Foreign policy makes no sense

I found this interview with Jake Sullivan:

You may skip the first fifteen minutes.

There is also an accompanying transcript:

It’s worth watching for at least the nominal answers to questions like “what is the purpose of foreign policy? whom should it serve?” etc.

I found the Commandments cited interesting:

One, thou shalt employ common sense. Foreign policy is not rocket science.

Two, thou shalt understand power and use it. Power is power, not hard or soft, not smart or dumb. Through pressure and incentives, make others do what others do not want to do.

Three, thou shalt be wary of the soft power of love and the hard power of marshalled might. One is foreplay; the other is ancillary.

Four, thou shalt exorcise the demons of dogma, ideology, politics, and arrogance.

Five, thou shalt exalt the virtues of pragmatism, realism, moderation, and competence. Set priorities. Distinguish what is achievable and what is beyond reach. Aim for the former and manage the latter.

Six, thou shalt enshrine the precept of mutual indispensability. American leadership is summoned but not sufficient.

Seven, thou shalt ground policy in strategy, not fly by the seat of one’s pants. Strategy is a guide, not a straitjacket.

Eight, thou shalt learn from these masters: Truman, Marshall, and Acheson; Nixon and Kissinger; Bush Sr., Baker, and Scowcroft.

Nine, thou shalt recall the gospel that great nations ultimately perish from within, not without. Foreign policy originates at home. Invigorate America’s values and valuables with vigor.

And ten, thou shalt hark to Leslie Gelb’s clarion call that I quote: “For all America’s faults, don’t doubt that we remain the last best chance to create equal opportunity, hope, and freedom. But this will require something that has not happened in a long time: that pragmatists, realists, and moderates will unite and fight for their America.”

In particular number nine seems relevant to the current moment.

Finally, the title of this post comes from a phrase during the interview, elaborated as:

And he explained what he meant, that, essentially, a great deal of it is people making decisions without enough information with based on some ideology or in a bit of a bubble and then trying to catch up with events halfway around the world that they really don’t understand and then spending the rest of their lives defending their decisions about things that they really never believed in in the first place.

“The Prince of Cringe”

I thought only I had this reaction — but it’s gratifying to know at least one other person feels this way.

From an article in The Compact:

The real meat of Harry & Meghan is vengeance, and lots of it. The Duke and Duchess attempt to settle scores against everyone on the planet the couple feels wronged by. The duo makes it clear that they are the Goodies and almost everyone else is Baddies, whether it’s the British royals, Meghan’s dad’s side of the family, the clickbaity media, or the gossip-loving public. Hell, even Twitter randos get dragged. By the time Harry has blamed his own family for his personal misery and voluntary exile, the press for his mother’s death and wife’s miscarriage, and Brexit on Meghan-hating British voters, well—I was ready for one of HBO’s fire-breathing CGI dragons to burst out of some secret chamber of the couple’s posh Los Angeles mansion and spare us from more.

Had to keep the headline, it seemed appropriate.

Zizek (presciently) on virtual reality

From all the way back in 2004 (!), in “Conversations with Zizek”, between Slavoj Zizek and Glyn Daly:

As a result, the taste of reality we get today comes from products, situations, or actions deprived of their substance: In today’s market, we find a whole series of products deprived of their malignant property: coffee without caffeine, cream without fat, beer without alcohol. And the list goes on: what about virtual sex as sex without sex, the Colin Powell doctrine of warfare with no casualties … as warfare without warfare … up to today’s tolerant liberal multiculturalism as an experience of Other deprived of its Otherness.

Virtual reality simply generalizes this procedure of offering a product deprived of its sub­stance: it provides reality itself deprived of its substance, of the resisting hard kernel of the Real – in the same way that decaffeinated coffee smells and tastes like real coffee without being the real thing, so virtual reality is experienced as reality without being real.

On Madness

From an article in the Tablet:

Entire nations can go insane. Here’s a way to test if we’re headed that way: Watch five minutes of TikTok—anything related to politics, beauty tips, or social justice. Follow that up with five minutes of MSNBC, then the same amount of Fox News. Next, read a chapter of Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility—any chapter. Lastly, carefully scan some QAnon Reddit posts. Immediately after doing all this, take a shower and then ask yourself: Is American political culture not in the throes of degenerative madness? Might the seemingly stable present be attributable to the fact that we remain too rich, militarily impenetrable, and geographically insulated to face the full consequences of our psychological derangement?

The many nostalgias of Harry Potter

I had pre-ordered the illustrated version of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, which arrived this week (more on that later!) and made me think about the layers of feelings related to this … world.

First, there is the nostalgia of just being a series of books but one has read 20 years ago. That is, of a world that is different from the regular world, and which one has inhabited in detail through the books. The “wizarding world” is something familiar … and something left behind.

Second, there is the nostalgia of having the “normal“ word in the book be one that has itself been lost — in the sense of not being at all recognizable amid the world today. The way people act and relate to each other is … very much a “90s world”.

Third, there is the nostalgia of this world not only being “a long time ago“, but also being separated from the present by the huge gap in technology in human lives.

The magical people can be chuckled at for saying “fellytones” when they mean “telephones”, but wtf is a telephone today?

It isn’t just that the technology used is different, but that the modern current world is

a fundamental transformation office into a sort of cyborg individual call Ma which has changed utterly how we act, how we behave, but also what we believe in or aspire to.

Fourth, it is further nostalgic and that there is no point in imagining a separate parallel world of magic anymore, or at least not in the way of a group of people existing alongside us, as the book describes. Ubiquitous surveillance cameras would spot them, amateurs would find Hogwarts Castle on a map. And wait till the magical kids discover the legalized brain drugs of social media.

Finally, fifth, the forms of allusion and manipulation alluded to sound trivial or ridiculous, when compared to even “cheap consumer technology” in the present day. Moving pictures? Yawn.

So, what of it? Is there anything that could count as an equivalent today? Dunno yet.

There is no lack of yearning for a different world, just the inability to imagine one, which lends our current dystopia a desperate “there is no alternative“ tinge to it.

Yet, the “magical“ people in Rowling’s world are able to display a sense of camaraderie and ethics and just basic goodness. This essential human-ness is likely what still allowschildren to relate to the characters today, and … this might be a quality to aspire to when thinking of a similar counter-world, in the present day.

TIL (thanks to Ed West)

Alexander Kerensky, the leader of the Provisional Government in 1917, was born in 1881 and lived until 1970, having escaped Russia following the Bolshevik takeover. He died in New York where he held a chair in War, Peace and Revolution Studies and would see anti-Vietnam protests outside his office.


My Powerbeats headphones broke apart today.

I wanted to get a replacement, but I found it isn’t made any more.

I looked for the closest equivalent and didn’t find one 1.

I found this comparison recent products, and while they are better in many ways (active noise cancellation, spatial audio, etc) they all have a lower battery life (the Powerbeats had a battery life of 15 hours!)

I will end up getting one of the new ones, but not without some grumbling.2

  1. The Beats Flex counts if you neglect the over-the-ears-ness and focus on the connecting-wire-ness of the Powerbeats ↩︎

  2. I remembered a talk I had heard many years ago, during a phase of watching everything by Neil Postman I could find, where he had described how, wanting to buy a new car, he had been unable to find one where he could simply roll the windows up and down (i.e. without “power windows”). I’d like to believe my case is different, but I’m aware I’m probably sounding like a grumpy old fella right now. ↩︎

What’s in a name

Three years ago, the New York Times published this article.

It was about “the fourth spy” at Los Alamos (in addition to the previously known ones, Klaus Fuchs, Theodore Hall, and David Greenglass)

What’s funky here is this line, right out of a movie:

In July 1945, the study reported, he was “part of a unit monitoring seismological effects” of the first detonation of the atomic device. His Soviet code name was Godsend, and he came to Los Alamos from a family of spies.

In case the “family of spies” bit seems far-fetched:

In 2012, Mr. Klehr obtained newly declassified F.B.I. files on informants who had successfully penetrated the Communist Party of the United States. Suddenly, he started seeing references to the Seborers, and major parts of the atomic puzzle fell into place: Oscar was Godsend, Stuart was Godfather and their older brother Max was Relative.

There you go. Like the Incredibles, just the … opposite, I guess.