"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

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Pakistan Coalition Moves to Impeach Musharraf

interview with Ahmed Rashid

Darkness Visible

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.

"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."
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.

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."

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.
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?

(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.

New Slang

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

A Day in the Life

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.

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."
How did Solzhenitsyn first end up in the Gulag Archipelago?
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.
more of an 'and' guy than an 'or' guy

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.