"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, November 14, 2009

The End of the Cold War

The Lessons of 1989 by Hitchens

20 Years of Collapse by Slavoj Zizek

Post-Wall by Slavoj Zizek

Velvet Revolution: The Prospects by Timothy Garton Ash

Hitchens mentions something I found surprising the first time I heard about it.
Even more appalling was the 12-fold increase in the GDR's [German Democratic Republic] national debt--a situation so grotesque that it had been classified as a state secret lest loans from Western creditors dry up. "Just to avoid further indebtedness," wrote Schürer, "would mean a lowering next year of living standards by 25 to 30 per cent, and make the GDR ungovernable."
 Why would people loan to and borrow from their mortal enemies?

Timothy Garton Ash:
Twenty years later, in the summer of 2009, the Islamic Republic of Iran staged a show trial of political leaders and thinkers it accused of fomenting enghelab -e makhmali--that is, precisely, velvet revolution. Across the intervening years, dramatic events in places including Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, South Africa, Chile, Slovakia, Croatia, Serbia, Georgia, Ukraine, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, and Burma were tagged with variants of adjective + revolution. Thus we have read about singing (Baltic states), peaceful, negotiated (South Africa, Chile), rose (Georgia), orange (Ukraine), color (widely used, post-orange), cedar (Lebanon), tulip (Kyrgyzstan), electoral (generic), saffron (Burma), and most recently, in Iran, green revolution. Often, as in the original Czechoslovak case, the catchy labeling has been popularized through the interplay of foreign journalists and political activists in the countries concerned.
 And yet the "antiwar" left finds this all uninteresting.

Masterpiece Theater's Endgame.

Life After the End of History by Ross Douthat

It takes a certain amount of moral nihilism to write something like this:
On the left, there’s an enduring fascination with the pseudo-Marxist vision of global capitalism as an enormous Ponzi scheme, destined to be undone by peak oil, climate change, or the next financial bubble.
Nothing's destined but he seems weirdly oblivious of what happened last year.

Ezra Klein had a nice catch here:
Ross Douthat, for instance, says it will be "offensive when Obama takes the stage in Oslo this November instead of Morgan Tsvangirai, Zimbabwe’s heroic opposition leader." By that same logic, it seems a bit offensive for Douthat to spend his column arguing that Obama should give back the Nobel rather than devoting his column to the struggles of Tsvangirai, who has never before been mentioned in one of Douthat's op-eds.
Douthat would rather take up precious column space bashing liberals rather than write about Tsvangirai or, say, Aung San Suu Kyi.


Believer article on Steve Erickson, which places him between DeLillo and Pynchon on the hand and Rick Moody and David Foster Wallace on the other.

I've always had a soft spot for postmodern theorist Fredric Jameson, because he's a gay Marxist who wears a leather jacket and rides a Harley.

On the Glib Callousness of the "Antiwar" Left*

The Muslim Charles Whitman shouted the takbir "God is Great" as he went about his shooting spree at Fort Hood, but he wasn't a "terrorist" in the conventional sense. He had a long history of mental instability, like his precursor Whitman.

Jamie Tarabay on American Muslim's reactions.

Reflecting on the shootings, the emotion I felt was sadness, for the victims and for the recent history of world Muslims. Russia leveled Muslim Chechnya in the 90s. Bosnian Serbs ethnically cleansed the Muslim residents of Bosnia, resulting in the worst massacre in Europe since World War II. In Darfur, Arab Muslims committed genocide against black Muslims. Growing powerhouse China continues to dominate and oppresses the Muslim Uygurs in the western Xinjiang region. Israel invades Lebanon again, blockades and commits war crimes in Gaza and refuses to allow a Palestinian state to form in the West Bank. Mahmoud Abbas is about to resign and the Palestinian Authority is on the brink of collapse.

The "antiwar" left is coldly callous about all of this, except America's client Israel and Iraq and Afghanistan. (Ostensibly because we pay taxes and participate in elections here and not in those other countries, not to mention the fact the US is still the most powerful country economically and militarily.) And yet because of America and the West, Saddam Hussein and the hard core religious Taliban can no longer massacre fellow Muslims on a regular basis.
* The "antiwar" right - antigovernment, nativist and isolationist - like those at antiwar.com are basically racist and weirdly obsessed with Jews and neocons.

The Difference Engine

Master number-cruncher Brad DeLong recommends Sydney Padua's comics.

Peace and Reconciliation

Democracy has a difficult time functioning when a developing country has two or more ethnicities locked in conflict. So, some good news from Turkey:

ISTANBUL -- After months of dialogue, the Turkish government announced a plan on Friday to help end the quarter-century-long conflict with a Kurdish separatist movement that has cost more than 40,000 lives.

The plan will be debated by Parliament, but the fact that it is being discussed at all is considered to be a landmark. For decades, Kurdish political parties were routinely banned, and the ethnic identity of the Kurds was not openly acknowledged, though they make up almost 15 percent of Turkey’s population.

The government’s plan would allow the Kurdish language to be used in all broadcast media and political campaigns, and restore Kurdish names to cities and towns that have been given Turkish ones. It would also establish a committee to fight discrimination.
"Today is the beginning of a new timeline and a fresh start," Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a live televised speech. "We took a courageous step to resolve chronic issues that constitute an obstacle along Turkey’s development, progression and empowerment, and we are very sincere."
Last year, Parliament approved private Kurdish language courses and a public television channel in Kurdish, as part of what it called a democracy package. And this week, a regulation took effect allowing Kurdish prisoners to communicate with visitors in their native language.
What the People Think

I've added the very smart Nate Silver to my blogroll. In my opinion, the best policy when encountering a poll, graph or chart is to be highly skeptical about its methodology, especially when like 99 percent of the time a blogger will post a poll, graph or chart which supports their views.
Change We Can Believe In

New York Times Editorial:
On Friday, Attorney General Holder announced that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the self-described mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, and four others accused in the plot will be tried in a fashion that will not further erode American justice or shame Americans. It promises to finally provide justice for the victims of 9/11.Mr. Holder said those prisoners would be prosecuted in federal court in Manhattan.
Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. took a bold and principled step on Friday toward repairing the damage wrought by former President George W. Bush with his decision to discard the nation’s well-established systems of civilian and military justice in the treatment of detainees captured in antiterrorist operations.
From that entirely unnecessary policy (the United States had the tools to detain, charge and bring terrorists to justice) flowed a terrible legacy of torture and open-ended incarceration. It left President Obama with yet another mess to clean up on an urgent basis.
Matt Yglesias uses the occasion to take a jab at loco Senator Joseph Lieberman. The first thing that came to mind for me is that ultra-leftists who have been saying that there is no difference between Bush and Obama are full of it, something I've been saying all year.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Congressman Boehner's Terror Alert Skin Set Back To Orange

That would be a nice premise for a sci-fi story: in a future society people's skin has been genetically modified so that when the Terror Alert Level changes, everyone's skin would change color to reflect the new threat level.

Also in the news: U.S. deports Lou Dobbs.
WANTAGE, NJ--Acting on anonymous tips from within the Hispanic-American community, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials on Wednesday deported Luis Miguel Salvador Aguila Dominguez, who for the last 48 years had been living illegally in the United States under the name Lou Dobbs.

"Shia Crescent" Expanding?

Not surprisingly, Matt Yglesias is blasé about the fighting in Yemen spilling over the border into Saudi Arabia (see map above). Probably because he sees it through the optics of the debate over the Iraq war and American foreign policy.

I agree that we shouldn't worry about things until they actually happen, but this does raise the specter of the rivalry of Iran and Saudi Arabia intensifying.
A battle between the Arab world’s leading Sunni power and Shiite Iran, even at one remove, could significantly elevate sectarian tensions across the region. Iran gained tremendous leverage over the Israeli-Palestinian problem by supporting the militant groups Hezbollah, in Lebanon, and Hamas, in Gaza. Helping the Houthis, another guerrilla group with great staying power, could give them a way to put pressure on Saudi Arabia.
Iran has long denied aiding the Houthis, who have been battling the Yemeni government intermittently for more than five years. On Tuesday, the Iranian foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, affirmed that position, saying no country should "interfere in internal issues" in Yemen.
But in recent months, Iran’s state-owned news media have been covering the Houthis’ struggle against the Yemeni military more intensively and more sympathetically than ever, setting off alarms across the region. Yemeni officials have accused the Houthis of receiving money from Shiite charities in Iran and elsewhere.
Last month, the Yemeni government said it had intercepted an Iranian vessel carrying weapons in the Red Sea near where the Houthis are based. But Yemen has not supplied any evidence to back up that claim.
The World Bank predicts that Yemen's oil and gas revenues will plummet over the next two years and fall to zero by 2017 as supplies run out.
Given that they provide around 90% of the country's exports, this could be catastrophic.
An unnamed energy expert is quoted in the report as saying that this points to economic collapse within four of five years time.
It could also be that the Iranian regime is trying to direct attention elsewhere via its state-run media. (But then they do meddle with other sovereign nations' "internal issues" via Hamas and Hezbollah. Maliki was surprised to discover the extent of Iranian meddling in southern Iraq.) However, if - when - we pull out of Iraq, and if Iran insists on stirring up trouble via Saudi Arabia's minority Shia who live near the oil fields, and the two countries go at it, oil prices will go through the roof and the already weak global economy will go into a tailspin. And many, many nasty Republicans will be elected to political office, something Yglesias does care about. And I'll say I told you so. Until then, no need to worry though.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Aww How Cute

Ezra Klein is jealous of Andrew Ross Sorkin.

Matt Yglesias pens a contrarian* blog post about how Veterans Day is bad because it glorifies war. I'm sure veterans everywhere agree. He writes:
To lose a war, like in Vietnam, is a bad thing. But there seems to be a growing conventional wisdom that the surge has somehow redeemed Iraq and that the only thing we’re allowed to talk about with regard to Afghanistan is whether we can or will "win."
I'm not a conservative but I do think it's good that American soldiers removed Saddam Hussein from power. They can be proud of that no matter what the antiwar folks say and no matter what red herring arguments they bring up to change the subject.

A war with Iran would be a disaster no matter what warmongering conservatives say, but Afghanistan deserves better than the Taliban, who - antiwar folks conveniently forget - refused to turn over bin Laden. "He is our guest" Mullah Omar said. Why do antiwar folks always forget that?

And there's Glenn Greenwald, the master of the double standards, who today writes
In April of this year, the British daily, The Guardian, published an article by Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, an Iraqi citizen, documenting the increasingly autocratic practices of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.  The article quoted an Iraqi intelligence official claiming that "Maliki is running a dictatorship."  As if to prove their point, the reaction of the Maliki government was to sue The Guardian under a law that does "not allow foreigners to publish articles critical of the prime minister or president," and yesterday, an Iraqi court ordered the newspaper to pay Maliki the equivalent of £52,000.  Iraq's leading journalism organization says the court order "is part of a wider crackdown against media outlets designed to discourage scrutiny of public officials" and that "the Iraqi media have been inundated by writs from officials in recent months and have lost official access and status to state-backed organisations."  Both The New York Times and AP in Iraq have received such writs.
Greenwald doesn't seem to realize that under Saddam Hussein, Iraq didn't have independent journalism organizations, let alone a "leading" one. Even the Guardian article he links to says this explicitly!
Media freedoms have improved substantially in Iraq since the tyrannical decades of Saddam Hussein, when all information was controlled by cronies of the former dictator, such as Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf, who was the information minister during the invasion of Iraq in 2003. He was popularly known as Comical Ali** for his increasingly outlandish claims about the strength of the Iraqi army.
Does Greenwald want us to stay in Iraq? No, he wishes uber-Cheneyite Saddam Hussein or his psychopathic sons were in power.
* Yglesias on foreign policy is like Superfreakonomics: annoying too-clever-by-half contrarianism. For good contrarianism see this article in Slate by Jonah Weiner, Creed is Good.
** Comical Ali was known in the US as Baghdad Bob. On April 7, 2003, he claimed that there were no American troops in Baghdad, and that the Americans were committing suicide by the hundreds at the city's gates. At that time, American tanks were patrolling the streets only a few hundred meters from the location where the press conference was held.