The Carter Syndrome. Walter Russell Mead, Foreign Policy
Inside Obama’s war on terrorism. Peter Baker, NYT magazine
A fruitful decade. Tyler Cowen, NYT
Ten campaign questions for 2010. Aaron Blake, The Hill
Must 2010 be 1994? EJ Dionne, RCP
Geoff Dyer’s new novel is getting good reviews. It’s on my bedside table and moving up the queue. I liked his books on jazz and photography very much too (minor and major interests of mine, respectively). Thank you to The Browser for helping me catch Dyer’s funny essay on British perceptions of Americans, which (taking a break from newspapers over the holiday) I would otherwise have missed.
Like many Europeans, I always feel good about myself in America; I feel appreciated, liked. It took a while to realize that this had nothing to do with me. It was about the people who made me feel this way: it was about charm. Yes, this is the bright secret of life in the United States: Americans are not just friendly and polite — they are also charming. And the most charming thing of all is that it rarely looks like charm. The French put a rather charmless emphasis on charm, are consciously or unconsciously persuaded that it is either part of a display of sophistication or — and it may amount to the same thing — a tool in the service of seduction.
You can see all of this in operation on flights back across the Atlantic from America to Euroland. At first we are under the spell of America. Instead of plunking ourselves down next to someone without a word, we say “Hi.” Maybe even indulge in a little conversation, though this American readiness to chat is counterbalanced by the fear that once we’ve got into a conversation we might not be able to extricate ourselves from it. By the time we’re mid-ocean, a kind of preparatory freeze has set in. As the flight stacks up in the inevitable holding pattern over Heathrow, we begin to revert to our muttering and moaning national selves. But, for a week or so after landing, a form of what might be called Ameristalgia makes us conscious of a rudeness in British life — a coarsening in the texture of daily life — that had hitherto seemed quite normal.
For example. I pay a considerable sum of money to play indoors at Islington Tennis Centre. Eighty percent of the time, the next people to play indicate that your time is up by unzipping their racket covers and strolling on court, without saying a word, without a smile, without acknowledging your existence except as an impediment. In America that would be not just unacceptable but inconceivable.
True, very true–of ordinary face-to-face interaction, that is. Jarringly different standards apply in politics, and especially in the political blogosphere. There, “coarsening” is too mild a word. All that swaggering, sneering incivility: maybe I find it disgusting because it’s so unAmerican.