Saturday, August 02, 2008

Book Review: The Same Man: George Orwell & Evelyn Waugh in Love and War.

If Evelyn Waugh might be described as a social alpinist, clambering up one aristocratic pinnacle after another, George Orwell, his exact contemporary — both were born in 1903 — was a spelunker, burrowing ever deeper into the seamiest depths. Waugh loved the high life and made it his domain.

Orwell may not have loved the low life, but he valiantly tried to live it. While Waugh was chatting up dukes and duchesses, Orwell was rubbing shoulders with coal miners and tramps. Like a gourmet who sniffs out the most pungent cheeses, he had a nose for the sleazy side of life. Wormwood was to him what Champagne was to Waugh. Both men were, in their way, imposters, but they were imposters with a twist: The deliberate ambiguities of their lives sharpened their appetite for the truth.

Food Apartheid.

Opening a McDonald's in South-Central L.A. is not government-enforced racial discrimination. But telling McDonald's it can open franchises only in the white part of town—what do you call that?

More here.

What If Iraq Works?

There is a growing confidence among officers, diplomats and politicians that a constitutional Iraq is going to make it. We don't hear much anymore of trisecting the country, much less pulling all American troops out in defeat.

Critics of the war now argue that a victory in Iraq was not worth the costs, not that victory was always impossible. The worst terrorist leaders, like Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and Muqtada al-Sadr, are either dead or in hiding.

The 2007 surge, the Anbar Awakening of tribal sheiks against al-Qaida, the change to counterinsurgency tactics, the vast increase in the size and competence of the Iraqi Security Forces, the sheer number of enemy jihadists killed between 2003-8, the unexpected political savvy of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the magnetic leadership of Gen. David Petraeus have all contributed to a radically improved Iraq.

Pundits and politicians -- especially presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama -- are readjusting their positions to reflect the new undeniable realities on the ground in Iraq:

The additional five combat brigades of the surge sent to Iraq in 2007 are already redeployed out of the country. American soldiers are incrementally turning province after province over to the Iraqi Security Forces, and planning careful but steady withdrawals for 2009.

Violence is way down. American military fatalities in Iraq for July, as of Tuesday, were the lowest monthly losses since May 2003. The Iraq theater may soon mirror other deployments in the Balkans, Europe and Asia, in which casualties are largely non-combat-related.

Read the whole thing.

Clear As Glass.

I was taught in school that glass is actually a liquid. Apparently it isn't that clear cut:

It is well known that panes of stained glass in old European churches are thicker at the bottom because glass is a slow-moving liquid that flows downward over centuries.

Well known, but wrong. Medieval stained glass makers were simply unable to make perfectly flat panes, and the windows were just as unevenly thick when new.

The tale contains a grain of truth about glass resembling a liquid, however. The arrangement of atoms and molecules in glass is indistinguishable from that of a liquid. But how can a liquid be as strikingly hard as glass?

“They’re the thickest and gooiest of liquids and the most disordered and structureless of rigid solids,” said Peter Harrowell, a professor of chemistry at the University of Sydney in Australia, speaking of glasses, which can be formed from different raw materials. “They sit right at this really profound sort of puzzle.”