Wednesday, May 24, 2006

An Iraqi Specialty.

No, it's not a political post. This recipe was given in the Washington Post some time ago by a woman whose husband served in Iraq and enjoyed this dish while he was there. It's my variation on it - enjoy!

In a big splash of olive oil saute some firm white fish such as swordfish or halibut.

When browned on each side, set in a baking dish.

In the same pan add 2-3 T. of butter and more oil. Saute 2 big vidalia onions thinly sliced and a few cloves of chopped garlic.

Stir in 1 T. hot red Thai curry paste.

Stir in 4 big peeled, chopped tomatoes until cooked and blended (you can use a big can of peeled tomatoes in a pinch).

Pour sauce over the fish and cook for 10 minutes or so at 350. Squeeze the juice of one lemon on top and add some fresh chopped parsley.

Serve with hunks of fresh bread.



Saturday, May 06, 2006

Colbertishness . . .

HE is Colbertish on America, because he admires the quality of Colbertishness and those who Colbertishly confront those who Colbertize the un-Colberterized portion of the Colbert Nation, and we are going to undertake the Colberterisation of this country one verb, noun, adjective and adverb at a time.


Cicero, Tacitus, and American Despotism.

I’m always leery of drawing parallels between the past and the present or trying to argue a political point based on the Classical Antiquity that I teach and study professionally. It can get one into a good bit of trouble: I think for instance of the hawkish Professor Hansen and how he waxes poetic about Thucydides, the glories of democracy, and the violence inherent in the human condition (though I have the impression he’s rarely stopped to consider that it is inherent because we’ve decided to make it so – just as for so long the indisputable truth that some were fit only for servitude or that women were inherently inferior to men were truths not worthy of dissent); yet he seems to willfully disregard some of the most pertinent and instructive lessons in Thucydides. Hybris, overreach, restraint with the threat of force rather than the actual reversion to armed conflict, and the uncertainties of any conflict that should make us wary of resort to force are central themes for Thucydides, and perhaps deserve greater attention than Hansen tends to give them. However there has been something on my mind for many months and I simply need to get it off my chest. It concerns what Cicero and Tacitus tell us about the nature of tyranny and free government.

Cicero tells us in the De Re Publica (The Republic) that the fulcrum of the free state consists of the mutual bonds of affection between its citizens. When that disintegrates, and fear begins to govern a populace, it can no longer be said to be free; it will look to centralized authority, which itself has a tendency to govern through fear.

Indeed, the central characteristic of the tyrant, as understood by Cicero (who draws on Plato), is that fear is the means by which he rules. In turn, he himself is largely motivated by his own fears to govern through it. It is a dread dialectic. Tacitus in his Annales explores this still further – for Tacitus the emperors - Tiberius, Domitian, and their ilk – are subjected to fear and suspicion, which serve to isolate the emperor, who consequently has no choice but to govern through intimidation in order to ensure his own personal security.

I will confess that this is a much more complex matter both for the Romans and for us than the crude and hasty schema I have just presented. However at base what we have at the moment is a society and a government that is not driven by Cicero’s mutual affection (caritas), but by fear (metus). While it would be naïve to think the world is an entirely safe place, it is also not nearly as dangerous as some would have us believe. Will we run in panic mode today over a nuclear Iran that is ten years away and even further from using those nuclear capabilities against us? Is Bin Laden under our bed? Do we hide and tremble under the sheets from bird flu, same sex marriage, speakers of Spanish, or the color-coded threat system changing its colors from pastel to neon today? Or, worst of all, is some college prof polluting the malleable minds of our young with subversive authors such as Horace, Aristophanes, or Sophocles?

What Frankenstein will our administration construct today from the assorted moribund and decayed parts of its policy? And what will such a state, itself pieced together by corrupt members, look like?

Run – run very fast and vote for the person who will protect you from some freshly stitched monster – one who pens illegal riders to every speck of legislation he signs, one who will not flinch from the courageous policies of torture and illegal detention, who will not hesitate to protect you by razing Fallujah, by making sodomy against prisoners in Iraq policy even as he decries gay marriage on the domestic front, who has shredded the Constitution's fourth amendment, derided Geneva, and mocked Nuremburg, who has no regard for history’s judgment or the reputation of his nation, who believes in social Darwinism even as he decries Darwin, who is a decider and stands by his square peg convictions in this round round world, who believes only in three things, power, power, and more power. But as you run bear in mind the observation of the historian Barbara Tuchmann, that to see an enemy where none exists constitutes cowardice.

Perhaps because it has been said so many times, perhaps because it’s such a common part of our political discourse, that Roosevelt’s admonition, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself”, has all but been forgotten. Yet it remains profoundly true. In the end free government is not about security – and it’s dubious whether free government and security can go hand in hand (and they most certainly cannot in this country so long as it pursues unjust policies abroad). No. In the end it is about courage and justice, and if you practice the later there will be no real need for the former.

Ultimately, as Cicero and Tacitus tell us, fear is the truest enemy of a free people - and the greatest friend of the despot.


Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Does this look familiar? . . . .

It should. It is starkly reminiscent of this photo (you can click on the link - decorum prohibits my posting it on this site).

No ifs ands or buts . . . nos imperium Romanum sumus.

There's nothing more to say about this - the Roman mosaic with a criminal exposed to the beasts and the Abu Ghraib photo side by side speaks for itself.

"Lost in a Roman wilderness of pain, and all the children are insane. All the children are insane. Waiting for the summer rain."

- Jim Morrison


Monday, May 01, 2006

Will someone PAHLEEZ . . .

see to it that Steven Colbert get the MEDAL OF FREEDOM for having the courage and fortitude to tell the politicos and media snots to their face that they are knaves and sycophants? You can see his stroll into the lions' den at (you can go to informed comment for the link).

Michasel Scherer at ("Truthiness Hurts") has the best take on it I've read yet. Here are some excerpts:

Colbert is not just another comedian with barbed punch lines and a racy vocabulary. He is a guerrilla fighter, a master of the old-world art of irony. For Colbert, the punch line is just the addendum. The joke is in the setup. The meat of his act is not in his barbs but his character -- the dry idiot, "Stephen Colbert," God-fearing pitchman, patriotic American, red-blooded pundit and champion of "truthiness." "I'm a simple man with a simple mind," the deadpan Colbert announced at the dinner. "I hold a simple set of beliefs that I live by. Number one, I believe in America. I believe it exists. My gut tells me I live there."

Then he turned to the president of the United States, who sat tight-lipped just a few feet away. "I stand by this man. I stand by this man because he stands for things. Not only for things, he stands on things. Things like aircraft carriers and rubble and recently flooded city squares. And that sends a strong message, that no matter what happens to America, she will always rebound -- with the most powerfully staged photo ops in the world."

It was Colbert's crowning moment. His imitation of the quintessential GOP talking head -- Bill O'Reilly meets Scott McClellan -- uncovered the inner workings of the ever-cheapening discourse that passes for political debate. He reversed and flattened the meaning of the words he spoke. It's a tactic that cultural critic Greil Marcus once called the "critical negation that would make it self-evident to everyone that the world is not as it seems." Colbert's jokes attacked not just Bush's policies, but the whole drama and language of American politics, the phony demonstration of strength, unity and vision. "The greatest thing about this man is he's steady," Colbert continued, in a nod to George W. Bush. "You know where he stands. He believes the same thing Wednesday that he believed on Monday, no matter what happened Tuesday."

It's not just that Colbert's jokes were hitting their mark. We already know that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, that the generals hate Rumsfeld or that Fox News lists to the right. Those cracks are old and boring. What Colbert did was expose the whole official, patriotic, right-wing, press-bashing discourse as a sham, as more "truthiness" than truth.


Political Washington is accustomed to more direct attacks that follow the rules. We tend to like the bland buffoonery of Jay Leno or insider jokes that drop lots of names and enforce everyone's clubby self-satisfaction. (Did you hear the one about John Boehner at the tanning salon or Duke Cunningham playing poker at the Watergate?) Similarly, White House spinmeisters are used to frontal assaults on their policies, which can be rebutted with a similar set of talking points. But there is no easy answer for the ironist. "Irony, entertaining as it is, serves an almost exclusively negative function," wrote David Foster Wallace, in his seminal 1993 essay "E Unibus Pluram." "It's critical and destructive, a ground clearing."

So it's no wonder that those journalists at the dinner seemed so uneasy in their seats. They had put on their tuxes to rub shoulders with the president. They were looking forward to spotting Valerie Plame and "American Idol's" Ace Young at the Bloomberg party. They invited Colbert to speak for levity, not because they wanted to be criticized. As a tribe, we journalists are all, at heart, creatures of this silly conversation. We trade in talking points and consultant-speak. We too often depend on empty language for our daily bread, and -- worse -- we sometimes mistake it for reality. Colbert was attacking us as well.


Can You Hear Me Now . . . ?

Should probably replace e pluribus unum as the national motto.

Just a thought.