Tuesday, April 10, 2007


From recently deceased Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski's Shah of Shahs:
Oil kindles extraordinary emotions and hopes, since oil is above all a great temptation. It is the temptation of ease, wealth, strength, fortune, power. It is a filthy, foul-smelling liquid that squirts obligingly up into the air and falls back to earth as a rustling shower of money.

To discover and possess the source of oil is to feel as if, after wandering long underground, you have suddenly stumbled upon royal treasure. Not only do you become rich, but you are also visited by the mystical conviction that some higher power has looked upon you with the eye of grace and magnanimously elevated you above others, electing you its favorite. Many photographs preserve the moment when the first oil spurts from the well: people jumping for joy, falling into each other's arms, weeping.

Oil creates the illusion of a completely changed life, life without work, life for free. Oil is a resource that anesthetizes thought, blurs vision, corrupts. People from poor countries go around thinking: God, if only we had oil! The concept of oil expresses perfectly the eternal human dream of wealth achieved through lucky accident, through a kiss of fortune and not by sweat, anguish, hard work.

In this sense oil is a fairy tale and, like every fairy tale, a bit of a lie. Oil fills us with such arrogance that we begin believing we can easily overcome such unyielding obastacles as time. With oil, the last Shah used to say, I will create a second America in a generation! He never created it. Oil, though powerful, has its defects. It does not replace thinking or wisdom.

For rulers, one of its most alluring qualities is that it strengthens authority. Oil produces great profits without putting a lot of people to work. Oil causes few social problems because it creates neither a numerous proletariat nor a sizable bourgeoisie. Thus the government, freed from the need of splitting the profits with anyone, can dispose of them according to its own ideas and desires. Look at the ministers from oil countries, how high they hold their heads, what a sense of power they have, they, the lords of energy, who decide whether we will be driving cars tomorrow or walking.

And oil's relation to the mosque? What vigor, glory, and significance this new wealth has given to its religion, Islam, which is enjoying a period of accelerated expansion and attracting new crowds of the faithful (34-35).
(Paragraph breaks added.)

Update: Many more quotes from this book uploaded by Sheila here.


Monday, April 09, 2007

Novels of Post-9-11 Computer Security


Bruce Sterling's The Zenith Angle is about five times better, both as a novel and as policy-corrective, than is Richard Clarke's Breakpoint.


Monday, April 02, 2007

"They Might Whine, But You've Got To Be Firm!"

Oh please, Americans of all stripes, please, please, would you not construct arguments about foreign policy by refering to your own childcare philosophy? I know you think it makes you sound "homely" and "grounded," but really, it just makes you seem ignorant.

For one thing, most of your interlocutors are in the wrong conversational mode or lack the professional qualifications to tell you that you're raising your children wrong. What the hell is an reporter in the middle of a call-in segment supposed to say? "Hmm, Mrs. Krabopple of Wisconsin, I can't say that I approve of spanking your children for that mild a retort! Therefore, what you have to say about the Iranian hostage issue should be ignored.----Next caller?" No, they'll be polite to your face about your private life, and you should respect that restraint by not making your private life into foreign policy arguments.

For another thing, nation-states aren't remotely like children, and people living in these foreign nation-states resent being compared to children. There's a long and disgusting history of that sort of thing. Since the US is so powerful, people in other countries do watch our media and read our blogs and whatnot. When you play parent to the world, these foreign watchers aren't thinking "oh, that's so paternalistic---but in a good way!" At best, they're worried that our country is going to blunder flat-footed all over yet another delicate situation, like some overeager St. Bernard. That's probably too optimistic a projection, though. It's more likely that most foreigners see us as both incompetant and malicious.

(I'm not going to link to what set me off in this particular instance; it wasn't that interesting.)


Sunday, April 01, 2007

Saffron Almond Brittle

I've been making this recipe for so many months now that I assumed I knew it by heart already, but then I tried to make it without Batmanglij's Persian cookbook to hand and completely fouled it up. So, in the interest of mobility and sharing...

Saffron Almond Brittle

--1 cup sugar
--3 T. honey
--4 T. corn oil
--1.5 cups slivered almonds
--1/4 tsp. ground saffron in...
--2 T. rose water
--4 T. chopped pistachos

Step One:

After grinding the saffron and putting it in the rose water to infuse, prepare a bowl of ice water. Just put it next to the oven range.

Step Two:

Over medium heat, combine sugar, oil, and honey in a heavy pot. Let cook for about five minutes, stirring constantly. You want all the element to combine and liquify.

Step Three:

Add the almonds, and let them cook (while stirring!) for about 2-3 minutes, until the mixture is firm and golden.

Step Four: (Here's where the timing gets important)

Add the saffron/rosewater mixture, and let the whole mixture cook (while stirring!) for about 2-4 minutes, until it is golden-brown in color. It may be excitingly frothy. At this point, drop a little bit into the ice-water: if it hardens instantly, then you've got to GO! GO! GO!

Step Five:

Turn the heat down. Drop teaspoonfuls of the VOLCANICALLY HOT almond mixture onto parchment paper. Garnish immediately with chopped pistachios. Allow droplet brittle to cool and harden on the paper for ten minutes or so; store in airtight container to make it really brittle.

Then, foist it on your bridge group! It's vegan!


Spring Has Sprung

We had a false spring a couple of weeks ago; my honey and I barbequed in shirtsleeves and bare feet one night, and the sky opened up and dumped six inches of snow the next.

This time, though, the trend is real. Most of the daffodills haven't yet bloomed, but the crocuses are just popping out of the ground, surprising little mushrooms of color. Birds are going barmy with lust, and humans aren't far behind. The first weekend of real spring, when people rub the winter's sleep out of their eyes and notice the others around them, was such a discovery to this West Coast child: I'd never imagined such a rebirth, such a humming. It feels wonderful.


Monday, March 19, 2007

Snow in Queens

Friday night, corner of 33rd and Broadway in Astoria.


Wednesday, March 14, 2007

And The People Rejoiced

Congratulations to Matt Weiner, who has accepted an offer from the University of Vermont! While Lubbock, Texas surely has its charms---no, I'm sorry, I won't finish that sentence.


Site Maintenance

Some changes, some desired changes.

--I've finally switched over to the Beta version of Blogger, not that I had any choice in the matter, and I figure that I might as well use the damned tag option.

--The credit for the sidebar "Recent Comments" hack appears now to lead to an extremely graphic pr0n site. I would suggest if you have a bloggerhacks link on your page to check it out. I'd be very willing to credit the bloggerhacks people for the code I'm using, but I don't link to pr0n.

--That said, my "recent comments" sidebar sometimes misses comments.

--Blogger Beta hasn't come up with an elegant solution for extendable posts, damn them. I've changed the visually awkward "mutterings continued" with "etc," but as usual, I'll indicate whether I've posted something below the fold.

--Blogger Beta has a template layout program that seems very inviting---until you realise that in order to use it, you have to revert to the standard template. Within a few minutes of switching over, I discovered that hyperlinks in the author porfile text were disallowed; switching back, I discovered that my background color had been changed. It's a trap! Avoid!

Desired changes:
--I would really like to be able to get rid of the top navigational bar again. I've tried a couple of hacks out there (which haven't worked), but am still nervous of tinkering with the page geometry to overlay it.

--I'd like to format a couple of pictures to use in the header but don't have Photoshop. Are there any good websites to help me through this?

--I hate, hate, hate most of the Profile-Dump code available in this template. If I just delete it and build the sidebar from scratch, will Blogger come after me? Okay, maybe I'm just looking for moral support as I undertake what is surely to be a stupidly self-taught exercise.



Tuesday, March 13, 2007

For Kriston

And all the other bearded young men about town.
"[I]nstead of being a man afflicted by nature with a beard, and as such more to be pitied than censured, he was a deliberate putter-on of beards, a self-bearder, a fellow who, for who knew what dark reasons, carried his own private jungle around with him, so that any moment he could dive into it and defy pursuit. It was childish to suppose that such a man could be up to any good."
--P.G. Wodehouse, Big Money (1931), Penguin 1953, 55.


Monday, March 12, 2007

Burke as Politician

In the ongoing operation of trying to salvage a worthwhile conservativism out of the Bush years, Brad DeLong makes an argument about Edmund Burke that is very important.

It's very convenient to invoke a cardboard Burke, complete with easily summarised key concepts; both liberals and conservatives do so. It doesn't match up well with the messy tangle of Burke's writings, though. Far too much weight has been given to the canonical conservative Burke--the great defender of institutions and national culture!--and far too little weight has been given to the canny, inconsistant, situational Burke.

A couple of paragraphs from DeLong's post, then (I know he won't mind the cutting and pasting):
When Edmund Burke in his Reflections on the Revolution in France makes the argument that Britons should respect the organic political tradition of English liberty that has been inherited from the past, he whispers under his breath that the only reason we should respect the Wisdom of the Ancestors is that in this particular case Burke thinks that the Ancestors--not his personal ancestors, note--were wise.

Whenever Burke thought that the inherited political traditions were not wise, the fact that they were the inherited Wisdom of the Ancestors cut no ice with him at all. It was one of the traditions and institutions of Englishmen that they would conquer, torture, and rob wogs whenever and wherever they were strong enough to do so. That tradition cut no ice with Edmund Burke when he was trying to prosecute Warren Hastings. It was one of the traditions and institutions of Englishmen that all power flowed to Westminster. That tradition cut no ice with Burke when he was arguing for conciliation with and a devolution of power to the American colonists. It was one of the traditions and institutions of Englishmen that Ireland was to be plundered and looted for the benefit of upwardly-mobile English peers-to-be. That tradition, too, cut no ice with Burke.


What are good institutions? Burke sounds like Madison: checks-and-balances, separation of powers, rights of the subject, limitations on the state. Burke's views on what good institutions are are Enlightenment views--that branch of the Enlightenment that took people as they are and politics as a science, that is, rather than the branch that took people as Rousseau hoped they might someday be and politics as the striking of an oppositional pose. Because he finds that the English past is usable as a support for his Enlightenment-driven views, Burke makes conservative arguments in Reflections. But whenever conservative arguments lead where Burke doesn't want to go--to Richelieu or Louis XIV or the plunder of Ireland or the Star Chamber or Warren Hastings or imperial centralization--Burke doesn't make them. England's inheritance of institutions and practices is to be respected wherever it supports Burke's conception of properly-ordered liberty, and ignored wherever it does not.
Yes, I think this gets very near to what coherent political principle there is in Burke.