Unrequired Reading: Oct 27, 2006

A friend of mine recently brought up how “the West has lied,” failing to keep its “never again” promise after Rwanda. I mentioned that, just as anti-genocide forces learned from Rwanda, we should remember that groups that plan to commit genocide also learned lessons from what happened in Rwanda (and other massacres).

A former assistant secretary of state thinks the world’s approach to the genocide in Darfur isn’t helping any:

When pressure is applied to the Sudanese government, there is always the perceived sense, much as there was in Vietnam, that just a little more and Khartoum will cave. Perhaps. But Bashir, admittedly no Ho Chi Minh, is sitting on growing oil revenue, and he can see that the international community is divided and that the demands for more aggressive action are going nowhere.

Moreover, many measures the advocates demand for bringing pressure on Bashir, such as targeted sanctions, an investigation of Sudan’s business holdings or a threat of action by the International Criminal Court, hardly meet the standard of urgency, however much these things may be worth doing.

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It turns out that the solution to U.S. oil independence may come from Nazi Germany and Apartheid South Africa.

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Theodore Dalrymple reviews Ian Buruma’s new book on the murder of Theo Van Gogh (and all that it may or may not signify):

[Van Gogh] thought he was a licensed jester. His ability to shock depended, of course, upon the persistence in Dutch society of the Calvinist mentality of purse-lipped moralism, now as frequently employed against those who dare suggest that the rank, and deeply ideological, hedonism of Amsterdam is not only unattractive but morally reprehensible as against those, such as fornicators, traditionally regarded as sinners. Scratch a Dutch liberal, and you will find a Calvinist moralist not far beneath the surface.

This Calvinism, however, was tolerant to the extent that it did not prescribe slaughter in the streets for those deemed to have insulted it. Its worst sanction was disapproval — precisely what Van Gogh sought. Van Gogh hid under so many layers of rather crude irony that it became impossible to know what he really believed, if anything; and it was beyond his comprehension that anyone would take anything so seriously, or perhaps literally is a better word, as to kill for it.

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China plans to become the world’s R&D hub. I don’t believe it’s going to happen, for reasons that are so full of racist stereotypes that I am both embarrassed to recount them and fully convinced that they will apply in spades. (Which is to say, their best-known invention is more Chinese people, and their best-known export is SARS.)

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I was wrong about the Cardinals getting destroyed by the Tigers in the World Series. But that doesn’t change the fact that I love Tigers’ manager Jim Leyland, not least because of his inability to quit smoking. Which is fantastic. Not the inability. Smoking.

He was being interviewed by then-ESPNer Chris Myers, who was asking him about his well-publicized tendency to smoke cigarettes in the dugout. Leyland paused for a moment, put his head down and delivered the obligatory platitudes about how bad smoking is for you, how children should avoid smoking, how he knows it’s unhealthy. Then he looked directly into the camera, his eyes very wide, and said, “Still. Smokers out there, you know what I’m talking about. That moment, after you’ve had a huge meal, say at Thanksgiving, when you step outside in the cold, light up a cigarette and take a deep inhale … that’s about the best moment in the world, you know? All the smokers out there, you know that feeling. Sometimes, smoking is fantastic.” Myers quickly cut to commercial, and Leyland has never been on the show since.

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A few weeks ago, while channel-surfing, Amy & I came across a documentary show on the Travel Channel. It featured John Ratzenberger exploring the history of stuff that’s Made In America. My first thought was, “John Ratzenberger gets work?”

Amy’s first thought was, “Seriously? Shouldn’t he be wearing a USPS uniform?”

Anyway, that episode chronicled the Maker’s Mark whiskey factory in Kentucky. Out of deference to my southern wife, we stayed with that segment. Here’s a BW piece on the issues Maker’s Mark faces in keeping up its quality as its market share grows. It’s an interesting story because, while the brand is owned by a larger group, it looks like there are very site-specific issues involved in making the stuff. (I don’t think this includes sourcing that red wax they use to seal the bottles, but you never know.)

Have a slide show, while you’re here.

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I’m not only interested in the scaleup of whiskey manufacturing. I’m also interested in the massive infrastructure needed to run something like Google. So is George Gilder, who wrote this lengthy article about the subject. So next time you’re googling about whiskey, remember this blog.

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Does the earth sing to itself? I have Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s ‘Welcome to the Pleasuredome’ on right now, so I can’t tell.

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Speaking of music, Roy Blount, Jr. doesn’t like Bob Dylan’s music.

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Like everyone else, New Orleans Times-Picayune columnist Chris Rose has had a rough time in the year-plus since Katrina:

I was receiving thousands of e-mails in reaction to my stories in the paper, and most of them were more accounts of death, destruction and despondency by people from around south Louisiana. I am pretty sure I possess the largest archive of personal Katrina stories, little histories that would break your heart.

I guess they broke mine.

I am an audience for other people’s pain. But I never considered seeking treatment. I was afraid that medication would alter my emotions to a point of insensitivity, lower my antenna to where I would no longer feel the acute grip that Katrina and the flood have on the city’s psyche.

I thought, I must bleed into the pages for my art. Talk about “embedded” journalism; this was the real deal.

He realized that wasn’t smart, and has a LONG column on how he now deals with his depression. You may want to take notes, since you will likely be mighty depressed by the end of this column.

Weather With You

A year ago today, I embarked on a 15-day trip to New Zealand (click over to the 11/03 and 12/03 archives for the wacky details). At the time, I was struggling pretty badly with a broken heart. During my two weeks on the other side of the planet, I discovered how the memory of joy and love can make a person whole. Before then, I’d always been the type to fixate on the past, on absent loves and blown chances. But 32 years of looking back was giving me a crick in my neck.

So, for two weeks, I got to rebuild love without having to center it on another person. It helped that I was in a different world, doing crazy-ass things — jetboating through a river canyon, helicoptering onto a glacier, table-dancing to AC/DC’s Thunderstruck, taking The Leap off a 160-foot platform with a rubber band attached to my chest, drinking Flatliners with Australians — that I never would’ve done in my familiar environment. Since then, just about every day’s been a wonder, a constant miracle.

After re-finding love in myself, I found it in someone else.

I’ve made great friends (but seem to have lost some others).

I’ve seen more of the country and the world than I expected to in the year since that trip: Las Vegas, Charleston, Orlando, Annapolis, Boston, the San Francisco-San Diego drive, Budapest, Stockholm, Copenhagen, London, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and numerous trips to NYC, with Brussels and Amsterdam coming up next month. Sometimes the travel wears me down, but I’ll take it over sitting at home week after week.

Sorry to sound all boring and unsnarky. The anniversary of the trip (which was really the first trip I ever took that didn’t involve family, friends, or work) got me thinking about all that joy, so I figured I’d share it a little.

Drink a Flatliner for me this weekend.

On second thought, don’t; you’ll just curse my name for the rest of the week.


Turns out the ferry was to Picton, through the Marlborough Sound, which was the eeriest experience I’ve ever had. More to come.

We drove from there to Nelson. Yesterday, I went for a three-hour hike in the Abel Tasman National Park, followed by a visit to The Grumpy Mole, where one of the other members of the tour lived up to his Australian stereotype by drinking 15 beers before shifting over to screwdrivers for the rest of the evening. Said evening, note, comprised less than 4 hours. One of the other Australians was surprised by my behavior that evening. “I thought you’d be more… aggressive,” he said. I think, based on the way I’ve portrayed myself to some people, that he was expecting a Begbie-esque experience last night. Well, there’s still time in Queenstown…

Today was a drive down to Kaikoura (where I am now), to be followed by an evening drive to our destination, Christchurch. Took some wonderful pix yesterday during the hike, and some funny ones during the evening out. But the camera got doused in the sink this morning, and I’m hoping it’s just the battery that’s messed up. I’ll find out when we check in tonight. Grr.

(My New Zealand pix via Flickr)