship with the M.E.K., he said, "The M.E.K. is useful," but declined to elaborate.
I'm citing this bit not because I think Israel is perfidious but rather because OF COURSE Israel, as an anti-this-Iran interest-group, is going to support factions obnoxious to the current Iranian regime no matter their specific ideology; that's simply realistic manoeuvering. It might be a connection worth knowing about, though.

So, to sum up: Pahlavi and most of his exile supporters seem to be feckless dreamers (at least to the US decision-makers at this point), and the MEK seems to be a cult movement strangely willing to sell itself to the highest or most convenient bidders. Personally, I'm hoping that Iranians within Iran shape their country's future. Politically, I would prefer a policy of engagement and rapprochement; Bruck's article shows how that option was systematically sidelined in favor of a total rejection of an "Islamist government." I recommend buying the New Yorker to read the article more in depth. It seems very likely that the easily demogogued question of "what to do about Iran's nuclear program" will become a major issue in 2006, so it's best to know who the players are.