Polar Bear Turns Purple After Medication

Thursday, July 24th, 2003

It seems that Saddam’s sons have been killed. And in other news…a polar bear in Argentina has turned purple! From Polar Bear Turns Purple After Medication:

Paint the polar bear purple and the crowds will come.

That seems to be the lesson a zoo in Mendoza has learned, after its 23-year-old bear Pelusa was sprayed with an antiseptic spray that turned her normally white fur a dark shade of violet.

The unusual color — a temporary side effect of the treatment for dermatitis — has turned the aging bear into a minor celebrity in Argentina and prompted thousands of schoolchildren and tourists to make their way to the Jardin Zoologico de Mendoza in the western city beneath the snow-capped Andes.
[...]
The spray applied to Pelusa is similar to one used by pediatricians to treat children’s scraped knees or lab technicians to stain micro-organisms for examination under microscopes.

Pelusa, a 395-pound bear has been temporarily placed in a cage because of the treatment, and is separated from her mate, Arturo. She is also kept back a distance from the public.

The separation, Duarte said, was needed to keep Pelusa from taking her regular plunge into an icy pool of water at the polar bear compound. That would have washed away the medicine prematurely, he said.

The isolation has not seemed to bother Pelusa but it has left Arturo, a 16-year-old male almost double the weight of his mate, a bit grumpy, Duarte said.

After all, the two — who have been together for years — have been kept apart for 20 days.

I empathize with poor Arturo. Anyway, whoever produces stuffed purple polar bears — especially sold with a bigger, white polar bear — could make a mint right now.

An Interview With Victor Davis Hanson

Monday, July 21st, 2003

I wouldn’t normally find myself reading something called Right Wing News, but I’ve sought out more Victor Davis Hanson. One subject covered in a recent interview is the frequent comparisons of the US to imperial Rome:

Politically they are absurd. We do not send proconsuls to demand taxes to pay for basing troops. In fact we do the opposite — pay lavishly for bases that protect others. The imperial senate was impotent, and civil war was common after AD 200 — we have a stable Congress and little strife. For all the European venom, George Bush is not a Caracalla or even Diocletian. The classical topos of luxus, decadence brought about by affluence and leisure — read Petronius, Suetonius, or Juvenal — well, that is a real concern. Self-loathing and smug cynicism from an elite are the first symptoms and we see that clearly among those pampered and secure, who nevertheless ridicule the very system under which they operate in such a privileged fashion — most notably in the arts, on the campuses, and in the media. A Jessica Lange or Barbra Streisand is right out of a Petronian banquet or perhaps sounds like a Flavian princess spouting off at dinner before returning to Nero’s Golden House. Norman Mailer is a modern day Eumolpus bellowing on spec, and a Michael Moore a court-jester brought in to stick his tongue out at his benefactors for their own sick amusement.

At some point in the near future, I reserve the right to spout: “Hah! She sounds like something straight out of a Petronian banquet!”

I also enjoyed Davis’s take on US-Europe relations:

The cold war was an aberration. Note how quickly the Europeans turned on America once 400 hostile divisions were no longer on their borders. They make up a big continent with a big population that deserves pride and power commensurate with their economy and population; so it is time for both of us to recognize that, bring the troops home or redeploy them in more friendly eastern European countries, and as friends let them develop their own military identity. Keeping 200,000 troops abroad to protect a rich continent is unhealthy for all parties involved.

His take on terrorism?

The antidote is well known and works — overwhelming power, an articulated policy that explains the moral issues involved, and a strong sense of national purpose and resolve. The sicarri, the great Mahdi, the assassins, the kamikazes, they all ended up badly — though they were terrifying at the time. Al Qaeda will share their fate, and bin Laden will be a footnote to history, no better known than Isama Cho, who was the rage of 1930s in Japan, and whose ideology was felt to frightening and unstoppable. The U.S. Marines took care of him and his brood on Okinawa, and they will again with the far less dangerous Islamic fundamentalists. The United States Air Force and Special Forces are much more capable warriors than killers with head bands and hoods.

His historical allusions leave me feeling woefully undereducated.

Why the Muslims Misjudged Us

Monday, July 21st, 2003

Why the Muslims Misjudged Us, by Victor Davis Hanson, makes a number of interesting points — and, in the process, goads me to read more of the classics (in translation, alas):

Afghan tribal councils, without written constitutions, are better than tyranny, surely; but they do not make consensual government. Nor do the Palestinian parliament and advisory bodies in Kuwait. None of these faux assemblies is elected by an unbound citizenry, free to criticize (much less recall, impeach, or depose) their heads of state by legal means, or even to speak openly to journalists about the failings of their own government. Plato remarked of such superficial government-by-deliberation that even thieves divvy up the loot by give-and-take, suggesting that the human tendency to parley is natural but is not the same as the formal machinery of democratic government.

I love that bit from Plato: Even thieves divvy up the loot by give-and-take.

Davis goes on to make Zakaria‘s point:

The fact is that democracy does not spring fully formed from the head of Zeus but rather is an epiphenomenon — the formal icing on a preexisting cake of egalitarianism, economic opportunity, religious tolerance, and constant self-criticism. The former cannot appear in the Muslim world until gallant men and women insist upon the latter — and therein demolish the antidemocratic and medieval forces of tribalism, authoritarian traditionalism, and Islamic fundamentalism.

Ouch:

Government spokesmen in the Middle East should ignore the nonsense of the cultural relativists and discredited Marxists and have the courage to say that they are poor because their populations are nearly half illiterate, that their governments are not free, that their economies are not open, and that their fundamentalists impede scientific inquiry, unpopular expression, and cultural exchange.
[...]
But blaming the West, and Israel, for the unendurable reality is easier for millions of Muslims than admitting the truth. Billions of barrels of oil, large populations, the Suez Canal, the fertility of the Nile, Tigris, and Euphrates valleys, invaluable geopolitical locations, and a host of other natural advantages that helped create wealthy civilizations in the past now yield an excess of misery, rather than the riches of resource-poor Hong Kong or Switzerland. How could it be otherwise, when it takes bribes and decades to obtain a building permit in Cairo; when habeas corpus is a cruel joke in Baghdad; and when Saudi Arabia turns out more graduates in Islamic studies than in medicine or engineering?

Starting with a little dig at Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel (an excellent, thought-provoking book, by the way), Davis then lays out his thesis from Carnage and Culture (which I have not yet read):

Values and traditions — not guns, germs, and steel — explain why a tiny Greece of 50,000 square miles crushed a Persia 20 times larger; why Rome, not Carthage, created world government; why Cortes was in Tenochtitl`an, and Montezuma not in Barcelona; why gunpowder in its home in China was a pastime for the elite while, when stolen and brought to Europe, it became a deadly and ever evolving weapon of the masses. Even at the nadir of Western power in the medieval ages, a Europe divided by religion and fragmented into feudal states could still send thousands of thugs into the Holy Land, while a supposedly ascendant Islam had neither the ships nor the skill nor the logistics to wage jihad in Scotland or Brittany.
[...]
Europeans, not Ottomans, colonized central and southern Africa, Asia and the Pacific, and the Americas — and not merely because of their Atlantic ports or ocean ships but rather because of their long-standing attitudes and traditions about scientific inquiry, secular thought, free markets, and individual ingenuity and spontaneity. To be sure, military power is not a referendum on morality — Pizarro’s record in Peru makes as grim reading as the Germans’ in central Africa; it is, rather, a reflection of the amoral dynamism that fuels ships and soldiers.

We are militarily strong, and the Arab world abjectly weak, not because of greater courage, superior numbers, higher IQs, more ores, or better weather, but because of our culture. When it comes to war, 1 billion people and the world’s oil are not nearly as valuable military assets as MIT, West Point, the U.S. House of Representatives, C-Span, Bill O’Riley, and the G.I. Bill. Between Xerxes on his peacock throne overlooking Salamis and Saddam on his balcony reviewing his troops, between the Greeks arguing and debating before they rowed out with Themistocles and the Americans haranguing one another on the eve of the Gulf War, lies a 2,500-year cultural tradition that explains why the rest of the world copies its weapons, uniforms, and military organization from us, not vice versa.

On Israel and Muslim envy:

If Israel were not so successful, free, and haughty — if it were beleaguered and tottering on the verge of ruin — perhaps it would be tolerated. But in a sea of totalitarianism and government-induced poverty, a relatively successful economy and a stable culture arising out of scrub and desert clearly irks its less successful neighbors. Envy, as the historian Thucydides reminds us, is a powerful emotion and has caused not a few wars.

As with the Cold War, immigration tells quite a story:

In matters of East-West relations, immigration has always been a one-way phenomenon. Thousands flocked to Athens and Rome; few left for Parthia or Numidia unless to colonize or exploit. People sneak into South, not North, Korea — in the same manner that few from Hong Kong once braved gunfire to reach Peking (unless to invest and profit). Few Israeli laborers are going to the West Bank to seek construction jobs. In this vein is the Muslim world’s longing for the very soil of America. Even in the crucible of war, we have discovered that our worst critics love us in the concrete as much as they hate us in the abstract.

For all the frothing, it seems that millions of our purported enemies wish to visit, study, or (better yet) live in the United States — and this is true not just of Westernized professors or globe-trotting tycoons but of hijackers, terrorists, the children of the Taliban, the offspring of Iranian mullahs, and the spoiled teenage brats of our Gulf critics. The terrorists visited lap dancers, took out frequent-flier miles, spent hours on the Internet, had cell phones strapped to their hips, and hobnobbed in Las Vegas — parasitic on a culture not their own, fascinated with toys they could not make, and always ashamed that their lusts grew more than they could be satisfied. Until September 11, their ilk had been like fleas on a lazy, plump dog, gnashing their tiny proboscises to gain bloody nourishment or inflict small welts on a distracted host who found them not worth the scratch.

This dual loathing and attraction for things Western is characteristic of the highest echelon of the terrorists themselves, often Western-educated, English-speaking, and hardly poor. Emblematic is the evil genius of al-Qaida, the sinister Dr. al-Zawahiri: he grew up in Cairo affluence, his family enmeshed in all the Westernized institutions of Egypt.

Americans find this Middle Eastern cultural schizophrenia maddening, especially in its inability to fathom that all the things that Muslim visitors profess to hate — equality of the sexes, cultural freedom, religious tolerance, egalitarianism, free speech, and secular rationalism — are precisely what give us the material things that they want in the first place. CDs and sexy bare midriffs are the fruits of a society that values freedom, unchecked inquiry, and individual expression more than the dictates of state or church; wild freedom and wild materialism are part of the American character. So bewildered Americans now ask themselves: Why do so many of these anti-Americans, who profess hatred of the West and reverence for the purity of an energized Islam or a fiery Palestine, enroll in Chico State or UCLA instead of madrassas in Pakistan or military academies in Iraq?

Naval Institute Proceedings: Interview: Victor Davis Hanson

Monday, July 21st, 2003

Victor Davis Hanson makes a fascinating point in his interview with the Naval Institute Proceedings:

If the United States has singular military power, then a lot of forces in the world vie to use that power for some particular agenda. When it’s used in such a way, the United States is considered part of the global community. When it’s not, they call it unilateralism. One concrete example is when nearly 200,000 Europeans were butchered in the heart of Europe, and no European power did much of anything. Some 57 days later, the U.S. Air Force removed [Yugoslavia President] Slobodan Milosevic. Before we intervened, they were calling us isolationists. After we intervened, they were calling us interventionists. But while we were intervening, they more or less approved.

The world competes for the attention, the influence, and the use of this power. And when you combine that with envy and jealousy, it’s very hard to be popular. You never satisfy everybody.

Microscopic view

Monday, July 21st, 2003

In Microscopic view, Steven Den Beste explains something that always seemed quite natural to me, but not at all clear to many people — that we can selfishly protect our own interests while deposing tyrants:

We are not, however, doing this out of altruism. We are not trying to give them a liberalized western democracy because we’re evangelistic liberal democrats (with both “liberal” and “democrat” taking historical meanings). We are bringing reform to Iraq out of narrow self interest. We have to foster reform in the Arab/Muslim world because it’s the only real way in the long run to make them stop trying to kill us.

There is thus no inconsistency with the fact that we fought a war to free Iraq’s people from Saddam’s cruelty while simultaneously not seeming willing to do the same for North Korea, whose people are probably suffering even more badly. At the moment, it doesn’t appear to be in our narrow self interest to do that for the people of NK.

It is the leftists who claim to be motivated by compassion for the victimized peoples of the world; you’d think they’d not only be cheering for the war in Iraq, and also trying to advocate doing the same thing in North Korea. For them to oppose both wars is inconsistent with their pretensions.

Victor Davis Hanson on Iraq on National Review Online

Monday, July 21st, 2003

Victor Davis Hanson on Iraq on National Review Online gives a remarkably positive summary of the war in Iraq:

Thanks to these resolute policies, after a brief three-week war and a mere four months of occupation, the Baathists are deposed, an Iraq national council is meeting, and the Middle East is in the midst of a vast reappraisal — at the cost, so far, of 200 brave soldiers. Where critics see turmoil — chaos in Iraq, saber-rattling with Iran, and banditry in Afghanistan — there are in fact the hard birth-pangs of consensual government, and the dying of an old order of both fascism and theocracy.

Pizza Cuts Cancer Risk?

Monday, July 21st, 2003

Now this is good news! Pizza Cuts Cancer Risk?:

A study of 8,000 Italians found that regular pizza-eaters were 59 percent less likely to contract cancer of the esophagus, while the risk of developing cancer of the colon fell by 26 percent.

“We knew that tomato sauce was protective against certain tumors, but we certainly didn’t expect that pizza as a whole would provide such strong protection,” researcher Silvano Gallus told Sunday’s La Repubblica newspaper.

I have to wonder though, if you’re Italian, and you’re not eating pizza, aren’t you likely eating something with even more tomato sauce, like pasta?

Why nitrate?

Thursday, July 17th, 2003

I stumbled across some amusing history in Why nitrate?, an article that explains why Kodak used something as explosive as nitrocellulose for filmstock:

It was created to replace ivory, which was expensive, and becoming scare since the Elephants were being killed at a faster rate than they were reproducing. Initially, nitrocellulose was used for billiard balls, cufflinks, combs and other toiletry items, as a replacement for ivory since the cost of making it was so cheap. Even then, it was highly flammable. If you hit a pool ball hard enough it would explode. In fact, there’s a gag in a Buster Keaton film when he uses pool balls like grenades while being chased. Nitrocellulose combs and cufflinks used to start on fire when people smoked near them. Despite it’s danger, it was so cheap to make many people liked it and it allowed middle class people to afford the luxury items reserved for the wealthy in the ivory days.

[...]

It was when the French and later Americans actually started projecting the nitrate film onto large screens with brighter Carbon Arc illumination that the problems started. The film shrank in the exchanges and if it jammed in the projector you had a major fire on your hands. An early screening in France at the turn of the century started a nitrate fire that killed a hundred patrons and there were nitrate fires in vaults, labs and theaters throughout its history. Di-acetate safety film was developed in the twenties by Kodak and Pathe but only used for the amateur and non-commercial markets because it shrank more rapidly than Nitrate. It wasn’t until 1948 that slow shrinking, slow burning tri-acetate safety film was adopted by the industry and the nitrate phased out.

Blind Spots Plague Newer Car Models

Thursday, July 17th, 2003

Ah, I’m not the only one to notice this! Blind Spots Plague Newer Car Models:

Some of the coolest new cars have a problematic feature: bigger blind spots. As vehicles become more stylish and aerodynamic, the windows are shrinking and rear ends are rising, making it tougher for drivers to see what’s around them. This isn’t only an issue for high-riding SUVs. The small back windows and big headrests in some low-slung models can also obscure objects to the rear or cars in the next lane. Both the Toyota Celica and the Stratus, for instance, have backends that slope upward, sometimes completely blocking the driver’s view of cars that are tailgating.

The last few cars I’ve rented have had terrible visibility. I just thought it was an American-car thing.

Why You Waste So Much Money

Thursday, July 17th, 2003

Modern, behavorial economics looks at how people are systematically irrational in their choices. Why You Waste So Much Money gives some examples:

A three-year study of about 8,000 gym-membership records from the Boston area found about 80% of gym members with a monthly contract were paying significantly more than if they had gone on a pay-per-use basis. That’s because members went to the gym an average of less than five times per month, far less than they thought they’d go. The result: Average users paid $17 per workout — even when a $10 ‘pay per use’ option existed. That adds up. Members were losing about $700 over the life of the gym contract, compared with the pay-per-visit option.
[...]
“Zero percent” teaser-rate offers on credit cards are a telling example. Consumers often choose cards with the lowest teaser rates, ignoring the fact that they may be paying 15% or more after the teaser rate expires. That’s because they vow to switch their debt somewhere else when the introductory rate expires. However, most people fail to transfer their balances. Customers should pay more attention to how long the teaser rate lasts, and to the rate that kicks in after the teaser rate expires.

Of course, I was spending something like $15/month for my gym membership and going three times a week. (Now I lift at home, when I lift…)

New Insights Into Autism

Thursday, July 17th, 2003

New Insights Into Autism reports on a recent study:

The study in Wednesday’s issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association finds that a small head circumference at birth followed by a sudden growth spurt of the head before the end of the first year is a reliable early warning sign of autism.
[...]
National statistics on autism spectrum disorder are hard to come by, but the incidence has been rising mysteriously. The disorder, which ranges from severe to moderate cases, affects an estimated one in 160 children in the U.S., according to UCSD researchers. It is typically diagnosed between ages 2 and 4, based on a child’s behavior — delayed speech, difficulties with social interactions, poor attention, impaired exploration of the environment and inappropriate emotional responses.
[...]
The cause of the small brain size at birth is unknown. But the abnormally sped-up brain growth, says Dr. Courchesne, likely reflects excessive numbers of brain cells, failure of the brain to prune the hundreds of synapses that connect one neuron to another, or both. Normally, experiences sculpt the developing brain; unneeded or unused synapses are pruned away. Autistic children, in contrast, seem to suffer from the neurological equivalent of electrical overload: too many impulses, thoughts and sensations in their brain.
[...]
[T]he scientists found that the head size at birth of the autistic children was, on average, in the 25th percentile (smaller than 75% of other newborns). But most of these children quickly began a period of such rapid brain growth that, by 6 to 14 months, they landed in the 84th percentile. By 4 or 5, their brain was the size of a typical 12-year old’s.

Americans Are Gaining, but ‘Ideal’ Weight Keeps Shrinking

Thursday, July 17th, 2003

While the title of the article is a bit misleading, Americans Are Gaining, but ‘Ideal’ Weight Keeps Shrinking presents some interesting history:

Sixty years ago, Metropolitan Life Insurance created the first widely accepted charts setting ideal weights for American men and women. ‘Overweight is so common,’ the company declared at the time, ‘that it constitutes a national health problem of the first order.’

I didn’t realize “overweight” was a noun, and I didn’t realize it was already a national health problem sixty years ago.

Naturally, “ideal” weights have changed over the years.

Until the early 20th century, however, an extra 10, 20 or even 30 pounds of flesh was considered a sign of robust health — a buffer against so-called wasting diseases, such as tuberculosis. In her prime, the actress Lillian Russell, after whom the “American Beauty” rose was named, weighed 200 pounds. During his presidency, which started in 1909, William Howard Taft weighed more than 300 pounds.

A few thoughts:

  • Until the early 20th century, an extra 10, 20, or even 30 pounds of flesh probably meant you were almost as big as a trim 21st-century American. And if you were a farmer or laborer, it might have been lean mass.
  • Lillian Russell was not 200 pounds in her youth, and she wore a corset. That tends to shift the extra weight to where it’s welcome.
  • Taft did not look good at 300 pounds, and he was the butt of many jokes.

Some stats:

In 1941, for example, an average 5-foot-10-inch 35-year-old man weighed about 171 pounds. Metropolitan Life’s weight chart for men, published in 1943, set the desirable weight for that man at 159.
[...]
By 1963, the average 5-foot-10-inch 35-year-old man weighed 169 pounds. Luckily for him, Metropolitan Life had just revised its weight charts, resetting his ideal weight to 165, six pounds heavier than the 1943 charts.
[...]
In 1983, Metropolitan Life again revised its charts to reflect new health and mortality data. Desirable weights were raised for most people, roughly two to eight pounds depending on height and frame size.

Interestingly, I’d never read the history of the body-mass index before:

While some health professionals still use Metropolitan Life’s weight charts, many others have begun using another gauge of fat: body mass index, a stricter measure for many people. Developed by a Belgian statistician, Adolphe Quetelet, in the 19th century, the formula (weight in kilograms divided by the square of one’s height in meters) in 1998 became the U.S. government’s official standard of healthy weights. Using the new definition, an additional 25 million Americans instantly qualified as fat or obese. Today, about 97 million adults in America are considered overweight.

One of my fitness goals was to reach a BMI of 30 — technically obese — at single-digit body-fat. Technically, a six-foot, 221-pound bodybuilder has the same BMI as a six-foot, 221-pound couch potato.

The Real World

Thursday, July 17th, 2003

Theodore Dalrymple opens The Real World with a few simple truths that really hit home (at least for me):

Just as city-bred people find themselves surprised and alarmed by the intensity of natural darkness in the countryside, so many young people now feel uneasy, almost to the point of agitation, when confronted with silence. Without an incessant background din of music, radio, or television, they cannot (or say they cannot) concentrate. It is as if their own unaided thoughts alarmed them, and they suffered an addiction to distraction.

I am city-bred (or suburb-bred), and I can’t see a damned thing at night without street lights. Also, everyone used to look at me like I was crazy when I said I didn’t listen to the radio during my morning commute. (In fact, my old car had no radio. I had planned on getting something higher-end than the base factory equipment — until I found out I enjoyed the silence just fine.)

Anyway, Dalrymple’s main point follows:

It is hardly surprising, then, if many people now gain their sense of reality not by contact with reality itself, but through television. What happens on the screen is more real to them than what happens all around them. Reality and virtual reality have changed their order of importance in their mental economy.

Last week, I was teaching a medical student when the police brought into our ward a man who that morning had stabbed his girlfriend to death and then had taken an overdose. He still had his girlfriend’s blood on his feet.

The killer was not a habitual criminal. Indeed, he had never been in trouble with the police before in his 30 years. An immigrant who came to Britain four years previously, he had gone to live with his girlfriend at her invitation, but she had soon tired of him and began to taunt him unmercifully about his lack of sexual prowess. He became intensely jealous of her former lovers. That morning, they had had a violent quarrel, and she threatened him with a kitchen knife. He grabbed it from her, but still she taunted him. He stabbed her once, non-fatally, but still she continued her stream of insults. Then he stabbed her two or three times, and she died. He took his overdose and called the police.

His account of the events was of the greatest lucidity. Evidently, he felt compelled to speak. He appeared to have the gift of narrative. When he came to the fatal stabbing, he began to cry. “I’ve committed the biggest sin there is,” he said. “I’ve taken the life of another, and now I must pay the price.”

When the patient left my room, the medical student, a middle-class 22-year-old, was visibly shaken. He had never heard anything like this confession before. He struggled to put his thoughts into words.

“Phew!” he said, shaking his head. “It’s just like on TV.”

And you can’t get more real than that.

Studies in Intelligence

Thursday, July 17th, 2003

Studies in Intelligence describes how FDR, despite his familiarity with then-new-fangled surveillance gear, trusted the Russians completely “and was bugged like no other American president in history”:

Roosevelt was no stranger to technical surveillance. In 1939, piqued by an incident in which he believed that the press had deliberately misquoted him, he had a secret recording system installed in the White House as a means of self-protection. Since German tape-recording technology had not yet found its way to America, something had to be invented. FDR’s assistants took the problem to David Sarnoff of the Radio Corporation of America. In June 1940, Sarnoff personally presented the President with a “continuous-film recording machine” that made use of motion-picture sound film. Set in a wire cage in a room beneath the Oval Office, the device was activated either by the President using a switch inside his desk drawer or by his technician down below throwing a switch on the machine itself. A single microphone poked out through a lamp on FDR’s desk.

Between 23 August and 8 November, 1939, during his campaign for an unprecedented third term, the President recorded fourteen of twenty-one press conferences held in his office, plus a number of private conversations, the latter possibly by mistake. It seems that he never used the system to entrap anyone, and no one knows why he stopped it. Relatively innocent by today’s standards of invasion, it nevertheless demonstrates that the President was acquainted with listening devices before his conferences with Stalin.

In the very year of the Teheran conference, he was reminded of hidden microphones when watching Mission to Moscow, a movie based on a book of that title by Joseph E. Davies, America’s second Ambassador to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Produced in 1943 with the President’s blessing, possibly even at his explicit request, this blatant piece of propaganda was designed to drum up public enthusiasm for a political shotgun wedding: It colored Stalin as a simple, practical man with whom one could do business; rhapsodized about Soviet construction, government, and politics; and justified the Soviet blood purges, the Moscow show trials, and Stalin’s two-year pact with Hitler, which had ended when Hitler turned the tables on Stalin and invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941.

Attempting to forestall any criticism of the Soviet system, Davies even contrived to make a brief for bugging. In one scene, set in the American Embassy in Moscow, the Ambassador’s assistants warn him of listening devices, but he rebukes them severely:

I say nothing outside the Kremlin that I wouldn’t say to Stalin’s face. Do you? . . . We’re here in a sense as guests of the Soviet government, and I’m going to believe they trust the United States as a friend until they prove otherwise. Is that clear?

When the assistant persists that still, after all, there may be microphones, Davies, played with aplomb by FDR’s favorite actor, Walter Huston, cuts him off: “Then let ‘em hear! We’ll be friends that much faster!”

The final irony

Thursday, July 17th, 2003

In The final irony, Zoe Williams (a Brit) tackles irony (using some British allusions I don’t quite get):

Pretty much everything is ironic these days. Irony is used as a synonym for cool, for cynicism, for detachment, for intelligence; it’s cited as the end of civilisation, as well as its salvation. Pretty much every form of culture claims to be shot through with it, even (especially) the ones that conspicuously aren’t. I read last week that Bruce Forsyth hosting Have I Got News For You was an ‘ironic statement’, as if you could ascend into irony just by being old, as you used to with wisdom. I read, too, that it was ironic for Alan Millburn to leave his job to spend more time with his family, when the doctors and nurses under his care don’t have that facility; well, it’s not ironic, it’s just standard-issue self-interest, with maybe a smattering of hypocrisy. I’ve read claims of an ‘ironic’ interest in Big Brother — nope. Lazy, maybe. Possibly postmodern. Not ironic.

We have a grave problem with this word (well, in fact, it’s not really grave — but I’m not being ironic when I call it that, I’m being hyperbolic. Though often the two amount to the same thing. But not always).
[...]
Most pressingly, though, there are a number of misconceptions about irony that are peculiar to recent times. The first is that September 11 spelled the end of irony. The second is that the end of irony would be the one good thing to come out of September 11. The third is that irony characterises our age to a greater degree than it has done any other. The fourth is that Americans can’t do irony, and we can. The fifth is that the Germans can’t do irony, either (and we still can). The sixth is that irony and cynicism are interchangeable. The seventh is that it’s a mistake to attempt irony in emails and text messages, even while irony characterises our age, and so do emails. And the eighth is that “post-ironic” is an acceptable term – it is very modish to use this, as if to suggest one of three things: i) that irony has ended; ii) that postmodernism and irony are interchangeable, and can be conflated into one handy word; or iii) that we are more ironic than we used to be, and therefore need to add a prefix suggesting even greater ironic distance than irony on its own can supply. None of these things is true.

Now, after all that effort numbering and sub-numbering the points, I’m going to deal with them in the wrong order. That isn’t ironic, it’s just a bit sloppy.