2018 Primetime Emmy
& James Beard Award Winner

R&K Insider: In praise of bureaucrats edition

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It’s August, dear readers, when a young editor’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of getting the fuck out of town. Or at least it should; it would appear no one got the memo that this is the boring time of year. I remember hearing a joke years ago wondering how newspapers can tell you everything they know every day and still have so much left over for Sunday, when nothing happens. That’s how I feel every morning when I look at the news. How? Why? My god, to even contemplate a post-Labor Day news cycle is overwhelming.

This week’s dispatch from the front lines of the coming societal collapse was Foreign Policy’s look at how the State Department has been completely derailed by the current administration, with career diplomats sidelined in favor of an inexperienced and untested “praetorian guard” of insiders clustered around Secretary of State Rex Tillerman, who is himself regularly undermined by the White House.

In case your’re tempted to see this as an isolated incident, I’d direct your attention to this even more terrifying article by Michael Lewis on similar behavior at the Department of Energy, which oversees, among other things, our freaking nuclear arsenal. Career officials ignored and stymied? Check. A complete lack of curiosity on the part of administration insiders as to what the agency does and how it operates? Check. Nearly verbatim quotes on amateurish us-or-them posturing? Check. Only this time, with nuclear material instead of sensitive diplomatic information, so, that’s even worse? Or not? Certainly this is not a good combo.

No one is rushing to be the champion of bureaucracy and certainly the U.S. government, like any large institution, has its share of bloat and wasted resources. But career bureaucrats are often the only people focused on actually accomplishing anything in the partisan whack-a-mole frenzy of D.C. I remember talking to someone who works in the Pentagon shortly after the inauguration, who felt morally embarrassed by the new president but also thought it would be unprofessional to leave his department in the hands of craven partisan yahoos. These are the people who toil in obscurity to serve the nation—the Varyses of our system, after a fashion—and to see the dismantling of this system, which persists across administrations and parties, is pretty terrifying.

What’s it look like when a state that’s technically a democracy descends into the personal power playground of one man? It looks like Hungary. We don’t have to guess! There it is. I highly recommend this look at how leading Magyar megalomaniac Viktor Orbán—the Viktator, to his friends—went from a long-haired, Easy Rider-watching rebel to the illiberal shitbird he is today.  What’s the worst that can happen when a government is entirely mismanaged and civil society is gutted? Let’s ask an AP reporter who spent the last three years watching Venezuela unravel. The once-thriving nation’s unprecedented collapse is one of the most shocking stories in a year that has felt like one long electrical pulse.

Well, that got bleak. Let’s pull back from the end of the world as we know it and look at a few other interesting reads from the week (it is summer, after all). The Queen has four drinks every day, starting with a gin before lunch, making her both a binge drinker and my hero. RIP Judith Jones, legendary editor and arbiter of food-word tastes for decades. This is a great profile of her from a couple of years ago. Are you team pot or team pinot? (Why choose? a voice whispers softly in her mind.) I swear to god, I have read the same hand-wringing article about tourist hordes ruining Venice every year for the last ten years. It’s both absolutely true and I can’t read about it ever again. Let’s read Watermark instead. Let’s eat our way through Penang. Let’s read the strange story of Miami Subs. Let’s learn about the economic lives of animals.

Finally, our latest installment of the Anthony Bourdain-curated Dispatched series is up now. Reporter Jacob Kushner visited a region roiled by violence as two competing groups fight over increasingly scarce grasslands in rural Kenya, an area flooded by hundreds of thousands of powerful guns. (The photo at the beginning of this newsletter was taken from that article.) It’s a war over grass being fought with G3s, and it’s only the beginning of life on an increasingly hot and crowded planet.

That’s it for this week! See you next week for more of the best in politics, travel, and food from around the web. Tweet me stories you want to see here @caraparks

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