— Jim Waterson (@jimwaterson) September 23, 2014
Another country, another US bombing. And the beat goes on …
But first, get psyched for Wednesday:
I went to grad school and shared some classes with Zeke Emanuel, who just wrote a great piece for The Atlantic on why he doesn’t want to live much past the age of 75. Money quote:
By the time I reach 75, I will have lived a complete life. I will have loved and been loved. My children will be grown and in the midst of their own rich lives. I will have seen my grandchildren born and beginning their lives. I will have pursued my life’s projects and made whatever contributions, important or not, I am going to make. And hopefully, I will not have too many mental and physical limitations.
Dying at 75 will not be a tragedy. Indeed, I plan to have my memorial service before I die. And I don’t want any crying or wailing, but a warm gathering filled with fun reminiscences, stories of my awkwardness, and celebrations of a good life. After I die, my survivors can have their own memorial service if they want—that is not my business.
I also happened to catch this little piece on Leonard Cohen’s decision to take up smoking again now that he is 80 years’ old:
At any age, taking up smoking is not sensible. Both the smoker and those who breathe his secondhand smoke can suffer not only long-term but acute health problems, including infections and asthma. And yet, Mr. Cohen’s plan presents a provocative question: When should we set aside a life lived for the future and, instead, embrace the pleasures of the present?
It’s a vital question this one – and not because of the extraordinary costs of maximal healthcare at the end of many of our lives. It’s vital because it challenges our Western denial of death, our cult of life-extension, our refusal to fully absorb the fact that we are finite, mortal, obsolescent. I was horribly lucky to be forced to confront this at a very early age – 29 to be exact. The prognosis back in 1993 was not great for HIV infection, and I watched a close friend die at the age of 31. Is my life somehow worth more than his, I wondered, simply because I’m going to be here longer? Some called this survivor’s guilt. I thought it was merely addressing a core existential question.
One day, a simple thought occurred to me and a huge amount of stress and worry and anxiety lifted. It occurred to me to see life the way we see college. No one gets extra points for staying in college for longer than four years. We understand that it’s finite; and our response is to value the content of that experience rather than its length. I vowed that that was how I was going to treat life from now on. And, although, of course, those feelings waned as my prospects brightened, I haven’t ever fully let go of it.
It lies behind many of the things I did with my life since then – the apparently quixotic fight for marriage equality (the kind of nutty thing you throw yourself into if you only have a few years left); even more quixotic attempts to re-describe conservatism; the crazy idea that I could write directly for readers with no middle man; the equally risky prospect of making an independent business out of a very idiosyncratic blog. I think knowing I was living past my expiration date helped me live more fully and less fearfully. And it makes the idea of trying to live into one’s eighties as a goal a little beside the point.
There’s wisdom in Zeke’s outlook; and, of course, wit in Cohen’s. I think of Hitch. Maybe he could have lived a different, more upright life – which would have been much longer. But would he still have been Hitch? And isn’t it better to have one real Hitch for a short time than a less authentic version that lived into his dotage?
I know this much: I just want to be alive when I die.
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An epic takedown of Trump and, more importantly, the Miss America scholarship sham:
John Oliver and his team are really kicking ass with this new show. Previous Dish on Last Week Tonight segments here, here and here. He’s proof that ad-free long-form journalism can work, and be highly engaging and entertaining, if supported long and steadily enough.
The latest in artificial sweetener scares:
Artificial sweeteners might be triggering higher blood-sugar levels in some people and contributing to the problems they were designed to combat, such as diabetes and obesity, according to new findings published Wednesday in the journal Nature. Although the precise reasons behind the blood-sugar changes remain uncertain, researchers suspect that artificial sweeteners could be disrupting the microbiome, a vast and enigmatic ecosystem of bacteria in our guts.
Svati Kirsten Naruta reminds us that the “news” isn’t really new at all:
There have been a lot of major news stories about the science behind artificially sweetened products. But I didn’t see a single one this week that acknowledged the ones written earlier this year, or in 2008, or 2005. More often than not, each individual story gives the impression that the latest science is either totally new or surprisingly compelling.
Drawing on his recent book, Tocqueville in Arabia: Dilemmas in a Democratic Age, Joshua Mitchell applies the French thinker’s insights about the emergence of democracy to today’s Middle East:
Alexis de Tocqueville long ago wrote that the democratic age is upon us. By this he meant that the “links” to family and tribe that held us fast in the aristocratic age were breaking apart before our eyes. The political consequence of this social de-linkage, however, was not necessarily benign democratic governance. Indeed, he worried that attempts would be made to refortify the old links, to reaffirm roles at the moment when delinked persons were emerging. What we today often identify as “Islamic Fundamentalism” is just such an attempt to re-fortify the old links, to re-enchant the world. Herein lays the dilemma of the Middle East. Caught in the matrix of the political and social arrangements of the twentieth century that defy credulity, drawn and at the same time repulsed by the fugitive freedom they see on Western shores but only dimly understand, nascent citizens more than occasionally dream of returning to an enchanted world for which an imagined Islam provides a ready guide.
Under these wildly unstable conditions, U.S. foreign policy-makers should take the long view. Democratic governance will not arrive soon in the Middle East. If it does at all, it will emerge only when families and tribes become much less important than they now are. Citizens and entrepreneurs―the building blocks of democratic governance and of market commerce―do not spring up spontaneously out of societies where families and tribes still retain their hold on the imagination. The slow process by which that changes, moreover, cannot easily be accelerated by U.S. foreign policy.
In the meantime, in the interludes of peace, diplomatic and cultural outreach and, above all, higher education initiatives intended to help the younger generation understand and thrive in the disenchanted world it will inherit offer perhaps the most constructive ways to engage the region.
(Image of Tocqueville by Théodore Chassériau via Wikimedia Commons)
What makes a piece of literature a classic? For Saket Suryesh, the work must be introspective:
We, as readers, are able to find our own feelings in such words despite the distances between us and the time and space they were originally composed in because those emotions are universal. The world which surrounds these feelings may change, but the emotions themselves do not. Consider, from Heart of Darkness, the lines: “She carried her sorrowful head as though she were proud of that sorrow, as though she would say, I — I alone know how to mourn for him as he deserves.” Simple words but an ache rises from the heart of even the modern reader, for who wouldn’t want to be loved thus?
Eric Williams, though, refuses to accept that a classic work can exist outside of time and space. He argues, “‘The Classics’ are a fluid and dynamic category, changing with times and tastes and history, and not something transmitted to us across the aesthetic ether”:
Doves prefer Clinton to Paul:
Larison analyzes the survey:
Doves clearly prefer Clinton despite the fact that a few more respondents (correctly) perceive her to be a hawk. However, Clinton also seems to benefit from the fact that 30% of respondents inexplicably perceive her as a dove, and only 27% perceive Paul that way. For all of the attention paid to Paul’s foreign policy views in political media over the last few years, his position is not very well-known or clear to the public at large, since 24% identify him as a hawk and 49% aren’t sure what to call him. Oddly enough, that might be just what Paul wants, since it gives him room to move back and forth between hawkish and dovish stances.
If public opinion or his conscience are guiding him toward military confrontation with ISIS, and if his better judgment guides him away from the available alliances on the ground, he is rapidly backing himself into the trap of Clintonian foreign policy. That means airstrikes and harassment, carried out indefinitely.