"It is easy to confuse what is with what ought to be, especially when what is has worked out in your favor."
- Tyrion Lannister

"Lannister. Baratheon. Stark. Tyrell. They're all just spokes on a wheel. This one's on top, then that's ones on top and on and on it spins, crushing those on the ground. I'm not going to stop the wheel. I'm going to break the wheel."

- Daenerys Targaryen


"The Lord of Light wants his enemies burned. The Drowned God wants them drowned. Why are all the gods such vicious cunts? Where's the God of Tits and Wine?"

- Tyrion Lannister


"The common people pray for rain, healthy children, and a summer that never ends. It is no matter to them if the high lords play their game of thrones, so long as they are left in peace. They never are."

- Jorah Mormont


"These bad people are what I'm good at. Out talking them. Out thinking them."

- Tyrion Lannister


"What happened? I think fundamentals were trumped by mechanics and, to a lesser extent, by demographics."

- Michael Barone

"If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to."
- Dorothy Parker

Friday, December 31, 2004

One thing I forgot to mention in the wrap-up was the film Finding Neverland which stars Johnny Depp, Kate Winslet, Julie Christie, Radha Mitchell, Dustin Hoffman, and Ian Hart.

Sort of unrelated, Christopher Hitchens wrote an obit for Susan Sontag.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Year's end wrap-up

TV has become pretty awful. Michelle Cottle writes the piece I wish I had done by diagnosing Dr. Phil's bullying style and his popularity.

On the bright side, Heather Havrilesky writes about how comedy drew blood this year.

For drama, the only show I'll watch besides the Wire, while vegging out and relaxing is Law and Order SVU. Alessandra Stanley places it at the #2 spot on her year's end list:
2. 'Law & Order SVU' The sex-crimes spinoff has displaced the shopworn original as the best Dick Wolf cop show. Christopher Meloni and Mariska Hargitay have a humane stoicism that contrasts nicely with the show's backdrop of murder and sexual perversion.
In the real world, things aren't so bad as people often make them out to be. "People power" won out in Ukraine and Afghanistan (with helpful assistance from the West). Democratic reform is on the table in the Middle East and the autocratic governments there are on notice.

At least outgoing Secretary Powell acknowledged genocide was going on in Sudan.

President Bush signed into law a bill authorizing $82 million in grants aimed at preventing suicide among young people.

General Pinochet was indicted in Chile. (I happened to catch the searing Roman Polanski/Sigorney Weaver film Death and the Maiden last night on IFC. It's based on Ariel Dorfman's play and the script was co-written by him and Matthew Yglesias's father, Rafael.

No doubt there's stuff I'm forgetting.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

This Monkey's Gone to Heaven

Rap and Metal are two of the lumpenproles' main "(sub-)cultural expressions" in these days of late capitalism. Both lost iconic figures this year. First to go was Ol' Dirty Bastard, formerly of the Wu Tang Clan. As the Onion writes, "Hip-hop's irrepressible id, Ol' Dirty Bastard lived his life like it was some sort of gonzo performance-art piece. Onstage and off, he always played rap's deranged court jester, a role that no doubt felt like a straitjacket at times. ODB turned self-destruction into a sublime art form, and while it's not surprising that he died, it's still terribly sad."

Flavor Flav was a court jester, too.

Former Pantera guitarist "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott was gunned down 30 seconds into a show in Columbus, Ohio, this past week.

"Despite a drizzle and temperatures in the 40s, more than 200 people turned up for a vigil Thursday night in the club's parking lot.

Shawn Sweeney, 22, played "old-school Pantera" on an acoustic guitar and a half-dozen young men held a blue tarp over his head and sang along.

"This is beautiful, this is absolutely beautiful," Sweeney said, referring to the growing crowd.

At one point, a naked young man stood in the middle of the street, arms raised, repeatedly cursing [shooter] Gale. The crowd cheered boisterously, and the man took off in a full sprint across the parking lot as four police officers gave chase.

He was soon tackled and a man in the crowd yelled out, "We got your bond, dude!" as the streaker was led off in handcuffs."


His death devastated fans of metal.

Doug Sabolick of the metal band A Life Once Lost noted, "Dimebag was the one who inspired me to pick up the ax, the bottle and the joint."

All Your Base Are Belong to Us

My repeated links to pieces by establishment commentators like Tom Friedman and Fareed Zakaria makes me uncomfortable, but they're understandble given the situation - a practically nonexistent left, a regnant late capitalism, and a massive civil war in the Muslim world.

Recently, Friedman proposed a deterministic materialist, or rather liquid, theory about the oil base of the global political economy and its relation to the political superstructure. An energy-independent America or Europe is probably a pipe-dream, but Friedman suggests we give it a go anyway. It is notable that he has failed to mention how Iraq's oil supply will undermine the Saudis' status as top dog.
"You give me an America that is energy-independent and I will give you sharply reduced oil revenues for the worst governments in the world. I will give you political reform from Moscow to Riyadh to Tehran. Yes, deprive these regimes of the huge oil windfalls on which they depend and you will force them to reform by having to tap their people instead of oil wells. These regimes won't change when we tell them they should. They will change only when they tell themselves they must.

When did the Soviet Union collapse? When did reform take off in Iran? When did the Oslo peace process begin? When did economic reform become a hot topic in the Arab world? In the late 1980's and early 1990's. And what was also happening then? Oil prices were collapsing.

In November 1985, oil was $30 a barrel, recalled the noted oil economist Philip Verleger. By July of 1986, oil had fallen to $10 a barrel, and it did not climb back to $20 until April 1989. "Everyone thinks Ronald Reagan brought down the Soviets," said Mr. Verleger. "That is wrong. It was the collapse of their oil rents." It's no accident that the 1990's was the decade of falling oil prices and falling walls."
So Clinton's ballyhooed "economic miracle" was a result of low oil prices also?

Fareed Zakaria writes about the U.N., which is embroiled in a scandal about oil. He also discusses Paul Rusesabaginan, an "ordinary" Rwandan, a hotel manager, who was able to shelter and save more than 1,200 people—Tutsis and Hutus—in the midst of the Rwandan genocide.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Insane in the Ukraine* (or the plight of the buffer state)

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) -- Ukraine's parliament on Saturday declared invalid the disputed presidential election that triggered a week of growing street protests and legal maneuvers, raising the possibility that a new vote could be held in this former Soviet republic.
Is it not radical to pass along the thoughts of the Iranian journalist below, even though he's rebelling against of one of America's enemies and one of the world's rogue regimes? Is it silly to ask such a question?

Things are looking better for Ukraine's 48 million inhabitants, at least to some. To others on the left, the fact that Ukrainians would have a general strike in order to "globalize" and integrate further into the West and hook up with the IMF and the dreaded Washington Consensus is no cause for celebration. Anything that makes the hyperpower look good is bad. It's a truism.

Putin was against the removal of Saddam Hussein, once dictator of the Saudi's Sunni buffer state against the 73 million Shias of Iran, and now he's against the removal of his puppet regime in Ukraine. The irony is that the opposition would remove troops from Iraq.

It appears that Putin is backing down - Bush didn't do anything about his Czarist power grab a few months ago and the US is in general more conciliatory than it needs to be. We need a multilateral approach in "the war on terror" after all.

*heading stolen from Slate.
wonder if he pulped it

His remark reminds me of when I worked in a wood-pulp mill in western Iran during the early years of the Islamic revolution. In the first decade after 1979, many intellectuals, anticipating being arrested, cleared their bookshelves and left their "illegal" volumes on street corners. Piles of these books found their way to the mill, where we reduced them to pulp. One day, throwing books into the mill, I grasped a Farsi version of Marx's "Capital." Immediately, I knew it was my own copy; I recognized the book by its feel, it was so familiar to my touch.

Today's intellectuals, if they haven't turned to smoking opium or drinking homemade liquor, devote themselves to literature, primarily Farsi, European, Russian and South American.
...

The vast majority of people here cross their fingers for a sudden explosion, or pray for American successes in Iraq and Afghanistan to increase the price of suppression by the theocracy in Iran. But that is the limit.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

red states = magical thinking
Weber used the term Entzauberung—“dis-enchantment”—to describe the way in which science and technology had inevitably displaced magical thinking. The new rationalism had the instrumental advantage of allowing the world to be mastered. But what the new thinking couldn’t provide was, in terms of lived experience, hardly less important. Rationality could do everything but make sense of itself.
Elizabeth Kolbert writes about Max Weber, the "bourgeois Marx."
Mon Dieu!

The excellent Doug Ireland translates what the fuss is
all about at Le Monde.


(via Marc Cooper)

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Turning point, hinge moment, tipping point, etc.

Both Fareed Zakaria and Tom Friedman see "Fallujah" as a turning point/tipping point for Iraq. Pan back and it could be a hinge moment for the wider conflict between the decadent West and Islamic nihilism and its accompanying anarchy.
Q & A with Heather Havrilesky

(via Matt Welch)

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Even though I grew up in Chicago and live here now, I went to college in Nashville for four years and lived in Austin, Texas for two and have to agree with Neal Pollack that the post-election "fuck the South" meme is wrongheaded.

(via Hit and Run)
Nation's Poor Win Election for Nation's Rich (or the pull of the superstructure)

45 percent of those with incomes under $50,000 voted for Bush, while 41 percent of those with incomes over $100,000 voted for Kerry.

It would have been nice had Kerry won the electoral college and lost the popular vote, which would have set in relief how the electoral college system distorts the "popular will." The fact that smaller states get two Senators each could then have been pointed at as well as a similar problem.

Hopefully, Bush will "spend some of his capital" on the creation of a Palestinian state. If so, Tony Blair will deserve some credit.

A majority of the voters seemed to decide to keep Bush because of the "war on terror." The large increase in Hispanics voting for Bush offset to some degree Bush's negatives on the economy and Iraq. His moderation on immigration policy probably helped here, but I heard an interesting theory that hard-working immigrants were drawn to the optimistic Republican themes on the economy, however counterintuitive that may sound.

As nice as it was to see the large voter turnout, I'm glad the contest is over between the Democrats' lacklaster candidate who argued Iraq was a mistake and the President who made Abu Ghraib shorthand for American torture of Muslims.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Maureen Dowd and Tom Friedman, the odd couple on the New York Times opinions page, each mentioned something notable today. The rightwing has always come off as more crazy, with its religiousity and strong tribalism. The memory of the Clintons driving the right bonkers also colors one's view. The corporate elite seems less cuckoo with it's cold logic of profit-making and anti-tax self-interest, however nuts this looks in the long run. Friedman points out today a sign that Bush and gang have pushed much of the left over the edge.

Friedman reports one of the Guardian's columnists openly hoped for the assassination of Bush: "John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald, John Hinkley Jr. - where are you now that we need you?" The columnist later apologized, but I've seen this sentiment before. Terry Eagleton, a great writer who first led me to Marxism and leftist thought via literature, wrote the same sort of thing in a Nation book review a few months ago. Lorrie Moore recently gave a favorable review - titled "Unanswered Prayer" - to Nicholson Baker's novel Checkpoint in which a character contemplates the assassination of Bush. No doubt it would have been good had one of the assassination attempts against Hitler or Stalin or Saddam Hussein succeeded, but Bush? First off, Cheney would become President, and secondly, is Bush really that bad?

Dowd writes
[Peter W. Galbraith] told Mr. Wolfowitz that mobs were looting Iraqi labs of live H.I.V. and black fever viruses and making of with barrels off yellow cake.

"Even after my briefing, the Pentagon leaders did nothing to safeguard Iraq's nuclear sites," he said.

In his column [in the Boston Globe] Mr. Galbraith said weapons looted from the arms site called Al Qaqaa might have wound up in Iran, which could obviously use them to pursue nuclear weapons. (emphasis mine)
So Saddam already had yellow cake?

Friday, October 15, 2004

America, Fuck Yeah!

Sounds like Matt Stone and Trey Parker nail the humorless left in their new film "Team America: World Police." One sign of their success is this lame review by Salon's dreadful Charles Taylor. The film satirizes anti-war celebrities, something Taylor finds objectionable. "Wouldn't it have been funnier, and more accurate, not to show the stars killing for peace but being so dedicated to peace they'd be willing to tolerate any atrocity?" Um, no. So Taylor accuses the film of echoing Ann Coulter, the worst insult he can muster. And of course he quotes Stone and Parker out of context. Read Salon's Heather Havrilesky's interview in its entirety to see what I mean. (Havrilesky is having a writing contest at her blog, by the way.)

The genius of South Park can't be denied, so Taylor must argue that Stone and Parker have "changed" or lost their satiric ability. In reality, Taylor doesn't agree with the view, as Parker puts it, "Because there are assholes -- terrorists -- you gotta have dicks -- people who hunt down terrorists. And I think that that is a pretty strong thing to assert, actually ... at least the pussies think so."

Also, read these letters to the editor about the Havrilesky interview and despair (or laugh).

Parker and Stone's movie seems to be about the fact that yes, America may overreact in the "war on terror" - in fact it has in some ways - but there's also the danger that it will "underreact." If it does, it will be because of people like Taylor, who demonstrate their lack of seriousness, by their glaring lack of a sense of humor. And if America loses it's sense of humor, it means the terrorists have won.

You're entering the sexual harassment zone
She claims he had phone sex with her against her wishes, "babbled perversely" to her while watching a porn movie, suggested she buy a vibrator, propositioned her and a female friend, and invited her to his hotel room.
...
Mackris's suit quotes O'Reilly (who is married) as telling her over the phone, allegedly after pleasuring himself: "You know, Mackris, in these days of your celibacy and your hibernation, this is good for you to have a little fantasy outlet, you know, just to keep it tuned, keep that sensuality tuned until, you know, Mr. Right comes along and then you can put him in traction. . . . I'm trying to tell you, this is good for your mental health."
The thought of Bill O'Reilly "pleasuring himself" is too much.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Bookslut has Gordon McAlpin's rendering of
the Satrapi reading I attended.
It's
impressively accurate.
Deconstructionism (sic)

The Chicago Tribune's James Warren and Clarence Page are always worthwhile to read, but the paper as a whole is somewhat lacking. The title of its obiturary for Jacques Derrida was "JACQUES DERRIDA, 74: Theorist advanced deconstructionism." A local coffeshop had the clipping up with "ism" crossed out. Back in college, I gave deconstruction a go, as I did with existentialism and structuralism, being of curious mind. I probably wasted too much time on it though, after figuring out that it's mostly about mercilessly applying logic to texts and philosophies, which would lay bare the holes and contradictions in what the authors had probably meant to say. This close reading was keeping with tradition, as Daniel Wakin writes in the New York Times "We have all learned that great works of art and literature may contain ideas and assumptions that their creators may not have been entirely aware of. There is the Freudian unconscious, the Marxist theory of superstructure, the learned dissections of metaphor and allusion in literary criticism. Who would be surprised to learn that things are seldom what they seem?"

By chance, one of Chicago's art house movie theaters is showing Luchino Visconti's The Leopard, so I went to see if it's as good as people say. The 1963 movie is based on Giuseppe Tomassi di Lampedusa's novel of the same name. Lampedusa was a conservative artistocrat and The Leopard centers on an aging aristocrat, played by Burt Lancaster in the film, in Italy during the 1860s, a time of revolution. Visconti was a communist who came from the aristocracy, so I had Marx and his admiration for the conservative Balzac in mind while watching the film, which was quite good and very epic, like an Italian Gone with the Wind.

The climatic ballroom scene, which the hard-to-please Pauline Kael called "one of the greatest of all passages in movies," was mindblowing. The film has a melancholy ending, though, with the aging aristocrat mourning his impending death and, apparently, the death of artistocratic "virtues." His idealistic nephew who fought for the revolution becomes a conservative defender of the status quo. A little hope breaks through, though, when a nebbish representative of the state visits and tries to convince Lancaster's honest and respected aristocrat to get involved in politics and become a senator in order to help the people of Sicily, his home. But he declines, seeing mostly downside in politics post-bourgeois revolution, with all its pandering to the masses and obsession with money. The emissary from the state tries to appeal to his conscience and inquires, "don't you want to help the people of Sicily improve?" which Lancaster responds to by saying "they don't want to improve, they think they're perfect already. It's their vanity." (quotes aren't exact, btw) The film certainly gives you a lot to chew on. Its constant bashing of the idiocies of religion is quite bracing. Lancaster's bon vivant aristocrat doesn't think much of religion even though he keeps a priest around. The revolutionary nephew has some great bawdy lines at religion's expense, also.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

The Muslim Civil War
My question to the presidential candidates would have been as follows: A civil war is raging in the Muslim war between so-called moderate and fanatical Muslims. How would you help the "moderate" side prevail and why would your policies be more successful than your opponent's?

Nicolas Kritof is wrong to suggest bin Laden would prefer a Bush victory. (or if he does, if he's alive, it's a mistake, just as 9/11 was a colossal mistake for the jihadists. If it wasn't for 9/11, they'd have Pakistan's nukes by now.) Over the short term, the liberation of Iraq has antagonized the Muslim world. Many "moderates" don't want to be associated with the U.S. But, a stable, pro-West, somewhat democratic Iraq will be of essential help to the moderate side in the civil war. Likewise, a destabilizing, rogue regime run by Saddam or his sons would have thrown the region into worse turmoil than it's experiencing now. And turmoil is a boon to the fanatics' recruitment.

Bush has said the Cold War policy of turning a blind eye towards dictorships that were aligned with us against the Soviets was a mistake. Encouraging democracy, preferrably with UN help, is the new policy. It's a post-Cold War, post- 9/11 world. Leaving aside Israel, the only nation in the wider region, besides Iraq and Afghanistan now, to have elections, our allies, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Pakistan, are on notice. The fudamentalist side, as Iran demonstrates and as the Taliban showed, aren't interested in democracy at all. Democracy and "peace" hurts recruitment.

Kerry gives the impression that he would withdraw from the region by engaging in a "status quo" policy, leaving the moderates to fend for themselves.

Whomever's elected, the jihadists appear to be losing the conflict at the moment according to French Arabist Gilles Kepel (via Peter Maass). Kepel has a new book out which was reviewed by Washington Post columnist David Ignatius:
"The principal goal of terrorism -- to seize power in Muslim countries through mobilization of populations galvanized by jihad's sheer audacity -- has not been realized," Kepel writes. In fact, bin Laden's followers are losing ground: The Taliban regime in Afghanistan has been toppled; the fence-sitting semi-Islamist regime in Saudi Arabia has taken sides more strongly with the West; Islamists in Sudan and Libya are in retreat; and the plight of the Palestinians has never been more dire. And Baghdad, the traditional seat of the Muslim caliphs, is under foreign occupation. Not what you would call a successful jihad.
Kepel believes Bush has stumbled in Iraq, but the jihadists' means are alienating the very Muslims they are trying to recruit. "No sensible Muslim would want to live in Fallujah, which is now controlled by Taliban-style fanatics. Similarly, the Muslim masses can see that most of the dead from post-Sept. 11 al Qaeda bombings in Turkey and Morocco were fellow Muslims."

The rate of bombings have increased, no doubt. One just occurred near the Indonesian embassy in Paris. But they are not all having the same effect as the one in Spain had. This summer a bombing occurred near the Australian embassy in Indonesia, and yet the Australians re-elected John Howard. His oppenent would have cut-and-run from Iraq.

Kerry's description of the "coalition of the willing" as the "coalition of the coerced and bribed" does not bode well for his leadership in ensuring the moderate Muslims prevail.

Would Kerry argue that Turkey is being bribed and coerced to clean up its act by being offered to join the European Union? The fact that the EU found Turkey met the bloc's political criteria to begin formal entry talks is another milestone in the Muslim civil war. It's yet another loss for the Jihadists who desire a Islamic Empire. The main obsticle to Turkey's entry is the Jihadists' mirror image in the EU, as a New York Times editorial puts it: "Anti-Muslim and anti-immigration forces, notably in Austria, France and the Netherlands, are hostile to Turkish accession. European leaders have no greater challenge over the next decade than converting, or at least neutralizing, that opposition."

"Don't engage with the Muslim world," these European isolationists argue. They're too "different." You can't force Western-style democracy on them. Sound familiar? It's the same argument "anti-war" Western leftists make. It's the argument a pandering Kerry is making in his bid for the Dean vote.

One steadfast foe of Austrian anti-Muslim and anti-immigration forces recently won the Noble Prize for Literature. The Austrian Marxist-feminist Elfriede Jelinek "was shunned by some Austrian political leaders, partly because of her vehement opposition to the rise of the rightist Freedom Party led by Joerg Haider, which became part of the ruling coalition in 2000 on a platform criticized as anti-Semitic and anti-foreigner. In 2000, she instructed her publishers to withhold the performance rights of her plays from all Austrian theaters as long as Haider's party was part of the government."

The difficult trick for Western governments and NGOs to manage in the Muslim civil war will be "constructive engagement" with repressive regimes like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and, to a lesser extent, Turkey. Constructive engagment was the term used by Reagan to describe his concilliatory policy towards South Africa during the Cold War. Bush has said his predecessors' constructive engagement with Muslim dictatorships during the Cold War was a mistake, as 9/11 demonstrated. Disengagement from Afghanistan after the Soviets left was likewise a mistake. The different degrees of engagement, coercion, and "bribery" employed by the next president towards nations in the midst of the Muslim civil war will determine the success of his foreign policy. Kerry's views on Iraq, which seem to demonstrate his unwillingness to lead the West in this conflict, don't bode well. He'd probably defer too much to status quo forces and leave the two sides in the Muslim civil war to duke it out.
MaxSpeak on the economy's job-creation record:
The unemployment rate is 5.4 percent. If this was 1995, that would not be a bad number. Unfortunately, we know that the rate can be four percent, the social implications of which are huge, since the lower level means those routinely excluded from the job market get a taste of the American dream. The 5.4 figure glosses over such people, who are no longer counted in the labor force.

Much evil flows from the presumption that 5.3 or 5.6 reflects a "structural" unemployment that is an artifact of irresponsible personal behavior. Lo and behold, in the latter 90s the economy stumbled into a lower unemployment rate, more by accident than design, and these allegedly shiftless types suddenly got religion and worked, by God.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Blogistan rising

Matthew Klam has a New York Times Magazine cover story on liberal bloggers that focuses on Wonkette, Talking Points Memo, and Daily Kos.

Lorrie Moore reviewed Klam's book Sam the Cat and Other Stories and it was surprising because Moore rarely reviews young authors, but as Emily White writes for Amazon.com, the two are similar:
His taut, spooky prose recalls another connoisseur of erotic disappointment, Lorrie Moore. But where Moore is partial to neurotic women, Klam's subject is the guy who wishes he could transcend himself and be redeemed from the small and angry America in which he's stuck.
One theme of Klam's article is that bloggers are in fact neurotic, or at least the successful are.
[Cox is] the daughter of a six-foot-tall blond Scandinavian goddess and one of the bright young men who worked under Robert McNamara in the Pentagon. Her parents split when she was 12, and she was shuttled between them, and like most kids who grow up that way, she made an anthropological study of what's cool. She was a loud, pudgy kid with milk-bottle-thick glasses, and when she finally settled into high school in Nebraska, she immediately ran for class president. She was thrown out of "gifted and talented" camp for weaving, drunk, through the girl's bathroom one night, and when she told me about it, she described it as "the story of my life": the smart girl getting booted out of a place where she belonged. She dropped out of a Ph.D. program in history at the University of California at Berkeley and found happiness for a few years at Suck.com, a snarky social-commentary Web site from the first Internet heyday.
...
[Marshall] wanted to be a writer, and he wanted to write about serious stuff, and he wanted to do it with a lot of passion. Marshall's mom had died when he was still in grade school, in a car accident, and he says losing her made it impossible for him to live without believing strongly in something. And he does: he is a guy whose waking state hovers right between irate and incensed, and for him those beliefs require action. Coming out of school, he had a love for history and a handle on American policy issues, and he figured the rest would be simple, job-wise, if only somebody would let him write. Marshall spent three years after his Ph.D. program working as an editor at The American Prospect, the liberal policy journal, and I got the feeling -- not so much from him, because he didn't want to talk about it, but from former colleagues -- that by the time he quit, he had decided that it would be better to starve than to work for someone else. So for a while he starved.
...
[Moulitsas] was born in Chicago, but moved to his mother's native El Salvador at age 4, and as the civil war there heated up in the 1980's, he remembers stepping over dead bodies. He only returned to Chicago after rebel soldiers passed along photos of Moulitsas and his brother to the family, an invitation to leave or lose their sons. Moulitsas speaks of himself, at the time of his return to Chicago when he was 9, as a tiny geek with a big mouth who couldn't speak English and who quickly learned to say things to bullies, in his heavy Spanish accent, that were just confounding enough for him to make a getaway before the bully realized he had been insulted.
Klam reports, "The Wonkette is more fun to read than Daily Kos. She's also more fun to hang out with."

He also writes that Mickey Kaus was the trailblazer. Kaus was a cheerleader for Clinton's "reform" of welfare and coincidently a new book on welfare reform recently came out. On August 26th, USA Today reported
The number of Americans in poverty and without health insurance each rose by more than 1 million in 2003, the Census Bureau reported Thursday. The median household income was virtually unchanged, but women lost ground against men for the first time since 1999.

The number of Americans in poverty rose by 1.3 million to 35.9 million, or one in eight people. The number of Americans without health insurance rose by 1.4 million to 45 million, or 15.6% of the population. Both sets of figures rose for the third-straight year.
I checked the archived entries of Kaus's blog that appear on the 26th and afterwards and he makes no mention of the steady increase in poverty.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

"Let's Go Sexin!"

John Waters's A Dirty Shame is much better than many critics are saying. Tracey Ulman, Johnny Knoxville, Selma Blair and Chris Isaac are all hilarious. "Carnivalesque" is the best term to descibe it. The film's subversiveness is debatable given how sex and combating the "squares" are now common in the Entertainment Trust's products and regularly mined for profits. Yet there really is a constant struggle between the libertines and the humorless/joyless, between those who want to spread the joy and those who want everyone around them to be miserable, because misery loves company.

Shaun of the Dead looks good too. One of the characters has a line "As Bertrand Russel said, humanity's survival depends upon cooperation." Or something like that.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Rabbitblog dialogues with her readership.
Forgive me for getting personal, but this is a freakin' blog, right? I was fortunate enough to grow up in a nice, white, upper-middle-class Republican suburb of Chicago, but as far back as I can remember my politics tilted left. It probably had something to do with being raised by enlightened parents who never forced their kids to attend church, nor did they ever talk or act in any way racist or anti-Semitic or bigoted. (A fond memory of my childhood was my mother making breakfast on a Sunday morning with Soul Train blasting on the TV. "The Sooooouuuul Train!") But if forced to point to one thing, it might be the issue of race that predominantly shaped my politics. Driving with my mom into the city to get allergy shots on a weekly basis in the late 70s, I'd ponder the black ghetto we'd drive through often when taking a short cut.

This past week Henry Louis Gates wrote about how the Republican party lost the black vote:
the moment when the Republican Party lost black America can be given a date: Oct. 26, 1960. Martin Luther King Jr., arrested in Georgia during a sit-in, had been transferred to a maximum-security prison and sentenced to four months on the chain gang, without bail. As The Times reported, John F. Kennedy called Coretta King, expressing his concern. Richard Nixon didn't.
Gates mentions that his colleague Michael Dawson places it at a later date
The real watershed, in his view, was the 1980 election. Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford tried to build up, and win over, a black middle class; the Reagan team figured they could do better by shutting out the black political establishment and mobilizing white conservatives. "Black elites were shocked to find out that with Reagan and his advisers, there were no longer 'good Negroes' and 'bad Negroes,'" Dawson says.
It's not apparent to me that the Democrats have served blacks well, either. Particularly egregious was Clinton's support for the "War on Drugs." Jesse Walker has an inteview with David Simon, the creator of HBO's stellar show The Wire, which just started its third season last night.
Joseph Stiglitz, Brad DeLong, and Aaron Edlin have launched an
online economics magazine titled The Economists' Voice.

Monday, September 13, 2004

I went to Marjane Satrapi's book reading tonight and the bookstore was packed. Definitely see her if you get a chance. Here are the remaining dates. She has perfect comic timing in her delivery and kept a straight face after some of her best lines which made her unbelievably charming. She talked a bit and then fielded a number of questions which, per usual, were mostly dumb ass questions combined with mini-monologues. Satrapi was so enthusiastic, though, that it was infectious. She was pissed about Bush's inclusion of Iran in the "Axis of Evil" even though her books are searing indictments of the religious stupidities that have been running amok in Iran since 1979. She bemoaned the stereotyping of Arabs and Iranians. Satrapi said she couldn't believe how Cheney said that if Kerry was elected we'd risk another attack and how journalists didn't make more of it. I was actually contemplating voting for Bush because of the war on Islamic Fascism even though most of his policies are reactionary and his gang wants to turn back the clock to the 19th Century. Now I hope the electorate tells Cheney to piss off and elects Kerry just to spite him. Asked about other graphic novelists, she said she liked the ones always mentioned: Art Spiegleman, Chris Ware, Daniel Clowes, and Joe Sacco. I did what I haven't done in a long while and got a book signed. She seemed very willing to chat with people, so I asked her about her experience of being the interpreter for Shirin Ebadi, when Ebadi came to Europe to accept the Noble Peace Prize last year. Without thinking, I added Ebadi seemed tough. Satrapi said yes she's tough but added Ebadi's "very soft too." Satrapi is a member of some human rights organization which was how she got the gig, she told me. I was impressed with how Satrapi is such an internationalist. In response to a question from the audience about living in France she said it was if she were a guy and Iran was her mother and France her wife. Your mother can be crazy, etc., but you'll still love her while your wife you love, but can divorce, etc. And she made the point, very obvious yet very true, about how pictures are universal and no matter your nationality everyone gets sad about the same things. Different peoples have different senses of humor, just like some jokes resonate more in the city versus the country and vice versa, but some kinds of humor conveyed by pictures everyone gets regardless of where you live on the globe.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Heavy Things

Liz Penn writes
My favorite individual moment in a movie this summer occurs near the end of Spiderman 2. After untold travails (saving the world from a mechanical-armed human octopus, losing his girlfriend to a smug astronaut, having the last hors-d'oeuvre snatched out from under his nose at a humiliating party), the divided hero, Peter Parker/Spiderman (Tobey Maguire), finds himself holding up a huge wall of iron scaffolding that is about to crush his sweetheart, Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst). For reasons not worth going into here, a nuclear fireball burns nearby as the eight-limbed villain, Doc Ock (Alfred Molina) thrashes in his Miltonic death throes. Straining under the weight of the massive slab of iron, Spidey/Parker -- he's somewhere halfway between the two by this point, having dispensed with his red-and-blue disguise and revealed his human, bespectacled identity to those closest to him -- looks Mary Jane in the eye and says plaintively, "This is really heavy."
John Prendergrast, among others, has been all over the place trying to stop the Sudanese genocide in Darfur. I've seen him on Charlie Rose and on CSPAN speaking to a small college crowd at American University in DC. He's written op-eds for major newspapers and has appeared before House and Senate committees. Coupled with the efforts of Nicholas D. Kristof, Samantha Power, Julie Flint, Congressman Donald Payne and many, many others, enough pressure was put on the White House for it to name the beast. Secretary of State Colin Powell said "genocide" was occurring in Darfur, which must have been a first.

Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice say elections will go ahead in Iraq despite increased, pre-election violence by insurgents. The election in January will be another first and important milestone in the war on Islamic fundamentalism.

American soldiers and Iraqi police are venturing back into the Sunni triangle in what is essentially a war of attrition.
American forces entered the city of Samarra for the first time in months on Thursday, taking what appeared to be a small but significant step in their effort to regain control of contested Sunni areas north and west of the capital.

American commanders said their forces, accompanied by members of the Iraqi police and by national guard soldiers, drove into the city Thursday morning after gaining assurances from local Iraqi leaders that they would not be fired on. The local leaders said they sensed divisions within the insurgents' ranks between those who favored some accommodation with the Americans and those who rejected it, and felt secure enough to issue the temporary guarantee.
...

On Wednesday, in an interview with The Associated Press, Maj. Gen. John R. S. Batiste, the commander of the First Infantry Division, said his men were planning to go into Samarra whether they had a deal or not.

"It'll be a quick fight and the enemy is going to die fast," General Batiste said from his headquarters in Tikrit. "The message for the people of Samarra is: peacefully or not, this is going to be solved."
on this day in 1973

Didn't realize U2's One Tree Hill was partly about Chile:
And in the world a heart of darkness
A fire zone
Where poets speak their heart
Then bleed for it
Jara sang, his song a weapon
In the hands of love
You know his blood still cries
From the ground
(via Normblog)

Friday, September 10, 2004

Political Economy, Outsourcing and the American standard of living

Republican television journalist Lou Dobbs inveighs against offshore outsourcing in a new book. In a recent campaign speech, John Kerry attacked corporations again for sending jobs overseas. Daniel Drezner (pro outsourcing/free trade) writes about Paul A. Samuelson's new article which argues outsourcing will eventually lower America's standard of living.
So, in the end, I'm not convinced that Samuelson's dissent changes the substantive issues of debate. But as a political scientist, it is impossible to deny the extent to which Samuelson's article will alter the rhetorical balance of power in this policy debate. Samuelson will succeed in reigniting debate on this topic, as well as provide aid and comfort to those who wish oppose the practice of offshore outsourcing.
The New York Times article Drezner focuses on says
[Samuelson's] dissent from the mainstream economic consensus about outsourcing and globalization will appear later this month in a distinguished journal, cloaked in clever phrases and theoretical equations, but clearly aimed at the orthodoxy within his profession: Alan Greenspan, chairman of the Federal Reserve; N. Gregory Mankiw, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers; and Jagdish N. Bhagwati, a leading international economist and professor at Columbia University.
Bhagwati and two other economists have respdonded. Arnold Kling summarizes the draft version of their response as follows
The authors point out that some of the concern is not about trade per se but about the accumulation of capital and know-how in China and India. They suggest that this could harm the U.S. if it reduces trade by eliminating the division of labor. That is, suppose that the U.S. stays stagnant, but China and India learn how to do everything that we know how to do. Then they will no longer export cheap goods to us, and we will lose. This, they claim, is what Samuelson's theoretical paper describes. If so, then it does not really describe outsourcing.
However, the Times piece notes
According to Mr. Samuelson, a low-wage nation that is rapidly improving its technology, like India or China, has the potential to change the terms of trade with America in fields like call-center services or computer programming in ways that reduce per-capita income in the United States. "The new labor-market-clearing real wage has been lowered by this version of dynamic fair free trade," Mr. Samuelson writes.

But doesn't purchasing cheaper call-center or programming services from abroad reduce input costs for various industries, delivering a net benefit to the economy? Not necessarily, Mr. Samuelson replied. To put things in simplified terms, he explained in the interview, "being able to purchase groceries 20 percent cheaper at Wal-Mart does not necessarily make up for the wage losses."
The problematic concept is "net benefit." Wages and commodity prices are only part of the equation. Profits is the missing variable. If American wages lower and prices lower too (because of cheap foreign labor), but not as much, the difference goes to profits and capital. Some of this will go towards new investments, but some goes into the pockets of wealthy investors. To sum up, the wealthy pocket the difference when competition causes wages to fall, but prices don't fall to match the loss of purchasing power of wage earners. As Drezner should know, this is as much a matter of politics, class war to be specific, as of economics.

The rational solution wouldn't be protectionism, but rather staid social democratic reforms, you know, the kinds of things the IMF asks governments to cut in exchange for loans. But would it be "inefficient" for these reforms to improve wage earners' standard of living in tandem with rising productivity without messing with protectionism and international trade? What occurred during the period of 1946-1973 would suggest it wouldn't be. Foreign workers will gain from international trade, even if their governments are much more oppressive than ours, and not only is this fair and just, it will benefit American workers in the long run in numerous, synergistic ways if international solidarity can be maintained.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Chalabi worse than Uday and Qusay?
To some this is because Chalabi "misled us." Toby Young has a review of Graydon Carter's new anti-Bush book in the New York Observer.
This volte-face must have been fairly sudden, since in that very same issue there was another David Rose piece, this one based on interviews with a series of Iraqi defectors, in which he detailed the appalling crimes committed by Saddam Hussein’s sons, Uday and Qusay, including torture, rape and murder.

Mr. Rose’s meetings with these defectors, as well as Mohamed Harith, were arranged by the Iraqi National Congress, Ahmad Chalabi’s outfit, which has subsequently been exposed as a fount of pro-war misinformation. All the so-called intelligence passed on by these "defectors" is now regarded as unreliable, even by the C.I.A. If Graydon was opposed to the war in Iraq, why did he allow the imprimatur of Vanity Fair to be used to lend credibility to Mr. Chalabi’s anti-Saddam propaganda? Perhaps he changed his mind about the war in the interval between commissioning the Uday and Qusay article and sitting down to write his "Editor’s Letter." (emphasis added)
So Uday and Qusay weren't that bad in Young's view.... It's common knowledge the C.I.A. has hated Chalabi ever since he publically faulted them for screwing up a military coup attempt against Hussein in 1996. He had warned them that the coup plotters had been infiltrated and compromised but they didn't listen. Many, many Iraqis better than Uday and Qusay - not hard to find - died because of the C.I.A.'s ineptitude and arrogance. And people think Chalabi is arrogant.

William Safire's take on the C.I.A is unique. He bashes the intelligence agency constantly, and rightly so, but doesn't think it should be abolished as Senator Roberts has proposed.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Mine Enemy's Enemy

Naomi Klein of No Logo fame penned a column recently where she opines "And Muqtada al-Sadr and his followers are not just another group of generic terrorists out to kill Americans; their opposition to the occupation represents the overwhelmingly mainstream sentiment in Iraq."

Who besides Manichean conservatives are arguing they're "generic terrorists"? "Terrorist" is an imprecise term. Nelson Mandela was once on the State Department's terrorist list. The central questions, though, are how many Iraqis support Sadr, if so in what manner and to what degree, and is he right to make war on the US forces. Klein writes "Before Sadr's supporters began their uprising, they made their demands for elections and an end to occupation through sermons, peaceful protests and newspaper articles. US forces responded by shutting down their newspapers, firing on their demonstrations and bombing their neighborhoods. It was only then that Sadr went to war against the occupation."

From what I remember, Sadr's followers went to war after US forces tried to arrest their leader for murdering a rival cleric in Najaf. Leftists Marc Cooper, Norman Geras, and Doug Ireland have written about Klein's "enemy of my enemy is my friend" logic. It doesn't register with Klein that many Iraqis - many Shiites - don't agree with a logic that's often been proven disasterous. Ayatollah Sistani, who's much more representative of the Iraqi mainstream, brokered a cease-fire between the Mahdi army and the US. The Iranian-based Ayatollah Kazem al-Haeri, who was Sadr's mentor, has now withdrawn his support of Sadr. Both appreciate that Sadr isn't the way to democracy and an end to the occupation in Iraq.
Heather Havrilesky says she'll be blogging more often now that she's "swingle."

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Pattern Recognition
(or Fear and Loathing in Globalization)


William Gibson's Pattern Recognition gives Fredric Jameson a jouissance attack.
Cayce Pollard's talent, lying as it does halfway between telepathy and old-fashioned aesthetic sensibility, is in fact what suspends Gibson's novel between Science Fiction and realism and lends it its extraordinary resonance. To put it simply (as she does), Cayce's business is to 'hunt "cool"'; or in other words, to wander through the masses of now and future consumers, . . . in order mentally to detect the first stirrings of anything likely to become a trend or a new fashion. She has in fact racked up some impressive achievements, of which my favourite, mildly redolent of DeLillo, is the identification of the first person in the world to wear a baseball cap backwards (he is a Mexican). But these 'futures' are very much a business proposition, and Cayce is something like an industrial spy of times to come. 'I consult on design . . . Manufacturers use me to keep track of street fashion'; these modest formulas are a little too dry, and underplay the sheer physicality of this gift, which allows her to identify a 'pattern' and then to 'point a commodifier at it'.
...
But Cayce's gift is drawn back into our real (or realistic) world by the body itself; she must pay for it by the nauseas and anxiety attacks, the commodity bulimia which is the inevitable price of her premonitory sensibility—no doubt nourished by obscure traumas, of which the latest is her father's mysterious disappearance in Manhattan on the morning of 9/11. It is as if the other face of the 'coming attraction', its reification and the dead-end product of what was once an active process of consumption and desire itself, were none other than the logo.
...
These nauseas are part of Cayce's navigational apparatus, and they stretch back to some of the oldest logos still extant, such as her worst nightmare, Bibendum, the Michelin Man, which is like that crack through which the Lacanian Real makes its catastrophic appearance. 'National icons', on the other hand, ‘are always neutral for her, with the exception of Nazi Germany’s . . . a scary excess of design talent’.
(via Gawker interview with Sasha Frere-Jones)
No problem, as long as the neocons don't invade
Samantha Power writes about Darfur:
Neither President Bush nor Kofi Annan, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, spoke publicly about the killings in Darfur before March of this year, by which time some thirty thousand people had died as a result of ethnic cleansing.
Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis 2 is out. Here are the dates for her book tour.

Neal Pollack sells out
Maud Newton reports:
While the news is of little interest to me personally, Neal Pollack’s many fans may be interested to learn that the film rights to Never Mind The Pollacks, “the totally untrue adventures of Neal Pollack – world’s greatest living rock critic,” were sold last week to Warner Bros., for a price between $250k -$500k.
He better not beg us to buy his books anymore.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Icelandic system
"... a practice, supposedly based on child-rearing methods in medieval Iceland, of sending teenagers to live with other families in order to learn adult skills and behavior from grown-ups they have not yet learned to manipulate and despise."

This is Katha Pollitt's contribution to The Future Dictionary of America, a dictionary in the tradition of Gustave Flaubert's "Dictionary of Received Ideas," (1880), and Ambrose Bierce's "The Devil's Dictionary," (1911).

(via Newsday)
Not Quite
New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd usually hits on interesting issues and raises thought-provoking questions, but her conclusions are always off. In her latest, she quotes a sports columnist writing about American Olympic atheletes: "Somehow, intimidating others is motivating to them." Then, she attempts to tie this in with American foreign policy.
Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld thought they could change the American identity by invading Iraq, that they could toughen up our 'tude and remove the lingering post-Vietnam skittishness about force and the "blame America first" psychology.

They thought our shock-and-awe war would change America's image, adding some muscularity that would make Arab foes cower and the world bow down to the U.S. as an unassailable hyperpower.
This is no doubt an ancillary effect, but notice how she fails to mention 911. In his regular column, Fareed Zakaria hits on the more practical, material, real-world choice involved in the decision to liberate Iraq:
By the late 1990s, American policy on Iraq was becoming untenable. The U.N. sanctions had turned into a farce. Saddam was able to siphon off billions for himself, while the sanctions threw tens of thousands of ordinary Iraqis into poverty every year. Their misery was broadcast daily across the Arab world, inflaming public opinion. America and Britain were bombing Iraqi military installations weekly and maintaining a large garrison in Saudi Arabia, which was also breeding trouble. Osama bin Laden's biggest charges against the United States were that it was occupying Saudi Arabia and starving the Iraqi people.

Given these realities, the United States had a choice. It could either drop all sanctions and the containment of Iraq and welcome Saddam back into the world community. Or it had to hold him to account. Given what we knew about Saddam's past (his repeated attacks on his neighbors, the gassing of the Kurds, the search for nuclear weapons) and given what we thought we knew at the time (that his search for WMD was active), conciliation looked like wishful thinking. It still does. Once out of his box, Saddam would almost certainly have jump--started his programs and ambitions.
Democrats, from President Clinton to candidate Kerry, all agree with this. Its disingenuous for partisan liberals to deny it.

Granted, Dowd no doubt agrees with Zakaria that the choice made was executed poorly to say the least, given the US's resources. But it is just more disingenuousness to complain:
Iraq is making us wring our hands over whether to blast our way into Najaf and Falluja, quavering with uncharacteristic sensitivity even as the White House fires verbal mortars at the domestic enemy, John Kerry, for suggesting that we be more sensitive.
Does she want us to behave as Russia did in Chechnya and engage in a scorched earth policy? There's sensitivity and then there's sensitivity.
The new Pew Research Center poll finds the country ever more divided. "The public takes a paradoxical view of America's place in the world," the poll reports, with 45 percent of Americans saying the U.S. plays a more important and powerful role as world leader than it did 10 years ago, and 67 percent saying the U.S. is less respected.

The president who promised a humble foreign policy ended up with a foreign policy inflated by hubris - which is, after all, a Greek idea.
Perhaps the U.S. is playing a more important role as world leader - we are the only superpower - *and* is less respected. Furthermore, the loss of respect could be undeserved or deserved. Why is this a paradox?

In 2000, Bush also promised not to engage in nation-building, nor to halt Rwandan-style genocides. Here, he was playing to his provincial, conservative isolationist base, but 911 demonstrated what a hubristic, naive philosophy that base holds.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Invisible Hand Gives Invisible Middle Finger to the Unfortunate
ORLANDO, Fla., Aug. 17 - Greg Lawrence talks about the $10 bag of ice. Kenneth Kleppach says he was clipped for nearly three times the advertised price for a hotel room. And a man with a chain saw told Jerry Olmstead that he could clear the oak tree off his roof, but it would cost $10,500.

So much for a friendly, helping hand in a time of crisis. Since the winds of Hurricane Charley subsided, officials say a wave of price gouging has swept across central and southwest Florida, putting law enforcement officials into high gear and infuriating storm victims already faced with damaged homes, shuttered workplaces and long lines for basic commodities.

"Why do people try to capitalize on other people's hardship and misery," Mr. Olmstead asked as he fumed over the tree removal. "Of course it angers me. They see an opportunity and, fine, if you want to make a little money. But there's a limit. This is ludicrous."

Charlie Crist, Florida's attorney general, said Tuesday afternoon that he had received more than 1,400 complaints of overcharging from throughout the disaster area. This morning he filed formal complaints against the Crossroads Motor Lodge in Lakeland and the Days Inn Airport Hotel in West Palm Beach, accusing them of price gouging and deceptive business practices.

This past weekend I turned 34 and celebrated Thursday, Friday and Saturday with Gen Y A.(we're sort of together again). Sunday was a day of recovery and sloth, culminating in a viewing of Under the Tuscan Sun which stars Diane Lane. The movie was surprisingly good given the plot and premise, mostly because of the intelligent, charming Lane. Her character hires some Polish laborers to fix up a Tuscan house she purchased and one of them gives her a book by Polish poet and Nobel laureate Czeslaw Milosz who coincidently died on Saturday.
When Communism was smashed in Poland, Mr. Milosz returned to what he called "the country of my first immigration." Arriving in Warsaw after an absence of three decades, he received a hero's welcome. Mr. Milosz was regarded as one of the world's literary immortals. When he chose, he walked and talked with the great men of his time, but he remained humble.
I once had the pleasure of seeing him read in college. He had some great lines, like in his poem No Way Out where he says Irony is the "glory of slaves."
The always interesting but rather sedate Josh Micah Marshall is getting a kick out of Alan Keyes, the Republican candidate for the open Illinois senate seat. He posts about him almost every day.

For those who are unfamiliar with Keyes, here's Peter Bagge's report on him from the 2000 Republican presidential primaries.

Keyes is one of those politicians who enjoys engaging in hyperbole and must drive the professional political consultants batty. For instance, in an unusual pitch to Illinois's apathatic non-voters, Keyes argued US Senate candidates shouldn't be directly elected.

Saturday, August 07, 2004

Tucker Carlson had Wonkette's Ana Marie Cox on his show when they were both covering the Democrats' convention.

I'll never forget how Carlson reported that candidate Bush mocked Karla Fay Tucker, the Christian fundamentalist who was on Texas's death row at the time. Bush impersonated her saying "Please don't kill me" which Carlson found odd.

In his latest collection, he has a good piece on Dick Morris's fall from grace. Morris was caught with a prostitute and actually had a phone conversation with President Clinton while the hooker sucked his toes, according to her.
Christopher Buckley wrote a perceptive take on the Democratic convention.
On Tuesday night there was the Senate minority leader, Tom Daschle, on the podium saying - I wrote it down - "Americans aren't asking for special deals from Washington!" That giant snorting sound you heard was a year's worth of California chardonnay being expelled from the nasal passages of 15,000 K Street lobbyists.
He's predicting the Republicans will put on doozy of a show, too.
For the Red Team next month, I see a darkened Madison Square Garden. On the huge screen above the stage, dramatic images of American tanks roaring into Baghdad, the speakers suddenly booming Queen's "We Will Rock You!"

The Atlantic Monthly has an interview with him.

(via Bookslut)
21st Century Franz Ferdinand
In his Op-Ed, Jeffrey Goldberg reports Israel's extreme right wing are openly discussing their desire to kill Ariel Sharon.
Avi Dichter, the chief of the Israeli internal security service, has been for months running around - to borrow a phrase from George Tenet - with his hair on fire over the threat. He has warned of the potential for attacks against the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aksa Mosque, on the Temple Mount; such a strike, he said, would set off global war between Muslim and Jew - a goal the radical yeshivas of the West Bank share with Al Qaeda.
Here are some letters to the editor about the piece.

Scotland's Franz Ferdinand will be touring the States in September.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Amy Poehler, comic genius, was on Celebrity Poker. She's silly cubed.

Saturday, July 31, 2004

The Group of 20 extracts concessions from the "Capitalist Center"

Do I detect a change of direction in the winds? Ever since the Battle of Seattle, respectable opinion has focused on American, European, and Japanese agricultural subsidies - to a tune of $300 billion a year - as the great injustice of the global economic system. Almost 5 years later, the poor nations of the world, led by Brazil, China and India, have convinced the US and EU to confront their powerful agriculture lobbies.
Although the proposed deal would only create a framework for further talks, it would for the first time commit the European Union to eliminating its controversial farm export subsidies

and

The United States yielded to pressure from developing countries on Friday and agreed to make a 20 percent cut in some of the $19 billion in subsidies it pays to American farmers each year.

This during an election year, no less.

Not everyone was satisfied with the concessions. A delegate from the Dominican Republic said the proposed framework agreement was still a betrayal of developing countries. And Celine Charveriat, head of Oxfam International in Geneva, said that the rich countries could create new subsidies by using loopholes in the agreement.

Laurens Jan Brinkhorst, the Dutch economy minister and chairman of a delegation of ministers from the European Union, disagreed. He argued that the proposed agreement reflected the growing muscle of the developing world, especially of countries like Brazil, China and India.

"The world has changed; we now live in a truly global world,'' he said, adding that these developing nations had changed the geopolitical boundaries of the talks and forced the new agreement.


I thought the Bush administration was chronically unilateralist. What gives? Even the hated WTO is impinging on our beloved rogue state's sovereignty:


Since the failure of the talks in Cancún, the United States lost a case brought by Brazil that challenged its cotton subsidies as illegal. That case, before the World Trade Organization's dispute body, could force the United States to lower its cotton subsidies even without these negotiations.


The trade talks aren't a done deal, however.

But talks could run aground on such issues as how much Japan can protect its rice or Norway its dairy products. Celso Amorim, the top trade negotiator for Brazil and an important negotiator here, said there were still several disputes to be resolved.

If the talks succeed, they are expected to lead to as much as a $3 trillion gain in the world economy.

Oh, is that all?

Friday, July 30, 2004

"... rallying a nation of television viewers to hysteria, to sweep us up into the White House with powers that will make martial law seem like anarchy!"

Hard to believe I was unfamiliar with this line from the orginal Manchurian Candidate until I came across it reading about the remake. It has a little more "umph" now that government officials regularly predict another atrocity on US soil before the Presidential election.

What always struck me about the original was the brainwashing sequences in the Soviet/Chinese military hospital. The white, brainwashed American soldier saw a room full of white women in place of the Chinese and Soviet brass, whereas the black soldier saw a room full of black women.

This reminded me of the Xenophanes quote about religion:

Ethiopians imagine their gods as black and snub-nosed; Thracians blue-eyed and red-haired. But if horses or lions had hands, or could draw and fashion works as men do, horses would draw the gods shaped like horses and lions like lions, making the gods resemble themselves.


A film about Che Guevara is in development. Steven Soderbergh will direct and Benicio Del Toro is rumored to be playing Guevara, which gives me chills. Remember Del Toro's Academy Award winning performance as a Mexican cop in Traffic? He was also memorably intense in China Moon and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Not to mention 21 Grams.

The excellent actor Javier Bardem will also be in the cast. He starred in the wonderful films The Dancer Upstairs and Before Night Falls.


Thursday, July 22, 2004

Mass Delusion

Francis Wheen has a new book out titled How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World.  He wrote a fascinating and entertaining biography of that great debunker and theoretician Karl Marx, so I'd be surprised if his new one isn't wonderful as well. Recently, the Guardian published his list of Top Ten Modern Delusions.

Julian Sanchez interviews Martha Nussbaum


Thursday, July 15, 2004

oh well

For those keeping track, my relationship with "Generation Y gal" A. didn't work out. Must have been my mild case of Lackadasia.

Looking back, the past three months do seem like one of those too-good-to-be-true TV commercials, you know, where a couple is giddily running slo-mo through the green fields and it's a beautiful spring/summer day. Usually it's an ad for tampons or diamonds or some other non sequitur product. I believe Beck used this archetypal footage in one of his videos.

The Minor Fall, The Major Lift has been one of the things cheering me up, so keep him in mind if a relationship of yours abruptly ends. Who says blogs are overrated?! They do keep your mind fairly occupied, when it might otherwise be frantically romanticizing the recent past and raking you over the coals.


Monday, July 12, 2004

The passing of Marlon Brando causes Heather Havrilesky to do a little Rabbitblogging in her Salon column.

She's sort of a younger, less-political, whackier version of Barbara Ehrenreich. Ehrenreich is a guest columnist for the New York Times this month which caused Timothy Noah to start a "Draft Ehrenreich" movement amongst Times readers. She did once write for Time magazine.
 
This New York Times Magazine article on graphic novels includes a nice interactive feature.

Saturday, July 03, 2004

Irony in Iraq
It's easy to forget the reptiles whose power allows them to be the cause of so much suffering and fear are merely flesh and blood like you and me, however chilly their blood is. Stripped of power, they inevitably come across as shrunken and pathetic.

Saddam Hussein and much of the former Baath leadership appeared before the Iraqi Special Tribune this past week.
During the long months that most of the defendants had been held, they appeared to have had little or no information about what was happening in Iraq. One man, Abid Hamid Mahmud al-Tikriti, 56, a former bodyguard and secretary to Mr. Hussein, named the Iraqi he would like as his lawyer, only to look puzzled at the chuckles about him in the court. The man in question, Malik Dohan al-Hassan, was named justice minister recently in Iraq's new interim government.

Saturday, June 26, 2004

Kinky Republicans
I for one would have voted for him. Jack Ryan, the Republican candidate for Illinois's open Senate seat, has dropped out of the race. The Republican establishment withdrew support after a judge granted the request of both the Chicago Tribune and a Chicago TV station that the court documents pertaining to his divorce be unsealed. They revealed he had a penchant for "sex clubs" and that he repeatedly tried to get his wife at the time to engage in exhibitionist behavior at said clubs even though she wasn't into that sort of thing. The last straw for her occurred when he brought her to a Paris sex club (those French!) without telling her ahead of time exactly where they were going. ("Surprise!") She was reduced to tears according to the court documents. Apparently Ryan wasn't forthcoming with the Republican leadership either, or else - unlikely - they knew and doubted his divorce papers would ever be released.

Ryan defended himself in Clintonian and legalistic terms by first saying he didn't want to release the court documents in order to protect his 9-year-old son. (From what? No wonder the press took the time and energy to find out what his son needed protection from.) His peccadilloes on display, Ryan argued that, hey, he hadn't broken any laws or marriage vows. Furthermore he hadn't broken any of the Ten Commandments. Yes there is no Commandment that Thou Shalt Not Engage in Coitus in Front of Strangers, but no doubt it would encourage others to covet his attractive wife. And encouraging others to break Commandments is frowned upon amongst the faithful, so he had to go. (Painful admission: Ryan's highly covetable former wife, Jeri Ryan, played a humorless, skin-tight uniform-wearing cybernetic "Borg" named "Seven of Nine" on the TV show Star Trek. I used to affectionately refer to her as "Two by Four" when discussing with friends and family members her character's quest to find out what it means to be human.)

Ryan's real sin was that he's a paid member of the Upright Citizen's Brigade and valuing sex in front of strangers at Le Club de Sade isn't "Family Values" to your average Republican voter. Part of his campaign stump speech was a charge that his opponent didn't represent the mainstream values of Illinois voters. Live by the sword, die by the sword.

It's been a great week for Illinois politicos. The mainstream media picked up on a story Salon broke that Rep. Danny K. Davis, D-Ill., gave Rev. Sun Myung Moon - fruitcake extraordinaire and owner of the Washington Times and UPI wire service - a bejeweled crown at a March 23rd "coronation ceremony" held at the Dirksen Senate Office Building. Also in attendance were many politicians from both parties who quickly resorted to Ryan-like excuses for participating in the bizarre event.
Afterward, Moon told his bipartisan audience of Washington power players he would save everyone on Earth as he had saved the souls of Hitler and Stalin -- the murderous dictators had been born again through him, he said. In a vision, Moon said the reformed Hitler and Stalin vouched for him, calling him "none other than humanity's Savior, Messiah, Returning Lord and True Parent."
Persepolis 2
Entertainment Weekly reports:
Artist-writer Marjane Satrapi, 34, follows her debut about growing up in Iran during the Islamic revolution - heraled as the most relevant comic-book memoir since Holocaust masterpiece Maus - with an equally witty graphic novel (out Aug. 31) about her stoner school years in Europe and feisty return to her homeland. HER MAUS PROBLEM "I called [author Art Spiegelman] to apologize - to tell him that's it's not me who is comparing myself to him. I said, 'If I were you, I would hate me.' That's the way we became friends." NEXT Embroideries, in which a group of women sip tea and talk about sex; directing an animated Persepolis for early '07.
Icepick to the back of the head
One concept I've struggled with is that of human rights organizations and NGOs as the medieval "mendicants" of our globalizing age. It's a charge that they really don't solve fundamental problems or get at the root of things. They just ease the pain. But is that all they do? By easing the pain, do they also keep a chaotic, Hobbesian world from fully emerging? Over forty years ago, Alasdair MacIntyre wrote in Out of Apathy:
Two images have been with me throughout the writing of this essay. Between them they seem to show the alternative paths for the intellectual. The one is of J. M. Keynes, the other of Leon Trotsky. Both were obviously men of attractive personality and great natural gifts. The one the intellectual guardian of the established order, providing new policies and theories of manipulation to keep our society in what he took to be economic trim, and making a personal fortune in the process. The other, outcast as a revolutionary from Russia both under the Tsar and under Stalin, providing throughout his life a defense of human activity, of the powers of conscious and rational human effort. I think of them at the end, Keynes with his peerage, Trotsky with an icepick in his skull. They are the twin lives between which intellectual choice in our society lies.
In St. Petersburg, Russia the other day, a 64-year-old anti-fascist received an icepick to the head, so to speak. Unlike Trotsky, Nikolai M. Girenko might have been considered an informant for the state, but like Trotsky he was a foe of Russia's "White" xenophobic, anti-Semitic tradition.
A year and a half ago, Nikolai M. Girenko wrote a booklet to guide prosecutors and police officers investigating the explosion of ethnically motivated crimes by skinheads, neo-Nazis and other hate groups. It may be needed to solve his killing.

On June 19, two young men came to his apartment here and rang the doorbell. When his daughter Katerina asked from the other side of the door what they wanted, they asked for him by name. When he approached, they shot him through the wooden door. He slumped to the floor of the apartment's small foyer and died within minutes. He was 64.

Through the peephole, Katerina saw only the shadowy silhouettes of her father's killers, but she had little doubt who they were.

"It could only be these fascists," she said.
[...]
"When I tried to talk him out of getting involved in politics, he said, `If not me, who else?' " Mr. Girenko's wife, Valentina, said in an interview in their apartment, where he was born and lived most his life.
[...]
"Nikolai," she said, "was one of the last of the Mohicans."

She said Mr. Girenko had received threats in the past, so many that he no longer bothered to report them to the police, who ignored them anyway. His other daughter, Sophia, pregnant with Mr. Girenko's fifth grandchild, said her father was always calm and understanding, rarely speaking with anger. "Even if there were threats," she said, "Father would never have told us."

Sunday, June 20, 2004

Saturday, June 19, 2004

Superhuman agents of Evil
(or the Ubermensch)


It's amazing that Ahmad Chalabi, tough as he is, could have bested George "Slam Dunk" Tenet and his $400 Billion per year CIA in the recent Great Games in the Middle East. Sure he had friends in high places, but still. Chalabi and the neocons have superhuman powers according to the fevered imaginations of some conspiracy theorists.

Lyndon LaRouche and his cult followers have done nothing but given me more sympathy for Israel's cause. Osama bin Laden and his serial beheaders have had a similar effect.

This is why the New York Times's recent coverage of the final 911 Commission hearings and a Michiko Kakutani review gave me pause. The Wall Street Journal made no mention of the following, which filled me with unease:
In Afghanistan, Mr. Atta quickly achieved high status, pledging "bayat" or allegiance to Mr. bin Laden, who made him the operation's leader. The two men discussed targets for the attack. One commission report, based on the interrogation of Mr. bin al-Shibh, said the two men identified "the World Trade Center, which represented the U.S. economy; the Pentagon, a symbol of the U.S. military and the U.S. Capitol, the perceived source of U.S. policy in support of Israel."
and
For instance, Mr. bin Laden, Al Qaeda's top leader, initially pushed for a date of May 12, 2001, exactly seven months after terrorists attacked the American destroyer Cole in Yemen. Then, when he learned that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel would visit the White House in June or July, Mr. bin Laden pressed to amend the timetable.
And Kakutani writes:
What he does focus on is the role that Israel has played in shaping American policy. Mr. Bamford contends that "the blueprint for the new Bush policy" on the Middle East "had actually been drawn up five years earlier by three of his top national security advisers" (Richard Perle, Douglas Feith and David Wurmser) for the Israeli prime minister at the time, Benjamin Netanyahu (who rejected the plan), and that when they entered office in January 2001, all these hawks needed was "a pretext" for war against Iraq. Citing a report from the British newspaper The Guardian, Mr. Bamford adds that the Office of Special Plans, a Pentagon unit set up by Mr. Feith, "forged close ties to a parallel, ad hoc intelligence unit within Ariel Sharon's office in Israel," which "was designed to go around the country's own intelligence organization, Mossad."
Why did Netanyahu, a leader of the Greater Israel movement, reject the plan I wonder?
Realists (i.e. "Pragmatists" or running dogs
of the Status Quo) versus Dreamers (i.e. "agents of
change" or troublemakers)
or the Years of Living Dangerously


In our evolving post-Cold War world, where that mixed bag of Capitalism and globalization appears beyond challenge, oppressive regimes often face women leaders as perpetual thorns in their sides. Myanmar (Burma) is still contending with Aung San Suu Kyi. Turkey finally bent to international pressure last week and released Kurdish leader Leyla Zana from prison.

Iran's Shirin Ebadi recently gained international stature by winning the 2003 Noble Peace Prize. For years she was known as one of the "Three Musketeers." Her two other female comrades were Mehrangiz Kar, a more secular human rights and family lawyer, and Shahla Lahidji, an outspoken publisher specializing in books about women. (The Iranian regime managed to intimidate Lahidji into silence and Kar into immigrating to the US.)

Ebadi just did a tour of North America and granted an interview to a friend of mine. Along with University of Ottawa professor Amir Attaran, she penned an Op-Ed for the New York Times. The gist of their argument is that the World Bank should take loans away from antidemocratic countries and give them to democratic countries.
Thus the bank's "pragmatic" justification to lend money to oppressive governments is absurd. It amounts to giving secretive, frequently kleptocratic dictatorships priority — before the democracies have their fill. This handicaps both the citizens and leaders who together shoulder the hard work of sustaining democracies.

Instead, the bank should devise a kind of human rights scorecard. At a minimum, it should include the civil freedoms (of expression, of the press, of women) and the social and economic freedoms (access to health, education and property). The bank should monitor these freedoms and refuse to aid any country that violates them.
The kleptocratic dictatorship of Indonesia's Suharto finally gave way when the US withdrew its support during the Asian financial crisis. Currently, the former opposition leader Megawati Sukarnoputri is President.

Sukarnoputri recently reverted to Suharto-like tactics by expelling Sidney Jones, an American expert on Jemaah Islamiyah, Indonesia's chief terrorist group. During the 1980s Jones was an Amnesty International activist and worked for Human Right Watch for 14 years subsequently. She developed numerous contacts with the radical Islamic opposition which was being hounded into submission by Suharto at the time.

Just goes to show, pace the hard Chomkyean left, that the successors to Cold War-era, anti-communist, Western-backed regimes aren't necessarily American puppet states. In a some ways blindly naive column critical of candidate Kerry's foreign policy "realism," David Brooks writes about Cuba dissident Oswaldo Payá:
Then in the mid-1990's, he and other dissidents exploited a loophole in the Cuban Constitution that allows ordinary citizens to propose legislation if they can gather 10,000 signatures on a petition. They began a petition drive to call for a national plebiscite on five basic human rights: free speech, free elections, freedom to worship, freedom to start businesses, and the freeing of political prisoners.

This drive, the Varela Project, quickly amassed the 10,000 signatures, and more. Jimmy Carter lauded the project on Cuban television. The European Union gave Payá its Sakharov Prize for human rights.
Brooks writes that Kerry said he believed the Varela Project was "counterproductive" and a provocation.
The Worse, the Better ... the Worse

Sean Rocha writes about Isarel's impending withdrawal from Gaza:

More than that, the Palestinian left fears chaos in Gaza. Where the Israelis look to Lebanon for their precedents, the Palestinians look to South Africa: To them, the Israeli policy of laying siege to the PA, on the one hand, and assassinating Hamas leaders, on the other, seems designed to ensure that no effective Palestinian administration of any type can emerge, much as the South African apartheid government covertly fuelled civil wars in Mozambique and Angola and then told scared South African whites that that was the brutal chaos they would get if they opted for black rule.

Sunday, June 06, 2004

"You have over $40,000," she said, "in bar charges."

Did I? "Let me see those again," I said. Her expression softened to pity. I glanced again at the documents. Sure enough. This chick had a good eye.

"You need help," she said.

"I know," I replied. "That's why I'm here."

"You need help with your drinking," she said.

"Oh, that!" I said, finally understanding. ''No, I'm O.K. in that department. I mean, I drink a lot. But I'm in advertising, you know? And it's not like I black out -- it's more like a brownout. Besides, I never get hung over."

She became tender, which shocked me because I was unaccustomed to tenderness in any form besides sirloin steak. "Sweetie, you are hung over. Can't you see that?"

And truthfully, I just couldn't.

Bonzo goes to heaven (and is playing with your pet dog that died last year. Dave Dellinger is strumming an acoustic guitar on a nearby cloud.)

I'm writing while extremely hungover, no doubt a mistake, but I had such a doozy of a day yesterday, I had to write.

The Printer's Row Book Fair is this weekend and yesterday started at 10:00 a.m. with an Augusten Burroughs reading. (Very funny and moving). Then a few beers. At Noon, there was Aleksandar Hemon & David Bezmozgis (very moving and funny). After leaving that I ran into a favorite coworker (very beautiful and funny). A few more beers. At 1:30, Thomas Frank & Laura Kipnis tag-teamed the reigning, pompous conventional wisdom at the nearby Harold Washington library. At 4:00 I caught the charming Elizabeth Berg, whom Burroughs had recommended. Then more drinking.

I drink so much I think it might be a good idea to head out to Oak Park to try to catch Dave Sedaris, but I arrived late to discover the bookstore overflowing with people and headed to the nearest bar instead where a 40-year-old woman generously offered me some of her calamari and told me about the wonders of Deepak Choprah. (Where upon I learned Ronald Reagan had slipped this mortal coil.) Then home sweet home.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Chalabi and Iraq, and then some
Newsday's take on Ahmad Chalabi, that he was (is?) working for part of the Axis of Evil, is a smear being spread by the CIA's George Tenet according to Chalabi and his supporters, like William Safire:
Since 1996, the C.I.A. has hated him with a passion. In that year, our spooks egged on Iraqi officers to overthrow Saddam. Chalabi claims to have warned that the plotters had been penetrated, and when the coup failed and a hundred heads rolled, he dared to blame the C.I.A. for bloody ineptitude. This is at the root of his detestation by Tenet & Company and the agency's subsequent rejection of most Iraqi sources of intelligence offered by Chalabi's group.
The wonderful journalist Ahmed Rashid has a great piece on the CIA's ineptitude in regards to the rise of bin Laden. However, he feels regime change in Iraq was a diversion from the project of nation-building in Afghanistan. (Rashid's two books, Taliban and Jihad are fascinating and well worth the read. Although, he tends to employ the archaic "whilst" a lot in his writing. Maybe he's just being cheeky.)

Rashid is based in Lahore, Pakistan, and must be encouraged by the recent election in neighboring India. India's stock market, though, took a dive on news that a less globalization-friendly government was taking power. (It's Thomas Friedman's "golden straightjacket" in action.) India's poor, rural voters mobilized and tossed out the Hindu nationalist, foreign investment friendly governing coalition. Another theory is that India's voters tend to vote out incumbents on a regular basis, but there is little doubt that the fruits of India's growing economy weren't trickling down to the lower classes. Back here in our own secular, multicultural, gigantic democracy, Thomas Geoghegan suggests ways to mobilize voters. Perhaps India's impressive election overseers can help out the Iraqis with their first election in years.