Friday, December 31, 2004


I'm a big fan of L&O, and Orbach's Briscoe was by far the best drawn character on that series. He also gave an excellent performance in Crimes and Misdemeanors, on of my favorite Woody Allen films, as Martin Landau's mobbed-up younger brother. And, on top of it all, Orbach was a song and dance man. You gotta love that.

This quote from Orbach leads me to wonder where Orbach ended and his character began, so easily could it have come from Lenny's mouth. When asked whether he personally thought criminals should be read their Miranda rights, Orbach replied:

I think they should be read their Carmen Miranda rights: "You have the right to wear a big hat with fruit on it. You have the right to say 'chick-a-boom, chick-a-boom.' "


Thursday, December 23, 2004


Cliff May on the Corner:

NEO-CON [Cliff May]
I’d argue that the term “neo-conservative,” at this point, merely means someone who (1) believes American power can be a force for good, and (2) that encouraging democracy and freedom in the Middle East is both possible and necessary to safeguard the nation’s long-range interests.

Within that broad framework there can be – and, obviously, are -- many differences.

Mostly, the idea of a “neo-con” cabal has become a convenient bogeyman for the neo-isolationist right (e.g. Pat Buchanan) and the post-Humanitarian left (e.g. The Nation).

I'd argue that the defining characteristic of foreign policy neoconservatism (best elucidated by Kristol and Kagan as "neo-Reaganite," a term that never stuck) is the belief in American exceptionalism, the idea that the United States should not be constrained by any international norms, as well as an a priori disregard for international institutions, if not the very concept of multilateralism, as a component of that belief.

Given that this ideology has proven disastrous in Iraq, it's not surprising that Cliff May now wants to redefine "neocon" so broadly as to include, well, me. In other words, May's new definition as read is quite simply that of a liberal internationalist. Within this broad framework there can be – and, obviously, are -- many differences. Welcome aboard, Cliff.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004


Via the Poor Man (whose comments regarding Zappa's music can be left aside), here's Frank Zappa's appearance on Crossfire from 1986. He's debating government censorship with Christian Reconstructionist and stark-raving goofballJohn Lofton. Watch as Lofton godwins at 16:07, comparing Zappa, who is against government censorship of the arts, to Hitler. Given that Lofton was and is an outspoken member of a movement which seeks to redefine American society according to strict biblical principles, the irony is thick, and certainly is not lost on Frank, who handles himself coolly and intelligently, even as he tells Lofton to kiss his ass.

The Real Frank Zappa Book was a hugely important book in my musical and intellectual development, and I highly recommend checking it out even if you don't consider yourself a fan of Zappa's music. Yes, Zappa had a preoccupation with poodles and poop, but don't let that fool you: he had some serious political game, too. Also, he was one of the greatest electric guitarists ever. There's no one who I more enjoy listening to improvise at length.

It would be interesting to hear Frank's take on America 2004, particularly since his fears about the coming of theocratic fascism seem more prescient than ever. And, given Frank's well known disdain for President Bongo-head (his nickname for Reagan), I'd just love to know what he thought of President You-Forgot-Poland. I think I have a fair idea, though.

I leave you with this, a Zappa quote which has gotten me through many a dark moment:
"You can't write a chord that's ugly enough to say what you want to say sometimes, so you have to rely on a giraffe filled with whipped cream."


Tuesday, December 21, 2004


Over the past week I watched a couple of flawed but very interesting films. I wouldn't describe either of them as outright excellent, but they've grown in my mind since I saw them, and continued to occupy my thoughts, so I have to recommend them.

Max stars John Cusack as a Jewish art gallery owner in post-WWI Munich who befriends a sour young aspiring artist named Adolph Hitler. You've probably got your own preconceptions after a setup like that, but the story goes in an unexpected direction, and takes its time doing it.

California Split is one of Robert Altman's lesser known works, starring Elliot Gould and George Segal as a couple of gamblers. Altman was on a roll here, no pun intended. He'd just come off of MASH, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, and The Long Goodbye, all three of them masterpieces, and was about to do Nashville, so it's not surprising that this somewhat slighter picture isn't as well known. Gould, one of my all-time favorite actors, is at the height of his powers during this film, playing everything slightly off-key, and as usual, you never knew the tune could sound so good like that. This was Gould's third project with Altman, and I think it's interesting to look at that relationship as a sort of West Coast version of the DeNiro-Scorsese partnership, although it does predate it by a few years: DeNiro on the one hand intensely fighting Scorsese's Catholic battle for meaning, Gould on the other using his laid back sarcasm to distract from the fear that there is no meaning in anything.

P.S. I would also like to mention that I think Elliot Gould stole Ocean's Eleven ("I owe you for the thing with the guy at the place,"), which is impressive. Also, I would like to own Gould's entire wardrobe from that film, right down to the big sunglasses.


Others (Matt Yglesias and Juan Cole, to name two) have already quite ably unpacked today's deeply awful David Brooks column (ironically titled "Make No Mistake"), but the item is so rife with misrepresentations and jejune non-sequiturs, so characterized by a desperate need to pull a shiny plumb out of the shit-pie that is Bush's foreign policy, and so far and above the usual level of Brooksian silliness that I think it's worth addressing briefly.

Yes, as David notes there is now an opening, however small, for repositioning toward peace negotiations. After four years of intifada, four years of Israeli colonization and collective punishment of Palestinians, and four years of Palestinian resistance and terrorism, there seems to be a possibility that the players could get back to the table. The idea that this is somehow or in any way a result of anything Bush has done, let alone a result of some sort of well-thought out plan, is just skull-clutchingly stupid.

It's true Bush is the first U.S. president to make a future Palestinian state an acknowledged part of his policy. And he's gotten a hell of a lot of mileage out of that, because that's about all he's done. As is a pattern with this president, he seemed to think that mouthing the words was good enough. Almost everything Bush has done subsequent to his recognition (belated on the U.S.'s part anyway) of the inevitability of a Palestinian state and his grand announcement of the Road Map, such as isolating Arafat, countenancing the Apartheid Wall, backing Sharon's efforts to hold on to vast swaths of the West Bank and deny Palestinian refugees the right of return to properties stolen during the 1948 war (reversing thirty years of U.S. policy in the process), has been entirely counterproductive to Israeli-Palestinian peace. If a negotiated settlement is to be reached, Bush will doubtless have to backpedal on much of this. And when he does, David Brooks will then of course point out that this was all a part of the grand strategy of George W. Bush, that foreign policy savant, that Metternich of Crawford.

Pace, LGM, but I think it's clear: Worst. Brooks. Ever.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004


The headline says it all:

Bush Honors 3 Ex-Officials Instrumental to Iraq Policy

WASHINGTON, Dec. 14 - President Bush awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom today to three men who he said had "made our country more secure and advanced the cause of human liberty": Gen. Tommy R. Franks, George J. Tenet and L. Paul Bremer III.

General Franks, now retired, led American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Mr. Tenet headed the Central Intelligence Agency from 1997 until last year. Mr. Bremer was the civilian administrator in Iraq after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

Coming up next in Bizarro World: The U.S. Aeronautical Society Honors Pilots of the Hindenburg, Jayson Blair receives a Pulitzer, and Ann Coulter converts to Islam.

UPDATE: There's a rumor going around that that these particular medals of freedom bear a fine print on the reverse side: "May be recalled if and when the owner writes a book."

At least that's what my assistant claims.

UPDATE: Here's David Frum, his prose straining under the weight of all the water it's carrying:

These medals have provoked derision from critics who scoff that the president's Iraq policy isn't going very well and that rewards are premature or wholly misplaced.

But the president is doing something important. He is declaring to the officials and soldiers who are executing this policies that he will stand behind them when things get tough; that he won't go seeking scapegoats; that he fully, strongly, and publicly supports the individuals he himself chose to carry out the tasks he himself assigned. There's a lot of loose talk about President Bush's demands for loyalty. One thing that critics of this president have never grasped is that he has been unprecedentedly successful in claiming loyalty up because he is unprecedentedly committed to loyalty down.

No response from Frum to the idea that these rewards are premature or wholly misplaced, because, of course, this all has nothing whatever to do with whether or not any of these three men sufficiently fulfilled the tasks appointed them, it's about their loyalty to the president and the president's loyalty to them. So in this case the country's highest civilian honor serves as sort of a gold retirement watch.

And who needs scapegoats when you refuse to admit that anything at all has gone wrong?

It's a wonder that Frum's laptop doesn't literally burst into flames as he taps this stuff out.

COLE, cont'd

Juan Cole responds to some of his critics, and offers a concise history of Jewish-Arab enmity. Short version: Much of it was imported from Europe. Good reading.

Monday, December 13, 2004


James Wolcott gets his entry for Most Gorgeously Wrought Paragraph of the Year in just under the wire, and I think it's a real contender:

Kerik exuded too much quiet authority and dramatic effect, trying a shade too hard to convey that he knew things he couldn't speak of and was working from the deep inside, privy to secrets that he carried locked inside the bank vault of his barrel chest. I could see how this tough-guy shtick--which obviously wasn't entirely shtick, but a tough streak that had been refined into an urban lawman persona--would impress fake swaggarts like, well, George Bush, who likes to play dress-up as a range hand and fighter pilot to show what a Hungry man entree he is.



I finally got around to reading Howard Dean's speech on the the future of the Democratic Party. Good speech, I like it's fighting spirit, and I pretty much agree with hs sentiments down the line. But there's just one little problem: There is no mention of either national security or terrorism. At all. I saw a mention of Harry S. Truman, thought he might be leading into something...but no. The speech could have been written and delivered in 1999 for all the awareness of current global realities it shows.

I think Dean would probably make a good DNC chair, but the party cannot afford someone who doesn't apprehend the salience of those issues right now. I don't have to agree with him on specific policies regarding those issues, but I need to know that he understands that they do need to be brought front and center and not ceded to Republicans if the Democratic Party wants to be competitive.

Maybe in the next speech, Howard?

Come on, throw me a line here. A whole paragraph even.


For some reason that I simply cannot fathom, Andrew Sullivan seems to think his little "awards" schtick is very clever. To me it seems a transparently lazy way of sneering at the opinions of his political opponents without having to actually go through the trouble of demonstrating why he thinks those opinions are wrong.*

Case in point:
SONTAG AWARD NOMINEE I: "The Iraqi killer of Reserve Navy Lt. Kylan Jones-Huffman has been brought to justice in an Iraqi court. Although he has since changed his story, he at one point admitted to killing Jones-Huffman with a bullet through the back of the neck while the latter was stuck in traffic in downtown Hilla. The assassin said that he felt that Jones-Huffman "looked Jewish." The fruits of hatred sowed in the Middle East by aggressive and expansionist Israeli policies in the West Bank and Gaza against the Palestinians and in south Lebanon against Shiites continue to be harvested by Americans." - Juan Cole, in a new low, on his blog.

Andrew doesn't bother explaining what is so "low" about Cole's comments, probably because they are uncontestable: Expansionist Israel policies in the West Bank and Gaza have, as a matter of fact, increased hatred among Arabs toward both Israel and her sugar daddy, the U.S.A. The worst one could possibly say about Cole's comments is that they lack context, but I would challenge even that. While it's true that many Arab governments have for years stoked hatred towards Israel as a means of diverting attention from their own failure and corruption, that in no way diminishes Israel's guilt for over thirty years of displacement, colonization, and oppression of Palestinians in the occupied territories, and in no way diminishes the truth of Cole's statement.

Cole has written about the tendency of pro-Israeli types to challenge any interpretation of history which places any blame on Israel, and Sullivan seems to have ably made this point for him. I find it extremely troubling that a writer like Sullivan, who I consider generally fair minded on most issues, should make himself a foot soldier in the Likudnik campaign of intimidation. Props to Cole for staying strong.

*Yeah, okay, I understand we're talking about a BLOG here, and assumption of audience agreement is pretty much par for the course, but I expect more from Sullivan, especially since he just created the Malkin Award, one of the qualifications for which is the assumption of reader agreement.

Thursday, December 09, 2004


Josh Marshall weighs in on the Beinart debate. He has his agreements and disagreements with Beinart's prescriptions, but his comments are a refreshing tonic for some of the indignant posturing and building of strawmen with which Beinart's article has been met.

Great bottom-line:
Finally, I should confess that ideally I would like to see the Democratic party unify behind a thorough and coherent TPM agenda, with TPM views on national security, social policy, fiscal policy and all the rest of it. Those who wouldn’t go along with the proper TPM doctrine I’d probably expel, I guess.

In the absence of that TPM party, though, I’m happy to consider myself one more fallen and perhaps disagreeable member of the Democratic party, filled with people I disagree with but with whom I think I share some core political values and beliefs. And I’ll work to point them in what I think is the right direction.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004


I can't recommend this Juan Cole post enough. It's both a devastating takedown of Likudnik carnival-barker Daniel Pipes and an excellent explication of the hardline pro-Israeli intimidation campaign in which Pipes is a soldier.

The thing that most pains me in all this is the use of the word "antisemite." Pipes already had to settle one lawsuit, by Douglas Card, for throwing the word around about him irresponsibly.

Israel is not being helped by extremists like Pipes and his associates (see below). It is being harmed, and its very survival is being placed in doubt by aggressive annexationist policies, and by brutal murders and repression, which Pipes and his associates support to the hilt.

Moreover, among the real targets of Pipes and Co. [are] liberal and leftist Jews. Indeed, the article attacking me begins with a vicious attack on Joel Beinin, a past president of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA). David Horowitz and Daniel Pipes are encouraging a new kind of antisemitism, which sees it as unacceptable that Jews should be liberals or should criticize Likud Party policies.

I was speaking recently with a director of a DC-based non-partisan Middle East research institute, and he noted that the effects of Pipes' smear campaigns were already being felt in academia. Many prominent Middle East Studies departments are beginning to shy away from research into issues which could be construed or represented in any way as anti-Semitic. This at a time when academic work on the thornier issues of Middle East politics and identity is most sorely needed. Tragic.


Interesting panel discussion in the Washington Monthly on the way forward for the Democrats.

Money quote from Michael Tomasky:

I always thought it was a wasted opportunity after 9/11, when the Democratic congressional leaders did not seize that moment to say, "O.K. this is a permanent part of the political landscape for the foreseeable future, and we must right now redefine ourselves as a party. We must begin to have serious conversations right now to come up with a set of principles that can be a credible response to the world we find ourselves in." There are actually solid Democratic national security thinkers. I get the impression sometimes that, with a couple of exceptions, most Democratic politicians don't know that they exist and don't read anything that they write.

Yea, verily.



Wow. You know what? I fucking love music. Sometimes I forget just how much. Last night I was reminded in a big way. Last night, music enveloped me in her transcendent embrace. Last night, music drove me like a herd of multicolored ponies across a fruited plain. Last night, music picked me up, put me in her mouth, and sucked me like a big lollipop.

I counted 22 people on stage, but I might've missed a few. All in choir robes, singing and playing like they actually meant it, like the world was going to end tomorrow. Friends, it was glorious.

And who would've thought that what rock needed was more french horn?

Tuesday, December 07, 2004


This is precisely what needs to happen. Vigorous debate and the sharpening of arguments. Long overdue. All are welcome.

The big points:

-in the 2004 election, both Democrats and Republicans were roughly equally successful in getting their respective bases to the polls. Notwithstanding early post-election reports about "moral values," national security and terrorism seem to have been the issues that tipped the election in George W. Bush's favor.

-the war on terror, so called, will be with us for the foreseeable future, for at least the next decade, and very likely longer.

As far as countering the Republican program with facts, it really shouldn't be too hard, given that the facts are clearly on our side: Democrats can point out that Bush tried to do Iraq and Afghanistan on the cheap, and that both have subsequently descended into chaos, Afghanistan somewhat less so than Iraq. Democrats can point out that Bush and the Republican Congress have shamefully underfunded domestic security on everything from port and airline security to firemen, police, and EMTs, while at the same time ramming through tax cuts for the wealthy and maintaining a fiscal policy which has the dollar in serious decline. America is unqestionably weaker because of their leadership.

Countering long-held perceptions will obviously be lot harder, as it involves destroying an entire meme complex which forces the Democratic Party to reestablish its national security bona fides every four years, and allows the GOP to begin every race essentially a lap ahead. More detailed thoughts on this are here.

To sum up: The Republican Party has owned the national security issue at least since Reagan took office in 1980. There are a few reasons for this, but I think the most obvious is that their position is simple: We rule, and they suck. And we'll kick anybody's ass who says different.

It's certainly not simply a matter of Democrats jumping up and down and shouting "WE'RE SERIOUS ABOUT DEFENDING THE COUNTRY, TOO!!", it's a matter of developing a program that counters both the simplistic, priapic militarism of the GOP and the reflexive aversion to American military power of a portion of the Democratic base. People can disagree on how significant this portion actually is, but it is unquestionably there, and given that winning the issue obviously involves bringing it to the front of the party platform, they will have to be dealt with in one way or another. The Democratic Party needs to take its own temperature on this score and discover whether and to what extent the issue would be a deal-breaker, especially if running against a candidate who was not as unifyingly repellant as Bush.

And while I agree that it's stoopid to treat Michael Moore as the embodiment of Democratic thought (is anyone other than Republicans actually doing this?), it's just unserious to contend that Moore and his acolytes are not significant in Democratic politics right now. It's not that many, or probably any, Democrats are taking long phone calls with him, but they can tell the way the wind blows. Any documentary which grosses $120 million domestic is a cultural phenomenon, Jim. And there's simply no way that the Democratic leadership shows up at the Washington, DC premiere of a film like Fahrenheit 9/11 unless they feel that they either have something to gain by being there, or something to lose by not being there. That, in and of itself, makes Moore a player.

Finally, it's correct to point out that the Republicans have a hell of a lot more extremist wackos on their side, that those wackos are skillfully and unapologetically integrated into the Republican attack, indeed that many of those wackos actually occupy positions of party leadership. And it's true that Republicans are in no position whatsoever to expect Democrats decry or disown anyone. Fine. But I'm not going to decide what's right for me or my party based upon what the Republicans get away with. I think it's obvious that if we start using the Republican Party as our north star for what we think should be acceptable in politics, we're all pretty much screwed.

Monday, December 06, 2004


So cool. Coltrane's Giant Steps explained visually (via Metafilter).

Sunday, December 05, 2004


Kevin Drum is one of my favorite bloggers, but I think he gets a few things wrong in his response to Peter Beinart's "A Fighting Faith" piece.

Kevin wrote:
For all his tough talk, the president of the United States has tacitly admitted that he doesn't feel this war is important enough to require any sacrifice on the part of the American citizenry.

The Republican party has made it as clear as it possibly can that the war on terror is not vital enough to require either bipartisan support or the support of the rest of the world. They've treated it more like a garden variety electoral wedge issue than a world historical struggle.

That Bush & Co. have, since 9/12/2001, made terrorism a political wedge issue says more about the opportunism and general unseriousness of Bush and the Republican Party than I think it does about the reality of the threat.

The fact is that compared to fascism and communism, Islamic totalitarianism seems like pretty thin beer to many. It's not fundamentally expansionist, and its power to kill people isn't even remotely in the same league.

By arguing that jihadism is "not fundamentally expansionist" is Drum implying that if bin Laden were to achieve his immediate goals, drove the infidels from the Holy Places, took over the Saudi government, and controlled the flow of Saudi oil (and thus the worldwide oil market), that we should somehow be okay with that? I hope not, because that would be silly.

I think Drum also makes a mistake by casting the war in terror in essentially the same terms as conservatives, as a traditional war, and by judging the extent of the threat by the number of attacks or number of people killed in the last few years. Bush calls it a "war" for purposes of mobilizing public support, but in reality what we face is a global guerrilla insurgency. Success is not judged, at least not by the insurgents, by how many people they murder, but in the fact that they set the pace of the conflict, and force us to live our lives under threat of attack and to modify our lives and change our societies accordingly.

But Drum is right that militant Islamic fundamentalism is not nearly as overwhelming or immediate a threat as were either fascism or Soviet Communism. Al Qaeda is not preparing vast armies to march into Europe, but that's also kind of the point: it doesn't have to. As long as they can control the pace of the fighting, as long as they can mount two or three successful attacks a year in Western cities, as long as they can keep us off balance and scared of that suitcase nuke, then they are winning, according to their own metric if not to ours.

To state the obvious, this is a very different world than it was in the 1940s and 50s. The global economy both enables and depends upon the relatively free flow of ideas, technology, capital, and people. It's simply not realistic now (and it was only slightly more realistic then) to think that we can consign one area of the globe to totalitarianism and then go about our business in another. Terrorists know that they can use the technologies and increased openness of a globalized world to level the amount of destruction that formerly would've required an army. More importantly, they can present a credible threat of such destruction. That, in and of itself, should require serious and sustained attention on the part of liberals.

In any case, I think everyone agrees that this is a hugely important discussion for liberals to have, and I'm glad Beinart got the ball rolling.


On another note, one element of Beinart's piece which seems to be getting an inordinate amount of attention is his castigation of Michael Moore and MoveOn, which I think is unfortunate (the attention it's getting, that is). I respect MoveOn as GOTV entrepeneurs, and I think they contributed hugely to Democratic turnout on election day. Their national security views I consider not at all, though I do get the impression that MoveOn types view terrorism as a distraction, which is a problem.

As I've written before, I think Moore has some value as a political entertainer and rhetorical bomb-thrower, but on balance I'm not sure if he's good for liberals or not. I'm generally uncomfortable with populism, especially when affected by a Manhattanite multimillionaire. Moore often traffics in innuendo and pseudo-factual shilly-shallying, all of which tend to undercut his better arguments.

The real question is whether the good that Moore and MoveOn do by motivating the Democratic base is outweighed by the bad they do by convincing swing voters that Democrats aren't serious about national security. I dunno.

What really grates, though, is the way the Left is constantly called upon to condemn its own extremists, while right-wing equivalents such as Hannity, O'Reilly, Limbaugh, Coulter (the list goes on and on) are celebrated and unapologetically incorporated into the the broader conservative offensive (and I do mean offensive). This reality was perfectly illustrated a few weeks ago by conservative Jay Nordlinger, during a discussion on C-SPAN's Book TV where he chucklingly referred to Ann Coulter as "flamboyant" after having scowlingly condemned Michael Moore as "toxic" only minutes before. Yeah, right.

One the one hand, I suppose this is the price we liberals pay for inhabiting the moral high ground. On the other hand, it's still bullshit. Personally, I would have no problem with strapping both Michael Moore and Rush Limbaugh to a rocket and firing it into the sun, but I know the Right would never accept such a deal. Rush is far too valuable a propagandist for them. You could easily find a couple dozen Limbaugh falsehoods (even leaving aside his despicable male chauvinism and racism) for every one you could pin on Moore, but Limbaugh will continue to be a conservative hero even as conservatives continue to demand that liberals decry Moore in order to prove themselves "serious" about this or that.

Friday, December 03, 2004


Interesting construction from Andrew Sullivan, regarding an Israeli soldier's gratuitous murder of a 13 year-old Palestinian girl:

A GAZA KILLING: This atrocity seems unspinnable to me.

Unspinnable? This sounds like a job for Charles Krauthammer.


Just watched it yesterday, overall I thought it was pretty good if extremely slow in a few talky parts. Alfred Molina was outstanding as Doc Ock, he thankfully managed to avoid the leering, scenery-chewing postmodernism that characterizes so many big budget villain performances. Gene Hackman as Luthor was the first and last time anyone carried that off, people. So stop trying. CG Spider-Man looked a lot more real this time. The fight scenes were consistently amazing, some of the best I've seen. Raimi and his FX guys really managed to translate the stylized kineticism of the comics (especially Todd McFarlane's stuff) onto the screen. The hospital-slaughter scene was pure Evil Dead. And Bruce Campbell's cameo as the anal-retentive usher was, of course, brilliant.

I have to give special mention to J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson. He is fawking hilarious. I love every minute he's on screen. Bill Nunn is also great as Robbie Robertson, and I'm glad their sort of work-husband/wife relationship made it into the films intact.

The film's ending obviously set up Harry Osborn to come back as Green Goblin II in the sequel, which I'm not too happy about. First, it means that James Franco will likely be playing the villain, which in turn means they might as well draw eyes and a mouth on a 2x4 and save their money (the 2x4 will be hidden by that stupid, stupid costume, anyway). Second, they've got a few more excellent Spidey villains to run through before they go back to Gobby.

Here are my choices, in reverse order of preference:

-Mysterio (Come on, the guy's a Hollywood FX whiz gone bad! The script writes itself!)
-Kingpin (Yes, I know Kingpin was in the Daredevil movie, but that movie, how do you say, sucked. Bring Michael Clarke Duncan back and let him play Kingpin in a good movie this time.)

P.S. Much as I liked Molina's performance, for me his greatest role will always be his first, as Satipo in Raiders of the Lost Ark: "Throw me the idol, I throw you the whip!" How I hated him for doing Indy dirty like that. He sure got what was coming to him, though, didn't he? That's right. Shoulda stayed out of the light. Shoulda stayed out of the light.

Adios, Satipo.

UPDATE: Upon further reflection, there is maybe one other scenery-chewing postmodern villain performance that worked. No, not Jack Nicholson as the Joker, that was Jack doing Jack (in more ways than one). I'm thinking of Alan Rickman as the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (I'm not even going to link to it), a film which I've largely blocked from my memory because I was so disappointed in it. I've been a major fan of the Robin Hood legend since I was a kid, and I was psyched beyond psyched for that movie, and they screwed it up in so many ways that I'm starting to tremble with rage just thinking about ita;nas;lna'a &&& [0w-svk\ \ q=0in k knkk'auans ; !!!

Anyway, Rickman was about the film's only redeeming feature. By the middle of the film, I was rooting for him.


Very encouraging. As a first generation Ukrainian-American, I'm glad to see my people getting it together and throwing off the yoke of Russian domination.

You know those types of Irish-Americans who've never been within a thousand miles of county Cork but then get soused and rant about those "damn English!"? Occasionally, that's me with the Russians. Get a few vodkas in me and watch out. Of course, several moments afterward I will defiantly lay claim to Tolstoy and Chekhov as part of my culture n' heritage.

Putin's sure not to be happy about the Ukrainian Supreme Court's demonstration of independance. Maybe President Bush can look inside Putin's soul again and tell us exactly what he sees now?

Here's some poetry by Ukrainian national hero Taras Shevchenko. As you can probably surmise from Shevchenko's writing, we're a generally bummed out people. This poem, in particular, could be put to music and serve as the Ukrainian national anthem. Can you blame us? It's been a damn rough couple centuries. Let's put it this way: For the Ukrainians, the Nazi occupation was a brief respite.


James Q. Wilson in Commentary:

What are the prospects for the emergence of liberal societies in Muslim countries? Note my choice of words: “liberal,” not “democratic.” Democracy, defined as competitive elections among rival slates of candidates, is much harder to find in the world than liberalism, defined as a decent respect for the freedom and autonomy of individuals. There are more Muslim nations—indeed, more nations of any stripe—that provide a reasonable level of freedom than ones that provide democracy in anything like the American or British versions.

Freedom—that is, liberalism—is more important than democracy because freedom produces human opportunity. In the long run, however, democracy is essential to freedom, because no political regime will long maintain the freedoms it has provided if it has an ironclad grip on power. Culture and constitutions can produce freedom; democracy safeguards and expands it.

I agree with the thrust of Wilson's opening statement, which is that democracy is not an end in and of itself, human liberty is. We choose democracy because it is, as far as we can tell, the best system for maintaining that liberty. I'm not wedded to the idea of democracy, and if someone came up with a system which I felt better served human liberty, I'd be all for trying it.

That said, the rest of Wilson's piece represents the same failure of imagination that I think typifies so much of the Western commentary on the Middle East. Modernization and liberalization are presented as concomitant with Westernization. Success is measured by how much they come to look like us, particularly in progress toward the separation of Church and State:

But in most Muslim countries today, the chief rival to autocratic secular rule has been not Western ideologies but Islam. On a purely institutional level, it is not hard to see why. Islam is organized into mosques, and many of these support charitable and educational organizations that provide services reaching deep into the society. Political activism gathers around religion the way salt crystallizes along a string dangling in sea water.

The Protestant Reformation helped set the stage for religious and even political freedom in the West. Can something like that occur in Muslim nations? That is highly doubtful. There is neither a papacy nor a priesthood against which to rebel; nor are mosques comparable to churches in the Catholic sense of dispensing sacraments. There will never be a Muslim Martin Luther or a hereditary Islamic ruler who, by embracing a rival faith, can thereby create an opportunity for lay rule.

Wilson is right that it is Islam is unlikely to produce a leader who could, at a stroke (or with the nailing of some theses to a mosque door), initiate a Msulim reformation. Islam isn't set up that way. But this is not necessarily a bad thing.

The delinking of Church and State authority was an essential step in the development of liberalism in Europe, but a look at the parallel growth of Islam and Christianity shows that grafting the European Reformation experience onto Middle Eastern Islam is very misleading. To put it (extremely) simply: The Catholic clergy stood firm against secular authority, and eventually broke. Secular authority now essentially reigns supreme in the West (except for certain parts of the U.S.). The Islamic clergy, the ulama, which never had as strict a hierarchy as its Catholic counterpart, bent and subtly adapted to increasingly secular rulers, and was thus able to maintain its traditional role as interpreter of religious law (the sharia).

In his book The Case for Islamo-Christian Civilization, Richard Bulliet argues that such an arrangement may not be entirely inimical to liberty in the Middle East. While there obviously may be problems with the supremacy of divinely inspired law over civil authority, it's important to note that the ulama enjoyed legitimacy as a result of being seen as fair and impartial, and that interpretations of the sharia have and will continue to subtly evolve to accomodate modern realities. Stories about fundamentalist interpretations of sharia, women being stoned for adultery, etc., while horrible, are not representative of the state of Islamic thought.

Historically, Muslim civil authorities derived their own legitimacy from their respect for and adherence to the sharia. The ulama , Bulliet argues, have historically acted as a check against tyranny, and when that check was removed in the name of "modernization," rather than increasing human liberty, Arab rulers increased their own power and wealth. Modern Islamic fundamentalism is some ways more a response to the tyranny of secular Arab rulers who spurned the authority of the ulama, much less to the "liberalizing" efforts of those rulers. Forget Bush's "They hate our freedom" nonsense. Islamic fundamentalists want freedom (in their own admittedly twisted way), but in the Arab experience the arrival of tyranny has been coincident with the arrival of Coca-Cola and plaid neckties, and so it's understandable that they would reject both and seek a solution in their understanding of "true" Islam.

Negotiating authority between the secular and divine took bloody centuries in the West. Hopefully it will not take as long in the Islamic world. But we in the West should not assume that success will only come when the Islamic world comes to more resemble us. Obviously, we want to see societies where all people and faiths are respected equally under the law (in his book, Bulliet points out historical incidences of Jews and Christians specifically requesting arbitration in Muslim religious courts because of those courts' reputation for fairness) but we should prepare ourselves for the ways in which those societies may not look like our own, and how they may safeguard and expand human liberty in ways that we haven't yet imagined.

P.S. Bulliet's book also serves as an excellent, and I think devastating, critique of Huntington's (by way of Bernard Lewis) ubiquitous "Clash of Civilizations" thesis.

Thursday, December 02, 2004


I generally agree with Peter Beinart here. Among other excellent points, he names the major problem facing the Democratic Party today: The party base's reflexive opposition to American power, and its consequent inability to coalesce around a positive national security agenda. Given that national security promises to be a major issue, if not the major issue, for the foreseeable future, this is crippling.

When liberals talk about America's new era, the discussion is largely negative--against the Iraq war, against restrictions on civil liberties, against America's worsening reputation in the world. In sharp contrast to the first years of the cold war, post-September 11 liberalism has produced leaders and institutions--most notably Michael Moore and MoveOn--that do not put the struggle against America's new totalitarian foe at the center of their hopes for a better world. As a result, the Democratic Party boasts a fairly hawkish foreign policy establishment and a cadre of politicians and strategists eager to look tough. But, below this small elite sits a Wallacite grassroots that views America's new struggle as a distraction, if not a mirage. Two elections, and two defeats, into the September 11 era, American liberalism still has not had its meeting at the Willard Hotel. And the hour is getting late.

Beinart also notes Arthur Schlesinger's thoughts on the permanent struggle in which liberalism is engaged:

Arthur Schlesinger Jr. would not have shared MoveOn's fear of an "endless war" on terrorism. In The Vital Center, he wrote, "Free society and totalitarianism today struggle for the minds and hearts of men.... If we believe in free society hard enough to keep on fighting for it, we are pledged to a permanent crisis which will test the moral, political and very possibly the military strength of each side. A 'permanent' crisis? Well, a generation or two anyway, permanent in one's own lifetime."

Schlesinger, in other words, saw the struggle against the totalitarianism of his time not as a distraction from liberalism's real concerns, or as alien to liberalism's core values, but as the arena in which those values found their deepest expression. That meant several things. First, if liberalism was to credibly oppose totalitarianism, it could not be reflexively hostile to military force. Schlesinger denounced what he called "doughfaces," liberals with "a weakness for impotence ... a fear, that is, of making concrete decisions and being held to account for concrete consequences." Nothing better captures Moore, who denounced the Taliban for its hideous violations of human rights but opposed military action against it--preferring pie-in-the-sky suggestions about nonviolent regime change.

To be a liberal is to be in constant conflict with the forces of illiberalism, authoritarianism, corruption, and bad diction. To be sure, the Bush administration embodies all of those things, but it's foolish to equate them with al Qaeda. The trick is to fight the Right while never giving an inch in the fight against global jihadism.

Read the whole article.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004


Article from Monday's Washington Post on checkpoints in Palestine.

On an unusually cold January day, hundreds of Palestinians waited to pass through the Hawara checkpoint. Snow dusted the ground, and tempers and patience rubbed raw on both ends of the lines that crept toward the soldiers of the 202nd Paratroops. A camera crew from the army's Education Corps maneuvered around the soldiers and Palestinians, collecting video footage and interviews for a training tape.

"Go home! What's your problem?" shouted the checkpoint commander, a gaunt staff sergeant whose face was partially hidden beneath his helmet. The camera focused on the sergeant -- a Bedouin, rare in the Israeli military -- as he continued yelling in Arabic at an agitated Palestinian man grasping the hand of a small child. "Shut up! Shut up! Go back, go back, everyone go back. No one through -- everyone go back."

The video did not capture the next exchange, but other soldiers at the checkpoint said in interviews that the Palestinian man began screaming at the 23-year-old sergeant. The sergeant handcuffed the man with disposable plastic cuffs and ordered him to sit on the ground.

Suddenly, the camera jerked toward the sergeant. He bashed the Palestinian man in the face with his fist. The man's hysterical wife and two weeping children tried to squeeze between him and the sergeant. The soldier shoved the Palestinian into a hut as the army cameraman followed close behind.

The man's toddler son clung to his father's shirttail until soldiers brushed him away like a fly. The soldier flipped a blanket over the window of the hut, and the camera's audio picked up the Palestinian's muffled cries as the soldier punched him in the stomach.

"For them, you see, they don't have a problem getting beaten up," the sergeant explained before the video camera a short time later. "It's the humiliation in front of all the people, the wife and children. I try to do it so they don't see me, so it's not in front of the people."

Understand the depth of this Israeli officer's perverted conscience: He asserts he is doing his victim a favor by taking him out of public sight to be beaten in private.

Note that the officer, who was found guilty of repeatedly and viciously assaulting Palestinian men for no other reason than to prove what a tough guy he was, was sentenced to a whole six months in prison. That's somewhat better than this settler, who several years ago was fined for killing a Palestinian child.

I know I repeat this ad nauseum, but here I go again: It is preposterous to demand that Palestinians curb terror while these conditions persist.


Through the wonder of TiVO, I was able to watch U2’s bonus performance of “I Will Follow”on Saturday Night Live (I've since found it on the web). As a major old-skool U2 fan, I had chills. It was fantastic. Edge had his Explorer out for it and everything.


Has anyone noticed the tendency of the more puerile Republican pundits and bloggers to refer to the Democratic Party as the "Democrat" Party when speaking publicly? Grover Norquist, Ann Coulter and various Heritage Foundation goons and foot soldiers do this quite a bit. Do they think this is clever? Are Democrats supposed to be insulted?

Monday, November 22, 2004


Excellent essay by Danny Postel in Open Democracy (via Altercation) on the current schism which is opening among neoconservatives, evidenced by Francis Fukuyama attacking Charles Krauthammer's concept of "democratic realism". You know I loves a good whuppin', especially when the one on the receiving end is a sanctimonious, bellicose twit like Krauthammer, whose reputation has always escaped me.

No surprise, then, that I think Fukuyama clearly has the better argument of the two. Of course, given that this is an argument between two neoconservatives, this is to say that Fukuyama is only slightly less insane.

Friday, November 19, 2004


Great site, via Metafilter:

Arofish is a stencil graffiti artist who recently spent 3 months travelling through Iraq and Palestine, painting on the walls and generally making a right mess, to the occasional annoyance of the occupying forces.

Check out the pictures, they're excellent.


There's been some speculation that Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti, currently serving five life terms in an Israeli prison, might be released to run for president of the Palestinian Authority. Usually that would seem very unlikely, Israel has historically been very firm on not releasing Palestinians who have been convicted in the murder of Israeli civilians, but I've seen the possibility of Barghouti's release discussed in too many places to dismiss it.

On the NewsHour the other night, Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom repeated his denial that there was any chance of Barghouti being released, but there was a palpable reserve in his statement that was new, and that made me immediately sit up.

Barghouti is by far the most popular Palestinian leader. He's the most prominent exponent of the new guard of militants who grew up in the occupied territories. He has repeatedly and explicitly recognized Israel's right to exist and the right of Palestinians to fight the occupation by any means necessary. He's one of the few Palestinian leaders, perhaps the only one, with the credibility to sell the Palestinians on some of the more difficult terms of a peace deal, such as compensation in lieu of the right of return.

Even if he's not released from prison, Barghouti will continue to exert influence over Palestinian politics, and it's unlikely that any new Palestinian leadership will be able to establish legitimacy without his blessing.


Peter Beinart has a piece on the silliness of the Christian Right crying bigotry:

...most of the time, what conservatives call anti-evangelical bigotry is simply harsh criticism of the Christian Right's agenda. Scarborough seized on a recent column by Maureen Dowd, which accused President Bush of "replacing science with religion, and facts with faith," leading America into "another dark age." The Weekly Standard recently pilloried Thomas Friedman for criticizing "Christian fundamentalists" who "promote divisions and intolerance at home and abroad," and Howell Raines, for saying the Christian Right wants to enact "theologically based cultural norms."

This isn't bigotry. What these (and most other) liberals are saying is that the Christian Right sees politics through the prism of theology, and there's something dangerous in that. And they're right. It's fine if religion influences your moral values. But, when you make public arguments, you have to ground them--as much as possible--in reason and evidence, things that are accessible to people of different religions, or no religion at all. Otherwise, you can't persuade other people, and they can't persuade you. In a diverse democracy, there must be a common political language, and that language can't be theological.

This is the heart of John Kerry's point in the third debate about the role of faith in politics. It's appropriate to use faith to guide you to your political conclusions, but when it comes time to write the laws, you must rely on facts.

Beinart also makes a great point that the Christian Right has taken a page out of the PC playbook by treating their political beliefs as integral to their identity, and thus above criticism. There's definitely a similar odor in the way the way that some hardcore multi-culti types challenge rationalism as an oppressive white-male construct, and the way that some evangelicals dismiss inconvenient facts as elite-liberal-academic treachery. This is their truth. Who are you to challenge it?

Thursday, November 18, 2004


In case you wondered what causes young men to turn themselves into human bombs (from the BBC):

As the houses thin out, something strange becomes apparent. Small signs of destruction, demolished walls, uprooted trees - the devastation increasing until all the houses we pass are all derelict.

"We are approaching Netzarim," says the driver, whose name I discover is Ahmed.

After a certain point, every feature of landscape has been erased - bulldozed out of existence by the Israeli army.

The only building visible for hundreds of metres is the fortified watchtower guarding the western side of the settlement. Behind in the hazy distance is the lush setting of Netzarim itself.

This is the reality of the occupation: family homes bulldozed and thousands made homeless, ancestral farmland which fed those thousands uprooted and expropriated, all to create a "security perimeter" for an Israeli settlement which is illegal in the first place. Now imagine this happening throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip for the last thirty years, and you'll understand why it's preposterous for Israel to demand that Palestinian terrorism abate while the occupation continues.

Or, conversely, why Israel's demand effectively ensures that the occupation will never end, and thus settlements may continue to expand.

The Israeli human rights group B'Tselem recently released a report on Israel's practice of demolishing the homes of suspected militants (and their families and neighbors). Read it if you can stomach it.


Nonsense from Andrew Sullivan:

I guess I should say that Condi Rice's race and gender are not the most important things about her career and abilities. But I'm still amazed at how little credit this president gets for promoting a black woman to such a position, and, more importantly, by his obvious respect and admiration for her. His management style is clearly post-racial, and his comfort with female peers is impressive. You know, Bill Clinton was celebrated for his progressiveness, and ease with African-Americans. But it's inconceivable that he would have given so much power and authority to a black female peer. Why does Bush get no respect on this score? I guess it reveals that much of the left's diversity mania is about the upholding of a certain political ideology, rather than ethnic or gender variety itself. Depressing.

"Inconceivable" that Bill Clinton would give "so much power and authority to a black female peer"? Inconceivable to whom? Not to Bill Clinton, whose administration saw the first black female Surgeon General, as well as the first female Secretary of State. It's silly to presume that Clinton wouldn't have nominated a black female as SoS had there been one he considered qualified.

Rice, on the other hand, has proven all but incompetent at coordinating national security policy and managing inter-agency conflict in her role as National Security Adviser. Her views and strategies in the war on terror are hopelessly mired in her background as a Cold War-Russia specialist and its paradigm of state-to-state conflict. Her value as an administrator lies entirely in her loyalty to the president, and in the fact that she hews completely to his political ideology. Her recent record suggests that as Secretary of State she will serve merely as a conduit for the president's one-page-summary-informed policy whims, enforcing the White House's line and tamping down any dissent from within the State Department, that is, from the very people who've been consistently right where the White House has been consistently wrong over the past four years.

And there's the big difference between Democrats and Republicans on affirmative action. Democrats openly recognize the benefits of diversity and support affirmative action as a means of achieving it, but at the end of the day they appoint qualified people regardless of race. Republicans decry affirmative action as "reverse-racism," but cynically use race whenever they can to indemnify underqualified racial minority conservatives from criticism.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004


Muqtedar Khan reviews the 9/11 Report, comments on its strengths and weaknesses, and suggests that this provides an excellent opportunity for American Muslims to help their fellow citizens better understand Islam and the nature of the Jihadi threat.


I can never keep up:

Nov. 17 (Bloomberg) -- Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives changed their rules so that Majority Leader Tom DeLay could stay in power if he's indicted under state law.

The rules change is designed to protect DeLay after three of his political associates were indicted in Texas on charges related to fund-raising for state political campaigns. DeLay, a Republican from Texas, led an effort to redraw congressional districts in his home state that led to the defeat or retirement of five Democrats. He denied any wrongdoing.

..."We are trying to protect members of our leadership from any crackpot attorney taking on a political agenda," said Henry Bonilla, a Texas Republican who drafted the rules change.

Crackpot attorneys taking on political agendas, now there's something Republicans know a little bit about.

And in case you were wondering, Bonilla voted for impeachment.

Jeffrey Dubner, in Tapped:

CALLING NEWT GINGRICH. Great find from the American Progress Action Fund. Will somebody ask Newt Gingrich what has changed in the last 11 years?

"And I think, frankly, we should adopt the rule the Democrats have prospectively, which I think is a sound rule that once indicted you step down." - Newt Gingrich, 7/26/93

Nothing's changed, except that the fox now rules the henhouse, raises the children, and sleeps in the farmer's bed.

Indeed. Whatta buncha punks.


...a debate he can win. Posted by Hello

Tuesday, November 16, 2004


Matt Yglesias on the Democrats' need to improve their national security message:

The first step is simply to recognize that the task will be a hard one. The Democrats burned a lot of credibility during the Vietnam War, did themselves no good during the Carter years, then had to sit and watch from the halls of Congress as Republican chief executives presided over the successful conclusion of the Cold War. After a rocky first term, Bill Clinton did much better in the second half of his administration but never got much credit for it -- in part because he didn't seek much credit and never made a serious effort to outline a liberal vision of national security for the 21st century. As a result, even though it was fairly absurd to think that George W. Bush was more personally competent to handle national security than was Al Gore, Bush took a clear majority of the "world affairs" vote in 2000, essentially on the strength of the much stronger Republican brand.

First, I think it's a very good thing that national security does seem to have been the issue that made the difference in the election, and not abortion or gay marriage as was first thought. As I see it, there's just not a lot of room for liberals to compromise on either abortion or gay marriage. It's not a perception problem, as I think it is with national security; the differences between the parties on abortion and gay marriage are about as black and white as things get in American politics, and liberals cannot back off on them.

I think Yglesias makes some great points in his article, but he, like a lot of liberals, misses a key element of the Republicans success on national security, and regarding the War on Terror specifically, which is that Republicans have cast the issue in existential terms, as a question of who we are as a nation. (Who are we? We're good. Who are they? They're evil. You're either with us or agin' us.) This pitch holds a lot of visceral appeal to voters, even for those who don't consider themselves particularly spiritual, as everyone likes to think that they're the good guys. Immediately after 9/11, Bush began weaving a narrative of a global crusade against evil, a crusade whose membership was open to anyone who would follow him, and he has been pushing this ever since. Democrats need to come up with a competing narrative.

More than any other issue, foreign policy is one which voters make gut decisions. Most people simply don't have too much information with which to analyze foreign policy positions, let alone any personal experience with foreign policy issues, as they might with domestic issues, such as having a cousin who had an abortion or who just lost her job or was killed by a handgun. This means that, in selling a set of foreign policy positions, style means a lot and substance means very little.

Election 2004 is a perfect example. Substantively, Kerry had Bush completely outgunned. Not only did Bush quite obviously have only the most tenuous grasp of the details of his own policies, those policies themselves have proven disastrous. But then, of course, Bush told people, among other things, that they were in danger of being eaten by wolves. Kerry really didn't have a sufficient response to that. I respect him (a little) for not playing that game, but I think it's obvious at this point that if Democrats want to win on national security, as I think we can and should, we're going to have to get our kabuki on a little.

No one ever won an election by being right, they won it by selling their ideas better. Being right only helps. I'm certainly not suggesting that Democrats should try and co-opt the Republicans' positions or rhetoric, only that Democrats recognize and learn from Republican success. It's going to be a difficult task, both because Republicans, with their reputation as the "strong on national security" party, already have a head start, and because their message is deceptively simple, as well as being simply deceptive. International relations is a complicated issue; Republicans have succeeded by pretending that it isn't. It's hard to counter "You'll be eaten by wolves!" or "America: Fuck Yeah!" with "Multilateralism works!" or "The UN enhances American power by appearing to constrain it!" but Democrats have got to figure how to weave these complex counter-arguments into a compelling counter-narrative which recognizes and appeals to the same psychological needs which the GOP has been manipulating for all these years.


With Condoleezza Rice's nomination as Secretary of State, it's now official: Bush is fighting the last war. Rice, a Russia expert, is the perfect choice to aid Bush in forcing a Cold War template onto the Islamist phenomenon.

Josh Marshall:

So is Bush moving to the right or the center in term two?

Wrong metric. He's moving to exert greater control.

Look at the pattern.

Neither Ms. Rice nor Mr. Gonzales are the neo-cons' or the conservatives' choice for their respective offices-to-be.

In each case they're acceptable; but no more.

What distinguishes each is their connection to the president, their loyalty and their fealty. Neither has any base in the city or standing anywhere else absent their connection to him. And in appointing them he has placed the State Department and the Justice Department under his direct and unmediated control as surely as the various members of the White House staff already are.

Though I completely agree with Marshall's assessment of Bush's plans to (further)centralize decision making in the White House, I'm curious why he thinks Rice's nomination wouldn't delight the neocons. This move is entirely in keeping with neocon plans to transform the State Department into essentially a rubber stamp for decisions taken in Cheney's office or in the Pentagon, and away from the interference of those stoopid, disloyal State Department analysts who've only studied these issues for their entire careers.

If you think I'm being in any way conspiratorial about "neocon plans," I wish I were. The entire program is laid out in uber-neocon Richard Perle and David Frum's book An End to Evil. Filling key State Department posts, which have previously been more or less apolitical, with conservative apparatchiks is a key part of it.

To spare you actually having to read Perle/Frum's book, which displays about as informed and nuanced a view of diplomacy and the modern Middle East as one should expect from an AEI publication, Fareed Zakaria's review will suffice, though it's almost beneath him to have to play whack-a-mole with these guys' silly, chauvinistic ideas.

In any case, they're the ones creating our foreign policy now. Sweet.

Saturday, November 13, 2004


Detailed article in the New Yorker on the CPA's disastrous de-Baathification program.

From the beginning, the question for the U.S. and British coalition was how to build a secure, stable, and democratic Iraq while dealing with the vacuum created by the fall of Saddam. The Baath Party, which kept its records secret, is estimated to have had between a million and two and a half million members, most of them Sunnis, like Saddam. For Iraq’s traditionally excluded and suppressed Shiite majority and for the Kurdish minority, de-Baathification was an urgent goal. But the Coalition also needed to address the fears of the newly disenfranchised Sunnis, and, on a basic level, to keep the country functioning. Given the difficulty of the project, the occupation policies were markedly lacking in pragmatism.

Lacking in pragmatism. Ya think?


Via Kevin Drum, a heartwarming story of heartland hysteria:

Parents and students say they are outraged and offended by a proposed band name and song scheduled for a high school talent show in Boulder this evening, but members of the band, named Coalition of the Willing, said the whole thing is being blown out of proportion.

The students told ABC News affiliate KMGH-TV in Denver they are performing Bob Dylan's song "Masters of War" during the Boulder High School Talent Exposé because they are Dylan fans. They said they want to express their views and show off their musical abilities.

But some students and adults who heard the band rehearse called a radio talk show Thursday morning, saying the song the band sang ended with a call for President Bush to die.

Threatening the president is a federal crime, so the Secret Service was called to the school to investigate.

I can understand parents getting worked up over an Eminem song, but Dylan? Good lord, these people are late. Probably still upset about that young upstart Johnny Carson replacing Jack Paar on the Tonight Show.

Anyway, here are the lyrics to the offending song. Just doing my part.

Come you masters of war
You that build all the guns
You that build the death planes
You that build the big bombs
You that hide behind walls
You that hide behind desks
I just want you to know
I can see through your masks

You that never done nothin'
But build to destroy
You play with my world
Like it's your little toy
You put a gun in my hand
And you hide from my eyes
And you turn and run farther
When the fast bullets fly

Like Judas of old
You lie and deceive
A world war can be won
You want me to believe
But I see through your eyes
And I see through your brain
Like I see through the water
That runs down my drain

You fasten the triggers
For the others to fire
Then you set back and watch
When the death count gets higher
You hide in your mansion
As young people's blood
Flows out of their bodies
And is buried in the mud

You've thrown the worst fear
That can ever be hurled
Fear to bring children
Into the world
For threatening my baby
Unborn and unnamed
You ain't worth the blood
That runs in your veins

How much do I know
To talk out of turn
You might say that I'm young
You might say I'm unlearned
But there's one thing I know
Though I'm younger than you
Even Jesus would never
Forgive what you do

Let me ask you one question
Is your money that good
Will it buy you forgiveness
Do you think that it could
I think you will find
When your death takes its toll
All the money you made
Will never buy back your soul

And I hope that you die
And your death'll come soon
I will follow your casket
In the pale afternoon
And I'll watch while you're lowered
Down to your deathbed
And I'll stand o'er your grave
'Til I'm sure that you're dead

Friday, November 12, 2004


Neal Pollack takes on the South-haters:

I was born in Memphis, grew up in Phoenix, got married in Nashville, went on my honeymoon in North Carolina, and live in Austin. Many dear friends grew up in and still reside below the Mason-Dixon Line. The South is diverse. It's varied. And yes, it's ignorant in many ways. But I've never lived in a more segregated place than Chicago, the epitome of a great Northern city, and have never seen as much concentrated poverty and injustice in this country as when I lived in Philadelphia, the birthplace of our Constitution. So spare me the superiority rap.

The south gave us Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, Michael Jordan, Hank Williams, Tennessee Williams, fried chicken, Gone With The Wind, Truman Capote, pecan pie, barbecue, Mark Twain, and manned flight. The list goes on and on. Thomas Jefferson and George Washington were both from Virginia, both founding fathers and both gun-toting slave owners. If you say 'fuck the South," you're saying fuck Nashville and Charlotte and Charleston, and Atlanta, and Austin, and New Orleans, and Athens, Georgia, the city that gave us the B52s and R.E.M. and...OK, well, fuck R.E.M. But that has nothing to do with the South.

And that's a very, very partial list, one which leaves off Steve Cropper, Al Green, and Elvis, fer chrissake.

An article in the current issue of Seattle's weekly The Stranger convincingly argues that much of the conflict is between urban centers and rural outlyers, not simply Blue and Red States. If we scornfully write off "The South," we abandon all those fine Democratic-voting folks in the southern urban archipelago.


Following on Kevin Drum's post about the lack of awareness among liberals in general about the nature and breadth of militant conservative Christianity in this country, here's a Slate profile of Dr. James Dobson. Read it. Get to know him. He's going to play an ever increasing role in our politics, as is the apocolyptic ideology of Dominionism.


Josh Marshall notes, re: Bush's nomination of Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General:

Democrats won't be able to prevent his appointment. But they should take the opportunity of his confirmation hearings to put him on the record about how he will handle these various on-going investigations, at least one of which directly involves the White House and thus also involves him.

It's unfortunate that so few seem to think that there is any possibility of stopping Gonzales' confirmation. Gonzales is the primary legal architect of some this administration's worst moves, notably the detention and treatment of enemy combatants, which effectively amount to a withdrawal from the Geneva Conventions. It is Gonzales' adept sophistry which has underpinned and sanctified the administration's secretive, anti-democratic authoritarianism.

If Gonzales's nomination as AG is, as is suspected, just a step toward putting him on the Supreme Court, then why wait to have that fight? Why not try to stop him now? Democrats always seem to be waiting for the fights that matter, well, this fight matters. Let's fight it.

Thursday, November 11, 2004


A great piece from Lenny Glynn in the New Partisan:

Because there is, in fact, a war-winning weapon close to hand that the Allawi government could use — with support from allies and from both Democrats and Republicans. This weapon could, at a stroke, put flesh on the bones of formal democracy, change the dynamic of the insurgency, begin to win the confidence of the Iraqi people and create a powerful, growing force for stability, national unity and economic development. The weapon, of course, is oil — and the huge flows of cash it generates.

The way to deploy it is straightforward. Iraq’s new government should simply announce that as of a date certain, it will establish a new national investment fund — call it The Iraqi People’s Freedom Trust — which will be credited with a major share of all future Iraqi oil earnings. A popular real world model might be the Alaska Permanent Fund, which grants a share of that state’s oil revenues to every citizen. Revenues directed to Iraq’s Freedom Trust could be invested in Iraqi government bonds, keeping a small cash reserve to provide for cash withdrawals from the Trust by individual Iraqis.

...By sharing some of Iraq’s vast oil wealth with its people, a new Iraqi government could foster the rise of a broad-based, democratic middle class. It could turn black gold into liquid freedom, the fuel for democracy and the engine of development. The Freedom Trust would give the Iraqi people, and their new police and Army, a future to believe in — and fight for. This single move would do more than any other initiative to help secure a lasting peace, grounded in justice. And such a peace may be the only outcome that could, in some small measure, redeem the sacrifices that Americans and Iraqis are now enduring.

I've toyed around with this same idea myself, as I'm sure others have, but Glynn does a very good job of fleshing out the details. It seems a rather ingenious way to immediately invest the Iraqi people in the stability of their country while seriously reducing incentives for supporting the insurgency. Even more significantly in the long run, it could provide a genuine alternative to the oil-fed kleptocracies which dominate the region, and one with very visible, tangible benefits.

What are the possibilities for such a plan to be developed? I suppose that depends upon how much control over Iraqi oil the Bush gang feels entitled after having spent over 1000 lives and hundreds of billions of dollars there. There's also the question of securing the pipelines, which the Iraqi government doesn't seem likely to be able to do on its own any time soon. But, again, it's very possible that the average Iraqi would take much more of an active interest in pipeline security if it was literally his money flowing through there.

Wouldn't it be something if, after having spent all this blood and treasure to overthrow a dictator and install a reformist government in Iraq, the new government nationalized the country's oil and socialized its profits? Given that this is essentially what provoked the U.S.-aided overthrow of a reformist government and installation of a dictator in neighboring Iran fifty years ago, I think that would qualify as irony.

Here's an open letter from Michael Lind advocating this idea over a year ago. It also has some links at the bottom to other similar proposals.


Arafat has died. Freedom fighter or terrorist? Hero or villain? Is it to be ping-pong with Gandhi in heaven, or an accordion duet with Nixon in hell? Okay, that last one is not a serious question, I only wanted an excuse to share with you my image of Tricky Dick sitting amidst the flames on an uncomfortable metal folding chair, gasping and heaving through endless renditions of "Beer Barrel Polka" with wee, red-eyed devil children biting at his ankles every time the tempo flags.

The legacy of Arafat is impressive, troubling, and (conservatives cover your ears) complex. In many ways, he helped usher in the era of international terrorism in which we are now living. He also personified the just aspirations of a wronged people. I can't condone the use of violence against non-combatants, but also I feel that it would be incredibly jejune of me to sit here in my cozy office in my Seattle condo and condemn Arafat for using the tools available to him.

The fact that a Palestinian State is now seen by most people as inevitable is largely due to Arafat's leadership, which is also to say that it is largely due to terrorism. Conversely, the fact that no such state yet exists is, I think, largely due to Arafat's unwillingness or inability to abandon terrorism, or to reign in Palestinian factions which still practice it.

In any case, the raw truth is that when the history of Palestine is written, the use of terrorism will be seen as having been instrumental in its creation, just as it was instrumental in the creation of Israel. A moral conundrum, that.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004


Matt Yglesias:

This has been hinted at elsewhere, but I think it's worth saying that there are some very direct analogies between the cultural backlash provoked by the American Northeast's efforts to reconfigure social relations in the American South in the 1860s and then the "heartland" writ large from 1965-onwards and the backlash against America's neoimperial transformative project in the Middle East. This is not to say that American social conservatives are the same as violent jihadis or even that American "Christianism" is the same as Arab "Islamism." Obviously, there are major -- and important -- differences. But there are also similarities. Nationalism is a powerful force. So is religion. In general, people are fairly wedded to their traditional ways of life. Even when people agree that some important element of their traditional political order (Jim Crow, Saddam Hussein) was bad and are glad to see it gone, they still resent outsiders who came in, wrecked the old order, put on airs of superiority, and start pressing for further changes.

Andrew Sullivan has more than hinted at the jihadist aspect of the culture war:

And for many of the true faithful, Bush is an almost messianic figure. At this year’s convention of the Texas Republican party, one pastor prayed: “Give us Christians in America who are more wholehearted, more committed and more militant for you and your kingdom than any fanatical Islamic terrorists are for death and destruction. I want to be one of those Christians.” That is the molten core of the Republican party.

...Who will win this religious war? It’s still too close to call. But inasmuch as people’s deepest and most mysterious beliefs are being dragged more and more into the public square, America loses. It is one thing to have religious rhetoric and language in public. That is the American way. It is another to base political appeals on religious grounds — whether crudely or subtly.

It is one of the saddest ironies of our time that as America tries to calm the fires of theocracy abroad, it should be stoking milder versions of the same.

A similarity that occurs to me is that many liberals don't seem to grasp that they have been declared war upon. Just as many Americans didn't comprehend the nature of Islamist jihadism before 9/11, many liberals don't comprehend the level of conservative hate towards them. If you doubt that war has, in fact, been declared, have a read:

For many decades, conservative citizens and like-minded political leaders (starting with President Calvin Coolidge) have been denigrated by the vilest of lies and characterizations from hordes of liberals who now won't even admit that they are liberals--because the word connotes such moral stink and political silliness. As a class, liberals no longer are merely the vigorous opponents of the Right; they are spiteful enemies of civilization's core decency and traditions.

...Having been amended only 17 times since 10 vital amendments (the Bill of Rights) were added at the republic's inception, the U.S. Constitution is not easily changed, primarily because so many states (75%, now 38 of 50) must agree. Yet, there are 38 states today that may be inclined to adopt, let us call it, a "Declaration of Expulsion," that is, a specific constitutional amendment to kick out the systemically troublesome states and those trending rapidly toward anti-American, if not outright subversive, behavior. The 12 states that must go: California, Illinois, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Maryland, and Delaware. Only the remaining 38 states would retain the name, "United States of America." The 12 expelled mobs could call themselves the "Dirty Dozen," or individually keep their identity and go their separate ways, probably straight to Hell.

Leaving side the obvious fact that Mr. Thompson doesn't understand the concept of liberalism (here's a hint: you're soaking in it), I find the idea that the Red States should want to expel the Blue States extremely amusing. To illustrate the stark absurdity of this proposal, I've written a short play.

You know, Daddy Warbucks, I just don't think this is going to work out. You can take your money and your atheistic elitism, and I'll take my conservative values and go back to living on the street.

Suits me fine. There are plenty of orphans to be had these days. There's a depression on, you know. Don't let the door hit you on your little orphan ass on the way out.

The End

Here's a state-by-state breakdown of federal dollars contributed versus those received. Guess who gets more than they give? Those self-reliant Red States. Guess who gives more than they receive? Those welfare-loving Blue States. If the Reds were to expel the Blues from the Union, I seriously doubt the tax revenues generated by NASCAR and the sale of Moon Pies and mayonaise would enable the Reds to continue enjoying the lifestyle to which they've become accustomed. The Blues, however, would have that much more money to spend on drugs, lube, and black masses, to say nothing of public education and health care.

Back to the main point, that American liberalism is under attack by a highly motivated and well-organized theocratic insurgency. The 2004 election was won, it turns out, mostly on the issue of terrorism and national security, as most expected it would. It was not won, as was thought immediately afterward, on "moral values." But that has not stopped these folks from acting as if it was. They are spinning this electoral victory into a Christian call to arms, and are intent on writing their illiberalism into the Constitution.

Look, I'm not equating the Islamist threat with the domestic conservative threat. That would be silly. The Christian Coalition is not al Qaeda, obviously. But the similarities in mindset are impossible to deny.

In some ways, I think the 2004 election will be looked back upon as the liberal 9/11. It will, I hope, galvanize us and bring into focus the threat gathering against us. In any case, we have no excuse for ignoring the threat any longer, or for misunderstanding its nature.

Friends, liberalism is the philosophy which underpins the modern, civilized world. The principles which define it, personal liberty, religious toleration, and government by consent, have made possible an era of freedom and economic prosperity unknown before in human history. It's time we liberals started acting like it.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004


John Ashcroft has resigned as U.S. Attorney General, coming off a successful string of terrorist convictions...wait, what?

Give the man credit though, he performed his function admirably for the last four years, and that function was to make the rest of the Bush gang seem rational by comparison. This is known as the Derbyshire Effect. No word yet on who the administration's new Derbyshire will be.

Anyway, let's Let the Eagle Soar one more time, shall we?

Just in case anyone was wondering, John Derbyshire is still the Derbyshire of the National Review:

[W]e survived Carter, and he was followed by Reagan. One attempt at national suicide is quite enough for this writer's lifetime, though. Furthermore, the world is a less-stable place now than it was in 1976, and the wreckers loose in our own society are stronger, more confident, and more numerous.

It is those wreckers that most concern me: the arrogant judges, the academic deconstructors, the teacher-union multiculturalists, the media guilt-mongers, the love-the-world pacifists, the criminal-lovers and family-breakers, the inventors of bogus rights and destroyers of cherished traditions, the haters of normality and scoffers at restraint, the enterprise-destroying litigators and pain-feelers.

I do not fear that American civilization will be brought down by Osama bin Laden, or Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, or any foreign force at all — not even (if you will permit me a quick sarcastic poke in the eye to my paleo friends here) not even by the arch-fiend himself, Ariel Sharon! I do fear that this country might be made unfit to live in, as the country of my birth has been, by a misguided and corrupt humanitarianism, sentimental wallowing in past wrongs both real and imagined, and class and race resentment petted and nurtured by opportunistic tax-eaters.

Opportunistic tax-eaters, oh yes. Please refer to my next post for something about that.

As for Derbyshire's use of the term "wreckers," you know something's up when a stark raving conservative, writing in what used to be America's foremost anti-Communist journal, openly uses such Communist lingo to refer to those whom he obviously regards as enemies of the State.

Saturday, November 06, 2004


Paul Freedman in Slate:
If the morality gap doesn't explain Bush's re-election, what does? A good part of the answer lies in the terrorism gap. Nationally, 49 percent of voters said they trusted Bush but not Kerry to handle terrorism; only 31 percent trusted Kerry but not Bush. This 18-point gap is particularly significant in that terrorism is strongly tied to vote choice: 99 percent of those who trusted only Kerry on the issue voted for him, and 97 percent of those who trusted only Bush voted for him. Terrorism was cited by 19 percent of voters as the most important issue, and these citizens gave their votes to the president by an even larger margin than morality voters: 86 percent for Bush, 14 percent for Kerry.

These differences hold up at the state level even when each state's past Bush vote is taken into account. When you control for that variable, a 10-point increase in the percentage of voters citing terrorism as the most important problem translates into a 3-point Bush gain. A 10-point increase in morality voters, on the other hand, has no effect. Nor does putting an anti-gay-marriage measure on the ballot. So, if you want to understand why Bush was re-elected, stop obsessing about the morality gap and start looking at the terrorism gap.

Having waited a few days for the conventional wisdom to form,David Brooks can now come out against it:

[Bush] won because 53 percent of voters approved of his performance as president. Fifty-eight percent of them trust Bush to fight terrorism. They had roughly equal confidence in Bush and Kerry to handle the economy. Most approved of the decision to go to war in Iraq. Most see it as part of the war on terror.

The fact is that if you think we are safer now, you probably voted for Bush. If you think we are less safe, you probably voted for Kerry. That's policy, not fundamentalism. The upsurge in voters was an upsurge of people with conservative policy views, whether they are religious or not.

Related: One wee, small, tiny bright side of this election is that, because the much anticipated youth vote didn't turn out (again), Brooks won't be able to use his newly minted, typically insipid sociological stereotype of "The John Stewart Voter," which he couldn't resist but bring out on the News Hour on Tuesday. Thank god we won't have to read (the reviews of) that book.


Great article on Bernard Lewis, favored Middle East scholar of the neoconservatives, in the Washington Monthly.

The administration's vision of postwar Iraq was also fundamentally Lewisian, which is to say Kemalist. Paul Wolfowitz repeatedly invoked secular, democratic Turkey as a “useful model for others in the Muslim world,” as the deputy secretary of defense termed it in December 2002 on the eve of a trip to lay the groundwork for what he thought would be a friendly Turkey's role as a staging ground for the Iraq war. Another key Pentagon neocon and old friend of Lewis's, Harold Rhode, told associates a year ago that “we need an accelerated Turkish model” for Iraq, according to a source who talked with him. (Lewis dedicated a 2003 book, The Crisis of Islam, to Rhode whom “I got to know when he was studying Ottoman registers,” Lewis told me.) And such men thought that Ahmad Chalabi—also a protégé of Lewis's—might make a fine latter-day Ataturk—strong, secular, pro-Western, and friendly towards Israel. L. Paul Bremer III, the former U.S. civil administrator in Iraq, was not himself a Chalabite, but he too embraced a top-down Kemalist approach to Iraq's resurrection. The role of the Islamic community, meanwhile, was consistently marginalized in the administration's planning. U.S. officials saw Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most prestigious figure in the country, as a clueless medieval relic. Even though military intelligence officers were acutely aware of Sistani's importance—having gathered information on him for more than a year before the invasion—Bremer and his Pentagon overseers initially sidelined the cleric, defying his calls for early elections.

It's frightening that anyone thought that Chalabi could serve as Iraq's Ataturk. Ataturk had enormous credibility as a military hero. Chalabi, having spent the last fifty-some years outside the country, mostly at various salons and cocktail parties, doesn't have anything comparable. Ataturk was also quite explicit about his intention of moving Turkey into the Western world, a goal that, if stated openly, would instantly delegitimize any Iraqi, and probably any Arab, leader at this point.