Category Archives: books

Ignatieff the author

Curious what this new fellow is all about but haven’t got the time or fortitude to wade through dozens of academic tomes? Me too.  Don’t worry, the National Post will do it for you!

This week’s instalment is The Lesser Evil: Political Ethics in an Age of Terror.

Kelly McParland summarizes Ignatieff’s thesis:

1. Always adopt the lowest level of evil available to do the job (hence the title of this work).
2. Admit that evil is evil and don’t try to dress it up as something else.
3. Direct the evil at specific targets rather than adopting it wholesale.
4. Ensure there is some level of independent oversight of the evil.
5. Try to limit the evil to specified periods and include periodic evaluations and sunset clauses.
6. Try to avoid too much secrecy, even though that may be difficult.

Jonathan Kay:

Overall, Ignatieff’s description of the best way to fight terrorism and rogue power is high-minded and well-intentioned — but also repetitive and somewhat windy. The overall impression one gets is of an extremely erudite scholar providing readers with what is essentially middle-of-the-road common sense — mixed in with historical and geopolitical name-dropping.

Which is not to say the book isn’t admirable. Consider: Ignatieff published this thing in 2004, and based it on lectures he delivered in January, 2003, (and presumably wrote in 2002 — just a year or so after 9/11). This was a period when lots of otherwise intelligent conservatives were saying a lot of wild-eyed things about what we had to do to smash the terrorist threat. The Lesser Evil, on the other hand, sounds very much like a voice of reason — and much of it is quite prescient.

This is an interesting read. I suggest you follow the whole discussion.

Tales from the Express Lane (10 items or less)

A French grocery store cashier wrote a book about her experiences which propelled her to fame and fortune.

“There are easy customers and less easy customers,” Sam wrote in a forward. “The rich and the poor, the ones with complexes and the braggarts, those who treat you as if you were transparent and those who say hello, the determined who tremble waiting for the store to open and those who show up regularly at closing time. There are those who hit on you, others who insult you. Who would say that nothing happens in the life of a cashier?”

I would like to read it, if it is ever translated into English.

My own experience working part time in a different part of a grocery store is that customers will make your day difficult, but a day without difficult customers is mind numbingly boring.

“One day I will write a novel called Cat, and they will put a picture of a dog on the cover.”

This comes a year late, but you should read the blog that author Mark Haddon kept for a couple months last year. It’s brilliant.

And if you don’t know who Mark Haddon is (who doesn’t?) you need to read his books.

(The titular quote is from this entry.)

The Old Patagonian Express

I am reading Theroux’s The Old Patagonian Express in short sittings between classes and over lunches. I found it in a used book several months ago, but my free time being what it is, I am still 75 pages from the end.

Theroux takes a series of trains from Boston to Argentina. While the sites and cities between Point A and Point B do not escape his scrutiny, the focus of the book is on train travel. From the relatively comfortable Mexican train and its cutlery smuggling staff to an antique locomotive in El Salvador, the essense of each journey is recorded such that you can imagine yourself travelling shoulder-to-shoulder with the locals.

As you might expect, Theroux has a dim view of airplanes – at least in relation to travel literature. I include the following quote partly to illustrate this point, but also so you can see how absorbing his writing is:

There is not much to say about most aeroplane journeys. Anything remarkable must be disastrous, so you define a good flight by negatives: you didn’t get hijacked, you didn’t crash, you didn’t throw up, you weren’t late, you weren’t nauseated by the food. So you are grateful. The gratitude brings such relief your mind goes blank, which is appropriate, for the aeroplane passenger is a time-traveller. He crawls into a carpeted tube that is reeking of disinfectant; he is strapped in to go home, or away. Time is truncated, or in any case warped: he leaves in one time-zone and emerges in another. And from the moment he steps into the tube and braces his knees on the seat in front, uncomfortably upright – from the moment he departs, his mind is focused on arrival. That is, if he has any sense at all. If he looked out of the window he would see nothing but the tundra of the cloud layer, and above is empty space. Time is brilliantly blinded: there is nothing to see. This is the reason so many people are apologetic about taking planes. They say, ‘What I’d really like to do is forget these plastic jumbos and get a three-masted schooner and just stand there on the poop deck with the wind in my hair.’

But apologies are not necessary. An aeroplane flight may not be travel in any accepted sense, but it certainly is magic. Anyone with the price of a ticket can conjure up the castled crag of Drachenfels or the Lake Isle of Innisfree by simply using the right escalator at, say, Logan Airport in Boston – but it must be said that there is probably more to animate the mind, more of travel, in that one ascent on the escalator, than in the whole plane journey put together. The rest, the foreign country, what constitutes the arrival, is the ramp of an evil-smelling airport. If the passenger conceives of this species of transfer as travel and offers the public his book, the first foreigner the reader meets is either a clothes-grubbing customs man or a moustached demon at the immigration desk. Although it has become the way of the world, we still ought to lament the fact that aeroplanes have made us insensitive to space; we are encumbered, like lovers in suits of armour.

Now that I have hopefully whetted your apetite for train travel, check out Mark Smith’s top train trips (and their affordable alternatives) over at The Guardian.

Image Problems

I much prefer when the Tories are playing Liberals Lite (“Now with accountability!”) to when they indulge their darker anti-intellectual tendencies.

[link] Feds Axe Book Centre – Laura Czekaj, Ottawa Sun

[via] Political Boulevards

Ban the ‘Book Burning’ book!

People make my head hurt.

Some guy in Texas, Alton Verm, wants the book Fahrenheit 451 banned from his 15-year-old daughter’s school because it contains adult situations and crude language.

“If they can’t find a book that uses clean words, they shouldn’t have a book at all.”

It’s sickeningly ironic, really. Verm wants to ban a book about book burning. But wait, it get’s better: this all happened during Banned Books Week at the end of September.

Not that over-protective Daddy gets any of this. He didn’t even read the book.

“He looked through the book and found the following things wrong with the book: discussion of being drunk, smoking cigarettes, violence, “dirty talk,” references to the Bible and using God’s name in vain.”

You, sir, are a moron.

The girl is fifteen! She’s probably knows more about being drunk, smoking cigarettes, violence, “dirty talk,” and using God’s name in vain than you could learn from “looking through” a thousand books on such sordid topics.

Exposing students to the concept of freedom of speech and other intrinsic rights is way more important than shielding them from four-lettered-words. Especially when they already know more than enough about the latter and barely anything about the former.

[HT: Andrea]