Tuesday 6 July, 2021

Seen on our cycle yesterday evening.

Quote of the Day

”I have long felt that any book reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has just put on full armour and attacked a hot fudge sundae or banana split.”

  • Kurt Vonnegut

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Wagner | Prelude to «Lohengrin» | Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic


Mark Twain famously observed that “Wagner’s music is better than it sounds”. He was wrong about this piece.

Long Read of the Day

When the Truth, and My Groom-to-Be, Stood Naked Before Me

TL;DR – Our partners can make us aware sometimes of important realities — ones we may be afraid to face — in the most loving of ways.

Lovely essay by Lauren DePino

My groom-to-be stood naked on the balcony of our fourth-floor Los Angeles apartment and threw his self-portrait over the railing, his firm toffee form glinting in the sun.

We peered at the oil painting below, a textured image of him in his 20s. The gold-leaf frame boomeranged light right up to us.

“How could you do that?” I yelled, incredulous for a moment that I chose to marry this man. “That’s my favorite painting of yours.” I darted out the door — making sure to slam it — and ran to the street. Miraculously, a car hadn’t bulldozed the art.

People were watching from their balconies…

Donald Rumsfeld, contd.

I’m temperamentally suspicious of the tradition of not speaking ill of the dead, and most of the establishment obituaries of Rumsfeld seemed to run true to that form. The notable exception was George Packer’s assessment that Rumsfeld had been the worst Secretary of Defense in American History.

But that’s really rather tame compared with the actuality. Which is why I took to “Donald Rumsfeld, Rot in Hell”, a sprightly assessment by Ben Burgis in Jacobin Magazine. Sample:

In an infamous column … at the National Review, Jonah Goldberg made the bluntest version of the case for invading Iraq, approvingly quoting an old speech by his friend Michael Ledeen: “Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business.” Warming to the same theme around the same time at the New York Times, Thomas Friedman said that “these countries” and their “terrorist” pals were being sent an important message by the very unpredictability of the Bush Administration’s warmongering: We know what you’re cooking in your bathtubs. “We don’t know exactly what we’re going to do about it, but if you think we are going to just sit back and take another dose from you, you’re wrong. Meet Don Rumsfeld – he’s even crazier than you are.”

Here’s what the craziness of Donald Rumsfeld looked like in practice for the citizens of the “crappy little countries” the United States picked and threw against the wall during Rumsfeld’s years as Bush’s Secretary of Defense: a peer-reviewed study published in The Lancet, one of the world’s most prestigious medical journals, in 2006 — the year Rumsfeld left office — estimated 654,965 “excess deaths” in Iraq since the invasion in 2003. That’s 2.5 percent of the total population of the country dead as a result of the violence.

This doesn’t, of course, take into account the spiraling waves of chaos and bloodshed that have continued to rock the region throughout the eighteen years since the region was destabilized by the 2003 invasion. A similar story has played out on a smaller scale in Afghanistan — where US troops are still present and wedding parties are still being bombed almost two decades after Rumsfeld and his friends got their invasion.

And this counting of corpses leaves out the heartbreak of families in these countries that lost loved ones. It leaves out the millions of refugees displaced from their homes. It leaves out the suffering of people who had limbs blown off or had to care for people who did.

And it leaves out one of the most gut-wrenching aspects of Rumsfeld’s time in office: his and President Bush’s open embrace of what they called “enhanced interrogation techniques,” or what any human being with a shred of conscience would simply call “torture.”

That’s more like it. Thanks to Andrew Curry for alerting me to it.

Thinking up ideas is easy; getting stuff done is hard

I was struck by this passage in “The Long Shadow of the Future” by Steven Weber and Nils Gilman in Noema magazine:

Put simply, ideas are cheap and easy to create and distribute — never more so than on social media platforms. But really knowing how to get things done effectively requires a set of capabilities that are difficult to create, expensive to maintain and improve, and not something you describe in 280 characters. Pandemics and other mass emergencies and mobilizations like wars demonstrate the difference in sharp relief. The ability to execute becomes visibly more important than the ability to ideate. What’s more, the best ideas are rarely discovered in isolation from practical implementation. Improvement depends on concrete feedback from what happens when ideas are put into practice in the world. What works and what doesn’t reveals itself to operators before (and often more clearly than) it reveals itself to idea generators.

A lot of what we’ve learned so far from the pandemic is about state capacity — and particularly the lack thereof — as democratic states hollowed out by four decades of neoliberal governance discovered how much they were no longer able to do.

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