ashthomas//blog: December 2004


Saturday, December 25, 2004

Time on Blogs

While posting the last entry I noticed on Blogger's news page a link to an article in the latest issue of Time about "10 Things We Learned About Blogs". A short article that name drops the usual big blogs, but interesting nonetheless.

Merry Christmas 2004

I hope everybody out there is havng a nice Christmas. It is a lovely 26 degree day here in Adelaide (that's about 80 degrees for you Fahrenheit users). We began our day with a breakfast of beignets, the mix for which Rebecca and I had brought back from Cafe du Monde in New Orleans. That was followed by our traditional gift-giving ceremony, which was a very difficult time for everyone since this is the first Christmas since Dad passed away. On the 27th of December, it will be the first anniversary.

I received a lot of wonderful gifts, mostly in DVD form: from my beautiful wife I got the first season of Curb Your Enthusiasm and the fourth season of The Sopranos; from my brother who lives in Melbourne and his girlfriend I got the second season and the third season of Buffy The Vampire Slayer; from my youngest brother I got the Lord Of The Rings: The Return of the King Extended Edition, and Seinfeld season three; from my mother I got Seinfeld seasons one and two, and a gift certificate for Borders; and from my uncle I got some money that I think I will put towards The Sopranos season five, Curb Your Enthusiasm season two and some books I have been wanting to get, like Philip Roth's The Plot Against America and Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.

Once again, I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and hope you keep safe over the holidays.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

WaPo buys Slate

The Washington Post has bought Slate. Slate is, in my opinion, the epitome of web publishing, bringing out original material that is often better than anything that regular print media can provide. I only hope that the Post doesn't change anything too drastically.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Are You Smart Enough to Read the Spectator?

This is a couple of weeks old now, but it is still a fun read. Rod Liddle in The Spectator of 27 November 2004 asks the question "Is Britain clever enough to support more Spectator readers?" It is a tongue-in-cheek argument that The Spectator, with a circulation of about 65 000 is being read a large number of people who are probably not intelligent enough to be doing so:
That figure of 65,000 already contains several thousand people who buy The Spectator by mistake, believing it to be one of the profusion of TV listings magazines, or one of those new soft-porn publications for women. Again, some people will buy the mag because they like the cut of our jib. But there are many who buy it because they feel it an affirmative and aspirational thing to do; it is the apogee of conspicuous consumption.

According to the latest social study (by Mike Savage) an estimated 3 per cent of the population of Britain consider themselves ‘upper class’ or ‘aristocracy’. That’s nearly two million people: clearly, the overwhelming majority of them are either lying or deluded. But this new elasticity between the classes, this notion that because you own a 1997 Porsche Carrera you are somehow elevated in your social standing and social worth, is a deeply regrettable feature of our times and perhaps one reason why The Spectator’s circulation is so high. Buying The Spectator, you see, should not confer upon one the right to read it.

I love the affectation of intellectual snobbery that the article adopts, an elitism of the intelligentsia. The Spectator is one of my favourite magazines at the moment--great book reviews, witty commentary, intelligent analysis. It is definitely one of the models that I will attempt to emulate if I ever get around to starting my own magazine.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Wrong About Japan

I just finished reading Peter Carey's latest book, Wrong About Japan: A Father's Journey With His Son. It is a fascinating account of a trip that Carey, a double Booker Prize winning Australian author now living in New York, takes to Tokyo with his 12 year old son. His son, Charley, has become obsessed with manga and anime, which his father has learnt to appreciate as well, and the two meet and interview many of the creators of their favourite comics and movies, such as the creators of Mobile Suit Gundam and Hayao Miyazaki, the director of Spirited Away, who has been called the Japanese Walt Disney. Aside from the interesting discussions of the films and comics, Carey has insightful observations about the differences between so-called "Real Japan", the Japan of tea ceremonies and temples, and the Japan as it is represented in international media. He also discusses the effect of the atomic bomb on the Japanese national consciousness, especially how it affects artists and writers.

Read an extract and some reviews from the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Blogging and Privacy

Jeffrey Rosen of George Washington University Law School writes in "Your Blog Or Mine" in the New York Times Magazine about the intersection of private lives with public blogging. As someone who has seen the effect that blogging/web diaries can have in the real world, I understand many of the issue that Rosen writes about. One of the biggest issues is not when writes about one's self, but about others in one's life. The consensus from people interviewed in the article seems to be that discussing people without their permission in an identifiable way is not appropriate. The main thing I guess that bloggers and web diarists need to remember is that they should show discretion about what they write about, and although they write anonymously and disguise the identities of the people they talk about, they should perhaps write as if they are not.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

200 Year Anniversary of Emperor Napoleon

Interesting piece in the WSJ Opinion Journal by Daniel Mark Epstein, "The Consecration", about the two-hundreth anniversary of Napoleon's coronation. Worth taking a look at.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Democrats Should Purge

Apologies for the sparcity of posts in the last week--I have been working extremely hard to finish my thesis before Christmas. But there have been a few things I wanted to comment on:

The whole blogosphere has been abuzz with talk about The New Republic's editor Peter Beinart's cover-story last week, "A Fighting Faith".

Beinart presents a call for the moderate to hawkish wing of the Democratic Party to take back control from the liberal wing, arguing that it is not only the sole way the Dems will win a Presidential election any time soon, but it is also good for the country. He begins by drawing an analogy between the present situation and the early days of the Cold War, when Truman was challenged from the left by former VP Henry Wallace. Back then it was about how the party should react to the communist threat; today, the threat is from another totalitarian force, radical Islamicism. Today, as in the late-1940s, the Democratic Party is split:
the Democratic Party boasts a fairly hawkish foreign policy establishment and a cadre of politicians and strategists eager to look tough. But, below this small elite sits a Wallacite grassroots that views America's new struggle as a distraction, if not a mirage.

The tension is between a small group of foreign policy specialists and national security intellectuals, who tend to lean towards hawkishness, and a populist movement, fostered by Michael Moore and and embodied, for a short time, by Governor Howard Dean. When Dean eventually lost the nomination to Senator John Kerry, the hawks gathered behind the nominee and tried to steer him to towards being, or at least appearing to be, strong, perhaps stronger than Bush, on terrorism.

These advisors were largely veterans of the Clinton years, and as Beinart argues, the Clinton administration was far more hawkish than most Democrats seem to remember:

The Democratic foreign policy establishment that counseled the leading presidential candidates during the primaries--and coalesced behind Kerry after he won the nomination--was the product of a decade-long evolution. Bill Clinton had come into office with little passion for foreign policy, except as it affected the U.S. economy. But, over time, his administration grew more concerned with international affairs and more hawkish. ...

For top Kerry foreign policy advisers, such as Richard Holbrooke and Joseph Biden, Bosnia and Kosovo seemed like models for a new post-Vietnam liberalism that embraced U.S. power. And September 11 validated the transformation. Democratic foreign policy wonks not only supported the war in Afghanistan, they generally felt it didn't go far enough--urging a larger nato force capable of securing the entire country.

And, while disturbed by the Bush administration's handling of Iraq, they agreed that Saddam Hussein was a threat and, more generally, supported aggressive efforts to democratize the Muslim world. As National Journal's Paul Starobin noted in a September 2004 profile, "Kerry and his foreign-policy advisers are not doves. They are liberal war hawks who would be unafraid to use American power to promote their values."

Beinart argues that the Democratic Party must purge itself of the liberal anti-war left, the Michael Moore-wing, and embrace a more old-style, Henry Jackson-style neoconservative Democrat position:

The challenge for Democrats today is not to find a different kind of presidential candidate. It is to transform the party at its grassroots so that a different kind of presidential candidate can emerge. That means abandoning the unity-at-all-costs ethos that governed American liberalism in 2004. And it requires a sustained battle to wrest the Democratic Party from the heirs of Henry Wallace. In the party today, two such heirs loom largest: Michael Moore and MoveOn.

I could not agree more with Beinart, on both the political necessity for the Dems to move more towards the centre, and on the general ideological premise of his argument. Liberals, that is, people who believe in the liberal values of intellectual, religious, social liberty, in human and civil rights, in a free press, then it is, on occasion, necessary to fight for it. It is even sometimes necessary to force a culture to become more liberal. I understand that this sounds like a paradox, but either we believe that these liberal values are universal, that they apply to everyone, or we do not. And occasionally we must force our values upon a culture against its will for its good.

The Democratic Party is the party of the Marshall Plan, of strong anti-totalitarianism, of the Peace Corps. Our hope is for a free, secure world. To make one, we will need to eliminate those who do not believe in freedom and security.