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Odds & Ends

Odds and Ends

From the July/August 2014 issue

John Derbyshire’s ambivalence in pursuing the “Ghost in the Machine” puzzle (“Chasing Down the Ghost in the Machine,” TAS June 2014) may be due to the fact that it may forever remain an ultimate mystery. But he is right to sense that it entails something of prime import. If, as some neuroscientists claim (slipping unconsciously beyond physical science into metaphysics), we are mindless mechanisms completely determined by our brain activity, then we are not free, responsible agents. (See Michael S. Gazzaniga’s book Who’s In Charge? Free Will and the Science of the Brain.) Criminals are no more responsible for their crimes than an automobile that breaks down. Who we “choose” to love and marry, the art we “create,” the scientific hypotheses we “construct,” etc., are all causally necessitated by brain mechanisms totally beyond our conscious control. Reasoning, valuation, and conscience are all logically “unscientific” remnants of a primitive age.
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The Continuing Crisis

The Continuing Crisis

By From the July/August 2014 issue

As May takes a powder and summer begins, a delightful collection of anthems from the Mussolini era is now available over the Internet under the Italian title “iMussolini.” Such stirring and seldom heard songs of the epoca as “Cara al Sol” and “Caro Papà” are available, and they just might be put to good use by President Barack Obama. His administration is moving steadily in the direction of Friendly Fascism as he promises to rely evermore on government by presidential decree, thrusting aside cumbersome institutions such as the House of Representatives, the Senate, and even the federal judiciary. He promises to wave his presidential wand over the environment, immigration, and racism in public life. On CNN, John King reports that even Democrats are calling the president “detached,” “flat-footed,” and—stealing a page from The American Spectator—“incompetent.” Well strike up the band! Wait until the popolo minuto hears the Marine Band break into a rousing performance of that old fascist hit “Ciao Biondina.” Incompetent, indeed!
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About This Month

Here Comes Summer

By From the July/August 2014 issue

I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being,” our president told the graduates of West Point on May 28. Not bad for someone who five long years ago thought his country no more exceptional than Greece. He came up with other uncharacteristic howlers, too: “America has rarely been stronger relative to the rest of the world.” “Our military has no peer.” “Our economy remains the most dynamic on Earth.” He bragged about trouble spots where under his leadership America has made a huge difference, most notably Ukraine. He praised Ukrainians for voting in the millions on May 25. “Yesterday, I spoke to their next president,” Obama added, without naming him. Perhaps he didn’t catch his name on CNN, or was afraid to be provocative. A week later he had a chance to meet him in Kiev, but that would have been doubly provocative. So it had to be in Warsaw, with fingers crossed. Now the Vistula, Poland’s largest river, is great in its own right, but Mr. Obama would have been better off had he caught a glimpse of the Dnieper.

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Enemy of the Week

The New Ice Age

By 8.29.14

As a great strategist once said of another, “What did he mean by that?” Two hundred years ago, the “that” was a reference to the expiry of the sly Talleyrand. Today it merely expresses wonder at our president’s frank admission that any strategy he may have had toward Isis has been put on ice. Nothing new there, of course. Our guy is the President of Cool, a position reinforced a day earlier when he turned down an opportunity to participate in the Ice Bucket Challenge. There would be no pouring of ice water on that cold heart of his — lest the ice kelvinize and talk of absolute zero ensue, not something one risks at a time of falling numbers. Still, for someone with a near blind belief in science, it was a strange form of denialism.

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Buy the Book

Otto Confronts Slava

By 8.29.14

Slava Gelman emigrated to America from the Soviet Union when he was only a child. Though the rest of his family lives in South Brooklyn, he barely sees them; he lives alone in an almost empty apartment on the Upper East Side, where he desperately attempts to strip himself of his Russian Jewish roots. He does these things because he believes he will eventually be published in Century, the New Yorker-esque magazine where Slava works as an assistant for what seems to be their version of Andy Borowitz.

But one morning, Slava gets a call from his mother: his grandmother, who he loved best of his family and who he has barely seen for the past year, has died. She died alone in her hospital room, at a time when, even a year ago, Slava might have been with her. Though he is on the cusp of finally achieving publication at Century, it no longer matters; the person for whom he wanted that success is gone. He abandoned her for nothing.

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Campaign Crawlers

The Case of the Excited Republicans

By 8.29.14

By now word has reached even the remotest Florida precincts that incumbent Republican governor Rick Scott has won the right to run for a second term by trouncing two primary challengers who were unknown and weaker than Obama’s foreign policy.

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Live From New York

Open City, Open Tennis

By 8.29.14

The one thing you know about the 2014 U.S. Open as it heads into its first weekend, is that it is as open to hope and change and surprise and drama and unexpected reversals as the borough and the city, and the state, and the country, where it lives. This is the glory of the great New York tennis tournament, the last of the year’s four majors, the world series of this sport.

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Special Report

Criminalizing Conservatism

By 8.29.14

Wisconsin has created a new type of political supervillain by combining the most reprehensible attributes of this nation’s two most infamous ogres of the last century — Joseph McCarthy and Richard Nixon.

Start with McCarthy’s reckless and unsubstantiated allegations against random names on a list, his endless investigations that produced nothing but press coverage and ruined lives. Then take Nixon’s vindictiveness, his desire to use the mechanisms of state to crush his political enemies, and remove the legal impediments that kept him from doing much about it. Give him laws like Wisconsin’s.

There never would have been any Cubans breaking into the Watergate to take a look at the files of the Democratic National Committee or plant bugs. G. Gordon Liddy and E. Howard Hunt could have just written subpoenas for whatever they wanted without restriction. When there’s nobody to stop them, it turns out that what they want to look at is everything.

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Special Report

The Streets of San Francisco

By 8.29.14

San Francisco

If you want to film a zombie movie on the cheap, San Francisco offers a ready-made location overflowing with extras.

The mentally ill, addicted, and homeless find a home in the City by the Bay as they do nowhere else in North America. In this walkable Western metropolis, one walks a gauntlet of down-and-outers betraying that unmistakable drug gait and displaying lights out upstairs through their windows’ 100-watt stares. Instead of groaning for “more brains,” San Francisco’s zombies mumble “spare change.”

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Spectator's Journal

The Liberation of Paris — Three Score and Ten Years Ago

By 8.28.14

No doubt, Champagne corks were popping on the Champs Elysées this week to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Paris from the prolonged four-year German occupation in World War II.

Despite repeated orders from Hitler that the French capital “must not fall into the enemy’s hand except lying in complete debris” to be accomplished by bombing it and blowing up its bridges, General Dietrich von Choltitz, as commander of the German garrison and military governor of Paris, surrendered on August 25, 1944, in a simple ceremony at the Hôtel Meurice, the newly established headquarters of French General Leclerc.

The liberation of France came at a tragically steep cost: 134,000 Americans were killed, wounded, missing, or captured; casualties among the British, Canadians, and Poles totaled 91,000. In half a million sorties flown during the summer, more than 4,000 planes were lost, evenly divided between the RAF and the U.S. Army Air Force. A total of 600,000 tons of Allied bombs were dropped on occupied France, the weight of 64 Eiffel Towers, resulting in the deaths of between 50,000 and 67,000 French civilians. The campaign was expensive indeed. 

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