"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

Saturday, April 10, 2004

Sometimes I'll watch the Fox News Network - because they're fun in a goofy, gung-ho way - and today they had a panel awaiting the White House's PDF file of the August 6th, 2001 President's Daily Briefing which came up in the 911 Commission hearings.

The panel included a woman who reminded me of a go-go, chubby sorority gal, a charming, nerdy, young Republican/national security expert guy, and, alas, Geraldo Rivera. The fake-looking-in-a-TV-news-anchor-way moderator let the audience know that he'd read the page and half PDB as soon as the PDF hit his monitor, which would be any minute. So everyone was speculating on its contents, except for Geraldo who was pontificating in dramatic fashion. All the while old glory flies up in the corner of tube.

Mr. young Republican made an interesting point which I had heard before. The "muscle" of the group that hijacked the planes weren't aware they were on a suicide mission according to a captured al-Qaida heavy. There may be other sources for that, I don't know. So, obviously only a very few people knew what was coming.

Still, as Ms. chubby, sorority gal pointed out, mistakes were made which is why the 911 Commission was a good idea however partisan it becomes. The moderator receives the PDF and reads it out loud. Apparently, Bush, who was aware of al-Qaida's numerous attacks overseas, wanted a briefing on a possible attack on the "homeland." The PDB said "Clandestine, foreign government, and media reports indicate Bin Laden since 1997 has wanted to conduct terrorist attacks in the US.'' Bin Laden implied in U.S. television interviews in 1997 and 1998 that his followers would follow the example of World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef and "bring the fighting to America.'' Al-Qaida members, some of them American citizens, had lived in or traveled to the United States for years, the memo said. Also, bin Laden wanted to retaliate for Clinton's attempt to assassinate him with cruise missiles in 1998.

So, something was coming and National Security Advisor Rice told the 911 Commission that protecting "the homeland" from al-Qaida was delegated to the FBI. (They were "tasked" with it. The Democratic Commissioners argued there are no records of the FBI being "tasked.") The CIA was following foreign leads. She was working on a plan to get Pakistan to crack down on Afghanistan, al-Qaida's base. It seems to me the fault lies with both the Clinton and Bush administrations, specifically and obviously the National Security Apparatus in both, for not gauging the severity of the coming threat.

Later, I caught The McGlaughlin Group on PBS. The wonderful James Warren of the Chicago Tribune happened to be on and said he didn't think the PDB/Condi vs. Richard Clarke drama would register with people outside the Beltway. Who they'll vote for will depend on the state of the economy and Iraq.

Perhaps Attorney General John Aschroft, who testifies next week, will get the axe over this. That would be great if they dumped the Christian Right's guy because of some right-wing Islamic nutjobs.
Separated at Birth
911 Commissioner and former Illinois Governor James Thompson and former Illinois Governor George Ryan look as if they could be related. Both are ruddy, jowly and tend to scowl (except when posing for photos). Both also have a reputation for corruption. Must be something in the water.

Another gruff, jowly fellow, Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, seems to have taken a page from George Ryan's playbook. Facing possible indictment for corruption, the general who was ultimately responsible for the 1982 massacres in Sabra and Shatila has now proposed unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank, thereby infuriating the right wing and the settler movement he helped found. His supporters will argue that the law enforcement bureaucracy, which is generally more dovish, should not indict him during this critical time.

The conservative George Ryan was facing an ever-expanding corruption probe while governor and decided to make a play for the state's liberals by declaring a moratorium on the death penalty and emptying the state's death row. He was recently indicted anyway which might not bode well for Sharon.
Foreign Hordes
Looks like xenophobia will play an important part in the Presidential election "drama." (Apologies for the following geeky, strained analogy).

Capital, or if you like, the elite who gather annually at the World Economic Forum in Davos, scours the globe for cheap labor like Sauron's red, searchlight Eye in Lord of the Rings.

America's economy, a besieged fortress like Helm's Deep or Minas Tirith, frantically attempts to ward off wave attacks of Orc-like darkies, i.e. Latino immigrants and white collar job-stealing Indians.

And, a stretch I know, when told the dusky Iraqis desperately need help shedding tyranny and building anew, many Americans give the same answer a bitter, war-weary King Theoden spits at Aragorn after his plea that Gondor urgently needs Rohan's assistance, "They need our help?! What have they ever done for us?!"

Meanwhile, the Naz-ghoul-like Al Qaeda circle overhead.

Rick Perlstein, author of Before the Storm (which you should read if you haven't), gets into the weeds to write about the X-factor of the political season, outsourcing.

I'm not sure of this, but I believe J.R.R. Tolkein used South Africa as a model for his Middle Earth. Elves were a stand-in for the British, Humans for the less-cultivated Boer/Afrikaners, and Orcs, of course, for the surrounding sea of African natives. The wizard Sauramon, perhaps, was a stand-in for "Uncle Joe" Slovo and the Commie provocateurs.

In our world, obviously, the Orcs were victorious; shed tyranny and oppression; and now work to build anew in a South Africa where politics, as in Iraq, has returned for good. (No doubt, smarty-pantses will point to the recent violence in Iraq as evidence of the absence of politics. My rejoinder: "In a split between U.S.-picked Iraqi leaders and American administrators, the Governing Council demanded an immediate cease-fire across the country Friday and a halt to military operations that punish civilians." And a cease-fire was declared.)

Jennifer Abrahamson writes in Slate about how the Orcs and Goblins are faring 10 years after overthrowing apartheid:

Rapping Against the ANC

Truth and Reconciliation on Robben Island

From the Frontline to the Bottom Line

Saving Grace

This Land is Our Land

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Switched On!
It's been a good month, personally. In the realm of the written word, Lorrie Moore passsed through town which was completely mind-blowing..

Then Stereolab decides to tour, absent Mary Hansen who was hit by a car while riding her bicycle in London about a year and half ago.

Their show tonight was completely mind-blowing, even sans Mary, who was the most friendly, out-going member of the group. They played a song that was quintessentially Mary, "Nihilist Assault Group." One of the many wonderful things about Stereolab is their creative song titles, like "Exploding Head Movie" and "International Coloring Contest."
Distinction with a difference
Reason republished a piece Jonathan Rauch wrote for the National Journal about how "Like it or not, Israel's war with Hamas is America's, too."

I'm not an expert on the Middle East, but my impression is it isn't our war even if we give Israel a ton in foreign aid and Bush gives Sharon a free hand.

Says Rauch, "... America's terror war and Israel's are not separable, however much we might wish they were."

And later he contradicts himself, "Although Hamas has concentrated on Israeli interests while Al Qaeda concentrated on American ones, even that gap is narrowing—inevitably, now that America is making a priority of bringing secular democracy to the Middle East." Secular democracy? Afghanistan, a guide here, has Islam written into its new constitution and Iraq's will certainly have references to Islam as well, given Ayattolah Ali Sistani's pull and the majority Shia population.

Ask yourself which American interests Al Qaeda is concentrating on and why. Compare the experience of the Palestinians, who are fighting the Israelis over contested land, as described by a Middle East expert:
During the first intifada, in the late 1980s, the Palestinians denied themselves the recourse to arms, mounted a civil resistance, produced voices like Hanan Ashrawi and greatly stirred world opinion. For this they were offered some noncontiguous enclaves within an Israeli-controlled and Israeli-settled condominium. Better than nothing, you might say. But it's the very deal the Israeli settlers reject in their own case, and they do not even live in Israel "proper." (They just have the support of the armed forces of Israel "proper.") So now things are not so nice and many Palestinians have turned violent and even--whatever next?--religious and fanatical. Naughty, naughty. No self-determination for you. And this from those who achieved statehood not by making nice but as a consequence of some very ruthless behavior indeed.
The Bad Old Days
Gordon Wood, the historian Will Hunting name drops in Good Will Hunting, writes about the letters between Founding Father John Adams and his wife Abigail. The two had a special thing compared to the other Founding Fathers' marriages and most marriages of the time.
It is difficult for us today to appreciate how different that patriarchal eighteenth century was, not just in its general acceptance of slavery but also in its treatment of women. Women rarely had an independent existence, at least in law. In public records they were usually referred to as the "wife of," or the "daughter of," or the "sister of," a man. Before marriage, women legally belonged to their fathers, and after marriage they belonged to their husbands. A married woman was a femme covert: she could not sue or be sued, make contracts, draft wills, or buy and sell property. It went without saying that women could not hold political office or vote. They were considered to be dependent like children, and their husbands often treated them like children. A husband might address his wife as "dear Child" or by her Christian name, but he would be addressed in return as "Mr."
Nader vs. Kerry
Dan Johnson-Weinberger was Nader's Illinois manager during the 2000 election but is now pulling for Kerry.

His blog links to Eric Zorn's Notebook (registration required). Zorn is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune and exemplifies everything wrong with the official Left. Maybe I'm being unfair and Zorn is a smart, knowledgable guy, but his columns almost always cause my eyes to glaze over.

Still, no doubt he helped in a small way to get Illinois to raise its minimum wage.
Advance ticket sales
Tickets go on sale Saturday at noon for the November 13th(!) Pixies show at the Scare-agon Brawlroom here in Chicago.

Monday, April 05, 2004

There's no denying it, I've fallen for Drea de Matteo. (What's a weblog for, but to list your crushes for the world to see). I'm not made of wood. In the latest episode of the Sopranos, her character Adrianna almost hooks up with the mob boss Tony, even though she's engaged to his #2, Chris-tuh-fuh, as she calls him.

Tony is recently separated but nonetheless, the plot line reminded me of something from Martin Amis's novel "Yellow Dog." Joseph Andrews is a high-end porno producer and - sorta like Tony - a semi-retired London crime boss.
'Crazy 'Jo', it turns out, was in the habit of 'doing' his favourite lieutenants' 'birds', and if the lieutenants complained he'd 'do' them as well, though in a different sense. 'Hey Jo. You want to stuff my bird so you can pretend you're me?' suggests Keith the Snake, the most favoured lieutenant of all. 'You want to stuff my bird so you can pretend you're her?' Earlier on, there's an allusion to the scene in Blue Velvet in which the sex-crazed villain, Frank Booth, shows that he's in love with his disturbing associate Ben. But the movie never spells it out, unlike Yellow Dog. 'He wants to have them so he does them,' Xan says. 'And has their wives.' 'Mm,' his interlocutor says. 'Hence the love of pain: he's correcting himself for it.'
I'll never forget a dinner where activist professor Rashid Khalidi confessed he couldn't understand what his son saw in the The Sopranos. The encyclopedic polymath Christopher Hitchens added he didn't like it either, but then he doesn't watch TV. He does go to movies and didn't care for Tom Cruise's Last Samurai.

Sunday, April 04, 2004

Give 'Em Hell
Hellboy deserves the accolades it's been receiving. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie even though it hit a little too close to home and I was slightly hung-over at the time.

Hellboy is a demon from Hell who was discovered when he was a small kid by a British paranormal specialist and raised to fight on the side of good. Now (mostly) grown up, he works for a secret government agency and has a bit of an attitude problem. (Understandable seeing as how he's freaky-looking demon with a tail. He does try to "fit in" by sanding down his horns and cracking wise with his fellow human agents.) His coworker freaks include a psychic fish-person and Liz, a Sylvia Plath-like firestarter played by Selma Blair. Hellboy has a crush on Liz and only lets down his macho cheekiness guard when she's around.

Will Liz try to be more "normal" and date the new team member/FBI agent John Myers or will she walk on the wild side and embrace her "outsiderness" by taking a chance on Hellboy? Can the team stop German and Russian fascists from bringing on a H.P. Lovecraftian apocalypse? I won't ruin it for you.
Peter Bergen, who often appears on CNN, and Scott Armstrong, founder of the indispensible National Security Archive, suggest questions for Dr. Rice.

They are particularly hawkish in regards to Afghanistan and the Taliban. Bergen suggests we should have invaded immediately instead of waiting for a couple of months (can you imagine the resulting outcry from the anti-war people?). Armstrong wants to ask Dr. Rice why we don't have more troops in Afghanistan. Maybe because they're all in Iraq?