Daily Office:


Matins: In the current New Yorker, Steve Coll summarizes the Adminstration’s options in Pakistan. They don’t make for fun reading.

Lauds: Springtime for Hitler: The Producers opens in Berlin.

Prime: Christopher Hitchens on funny women. It’s not only not funny, but it conjures the image of a tar pit for humorists: the harder the writer thrashes about in his bad ideas, the thicker the laugh-prevention fixative becomes.

Tierce:  Wish I’d been there to hear about “this mistress business” myself: Vartan Gregorian testifies that Brooke Astor was already acting up when she was 97, speaking truth to Camilla P-B and dissing Catherine Z-J.

Sext: Why, according to Beth Teitell, newspapers must be saved — even if nobody reads them. (via The Morning News)

Nones: In what looks to be an embarrassing waste of time, Turkey’s “secular elites” have dreamed up an embezzling charge against President Abdullah Gul.

Vespers:Caleb Crain publishes a collection of blog entries, The Wreck of the Henry Clay: Posts & Essays 2003-2009. You can order the book or download the pdf.

Compline: Former Marine (and deputy Secretary of State) Steven Ganyard writes about emergency responsiveness and lays down its golden rule: “All Disasters Are Local


§ Matins. It seems that the consequences of the use of force are too often contrary to American interests. In the following passage, for example, the conjecture and spin of the first paragraph yield to the firmer skepticism of the second.

In Pakistan’s tribal regions, near the Afghan border, the United States deploys the armed flying robots known as Predator drones in attacks against Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders. About a year ago, the United States began to acquire better intelligence regarding these terrorist groups. The recent accuracy of the attacks has caused Al Qaeda to murder suspected spies in self-defeating fits of paranoia, a trend that has disrupted the organization’s ability to plan attacks against the U.S. and its allies. General David Petraeus, the over-all American military commander in the region, told CNN, “Al Qaeda, in particular, has sustained some very serious losses over the course of the last six to ten months or so, and there is a considerable concern among those leaders because of the losses that they have sustained.”

It would be difficult for any President to set aside military analysis of this tenor; in any event, Obama has persisted with the Predator strikes at roughly the same rate as George W. Bush. There is no evidence, however, that the drone campaign has yet moved closer to Al Qaeda’s senior leaders, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, or dismantled the group decisively; instead, the targeting still seems to be stuck in the middle of Al Qaeda’s leadership lists. Moreover, Pakistan’s government, although it apparently facilitates the drone attacks in private, finds it necessary to vocally oppose them in public, knowing how unpopular they are. Opportunism and hypocrisy hardly seem the foundation for a sustainable political-military partnership that breaks with the unhappy past.

§ Lauds. “Ever so slightly”?

That said, when SS guards, arms raised in the Hitler salute, shouting Nazi slogans, marched onstage during the second act’s big Busby Berkeley-like “Springtime for Hitler” number, it seemed to me that the temperature in the theater did drop ever so slightly. A 26-year-old theatergoer, Diana Aurisch, said afterward, “I loved the show, but I wasn’t sure what to think of that segment, as if it wasn’t enough of a parody to laugh at or feel comfortable with.”

Context may not be everything, but it conditions everything, and a production of The Producers in Berlin shorts a few circuits. The joke of the original movie — which the Broadway musical preserved even while inverting it — was that a largely Jewish Broadway audience would hate a romatic musical about Hitler — wouldn’t it? No? “Harry, he’s funny!” There’s no telling, in other words, what crazy New York theatregoers will laugh at. Substitute “Berlin” for “New York” and the air goes out of the joke very, very fast. It will be interesting to see how long the show runs.

§ Prime. Mr Hitchens believes that men are funny for two reasons and in two ways. First, to impress and attract women —

If you can stimulate her to laughter—I am talking about that real, out-loud, head-back, mouth-open-to-expose-the-full-horseshoe-of-lovely-teeth, involuntary, full, and deep-throated mirth; the kind that is accompanied by a shocked surprise and a slight (no, make that a loud) peal of delight—well, then, you have at least caused her to loosen up and to change her expression. I shall not elaborate further.

— while the other is to entertain pals with jokes about prostates and Depends.

Substitute the term “self-defecation” (which I actually heard being used inadvertently once) and almost all men will laugh right away, if only to pass the time. Probe a little deeper, though, and you will see what Nietzsche meant when he described a witticism as an epitaph on the death of a feeling. Male humor prefers the laugh to be at someone’s expense, and understands that life is quite possibly a joke to begin with—and often a joke in extremely poor taste. Humor is part of the armor-plate with which to resist what is already farcical enough. (Perhaps not by coincidence, battered as they are by motherfucking nature, men tend to refer to life itself as a bitch.) Whereas women, bless their tender hearts, would prefer that life be fair, and even sweet, rather than the sordid mess it actually is. Jokes about calamitous visits to the doctor or the shrink or the bathroom, or the venting of sexual frustration on furry domestic animals, are a male province. It must have been a man who originated the phrase “funny like a heart attack.” In all the millions of cartoons that feature a patient listening glum-faced to a physician (“There’s no cure. There isn’t even a race for a cure”), do you remember even one where the patient is a woman? I thought as much.

Christopher Hitches is quite often an astute commentator on Vanity Fair (and not just in Vanity Fair). Sometimes, though, he appears to be struggling to make sure that nobody forgets what a professional blowhard sounds like.

§ Tierce. Mr Gregorian’s testimony certainly wasn’t the strongest evidence of Mrs Astor’s senility that has been advanced at the trial of her son. I thought that anybody within hailing distance of a persenal centennial is ipso facto entitled to say whatever he or she pleases.

§ Sext. I thought that Christopher Hitchens said that women aren’t funny. “News, shmews.”

§ Nones. It would appear that the president is immune to charges of all kinds except that of treason while he is in office. Once he’s no longer in office, his political enemies will probably lose interest. It is hard to see (from my distant vantage) that anything but general irritation can issue from this proceeding.

§ Vespers. Nobody told me about Lulu. I guess that it’s a prerequisite to AmazonEncores.

§ Compline. At the bottom of his piece, Mr Ganyard gets to the bottom of the problem, which is not natural disaster but “entrenched bureaucracy.” Once again, I renew my call for a study of bureaucratic pathology, which has given “regulation” such a bad name. How can we structure agencies so that bureaucracies never develop. I like Janet Napolitano’s manner of encouraging experimentation on the ground; how can we make it unexceptional?

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