Could France have chosen a worse time to open a public debate on legalizing euthanasia?


Didn’t Bill Murray Already Make This Movie?

And in precisely what voice are we to read "sliding fee scale"?


More evidence of Tolkien’s renowned anti-modernism: the Nazgûl obviously used this resource—switching start and end points—to much greater effect.


Eventually, Someone Will Pull A "Mr. Creosote"

Regardless of how one feels about capital punishment, can anyone give me a legitimate, non-circus-like purpose for publishing this?


Furry Harvest

Burkhard Bilger’s recent New Yorker piece on the increasingly extravagant lengths to which Americans will go to preserve the health of their pets was, curiously, not filed under "Shouts & Murmurs."  A passage that could have come from the cutting room floor of Best In Show:
Levering sighed and shook his head. Lady was already anemic, asthmatic, and congenitally blind. She had been born on the streets of Wilmington four years earlier, and dropped at a local animal clinic at the age of six months. Soon after Levering and his wife adopted her, she became allergic to her own tooth enamel. "That was a weird thing," Levering said. "Never heard of that before." But he had willingly paid four hundred dollars to have all her teeth pulled. In retrospect, it seemed like a bargain.
The article also features the chronicle of a feline kidney transplant, which immediately provoked in me the question: If the people involved in such procedures are, with or without design, contributing to a wider awareness of animal autonomy, how then do they secure organ donor consent in these situations?  Are we going to accord a greater degree of personhood to the Lhasa Apso with an owner willing to drop thousands of dollars on surgery, and at the same time seize without hesitation the liver of the stray mutt from the inner city?  The implications for unemancipated minors and the uninsured are unsettling.


Lit Snit

As I ponder career paths not taken, I often cast a jaundiced eye at Novelist and Journalist, desperate for the slightest whiff of grapes gone off.  Inevitably (and—these days—rather quickly) I turn to the field of literary criticism, where both vocations converge at their simultaneous extremes of gnawingly attractive hipness and appallingly juvenile pettiness.  In short, it’s a junior-high school crush.

Like everyone else, I read (way) more book reviews than books, and I occasionally feel bad about it.  For me, reading literary criticism without having read much literature is the cultural equivalent of flossing; a Sisyphean task that feels so good because it hurts so much.  If Catholics receive absolution by going to confession and Protestants by going to the dentist, I get it by reading The New York Review of Books.

If I am driven to read lit crit by cultural and vocational insecurities, I often come away from it feeling the self-loathing that comes from following too closely the antics of the House of Windsor: Are the dramas of these fundamentally alien people truly relevant to my existence?  Having neither lived in New York nor read Dave Eggers’s A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, I am confronted with the sensation of being disqualified to comment on the writings of these people, yet I want to share their (apparent) conviction that Literature Matters. I’ve followed the work of Ana Marie Cox since her days at Suck, when the novelty of Internet publishing obscured the inconvenient reality that longevity as an online writer probably required some degree of meatspace proximity to actual culture or reporting.  Cox has recently held a brief as gadfly for The Believer’s Snarkwatch, and a mission of her blog (currently guest-hosted but nonetheless on-message) has been to question the tenet of The Believer (and, by implication, of Believer-founder Eggers) that contemporary literary criticism (and, one supposes, literature) is unhelpfully fraught with "snarkiness."  I’m trying (believe me) to get worked up about this, particularly because I’ve read at least of couple of the books mentioned and the thread seems open to laypersons.  Then Clive James (who?) shows up in the New York Times with a Jon Stewart.

The tragic thing is, I actually read "Measuring the Jump" (it being A Browfurrowing Work of Reassuring Brevity).  Having been exposed to both plauditory and snarky discussions of Eggers, I restrained every instinct to judge, lest I find myself too directly influenced by the opinions of others.  Of course, this disaffected inability to judge is (reportedly) Eggers’s stock in trade, so I began to wonder if I weren’t having an "authentic" reaction to Eggers’s prose after all.  In the end, I despaired of my patience.  It was only seven magazine pages long; how could I slog through 496 paperback pages?  I lost it after the protagonist Fish recalls being scammed for twenty bucks:

The thing is, Fish had just wanted to help the guy. He spent that first day thinking he had helped the man, believing in the community of souls, in Daly City or anywhere, and then that man took it away. He reached inside Fish and took that from him.
Not that I take Eggers at face value here.  I just can’t imagine any level of irony (or snark) that would countenance such whining, even for a New York minute.

"How was aerobraking?  I wish I could have seen that."  "I wish I could have slept through it."

After all the recent garment-rending over NASA’s "broken culture", it was encouraging to read this piece by Michael Benson in The New Yorker on the many innovations and improvisations provided by dedicated NASA personnel during the mission of the Galileo interplanetary probe, which comes to a firey end this month.  In the years both before and after Galileo’s launch, there were several opportunities for lesser men to give up and write off the investment of time, money, and ingenuity, and thereby claim credit for what passes for wise management in some corners of the federal bureaucracy (and space advocacy).  That they did not gives me hope that space exploration in the near future will not be the exclusive monopoly of the Chinese.


Powell Resignation Watch

The Washington Post has the goods on the Joint Chiefs’ "end-run" around Rummy to give Powell the leverage to force the Bush Administration to the U.N., and Josh Marshall is (as usual) spot-on in his comments.  Anyone else getting a chuckle out of the possibility that Rummy, Wolfowitz, Perle & Co. might have forgotten that Powell knows a thing or two about the Pentagon?

Anyway, if Powell succeeds in securing a Security Council resolution that both significantly reduces the military and financial burdens to the U.S. and increases the international investment in the reconstruction of Iraq, it will be an unquestionably good thing.  I imagine it will also dramatically reduce the likelihood of Powell departing the Bush Administration prior to the 2004 election.  There’s still quite a few months to go, however, and it’s "not too late" for Cheney and Rummy to indulge in a little payback.  Add in the prospect of a Clark candidacy hammering on the Bush Administration’s military and diplomatic fecklessness, and Powell might yet grasp the greater part of valor.

Write If You (Don’t) Get Work

Both Ana Marie Cox and Matthew Yglesias have gotten "real" jobs, warning that their blogs will be either delegated or neglected.  While I freely admit that I would happily gargle with a pint of sand fleas for a steady job with the word "editor" (anywhere) in the title, I can’t help seizing a clod of high ground and sniffily (if solipsitically) resolving never to similarly abandon you, cherished reader.

Know anyone who’s hiring?



Andrew’s back from P-town, and he still has swimmer’s ear.  From his reaction to the "disturbing" ubiquity of the "Bush is a liar" meme:
It’s more that when you start using the term "liar" promiscuously in public discourse, you make such discourse increasingly impossible. The term should be reser[ve]d only for a conscious and deliberate statement that you know is untrue as you s[pe]ak or write it. It’s rarer than you might think. That’s why calling someone a "liar" is forbidden in the House of Commons. It undermines the good faith necessary for democratic discussion. Which is a large part of what people like Al Franken are all about.
That’s right.  Andrew Sullivan is lamenting the erosion of good faith in our public discourse, and is blaming Al Franken.  Somehow, I retain the capacity for surprise at such shamelessness.

Executive Wrath

From William Saletan’s piece in Slate yesterday:
When Kerry disagrees with you, he makes you feel as though the disagreement is his problem. When Dean disagrees with you, he makes you feel as though it’s your problem.
I think no small part of this is correlated with the fact that no president since Nixon has been a former Congressman, and that four of the last five presidents have been former governors.