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.