"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

Monday, November 28, 2005

CyberMonday (or virtual shoppers, reality-based debtors)

Just when you thought the Holiday season couldn't get any worse, a new word is given birth. Just kidding. No, but if it's used again next year, it means the word has staying power.

Monday, October 31, 2005

I noticed the same thing Neal Pollack did:
As the Sox cruised toward their destiny tonight, with one out in the 9th, Mr. Buck started naming off South Side neighborhoods. He got them right: Bridgeport, Hyde Park, Back Of The Yards, and a couple of others. He then mentioned how the South Side is home to many different ethnic groups: Irish-American, Polish, Lithuanian....and then he stopped.

How in the world can a grown man in the sports business talk about the South Side of Chicago and possibly not mention that black people live there? Or hundreds of thousands of Mexicans? Or, you know, people from non-Caucasian ethnic groups.
Lakshmi Chaudhry takes issue with some of the themes of Ariel Levy's new book which I brought up here.

(via Doug Ireland.)

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Iran vs. Israel

I don't know the significance of this, but Iran's hardline President said today that Israel must be "wiped off the map." The New York Times reports
Senior officials had avoided provocative language over the past decade, but Mr. Ahmadinejad appears to be taking a more confrontational tone.
...
France's foreign minister, Philippe Douste-Blazy, learning of Mr. Admadinejad's comments, said "I condemn them very forcefully," adding that he will summon Iran's ambassador to Paris to ask for an explanation, Agence France-Presse reported.
Hamas in the Palestinian territories and Hezbollah in Lebanon both have the same goal. Even so, it's good policy to draw them into the democratic, political process in their respective governments, just as it was good to draw the IRA, another terrorist organization, into the political process via Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland. The IRA recently made a historic step by disarming. Hopefully one day, Hamas and Hezbollah will do the same, and change into organizations (or merge with others) that recognize Israel.

The Iranian mullahs' bluster may reflect their growing weakness in Iran itself. (See Timothy Garton Ash's piece in the New York Review of Books.) But this also may be a result of Iran's growing influence in Iraq. Unfortunately, Iran's likely to get nuclear weapons in the near-to-mid term, despite the West's efforts.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Democratizing the Middle East

The NYTimes reports:
Israel began on Sunday to back away from its opposition to participation of the armed Islamic group Hamas in Palestinian elections, having failed to persuade President Bush to offer public support for its stance.
..
Mr. Sharon contends that Mr. Abbas must disarm Hamas immediately. Last month, on a visit to New York, Mr. Sharon said that "we will make every effort not to help" the Palestinians hold elections if Hamas took part.

His comments were interpreted as part of a campaign to get Mr. Bush to side with Israel. But Mr. Abbas told Agence France-Presse that he had persuaded Mr. Bush last week in Washington "that we have a democracy, and the movements of all political colors must be allowed to participate in the elections."
"The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness."
-John Kenneth Galbraith

(via Matthew Yglesias)
Sheep go to Heaven, goats go to Hell

Came across this succinct description of Hume and his thought:

As he lay dying at home in his native city of Edinburgh, David Hume entertained a visitor by conjuring up, with characteristic cheerfulness, a scenario in the afterlife. He imagined himself begging the fatal ferryman Charon for a little more time: "Have a little patience, good Charon, I have been endeavoring to open the eyes of the public. If I live a few years longer, I may have the satisfaction of seeing the downfall of some of the prevailing systems of superstition." The "prevailing system" which Hume had become most notorious for attacking was the Christian religion, whose favorite tenets-providence, miracles, the argument from design, the afterlife itself-he had called into question, with increasing audacity, over the course of his work. But he had also done much damage to newer systems of thought, notably Locke's. Locke had regarded personal identity as coherent and continuous, the consequence of lifelong experiences and ideas accumulated in the memory. Hume, in his early, massive Treatise of Human Nature (1739-1740), waived all this away as an arrant fiction-though perhaps a necessary one, since empiricism properly pursued reveals so radical an incoherence in mortal minds that empiricists themselves must intermittently abandon philosophy in order to go about their daily lives. Like many of his empiric predecessors, Hume argued that knowledge of the real world "must be founded entirely on experience"; more than any predecessor he was willing to entertain (and to entertain with) the doubts and demolitions arising from that premise. In his own lifetime, his skepticism did not prove as contagious as he had hoped. The Treatise, he recalled wryly, "fell deadborn from the press, without reaching such distinction as even to excite a murmur among the zealots." Though his attempt to recast his chief arguments more succinctly in An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748) prompted a somewhat livelier response, he eventually made his fortune not as a philosopher but as author of the highly successful History of England (1754-1763). He faced the general indifference or hostility to his arguments as blithely as he later greeted death, continually refining his views and revising his prose. He knew himself out of sync with his times. When, in his fantasy, he forecasts to Charon the imminent downfall of superstition, the ferryman responds, "You loitering rogue, that will not happen these many hundred years. Do you fancy I will grant you a lease for so long a term? Get into the boat this instant, you lazy loitering rogue." More than two hundred years later, the artful mischief of Hume's work has secured him some such lease. His writings, lucid and elusive, forthright and sly, demand (and receive) continual reassessment; his skepticism has proven more powerful than his contemporaries suspected, and he figures as perhaps the wittiest and most self-possessed philosophical troublemaker since Socrates.

Mira Sorvino's two-part series Human Trafficking begins tonight. Her breakout role was as a prostitute in Mighty Aphrodite, but before that she was in Barcelona.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell's chief of staff at the State Department said at a recent speech:
Well, Saddam Hussein really cared about deterring the Persians – the Iranians – and his own people. He didn’t give a hang about us except on occasion. And so he had to convince those audiences that he still was a powerful man. So who better to do that through than the INC, Ahmad Chalabi and his boys, and by spoofing our eyes in the sky and our little HUMINT, and the Brits and the French and the Germans, too. That’s all I can figure.

The consensus of the intelligence community was overwhelming. I can still hear George Tenet telling me, and telling my boss in the bowels of the CIA, that the information we were delivering – which we had called considerably – we had called it very much – we had thrown whole reams of paper out that the White House had created. But George was convinced, John McLaughlin was convinced that what we were presented was accurate. And contrary to what you were hearing in the papers and other places, one of the best relationships we had in fighting terrorists and in intelligence in general was with guess who? The French. In fact, it was probably the best. And they were right there with us.

In fact, I’ll just cite one more thing. The French came in in the middle of my deliberations at the CIA and said, we have just spun aluminum tubes, and by god, we did it to this RPM, et cetera, et cetera, and it was all, you know, proof positive that the aluminum tubes were not for mortar casings or artillery casings, they were for centrifuges. Otherwise, why would you have such exquisite instruments? We were wrong. We were wrong.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005


Those demanding a pullout of American troops should read up on the Algerian civil war.

Porn-tastic!
Review of a book on the "pornification" of American youth culture. It's coming not from the right, but from the feminist Left and notes the dialectical aspect of said pornification. Reminds me of some Red Hot Chili Pepper lyrics:
Destruction leads to a very rough road
But it also breeds creation
And earthquakes are to a girl's guitar
They're just another good vibration
And tidal waves couldn't save the world
From Californication


And some lyrics heard today on the radio which gave me a pang:
We went to a shopping mall
And laughed at all the shoppers
And security guards trailed us
To a record shop
We asked for Mojo Nixon
They said "He don't work here"
We said "If you don't got Mojo Nixon
Then your store could use some fixin'"

We got into a car
Away we started rollin'
I said "How much you pay for this?"
She said "Nothing man, it's stolen"

Tuesday, September 27, 2005





Two of my favorite actors. I recommend Victor Navasky's new book about his life. One can't overestimate how Joseph McCarthy influenced that generation of the Left.
A belated note on the death of Simon Wiesenthal. Some nice quotes to have on your grave, as Royal Tennenbaum might say.
"But clearly Simon Wiesenthal haunted his quarry. One of Mengele's fanatical Nazi protectors in Brazil, Wolfgang Gerhard, said he had dreamed of hitching Mr. Wiesenthal to an automobile and dragging him to his death."

"It was a matter of pride and satisfaction, he said in 1995, as he approached his 87th birthday, that old Nazis who get into quarrels threaten one another with a vow to go to Simon Wiesenthal."
The New York Times reports:
U.S. Says It Has Killed No. 2 Qaeda Operative in Iraq

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Sept. 27 - ...

As insurgent attacks continued across Iraq today, American and Iraqi officials offered further details about the killing on Sunday of Abu Azzam, whom they described as the top lieutenant of Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the leader of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia.


I'd bet $1,000 "anti-war" "expert"Juan Cole doesn't report the good news on his blog tomorrow. He grudgingly refers to Zarqawi's group as "Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia" apparently slow to give ground to Bush's imagined propaganda efforts.

Also, the Times gives more details on how Sistani is keeping a lid on things:
Also today, the renegade Shiite cleric Moktada al Sadr issued an unusual public request for guidance on how to deal with Mr. Zarqawi, who declared a "full-scale war" on all of Iraq's Shiites two weeks ago.

Days after his declaration of war, Mr. Zarqawi issued a qualifier, exempting certain groups including followers of Mr. Sadr, who has sometimes allied with Sunni fighters in his resistance to the American presence here.

Seemingly embarrassed by that exemption, Mr. Sadr publicly sought guidance on how to fight Mr. Zarqawi's attacks from Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's most revered Shiite cleric.

The ayatollah responded in an unusually lengthy statement, in which he repeated his previous counsel to Iraqis to "continue in their self restraint, along with more caution and alertness." Mr. Sistani also said that the insurgents' purpose was to "start the fire of civil war in this beloved country," and that Iraqis must not allow them to succeed. He called on the government to protect Iraqis, and on the courts to speed up their work in trying and sentencing those accused of murder.



I recently corresponded with a Lieutenant in the Marine Corps who mentioned in a neutral, or possibly ironic way, that he had seen General Mattis give a talk at Quantico. Here's what the often inaccurate Wikipedia has to say:
On February 1, 2005, Lieutenant General Mattis, speaking to a forum in San Diego, apparently said "You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn't wear a veil. You know, guys like that ain't got no manhood left anyway. So it's a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them." "Actually, it's a lot of fun to fight. You know, it's a hell of a hoot. It's fun to shoot some people. I'll be right upfront with you, I like brawling." Mattis' remarks sparked controversy, and General Michael W. Hagee, Commandant of the Marine Corps, issued a statement suggesting that Mattis should have chosen his words more carefully, but would not be disciplined.

General Mattis popularized the slogan "no better friend, no worse enemy" among his command. This phrase became central in the investigation into the conduct of Lieutenant Ilario Pantano, a platoon commander serving under General Mattis. Lieutenant Pantano shot a pair of prisoners on April 15, 2004. He said that he thought they represented a threat. Lieutenant Pantano emptied two entire magazines into their bodies, because he wanted "to leave a message". He then scrawled General Mattis's slogan over the bodies.

EDIT: He is portrayed by Robert John Burke in the HBO miniseries Generation Kill.

Monday, September 26, 2005


Warning: Personal Confessional Bullshit
Dear Reader (all 0-2 of you),

Sorry for the sporadic postings. My ego took a beating recently at
the hands of - who else? - the fairer sex. After A. and I dated for a year,
she decided I wasn't The One and promptly dumped me. After I had completely fallen for her.

What happened - I think - can best be illustrated by a Harlon Ellison
science fiction story. The 1975 film A Boy and His Dog, starring a young
Don Jonson, was based on an Ellison short story of the same name. In
the film, a young man and his loyal dog wander a post-Apocalyptic planet
scavenging for food and sex. They finally meet a woman who they share some adventures with and hit it off with. In the end, though, they end up going their separate ways.

The short story is actually much harsher. After hitting it off and making
narrow escapes from danger, the three end up running out of food while
wandering a wasteland. What do you think happens next, dear reader? Wrong, actually the young man and his dog eat the woman to survive.

How does this relate to this blogger's travailles? Well, I'm highly
allergic to dogs and cats, and A. has a dog which she's very attached to.
I guess it's surprising we lasted as long as we did.

Anyhoo, enough about me. I like how Hak Mao, posts random pictures at her
blog without comment, so I plan on doing a bit of that.

Saturday, August 20, 2005


A Menace to Society by Peter Bagge

"Who Moved My Ability to Reason?"
by Barbara Ehrenreich

Friday, July 15, 2005

From a New York Times review of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory:
The secret of Dahl's charm, and Wonka's, is that neither one seems to be an entirely nice person. Or, rather, neither has much use for the condescending sweetness that some adults adopt in the belief that children will mistake it for niceness. Dahl's sensibility was gleefully punitive; he was a scourge of bullies, brats and scolds, and a champion of unfussy decency against all manner of beastliness.
...
Mr. Depp, in a recent interview, has dropped the name of the Vogue editor Anna Wintour. To me, the lilting, curiously accented voice sounded like an unholy mash-up of Mr. Rogers and Truman Capote, but really, who knows?

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Tim Cavanaugh on the underwhelming "Downing Street Memo," which Cavanaugh notes some feel is iron-clad proof, as iron-clad as the Massey Prenup, of the "warmongers'" dishonesty.

Thursday, June 16, 2005




Bad News Bears

Richard Linklater's remake is due out next month. He did a great job with School of Rock among other films, so there's reason for hope.

Charles Taylor, not the writer from Salon I bet, has a piece on the original
in Slate.


I was born in 1970 and there was something about this 1976 film that resonated. It captures how kids interact, especially in sports. And who can forget Lupus (looking glum yet thoughtful front and center in the photo) and how Tanner (shrimp on the far right) stuck up for him even though the bullies outnumberd Tanner?

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Heather Havrilesky writes some more at her blog.

Micchael Young writes about the murdered Lebanese columnist Samir Kassir


Mark Felt, a.k.a. Deep Throat, in
his old-timey FBI action pose.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Ruling Class Revolutionaries
(and nihilistic sectarians)


Maybe you've heard of the band Decemberists whose leader says the name refers to people who feel December is their month. "They're sort of stuck in this month. And I think that sort of speaks to the songs and the characters in the songs: sort of marginalized, sort of on the outskirts, all living in the coldest month." Never realized some people get stuck in a certain month. Seems a little on the self-pitying side.

Anyway, there's also the blog "the Decembrist."

In the June issue of the Atlantic Monthly, Hitchens discusses Mikhail Lermontov, the inheritor of the failed, but noble Decembrist tradition.
Early Russian literature was intimately connected to the Europeanizing and liberal tendency of the "Decembrist" revolution of 1825, which was enthusiastically supported by Pushkin and his inheritor Lermontov. And the debt of those rebels to Byron's inspiration was almost cultish in its depth and degree.
Speaking of cultish worship, Che Guevara is quoted as an authority in a New York Times piece on the peculiar nature of the Iraqi "insurgency":
If the insurgency is trying to overthrow this regime, it is contending with a formidable obstacle that successful rebels of the 20th century generally did not face: A democratically elected government. One of the last century's most celebrated theorists and practitioners of revolution, Che Guevara, called that obstacle insurmountable.

"Where a government has come to power through some form of popular vote, fraudulent or not, and maintains at least an appearance of constitutional legality," he wrote, "the guerrilla outbreak cannot be promoted, since the possibilities of peaceful struggle have not yet been exhausted."
The Decembrists of course weren't facing an elected government and the revolution they fought for wouldn't happen for almost another century. Of Lermontov's death by duel, Hitchens writes,
When Lermontov was brought to the field of honor he apparently declined to fire on the fool who had provoked the duel. Slain on the spot, he never heard the czar's reported comment: "A dog's death for a dog." His unflinching indifferece on the occasion, however, drew on two well-rehearsed nineteenth-century scenarios: The contemptious aristocrat on the scaffold, and the stoic revolutionary in front of the firing squad. The Decembrists, in their way, admired and emulated both models.
The anti-American revolt in Iraq, which mainly targets Iraqis, is a nihilistic, sectarian variation on the unflinching indifference of the classic revolutionary.
Max Sawicky's informative take on the economy.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Canary in the Coalmine
(or I've seen the best minds...)


Neal Pollack's piece on the news that Dave Chappelle has checked himself into a mental-health clinic in South Africa and backed out on the new season of his show sort of annoyed me.

I love Dave Chappelle and even though I don't know him, I'm a little sad about the news. Pollack writes,
Chappelle may be America's most incisive and original comic mind on issues of class and race, but that's not what frat boys are thinking about when they buy his DVDs. It's "I'm Rick James, bitch," all the time. Chappelle made his own choices, and, like the rest of us, he has to live with the consequences, even if he is better funded. It's not our fault.
Pollack does recognize Chappelle's unique talent, but he's hinting that Chappelle is sort of a sell-out and that his current troubles may be a result of that "choice." I don't see Chappelle as a sell-out at all. Anyone who can include "incisive and original" bits on race, class and politics in their comedy in today's America isn't.

Pollack highlights Chappelle's drug humor and assumes drugs are the source of his problems when it's more likely a matter of his fame clashing with his integrity. (The New York Times reports, "Representatives of Mr. Chappelle have vehemently denied that drug use played any role in the suspension of his show.") In other words I give Chappelle more credit than Pollack does. Pollack's main intent is to blame and critique the wider "hipster culture" but by noting that frat boys love Chappelle too - even though he could be merciless about that type of individual - and slamming Chappelle on the fact, he exemplifies the worst tendencies of that culture. (Last season, "Chappelle's Show" averaged more than three million viewers a week, twice as many as Comedy Central's other big draw, "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart." I've read the DVDs are the best-selling for TV DVDs. No doubt Pollack believes the Bush-bashing Daily Show has more "hipster cred.")

Saturday, May 07, 2005

I recently finished moving residences so here's a salad of links I've stored up, in random order:

Fareed Zakaria has a new show, Foreign Exchange, which I've set my DVR to record.

Marjane Satrapi has a new book out, titled Embroideries.

Heather Havrilesky manages to write an entire column in "Deadwood"-speak, as only she can do.

Hitchens's book on Jefferson coming soon.

Peter Maass reports from Iraq.

Peter Bagge's Hate Annual #5 out.

"Socialize the risk, privatize the profit" (City government and the sports industry, a metaphor for late capitalism, in my opinion. Matt Welch's entry over at Hit and Run)

Sidney Blumenthal in Salon links to a piece by Brad DeLong over at Salon's competitor Slate.

The devilish Hitchens in the Wall Street Journal editorial pages:
"Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor thy father and thy mother." And he said, "All these have I kept from my youth up." Now when Jesus heard these things, he said unto him, "Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me." (Luke 18:20-22)
...It turns out that the Eleventh Commandment is not "Thou shalt speak no ill of fellow Republicans," but is, rather, a demand for the most extreme kind of leveling and redistribution.

I have never understood why conservative entrepreneurs are so all-fired pious and Bible-thumping, let alone why so many of them claim Jesus as their best friend and personal savior. The Old Testament is bad enough: The commandments forbid us even to envy or covet our neighbor's goods, and thus condemn the very spirit of emulation and ambition that makes enterprise possible. But the New Testament is worse: It tells us to forget thrift and saving, to take no thought for the morrow, and to throw away our hard-earned wealth on the shiftless and the losers."
I mention Hitchens often because he's so knowledgeable and knows how to think, a potent mixture.
-------------------------------

"It is no accident, then, that the same patch of land on the peninsula south of San Francisco that gave birth to the Grateful Dead was also the site of groundbreaking research leading the way to the personal computer. That the two cultural impulses were linked - positively - is a provocative thesis." From Andrew Leonard's review of John Markoff's book "What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry."

I'd like to read a book on how America's conservative entrepreneurs (see Hitchens above) enabled and profited from both the counterculture industry and the personal computer (i.e. porn-downloading, music-stealing device) industry.

Sunday, April 17, 2005


George Scialabba's attack on Hitchens is sloppy at best. First he complains that Hitchens doesn't fight fair, "Even when all the provocations Hitchens has endured are acknowledged (especially the not-infrequent hint that booze has befogged his brain), they don't excuse his zeal not merely to correct his former comrades but to bait, ridicule, and occasionally slander them, caricaturing their arguments and questioning their good faith." And yet Scialabba goes on to attack Hitchens in this manner which undermines his point.

"Besides, if you must discharge such large quantities of remonstrance and sarcasm, shouldn't you consider saving a bit more of them for your disagreements - he must still have some, though they're less and less frequently voiced, these days - with those who control the three branches of government and own the media and other means of production." Here's another common lefty complaint. We may be wrong in our anti-war marches, etc., but we don't have the power of the government. So take it easy on us. Scialabba's off to a poor start.

Scialabba goes on to quote Michael Scheuer on al Qaeda. I doubt Scialabba is fully aware of Scheuer's views on the "war on terror" but no matter, the quote serves its purpose.
Bin Laden and most militant Islamists [are] motivated by . . . their hatred for a few, specific US policies and actions they believe are damaging - and threatening to destroy - the things they love. Theirs is a war against a specific target and for specific, limited purposes. While they will use whatever weapon comes to hand - including weapons of mass destruction - their goal is not to wipe out our secular democracy, but to deter us by military means from attacking the things they love. Bin Laden et al are not eternal warriors; there is no evidence that they are fighting for fighting's sake, or that they would be lost for things to do without a war to wage. . . . To understand the perspective of the [tens or hundreds of millions of] supporters of Bin Laden, we must accept that there are many Muslims in the world who believe that US foreign policy is irretrievably biased in favor of Israel, trigger happy in attacking the poor and ill-defended Muslim countries, Sudan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, and so forth; rapacious in controlling and consuming the Islamic world's energy resources; blasphemous in allowing Israel to occupy Jerusalem and US troops to be based in Saudi Arabia; and hypocritical and cruel in its denial of Palestinian rights, use of economic sanctions against the Muslim people of Iraq, and support for the Muslim world's absolutist kings and dictators.
This is the mentality Hitchens has been fighting against and why he gets so nasty. As bad as America's foreign policy can be, there are a number of distortions in the seemingly reasonable paragraph above. America's foreign policy should be better for its own sake, not because Al Qaeda hit us and threatens to do worse.

Besides the US has made Iraq safe for Islam. Shouldn't Michael "renditions work" Scheuer and the antiwar left be pleased?

Isn't it odd that the anti-war left should try to use a 22-year CIA veteran who ran the Counterterrorist Center's bin Laden station from 1996 to 1999 against Hitchens? Scheuer main complaint is that his bosses weren't concerned enough about bin Laden and didn't provide him with the resources to fight al Qaeda, which is probably true. But it's also painfully obvious that the CIA is trying to point fingers and at the very least, it is conceivable that 9.11 could have been prevented had someone besides Scheuer been running the bin Laden station from 1996 to 1999.

Does Scialabba realize the manuscript for Imperial Hubris was at first denied release because the CIA's Publications Review Board (PRB) "took issue with the book's brief favorable discussion of Samuel Huntington's "clash of civilizations" theory, which posits that antagonism between Western and Islamic cultures (among others) will drive world conflict in the coming years."?

I though America's foreign policy was the problem. As the Boston Phoenix reported:
One doesn't have to read the manuscript terribly closely to see how it provides some benefit to the CIA. Critical as Anonymous [Scheuer] is of his own organization - as well as of the Bush and Clinton administrations - he absolutely blasts the FBI on pages 185 through 192. Many progressives may not cotton to the broad notion he advances here - namely, that the US should simply dispense with any sort of legalistic, law-enforcement approach to combating Al Qaeda and leave it entirely to the covert operators. But in the context of Washington's political postmortems on 9/11-related intelligence failures, this is stuff that at least makes the FBI look worse than the CIA.
The irony perhaps is that Hitchens has argued strenuously against torture and disregarding what makes the West more defensible in leftists' eyes than, say, the Taliban or Saddam Hussein or the genocidaires of Sudan.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Saul Bellow, 1915-2005

Looking through a book of interviews with Bellow, I found this quote from 1975:
Ten years ago Mayor Daley in a little City Hall ceremony gave me a five hundred dollar check on behalf of the Midland Authors' Society. 'Mr. Mayor, have you read Herzog?' asked one of the reporters standing by. 'I've looked into it.' said Daley, yielding no ground. Art is not the Mayor's dish. But then why should it be? I much prefer his neglect to the sort of interest Stalin took in poetry, phoning Pasternak to chat with him about Mandelstam and, shortly afterwards, sending Mandelstam to die.
Well, yeah. But no doubt this is a reason "Crony Capitalism" outlived "Communism."

As a Chicagoan, I find Bellow's humanism is what resonates most. And it resonates more than all that "We are the world/I'd like to buy the world a Coke" crap usually associated with humanism, because he fully understands what it's up against: nationalisms and anti-Semitism and all the "smelly little orthodoxies" (Orwell); mass society and all of its dehumanizing pressures and regimentations; commerce; and a condescending, for the most part, elite. About Bellow's view of the elite, until his later years, Hitchens writes:
I can't resist adding two more themes from Bellow's triumph in 1953. One is a hatred of workhouse condescension towards the underclass: 'Something in his person argued what the community that contributed the money wanted us poor bastards to be: sober, dutiful, buttoned, clean, sad, moderate.
Hence his appreciation of grifters, conartists, and fixers in all their complexity. (Quote from a Hitchens review of Ravelstein.)

Hitchens in Slate.

Ian McEwan in the New York Times and Guardian.

Audio of Martin Amis and James Wood discussing Bellow.

Chicagoan Tom McBride in OpenDemocracy.

Michiko Kakutani in the New York Times describes how in Bellow's universe, "Intellectuals, men deep in "the profundity game," find themselves facing off against street-smart thugs and business smoothies." Bellow was a master of realism, a materialism that negates the idealism to which most intellectuals succumb. As McBride writes
He believed in the individual's quest for integrity and love, guided by the great writers but not overwhelmed by them, learning from the swindlers but not driven to despair by them.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

New York Times piece on Ben Stiller and how he's been working a lot with Jack Black, Will Ferrell, Vince Vaughn, and Owen Wilson.

Another piece here on Janeane Garofalo in today's Times. I've always liked Stiller and Garofalo and share their sense of humor. Stiller tries to be cool and "hip" - worst word in the English language - even though he isn't, like most of us, but since he knows he isn't, that makes him cool. Garofalo doesn't seem to care, which makes her cool, and seems to have a thicker skin, but not thick enough for political mudwrestling. You have to be able to take it if you dish it out, but her not-quite-thick-enough skin makes her more sympathetic. Unfortunately, Garofalo was an early opponent of regime change in Iraq:
"She was willing to be one of the earliest and most articulate voices" opposing the administration's policies, Mr. Greenwald said. "Every time I'd call and ask her to do something, whether it was a small radio station in Kansas or a rabid right-wing talk show, she didn't hesitate. She was totally fearless."
And Matt Stone and Trey Parker's movie Team America, drew blood.
Which isn't to say that Ms. Garofalo enjoys being a target. When "Team America: World Police," from the "South Park" creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, hit movie theaters last year, it featured a Janeane Garofalo marionette whose head was blown off. The real Ms. Garofalo, hearing this from a friend, promptly burst into tears.
A year ago, she was a talk-radio novice:
"The first few weeks were pretty awkward," she confessed. They still sputter and stutter a fair amount, and Ms. Garofalo berates herself because "my mind starts racing and I try to fit 15 thoughts into one sentence."
(On the subject of talk radio, see this very interesting Atlantic Monthly cover story by David Foster Wallace.) "An HBO documentary chronicling [Air America's] early tumult, "Left of the Dial," will have its premiere on Thursday.
...
In fact, Ms. Garofalo is taking two weeks off next month to shoot an NBC pilot called "All In," in which she'll co-star as a professional poker player. If the network picks it up - always an iffy proposition - she'll do the comedy series in New York while simultaneously being host of "The Majority Report." Meanwhile, coming months will bring the releases of a TV movie for the Oxygen cable channel, a feature directed by Marc Forster, and the independent "Duane Hopwood," recently shown at Sundance." If you get a chance, check out the last movie Stiller and Garofalo did together, Mystery Men.
A special Easter of the living dead.
(or "Please, don't kill me!")


If Terri Schiavo and a babbling Pope John Paul II showed up at my door step on a dark, foggy night, I'd be nervous and call the cops.

Frank Rich has a good memory.
Within hours [Bush] turned Ms. Schiavo into a slick applause line at a Social Security rally. "It is wise to always err on the side of life," he said, wisdom that apparently had not occurred to him in 1999, when he mocked the failed pleas for clemency of Karla Faye Tucker, the born-again Texas death-row inmate, in a magazine interview with Tucker Carlson.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

The Fourth Wave

I was hoping to get to my thoughts on the Left within the context the end of the Cold War, the Vietnam War, "globalization," and domestic American politics but events in Kyrgyzstan, Bahrain, and Belarus have precluded this. Thursday, March 24th Dan Drezner suggested that maybe we're seeing the beginning of another wave of democratization hit the planet.

The good news is that democratic uprisings are hitting autocratic American allies, i.e. countries containing U.S. bases, and not just pariah states. (Proponents of regime change like Hitchens have noted this possibility in the past.) With the Cold War long gone, the U.S. has less incentive to back friendly dictators and oppose nationalist anti-colonial movements like the one in Vietnam back in the 1960s. Kyrgyzstan has an American base and it just overthrew its autocrat. In a new development which must horrify dictators everywhere, looting was directed at the businesses of the ruler's family. (On Central Asia, Ahmed Rashid's Jihad is a must read.) Belarus, Europe's last dictatorship, saw protests from its brave, but outgunned, opposition. The Associate Press writes "The Belarusian Foreign Ministry on Friday harshly assailed the Kyrgyz opposition, warning that its action could destabilize the entire region. 'The unconstitutional overthrow of the government in Kyrgyzstan could have fatal consequences for peace, stability and prosperity in the country, as well as in the Central Asian region as a whole,' it said."

Juan Cole comments on the significance of massive peaceful protests in Bahrain. "The US has a naval base in Bahrain and its king has been a helpful ally. Will George W. Bush support Shaikh Salman or King Hamad?" Would it be petty to note that had Americans chosen to follow the left's advice and Cole's, rather than Bush's, democratic opposition leader - and Shia - Shaikh Salam would have been in a much weaker position to lead his campaign against King Hamdad?

Cole has nothing to say about Kyrgyzstan. Nor does much of the anti-war left. Matthew Yglesias seems to be alone in discussing it.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

leftwing first principles and goals

BORING, right? Not when the Left has taken a wrong turn at the crossroads. (Don't they have access to MapQuest, or do they solely rely on leftist magazines and blogs for directions?) Obviously, the left has to respect the truth, especially during these highly-spun, Internet-dominated days. Even if the truth helps the "other side," it can not and should not be denied. For example, in a March 18th editorial reflecting on the second anniversary of the war on/liberation of Iraq, the New York Times wrote:
There were no weapons of mass destruction to destroy. Worse, the specialized machinery and highly lethal conventional weaponry that Saddam Hussein did control was looted during the invasion and is now very likely in the hands of terrorists. As James Glanz and William Broad reported in The Times, among the things missing is high-precision equipment capable of making parts for nuclear arms. The WMD argument was not only wrong, but the invasion might have also created a new threat.
I'm curious as to what Clinton's director of central intelligence George "Slam Dunk" Tenet would make of this paragrah. Did he know about the "high-precision equipment capable of making parts for nuclear arms"? Does the NYTimes's point seem slightly contradictory? The problem is that much of the left believed Saddam Hussein to be "contained" and underestimate how dangerous he was. They can't be proven wrong on this point since now we'll never know what Saddam Hussein would have done had he remained in power. We do know for a fact that after his years of exhorbitant behavior, including the genocide of the Kurds; the annexation of Kuwait; the slaughter of the Shia in the south; the ecological destruction of the Kuwaiti oil-fields and Marsh Arab ecosystem, he was surrounded by no-fly zones in the North and South of Iraq, US army bases to the West in Saudia Arabia and a hostile Iran to the East. With all of this, he still wouldn't come clean about his pursuit and/or possession of WMDs. This is all well-established fact.

Maybe he was encouraged not to come clean because containment was breaking down. The high-cost sanctions weren't effective. Osama bin Laden, we learned, was unhappy about the infidel bases in Saudi Arabia. Bush removed the US bases in Saudi Arabia after the Baathist regime was toppled iin 2003. Was this in acquiescence to bin Laden's 9.11 statement? We'll never know, but for Bush to have withdrawn troops from Saudi Arabia while containment and sanctions were becoming increasingly ineffective would have been the height of irresponsibility. America gave diplomacy and sanctions a try with Saddam Hussein after the first Gulf War up until early 2003.

Nor can the idea that the Middle East would have improved anyway with Saddam Hussein left in power be proven wrong. We'll never know. However, we can see that the Middle East is improving and for the left to fail to give the Iraq intervention some credit for this is uncomprehensible.

Antiwar activists are constantly imploring hawks to have empathy for the American and Iraqi dead and their grieving families. War should not be taken lightly. However, when confronted these same activists know little about the history of Iraq, nor how terrible a regime Iraqis were forced to live under. Their lack of knowledge only bolsters my conviction that the hawks are right about removing Saddam Hussein. On this point, this bit from Zoe Heller's NYTimes review of Ian McEwan's new novel Saturday, sums up my thoughts nicely:
Even without such literal intrusions on his privacy, Perowne's right to forget is constantly being assailed by the promptings of his own ethical imagination. His son, Theo, protected by the self-absorption of youth, manages to shut out the large, grim stuff of world affairs through his ability to ''think small'' -- concentrating on the short-range pleasures offered by an upcoming snowboarding trip or a new girlfriend. Perowne's mother, too, is afforded a kind of serenity by old age and senility. But for an able, sentient adult like Perowne, empathetic engagement with the world -- and all the moral confusion that such engagement entails -- is not really a choice. He cannot help seeing things from the viewpoints of others: his children, his mother and his Iraqi patient, whose stories of torture in one of Saddam's prisons have persuaded him that the invasion of Iraq is probably a good idea. Empathy, once granted admission, has a way of multiplying its demands. While buying the ingredients for a fish stew he plans to make for supper, Perowne ponders the latest scientific research indicating that fish have a higher degree of capacity for pain than has previously been assumed. ''This,'' he thinks, ''is the growing complication of the modern condition, the expanding circle of moral sympathy. Not only distant peoples are our brothers and sisters, but foxes too, and laboratory mice, and now the fish.'' If empathy is the antidote to cruelty, the essence of what it is to be human, how far to extend it? To fish? To foxes? To jihadists who wish you dead?


More on the Cold War, Vietnam, and American domestic politics in a bit.

The United Nations is going through them changes

WASHINGTON, March 19 (Reuters) - Secretary General Kofi Annan's expected proposals for sweeping changes to the United Nations will be presented Monday, The Los Angeles Times reported Saturday. The plan will include the expansion of the Security Council and changes to a human rights panel, The paper reported.

Samantha Power writes about Josh Bolton's nomination to be Ambassador to the U.N.
At the State Department, Bolton, a protégé of Vice- President Dick Cheney, has behaved more like a grandstander at a conservative think tank than like a diplomat. Colin Powell endured the collateral damage caused by his outbursts, but Rice made it plain that she would have none of it, and passed over Bolton for Deputy Secretary of State. Cheney reportedly then insisted that Bolton get the U.N. When Madeleine Albright and Richard Holbrooke were appointed U.N. Ambassadors, President Clinton announced the nominations. Bush did the same for his first-term nominees, John Negroponte and John Danforth. Rice, in naming Bolton herself, sent a not so subtle signal that she expects to remain boss.
If it looks like an assassination and smells like an assassination, it probably is one
(or It's the Occam's Razor, Stupid!)


If you are interested in the current events in Lebanon, the NYTimes lengthy, above-the-fold story today on the deteriorating relationship between Bashar al-Assad and Rafiq Hariri before Hariri's assassination is a must-read.
On an unseasonably mild day last August, a small group of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri's closest political allies could tell from his flushed face and subdued manner that something awful had happened in the Syrian capital of Damascus, where he had been summoned to a meeting with President Bashar al-Assad.
...
After a few moments, he leaned forward and described how the Syrian leader had threatened him, curtly ordering him to amend Lebanon's Constitution to give President Émile Lahoud, the man Syria used to block Mr. Hariri's every move, another three years in office.

"Bashar told him, 'Lahoud is me,'" Mr. Jumblatt recalled in an interview. "Bashar told Hariri: 'If you and Chirac want me out of Lebanon, I will break Lebanon.'" He was referring to the French president, Jacques Chirac.

In the month since Mr. Hariri was assassinated, members of Lebanon's anti-Syrian opposition have pointed to that Aug. 26 encounter in Damascus as fateful. Although opposition leaders acknowledge that they lack firm evidence tying Syria or its Lebanese agents directly to Mr. Hariri's assassination, they link that day to his slaying on Feb. 14.
...
Syria is used to acting with impunity in Lebanon.

But by 2004, the Lebanese were expecting something different from Mr. Assad, not least because the United States had signaled by invading Iraq that business as usual was unacceptable.
...
The end for Mr. Hariri as prime minister came in October after the Syrians sent him a message to step aside. He resigned on Oct. 20, somewhat relieved, his aides said.

The next months were consumed mostly with planning for parliamentary elections due in the spring and wrangling over the election law. The Syrians were trying to gerrymander districts around Beirut and the rest of the country to weaken the opposition. But the Christian-Sunni Muslim-Druse coalition appeared to grow ever more formidable.

During this period, while he was planning his comeback, Mr. Hariri seemed to become his old self again, friends and allies said. Mr. Renaud, the European Union ambassador, recalls visiting him at his combined office and mansion right after Christmas and seeing him emerge from behind his desk waving a sheaf of papers and grinning, saying, "We are going to win the elections!"
...
By late January, Mr. Hariri was feeling confident enough that he decided he would not accept any Syrian-nominated members on his election list, his advisers say. His 19-member bloc in Parliament included three men chosen by Rustom Ghazale, the head of Syrian intelligence based in Anjar in the Bekaa region, and the man Lebanese believe really ran their country, his aides said.

Mr. Hariri invited Mr. Ghazale to lunch in late January and told him about the decision.

"They were not happy," said Ghazi Aridi, a former minister of information who resigned in September over the Lahoud extension. He recalls Mr. Ghazale telling Mr. Hariri, "You have to think about it and we have to think about it."

It was beginning to look like the opposition could capture about 60 seats in the 128-seat Parliament, enough to elect a president other than Mr. Lahoud. Around this time, Mr. Hariri and Mr. Jumblatt, the Druse leader, had a meeting. Mr. Hariri's earlier confidence that he would not be assassinated had slipped; the two men figured one or the other would be killed soon.

"Any field where you challenge them, they get mad," Mr. Jumblatt said. "Such totalitarian regimes cannot understand that you can have the freedom to chose your own M.P.'s, or you choose your own local administrators or I don't know what."

Two weeks after that conversation, the huge bomb that rocked all of Beirut struck Mr. Hariri's motorcade. He, along with 18 other people, died.
(emphasis mine)
Assassinations are not unheard of in the Middle East. Israel assassinated leaders of Hamas recently, as well as other members of the resistance. The difference one could argue, is that Hariri was resisting by peaceful means.
Iraq and Religious Law

Leading Left intellectual Juan Cole reports:
Jaafari: Iraq headed toward Religious Law

...Prospective Iraqi prime minister Ibrahim Jaafari has given an interview to Der Spiegel, to appear Tuesday, in which he says his government will press for the implementation of religious law in personal status matters:

'"It's understandable in a country where the majority of people are Muslim . . . Iraq should become a Muslim country but without falling under the influence of Iran or Saudi Arabia . . . Everyone will have the same rights, even members of the many minor religious communities," he said, explaining there would be multiple forms of jurisprudence.'
However the NYTimes reports:
American and Iraqi officials say that in a gesture to the Kurds, leaders of the Shiite alliance, which has 140 seats in the assembly, have signaled that they will not press for Islam to be the central source of power in a new government, but the Kurds are holding out for an independent Kurdish militia and effective control of Kirkuk.
"Jaafari: Iraq headed toward Religious Law in Personal Status Matters" just doesn't have the same ring to it. Are "Personal Status Matters" a central source of power for a government? I'd agree with the pro-choice movement that they are.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

American Left Commits Seppuku

Salon gives Juan Cole the lead op-ed today where he discusses the Right's attempt to take credit for the spreading of freedom across the Middle East. Showing what a weak hand he holds, he trots out obnoxious rightwingers like Max Boot and Mark Steyn to put those who differ with him in the worst possible light. It's called guilt by association. He does acknowledge the reality that some liberals and war critics believe prospects for the Middle East have improved: "Even some of the president's detractors and those opposed to the war have issued mea culpas. Richard Gwyn of the Toronto Star, a Bush critic, wrote, "It is time to set down in type the most difficult sentence in the English language. That sentence is short and simple. It is this: Bush was right." But then it's down the memory hole. If you disagree with Cole and Salon, George Bush is your hero and Boot and Steyn are your buddies.

Next, Cole tries to bolster his own authority by giving a little history:

"In fact, regime change in the Middle East has often come about through foreign invasion. Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser intervened militarily to help revolutionaries overthrow the Shiite imam of Yemen in the 1960s. The Israelis expelled the PLO from Lebanon and tried to establish a pro-Israeli government in Beirut in 1982. Saddam Hussein briefly ejected the Kuwaiti monarchy in 1990. The U.S. military's invasion of Iraq and overthrow of Saddam Hussein were therefore nothing new in Middle Eastern history. A peaceful evolution toward democracy would have been an innovation. "

Israel in Beirut sounds more like an *attempted* regime change. There have been many more of those which Cole fails to mention. To take a few, there was the Six-Day War and the Yom Kippur War. And let's not forget the Iraq-Iran war. Cole's being very selective here, especially by saying Hussein "ejected the Kuwaiti monarchy." Saddam did a bit more than that.

Following his selective history lesson, he comes out and says what appears to be the new pacifist/realist left's line:

"The Baath in Syria shows no sign of ceasing to operate as a one-party regime. When pressured, it has offered up slightly more cooperation in capturing Iraqi Baathists. Its partial withdrawal from Lebanon came about because of local and international pressures, including that of France and the Arab League, and is hardly a unilateral Bush administration triumph. "

A unilateral Bush triumph? Cole starts his polemic with the question "Is George W. Bush right to argue that his war to overthrow Saddam Hussein is democratizing the Middle East?" Did Bush claim the overthrow of Hussein is "unilaterally." I don't even think Boot or Steyn claimed that.

After pointing out Iraq is a mess and disparaging Egyptian and Saudi Arabian electoral reforms as minimal, Cole delivers his money line (shot): "Bush also wants Syria out of Lebanon, in part because such a move would strengthen the hand of his ally, Israel." Again, the strategy is to tarnish by employing guilt by association.

Look to the language and revel in the bias:

"On March 9 the Shiite Hezbollah Party held massive pro-Syrian demonstrations in Beirut that dwarfed the earlier opposition rallies. A majority of Parliament members wanted to bring back Karami. Both the Hezbollah street demonstrations and the elected Parliament's internal consensus produced a pro-Syrian outcome obnoxious to the Bush administration. Since then the opposition has staged its own massive demonstrations, rivaling Hezbollah's."

"Rivaling" Hezbollah's? According to objective news outlets, they "dwarfed" Hezbollah's.

"So far, these demonstrations and counterdemonstrations have been remarkable in their peacefulness and in the frankness of their political aims." Except of course for the Hariri assassination which started the whole ball rolling.

Next Cole contradicts himself by saying, in fact, Beirutis aren't habitually violent:

"Lebanese have been holding lively parliamentary campaigns for decades, and the flawed, anonymous Jan. 30 elections in Iraq would have provoked more pity than admiration in urbane, sophisticated Beirutis. " Excuse my sarcasm, but yes it's such a pity that Iraqis defied the murderous insurgents - those who are making Iraq a basket case - and it's such a pity that Iraqis are no longer voting 99% in favor of murderous thug. I doubt Beirutis pity the fact politics have returned to Iraq. Is Juan Cole just trying to provoke? Is this what Salon and the anti-war left/right have come to?

For instance, towards the end of the piece, Cole writes another remarkable sentence "Arab intellectuals are, however, often coded as mere American and Israeli puppets when they dare speak against authoritarian practices." Didn't Cole do a form of the very same "coding" earlier in this very same piece?

Cole ends with the guerilla war in Iraq and questions if there has been any progress. "The Middle East may open up politically, and no doubt Bush will try to claim credit for any steps in that direction." At the very least, he should decide if the Middle East has opened up politically. The list he provides at the beginning suggests it has:

"In the wake of the Iraq vote, anti-Syrian demonstrations in Lebanon, the Egyptian president's gestures toward open elections, and other recent developments, ..."

I'd give it a 9.0 on the Cognitive Dissonance scale.
Never Follow Bad Money with Good Money

Matt Yglesias reports:

"In what's probably the most important Social Security development of the day, The Washington Post reports, that "The Financial Services Forum, an association of 19 chief executives of large financial services companies, has decided to withdraw from Compass, the group that is leading industry's effort to gin up support for the president's plan outside the Beltway."

Did someone say something about rats and a sinking ship?"

They did win on bankruptcy "reform" however.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

The most powerful military force in human history

Via Hit and Run:
One Difference Between the United States and Israel
Ynetnews is claiming that Israeli soldiers who play Dungeons & Dragons are considered "detached from reality" and given a low security clearance.

Jeff Patterson, who sent me the story, comments that "this is a far cry from the old Marines ads where a knight slays a magma beast."

Posted by Jesse Walker
Bush Announces Iraq Exit Strategy: 'We'll Go Through Iran'

In reality, Bush is turning down the heat on Iran and its client Hezbollah.

Europe and the U.S. just agreed on a joint carrot-and-stick approach to Iran. As the NYTimes reports:
After years of campaigning against Hezbollah, the radical Shiite Muslim party in Lebanon, as a terrorist pariah, the Bush administration is grudgingly going along with efforts by France and the United Nations to steer the party into the Lebanese political mainstream, administration officials say.

The administration's shift was described by American, European and United Nations officials as a reluctant recognition that Hezbollah, besides having a militia and sponsoring attacks on Israelis, is an enormous political force in Lebanon that could block Western efforts to get Syria to withdraw its troops.
The shift coincides with Syria presenting a timetable for the complete withdrawal of its troops and intelligence services from Lebanon.
JEDEIDET YABOUS, Syria (AP) -- President Bashar Assad reiterated his commitment to withdrawing all Syrian troops and intelligence agents from Lebanon, a U.N. envoy said Saturday, indicating that he had received a timetable for the pullout. Meanwhile, a convoy of Syrian troops returned home to a rousing welcome.

The long convoy of vehicles carrying Syrian soldiers returned home amid a heavy snowfall early Saturday to the cheers of Syrian well-wishers, who chanted "Syria! Syria!" handed out flowers and threw rice.

U.N. envoy Terje Roed-Larsen did not give any details about timing after meeting with Assad in the northern city of Aleppo but said he would discuss the matter at the United Nations next week.

Saturday, March 05, 2005


"Realists" vs. "Hawks"

Iraq, Libya, Lebanon, Palestinian territories, Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Iran, Syria. Have American interventions in the Muslim world helped progressive forces in these countries?

In an early post, for some reason I misread Matthew Yglesias's comments on the Cedar Revolution. I missed this important sentence about Bush:
I tend to think that John Kerry would have done essentially the same things had he been in office since January (if you can find examples of leading Kerry foreign policy advisors condemning Bush's recent initiatives with regard to Palestine, Egypt, and Lebanon I'd be interested in hearing it).
Michael Young does an effective job of tackling Flynt Leverett, formerly of the NSC and the Kerry campaign, who had an op-ed in the New York Times about Syria.

Leverett's piece appeared a day after Yglesias's blog entry and is titled "Don't Rush on the Road to Damascus." It takes the "realist" view on Iraq and applies it to Syria next door.

Although, of course, I don't agree with everything they write, the following "hawks" are worth reading to help counter the arguments of the "realists," anti-war liberals and leftists, and isolationist rightwingers:

Hitchens

David Aronovich

Michael Young

Michael J. Totten

Norman Geras

Michael Ignatieff

Thomas Friedman

Fareed Zakaria

Daniel Drezner

Greg Djerejian

Paul Berman

Michael Walzer

David Ignatius

Bernard-Henri Lévy

Andrew Sullivan

David Brooks

No doubt there are others.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005



The Cedar Revolution
(or In Like a Lion and - hopefully - Out Like a Lamb)


At the increasingly interesting Hit and Run:

Charles Paul Freund says to keep your eye on the autocrats.

Nick Gillespie writes about defining progress in the Middle East.

Elsewhere in the "MSM," the New York Times quotes Michael Young. And still employs the phrase "Arab street."

Fareed Zakaria joins Tom Friedman in a quixotic quest to get the West to moderate its oil consumption.

In the blogosphere:

Greg Djerejian at Belgravia Dispatch gloats.

MaxSpeaks says you can't trust the government, yet wants to save Social Security from the "private" sphere.

Others on the left and anti-war right really aren't discussing what could be another 1989/fall of the Berlin Wall (except, admittedly the Israelis just built one).

Monday, February 28, 2005


Peter Benenson, Founder of Amnesty International, Dies at 83
Educated at Eton and Oxford, Mr. Benenson was a passionate advocate for human rights in fascist Spain, British-ruled Cyprus and repressive South Africa. He was almost 40, a bowler-topped barrister on the London Underground in 1961, when he read a news item about two Lisbon students sentenced to seven years in prison for toasting freedom in Portugal, then under the dictatorship of António Salazar.

In what he called "The Forgotten Prisoners" and "An Appeal for Amnesty," which appeared on the front page of The Observer, a British newspaper, he wrote about the two students and four other people who had been jailed in other nations because of their beliefs.
...
In its early years, Mr. Benenson ran the organization, provided most of the money, traveled widely to investigate cases and promoted its causes in journals and newspapers. He stepped down as the leader in 1966 after an independent investigation did not support his claim that the group was being infiltrated by British intelligence.

But he continued to have an active interest in the organization's affairs, helped to found and support similar groups and observed Amnesty International's 25th anniversary by lighting a symbolic candle outside St. Martin-in-the-Fields, the church off Trafalgar Square where he had first envisioned the organization. Its logo is a candle wrapped in barbed wire.

Peter Benenson was born in London on July 31, 1921, the son of a British army colonel. He was tutored privately by the poet W. H. Auden and began his first campaign at Eton - for better food. At 16 he organized fund-raising for orphans of the Spanish Civil War, and later raised money to get two Jews out of Nazi Germany.

After service with the Ministry of Information in World War II, he became a lawyer, was an official observer at the trials of trade unionists in Franco's Spain, advised lawyers for defendants accused of resistance to British rule in Cyprus and prodded London to send observers to Hungary during the 1956 uprising and to racially divided South Africa during a treason trial.
Michael Young writes about the fallout from the war in Iraq.

Monday, February 21, 2005



Hunter S. Thompson
A unique icon of the Sixties and the counterculture did himself in with a gun Sunday night.

Thompson on the death of Richard Nixon.

"If the right people had been in charge of Nixon's funeral, his casket would have been launched into one of those open-sewage canals that empty into the ocean just south of Los Angeles. He was a swine of a man and a jabbering dupe of a president. Nixon was so crooked that he needed servants to help him screw his pants on every morning. Even his funeral was illegal. He was queer in the deepest way. His body should have been burned in a trash bin."

Thompson was one of those Sixties figures who achieved a mythos much larger and much more attractive than the mere man. Rolling Stone magazine published Thompson's obit for Nixon - Rolling Stone and Playboy exemplify what happened to the Sixites and American culture - and on the latest cover Johhny Depp (see above) is wearing a necklace with the picture of another Sixties figure whose myth and legend overshadowed the reality of the man, Che Guevara. And Benecio del Toro (see above) will be playing Guevara in an upcoming film directed by Steven Soderbergh.

From The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved:

"He grabbed my arm, urging me to have another, but I said I was overdue at the Press Club and hustled off to get my act together for the awful spectacle. At the airport newsstand I picked up a Courier-Journal and scanned the front page headlines: "Nixon Sends GI's into Cambodia to Hit Reds"... "B-52's Raid, then 20,000 GI's Advance 20 Miles"..."4,000 U.S. Troops Deployed Near Yale as Tension Grows Over Panther Protest." At the bottom of the page was a photo of Diane Crump, soon to become the first woman jockey ever to ride in the Kentucky Derby. The photographer had snapped her "stopping in the barn area to fondle her mount, Fathom." The rest of the paper was spotted with ugly war news and stories of "student unrest." There was no mention of any trouble brewing at university in Ohio called Kent State."

The Minor Fall, The Major Lift has links to two pieces by guys who knew Thompson most of his life, Tom Wolfe - who I can't stand - and Ralph Steadman.

Steadman retells the "Fuck the Pope" story:
Before Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas we tried to cover the America's Cup yacht race in Rhode Island for Scanlan's (who were just about to go bust and get on to Richard Nixon's blacklist) from a three-masted schooner. There was a rock band on board for distraction; booze and, for Hunter, whatever he was gobbling at the time. I was seasick and Hunter was fine. I asked him what he was taking and he gave me one. It was psilocybin [magic mushroom], a psychedelic hallucinogen, my first and only drug trip apart from Librium. I was the artist from England so I had a job to do. He handed me two spray-paint canisters. "What do I do with these?"

"You're the artist, Ralph. Do what you want, but you must do it on the side of one of those multimillion-dollar yachts, moored hardly 50 yards away from where we are."

"How about fuck the Pope?" I said, now seeing in my mind red snarling dogs attacking a musician singing at a piano dressed as a nun at a shore-bound bar. "Are you a Catholic, Ralph?"

"No," I replied, "it's just the first thing that came to mind."

So that was the plan and we made it to the boats and I stood up in the little dinghy with the spray cans and shook them as one does. They made a clicking sound and alerted a guard. "We must flee, Ralph! There'll be pigs everywhere. We have failed." He pulled fiercely on the oars and fell backwards with legs in the air. He righted himself and started rowing again. We made it back to our boat and while I was gabbling insanely, he was writing down all the gibberish that I uttered. I was now a basket case and we had to get back to shore and flee. Hunter shot off two distress flares into the harbour and we hailed a boat just coming in. The flares set fire to one of the boats, causing an emergency fire rescue as we got to dry land. There's more and I won't go on, but I guess that was the genesis of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Such a wild game was possible, but it needed all the genius and application of Hunter S Thompson to make it live.
One of my favorite bits from the book and film versions of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is the scene where Thompson is out of his gourd in a casino:
The Circus-Circus is what the whole hep world would be doing Saturday night if the Nazis had won the war. This is the sixth Reich. The ground floor is full of gambling tables, like all the other casinos . . . but the place is about four stories high, in the style of a circus tent, and all manner of strange County-Fair/Polish Carnival madness is going on up in this space."
And then he wonders "What would Horatio Alger do in this situation?"

Hitchens's obit mentions Thompson's long-running feud with local police and the local authorities in his hometown of Aspen, a feud which he pursued "with absolutely Corsican persistence." This, along with his enormous talent and capacity to hate and not give a shit, exemplifies what so many young people found inspiring in Hunter Thompson and why miscreants across the country passed around his books and why he will be so missed.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Uninformed Content

Juan Cole:
Note that if there is a disagreement among the Shiite religious parties on who should be prime minister, they say they will take it to Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who will resolve it. Sistani would certainly choose Jaafari, an old-time Dawa operative from Karbala close to the ayatollah.

Interestingly, Sistani would informally be playing a role here similar to that played by the monarch in the UK. Sistani as Elizabeth II. It certainly wasn't what Bush had been going for with this Iraq adventure.
Bush just wanted to remove Saddam, period.


the world is just God's ant farm

So says John Constantine in the new film starring Keanu Reeves. It's not a bad movie, but the style and tone have too much of that action-film bravura and cockiness, in a bad way.

JC has reason for taking such a jaundiced view. He has special powers which allow him to see the demons and angels which walk around in disguise, half in and half out of this "plane." Heaven and Hell have a superpower detente in effect and Constantine performs exorcisms to send demons back to Hell when they break the rules and cause too much mischief. He doesn't do this out of the goodness of his heart; he's trying to get into Heaven, or rather, attempting to avoid going to Hell.

As a teen, he was put in a psychiatric hospital because of his visions. He committed suicide and hence, went to hell, but was resuscitated and came back to life with the knowledge of where he'd end up after dying. That's not all: he's a chain smoker who has developed lung cancer and has at most a year to live.

Constantine soon discovers the demons are up to something more than mere mischief and finally uncovers a plot to bring the son of Satan fully into this world which he would then conquer and rule. Turns out the plan was devised by the rogue, androgynous angel Gabriel, played by Tilda Swinton. Evidently, Heaven's eternal tedium has driven her/him insane. Gabriel's jealous that God loves humanity so much that God will accept them into heaven no matter how bad they've been if they only repent in their hearts. He/She doesn't believe they deserve it and believes their noble qualities come out only in the face of terror and horror. Gabriel tells Constantine only the humans who survive the rule of Satan's son will truly deserve His love.

Well, by Gabriel's criteria the long-suffering people of Iran are deserving of God/Allah's love. According to the Times.
A bad economy means scarce jobs and low incomes, which in turn have led to emotional and social frustration among Iran's largely young population. As a result, different forms of fortunetelling and the desire to connect with the supernatural to seek help from a divinity are growing. Many of those seeking guidance are women.

Bookstores are filled with books on Chinese and Indian astrology and different forms of fortunetelling. Newspapers and journals have dedicated more space to horoscopes and articles about how to find a soul mate.

"These types of books have increased by at least five times since the beginning of the revolution," said Abolhassan Azarang, a researcher at Iran's Encyclopedia.

"Political and social deadlocks have forced a special class of society to turn to these kinds of beliefs," he added.

In December, the police arrested a woman accused of making a fortune by promising to solve the problems of more than 5,000 women by giving them spells. The woman, whose identity was not revealed, told her customers that she was clairvoyant and had learned the skill in India.

One of the complainants against her was a woman who had paid five million rials, about $630, in return for a spell that would magically put an end to her husband's marriage to a second wife.
Oh and Peter Stormare, a Coen brothers regular, played a good Devil, almost as good as De Niro in Angel Heart.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

The cognitive dissonance is palpable

Kurt Anderson writes about liberal reaction to the Iraqi election.

I wonder if Doug Henwood is still a fan. His book After the New Economy is a must read.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Chicago Sun-Times liberal columnist Mark Brown wonders if perhaps Bush was right all along about Iraq.

Naomi Klein remains in denial. "Because if it weren't for the invasion, Iraqis would not even have the freedom to vote for their liberation, and then to have that vote completely ignored," she says. But will their vote be ignored? The anti-war pundits never saw anything good coming from the toppling of Saddam. The Iraqis and their resources would just be exploited, as if they weren't under Saddam and the UN blood-for-oil program. What the anti-war pundits failed to understand was that the Bush administration couldn't completely control what happens post-Saddam.

Klein won't admit she was pro-Sadr and anti-Sistani. As Jonathan Schell writes "Having brought the Administration to heel, Sistani next faced a challenge from within Shiite ranks. In spring 2004, the radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr launched an armed insurrection against the occupation. Sistani stood by while American forces badly bloodied Sadr's forces in several weeks of fighting in the holy Shiite city of Najaf, and then he successfully summoned both sides to join in a truce in which the forces of both were withdrawn from the city. He granted a meeting to Sadr, who offered a guarded fealty. At the same time, Sistani expressed a sort of vague acceptance of Sadr's enemy, the US- and UN-appointed interim government.
...
In sum, the election on January 30 -- conceived by Sistani, forced upon a reluctant Bush Administration by Sistani, and defended by Sistani (in concert with American forces) against both Shiite and Sunni insurrections -- was first and foremost a kind of Shiite uprising. It was an astonishingly successful revolt against subjugation and repression that Shiites have suffered in Iraq at the hands of foreigners and domestic minorities alike. That this uprising took the form of a peaceful election rather than a bloody rebellion is owing to the shrewdness, and possibly the wisdom, of Sistani."

However, the Bush administation was smart to change course - even though it would anger authoritarian allies like the Saudis and King Abdullah of Jordan - and stick to the January 30 date, despite pleas from the New York Times editorial board and many others to push the date back.

Schell again: "The rudiments of a new governing authority in Iraq have appeared for the first time since the war that felled Saddam. It's unknowable whether such an authority can surmount the sectarian divisions it faces -- in effect, creating an Iraqi nation -- or, if it does succeed, whether it will invite American forces to remain. What we can know is that from now on it is Iraqis, not Americans, who will be making the most fundamental decisions in their country." Once free of Saddam and his minority Tikriti clan of the minority Sunnis, Iraqis already were making fundamental decisions.

If I didn't think toppling Saddam was worth it, I'd just list the costs, day after day, as Juan Cole does at his blog. Michael Young provides a nice take-down of Cole over at Hit and Run.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

I'm one of those guys who never ever cries, but last year, at home on the couch with a cold I caught the TV movie version of Colm Toibin's novel The Blackwater Lightship and - I hate to admit - my eyes got all watery. (Ever see Woody Allen's film Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* But Were Afraid to Ask? The workers sitting around playing cards in my tear ducts must have exclaimed "What the fuck!?" after the sirens sounded.) Gina McKee in the lead role was especially fantastic as the stoic and yet oddly innocent and modernly Irish Helen.

The plot according to IMD:
"Declan (Keith McErlean) is in his final stages of AIDS and decides to spend the last of his days at his grandmother Dora's (Angela Lansbury) house. His mother Lily (Dianne Wiest) and sister Helen (Gina McKee) come to be with him, as well as two of his friends, Paul (Sam Robards) and Larry (Brian F. O'Byrne). As his family learns to accept the fact that he's dying, they begin to mend their relationships with each other and to forget a long-time misunderstanding that had kept them apart for many years."

Colm Toibin has written a particularly strange yet good review of Christopher Hitchens's new collection.

Here's Hitchens's unique, and correct in my mind, perspective on the state of the Left
I think this is more than just instinct on my part, the reaction of a lot of Democrats and liberals to the September 11th events was obviously in common with everyone else, revulsion, disgust, hatred, and so forth. But when they consider politically I think a lot of them couldn't say this, but they thought that's the end of our agenda for a little while. We're not going to be talking very much about welfare and gay marriage. We're going to be living in law and order times. Now the instinct is to think well, that must favor the right wing. Surely, that creates a climate for the conservatives--law and order and warfare and mobilization and so forth. In fact, the Second World War probably was a tremendous asset to the Democratic Left and presumably when the Right was so opposed to going into it because they know there's a relationship between social mobilization and warfare. But the Left is too dumb to see this in this case. And then some of them are crackpotted enough to think that if it comes out like that, maybe it was all fixed to come out like this.
Terry Eagleton, who first infected me with leftist thought when I was but a wee lad, would probably wretch after reading Toibin's review. He had reviewed Toibin a few times when Toibin came on the scene and obviously thought he's a great talent. Eagleton, though, has been squandering his talent lately, as Norman Geras has been documenting.

Also, Fareed Zakaria on the Daily Show. Is Jon Stewart succumbing to the dark side?

I jest, but Krugman-and-DeLong nemesis Donald L. Luskin appears to be a dues-paying member of the dark side:
Or in the case of Social Security, suppose you are a struggling young African American working for minimum wage. You urgently want to own stocks, so you can start building a nest egg for your family. But you have no money to invest, because Social Security taxes have sucked up anything you could have set aside from your small earnings. So you manage to borrow some money, and you invest it in stocks. That's a loan. That's speculation. And that's what the opponents of personal accounts would prefer for America.
They would? I would prefer Clinton's out-of-left-field, briefly-floated, shock-inducing trial balloon of socializing the means of production via government investment of Social Security funds in the stock market, rather than this private account thing. Probably most people don't have the time, knowledge or connections to successfully invest in the stock market. What the privatizers desire is for some of the poor and middle class to invest their payroll taxes and later receive less retirement benefits than they would under the current system, because they "invested poorly." After spending a boatload of taxes transitioning to the private account system. But there will be less workers per retiree in the future? What about the record productivity gains over the past decades? It all went to Capital? You don't say.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Ahmed Rashid on NPR's Fresh Air. I don't agree
with many of his views but he's a smart, interesting guy.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

When In Rome Part Deux (or the 1920s redux)

At one of the Inaugural balls:

[Rich] Little said he missed and adored the late President Ronald Reagan and "I wish he was here tonight, but as a matter of fact he is," and he proceeded to impersonate Reagan, saying, "You know, somebody asked me, 'Do you think the war on poverty is over?' I said, 'Yes, the poor lost.' " The crowd went wild.

Clinton's welfare reform, the push to privatize Social Security. Yes, the poor are getting screwed, but this sounds a little too farouche, even for our dear Republican party loyalists.

Little's joke reminded me of a classic Onion headline: War on Drugs Over: Drugs Win.

(via David Corn)

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

When in Rome

Nancy Hopkins, a biologist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, walked out on Summers' talk, saying later that if she hadn't left, "I would've either blacked out or thrown up."

That's Larry Summers, one of Clinton's Secretaries of the Treasury and now president of Harvard. Quite the charmer, Summers made remarks at a conference Friday suggesting that biological differences between the sexes may be one explanation for why fewer women succeed in mathematic and science careers.

Summers is probably just trying to get hip to what he sees as the conservative times. Conservatives are attempting to portray Social Security as "dependency-inducing" and one of the sources of an immoral culture, a sign of the times. (Clinton did pave the way by "ending welfare-as-we-know-it.") But then there's gay marriage. Fiscally, the country has become more conservative (see Stephen S. Cohen & J. Bradford DeLong's piece in the January/February 2005 issue of the Atlantic Monthly). Socially, though, the Sixties revolution prevailed, for the most part.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Wes Anderson's The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is a good, entertaining movie. You'll enjoy it even if you didn't care for The Royal Tenenbaums. It's weird that Steve Zissou chooses "Kingsley" for his (supposed) son's new first name. There's Ben Kingsley and Kingsley Amis, but it's such a rare name. The movie's soundtrack is great too, as it usually is in Anderson's films.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is coming this July. Check out the trailer. Nothing like seeing spoiled kids get their comeuppance. Nothing like singing Oompah-Loompahs.