The Breakfast Table

Chocolate-Syrup Designs and American Isolationism

Coming up in the 2007 edition of the Oxford Book of Quotations:

“A city probably needs a Fascist to run it.”–Nora Ephron

“And a country definitely needs an anchorman from South Dakota to run it.”–Kurt Andersen, paraphrasing Ephron

If Nick is right, as he surely is, that the cops are driven to bust more non-criminals in order to keep their arrest numbers up, isn’t it just a (non-simple) matter of tweaking the incentivization scheme? What I mean is, couldn’t they build in some bad-arrest penalty provision–so that the apprehension of a person like your friend would make the policeperson lose credit for two or three good arrests? I’m sort of serious. It would be like when you challenge somebody’s word in Scrabble and you’re wrong, you lose points.

The memorized-order phenomenon in restaurants is meant, I think, to suggest an extreme competence, as well as some more subtextual kind of intimacy–as if the waiter is really just a guy you know and you’re telling him what you’d like to eat as long as he’s going to the kitchen anyway. Also, maybe, it’s another form of mid/late-’90s minimalism: Less is more, and nothing is everything. Maybe I should become a Buddhist instead of a Scientologist.

And those horrible little designs made of chocolate syrup on the dessert plate, by the way, are also about show-offy competence, but so very, very 1989.

I didn’t really want to talk about East Timor, by the way. I have no opinion, no information, nothing to say. I feel the same way you do about it and wars like it. To me they’re not unlike those roving New York City malathion trucks–by which I mean international crises these days also seem like something out of an earlier era. Which is to say, before the Cold War and World War II, when this is how Americans registered nearly all foreign wars … isolated two-month news stories, a sudden ghastly horror show in some obscure exotic place where America has no obvious national interest, wars that fit into no grand struggle (e.g. capitalism vs. communism) that interests or inflames us. I think the American default mode is still isolationist, intellectually as well as militarily (if not economically). So maybe we wince a little at the headlines and photographs from East Timor, and then, like our grandparents did when they read about Armenia, turn the page to read about Doris Duke–I mean, Caleigh Duff-Perelman.

On that happy note, I’m off to cook dinner, and remain

Yours truly,