the limits of my francophilia

Roman Polanski, who in his life has made some damn fine films (irrelevant), was arrested in Switzerland this weekend and is awaiting extradition to California on account of charges he pled guilty to over 30 years ago before fleeing the country to avoid sentencing.

The crime in question involved drugging and raping a 13-year old girl. But really, the girl's age is really rather beside the point, isn't it? The point is that he raped her. It would be no less infuriating if she had been 23 or 33 at the time.

And yet...the reactions on the other side of the pond I keep hearing fall along the lines of "it's a shame they've arrested such a great artist," and "really, this isn't that big of a deal."

Look, I love Chinatown as much as the next guy. And I also thing that America's collective hangups about the sexuality of teenagers are fair game for criticism, if not outright ridicule. But if the belief that fucking someone (anyone!) in the ass (or anywhere else!) without their permission ought to be a crime for which one is vigorously prosecuted makes me a bourgeois puritan, then I guess I'm a bourgeois puritan, after all.


quick review: dos perros

M and I finally made it over to Dos Perros the other night. The space looks great, and is a welcome addition to downtown Durham's small--but scrappy and growing--restaurant scene. We sat at the bar, and (being a Monday and fairly late) had our server more or less to ourselves.

The requisite chips and salsa were good: chips cooked on premises, and the salsa (I think a roasted yellow pepper concoction of some sort) was pleasantly tangy, though M's super-sensitive taste buds quickly discerned that it needed salt. Once some salt was added, the salsa was great.

We shared an order of ceviche, which was very fresh and pleasantly subtle in flavor. Also, it was nicely layered (rather than mixed to homogeneity) with large chunks of seafood on a tostada and a more salsa fresca-like component on top.

For entrees, we had the chicken in mole poblano and a baked corn pudding topped with asadero cheese and garlic sauce. The poblano was competent, but not terribly interesting. Far too timid for my tastes, really, and the chicken was actually a little bit dry. The rice and beans that came with it, however, were both cooked to perfection and packed with flavor--I'd say about as good as rice and beans can be expected to be. (I realize this may sound like damning with faint praise, but I really don't mean it that way...attention to detail on "sides" that people tend to take for granted is the mark of a great cook, in my book.)

The corn pudding, however, was sublime. The melding of flavors and textures was really superb, and well complemented by the vegetables served with it. It isn't often that my eyes are drawn to the "vegetarian" section of a menu, but I am very glad that they were in this case. This dish will be hard to pass up in favor of trying something different on the next visit.

Also, I was very happy to be able to have a Dale's Pale Ale on draught with my meal. Hoppy pale ales and IPAs are the perfect complement to spicy food, and it's great to see restaurants catching on to this.


the paranoid center

Jesse Walker's piece in this month's reason is truly stellar. Too many good quotes to pick one, but I will anyway:

"If the Oklahoma City bombing stands out, that is because it is unique in American history. Eliminationist rhetoric may flower in some of the fringes, but the violence that sometimes follows is usually petty stuff. The most formidable eliminationists have always been in the American center, not on the margins. They aim to preserve or extend the existing social order, not to subvert it. And they have the most guns...

It's comforting to imagine that violence and paranoia belong only to the far left and right, and that we can protect ourselves from their effects by quarantining the extremists and vigilantly expelling anyone who seems to be bringing their ideas into the mainstream. But the center has its own varieties of violence and paranoia. And it's far more dangerous than anyone on the fringe, even the armed fringe, will ever be."


norman borlaug, 1914-2009

If I were going to nominate someone for the title of Greatest Human Being Who Ever Lived, I think I would be hard-pressed to come up with a better candidate that Dr. Norman Borlaug, who died yesterday at age 95.

Some people estimate that Borlaug's development of high-yield crops is responsible for saving a billion people from starvation in south Asia alone. And yet I doubt his passing will generate 1/100th of the attention that pop stars and career politicians do.



I have nothing to add to Will Wilkinson's post today:

The United States’ government reacted to to 9/11 and that reaction has been, to my mind, an enormous disaster. Yet those responsible for this disaster have been successful in hiding behind the shock of the crumbling towers, as if support for their dangerous and deadly policies is inexorably implied by feeling deeply the full weight of 9/11’s tragedy. Those most insistent that we “never forget” 9/11 are those who need our continuing collective complicity in the erosion of our civil liberties, in the weakening of the rule of law, in the unjustified invasion of unrelated foreign countries and the murder of their people, in the policy of state-sanctioned torture. The difficulty many Americans have in separating remembrance of an act of terror from an endorsement of the war on terror may turn out be George W. Bush’s great legacy.


kleptocracy in america

I'm broadly pro-yelling at politicians, so it's hard for me to get worked up over the Joe Wilson thing. Actually, I think politicians should probably be yelled at and yell at each other more, not less. I would prefer some genuine passion over principle to the microscopic oscillations between the Democratic and Republican wings of the American Party.

I also find it telling that the Republicans (or at least an awful lot of them) are worked up into apoplectic rage over what really amounts to some rather mundane domestic policy questions, while the Democrats (except Dennis Kucinich and a few other people no one takes seriously) just a few short years ago could not muster a fraction of that outrage over starting a god damn war on false pretenses.

I've sat on this a couple of weeks, but it seems appropriate in context: the only thing that puzzled me more than the general lovefest over Ted Kennedy was the visceral hatred he seemed to have inspired in so many of his political opponents. (It should be said that I find lovefests over politicians just icky generally.) By all means: disrespect the memory of a the late senator from Massachusetts, if you are so inclined, but don't do it because you think he represented some particularly virulent form of crypto-socialist-whatever, or because of your utterly manufactured outrage over the senseless death of a woman whose name you would not remember if she had been riding in the car with a less prominent politician.

Do it because disrespecting our rulers is our sacred right and (occasionally solemn duty) as Americans.

We are mostly ruled by liars and thieves. This is the normal human condition. There's nothing wrong with behaving accordingly.

transit fail

I was lacking a handy camera (and anyway, I was driving) so I will have to rely on the evocative power of narrative to paint this picture.

Roxboro Rd., the height of the morning rush hour. A DATA bus, broken down, police car behind it diverting traffic. A busload of weary people stand on the side of the road. A tow truck approaches in the distance. Another bus, nowhere in sight.

The LED sign on the bus reads "TRY TRANSIT".


for the record...

...I am really, really, tired of hearing the Beatles. And about the Beatles.

This isn't to say I dislike their music...in fact, I really like a lot of their (post-drug use) output. But SWEET JUMPING JESUS ON A POGO STICK, I had to hear about Rock Band: Beatles on NPR this morning, and then I had to hear a brass quartet playing Lady Madonna while I got a sandwich at my freaking workplace. All of this is before noon.

I am willing to accept the inevitability of Boomer cultural hegemony until we can get the death panels rolling, but seriously: there has been so much great music made since the late 1960's that they could at least diversify a little...Hendrix, Black Sabbath, The MC5, The Stooges, The Ramones...and that's without even looking past the mid-70's...



vanderbilt on traffic stops

In a piece on the positive side effects of traffic enforcement, Tom Vanderbilt writes:

Police insist there is no such thing as a "routine traffic stop." For one, there is the hazard of the stop itself. One analysis found that in a 10-year period, 89 officers were killed and more than 600,000 were assaulted by the persons they had pulled over.

This caught my attention for a few reasons. One, I recently had a friend who had a gun pulled on him by a police officer under pretty dubious circumstances, an incident that illustrates just how aggressive the default approach of the police to the rest of us really is. (No one was hurt or arrested, but that's rather beside the point.) Two, I read Radley Balko, and if that doesn't make you worry about police tactics--particularly if you live in an economically diverse neighborhood--nothing will. Finally, danger to officers is cited as the primary justification for the overwhelming show of force, even in a traffic stop. The thing about the statistic Vanderbilt quotes above is that it is immediately preceded by this one:

According to Department of Justice estimates, in 1999 there were 43,800,000 "contacts" between police and the public nationwide, and 52 percent of these were traffic stops.

By my back of the envelope calculations, that puts the number of traffic stops in a year at 22.8 million, and assuming that number is representative, this means the odds of an officer being killed during a traffic stop are about one in 2.6 million. As a reference point, the odds of being hit by lightening sometime in your life comes out to about one in 5000. (Other sources put the lifetime risk closer to 1 in 80,000. Either way, it's much, much more likely.)

I'm sympathetic with the large point Vanderbilt is making: that traffic enforcement can produce very real returns to public safety, particularly in residential neighborhoods. But I can't get on board with the idea that stops are "a net for catching bigger fish," particularly when this is coupled to the idea that the supposed danger inherent to traffic stops justifies police aggression against otherwise law-abiding citizens. And I find the fact that he puts "warrantless searches" in scare-quotes just plain chilling.

I do want to emphasize that I don't really have an argument with Vanderbilt on the public safety argument for traffic policing, insofar as "public safety" in this context is referring specifically to the safety of people on or near the public roads. My criticism is that the danger posed to pedestrians, cyclists, and other drivers by traffic violators is sufficient to justify high levels of enforcement, and that his point about catching career criminals is 1)superfluous and 2) fosters the "us vs. them" mentality that is poisoning the relationship between police and the communities that they serve. Moreover, the actual danger to officers in the course of a routine (yes, routine) traffic stop does not justify treating every person pulled over as a potential criminal.


why johnny can't read

I think it's pretty funny that people who (daily and for years!) turn their children over to the State for their education are freaking out about the possibility of their little darlings watching a speech by the President.

In terms of indoctrination, this is a fart in a hurricane.