Evil Forces in the World

Reflections on ''Evil Forces in the World,'' as well as occasional remarks concerning ''Good Forces in the World.''

Saturday, February 09, 2002

I had an extraordinarily peculiar dream: In it, an unidentifiable individual swiped several of my books and subsequently decided to pee on them, which caused me great distress. And so that is yet another evil force in the world: flagrant theft and, uh, urinary abuse of my personal property, as well as that of others.

Friday, February 08, 2002

Norman Borlaug, father of the Green Revolution, may well be the greatest among human forces for good.
By now, it must be entirely clear that I am passionately opposed to both gangsterism and drugs, which is not to say that I favor the draconian Rockefeller drug laws or, more broadly, the punitive approach to drug abuse. I do, suffice it to say, endorse the punitive approach to gangsterism, up to and including the judicious use of rattan canes. I am not, however, opposed to the Plum Mouth girls, all of whom are extraordinarily talented and, incidentally, cute. I was, I'll readily admit, smitten with one of them. This is neither here nor there. Having received a really wonderful message from the nameless Plum in question, I've decided to name her a force of good in the world.
As I returned to my desk from a brief trip to one of our local eateries, where I had myself a particularly filling item, I had a vision, a horrible vision of a song so awful that it could render a shaggy pooch completely hairless. It goes like this:

I am so, so robotic / You are so, so robotic / So, so robotic / Exotic and so robotic

Yeah, yeah, we like robots, whether Transformers or Gobots /
Bangin' on pots, millions and millions of robotic tots

This is song is, as far as songs go, the definition of evil.
More evil forces:

(1) Cheesecake is nothing less than a vicious assault on the senses. Cheese and cake? For heaven's sake, one is a savory and one is a sweet!

But then you say, "Reihan, we know you like peanut butter and jelly." I have no comment.

(2) Arby's: What the heck? This is a crying shame. Worse yet, it'll give you a stomach ache, but you didn't hear it from me.

(3) The United States Senate is coequal with the lower house. That much is incontrovertibly true. Also, it allows a small sliver of the population to confound democratic majorities, which is nothing less than a scandal. I am by no means a radical. In fact, when the Revolution comes, I will be out in the street "crackin' heads," assuming I have good reason to believe this to be an efficacious counterinsurgency strategy. But this troubles me, and not only because I am a native of Brooklyn, New York. I am not reflexively opposed to "tradition"--far from it. There is a great deal to be said for stability and the received wisdom of ancient institutions, but not institutions like, say, wife-burning, which is unquestionably evil. The U.S. Senate, while not quite as evil, is certainly considerably more evil than, say, cheesecake.

(4) I have a feeling that The Strokes, well-loved though they may be, are deeply evil. As for the White Stripes, I just don't know. They seem alright, but I don't discount the possiblity that they will, at some point in the near future, have to be stopped, perhaps with an animated bazooka.
And now we must return to evil, the inexorable pull of which draws us all ever closer with each passing year, if not each passing minute. Like sands through the hourglass, evil, evil, evil. The Olympics: evil. The Olympics, I maintain, killed Montreal. Damn you.

In the name of Montreal, I damn you to hell a thousand times.
Jon Chait is a force for good, and a powerful one at that: scourge of special interests, budgetary flat-earthers, and other rogues. Also, he often appears on television, a device responsible for beaming the alphabet and other things into the heads of kids. Hurray!
Ichiro Suzuki is an indefatigable force of good. Just 2.5" taller and 20 lbs. heavier than me, Ichiro nevertheless navigates the Good Ship Mariner through its annual fights for freedom against the Evil Empire. Ichiro shows his awestruck fans that if you are a small Asian male, 1 in ~3 billion of you, too, can compete with the other marvelous families of God on the premier stages of sport. Unlike some of his predecessors -- John Lee (football kicker), Eugene Chung (football lineman), John Pak (hockey) -- Ichiro is actually quite good at what he does. Unlike others among his predecessors -- Michael Chang (tennis), generations of Olympic tabletennis and badminton champions -- Ichiro manages to topple beasts of humanity many times his size. He does so with dignity, rebuking the perverted pursuits of flesh-peddling Japanese paparazzi; this is one professional athlete who dresses *before* press interviews. Is there little doubt that a feature film co-starring Britney Spears ("Shimmy with Sashimi"?) is imminent?

Here's to Ichiro: our secret weapon against terrorism.
Is it good or evil to rock aggressively, passionately, and with great verve? I have mixed feelings on this question. For one thing, rocking until the break of dawn, and even shortly thereafter, in all likelihood encourages fornication and other brands of evil-doing. That said, it can also inspire you to, for example, start a neighborhood clean-up program or read to kids, which would be nice. I'll leave this question aside for a moment. For more on rocking, consult the following interview.
For some entirely inexplicable reason, I am in a generous mood; with this in mind, I will shift my usual emphasis from evil to good. And so here is a list of good forces in the world, most of which are musical.

(1) Tahiti 80


This band rocks thoroughly and efficiently. They are anachronistic in a perfectly delightful way. Keep in mind that this isn't my usual cup of tea, but these Frenchmen have skill. And the lyrics! Hot damn. Peculiar in the best sense. But the Cornelius remix of "Heartbeat," found both on the single Heartbeat and the EP Extra Pieces is, much to my dismay, crap, i.e., creplak.

(2) Cannibal Ox


Music? This is beyond music. This is astonishingly, mind-alteringly, and astoundingly solid gold. "B-Boy Alpha" is a personal favorite of mine. Cannibal Ox obliterates all other acts, both alive and dead. They do this, however, with wit and panache, which makes such flagrant acts of utter annihilation, which I'd normally question and frown upon, entirely excusable.

(3) My parents are good forces in the world, and very much so I might add. Aside from being sober-minded and responsible individuals, they are also very sharp and entertaining, but not in an overbearing way. This is, in my book, praiseworthy, particularly in a world in which the vast majority are swindlers or, worse yet, bores.

(4) That isn't necessarily true. If you put any bucktoothed crazy on a rocket ship, said crazy will soon become as fascinating as a bonsai tree baseball cap.
Very slightly, I might add. Let's not forget Saddam.
We seem to be experiencing technical difficulties, which fills me with blind rage, appropriately enough. But no, this isn't simply the rage of the blind -- and I am not blind, and it isn't very funny to joke about having been blinded, which I suppose I just did mere moments ago. And so it is with a heavy heart that I must add my own name to the list of ambiguously, mildly evil forces in the world. I meant well, and I mean well. I just hope that the court of web opinion takes this into account before I'm crucified on the altar of goo-goo-ism. Oh, but now I'm lashing out. For heaven's sake. The cycle must end! When will it end?

Yes, that's right: Reihan M Salam, slightly evil.
For those of you who don't know, Jesse Shapiro is a blindingly good force in the world. So blindingly, in fact, that I can no longer see and am thus prevented from seeing to my appointed tasks. While this will no doubt have negative consequences in my life -- I will no longer be able to, for example, pay my bills or tie my shoes without relying on the kindness of strangers -- I recognize that this is but a small price to pay for Shapiro's soul-shattering greatness, which I acknowledge with a wink or squint, product both of sincere admiration and wincing pain deriving from the aforementioned blinding. In a short while, he will be joining my "team," at which point he will be able to elaborate on how shockingly, awe-inspiringly great he happens to be. Notice that I have linked to him to the right. Now, you may wonder why I haven't placed him alongside DeLong and Krugman. This is because Shapiro is, simply put, peerless.
Evil Force: Sandra Feldman

Each morning while waiting for the WBZ news station's regular weather report, I am subjected to the almost equally regular AFT commercial, featuring the authoritative voice of Sandra Feldman warning me about risky measures such as school vouchers and urging me to support sensible policies, such as higher teacher salaries and smaller class sizes.

Unfortunately for Ms. Feldman, the best empirical evidence contradicts her at every turn. Class sizes, salaries and funding appear to have very little to do with student performance, whereas competition, choice, and--most devastating to Ms. Feldman and her organization--weaker unions all seem to contribute positively to measurable outcomes.

Of course, even the best and most careful empirical economists can sometimes make mistakes. But if that is Ms. Feldman's concern then she should call for public policy experiments designed to determine once and for all what works and what doesn't. Instead she and her organization attempt to scare us into submission to the status quo.

Jesse Shapiro, jmshapir@fas.harvard.edu
The links function properly! We're in business! And thank heavens for that! More to come. Links are an unambiguously good force in the world, dammit.
I've decided that Ryan Adams is an ambiguously good force. He has that damn good song, the one with the "da-da-da-dee-da, shubba-bubba."
A new day, a new list of evil forces. Right now, the evil force that weighs most heavily on my mind is alt country rocker Ryan Adams. I am listening to his latest album right now. It is sweeping the nation. Yes. And it must be stopped. It is too infectious. It is, simply put, too evil. I'm being rash, you say? There are degrees of evil, it's true. Ryan Adams is not as evil as, say, Robert Mugabe, the madman of Harare who has single-handedly managed to mangle the manifold manifestations of reasonably good things in what was once--and, one hopes, will again be at some point shortly after the overthrow of his hated regime--a lovely country full of sweet, good-natured folks with very nice cheekbones. Indeed, Ryan Adams is not nearly as evil.

Thursday, February 07, 2002

I include, among the very many negative forces at large in the world today, apologists for the likes of Hussein, a very broad category. Mind you, they aren't as awful as the butchers of Yangon. I am a member of the Free Burma Coalition, but I've heard nothing from them since I've joined. This is discouraging. And incidentally, it will always be Rangoon to me. Crab Yangon? Don't be preposterous.
Another positive force, I suspect: the rapper known as "Fabolous." He is fabulous, and also "Fabolous." Of course, he does seem a bit fresh with the ladies.
As for a positive force in the world, I nominate Carly Pope. A short while ago, she appeared in a fine film: "Orange County." A fine and, might I add, profoundly underrated film. My goodness, she certainly is fetching. And I have no reason to believe that she is, for example, a drug peddler or hoodlum of some other perhaps more exotic variety, so there you have it. She is indubitably a positive force in the world--and indeed, perhaps Ms Pope is a powerful positive force in the galaxy we call "home," the Milky Way. To aliens, this galaxy might be known by an entirely different name or, better yet, it might not have a "name" at all as we conventionally understand such things but rather a "neutron-theta-force" maximum device.
From this point on, I will document evil forces in the world. My list, unsurprisingly, begins with one of the major baddies, Saddam Hussein. I feel no need to elaborate as to why this "gentleman," and rest assured I use the term with a generous helping of ironic disdain, is loathsome and despicable. He is a butcher, a fiend, and, in my humble estimation, he ought to be destroyed with great dispatch. And so there you have it: as of now, Saddam Hussein, the brutal ruler and tormentor of the Iraqis, is at the top of my list.