Blogs

Bagels!

| Fri Nov. 28, 2008 2:07 PM EST

BAGELS!....One of these days I guess I'm going to have to try a bagel when I'm in New York City. My crappy taste buds being what they are, I suppose my reaction is going to be the usual (i.e., "they just taste like bagels to me"), but I'm still curious. It hardly seems plausible that transplanted New Yorkers can't make good bagels elsewhere in the country, and insufficiently developed consumer taste doesn't seem like a good explanation for this lack, as it often is for ethnic food of other varieties.

(Can you order a New York City bagel over the internet? I mean, I'm sure you can, but do they survive the shipping process tasting as good as if they were bought locally? Or do I really have to get on a plane and head east to perform this experiment?)

Anyway, this spate of bagel blogging was inspired by a David Bernstein post about bagels over at the Volokh Conspiracy, and what really amused me wasn't the bagel stuff itself, but Bernstein's being annoyed that the book he was reading, The Bagel: The Surprising History of a Modest Bread, "relies on union sources, the story is completely one-sided; the reader doesn't get the perspective of any of the bagel bakery owners, just the workers." We all have our pet peeves, so I guess I shouldn't laugh, but Bernstein seems constitutionally incapable of ever letting a positive mention of unions pass unnoticed, insisting that every advance in worker rights would have happened anyway due solely to rising union standards. I say: tell it to the janitors, pal. Rising living standards don't really seem to have helped their cause a helluva lot. In fact, tell it to the median worker in general, who's made virtually no gains at all over the past three decades despite a near doubling in per capita GDP during the period.

Eh. I guess that just shows that I have some pet peeves too. I still need to try a real NYC bagel one of these days, though. If and when I do, which shop should I try, O commenters?

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Wingers and the Economy

| Fri Nov. 28, 2008 1:47 PM EST

WINGERS AND THE ECONOMY....I read Charles Krauthammer's column this morning — yet more proof, if more were needed, that people with very high IQs can also be very, very stupid — and I got to wondering. A developing meme on the right suggests that our recent economic meltdown isn't really the fault of the free market having a heart attack at all, but rather the fault of the government performing triple bypass surgery in response to what was really no more than some free market heartburn. And so I wonder: Is this really going to be the National Review/WSJ editorial page/Grover Norquist line going forward? And if it is, what's the right response? Sober op-eds explaining why they're wrong? Or dismissive laughter? I'm thinking the latter.

Thanksgiving Catblogging

| Thu Nov. 27, 2008 1:49 PM EST

THANKSGIVING CATBLOGGING....The stars of this year's traditional Thanksgiving clipart extravaganza are Ditto and Tillamook, my mother's two new kittens. I was over the other day visiting, and let me tell you: these are definitely not a shy pair of kittens. Ditto practically knocks down the furniture running over to greet visitors, and starts purring like a motorboat if you so much as look at him crosseyed. Tillie was in nap mode most of the time I was there, but is also friendly and adorable, as all kittens should be.

The pod they're sleeping in was a housewarming gift from me. Ten bucks at Walgreens. Isn't it cute? When I got it home, though, it turned out that Domino and Inkblot both thought it was for them, with Domino eventually claiming it as her permanent nighttime bed. What could I do? Back to Walgreens for another one, that's what. As you can see, the dynamic duo love it too when they've decided they've had enough dynamism for the time being.

Like them, I'm dreaming of turkey right now. In fact, I can almost taste it already. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

SOFA Approved

| Thu Nov. 27, 2008 12:26 PM EST

SOFA APPROVED....In the neverending soap opera that is Iraq, the SOFA agreement has finally passed. Sort of:

Iraqi lawmakers today approved a pact allowing U.S. forces to stay in the country through 2011 after winning support from skeptics by promising a public referendum on the plan.

Of the 198 parliamentarians attending today's session, more than 140 held up their hands in favor of the Status of Forces Agreement, or SOFA....The lawmakers separately approved a resolution calling for a referendum in July 2009, during which the public will get to endorse, reject, or demand amendments to the SOFA. The referendum was the key demand of Sunni Muslim legislators who had refused to join the parliament's ruling Shiite and Kurdish blocs in approving SOFA without the referendum promise.

So, once again, we don't have a firm approval for withdrawal. The Iraqi public has a longstanding desire for American troops to leave, which suggests the SOFA will be approved, but a lot can happen in six months. If I had to bet, I'd say it passes in July, but I sure wouldn't bet the farm on it.

Georgia and Ukraine

| Wed Nov. 26, 2008 10:07 PM EST

GEORGIA AND UKRAINE....This is just weird:

The United States has started an unexpected diplomatic initiative in Europe, urging NATO allies to offer Georgia and Ukraine membership in the alliance without going through a lengthy process and fulfilling a long list of requirements, NATO diplomats said.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has had long telephone conversations with French, German and other senior European envoys, asking them to agree to bypass the formal application process, the diplomats said.

Just a few months ago the U.S. couldn't even persuade NATO to offer Georgia and Ukraine a roadmap for membership, let alone membership itself. Now, after a war in Georgia and a government collapse in Ukraine, and with the Bush administration on its last legs, Rice thinks she can somehow talk the rest of the alliance into offering them expedited entry? Am I missing something here?

The Mystery Man

| Wed Nov. 26, 2008 9:29 PM EST

THE MYSTERY MAN....So who was the anonymous Republican senator who told Politico's Roger Simon that McCain ran a lousy campaign, Bush has been a lousy president, the GOP needs to pay more attention to Hispanics and less to Sarah Palin, and the era of small government is over? The betting line here is Mel Martinez. Anybody have a better guess?

Via Eric Alterman.

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Holbrooke to Islamabad?

| Wed Nov. 26, 2008 9:11 PM EST

HOLBROOKE TO ISLAMABAD?....Spencer Ackerman thinks Barack Obama ought to ask Richard Holbrooke to be his ambassador to Iraq:

Is there any U.S. diplomat more qualified than Holbrooke — a former U.N. ambassador, among other things — to preside over and cajole the creation of a national sectarian political compact in Iraq? Unlike anyone else in the U.S. foreign policy community, Holbrooke actually did this before, in the middle of a Balkan shooting war, and he's given a lot of thought to the ways in which his Balkan experience is relevant to Iraq. If we're to take seriously the idea that the U.S. needs energetic diplomatic action to broker a political settlement in Iraq to accompany withdrawal, there isn't really anyone else for the job.

Sure, but here's another thought. If he's willing to stay on, why not keep Ryan Crocker in the job and ask Holbrooke to go to Pakistan? Crocker gets pretty good marks from everyone and he already knows the lay of the land in Baghdad, while Pakistan is really ground zero these days for a hard ass diplomat who can figure out a way to get people who hate each other's guts to somehow work together. For my money, it's the most important diplomatic post in the world right now.

Joan Baez: Two 20-Somethings on a 60s Icon

| Wed Nov. 26, 2008 4:20 PM EST

joan-baez-250x200.jpgIn 1959 Joan Baez was a pint-sized college dropout with a hell of a lot of hair playing her folk tunes in pretty much any Boston club that would have her. Once the sixties came—well, we know the rest—Baez met Bob Dylan, and she quickly became the darling of the nascent protest folk-rock scene. Her soprano reworkings of classic spirituals and folk songs became the soundtrack by which a generation remembers their youth.

Today, the 67 year-old Baez refuses to become a relic. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of her recording career, Baez has released The Day After Tomorrow, a new album of covers drawn from sources such as Elvis Costello and Thea Gilmore. (In true Baez style, the title track is a cover of Tom Waits' classic wartime ode to a disheartened soldier.)

Two of us MoJo staffers caught Baez during the last leg of her recent national tour. Later, we discussed via gchat how the rebel-rousing folksinger translates from legend to the stage. Full disclosure: Neither of us was even in utero during the sixties.

How Bad Is It?

| Wed Nov. 26, 2008 1:57 PM EST

HOW BAD IS IT?....Andy McCarthy asks:

The Worst Economic Crisis Since the Great Depression?

That's the Obamanomics mantra. Should be we really be letting that slide by without a response? Going to high school in the Carter Seventies, I remember sitting in the gas lines. Toward the end of Carter's tenure, interest rates were around 20%, inflation was at close to 14%, and unemployment was just over 7% (it soared over 10% before the Reagan recovery kicked in).

I don't mean to minimize the straits we're in, and I appreciate that things are likely to get worse — maybe a lot worse — before they get better. But aren't Democrats skipping over a pretty awful bit of history when they say this is as bad as it's been in 75 years?

Well, look: interest rates hit 20% because Paul Volcker put them there in order to fight inflation. But it's not inflation that that's the measure of a recession, it's output growth and employment. And at least at the moment, the projections for output and employment over the next year are about as bad as they were in 1980-82 — and that's even without an oil shock to kick things off. Add to that the fact that the financial system is collapsing worldwide, entire countries are going bankrupt, a couple of dozen really big banks have gone bust, and credit markets are still frozen despite trillions of dollar in various interventions from national governments, and yeah, I'd say this is the worst financial crisis since the Depression. Does anybody really want to take the other side of that debate?

Atlas Hedged

| Wed Nov. 26, 2008 1:31 PM EST

ATLAS HEDGED....Via Alex Tabarrok, McSweeney's presents "Atlas Shrugged Updated for the Current Financial Crisis":

"Damn it, Dagny! I need the government to get out of the way and let me do my job!"

She sat across the desk from him. She appeared casual but confident, a slim body with rounded shoulders like an exquisitely engineered truss. How he hated his debased need for her, he who loathed self-sacrifice but would give up everything he valued to get in her pants ... Did she know?

"I heard the thugs in Washington were trying to take your Rearden metal at the point of a gun," she said. "Don't let them, Hank. With your advanced alloy and my high-tech railroad, we'll revitalize our country's failing infrastructure and make big, virtuous profits."

"Oh, no, I got out of that suckers' game. I now run my own hedge-fund firm, Rearden Capital Management."

Your mileage may vary, especially if you haven't read Atlas Shrugged. I thought it was pretty funny.