Belmont Club


Yesterday after a long period of neglect, I decided to replace the disc brakes on my bike. The store sold me a set of Shimano upgrades and offered to install them for about seventy bucks, but I decided to do them myself on the principle that you are always better off knowing how, rather than paying someone to remain in ignorance. That of course meant considerable grief and repeated returns to the shop to get brake pads they had forgotten to include and later for outrageously expensive aluminum adapters to mate the brakes to the nonstandard frame. Toward the end I was almost stumped by a problem of insufficient clearance, which after some thought I solved with some metal washers. Then finally it was perfect: the wheels turned freely until a touch of brake brought the wheels to an instant halt.  They were done. More important, I knew how to do it again if I had to.

No person’s education is complete without an acquaintance with nuts and bolts. Whether it concerns reassembling a a wheel or mounting a chain over sprockets, you learn there is nothing so fatal as disrespecting reality. Insignificant items like the order in which you tighten bolts or the thickness of little metal circles have an importance you never suspected.  Even the amount of tightening torque is important. The wholeness of your head may depend on a small detail like whether you installed a part the right way around.

Much of the unease which some feel toward the administration comes directly from the cavalier sloppiness of its work. Whether it is ‘forgetting’ to tell a judge that illegal immigrant work permits whose applications are before the court have already been granted or destroying evidence before they remember it had been subpoenaed or hearing Marie Harf cavalierly dismissing a joint letter by two distinguished former secretaries of state on the inadvisability of the Iran deal as “sort of, big words and big thoughts” — you get the sense of an indifferent crew, of people who got a pass for just being there.  Everywhere you look, there are parts left over where there should be none, things eerily rattling around inside the motor that should be silent and a weird kind of shimmy in joints that should have no play.

But worst of all there is the dismissive sense that care and craftsmanship don’t matter, that things will work anyway. The Obama administration’s supporers, like Harf, appear impatient to achieve progress without the encumbrance of old geezers like Kissinger and Schultz pointing out obvious mistakes in the Iran agreement.

Care for detail is regarded as a form of sabotage or obstructionism. Mark Joseph Stern in Slate captured the attitude of many Obama supporters when he wrote, “why do we still tolerate the Supreme Court?”

Already this term, the conservative justices look poised to strike down an anti-gerrymandering law and a restraint on judicial campaign finance. The court could also strip 8.2 million Americans of their health insurance thanks to a malicious, mendacious lawsuit. … If we want to curb the Supreme Court’s power, all we have to do is ignore it.

Why tolerate it indeed? He points out that “all we have to do is ignore it.”  They are like guys who find a part in the shipping box which has no obvious use to them and whose purpose they are too lazy to look up in the included manual. So they just toss the superfluous item in the trash reasoning it’s probably not important anyway.

It’s a tremendously liberating feeling.  A life unencumbered by detail is some people’s idea of freedom.  Of being “bigger” than mere niggling particulars. Is Iran’s understanding of the agreement different from Kerry’s? Do we really have to check? Should Congress examine the agreement?  Nancy Pelosi argues that it is too much trouble. “Diplomacy has taken us to a framework agreement founded on vigilance and enforcement, and these negotiations must be allowed to proceed unencumbered,” Pelosi said in a statement.

A great many things are dismissed with a wave of the hand. Al-Qaeda are just “some folks”,  Netanyahu is a random fuddy-duddy.  The Constitution is a hundred year old document written by white people that nobody reads any more.  Obama spends four years writing official emails to his Secretary of State without noticing it’s a private address.

There’s an air of such unassailable invincibility and an eagerness to proceed with “progress” at all costs that one wonders whether the administration would even realize it if something went catastrophically wrong.

Probably not. Or if they did they would merely think: what a bummer. JM Berger at Foreign Policy raises the question of whether we’ve had a “Franz Ferdinand” moment without being aware of it.  Has the administration allowed a giant conflagration to start in the powder magazine of the world?

Did the Islamic State start a war between Saudi Arabia and Iran? The crisis in Yemen is one of the more complicated stories to emerge from a complicated region. It involves a cyclone of explosive elements: religious extremism, proxy war, sectarian tension, tribal rivalries, terrorist rivalries, and U.S. counterterrorism policies. …

It’s getting hard to escape the feeling that the Sanaa bombing might be the Middle East’s “assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand” moment — the literal gunshot that has come to serve, if incompletely, as an answer to the question: “How did World War I begin?”

Who knows? Or more to the point, who cares? Nobody in the administration insofar as can be seen.  About the only thing that is tolerably certain is that if the Arab World War has indeed started Marie Harf will be the last to know. And should the worst happen and things fall to pieces, there will be no shortage of people in the current administration who will continue down to their lunch or appointment at the nail salon convinced that “someone will fix it”.

And so they go through governance with a kind of vast carelessness.  “Someone” has always fixed things in the past.  The Man will come along before long.  He always has.

Recently purchased by readers:
Horse Soldiers, The Extraordinary Story of a Band of U.S. Soldiers Who Rode to Victory in Afghanistan
Pharaoh’s Boat, With poetic language and striking illustrations, Weitzman tells the story of how one of the greatest boats of ancient Egypt came to be built—and built again.
Paratrooper, The Life of General James M. Gavin

Possibly worth buying:
The Battle of the Bridges, The 504 Parachute Infantry Regiment in Operation Market Garden
Among the Dead Cities, The History and Moral Legacy of the WWII Bombing of Civilians in Germany and Japan
The Fall of the Ottomans, The Great War in the Middle East
Dead Wake, The Last Crossing of the Lusitania
Double Paradox, Rapid Growth and Rising Corruption in China
Cities and Stability, Urbanization, Redistribution, and Regime Survival in China
The Girl on the Train

Did you know that you can purchase some of these books and pamphlets by Richard Fernandez and share them with you friends? They will receive a link in their email and it will automatically give them access to a Kindle reader on their smartphone, computer or even as a web-readable document.
The War of the Words for $3.99, Understanding the crisis of the early 21st century in terms of information corruption in the financial, security and political spheres
Rebranding Christianity for $3.99, or why the truth shall make you free
The Three Conjectures at Amazon Kindle for $1.99, reflections on terrorism and the nuclear age
Storming the Castle at Amazon Kindle for $3.99, why government should get small
No Way In at Amazon Kindle $8.95, print $9.99. Fiction. A flight into peril, flashbacks to underground action.
Storm Over the South China Sea $0.99, how China is restarting history in the Pacific
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