"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, December 20, 2008
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Sunday, November 30, 2008
If they were missionaries
Real time visionaries
Sittin' in a Chinese stew
To view my disinfatuation
I knew that I'm a classic case
Watch my disenchanted face
Blame it on the Falun Gong
They see the end
And you can't hold on now
Cause it would take a lot more hate than you
To end the fascination
Even with an iron fist
More than you got to rule a nation
When all I've got is precious time
* The world's largest political party with 70 million members, comprising 5.5 percent of the Chinese population.
"Indie darling" Feist made a great angel on Stephen Colbert's Christmas special.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
"A MAVERICK Thai general who has threatened to bomb anti-government protesters and drop snakes on them from helicopters has been reassigned as an aerobics teacher, the Bangkok Post said on Friday.Imagine, there you are protesting, getting your fair share of abuse from the riot police and you get knocked on the head and knocked down, so another protester pulls you off to the side out of further harms way. Then a bunch of snakes drop on you.
Major-general Khattiya Sawasdipol, a Rambo-esque anti-communist fighter more commonly known as Seh Daeng, reacted with disappointment to his new role as a military instructor promoting public fitness at marketplaces.
'It is ridiculous to send me, a warrior, to dance at markets,' he said, before launching an attack on his boss, army chief Anupong Paochinda.
'The army chief wants me to be a presenter leading aerobics dancers. I have prepared one dance. It's called the 'throwing-a-hand-grenade' dance', he said."
(via Obsidian Wings)
Sunday, November 23, 2008
I bought Guns N' Roses' album Chinese Democracy and it is both terrifying and beautiful like witnessing a 50 megaton thermonuclear detonation and mushroom cloud. You fear not just for yourself, but for your loved ones and even the human race, everyone you have ever known. It puts an end to Irony, like 9/11 or the election of Obama. No wonder it took so long to create.
Chuck Klosterman pens a review for the Onion.
Jody Rosen's review with some more context.
Video of the paranoid, spitting mad Axl Rose with the original lineup.
Saturday, November 22, 2008
I'd like to pour a little of my 40 on the ground as a libation to Paul Newman, Studs Terkel and John Leonard.
Leonard was able to vote for Obama, whereas Newman and Terkel passed away before the election.
Kurt Vonnegut wrote of Leonard:
When I read anything by my longtime friend John Leonard, his voice is that of a total stranger. He is too polite in ordinary conversations, with me at least, to set off the fireworks of all he knows and feels after reading and comparing and responding to, in the course of his long career as a literary critic, a thousand times more books than I have even heard of. Only in print does he light the night sky of my ignorance and intellectual lassitude with sizzles and bangs, and gorgeous blooms of fire. He is a TEACHER! When I start to read John Leonard, it is as though I, while simply looking for the men’s room, blundered into a lecture by the smartest man who ever lived."Newman I loved in Cool Hand Luke, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Slapshot, Nobody's Fool etc. Victor Navasky wrote about how Newman and his wife Joanne Woodward helped save The Nation. Terkel himself had a bit part in the pictures in Eight Men Out.
Friday, November 21, 2008
Monday, November 03, 2008
Loads of international press are here in Chicago for the election.
Luis Redondo reports for Channel 9 in Valencia, Spain.For some reason I imagine a guy sounding like Elwood Blues (Dan Aykroyd in the trailer) "trying" to explain how the voting machines work.
REDONDO: Which has an audience of 5 million inhabitants and then through satellite can also be seen throughout the whole country, the whole Spain, so 40-million viewers.
He's been in the States for two weeks covering the election, from New York to Virginia. And today, Redondo was one of about 50 foreign reporters coming from Taiwan to Azerbaijan. They were sitting through a presentation by Chicago election officials, who were trying to explain how the city's voting machines work.
REDONDO: For our audience, it's very interesting because elections in the United States is like a kind of election in the world.
Redondo says he wanted to be in Chicago for election day because Illinois' Jr. Senator is seen as a sort of celebrity in Spain.
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
(clockwise from topleft: Randy the Cowboy, Victor the Police Officer, Alex the Sailor, Glenn the Biker, Felipe the American Indian, David the Construction Worker)
When I was a kid in the late 70s, the Village People seemed cool or at least a lot of fun, with their energetic performances of songs like "Macho Man," "In the Navy," and "Y.M.C.A." Little did I know, as Wikipedia reports, "The band's name references New York City's Greenwich Village neighborhood, at the time known for having a substantial gay population. [Composer Jaques] Morali and [business partner Henri] Belolo got the inspiration for creating an assembly of American man archetypes based on the gay men of The Village who frequently dressed in various fantasy attire."
Stephen Colbert appreciates the McCain's campaign tactic of adopting Joe the Plumber in their attacks on Obama.
I for one appreciate the McCain campaign treating us like children. McCain will bring us back to a simpler time. A time when you could identify your neighbors' jobs by the hats they wore. Like Sam the Fireman, Bill the Cowboy and Jose the stereotype. These are the people in your neighborhood. The people that you meet when you're walking down the street. They're the people that you meet each day. And what the people in your neighborhood, the Joe the Plumber, the Wendy the Waitress need are tax cuts for the wealthy and off shore drilling. They don't need universal health care or last names.(via Crooks and Liars, via Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman)
Sunday, October 26, 2008
Procrustes was a host who adjusted his guests to their bed. Procrustes, whose name means "he who stretches", was arguably the most interesting of Theseus's challenges on the way to becoming a hero. He kept a house by the side of the road where he offered hospitality to passing strangers, who were invited in for a pleasant meal and a night's rest in his very special bed. Procrustes described it as having the unique property that its length exactly matched whomsoever lay down upon it. What Procrustes didn't volunteer was the method by which this "one-size-fits-all" was achieved, namely as soon as the guest lay down Procrustes went to work upon him, stretching him on the rack if he was too short for the bed and chopping off his legs if he was too long. Theseus turned the tables on Procrustes, fatally adjusting him to fit his own bed.Doug Henwood linked to this in his criticism of Naomi Klein's Disaster Capitalism.
A Procrustean bed is an arbitrary standard to which exact conformity is forced.
Stumbled across this at stand-up comedian Marc Maron's MySpace page:
I may be a little late on this but someone recently sent me a link to zietgeistmovie.com. They said, "you're going to like this, man. It's going to explain everything." It's one of those movies that debunk large chunks of history through valid research and some conspiratorial revisionism. You know the territory: the Jesus fallacy, the illuminati, Hitler was funded by the Bush family, the Federal Reserve Bank's control of inflation, 911. I tend to avoid this type of thing in my life right now. Not because I have any problem with people who want to do that kind of work. I'm just not in a position right now to dedicate my life to it. Which seems to be what it requires. I don't want to be the brooding guy that enters every conversation saying, "What about World Trade Center 7? Explain that."The observant Belle Waring caught this:
Granted the Kennedy Assassination conspiracy buffs really solved that thing. Look what those guys who relentlessly pursued the multi gunman theory have done with the 40 some odd years of work they put in. Thank god we now know the truth.
So, I got sucked into this zeitgeist thing. It might be true it might not be true. Do I care? What's difference between believing in that and believing in Jesus? You act the same as a religious fanatic if you are a conspiracy theorist. You pick a series of unprovable "facts" that become dogmatic tenets and you commit your life to it. If anyone argues with it you say, "Well, I guess you just don't want to open your eyes to the truth. You want to live in darkness. You don't want to see the light." So, how are they any different? You just pick a different dogmatic system that explains the relatively recent killing of a very attractive president and not the killing of a very attractive Jew thousands of years ago.
So, I'm watching the film. I tried to fight it. I'm fighting it now. I used the phrase conspiracy theorist and I don't like that phrase because I know it's a right wing semantic fuck off and it denies them their place but I don't want to be one of them and I know I'm vulnerable to it. I'd rather use 'independent speculative investigator'. They are doing something. It is unclear how important it is now or if it will ever be but they are committing their life to it and certainly there are questions.
The movie starts out by proving, effectively, that Jesus didn't exist. I'm thinking, "Okay, I know that." The eloquently and cinematicaly show It was a myth constructed from Egyptian astrology and several different creation and sun god myths that were popular in the region. It was compelling, well executed, and logical. Then, BAM, planes are flying into the towers. I'm in Jerusalem and now, in a cut, I'm in smoldering downtown Manhattan. As if to say, "Now we've showed you that Jesus is a lie and your mind is open. What about this?"
I've got to say, maybe they're right. I'll give them that. Here's to the 911 Truth Movement, maybe you're right, good for you, good luck with it. God forbid you do something practical like help change legislation so we can all have health care or not have our hard drives infiltrated by the government. No, what you're doing is much more important because the truth needs to come out. Don't worry about re-legislating bankruptcy laws so were not all just two payments, a divorce or an illness away from abject poverty. No, its important to know what happened to WTC 7 because ultimately if we know that then we are winning and all problems will be solved.
OK, I expect a certain level of crazy from Dr. Helen, [wife of Instapundit-peter] but I have to say this left my head spinning:Yglesias noted Waring's find on Oct. 6, Henry at Crooked Timber on Oct. 21 - with an added link to Barbara Ehrenreich - noting that the conspiracy really isn't about electing Obama, it's about heightening the contradictions, which means electing McCain.Is your head spinning from all the doom and gloom being blasted from the media and Congress day and night about impending financial disaster? Mine is, and frankly, I sometimes wonder how much of the financial picture is accurate and how much is manufactured in order to get a Democrat elected. One has to ponder about the timing of all of this bad news.The Instapundit often likes to take a similar line: the economy is actually fine but people are being tricked into thinking it's not. I really don't understand what model of the human psyche we're meant to be working on here. If you're underwater on your ARM mortgage, you're going to feel stressed out; likewise, if you are worried about losing your job and have huge credit card bills. There's just no amount of evil MSM scheming that could plausibly negate your actual experience of local economic conditions, unless the TVs at the Instapundit home are tricked out with an array of virtual reality simulators and backed up with generous servings of psychoactive drugs. Which, if true, makes me want to go to Tennesee, because that sounds rad. But this, view, while silly, is as naught compared with the belief that George Bush, Ben Bernanke, and Henry Paulson are part of a scheme to elect Barack Obama. I mean, really.
Why the crescendo of economic collapse right before the election? Why didn't the media and congress act just as concerned some time ago or wait until sometime after the election to go into crisis mode? [perhaps an actual crisis occurred at this time?--ed] The timing of the current financial crisis seems too planned and calculating to be just a coincidence. Polls show that people's number one concern right now is the economy and that for the most part, voters believe Democrats are somewhat more likely to help with the economy. Could it be that the liberal media and those in Congress, knowing that, is blaring the bad economic news from the rooftops in order to manipulate voters into voting for a Democrat? If so, it won't be the first time.
Saturday, October 25, 2008
The Great Schlep from The Great Schlep on Vimeo.
Of course I remember Scarlett Johansson and Larry David were active for Obama early in the primary. David will start work on the seventh season of Curb Your Enthusiasm in Decemeber. Sort of hope he does something about political campaigns.
Saturday, October 18, 2008
(or Caring is Creepy)
Megan McArdle writes
So the idea that Krugman has somehow won one for the team by predicting something that libertarian/conservative/free-market commentators didn't see coming is either misinformed, or lunatic.Paul Krugman of course recently won the Nobel Prize in Economics.
McArdle was responding to Brian Beutler who wrote:
Time passed, and eventually conservative and libertarian writers--who either didn't understand what was happening, or didn't think all that highly of Krugman's liberalism, or both--began to mock him for getting his economic forecast wrong. Now, lo and behold, he wasn't wrong at all.I've disagreed with Krugman over some things over the years, like Obama versus Hillary Clinton, but Beutler is absolutely correct here.
I've learned a ton from reading Krugman - among others of course - who wrote well in real time about Japan's "lost decade" of the Nineties, the failure of Long Term Capital Management, the Asian Financial Crisis of the Nineties, Enron and accounting fraud, etc., etc., etc.
Those of us, like Beutler, who studied Krugman are much better prepared to understand what's happening now with the global economy, and were much less surprised by the crisis. Also it was conservative and libertarian policy prescriptions which lead to the crisis in the first place, but that's a different argument.
In commenting on this Beutler makes an excellent point:
For literally years, Paul Krugman warned that we'd be in for some serious economic hard times when the housing bubble burst. This wasn't something he did as a game, but rather in the hope that rightly positioned people would address the problem. They didn't.People of a social democratic persuasion who criticize free market ideology don't do so because they're somehow overly negative or fundamentally cynical, it's because they care.
Sunday, October 05, 2008
(from the New York Times)
Shortly after he became chief executive [of Fannie Mae], Mr. Mudd* traveled to the California offices of Angelo R. Mozilo, the head of Countrywide Financial, then the nation’s largest mortgage lender [before it was bought out by Bank of America]. Fannie had a longstanding and lucrative relationship with Countrywide, which sold more loans to Fannie than anyone else.
But at that meeting, Mr. Mozilo, a butcher’s son who had almost single-handedly built Countrywide into a financial powerhouse, threatened to upend their partnership unless Fannie started buying Countrywide’s riskier loans.
Mr. Mozilo, who did not return telephone calls seeking comment, told Mr. Mudd that Countrywide had other options. For example, Wall Street had recently jumped into the market for risky mortgages. Firms like Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers and Goldman Sachs had started bundling home loans and selling them to investors - bypassing Fannie and dealing with Countrywide directly.
"You’re becoming irrelevant," Mr. Mozilo told Mr. Mudd, according to two people with knowledge of the meeting who requested anonymity because the talks were confidential. In the previous year, Fannie had already lost 56 percent of its loan-reselling business to Wall Street and other competitors.
"You need us more than we need you," Mr. Mozilo said, "and if you don’t take these loans, you’ll find you can lose much more."
Then Mr. Mozilo offered everyone a breath mint.
Investors were also pressuring Mr. Mudd to take greater risks.
On one occasion, a hedge fund manager telephoned a senior Fannie executive to complain that the company was not taking enough gambles in chasing profits.
"Are you stupid or blind?" the investor roared, according to someone who heard the call, but requested anonymity. "Your job is to make me money!"
Capitol Hill bore down on Mr. Mudd as well. The same year he took the top position, regulators sharply increased Fannie’s affordable-housing goals. Democratic lawmakers demanded that the company buy more loans that had been made to low-income and minority homebuyers.
"When homes are doubling in price in every six years and incomes are increasing by a mere one percent per year, Fannie’s mission is of paramount importance," Senator Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat, lectured Mr. Mudd at a Congressional hearing in 2006. "In fact, Fannie and Freddie can do more, a lot more."
*Please don't shed a tear for "My Name is Mudd", his salary was in the millions.
Friday, September 19, 2008
Writer David Foster Wallace died at the age of 46 last Friday. His wife came home to find him hanging by a noose, an apparent suicide.
In March 2005 I linked to this Atlantic story he did about conservative radio talk show hosts. (It has a cool footnote/sidebar feature which I must figure out how to do.) He could be really, really funny as seen in the talk show piece.
When Mr. Z.'s impassioned, his voice rises and his arms wave around (which obviously only those in the Airmix room can see). He also fidgets, bobs slightly up and down in his executive desk chair, and weaves. Although he must stay seated and can't pace around the room, the host does not have to keep his mouth any set distance from the microphone, since the board op, 'Mondo Hernandez, can adjust his levels on the mixing board's channel 7 so that Mr. Z.'s volume always stays in range and never peaks or fades. 'Mondo, whose price for letting outside parties hang around Airmix is one large bag of cool-ranch Doritos per evening, is an immense twenty-one-year-old man with a ponytail, stony Mesoamerican features, and the placid, grandmotherly eyes common to giant mammals everywhere.
He was really smart too, as show by the great argument he puts forward in this piece. To summarize: we endure thousands of automobile deaths in order that we have the freedom to drive. We should be able to endure inevitable terrorist attacks, without sacrificing our civil liberties or giving government absolute power over its citizenry.
What are the effects on the American idea of Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib, PATRIOT Acts I and II, warrantless surveillance, Executive Order 13233, corporate contractors performing military functions, the Military Commissions Act, NSPD 51, etc., etc.? Assume for a moment that some of these measures really have helped make our persons and property safer - are they worth it?We should think of the victims of terrorist attacks as "democratic martyrs" for "the American idea."**
Infinite Jest was of course his big hit. I dated a girl five years or so younger than me, who had gone to Northwestern (and hence a braniac with a work ethic) and her and her friends would quote lines from it. I enjoyed it, especially the conceit about the government commodifying time and selling corporations the right to name certain years,*** so for example year 2017 was known as 2017: Year of the Depends Adult Diaper. His many footnotes were very informative and very funny.
Mark Twain said, he's all there in his work. His piece Consider the Lobster.
As I see it, it probably really is good for the soul to be a tourist, even if it’s only once in a while. Not good for the soul in a refreshing or enlivening way, though, but rather in a grim, steely-eyed, let’s-look-honestly-at-the-facts-and-find-some-way-to-deal-with-them way. My personal experience has not been that traveling around the country is broadening or relaxing, or that radical changes in place and context have a salutary effect, but rather that intranational tourism is radically constricting, and humbling in the hardest way - hostile to my fantasy of being a real individual, of living somehow outside and above it all. (Coming up is the part that my companions find especially unhappy and repellent, a sure way to spoil the fun of vacation travel:) To be a mass tourist, for me, is to become a pure late-date American: alien, ignorant, greedy for something you cannot ever have, disappointed in a way you can never admit. It is to spoil, by way of sheer ontology, the very unspoiledness you are there to experience. It is to impose yourself on places that in all noneconomic ways would be better, realer, without you. It is, in lines and gridlock and transaction after transaction, to confront a dimension of yourself that is as inescapable as it is painful: As a tourist, you become economically significant but existentially loathsome, an insect on a dead thing.Slate has some people write up their memories and thoughts. Jordan Ellenberg writes:
But there's a deeper likeness, too. "We live today," he told the Believer in 2003, "in a world where most of the really important developments in everything from math and physics and astronomy to public policy and psychology and classical music are so extremely abstract and technically complex and context-dependent that it's next to impossible for the ordinary citizen to feel that they (the developments) have much relevance to her actual life." Technical complexity, a turnoff to most, was Wallace's bread and meat. He was never interested in the kind of truths that you could sum up in 10 words - which is why it's so hard to quote Wallace 10 words at a time.Michiko Kakutani puts him inside the context of other fiction writers:
Like Mr. DeLillo and Salman Rushdie, and like Dave Eggers, Zadie Smith and other younger authors, Mr. Wallace transcended Philip Rahv’s famous division of writers into "palefaces" (like Henry James and T. S. Eliot, who specialized in heady, cultivated works rich in symbolism and allegory) and "redskins" (like Whitman and Dreiser, who embraced an earthier, more emotional naturalism). He also transcended Cyril Connolly’s division of writers into "mandarins" (like Proust, who favored ornate, even byzantine prose) and "vernacular" stylists (like Hemingway, who leaned toward more conversational tropes). An ardent magpie, Mr. Wallace tossed together the literary and the colloquial with hyperventilated glee, using an encyclopedia of styles and techniques to try to capture the cacophony of contemporary America.
* the footnote meister
** in a footnote to "the American idea" Wallace writes "let's just please all agree that we generally know what this term connotes - an open society, consent of the governed, enumerated powers, Federalist 10, pluralism, due process, transparency ... the whole democratic roil."
*** I remember a time when sports stadiums didn't have corporate brands in their names.
Thursday, September 18, 2008
Saturday, August 16, 2008
King Abdullah II of Jordan flew to Baghdad on Monday, becoming the first Arab leader to visit Iraq since Saddam Hussein fell five years ago.Jordan relies on Iraq for most of its fuels.
Ibrahim al-Sumadayi, an Iraqi political analyst, said on Baghdad television that the visit would encourage other Arab nations to take similar steps. He also said that Jordan, with its Sunni majority, wished to prevent Iran, a nation of Shiites, from exerting undue influence in Baghdad.Abdullah had been the one warning of a rising "Shia crescent" extending from the Shia in Lebanon, who are gaining in power, to the newly empowered Shia in Iraq, to the Shia nation of Iran.
The UN should create a department of Frozen Conflicts which alerts the media as one of them thaws or heats up. Kashmir is seeing increasing conflict today, for instance. Cyprus seems to be getting better, as does Shia-Sunni flashpoint of Iraq. (However from what I understand the Shia of Iraq are unlikely to reconcile with their fellow Iraqi Sunnis, which is why Abdullah's diplomacy with Iraq is key.)
Thursday, August 14, 2008
Sen. McCain has put forward the most fiscally reckless presidential platform in modern memory. The likely results of his Bush-plus policies are clear. As Berkeley economist Brad Delong has estimated, the McCain plan, as compared to the Obama plan, would lower annual incomes by $300 billion or more in real terms by 2017, costing the typical worker $1,800 or more due to the effect of large deficits on national savings and thus capital formation. Sen. McCain's neglect of critical public investments would further impede economic growth for decades to come.
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
To be sure, the Georgian government and President Saakashvili himself is responsible for launching its military move on August 7--albeit in response to provocations and heavy shelling by South Ossetian separatists. That move gave Moscow the pretext to invade. Today, Western observers understandably ask why Tbilisi allowed itself to be goaded into what was clearly a Russian trap. President Saakashvili will have to answer that question himself. But I suspect I have a pretty good idea of what he will say. In our recent conversations, it was clear to me that he was concluding that the West was not serious about resolving these conflicts, that he did not believe he would ever have the diplomatic support required, and that the status quo could not go on forever. He watched Russia's creeping annexation of Abkhazia start last spring with almost no Western response. That does not justify what clearly was a terrible strategic mistake by Georgia to act militarily. But it points to the mistakes--both of omission and commission--the West made that contributed to this crisis.Cathy Young writes about it in Reason.
Russia has pointedly compared South Ossetia's claims to independence to those of Kosovo, whose recognition it strongly opposed. (Russia's own war against secessionist Chechnya, which killed tens if not hundreds of thousands of civilians, goes unmentioned.)The Russians going on about human rights and genocide is a little bizarre. Young again:
Some liberal Russian commentators, such as EJ.ru's Dmitry Sidorov, argue that Saakashvili walked into Moscow's trap, giving Russia an excuse for an invasion that will fatally destabilize Georgia's political system. Meanwhile, opposition leader Mikhail Kasyanov believes it was the Kremlin that let itself be provoked into a military confrontation that will badly hurt Russia's international standing.Obviously it remains to be seen how this shakes out. It was interesting to see the Presidents of Poland, Ukraine, Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia in Tbilisi in solidarity. To me a lot depends on the future state of the global financial system and hence the global economy. Will it continue to slide?
A nasty inflation number today. But remember what the guide says: DON’T PANIC.
Basically, what we’re seeing is pure commodity price inflation, with not a hint of a wage-price spiral. And the commodity boom seems to be over. So inflation will be headed down soon.
I’m sure that Gentle Uncle Ben is under immense pressure to raise rates. But he shouldn’t.
Just titles it "The Truth Will Not Set You Free: Everything we know about Darfur, and everything we're not doing about it." He gets almost Zizekian in his paradoxical inversions. Not near enough has happened to stop the genocide because we know too much?
Russia and China won't allow Sudan's sovereignty to be violated and there's no stomach to go outside the UN again like with Kosovo and Iraq. Those are the obstacles, not any shortcomings of those who've tried to do something however small.
Thursday, August 07, 2008
No light; but rather darkness visible
Served only to discover sights of woe,
Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace
And rest can never dwell, hope never comes
That comes to all, but torture without end
Still urges, and a fiery deluge, fed
With ever-burning sulphur unconsumed.
The Dark Side and the Dark Knight
The Battle for a Country's Soul by Jane Mayer
Alan Brinkley's review of Mayer's The Dark Side.
At the urging of Cheney - or his surrogate Addington - President Bush nullified the Geneva Conventions and, without publicly stating it, suspended habeas corpus for terror suspects, thus removing two important impediments to torture. Others worked to undermine the 1984 international Convention Against Torture, which, under American leadership, had provided the first explicit definition of what torture was.Obama better win in November. The unsung heroes:
Among the most courageous opponents of the use of torture was a small group of lawyers working within the Bush administration - conservative men, loyal Republicans, who in the face of enormous pressure to go along attempted to use the law to stop what they considered a series of policies that were both illegal and immoral: Alberto Mora, the Navy general counsel, who tried to work within the system to stop what he believed were renegade actions; Jack Goldsmith, who became the head of the Office of Legal Counsel in 2003 and sought to revoke the Yoo memo of 2002, convinced that it had violated the law in authorizing what he believed was clearly torture; and Matthew Waxman, a Defense Department lawyer overseeing detainee issues, who sought ways to stop what he believed to be illegal and dangerous policies. Waxman summoned a meeting of high-ranking military officers and Defense Department officials (including the secretaries of the Army, Navy and Air Force), all of whom supported the restoration of Geneva Convention protections. Waxman was quickly hauled up before Addington and told that his efforts constituted "an abomination." All of these lawyers, and others, soon left the government after being deceived, bullied, thwarted and marginalized by the Cheney loyalists.Via Crooks and Liars, conservative pundit Glenn Beck says Bush is Batman:
"This seems to be a movie that extols some of the conservative viewpoints that we are dealing with terrorists, that you can trust people to make the right decision, that sometimes you have to do things that you don’t want to do, and you have to cross lines that you don’t want to cross, if you’re going to save - if you’re going to save your city, in this case it’s Gotham.It's a movie, which I enjoyed by the way. Batman wants to retire for various reasons and feels he can because of Harvey Dent. In the real world, he could because there'd be a FBI after the Joker and in the real world Batman's eavesdropping and torture of Eric Robert's mob boss (by dropping him off a building balconey) are illegal. So Bush is doing illegal stuff? Extraordinary rendition is not when you snatch someone and bring them to the US to stand trial. It's when terrorist suspect are handed off to intellegence services of countries like Syria, Egypt, and Jordan where they are tortured.
"But Batman goes into another country and with a C130, snatches a guy out, then throws him back here into Gotham. So there’s rendition! At one point, the Morgan Freeman character says to Batman, ‘Wait a minute, hang on... you’re eavesdropping on everyone in Gotham?’ And Batman says, ‘Yes, to stop this terrorist.’ Morgan Freeman says, ‘I can’t be a part of it.’ And yet Morgan Freeman does become a part of it, and they find the Joker. One of the ways they find the Joker is through eavesdropping. I mean the parallels here of what’s going on is to me stunning."
These conservatives are trying to defend torture on principle. It's the Vic Mackey theory of justice or the ideas embodied by Jack Nicholson's character in A Few Good Men. Damon Root discusses another salient example at Hit and Run:
There's a lot worth thinking about in Justice Antonin Scalia's harsh Boumediene v. Bush dissent, but one passage jumped out right away. After noting that the Bush administration used the naval base at Guantanamo Bay precisely because it believed that enemy combatants would not enjoy habeas corpus and other constitutional rights while being held there, Justice Scalia suggests the following: "Had the law been otherwise, the military surely would not have transported prisoners there, but would have kept them in Afghanistan, transferred them to another of our foreign military bases, or turned them over to allies for detention." Here's the kicker: "Those facilities might well have been worse for the detainees themselves."Glenn Beck and Scalia are like the police officer the Joker baited in jail. They are like Harvey Dent when - driven mad by fear of losing the one he loves - he's threatening Joker's tied-up flunky with death, until Batman talks him out of it. To paraphrase the Joker, all some conservatives need to become fascist is a little push. These scenes argue against seeing The Dark Knight as propaganda. Plus why would they have a cameo with Patrick Leahy if Glenn Beck was right?
Given that "allies" such as Egypt and Syria regularly torture their prisoners, I'd certainly agree that things "might well have been worse" elsewhere. But isn't Justice Scalia contradicting President Bush, who famously declared that "torture is never acceptable, nor do we hand over people to countries that do torture." And maybe I'm reading too much into it, but Scalia's words sure sound like an implied threat. You liberals think Guantanamo is bad? Next time you won't even know where the prisoners are held.
(spoiler) Also, the film has a nice climatic scene of solidarity, when each boatload of passengers refuses to kill the other boatload of strangers in order to save themselves. The mad Joker believes they will succumb to fear, whereas Batman believes they won't.
(top) AnnaSophia Robb with some of the cast of Reno 911 and (bottom) hitting the books.
14-year-old actress blogging? At least it's better than catblogging. I got those photos from Robb's website, where she has lists of her favorite things, like movies: "Best in Show, Mighty Wind, Lord of the Rings, Titanic, Napolean Dynamite, Nacho Libre."
Robb played the gum-chewing Violet Beauregarde* in Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. But she caught my attention with last year's movie Bridge to Terabithia, where her performance as Leslie Burke is outstanding.
Time movie critic Richard Schekel said of her performance in the film "Sleepwalking", "There is a wonderful range to Robb's work; she's testy and vulnerable, patient and impatient, hopeful and despairing always fiercely committed to exploring the ambiguities of her still-forming character. This is extraordinarily mature acting from someone this young and she wins our sympathy without once begging for it."
According to Wikipedia, Robb is a Christian from Denver, who had a bit of homeschooling but now attends a private school. Her first gig was for a McDonalds commercial, which makes her the stereotypical American, from the perspective of "Old Europe."
The subtitle of this blog is "Anything To Help Advance the Cause" and once a commenter asked "what is the 'cause' you speak of"? I responded it can be anything you want, from having a good time, to doing the chores, to making the world a better place.
Interstingly, Robb has a section of her website called "Changing the World." Once you click through the link, the heading is "Making the World a Better Place" and the section contains three more links. The top link is on Darfur, and it connects to a good summary of what is happening there: "At the moment, many mission agencies such as; Oxfam International, CARE, International Rescue Committee, Church World Service, Inter Action, Doctors Without Boarders[sic], Save the Children, UNICEF, CRWRC, and lots of others are all involved with humanitarian aid for the displaced Sudanese. Yet only 13,000 aid works[sic]** are in Darfur to help 4 ½ million."
Her analysis is pretty sophisticated, "The UN has many resolutions in debate to put UN troops on the ground in Darfur to protect the people but, a few countries that are profiting from the Khartoum government, China and Russia, openly refuse to admit to what is going on in Sudan. They say that the UN inspectors are misinformed. These governments vote against the resolutions. China and Russia are buying all the oil in Sudan and 80% of the oil money is being used to buy ammunition for the Janjaweed." At the end, Robb gives a numbered list of what people can do now, supplied by and credited to the Genocide Intervention Network.
The second area of interest is the Dalits, or "untouchables" of India. Again, she provides some good information and contact numbers for those wanting to get involved.
The third and final section of "Making the World a Better Place" is the "Environment." There's a note saying it's "(under construction)" which is sort of how I feel about environmental issues. Yeah, of course they're a concern but I don't have much to say about it. Actually I never blog about it. In my mind the needs of those in Darfur, in Zimbabwe, or in Burma, etc. seem more immediate. Not to denigrate those active on environmental issues; I guess those issues could be more consequential in the long run. Perhaps her interest in these various causes are partly a result of her religion? Maybe, but if she is religious she apparently isn't very hardcore because she doesn't bring it up on her website.
The first time I saw Bridge to Terabithia, I took a car ride afterwards and the Shins' song "New Slang" came on the radio. The sweetly melancholic tune seemed a perfect fit for the movie and now whenever I hear it, I think of that magical-realistic, Hallmarky film. (Robb is teaming up again with the director of that film (who according to IMDB also directed an episode of the Simpsons(!)) The song "New Slang" first came to mainstream prominence when Natalie Portman's character in Garden State said "it will change your life." Portman has made a successful transition from child actress to adult actress, and we here at Negative Outlook? will be "praying" that the same happens for Robb if that's what she wants to do. (A little six degrees of Kevin Bacon: Robb has a bit part in Hayden Christensen's new movie Jumper.)
Robb's character in Bridge to Terabithia, Leslie Burke, had a weirdly compelling sincerity. It reminded me of Amy Adams in Enchanted or Junebug or Barack Obama or the positive spin on Ned Flanders in the Simpsons movie (of course it's a generalization and there are differences). Call it the "New Sincerity" for an ironic age (e.g. Mighty Wind, Best in Show, Napolean Dynamite, Nacho Libre) where the national newspaper is the Onion.
* In the original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate factory, Violet Beauregarde had probably my all-time favorite movie line "WHAT IS THIS, A FREAKOUT?" when they were taking the psychedelic boat-trip down a candy river.
** Yeah there are a couple mistakes the spellchecker couldn't catch, so what? Don't know about most people that age, but I was too busy crashing keg parties and attending Van Halen concerts and such back then to care about politics and tragedies in far off lands. It's pretty impressive.
Monday, August 04, 2008
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn died.
One story, a short novel, was "A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich," an account of a single day in an icy prison camp written in the voice of an inmate named Ivan Denisovich Shukov, a bricklayer.How did Solzhenitsyn first end up in the Gulag Archipelago?
Mr. Solzhenitsyn typed the story single spaced, using both sides to save paper. He sent one copy to Lev Kopelev, an intellectual with whom he had shared a cell 16 years earlier. Mr. Kopelev, who later became a well known dissident, realized that under Khrushchev’s policies of liberalization, it might be possible to have the story published by Novy Mir, or The New World, the most prestigious of the Soviet Union’s so-called thick literary and cultural journals. Mr. Kopelev and his colleagues steered the manuscript around lower editors who might have blocked its publication and took it to Aleksandr Tvardovsky, the editor and a Politburo member who backed Khrushchev.
On reading the manuscript, Mr. Tvardovsky summoned Mr. Solzhenitsyn from Ryazan. "You have written a marvelous thing," he told him. "You have described only one day, and yet everything there is to say about prison has been said." He likened the story to Tolstoy’s moral tales. Other editors compared it to Dostoyevski’s "House of the Dead," which the author had based on his own experience of incarceration in czarist times. Mr. Tvardovsky offered Mr. Solzhenitsyn a contract worth more than twice his teacher’s annual salary, but he cautioned that he was not certain he could publish the story.
Mr. Tvardovsky was eventually able to get Khrushchev himself to read "A Day in the Life." Khrushchev was impressed, and by mid-October 1962, the presidium of the Politburo took up the question of whether to allow it to be published. The presidium ultimately agreed, and in his biography "Solzhenitsyn" (Norton, 1985), Michael Scammell wrote that Khrushchev defended the decision and was reported to have declared: "There’s a Stalinist in each of you; there’s even a Stalinist in me. We must root out this evil."
In February 1945, as the war in Europe drew to a close, he was arrested on the East Prussian front by agents of Smersh, the Soviet spy agency. The evidence against him was found in a letter to a school friend in which he referred to Stalin - disrespectfully, the authorities said - as "the man with the mustache." Though he was a loyal Communist, he was sentenced to eight years in a labor camp.
Harold Meyerson had a good column on Obama's choice of economic advisors and a meeting he had with them.
Given the range of perspectives and interests represented, such concord was remarkable. The advisers ran the gamut from Clinton administration centrists, such as former Treasury secretaries Robert Rubin and Larry Summers; to former George W. Bush administration Treasury secretary Paul O'Neill and SEC chairman William Donaldson, both presumably still Republicans; to such avowed liberals as former labor secretary (and my American Prospect colleague) Robert Reich, economist Jared Bernstein, and labor leaders John Sweeney (president of the AFL-CIO) and Anna Burger (chair of Change to Win). Also there, for good measure, were former Fed chief Paul Volcker and everyone's favorite mega-rich guy, Warren Buffett.
"There was no dissent over whether there should be a stimulus," says Bernstein, "just over whether it should be $50 billion or a lot bigger. There's real consensus that the economy has structural problems, ranging from people like Reich and me to CEOs who look at the markets and say we really need better rules."
That doesn't mean that differing views weren't voiced in the meeting or that the party has reached a consensus on trade. But, adds Bernstein, Obama is "more of an 'and' guy than an 'or' guy. He's for growth and fairness."
So, he could listen to the theorists and social engineers like David Brooks and Thomas Friedman who call for more education and increasing human capital. Also, Obama hopefully will focus on fairness and not actively make the economic environment so anti-labor. In a an interview with the Wall Street Journal, he did say:
We have drastically increased productivity since 1995, and there was the theory that if you increase productivity enough some of these problems of living standards would solve themselves. But what we've seen is rising productivity, rising corporate profits but flat-lining or even declining wages and incomes for the average family.
What that says is that it's going to be important for us to pay attention to not only growing the pie, which is always critical, but also some attention to how it is sliced. I do not believe that those two things -- fair distribution and robust economic growth -- are mutually exclusive.
Monday, July 28, 2008
Thursday, July 10, 2008
Sunday, June 15, 2008
New York Times Magazine: How did you feel when you heard that Buckley died this year?
Gore Vidal: I thought hell is bound to be a livelier place, as he joins forever those whom he served in life, applauding their prejudices and fanning their hatred.
Well put. Coincidently I recently saw Jeff Garlin's documentary John Waters: This Filthy World which was hilarious. Waters is a unique guy.
Saturday, June 14, 2008
There's a high you get from the classic 1970s "art-rock" of Yes, Genesis, or King Crimson-- and when it hits, there's nothing like it. I'm not talking about the way other music peaks, like a dance track where the beat kicks in and the crowd goes berzerk, or metal music that gets louder and louder until your skull caves, or gutbucket singers who can make your heart jump out of your chest. With art-rock, there's a lot of mumbo-jumbo and funny time signatures, and sometimes there's like 10 or 15 minutes of really boring shit (see: Yes, "Awaken"). But when the "good part" hits? Holy shit-- the band crescendos and the singer, smooth as silk but loud as God, rams Buddha down the throat of a giant silver dragon. If I sound like I'm growing a mullet, I've done my job.
Speaking of which, Stereolab has a new album dropping on August 18th, then a tour of the States this fall.
Friday, June 06, 2008
Defense Secretary Robert Gates fired the top civilian commander and the top general in the Air Force over "Atomic errors."
The inquiry involving the Air Force was an effort to determine how four high-tech electrical nose cone fuses for Minuteman nuclear warheads were sent to Taiwan in place of helicopter batteries. The mistake was discovered in March - a year and a half after the mistaken shipment.
Mr. Gates made clear that most troubling was that the inquiry showed how little the Air Force had done to improve the security of the nuclear weapons infrastructure even after it was disclosed last year that a B-52 bomber had flown across the United States without anyone’s realizing that it was carrying six armed nuclear cruise missiles.
Some had said that the bomber flight was consciously done as a warning to Iran. I didn't find that persuasive at the time and especially don't find it persuasive now that NATO-ally Turkey and Iran are coordinating attacks on Kurds in northern Iraq.
Thursday, April 17, 2008
Monday, April 07, 2008
"'If he had signed just one platinum act, all would have been forgiven. Instead he gave them Luna, Stereolab and the Afghan Whigs.' Things go from bad to worse, until 'Terry had lost his wife, which he pretended not to care about. Now he had lost his job. ... Six months later he was working at a gas station in New Jersey, changing oil and brake liners by day, snorting heroin by night.'"
Liz Phair quoting from Dean Wareham about "One particularly unforgettable story [involving] the rags-to-riches-to-rags-again tale of a high-flying A & R executive at Elektra named Terry Tolkin".
Thursday, March 06, 2008
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Sunday, January 13, 2008
(or poetry versus prose)
On paper Hillary Clinton or John Edwards may look better for progressive hopes - although no doubt Obama supporters would dispute this. I'll admit my enthusiasm for Obama wavered when I read that two of my favorite writers obliquely favored Edwards (Barabara Ehrenreich and Christopher Hitchens).
But then I read this brief for Obama by Lorrie Moore and my mind was blown like an audience member at a Tenacious D gig*.
Moore articulates my inchoate thoughts about the Democratic primary. Hillary Clinton made a category mistake when she said people shouldn't succumb to "false hopes." Cornel West has made a useful distinction about the term "hope." He said people are optimistic when they erroneously believe conditions are more favorable than they actually are. Pessimism is when one is erroneously negative. Hope is when one has a realistically negative outlook but also recognizes the possibilities for and works towards - against the odds - positive change. In West's formulation you can't have "false hope."
Obama and his supporters had hope which ended up transforming the political economy after the Iowa primary and altered the landscape, at least for the time being. (Was there an actual paradigm shift? We'll see.)
David Brooks wrote on that occasion "This is a huge moment. It’s one of those times when a movement that seemed ethereal and idealistic became a reality and took on political substance."
Maureen Dowd, who once called Obama "Obambi" opined: "The Obama revolution arrived not on little cat feet in the Iowa snow but like a balmy promise, an effortlessly leaping lion hungry for something different, propelled by a visceral desire among Americans to feel American again."
One can overstate the changes and significance - that would be being optimistic. Nevertheless the Obama campaign gave people more reason to hope.
*Is that Amy Adams in the audience?