Evil Empire

In case you were wondering who’s going to take Massachusetts this November…

Though who knows if it will sway New York anyway; this NY Times story reports

During the singing of “God Bless America” in the seventh inning, an image of Cheney was shown on the scoreboard. It was greeted with booing, so the Yankees quickly removed the image.

1942 Nazi Sabotage Plot

Even after Pearl Harbor, it wasn’t a done deal that the US would have gone to war against Germany, but for the fact that Germany declared war on the US a few days later. This account points out an actual sabotage plot. Still relevant, because the case against the sabateurs is cited by the Bush administration as a legal precedent for trying War on Terror prisoners. Good story, for a lot of reasons: “After taking the train into Manhattan, the would-be saboteurs swanned about the city, using their ample cash reserves to buy new clothes, to gamble, and to enjoy New York night life… On the whole, the longer the invaders remained at large, the less zeal most of them displayed for carrying out their mission.”


My favorite Borges quote is from The Book of Imaginary Beings:

We are ignorant of the meaning of the dragon in the same way that we are ignorant of the meaning of the universe; but there is something in the dragon’s image that fits man’s imagination, and this accounts for the dragon’s appearance in different places and periods.

Which is one of the points that this excellent article, “Why Is Religion Natural?” from the Skeptical Inquirer makes, though in far more words. It’s interesting, but it loses me in the middle in a bunch of folklore. I end up not knowing all that much more about why religion is natural— why exactly the dragon fits man’s imagination, how the dragon comes to be.

Less Moore

While I almost think Michael Moore is below comment, I’ve seen two articles worth reading on Farenheit 9/11: Stephanie Zacharek in Salon on how his filmmaking undercuts his allegedly liberal beliefs (“He professes to feel great compassion for the common man. Yet over and over again, in movie after movie, he invites the audience to chuckle over ordinary people. Why?”), and Christopher Hitchens in Slate, who is less sympathetic politically, skewering his arguments.

The pursuit of happiness

There is a lot of sloppy thinking in this NYTimes article about happiness, but I want to comment on it anyway.

It fits the following well-worn sunday magazine article template. A new study finds something noteworthy. (In this case, it’s “people who are happy also exhibit negative traits”). Exaggerate the findings to make it seem more noteworthy. (“The burgeoning new science of happiness…”). Don’t dwell on actual details of the methodology, or of the finding. Make some generalizations and exaggerate wildly, but with guarded phrasing. Use it as a launch pad to discuss things you sort of felt like talking about anyway.

It’s this last thing is the thing that I think will be obsolete in journalism within ten years: the a priori conclusion, validated by selectively chosen facts. Why will it be obsolete? Because bloggers do it so much better! An old medium eventually grudgingly quits doing things that newer media do better (when was the last time you heard a new radio drama?). Sometimes this is bad, but in this case, I think it’s good. Because anyone who has been quoted in a newspaper knows that this methodology of just choosing what you already believe to be true is not just confined to the magazine or to the opinion pages.

That said, I will now use this article as a launch pad to discuss the thing I wanted to discuss in the first place, which is the pursuit of happiness. The author writes

The news that a little evil lurks inside happiness is disquieting. After all, we live in a nation whose founding document holds the pursuit of happiness to be a God-given right.

Now, anybody who has spent more than two seconds thinking about the curious wording of the Declaration of Independence here will note that it is not “life, liberty, and happiness”, but “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. The pursuit, not the achievement. So, the implication is that happiness is always somewhere out in front, like the carrot on the stick, like the eternally hungry Tantalus reaching for food. In my book, if there is such a thing as a national virtue or a national vice, this subltle distinction is the wellspring of both. (The astute will notice that I just exaggerated wildly, but with guarded phrasing— but it’s OK! I’m blogging!)

So, I think the author is barking up the wrong founding document if he’s looking for a citation that we, as a culture, value happiness. I’m not entirely sure you could find such a document. And that’s A-OK.