Friday, February 29, 2008

Book meme tag

The closest book to where I'm sitting is American Silver 1840-1940: A Century of Splendor, by Charles Venable. On page 123, after the fifth sentence, the next three sentences [Context: British parliamentary hearings on the decline in British sterling silverware production and the massive increase in American production]:
One witness who had spoken to a Tiffany's representative on the matter said, "The growth of the last 20 or 30 years has arisen by the home demand; before that time comparatively little silver was used in the United States, and most of that was imported from England, but that importation from England has now entirely ceased. He told me, moreover, that the use of silver was very great, notwithstanding the increased use of electro-plate.

Another witness gave an often-heard foreign response, "The Americans are ostentatious people, who are likely to go in for expensive articles in gold and silver in proportion to their increasing prosperity."
Last fall I decided for mental health reasons to pull back a bit from political reading. My first refuge was food blogs and cookbooks. This stimulated more and more interesting cooking, then thoughts of entertaining more. That led to my dragging out the boxes where I'd stuffed away the family silver thirteen years ago. Polishing and organizing the pieces made me want to identify them. A few library books, much online browsing, and a little ebay bidding later, I'm reveling in the process of learning about nineteenth century silver.

I'm grateful for the tag from Jim Henley, who wasn't sure what the point of this meme is. For me it's the opportunity for a nice break from the bleakness of the usual topics here -- and to share what's providing pleasure in my life at the moment.

I tag Thomas, Gary, and Jan. Don't feel obligated, y'all.

Image: Mustard pot by Peter L. Krider, Philadelphia, c. 1870

Friday, February 15, 2008

Torture and Democracy

I cannot recommend strongly enough Scott Horton's interview with Darius Rejali, an Iranian expatriate whose recently released book Torture and Democracy emphasizes uncomfortable truths that most Americans prefer not to face.

These include:

- Liberal democracies torture.

- Torture techniques always come home from wars "over there."

- Focusing just on waterboarding is a distraction.

- Two-track systems, in which one agency is allowed to torture and others are not, or in which it's allowable to torture some categories of people but not others, invariably spread the rot throughout the society:

...[T]orture just doesn’t hide in a vault in the CIA. It hides in all the dark pockets of society -- military barracks, schools, frat houses, our supermax prisons and immigration lockups.
And much more. Read the whole interview, and then read the book.


Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Jim Webb is dead to me.

Sen. Webb's vote for the horrible "Protect America Act" last August made me decide not to waste any more effort in electoral work. It was a direct betrayal of what he'd promised on the campaign trail, when he made reining in the out-of-control executive branch one of the three major points of his message.

After the intial wave of rage and revulsion receded, I held out a tiny hope that by the time the Senate revisited the issue, Webb might recognize that vote as a mistake. That hope was sustained during last week's deliberations when he seemed to be voting the right way, even making floor statements in support of those fighting the good fight to preserve the constitution. His office told constituents he was opposed to immunity for the telecom corporations who broke the law to carry out warrantless eavesdropping for this lawless regime.

But today he cast an unforgivable vote for telcom immunity -- all the more unforgivable for being unnecessary and un-bought. Glad to have that cleared up. I'm walking away with no nagging regrets.

Update: Feb 15 3:00 pm - Pretty sad day when Silvestre Reyes is a profile in courage and Jim Webb is the calculating weenie. Reyes' letter to the president announcing the House's refusal to be stampeded into making further bad law is a refreshing read.