Gotham Diary:
9 September 2011

In the middle of the afternoon, yesterday, a wave of sleepiness nearly knocked me down. Nothing odd about that, given that I’d been up early as usual and had an unusual amount of wine to drink the night before. Instead of napping, though, I read the Times, which I hadn’t read, for the first time ever, first thing in the morning. (By “first time ever,” I mean that I’ve either read the newspaper upon getting out of bed or I haven’t read it at all.) Reading it in the middle of the afternoon was certainly odd, but it was also easier to tell the interesting stories from the Pravda ones. (The Times is as pigheadedly uninformative about Washington as The Economist is about corporations.) I particularly liked the story about Sheila and Peter Potter, a well-born couple possessed of more paraphernalia than moolah. The Potters set up house in various Charleston properties in order to enhance their curb appeal, moving out when their magic has been wrought, having inhabited the premises for as little as ten days. They’re called “stagers,” and if I had known about their line of life when I was a young man I would have set out to follow it. (I certainly have the stuff.)

Kathleen suggested that I take a walk. I was totally disinclined to take a walk but i took her advice anyway. I went down the street to Carl Schurz Park, which I saw with new eyes now that I knew that much of its charm could be attributed to the fact that Robert Moses, who used to live on Gracie Square (the bit of 84th Street east of East End Avenue), would begin his day by walking through it on his way to Gracie Mansion, four blocks to the north, for morning conferences with the mayor of the moment. I’m far more embarrassed about not having known that, for all of the years that I’ve been visiting the park, than I am about my persistent uncertainty about exactly who Carl Schurz was. No wonder the park is so tightly packed with promenades and grottoes!

On my way home, I stopped at Fairway to pick up things for dinner. My first stop was the vast downstairs island where meat is offered on one side and fish on the other. I didn’t want beef; I didn’t want chicken; I didn’t want pork. Shrimp, perhaps? But before I got to the shrimp, I saw a mound of bay scallops, and I thought to myself, “I think that I know how to cook those now.” Back in the Eighties, I wasted a lot of money trying to reproduce the sautéed bay scallops that made up one of the signature dishes at Christ Cella, a late lamented midtown steakhouse. It wasn’t that I didn’t have the recipe so much as that I didn’t understand the fundamentals, which may be put in a few words: hot pan and clarified butter. Also, I thought, it wouldn’t hurt to toss the scallops in oil and chopped herbs a few hours ahead of time.

When I dumped the scallops into the hot sauté pan, they didn’t stick, which was gratifying, but they did release a lot of liquid, which had to steam off before they could begin to brown; and to brown the scallops properly I found that I had to shake, rattle and roll the pan in high sauté style. Afraid of toughening them with overcooking, I passed up the richer flavor that would have come from more browning on the stove, but the result was still very much a success. At the last minute, I poured in a tablespoon of white wine to deglaze the pan and robe the scallops in all the brown bits that they had cast off in the cooking. Kathleen was thrilled. She loves bay scallops, but she loathes sea scallops, which are a lot more common (although no longer much cheaper). She hates sea scallops so much that she was sure, when I told her what we’d be having for dinner, that I’d made a mistake and bought the larger shellfish. I make many kinds of mistakes, but that isn’t one of them.


Instead of all this culinary chitchat, I was going to write about an interesting blog entry that I read yesterday, tipped off by my good friend JRParis. The Web log is called Steelweaver, and I don’t know a thing about it. As I read the entry, though, I felt that it was clarifying an insight that has struck me ever since 9/11, which is that deeply conservative Americans and deeply conservative Muslims have a lot more in common with each other than either of them does with me.

The point, for the climate denier, is not that the truth should be sought with open-minded sincerity – it is that he has declared the independence of his corner of reality from control by the overarching, techno-scientific consensus reality. He has withdrawn from the reality forced upon him and has retreated to a more comfortable, human-sized bubble.

In these terms, the denier’s retreat from consensus reality approximates the role of the cellular insurgents in Afghanistan vis-a-vis the American occupying force: this overarching behemoth I rebel against may well represent something larger, more free, more wealthy, more democratic, or more in touch with objective reality, but it has been imposed upon me (or I feel it has), so I am going to withdraw from it into illogic, emotion and superstition and from there I am going to declare war upon it.

So, from this point of view, we can meaningfully refer to deniers, birthers, Tea Partiers and so forth as “reality insurgents”, and thus usefully apply the principles of 4GW to their activities – notably, they are clearly operating on a faster OODA loop than the defenders of mainstream reality, and thus able to respond more quickly, with greater innovation, than the sclerotic bureaucracy of institutionalised reality. the

Even before 9/11, I had decided that the only surviving casus belli in modern life is foreign occupation. Foreign occupation is doomed to fail in the long term, at least so long as the occupiers are felt to be foreign. It is a problem of personal intimacy, really; we find it intractably unacceptable to live in forced proximity to hostile strangers. A better way of putting it might be to say that having to live with people who despise us is a good definition of prison. What Steelweaver showed me was that just as the Arabs and the Persians of the Middle East have struggled against imperial oppression dating back to the Eighteenth Century, so Christianists and libertarians have struggled against what they perceive to be an intellectual oppression of roughly the same vintage.

I wish that there were a way of setting these people free, not because I support or sympathize with them but because their captivity isn’t working; they very nearly wrecked the American government in July. I wish that we could draw a few new frontiers in this big, largely empty country of ours. I would happily abandon the Appalachians and the Rockies to lawless vagabonds, in order to insulate the cosmopolitan coasts from the self-absorbed heartland.