Thursday, June 26, 2008
I am in Frankfurt, and by the time you read this I will have been -- Allah forfend -- long asleep. I expect to wake up in the morning and see many comments about this excerpt from the most recent editorial of Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter. I found it profoundly alienating, and reflecting a view of the world, expressed and implied, that I cannot identify with even as I acknowledge that there are a great many people who feel this way. What is your reaction (and I used that word advisedly)? I'll check back in tomorrow morning.
If it can be said that the world was once out of step with America’s grand vision, it can also be said that we are increasingly out of step with much of the rest of the world—in ways both big and small. Only three nations don’t use the metric system. One is us; another is Myanmar. The U.S. is also the only major country that does not follow football (what we call soccer). Meanwhile, as Europe becomes less religious, we become more so—and in this respect we have more in common with our Middle Eastern foes than we do with our allies. Our leaders are more entrenched, more hidebound, more closed-minded—and just generally out of step environmentally and economically with the rest of the Western world. We are closing our borders and becoming more insular. (Except, of course, where oil is concerned—you certainly don’t hear the cry of “regime change” for Myanmar anywhere in the Bush White House.) The U.S. alone accounts for nearly half of the world’s military spending. Indeed, the Pentagon burns up more money in one month than the Russian military does in a year. Our official stance toward Cuba is as outdated as the mid-50s Chevys that cruise the streets of Havana. Now that the Cubans have access to cell phones and computers, change will accelerate faster there than it will in Washington. To the rest of the world we are not viewed as we see ourselves—as a beacon of democracy and justice. To many nations, the U.S., once the solution, has increasingly, under the Bush administration, become the problem.
Even though the cost of oil has increased by 400 percent since 2001, we have the cheapest gasoline in the industrialized world—and still Americans yelp about the price. The presidential candidates have offered little in the way of rational solutions to address our lethal dependence on foreign oil or to its rising price. The proposal put forward by Senators McCain and Clinton to lift the 18.4-cents-a-gallon federal gas tax during the summer months was a craven solution, comparable to giving a child candy to get his mind off his toothache.
The war in Iraq rarely makes the front pages or the evening news broadcasts during this presidential campaign year. In part, that is because covering this war has become so costly and so dangerous that the number of journalists there now represents a fraction of the number on the ground when this misbegotten adventure was launched. Just as the Pentagon sent its troops out ill-equipped, it is ill-equipped when it comes to bringing them home, alive or dead. It was bad enough that then secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld couldn’t be bothered to sign letters of condolence to dead soldiers’ next of kin—the work was being done by an autopen. The Washington Post recently reported that some 200 servicemen and women, most of whom were killed in action, were cremated at a facility near Dover Air Force Base, in Delaware, that also handled the cremation of pets. It seems the Dover mortuary that is supposed to handle the remains of service personnel killed overseas doesn’t have its own crematory, and as with so many aspects of this war the task was outsourced.
Well, my reaction is my glass is still more than half full. I'll take America with all its warts any day over any other country, and I've been enough places to say that confidently.
I'll also say that shitholes like Russia may not spend a whole lot the military, or for that matter much else, but what's the point? likewise, Europe might be 'leading' in terms of environmentalism or measuring shit in meters, but they have virtually no defense against hostile people, and the largest countries (Germany & France) have a growing problem with Muslims and the 'young and disenfranchised' who took to burning cars in conehead quantity in recent years.
I don't know who Graydon Carter is, but if he's an American, I'll foot the one-way ticket to the destination of his choice, provided only that he remain in that utopia until dead.
What his point about soccer is escapes me.
My reaction is that Carter is not a serious person, for a serious person would have a sense of historical contingency, global context, and a vision of how he might improve the world rather than rehash the same old Europhile rubbish that was au courant ca. 2002. His gratuitous line about soccer is risible, for there are large parts of the global landmass other than the US in which that game is not big (take Australia, for example, or his native Canada). Finally, he owes his wealth and pulpit to the fact that Americans still have so much disposable income that they can afford to buy or subscribe to Vanity Fair, a publication that purely exists for the amusement of its readers, a tawdry mix of has-been celebrity profiles and lurid crime stories.
I'd like our media a lot more if they rooted for the home team once in a while.
We still have have the strongest economy in the world. I'm glad it's out of step with Europe.
Soccer is stunningly boring.
Our military budget is massive because it is WE who defend everyone else.
Our oil crisis was forseen by many, yet no action was taken by the half of our representatives who are aligned with European Socialism. So it is our economic suffering that has finally been brought to equal that of Europe.
The war in Iraq barely makes the front pages because we are winning it.
It's easy to think metrically, it just isn't necessary. What's his point?
The Pentagon equips our troops superbly well. The inference that they do not is gleaned from the tin-foil-hat websites. The media is driven to making up fictitious people in order to report on bad troop behaviour.
If the beta-males at Vanity Fair are proposing that we all become Europhiles...can they at least give ONE example of what Europe does better than us. only one thing comes to mind---Surrendering!
My reaction is that this essay could have been written five years ago, or ten, or twenty, without much editing. The essay remains the same, with its extraneous bits about soccer, gas prices, and the metric system intact year after year. On the more substantive, current issues, he is entirely wrong. There is a jarring quality which causes me to furrow my brow and wonder if the poor boy needs some sort of help. The world changes but he cannot understand it except in terms of old categories.
I took a guess that he was from my clan, upbringing, region, and cohort - that is, about my age, an Arts & Humanities tribesman from the northeast, aspiring middle class parents, and private college. My google results did not disappoint.
It's kind of intresting that the world in his opinion appears to be a hand full of western European countries that we don't seem to be trending along beside.
I will be glad when the rulers of Europe finally overrule the people and declare themselves one country. Then we would just be "out of step with" the EU instead of the "rest of the world"
When you condemn "Liberals" and "the left" as a category defined by a few individuals rather than by an inclusion/exclusions principle, (such that the category is well-defined enough that given a person, we can evaluate whether or not they belong in that category with consistency,) you throw out the babies with the bathwater. I could just as easily rant about social conservatism, the whacked out philosophical backing that some people bring up, and hold it as indicative of the right.
This is dumb.
Getting past your heading and moving to the article, is it dismissive and demeaning? You're damn straight it is. So are Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, basically all of FOX News ("terrorist fist jab"? Are you high?) and a number of other sources. Deal with it, address the sensible people and arguments. But if we must touch these topics, fine.
A) The metric system makes science, architecture, and oodles of other things easier. Converting back and forth causes incidents, like the one at NASA, and decimalized units are pretty sweet. Our system blows, there's a better one, and we should steal it. Phase one in, phase the other out, be done with it.
B) Soccer isn't interesting.
C) Hardcore, clinic-burning, doctor-murdering evangelicalism IS scary, and it has scary influences on our educational system. See Intelligent Design, the flying spaghetti monster, the Dover PA decision.
D) I've seen politicians fighting for more research funding (in energy, in biotech, in telecomm, whatever) for years, and it gets cut under the heading of "pork." Because science is a cronyist handout. BTW, why hello there: http://murraywaas.crooksandliars.com/2008/06/18/the-price-of-political-favoritism-and-cronyism-lost-lives/
E) We don;t cover the war because the war is boring. No end date, no timeline, just another day of war. It;s hard to get people energized about taking a step toward China when you're in NY because it's fucking far away, and similarly with violence in a foreign country. Plus it;s depressing due to this unanswerable question: How. Much. Will. It. Cost. How much. Tell us before we commit to what, the 6th "just another 6 months"?
@JPMcT: I'll give you an example for those cowardly, cowardly French who unwisely refused to sign on to our wildly successful an inexpensive adventures in Iraq, those cheese-eating surrender monkeys: Math. Want to know why so many French proper nouns are in high math, and all the engineering that goes with it? Because they rock the casbah in that respect. See the Eiffel Tower and Statue of Liberty, and all the other offshoots from the purest discipline.
This post reminds me of the blog, Stuff White People Like:
#80 The Idea of Soccer
#101 Being Offended
In fact, after reading that blog again I am fairly certain that Graydon Carter (who gives their kids names like that? white people) is a raging white guy.
He brings up the U.S. not using the metric system as a part of a larger critique??? Come on. Soccer? Cuba? Cremation?
This reminds me of a writing assingnment in which the student is told to weave in ridiculous or otherwise unrelated points to support a hypothesis that might otherwise be defensible (sort of the converse of using reasoned arguments -- as in a formal debate -- to support a weird hypothesis).
These types of discussions usually lead me to think about my grandfather.
My grandfather was born in 1932 in Germany, he grew up on a farm during the war. This allowed him to go fishing with potato masher hand grenades(another story). After the war he lived in East Germany and farmed with his parents. In 1949/50 after an especially harsh spell of weather where his father and he worked to save their potato plants, the crop was saved. Only to be told by the local communist officals that the lazy indifferent farmers that lost their crop were now "entitled" to a great portion of the surviving potato crop as to allow an equitable distribution of the harvest's wealth. He had enough, he risked his life to flee east germany and avoid East German patrols and swam across a river to escape the tyranny of Communism.
He immigrated here in 1970 having only an 8th grade education, a master's license in masonry, and opened his own business. He lives in Northern NJ today and did well enough for himself that he doesn't cry when he get's his tax bill.
Having relatives in Germany still it's disgusting to hear the level of red-tape involved to open a business in Germany.
Why do we consider it gospel the thoughts and wishes of individuals that have never has a taste of freedom? Ask these "Euro-dians" if they know what freedom of speech is? These people have no idea what a bill of rights are. They are just sheep awaiting their next government check/entitlement to justify their existence.
Did you ever look at what they were trying to pass as a constitution?
Soccer aint so bad, Im rooting for Germany in Euro 2008.
But there is no better feeling in sports than knocking another human being back over a goal line knowing he can't stop you. Or delivering a down block on a linebacker when running a reverse. Good old Football, the thinking man's game.
DTG in NNJ.
Oh. Good. Gods.
What a titanic pile of...well, I would call it hogwash, but I fear that would traumatize the hogs.
If any given quantum of bullshit were posited to possess an infinitesimal gravitational field, then the sheer density with which it exists within this editorial would surely cause it to collapse into a singularity and drop altogether out of space-time (which would be a welcome development). Truly, my hat's off to those who endeavor to wade in and Fisk the multiple overlapping strata of highly-enriched felgercarb folded into it.
Living in the northeastern US, and being a doctoral-level head shrinker who is intermittently compelled to spend time with other products of allegedly higher education in this country, I tend swim in a thin, clumpy soup of this kind of anti-Americanism more or less perpetually. Even so, it is still shocking to be smacked with so dense a gobbet as this. It makes me struggle to wrap my head around the psychology which could believe such things. In the end, though, it just makes me sleepy.
Speaking of which, guten morgen, TH; hope you slept off the jet lag.
Anonymous, at Thu Jun 26, 10:53:00 PM
C) Hardcore, clinic-burning, doctor-murdering evangelicalism IS scary..
I am not a churchgoer, and when the church people knock on my door, I politely tell them to take their business elsewhere: which they do without argument. No problem.
Anonymous needs to temper his rant with facts. The last murder of an abortion provider occurred in 1998, the last attempted murder in 2000, the last bombing of an abortion clinic occurred in 2001. From 1993-2000, there were 62 incidents of arson at abortion clinics, an average of 7.8 per year. From 2001-2001 there were 12 incidents of arson at abortion clinics, an average of 1.7 per year. IOW, there has been a great reduction in violence against abortion clinics in recent years.
Anonymous doesn't like to let the facts get in the way of a good rant.
@ Boludo: First, a link. http://www.prochoice.org/about_abortion/violence/arsons.asp
Second, your commentary is informative and doesn;t serve your purpose. I didn't say that there was blood running on every street, or that such acts happen daily; I highlighted a thread of theology that has pernicious influences, and then cited some very contemporary harms in addition to the more famous and rare ones. Read the Dover decision and tell me that such assaults on our science educations are anything other than misguided theology. Consider some of the more entertaining and disturbing pronouncements by John McCain's spiritual advisor.
I was emphasizing the belief system, not the its violent outcroppings, (though they are worthy of note as a means of describing facets of a theory and showing how far it is sometimes taken.) Not that such differences are important to you when you are clearly more disposed to find any fault and dismiss differing opinion rather than attack any of the other points on grounds of reason. I find it laughable that you essentially would accuse me of intellectual shortsightedness when A) you ignore the articulated arguments on a similarly general level made above (having to do with the empty word "left" and the comparable blowhards on the other side of the aisle, and my recommended way of dealing,) B) you missed the point entirely and C) it's a fricking comment thread where people throw out one liners. If I though people cared about arguments, I would be more careful.
I think Pile On said it best when he wrote, "One has to wonder what percentage of the world military spending we would have to account for in order to have a well equipped military."
How can Graydon Carter write stuff that is so internally contradictory?
Anon only cares about Christians, whom he detests. Not Muslims who fly planes into buildings. Or Muslims who honor kill, practice polygamy, arranged marriage, etc. Not to mention the odd jihad.
Carter is the typical Leftist Aristo. He hates the common man and all the nations institutions, particularly our own native units and measures, and football. The real kind.
I'm sure every NFL and College Football fan is now going to switch to idiot soccer. From Peyton and Eli and Brady to ... Beckham?
My reaction to the post is that it accurately identifies the fact that as Americans we are wildly full of ourselves. While we deserve a pat on the back for a society that has institutional protections for the pursuit of individual rights, we conduct ourselves abroad as the chosen few to whom normal standards of comity and cooperation do not apply. While the rest of the world's autos get smaller and more efficient, we are building Hummers. We are shocked when Iraq doesn't turn into an instant democracy when we kick Saddam out. We hate soccer because we require constant gratification of a kind that can set us apart as better than all others. Why change to metric when we don't have to? Everyone else can put up with our idiosyncrasies because they have to. We live lives of such incredible excess compared to much of the worlds population that we can afford to have split national identity of self-centered, egotistical jerks, and a supremely generous nation quick to lend a hand. Our flaw as a people is to think our crap don't stink when we are flexing our national muscle and either assaulting or offending our world neighbors.
Wow, you could spend weeks deconstructing this steaming pile. But I have a job and a life, so I'll just focus on one small bit. First he notes that our gasoline is *still* the cheapest in the industrialized world and berates those bitter, clinging Americans for "yelping" about the price. Then in the next breath he condemns our politicians for not "address[ing] our lethal [!] dependence on foreign oil or its rising price".
What a whiner! Crying all the time about how the US is out of step. If only we had 10-25% joblessness like the rest of the world, if only we had a shrinking economy, if only we had riots in the streets by unassimilated muslims, if only we spent our defense budget on suppressing our press rather then freeing foregin peoples.
Yes, the US could be like the other countries of the world, but then no one would want to live here.
@ Whiskey: I was describing American problems, not universal problems. I do not feel the need to draw into every sentence a reference to 9/11. Also, your implicit assumption is that Muslim = Muslim Fundamentalist, which is an interesting leap of faith.
Found another link on something Europeans tend to do better: Math and Science for 15yr olds.
The UK beats us in every category, as does Germany, and Finland gives us a right good stomping.
Anon 10:10 -
The UK beats us in every category, as does Germany, and Finland gives us a right good stomping.
And yet, bizarrely, our economy grows faster, we have far more social mobility, and our culture innovates so rapidly that our fads become the favorites of the world.
Anonymous, at Fri Jun 27, 01:10:00 AM :
Boludo …….I was emphasizing the belief system, not the its violent outcroppings….
Yet you said the following:
Hardcore, clinic-burning, doctor-murdering evangelicalism IS scary…
That phrase refers to violent outcroppings, NOT to a belief system. I can only go on WHAT YOU WRITE, NOT ON WHAT YOU LATER STATE THAT YOU INTENDED TO WRITE.
As the offspring of biologists w graduate degrees, both of whom specialized in systemic and evolutionary biology, I hold no candle for intelligent design. I can disagree with evangelicals without demonizing them. I have no liking for the belief system of the evangelists, nor for those attempts to demonize evangelists. The phrase about “clinic burning, doctor-murdering evangelism” was a blatant attempt to demonize the 400 million evangelicals worldwide. Nor do I have any liking for pettifogging . If you don’t like my response to the phrase you wrote, then perhaps you shouldn’t have written that phrase in the first place.
BTW: if violence is “hardcore” evangelism, i.e., at the CORE of evangelism, which you very strongly imply, then why do church people who knock at my door quietly go away when I inform them I am not interested. If violence was at the core, would they not stay at my door and try to argue with me?
Another piss ant whiner moaning about his lot, whilst enjoying the fruits of a western society on this side of the Atlantic ocean. As I've wondered about others of a similar ilk. If it is so awful here, why aren't you living there ? But, then, they never have the backbone to do that do they ?
It's all one of a piece. There's this weird narrative the left follows, convinced as they are that every American value is bad, every American success is evil, and that a completely secular, Euro-centric world will somehow be better is all respects than the nationalistic, gun-loving, evil America we live in today. The NYT is worse than Carter, because they publish this sort of attack on America every single day. Remember this ugly bit of editorializing?
@ Ed: Usually the answer is "We just don't trust you guys with the nukes. Or the military. Sorry."
@ Boludo: I refer you to the sneaky argument above, that any expectation of people valuing intellectual honesty an descriptiveness here was shattered when TH declared the narrow, Europhile perspective above to be "the left". Either way, parsing the sentence as I did in a slapdash fashion: modifier, modifier noun is the unique issue, with an emphasis on the noun and context filling out a convex hull of our theoretical n-dimensional characteristic-of-theology space. If I wanted to cast aspersions on all evangelicals everywhere anytime, I would probably have left it at "evangelicals." I realize the lower bound to the debated upper came later in the line, but w/e. I see no reason to be drawing fine distinctions with a razor's edge, unless you guys are seriously down for that kind of thing. Pick a reasonable, open issue (ie not "Babies: thumbs up/thumbs down," or "Crimean Culture During the War") on which we disagree and I would be interested in examining your opinions and justifications, and for you to do the same for me. Same goes for TH.
@ TH: If you want to use those facts to undermine the point I was making in challenge to JPMcT at 10:21, I'm afraid I'd need a bit more context to understand. Do those things undermine the measures I cited? If so, how? If your argument (as best I can figure) is that those things imply that America is a better country and therefore the figures are irrelevant, why those metrics over PPP per capita (7th being USA according to CIA worldbook in 2007) or straight GDP EU vs US (EU wins) or standard of living by HDI (we're 12th) or any other measure, and why would current trends be more important than societal endeavors strongly linked with long term success in a globalized world? Is education not one of those things? Why?
If your argument is legacy based, what nationality of suit do you wish to wear, what nationality of medical technology do you wish to use, what nationality of car do you wish to drive, what nationality of shoes do you wish to own, and so on for personal electronics, food, and the like. If we're talking political legacy, does the Enlightenment count? How about just Locke? How about Renaissance art? In purely practical terms, does the industrial revolution count? In just math, how about just French and German mathematicians? There are oodles, and they made some of the most important contributions to starting whole fields, unifying them, or wildly expanding human knowledge:
As a highlight, German Emmy Noether, perhaps one of the smartest people to ever live if you ask a physicist.
I'll set everything else aside for a second and rephrase the argument I hear from my most liberal friend when they are talking to an unknown audience and are accused of Europhilia. We are supposed to be a country of innovators, of revolutionaries, and the like. We can spur this process along by copying people who do things well, so we don't have to reinvent the wheel. If we see a good idea, we should steal it. This isn't international pandering, it's gumption.
and context filling out a convex hull of our theoretical n-dimensional characteristic-of-theology space
When did this blog start being about nonlinear non-differentiable equations?
Just a suggestion -- try throttling back on the use of words only a handful of highly educated highly specialized people can understand. It will increase your chances of being understood. I'll be happy to send you an equation describing that phenomenon off-line.
JPMcT: "give ONE example of what Europe does better than us."
Anonymous: "I'll give you an example for [the] French: ... Math. ...... In just math, how about just French and German mathematicians? There are oodles..."
Rather than speaking of "oodles," let's count them, using the source you cite.
270 French mathematicians
314 German mathematicians
734 American mathematicians
Your own data disprove your claim, Anonymous. Math is not something Europe does better than America.
(I expect the retort, "But America has a larger population than France."
My pre-emptive strike is that prior to 1870, France had a larger population than America. Indeed, during e.g. Laplace's life (1749-1827), France had as much as 10X the population of America.
Now, math is certainly an example of something that Europe DID better than America. Emphasis on past tense. The days of European domination of math are long over.
As a rough metric, consider the first ten names taken from Wikipedia's lists of French and American mathematicians. Their average birthdates are 1759 ± 136 (France) and 1922 ± 54 (USA).
TH: You are entirely right with your phrase “great many people who feel this way”, because they are “feeling” instead of “thinking”. Graydon has even made me update my blog guide How To Post Like a Liberal.