Friday, November 07, 2008

Goat Friday

click to enlarge  —  image source

Crispy Goat Cheese Salad

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Thursday, November 06, 2008

Imponderable juxtaposition pondered

Jonah Goldberg of The National Review seems to suggest here that the election of an African-American as President of the United States is as wondrous, more or less, as the fact that his ascendancy hasn’t sparked more assassination plots or even armed revolt:

It is a wonderful thing to have the first African-American president. It is a wonderful thing that, in a country where feelings are so intense, that power can be transferred so peacefully.

Now, each of the two propositions are true enough, I guess; but I’m having a slight difficulty getting my head around their being uttered in tandem, as it were, in the same breath.

Do go read the whole thing; it’s actually only a brief piece, but obviously the pedigree of the dilemma it tip-toes around is as old as the hills.

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A book for Obama

As I wrote to Dylan, Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War (suggested by Prof Drezner for Obama to read during the transition period) is a landmark work. Rarely has a writer, in what was a recently invented "discipline" (historiography), produced such a tour de force. Drezner is dead right: many read the naked and often ugly display of realpoitik that is the Melian Dialogue and little else.

The "characters" are sharply realised: the great eminence himself, Pericles; his polar opposite the most "violent and most persuasive" demagogue Cleon; the lisping, delusive and sinuous chameleon Alcibiades; the heroic near anti-Spartan Spartiate Brasidas; the admired and disastrously indecisive Nicias and the Athenian George S Patton Demosthenes to name but a few.

Books VI and VII, the narrative of the great imperial disaster that was the Sicilian expedition, is narrative history at its best. Every time I open it I have this absurd notion that it will turn out differently this time. I often wonder how many drafts it took to get it right. The pathos in his description of the Athenian's retreat, leaving behind the sick and wounded, is stark (VII. 75):

The dead were unburied, and when any man recognised one of his friends lying among them, he was filled with grief and fear; and the living who, whether sick or wounded, were being left behind caused more pain than did the dead to those who were left alive, and were more pitiable than the lost. Their prayers and their lamentations made the rest feel impotent and helpless, as they begged to be taken with them and cried out aloud to every single relative or friend whom they could see; as they hung about the necks of those who had shared tents with them and were now going, following them as far as they could, and, when their bodily strength failed them, reiterated their cries to heaven…

The utter destruction of the retreating Athenian army at the Assinarus river is realised in horrible detail (Vii.84):

The Athenians hurried on to the river Assinarus, partly because of the attacks made upon them from every side by a numerous cavalry and the swarm of other arms, and thought that things would not be so bad if they got to the river, partly because they were exhausted and were longing for water to drink. Once they reached the river they rushed down into it, and now all discipline was at an end. Every man wanted to be first to get across, and, as the enemy persisted in his attacks, crossing now became a difficult matter. Forced to crowd close together, they fell upon each other and trampled each other underfoot; some were killed by their own spears, others got entangled among themselves and among the baggage and were swept away by the river. Meanwhile the opposite bank, which was steep, was lined by the Syracusans, who showered missiles down upon the Athenians, most of whom, in a disorganised mass, were greedily drinking in the deep river-bed. And the Peloponnesians came down and slaughtered them, especially those in who were in the river. The water immediately became foul, but nevertheless they went on drinking it, all muddy as it was and stained with blood; indeed, most of them were fighting among themselves to have it.

And the great man’s last words on this enormous disaster (VII. 87):

…to the victors the most brilliant of successes, to the vanquished the most calamitous of defeats; for they were utterly and entirely defeated; their sufferings were on an enormous scale; their losses were, as they say, total; army, navy, everything was destroyed, and, out of many (in excess of 50,000 and 160 ships), only few returned.

A far cry from the hubristic launching of the expedition described, at VI.31, as “by a long way the most costly and the finest looking force of Hellenic troops” and which, to the rest of Greece, appeared as a “demonstration of Athenian power”.

Thucydides is a book that repays well the reading

Wednesday, November 05, 2008


In comments on the previous post, our dear Father Park remarked:

Obama has little idea, I think, of what he’s done. The Everest of expectation is palpable...

And concluded:

... A vast constituency is expecting. Here’s hoping he can deliver.

Indeed, and of course accountability doesn’t just happen. The task of delivering on those expectations raised by Obama — loftily encapsulated in the catchphrases of ‘change’, ‘a new dawn’, etc. — is one that should properly be shouldered by all citizens.

A few are off to a good start already. For example, Ralph Nader has thankfully refrained from making another serious tilt at the Presidency, but instead been busy with the kind of contribution to public life at which he excels. In an open letter to Obama just a few days ago, Nader observed:

Far more than Senator McCain, you have received enormous, unprecedented contributions from corporate interests, Wall Street interests and, most interestingly, big corporate law firm attorneys. Never before has a Democratic nominee for President achieved this supremacy over his Republican counterpart. Why, apart from your unconditional vote for the $700 billion Wall Street bailout, are these large corporate interests investing so much in Senator Obama?

Could it be that in your state Senate record, your U.S. Senate record and your presidential campaign record (favoring nuclear power, coal plants, offshore oil drilling, corporate subsidies including the 1872 Mining Act and avoiding any comprehensive program to crack down on the corporate crime wave and the bloated, wasteful military budget, for example) you have shown that you are their man?

Such scrutiny should rightly be the job of those who are duly elected to perform the function of ‘checks and balances’ in the world’s greatest democracy. But, while it’s tempting to think the Republican ‘opposition’ might pursue the kinds of concerns Nader has raised, in fact both parties perennially have resoundingly failed to halt the excess of corporate patronage that infests political power at all levels of the Republic.

Obama has rode to victory on a torrent of rhetoric about ‘change’, ‘renewal’, ‘a new dawn’, ad nauseam. But without sound public oversight of government of the people, by the people, for the people, those catchcries will prove as hollow as they now sound.

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I don’t want to seem biased, but then I also don’t want to seem apathetic about the outcome... so...

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Monday, November 03, 2008

Presidential election: Portent divined

Looks like it’s the kibosh for Barack Obama’s tilt for the US Presidency:

A local soccer team christened Obama FC was at the weekend beaten 1-0 in a derby held in a western Kenyan village of the US Democrat's kin.

The tournament, dubbed Obama Big Day Soccer Tournament, was organised by Barack Obama’s step-brother Malik Obama, in anticipation of the senator’s victory in the November 4 US presidential elections. ...

Originally called Kogelo FC — named after the village of Obama’s Kenyan father — it changed its name to Obama FC in 2004 when the Democrat first made headlines after giving an electrifying speech at the Democratic Party convention.

The news report says this is “an unenviable preamble for Obama ahead of Tuesday’s polls.”

Indeed, the parallels are uncanny!

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Irish bullshit.

"If the track is as firm on Tuesday as it is today I'll be asking Aidan [O'Brien] to scratch".

That threat - water the track to suit or else - came from Derrick Smith. Derrick just happens to be the part owner of Septimus, the Melbourne Cup favourite as well backed as he is weighted for the event. He wasn't alone. All of the overseas (read Irish and English) trainers have a view on the state of the Tuesday track. On Saturday night, at the barrier draw, almost all aired it. It's called pressure.

The track for Saturday's Derby meeting was "irrigated" to produce a slightly "dead" surface at day's beginning. Given the weather on the day it had dried to a good early in the programme. It is evident that connections of Septimus see this as not condcive to their horse. Why? Dermot Weld, two time winner and a master at the track's "dangerously hard" tactic, has the answer:

...if the ground is on the soft side I think he [Septimus] would be nearly unbeatable. The rest don't matter. He's that good a horse.

According to Tom Magnier of Collmore Stud it has nothing to do with the race, per se, and all to do with the horse's welfare:

We want to walk out of here with a horse," he said. "We want to look after Septimus. We don't want to risk him.

Of course, the 5.5 million on offerwill not feature in the minds of the managment and training team of a Cup favourite that excels in soft to heavy going now would it? Nooooo not one whit. Max Presnel, the ageless racing scribe from the SMH, says it better than I:

Certainly the Victoria Racing Club isn't entitled to apply more water, to get a surface to appease the O'Brien team. Already Septimus has been given an invitation to run with a lenient handicap. Hopefully, too, the message has hit home regarding team riding tactics applied by them at times overseas but just not permitted here. Makes you wonder whether they will want the Melbourne Cup switched to Royal Ascot for made-to-order conditions or even The Curragh for that matter.

To which I'd only add that it isn't as if these clowns think they're coming to race on Flanders Fields in France for God's sake. They well knew before coming what our tracks are like.