Saturday, December 31, 2005

BEST OF 2005

Stuff that moved me the most this year...

In The Heart Of The Moon, Ali Farka Toure and Toumane Diabate.

Veneer, Jose Gonzalez.

Gimme Fiction, Spoon.

Night Draws Near, Anthony Shadid.

The Squid and the Whale.

Munich. (Reviewed below.)

Battlestar Galactica.

Happy New Year!

Friday, December 30, 2005


Interview with Nayef Rajoub, Hamas candidate from the Hebron district.


John Quiggen at Crooked Timber:
I just received an email drawing the (far from original) comparison between terrorism and cancer. It struck me that, to make this metaphor exact we’d need

-attacks on cancer researchers for seeking to ‘understand’ cancer

-even more attacks on anyone trying to find ‘root causes’ for cancer in the environment, such as exposure to tobacco smoke

-lengthy pieces pointing out that the only thing we need to know about cancer cells is that they are malignant

-more lengthy pieces pointing out that criticism of any kind of quack remedy marks the critic as “objectively pro-cancer”
Indeed. We'd also need one or more historians to explain how a certain rash that was going around in the 5th century BC has so much to teach about this cancer.


I'm finding it difficult to arrange my thoughts on this film into a neat entry, so I'll just throw some out.

  • Eric Bana gives what I think is the best performance of the year. He brings the same profound, noble sadness to this role that he has to many of his others, and it's an understatement to say that he carries the film. I was not aware until I read this NYT profile that he began in comedy. I must now watch all of his films again in the light of his astounding portrayal of Avner Kauffmann.
  • Daniel Craig's performance made me excited to see him as the new Bond, and hopefully the Bond filmmakers will put his glowering menace to good use and bring the character back to what he should be: a stylish psychopath.
  • I've never seen Geoffrey Rush turn in less than excellent work.
  • This film can be seen as a companion piece to Paradise Now. Both deal with the practical and spiritual implications of political violence, though Paradise Now says quite a bit more with quite a bit less.
  • A key line comes in Kauffmann's questioning whether he and his team have been eliminating the terrorist leadership or simply the Palestinian political leadership. This is a distinction that many seem unable or unwilling to make even to this day.
  • The films treatment of sex is troubling. The killing of the woman on the boat is probably the single most disturbing act of violence which I've ever seen in film (edging out the scene in GoodFellas where Liotta clocks the dude about twenty times with the butt of his pistol). In classic lighting-it-up-in-neon fashion, Spielberg wants to make sure we understand that these men have been debased by their violence. Message received. And I won't even go into the climax-flashback sequence, which was just creepy.
  • Interesting reference to Coppola's The Conversation when Kauffmann rips up his bedroom looking for hidden devices. Eventually, Kauffmann begins to fear the Israelis themselves, finally understanding the full implications of the perverse morality which he has been serving: If and when someone decides that Kauffmann himself represents a liability to Israel, his name will be added to The List (as opposed to Schindler's, this list is death.)
  • As in so many of Spielberg's films, there is an absent father (actually two).
  • The most heartbreaking scene takes place between Kauffmann and a member of the PLO, who is unaware of Kauffmann's identity. They stand smoking and talking in a stairwell, for a moment there is almost a faint glimmer of understanding between them, but the moment evaporates and they can only talk past each other, each reciting the cant of his particular sect. They are robots, carrying out programming. During this conversation, a key can clearly be seen around the Palestinian's neck. This is called miftah, and many Palestinians wear these keys to houses from which their families were expelled by the Israeli forces in 1948 and 1967, passing them down as heirlooms. I'm very impressed that Spielberg chose to underscore the scene this way, by subtly but unmistakably referencing the violence and injustice which attended Israel's birth, reminding us that the Munich terror, reprehensible and unjustifiable as it was, was itself a response.
  • It's important to note that religion plays almost no part in the story of this film. At this point it is still a struggle between two largely secular nationalist movements, and Islam would not play much of a role in Palestinian resistance until the late 1970s, fully asserting itself in the first intifada in 1987.
I don't think this movie can be considered a success, but I did like it. It's haunted me for days. It was overlong, and could've lost at least thirty minutes. There are some attempts at comic relief that are totally out of place, as if Spielberg were unwilling to entirely commit to the spirit of the film he set out to make, but it is clearly an important film, one that I hope will mark the beginning of an era in which more (and more subtle and sophisticated) artists grapple with the implications of terrorism for our society.

Thursday, December 29, 2005


I'm sure Stanley Kurtz will find a way to blame this on the Massachussetts Supreme Court.
An unusual wedding ceremony was held in the southern resort town of Eilat on Wednesday, as Sharon Tendler, a 41-years-old Jewish millionaire from London married her beloved Cindy, a 35-years-old dolphin, Israel's leading newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth reported Thursday.

The groom, a resident of the Eilat dolphin reef, met Tendler 15 years ago, when she first visited the resort. The British rock concert producer took a liking to the dolphin and has made a habit of traveling to Eilat two or three times a year and spending time with her underwater sweetheart.

"The peace and tranquility underwater, and his love, would calm me down," the excited bride said after the wedding.

After a years-long romance, Tendler decided to embark on the highly unusual path of tying the knot with her beloved dolphin. Last week, she approached Cindy's trainer Maya Zilber with the extraordinary request.

Zilber accepted the challenge and "talked the idea over with the fellow," who apparently consented.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005


Four of my greatest concert experiences, in no order.

Dinosaur Jr, My Bloody Valentine. March 1992, The Avalon, Boston, MA.

Sting. February 1991, The Beacon Theater, New York, NY.

De La Soul, Brand Nubian, Leaders of the New School. July 1991, The Ritz, New York, NY.

The Polyphonic Spree. February 2005, The Showbox, Seattle, WA.

Pass to Stacius, Rob, and Erik.


Got back last night from Christmas in southern California with my uncle's family. Much kapusta, kabosi, varenikiy, and lemon cake was eaten. A very merry Christmas was had. The weather was beautiful, if you're into sunshine, but now I'm back in wonderful chilly, rainy Seattle where stuff makes sense.

Friday, December 23, 2005


I'm off to spend Christmas with family. Peace to all!


Very interesting interview with Karen Armstrong, whose books A History of God and The Battle for God I highly recommend.

Armstrong on religious fundamentalist movements:
Most of them began in fear - a fear of annihilation. All groups are convinced that modern secular liberalist society is going to wipe them out.

This is true across the board.

When they feel that their backs are against a wall, that's when they become aggressive, defensive and worried.

A profound hinging on this is a loss of identity - people not knowing where they are and feeling their values have been marginalised and kicked out of the way.

This produces a sense of frustration and impotent rage. They have a desire to bring God and all religion back to centre stage.

This expresses itself in an exaggerated vision of the enemy; all of them have cultivated blown-up versions of the enemy which reflects a great deal of their own sense of menace.


It has gradually been making its way to the forefront and many in the US feel alienated by the secularist, intellectualist, and sophisticated discourse of New York, Harvard, Yale and Washington, DC.

Many people in small town America have for a very long time felt colonised by this ideology, just as colonised as people in Egypt felt by the British or in Syria by the French.


More from the Daily Star.


The La's, 1990. Found this used a couple years back, bought it for nostalgia reasons (I wore the tape out senior year), and was amazed at how well it's held up.

Thursday, December 22, 2005


Mark Krikorian in the Corner:
MEMRI sent out a report the other day that got my attention. It translated the ravings of a sheikh saying that the Palestinians "are a Nation of Jihad and Martyrdom." This is more telling than he probably realizes. Many observers dismiss Palestinian nationalism as fictitious, promoting a non-existent people invented only after 1967. As true as that was, the Palestinians are now a real nation in the hearts and minds of its people, the only way that counts -- but a nation which exists solely to extirpate the Jews. In other words, the Palestinians really are a "nation of jihad" because, unlike the Chinese nation or American or Persian or Mexican or Russian, Palestine has no past, no distinctiveness, no commonality other than being the negation of Israel, the anti-Israel -- anti-matter, if you will, on the periodic table of nations. (I'll accept nominations for which nation is which element -- I vote for France as helium, an inert gas.) I don't mean that every Arabic-speaking person from the old British mandate of Palestine is a killer, but that Palestinian nationhood as an idea is inextricably tied to the liquidation of Israel. And this is why they need to be walled off.

I really don't know where to start sifting this trash, but let's just begin with Krikorian's assertion that the Palestinians didn't exist as a people before the creation of Israel. This theory, such as it is, of Palestinian nationhood has been soundly discredited and deservedly marginalized among historians, currently enjoying about the same academic respectability as denial of the Armenian genocide, which is to say that only the most hardline revisionists continue to traffic in such claims. I sense that Krikorian knows this, hiding as he does behind the "Many observers dismiss Palestinian nationalism as fictitious..." bushwa in order to float his assertion. (Krikorian is acting here as a transmitter, trying to give respectability to extremist views by airing them in a more mainstream forum, thereby pushing the boundaries of what's acceptable.)

There are some revisionists who place the advent of Palestinian nationalism around the turn of the century, presenting it solely as a consequence of Zionist immigration. Others put it at al Nakhba of 1948. Krikorian does them all one better by dating it as late as 1967, which is interesting given that the PLO (that's the Palestinian Liberation Organization for those of you just joining us) was founded in 1964. But what's few years here and there when you're intent on denying the existence of a people?

In reality, Palestinians started to come into an awareness of themselves, that is as a people having a shared past and future, at roughly the same time, and for many of the same reasons, as sub-groups in the rest of the Arab world: Economic transformation, beginning under the Ottomans in the 19th century and continuing under the colonial powers, resulting in large-scale migration to the cities and increased exposure to European concepts of state and nationhood. Zionist immigration to Palestine was clearly an important contributing factor in the growth of Palestinian consciousness, unique perhaps to Palestine among other Arab regions, but by no means an extraordinary or unique phenomenon in itself. And while the creation of Israel and the resulting expulsion and dispossession of many of its Arab inhabitants was a galvanizing event, it certainly does not support Krikorian's assertion that Palestinian identity is defined by a desire for "the liquidation of Israel."

It's understandable why hardline Israel partisans such as Krikorian would need to believe such nonsense. After all, if the Palestinians aren't "a people" in the real sense, that is if they have no right to national self-determination which any Israeli government is bound to respect, then they can be kept in a condition of stateless limbo for as long as it serves Israel's purpose to do so, and eventually just be "walled off."

Further reading:
The Palestinian People, by Joel Migdal and Baruch Kimmerling
Israel, Palestine and Peace, by Amos Oz
Palestinian Identity, by Rashid Khalidi
Blood Brothers, by Elias Chacour

Wednesday, December 21, 2005


A few things I learned from King Kong:
1. Don't fire your weapon into a dark cave to find out if anything's in it.
2. Don't get caught on the log.
3. When the shore of the island you've just pulled up on is decorated with the impaled skeletons of the last people who visited, turn around, get back in the boat, and find a different island.

I think Jackson could've easily cut a quarter of the movie, probably even a third. The subplot between the first mate and the kid was entirely unecessary. Kong's fight with the Tyrannosauruses, cool as it was, could've been about half as long, but all in all the film was pretty impressive. It was a nice, arch touch putting the Broadway-show islanders in the same outfits as the campy islanders of the '76 remake. And I must say, that was the realest looking gorilla costume I've ever seen. If you thought Jackson did incredible things with forced perspective in the Lord of the Rings films, you'll be amazed at how he makes a dude in a suit look 25 feet tall. Either that or Naomi Watts is freaking tiny.

At the root, it's a simple story, and I think Jackson told it pretty well. Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back after fighting off dinosaurs, boy gets knocked out by some jugs of chloroform, boy becomes Broadway STAH!, boy plummets to his death from the Empire State Building, girl weeps. And, of course, the real tragedy is that, even if Kong hadn't died at the end, we know it would never have worked out. She's a city girl, he's from the country. She likes going to dinner and seeing a show, he's into outdoor sports. She's a modern woman who knows what she wants, he's as conservative as they come. Would. Not. Work. No matter how many adventures and tragedies they or we endure together, the gulf between each of us remains, yawning, ridiculing, and, umm...yawning.(/existential)

Tuesday, December 20, 2005


Lance hears the echoes.

I heard the same thing in this response to a question about secret prisons and torture:
Without confirming or denying the existence of such prisons, Bush said, “Our country is at war, and our government has the obligation to protect the American people.”

He pointedly noted that Congress shares that responsibility with the administration.

“We are finding terrorists and bringing them to justice. We are gathering information about where the terrorists may be hiding. We are trying to disrupt their plots and plans. Anything we do ... to that end in this effort, any activity we conduct, is within the law. We do not torture,” Bush said.

...and since a group of very smart and loyal people has determined that the joint resolution of September 14, 2001 gives the president permission to do whatever he decides is necessary to fight terrorism, anything he does is legal by definition. There's really no understating the threat this doctrine poses to a free society. I'm more and more convinced that the Bush gang was who Franklin had in mind when he answered:

"A Republic, if you can keep it."

It's clear that the president understands his personal authority in a zero-sum manner, and any oversight or check, whether by Congress or the press, necessarily detracts from his ability to do his job. As with his petulant treatment of the UN, he seems unable or unwilling to grasp that genuine consultation, even the simple willingess to engage in it, could actually add to his, and the United States', authority.


Or at least knocked down, until it rises, T-800-like...
A federal judge ruled today that a Pennsylvania school board's policy of teaching intelligent design in high school biology class is unconstitutional because intelligent design is clearly a religious idea that advances "a particular version of Christianity."

In the nation's first case to test the legal merits of intelligent design, Judge John E. Jones III dealt a stinging rebuke to advocates of teaching intelligent design as a scientific alternative to evolution in public schools.

The judge found that intelligent design is not science, and that the only way its proponents can claim it is, is by changing the very definition of science to include supernatural explanations.


Jones sharply criticized some of the school board members, writing, "It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID Policy."

I'm surprised, though not disappointed, that Jones went that far. I think his comment really gets to the character of intelligent design: it is an argument made in flagrant bad faith.
The lead defense lawyer for the school board, Richard Thompson, said it was "silly" for the judge to have issued such a sweeping judgment on intelligent design in a case that he said merely involved a "one minute statement" being read to students.

"A thousand opinions by a court that a particular scientific theory is invalid will not make that scientific theory invalid," said Mr. Thompson, the president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Law Center, a public interest firm that says it promotes Christian values. "It is going to be up to the scientists who are going to continue to do research in their labs that will ultimately determine that."

Actually, scientists are determining it as we speak, and the overwhelming consensus is that ID is, to use the most charitable possible definition, bad science. And since the handful of scientists in the ID dugout have been decidedly unwilling to step up to the plate with an argument that isn't simply a variant of "Are you kidding me? Bacterial flagella are just, like, so complex!" that consensus is unlikely to change. Delusions of persecution, however, will no doubt persist.

I mentioned the Thomas More Law Center last month, because I found this bit of reasoning priceless:
The More center's lawyers put scientists on the witness stand who argued that intelligent design - the idea that living organisms are so complex that the best explanation is that a higher intelligence designed them - is a credible scientific theory and not religion because it never identifies God as the designer.

Still religion is at the heart of the case's appeal for the center, say its lawyers and the chairman of its board.

The chairman, Bowie Kuhn, the former baseball commissioner, said the board agreed that the center should take on an intelligent design case because while it is not necessarily based on religion "it is being opposed because people think it is religious." And that was enough for a group whose mission, as explained on its Web site, is "to protect Christians and their religious beliefs in the public square."(emphasis added)

Intelligent design is not about religion, it's about science. Narrow-minded people oppose intelligent design because they wrongly think it's about religion. Therefore, intelligent design must be defended as religious expression. I can almost believe that someone could almost believe that.

I almost forgot to add this.

Monday, December 19, 2005


Via Metafilter, the UK's Performing Rights Society has told music store owners that customers must pay fees if they perform any copyrighted music in the course of trying out an instrument.
Talking from his shop, the well-established Jones Music on Charlotte Street in Macclesfield, he asked: "Has anyone used their common sense here?"

Steve, who took over the 78-year-old established business a year ago, received a call out of the blue from PRS who asked if he or his customers tried out musical instruments.

He said: "I thought, what a daft question, of course we do."

When he said they did, they told him that if anyone played a riff – an identifiable piece of music – he was in breach of copyright and was breaking the law.

"They said it constituted a public performance!" he gasped. "I thought someone was winding me up.

"I have never heard anything so ridiculous in my life. It means that customers will either have to try something out without the piece sounding melodious or they will have to buy it untried.

"I am certainly not going to pay for a licence. I am making a stand for all musical instrument shops who are just going about their business."

Hurts to think how much I'd owe them in back royalties...

Friday, December 16, 2005


Bestselling Turkish author Orhan Pamuk faces prosecution for "denigrating the Turkish national identity." His offense was to have recognized, in an interview with a Swiss magazine, that the Armenian genocide actually happened, something the Turkish government still denies.

I've been hugely interested in Turkish history and culture since I visited in 2000. It was that trip that inspired me to go back to school to study Islam and the Middle East. The history of the Turkish republic itself is a fascinating and often inspiring story of the radical transformation of a society, and continues to be very instructive on the tensions and conflicts of democratic republicanism in an Islamic society. It should go without saying, however, that prosecutions for "offending the national identity" have no place in a liberal democracy, especially when the offense involves simply not being willing to maintain a national fiction.

Pamuk comments on his prosecution in last week's New Yorker.
The drama we see unfolding is not, I think, a grotesque and inscrutable drama peculiar to Turkey; rather, it is an expression of a new global phenomenon that we are only just coming to acknowledge and that we must now begin, however slowly, to address. In recent years, we have witnessed the astounding economic rise of India and China, and in both these countries we have also seen the rapid expansion of the middle class, though I do not think we shall truly understand the people who have been part of this transformation until we have seen their private lives reflected in novels. Whatever you call these new élites—the non-Western bourgeoisie or the enriched bureaucracy—they, like the Westernizing élites in my own country, feel compelled to follow two separate and seemingly incompatible lines of action in order to legitimatize their newly acquired wealth and power. First, they must justify the rapid rise in their fortunes by assuming the idiom and the attitudes of the West; having created a demand for such knowledge, they then take it upon themselves to tutor their countrymen. When the people berate them for ignoring tradition, they respond by brandishing a virulent and intolerant nationalism. The disputes that a Flaubert-like outside observer might call bizarreries may simply be the clashes between these political and economic programs and the cultural aspirations they engender. On the one hand, there is the rush to join the global economy; on the other, the angry nationalism that sees true democracy and freedom of thought as Western inventions.


As tomorrow’s novelists prepare to narrate the private lives of the new élites, they are no doubt expecting the West to criticize the limits that their states place on freedom of expression. But these days the lies about the war in Iraq and the reports of secret C.I.A. prisons have so damaged the West’s credibility in Turkey and in other nations that it is more and more difficult for people like me to make the case for true Western democracy in my part of the world.


Asharq Alawsat has an interview with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood's Supreme Guide.


The Bush gang would have declared success whatever the turnout, but all things considered I think yesterday's election looks encouraging.

No word yet on the rumors about Pat Buchanan's unexpectedly strong showing in Mosul.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005


In a story that in several ways seems to confirm Ali Jarbawi's comments which I linked yesterday, Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz has approved yet more expansion of the Maale Adumim settlement.
Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz approved construction in Maale Adumim, the largest settlement in the territory occupied by Israel since 1967.

He also approved preparatory steps for the expansion of the smaller settlements of Bracha and Nokdim.

The decision violates the roadmap peace plan, under which Israel agreed to freeze all settlement building.

Israel has nevertheless continued to expand settlements since the road map was approved in June 2003.

...Mr Mofaz made the decision last week while he still was campaigning to become the new leader of the Likud party.

Since then, however, he has left Likud to join Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's new Kadima party.

The defence minister said he was leaving Likud because of what he called right-wing extremists within the party. (emphasis added)

Jarbawi, yesterday:
[the] transformation in the Israeli political system is not based, as many think, on a shift by Sharon from the right to the center, but rather on a shift of the center toward Sharon, whose real place is still in the Israeli right-wing camp.

As is Mofaz's. It's a very bad sign for Israeli politics, and for the peace process, that such longtime settlement supporters and irredentists as Sharon and Mofaz can be considered "centrists."

Tuesday, December 13, 2005


An International Herald Tribune story on the various retoolings of Sesame Street being done for audiences around the world:
When a squeezable, and bankable, star named Elmo made a belated comeback in France this year, long after his Muppet birth in the United States, doubts emerged immediately about the puppet's proper French esprit.

Was Elmo too sweet? Did the google-eyed creature with a crimson shag and the whispery voice of a 3-year-old lack sufficient Gallic irony?

Frankly, I've always thought Elmo lacked the proper esprit period, the cloying little bastard, so I see no problem with giving him a two day old beard and having him deliver cynical epigrams between nervous sips of coffee and puffs on a bent cigarette.
Big Bird has also vanished, replaced by an enormous yellow character, Nac, whose trumpet nose, vivid colors and whimsical nature were tested with children and reviewed by a French psychologist.

Sounds like they've picked up the Capital City Goofball's contract.


Last weekend our family observed an American rite of passage. We've been slowly allowing our two-year old daughter to watch TV, we began on Thanksgiving with a viewing of The Great Muppet Caper (the greatest of the Muppet films) and Saturday we watched The Wizard of Oz for the first time. The scene in which the Wicked Witch of the West first appears in smoke and flame is a trial that all children must pass through on the road to maturity, and I'm proud to say the little girl handled it rather well, comforting daddy as he shook and cried.


Ali Jarbawi, writing in the Daily Star, is not encouraged by electoral prospects in Israel and Palestine.
It should be noted, however, that this transformation in the Israeli political system is not based, as many think, on a shift by Sharon from the right to the center, but rather on a shift of the center toward Sharon, whose real place is still in the Israeli right-wing camp.

Sharon has already declared his acceptance of U.S. President George W. Bush's vision of a settlement based on the principle of two states, thereby implying that he does not oppose the establishment of a Palestinian "state." However, he has been unilaterally designating the boundaries of this "state" on the ground according to Israeli conditions, which include the previous government's opposition to the internationally-supported "road map."

What this means is that Sharon wants to give Palestinians a "leftover state" - without full independence or complete sovereignty, which is established on whatever land Israel cannot annex because of dense Palestinian population concentration. Annexing these areas would lead to an imbalance, from a Jewish-Israeli perspective, in the demographic reality and would eventually transform Israel into a bi-national state. This is why Sharon carried out his unilateral withdrawal from inside the Gaza Strip while continuing settlement construction in the West Bank, isolating Jerusalem from its surroundings, completing the separation wall and establishing cantons to squeeze the Palestinians into the smallest possible geographically scattered spots within the West Bank, while maintaining the Jordan Valley as an isolated security zone under Israeli control. These are the characteristics of the settlement Sharon wants to impose on the Palestinians by creating facts on the ground, and this settlement will constitute his political platform after the elections.


Rather than creating a hope for a breakthrough, the Palestinian and Israeli election results are going to collide. Sharon will continue to impose facts on the ground, disregarding the Palestinian position. Likewise, Palestinian election results will lead to a reaffirmation of the Palestinian position rejecting a "leftover" state. Most likely, the elections on both sides will result in an increased possibility of confrontation: these elections will set the stage for a third, "springtime" intifada.

That's about as succinct and accurate interpretation of Sharon's goals, and their likely results, as I've read. By attempting to unilaterally determinine the boundaries of Jerusalem and large settlements in the West Bank, Sharon has created conditions which no Palestinian leader can accept while still maintaining his own credibility.


A treasure trove of information about life in the early Islamic world is to go online, enabling Muslims, scholars and the merely curious to peer into a window on the faith's rich history.

Numbering more than 10,000 texts, Princeton University's collection of handwritten Islamic documents, books and letters is the largest in North America.

They date from the 8th and 9th centuries - soon after the faith was founded - to the fall of the Ottoman Empire in the early 1900s; most have gone unseen outside New Jersey for nearly a century.


Brent Bozell claims, by way of criticizing this Times article, that Andrew Sullivan is not really a conservative.
Sullivan endorsed John Kerry for president last October in a New Republic editorial (a magazine that, by the way, is as much a "liberal" magazine as the Weekly Standard is "conservative").

In Kornblut's main article, she terms TNR "the Standard's more liberal counterpart." Why can't the Times simply call the liberal New Republic magazine "the liberal New Republic magazine," the way it does when discussing the "conservative" Weekly Standard?

Didn't Charles Krauthammer himself write for the New Republic? Yes he did, the poseur!

Here's Sullivan's response.

Monday, December 12, 2005


Flipping channels, I caught Laura Ingraham being interviewed by Brian Lamb on CSPAN last night. I watched it for a while in the same way that Trent Reznor hurt himself to know if he still feels. Turns out I do.

I've aways considered Ingraham more dangerous than someone like Ann Coulter, even though Ingraham is a little less known. Coulter lets you know within moments of opening her mouth that she is just bat-guano insane, and I doubt she's ever convinced anyone who wasn't already deep in the conservative bag of anything. Ingraham is more subtle, appears somewhat more rational, but with politics no less retrograde.

Much of the interview consisted of Ingraham's predictable complaining about "elites," that is, about a class to which she herself clearly belongs. She rhapsodized about the "real" Americans she's met during her book and speaking tours, hauling out the old Tom Wolfe chestnut about the coasts being mere "parentheses" to what was really America. Needless to say, as a resident of a coast, this kind of lazy, fake populist horseshit always bugs me. I mean, I'm glad that Laura finds America so delightful through the tinted window of her chauffered Lincoln Town Car as she shuttles between hotel and bookstore, hotel and campus speaking engagement, hotel and bookstore, but it's always struck me as baldly ridiculous to claim that middle America is more, or less, "American" than the urban coasts of, you know, America.

I have a story, but it needs this set-up: David Halberstam wrote (I think it was the prologue to The Next Century) about a group of U.S. state governors meeting Henry Kissinger, and of the interesting differences in their particular views and concerns, the former with job growth and balancing state budgets, the latter with the growth of nuclear weapons and the balancing of geopolitical power. "America," Halberstam wrote, "meet America."


I had just returned to Seattle after living in DC for a little over year. I was looking for work, my friend Tim was the head bouncer at a downtown club and hired me on for a few shifts a week. Mostly it was easy work, milling about the club, scolding trucker-capped hipsters for snorting coke in the bathrooms, and dealing with the occasional drunken bad attitude.

The club had two floors, the downstairs was a big room with a stage and dance floor, upstairs was a restaurant and bar. On this particular night, a midwestern storm window company was holding its convention at the Westin Hotel right across 5th Avenue from the club, and the company had rented out the upstairs room for their attendees to party. I got assigned to check their IDs at the front entrance to make sure everyone was of drinking age, so I got to see where everyone was coming from: Colorado, Ohio, Oklahoma, Kansas. They were all pretty friendly and well-behaved, a few loudmouths, nothing serious. They ranged between about thirty and fifty years old, certainly not dressed in what one might call "club fashion," but that was okay, we'd take their money and show them a good time all the same. One forty-ish fellow in a pair of chinos, top-siders, and golf shirt, the "stud" of the group, asked me what was going on downstairs in the club that night.

"Ladies' night." All the DJs on the bill that night were women, it was a semi-regular event that usually got a very big lesbian turnout.

"Awesome!" he said, in a way that told me he hadn't quite understood.

The conventioneers stayed upstairs for about an hour, nearly exhausting the club's stores of Budweiser, then a few women ventured downstairs to check out the scene. They returned moments later with eyes the size of manhole covers, like the women returning from the empty tomb, ready to share what they had seen. As such news often does, the information that there was a roomful of lesbians hugging up with each other downstairs travelled extremely fast, and I thought there was going to be a riot as the men leapt from their chairs and charged for the stairs as if the world's very last barbecued rib was being auctioned off.

"This is gonna be hilarious," said Quinn, one of the other bouncers.

At first the visitors stayed together, clumped in groups as if they were on a school trip to the zoo, but within about thirty minutes they were fully engaged, feeling the bass, bumping the decks, liking the nightlife, liking the boogie, and committing some of the most godawful dancing I've ever seen. Lord, it was beautiful.

The regular attendees were a little surprised and perhaps annoyed at first by the invasion of these hinterland squares, but after a while everybody was just dancing and drinking and sweating and dancing, and it sure didn't seem to matter at that moment who voted for whom or who supported abortion rights or who had a collection of automatic weapons and a den full of beast's heads or who was going to be desperately hung over in church tomorrow. There was only the music. And the dancing. And the drugs and alcohol.

That night America met America. I think, at root, this is what what fundamentalists and demogogues of all stripes either don't like or don't get about people in general. However potent various political issues and ideas might be to us, however different we are from each other, many of us, I'd venture the majority, can put differences aside in the interest of drunken revelry. The Delta House Bloc. When will the sleeper awake?

Thursday, December 08, 2005


Upon seeing the subtitle of Holy Dolphin Lady's new bit of auto-writing, I thought she might be coming out against the CIA's secret Eastern European detention facilities. Hmm, thought I in that brief moment, I guess it makes sense that the noted Reagan's-foot-worshipper would have a problem with our building ghost prisons on the crumbled remains of Communist tyranny...

But alas, no. It's a column decrying illegal immigration.

Noonan takes the position that, as the close descendant of (legal) immigrants, she is in a position of special authority to condemn people who enter this country illegally, who don't choose to wait, in poverty, for their immigration Lotto number to come up. Now, I don't suggest that we should turn a blind eye to this, U.S. immigration policy is right near the head of the line of Things That, Like, Totally Need To Be Reformed, but I'm not saying anything new when I point out that the real tragedy here is that conditions for so many are such that their best option is to risk starvation, dehydration, exhaustion, the elements, and encounters with fascistic, gun-toting rednecks to get into our country. Perhaps it's true, as Peggy insists, that their "first act on entering a the breaking of that country's laws." Their second act, however, after having completed the Southern Border Iron Man Challenge (itself an impressive citizenship credential), is to cut your grass, flip your eggs, wash your dishes, and take care of your kids. 80 hours a week. Sending what money they can back to their families. So, Peg, as the child of (legal) immigrants myself, my response is: Save it. These people "earn it," just as our grandparents did, in a way that you and I never had to.


While I think it stinks of left-wing authoritarian social engineering, not to mention that it's a really badly written initiative (which is like saying "a really dry desert"), Seattle's new smoking ban will probably result in me smoking and drinking less. And that's just bad for the economy.

And it totally sucks for Ahmed Bartokaly, who had just opened his downtown hookah lounge on Oct. 1. Oh well, no more nargile for me.


25 years ago today a father was stolen from his wife and child.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005


There are four cars stopped at a four-way stop, each waving at the others to go ahead. This will continue for an hour.


Saw it last night. Sarah Silverman is a sort of genius. Check it out. You should also bring your most easily offended friends, so you can watch them, too.

Sunday, December 04, 2005


Apparently President Bush has come under the sway of a political researcher who has instructed him to say "victory" a lot when speaking of Iraq. Not to admit mistakes or to adjust any of a series of manifestly counterproductive policies, but to say "victory" more.
Despite the president's oft-stated aversion to polls, Dr. Feaver was recruited after he and Duke colleagues presented the administration with an analysis of polls about the Iraq war in 2003 and 2004. They concluded that Americans would support a war with mounting casualties on one condition: that they believed it would ultimately succeed.

That finding, which is questioned by other political scientists, was clearly behind the victory theme in the speech and the plan, in which the word appears six times in the table of contents alone, including sections titled "Victory in Iraq is a Vital U.S. Interest" and "Our Strategy for Victory is Clear."

You know, if Bush had spent a fraction as much effort planning for the post-war occupation of Iraq as he has in managing the American public's perception of it, things might not be so deep in the shitter.

In other news, Victor Davis Hanson was seen pouting in a corner in the Rose Garden over the fact that President Bush has a new favorite pet pointy-headed academic. (Try giving John McCain a call, Vic, maybe he's looking for someone to massage his feet while comparing him to Ajax!)


An article in today's NY Times suggests that the upcoming decision in the Dover, PA intelligent design case will have serious implications for the future of the ID movement, and the signs aren't good. This caught my eye:
John G. West, a political scientist and senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, the main organization supporting intelligent design, said the skepticism and outright antagonism are evidence that the scientific "fundamentalists" are threatened by its arguments.

"This is natural anytime you have a new controversial idea," Mr. West said. "The first stage is people ignore you. Then, when they can't ignore you, comes the hysteria. Then the idea that was so radical becomes accepted. I'd say we're in the hysteria phase."

Yes, that's what Lyndon LaRouche and his followers have been saying for years now. I'm sure, however, that IDers won't have any problem finding impressionable young fools to man their campus merch tables, either.

There's an excellent article on the Dover case in the current issue of the New Yorker, unavailable on line. Here's an interview with the article's author, Margaret Talbot.

Friday, December 02, 2005


Via Andrew Sullivan, Powerline's John Hinderaker remains ahead of the fleet:
"President Bush has articulated his policy vision more consistently and more eloquently than any President since Lincoln,"

I am in awe.


Film remakes of TV shows are a questionable enterprise but I guess I can understand the logic behind them. Live-action remakes of cartoon shows, however, are pointless, and I think the remake of Aeon Flux is substantially more so than most.

Don't get me wrong, I love ladies firing full-automatic weapons, preferably one in each hand, as much as the next guy. But doing a live-action version of Flux makes about as much sense as Francis Ford Coppola's Bugs Bunny, with Robert DeNiro as Elmer Fudd and Edward Norton as Bugs. I don't doubt that DeNiro and Norton could bring some new depth to the characters, but depth, shade, and motivation are just not why we enjoy Bugs so. So while I'm somewhat impressed that Charlize Theron did all this training for the role (doing wire work seems to be Hollywood's new version of playing someone with a debilitating illness), to my mind it's just sad and superfluous, and shows a complete lack of apprehension of what made the original so damn cool.


Tuesday, November 29, 2005


Via the Officer's Club, the U.S. Air Force has developed a hand-held laser gun.
The US Air Force has unveiled its first hand-held laser weapon that gives security forces a non-lethal option for controlling crowds and protecting areas like checkpoints, according to service officials.

While only in prototype form and years away from fielding, the weapon, known as the Personnel Halting and Stimulation Response (PHaSR) system, holds great promise, they said.

The PHaSR is about the same size and weight of a fully loaded M60 machine gun - around 9 kg - but shoots a low-power beam of laser light instead of bullets. The light it generates is capable of temporarily impairing an individual's vision, much like the disorienting glare one sees when looking into the sun, said the officials.

Upon completion of testing, one prototype will be handed over to the Department of Defense's Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate (JNLWD) and the second to the National Institute of Justice (NIJ): the law enforcement arm of the US Department of Justice. Both organisations support the programme, with the latter interested in its civil applications.

The Bush administration has learned from British intelligence that al Qaeda, in response to rumors of laser weapons, has tried to obtain lightsaber technology from Niger.


Taking a page right out of the Discovery Institute playbook, Paul Campos tries to argue that materialism, which he defines as an exclusive belief in reason, is as much a "faith" as religion. His argument boils down to the old "Well, if there's no such thing as an objective morality, then why can't I just take your wallet?" argument that seemed so smashingly clever when you were twelve.

I bring it up because it reminded me of the story in The Real Frank Zappa Book in which Zappa created the Church of American Secular Humanism (CASH) in response to Alabama Judge Brevard Hand's ruling that "'Secular Humanism' was, in fact, an actual religion, and that the tenets of its faith were dominating the curriculum of Alabama schools, thereby violating the civil rights of decent Christian folks who demanded 'equal time.'" Zappa insisted, quite reasonably, that if secular humanism was going to be classified as a religion, then it was entitled to tax-exempt status. The judge eventually backed off.

Any excuse to blog about Zappa...


Via the Arabist, apparently al Jazeera staffers have put up a Don't Bomb Us blog in reaction to the Daily Mirror report that President Bush considered bombing the station's Qatar headquarters.


A top aide to former Secretary of State Colin Powell has launched a stinging attack on US Vice-President Dick Cheney over abuse of prisoners by US troops.

Col Lawrence Wilkerson accused Mr Cheney of ignoring a decision by President Bush on the treatment of prisoners in the war on terror.


He said that there were two sides of the debate within the Bush administration over the treatment of prisoners.

Mr Powell and more dovish members had argued for sticking to the Geneva conventions, which prohibit the torture of detainees.

Dick Cheney has been accused of advocating the use of terror

Meanwhile, the other side "essentially wanted to do away with all restrictions".

Mr Bush agreed a compromise, that "Geneva would in fact govern all but al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda look-alike detainees".

"What I'm saying is that, under the vice-president's protection, the secretary of defence [Donald Rumsfeld] moved out to do what they wanted in the first place, even though the president had made a decision that was clearly a compromise," Col Wilkerson said.

He said that he laid the blame on the issue of prisoner abuse and post-war planning for Iraq "pretty fairly and squarely" at Mr Cheney's feet.

"I look at the relationship between Mr Cheney and Mr Rumsfeld as being one that produced these two failures in particular, and I see that the president is not holding either of them accountable... so I have to lay some blame at his feet too," he went on.

David Corn has more.

Monday, November 28, 2005


A couple of comments on last week's the Stranger...

I strongly agree with Josh Feit's suggestion that Seattle deserves a Democrat who actually makes a difference.
Seattle's Democratic troops aren't poised to play a part in the much-anticipated '06 revolution. No, we'll be voting the status quo. For the 10th time in 18 years, 80 percent of Seattle will vote for U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott (D-7).

It doesn't have to be this way. Seattle can, and should, participate in the '06 overhaul. As one of the 1,217 unsatisfied customers who chose a write-in instead of McDermott in 2004 (I went with King County Executive Council Liaison Ryan Bayne), I'd like to suggest a revolution of our own for '06: Let's replace McDermott.

What's my beef with Baghdad Jim? After all, he's a good liberal: against the war, against Bush's tax cuts, and against Bush's attempt to privatize Social Security. The truth is, I don't have many complaints about McDermott's politics. I do have a problem with his inability to get stuff done. We're wasting a safe Democratic seat on a guy who, after 16 years, has no clout or ability to impact policy.

As Feit notes, one of the safest seats in Congress is a terrible thing to waste.

Re: the Friend Zone, from a review of (the probably very bad) Just Friends.
The "friend zone" is a fictional, metaphorical place invented by some romantic comedy writer to hold up the sagging premise of this tired, hacky movie. As Chris explains, "The 'friend zone' is like the penalty box of dating, only you can never get out. Once a girl decides you're her 'friend,' it's game over. You've become a complete nonsexual entity in her eyes, like her brother, or a lamp." While "a lamp" is clearly funny, the idea of the "friend zone" is both stupid and egregiously untrue. Out of all the couples in your acquaintance, how many didn't start out as friends? I don't even know you, but the correct answer is "very few."

No, the Friend Zone was invented by Chris Rock, immortalized in his breakthrough 1996 concert film Bring the Pain. Yes, I'm sure most if not all of the couples I know started out as friends, but this is different from being "trapped in the Friend Zone." A man can be friends with a woman with the potential for that friendship to become a romantic relationship. Residence in the Friend Zone indicates that that potentiality no longer exists, except, as Rock notes, in the eventuality that the woman is angry at her boyfriend, in which emergency the woman might break the glass of the Friend Zone and use the Friend as an instrument of revenge.


Shorter Jonah Goldberg:
Wouldn't you know it, my admittedly limited observations strongly confirm all my ideological preconceptions!

Granted, that works for pretty much everything he's ever written.

Matt Yglesias has more.


William Fisher in Lebanon's Daily Star:
Washington is a town where the best and the brightest usually coexist with well-connected political hacks. However, the Bush administration has taken promotion of the latter to embarrassing extremes, selecting unqualified people for posts because of their political loyalty and ideological persuasion. The most recent example of this was the appointment of Paul Bonicelli to be deputy director of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which is in charge of all programs to promote democracy and good governance overseas.

One would have thought the administration had learned its lesson. In the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Michael Brown, was forced to resign because of his incompetence in dealing with the consequences of the storm. Soon afterward, President George W. Bush named While House counsel Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court. Her lack of qualifications, and a Republican revolt against the nomination, forced her to withdraw.

Like Brown and Miers, Bonicelli has little experience in the field he has been tapped to supervise. The closest he comes to democracy-promotion or good governance is having worked as a staffer for the Republican Party in the International Relations Committee of the House of Representatives.

More significant to the administration, perhaps, is the fact that Bonicelli is dean of academic affairs at tiny Patrick Henry College in rural Virginia. The fundamentalist institution's motto is "For Christ and Liberty." It requires that all of its 300 students sign a 10-part "statement of faith" declaring, among other things, that they believe "Jesus Christ, born of a virgin, is God come in the flesh;" that "Jesus Christ literally rose bodily from the dead"; and that hell is a place where "all who die outside of Christ shall be confined in conscious torment for eternity."

I commented on an article about Patrick Henry College a few months ago. Patrick Henry can be accurately described as a Christianist madrassa turning out fundamentalist apparat, and its founders and faculty are very clear about their goal of seeing the U.S. turned into a religious state.

In other cronyism news, last week Molly Ivins reported on some more egregious Bush appointments, such as putting nine campaign contributors, three of them longtime fundraisers, on the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. One of the appointees was none other than Bush's personal friend and financial savior, William DeWitt, former co-owner with Bush of the Texas Rangers and current owner of the St. Louis Cardinals. It's funny, because I was just thinking the other day that what's wrong with our intelligence analysis is that we're simply not getting enough input from multimillionaire baseball team owners.


Great article (reg req'd) on the The Warriors. I haven't seen the new version, but I've caught the original on TV a few times over the last months.
Despite its legendary status as the ultimate New York street gang movie, it really doesn't have that much to do with New York. Hill, a Californian, knew little about the city and thus was able to re-create it with a sense of fantasy where a New York filmmaker, say, the Martin Scorsese of "Mean Streets," would have gone for realism. Hill didn't see New York as New York but as a giant movie set. The Warriors go to a gang meeting supposedly in the North Bronx (actually shot in Riverside Park); the cops arrive, a riot ensues, and the Warriors flee to a nearby Bronx cemetery (actually Greenwood cemetery in Brooklyn); the nerve center station at Union Square was really the cavernous Hoyt and Schermerhorn Street station in downtown Brooklyn. "The Warriors" is a feast of visual guessing games for long-time New Yorkers.

This is really interesting, because while the film does jump around from location to location in what's supposed to be a journey from the Bronx to Coney Island, I've always found it intensely evocative of the New York City of that era. The first time I saw The Warriors was in 1983, when I was living in the Philippines, and it was broadcast on Manila TV. I knew the City pretty well, my dad grew up in Brooklyn and we'd go in to visit my grandparents quite frequently, I remember the film's stylized representation of NYC making me incredibly homesick as I sat there with my pansit noodles and adobo.

And, of course, watching the film now makes me crave pansit noodles and adobo.


Saw this Saturday at the Varsity. I was prepared for an all-out propaganda assault, but I was surprised and glad at how rich a picture the film drew, and how it worked to explain the mentality behind suicide terrorism without excusing it.

I found the film very effective in its subtle depiction of the everyday depredations of the occupation. Massive unemployment as a result of travel restrictions, people corralled in their own crumbling cities and towns, having to abandon their cars and go on foot when they encounter random, arbitrary Israeli roadblocks, roadblocks which are useless in a security sense (since they are easily evaded on foot) but which are meant primarily to inconvenience, in the words of IDF chief of staff Moshe Ya'alon, to "sear deep into the consciousness of Palestinians that they are a defeated people." The movie demonstrates how clearly the Palestinians, particularly Palestinian men, have understood this as the goal of the occupation. To live under occupation is to be emasculated daily, having to watch helplessly as Israeli soldiers harass your children, wives, friends, and parents, as they invade and destroy your communities and homes with impunity.

This is not a film to see if you'd like to maintain illusions about "equal blame to go around" in the I/P conflict. Yes, it's a complex situation with deep historical roots, but to say that "oh, everyone's got blood on their hands" is just a cop out. The film makes clear that the occupation is an ongoing act of war by Israel against the Palestinians, one which the Palestinians are fully entitled, indeed should be expected, to resist. Even though the film showed what I think is the filmmaker's view that suicide terrorism has become counterproductive, in that it provides Israel a perfect excuse to continue the occupation and the building of illegal settlements, it also showed suicide terrorism as a simple, if pathological and condemnable, final act of defiance in the face of a lifetime of oppression and intentional humiliation. Most chillingly, suicide bombers understand that blowing themselves up in a bus or pizzeria will not win the war for them, but it's not meant to. They mean only to "keep the struggle alive" by showing that they, too, have the power to hurt.

Highly recommended. Probably not for a first date, though.

Sunday, November 27, 2005


First off, and this hardly even needs to be said, Republican charges of Democrats "playing politics" with the Iraq war deserve a wing all their own in the Museum of Chutzpah. This president and his party have been playing politics with the war on terror literally since before the smoke cleared in lower Manhattan, using post-9/11 "security" arguments to justify everything from endless tax-cuts to No Child Left Behind, up to and including the Iraq invasion. I do take some small amount of satisfaction in their whining, but it's rather overshadowed by disgust at their constant and shameless exploitation of national trauma.

The president insists that we mustn't cut and run, mustn't leave Iraq a mess. Echoing Jerry McGuire, and with about as much gravitas, Bush insists that I'm not a guy who runs. I stick, once again confusing narrow stubbornness with resolve. It's of course important that the U.S. do everything it can to see that legitimacy obtains in the political institutions we are helping to create in Iraq, but the question is whether announcing a schedule for withdrawal would help or hinder that.

Last week I attended a talk at UW by George Packer and Mark Danner, two New Yorker writers who have done extensive work in Iraq. Their accounts of the situation on the ground varied from dim to pitch black. The one thing that they both repeatedly stressed was that at this point it's all but impossible to do any real reporting outside of the Green Zone bunker area. It's difficult enough to get an Iraqi man or woman to speak candidly to an obviously Western reporter, knowing that the insurgents or their informants are watching them, but it's simply out of the question when that reporter is surrounded by a phalanx of U.S. troops, as all Westerners must be when they travel outside the Green Zone. This in itself reveals as nonsense the wingnut claim that the media "just don't report the good news" from Iraq.

Both Danner and Packer mentioned that they had heard from what they considered credible sources that the Sunni insurgents are waiting for the American withdrawal to launch a massive offensive against the provisional government and all those who have been cooperating with it, Sunni, Shia, and Kurd alike. This would seem to support Bush's claim that announcing a withdrawal would add fuel to the insurgency. Just how much fuel is unknown, but when you consider the fuel that was de-Ba'athification, that was disbanding the Iraqi army, that was Abu Ghraib, and that is the occupation itself, it's almost comical that Bush chooses to be most concerned about the emboldening effect of withdrawal.

I disagree somewhat with Sam Rosenfeld here, I don't think the U.S. has "already been dragged into a civil war against the Sunni on behalf of the Kurds and Shiites." That's not to say that there isn't a civil war going on in Iraq, only that it doesn't divide up as neatly as the Sunni vs. the Shia and the Kurds. There are Sunni leaders who have put their lives, and their families' lives, at risk in order to try and work out a political solution, and there are Shia who are working to frustrate the political process because they believe, rightly, that they will emerge victorious from an all-out civil war in which their methods were not constrained by the U.S. presence. In that regard, the U.S. occupation is holding back a genuine sectarian war.

A major issue, which the administration has consistently avoided discussing, is that of permanent U.S. military bases. These bases have a special significance for Iraqis, who remember the post-WWI British occupation in which the Brits claimed they had come to liberate the Iraqi people, then built some military bases which they took a very long time to leave. I think Bush could do a lot by stating outright that the U.S. has no intention of a permanent military presence in Iraq, but, of course, this assumes that he has no intention of a permanent military presence in Iraq, which I think is unfortunately not the case, as abandoning bases in Iraq would be abandoning a major component of the neoconservative plan, which was to create a friendly Iraq from which we could shake our big stick at the Middle East. The neocon delusion ("Cakewalk! We'll be greeted with flowers! More troops? Nonsense!") remains a major obstacle to creating a workable plan for any significant troop withdrawal. Indeed many if not most of the disastrous decisions in this war can be traced back to its fantastic presuppositions.

This provides a nice opportunity for Democrats to offer their own plan for phased withdrawal, with a stress on the "phased" part. Right now, I think the good effects of such a plan would still outweigh the bad, but time is not on our side.

Friday, November 25, 2005


Dahlia Lithwick on the latest example of the Bush administration's incompetence and mendacity.
Had Padilla been charged and tried back in the summer of 2002, rather than touted as some Bond villain—the Prince of Radiological Dispersion—his case would have stood for a simple legal proposition: that if you are a terrorist, a supporter of terrorism, or a would-be terrorist, the government will hunt you down and punish you. Had the government waited, tested its facts, kept expectations low, then delivered a series of convictions of even small-time al-Qaida foot soldiers, we in this country would feel safer and we would doubtless be safer. Instead Padilla, like Hamdi, was used as fodder for big speeches. They became the justification for Bush's position that some people are so evil that the law does not deter them, that new legal systems must be invented—new systems that bear a striking resemblance to those discredited around the time of Torquemada.

Torquemada, now there was a conservative's conservative.


Noriyuki "Pat" Morita, 1932-2005.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Monday, November 21, 2005


Caught the video of this last night, pretty funny.

I think it's a positive sign, though, that upon finding that the door would not open, the president was open-minded enough (after pausing to work the problem through) to look for a different exit, rather than continuing to furiously pull and kick at the door while condemning anyone who suggested trying another door as "appeasers" who were "giving the door exactly what it wanted."

Sunday, November 20, 2005


RIP Link Wray. No mention yet in English-language press, so this Danish translation (Wray lived in Copenhagen) is all we've got thus far.

Via Metafilter.


Andrew Stuttaford in the Corner:
Much as I would be delighted if a small group of special forces/James Bonds or the like could somehow cleanly ‘take out’ Iran’s facilities it’s a fantasy, and fantasy is not policy.

Andrew, I'd like to introduce you to the Bush Administration. Have you met before?

Saturday, November 19, 2005


NRO is going through their archives in celebration of William F. Buckley's 80th birthday. Here's a bit from a 1964 editorial marking the tenth anniversary of Brown v Board of Education that probably won't make the cut.
"But whatever the exact net result in the restricted field of school desegregation, what a price we are paying for Brown! It would be ridiculous to hold the Supreme Court solely to blame for the ludicrously named 'civil rights movement' – that is, the Negro revolt . . . . But the Court carries its share of the blame. Its decrees, beginning with Brown, have on the one hand encouraged the least responsible of the Negro leaders in the course of extra-legal and illegal struggle that we now witness around us. . . .

"Brown, as National Review declared many years ago, was bad law and bad sociology. We are now tasting its bitter fruits. Race relations in the country are ten times worse than in 1954."

Decades before The Bell Curve, Buckley and his magazine were practicing bad sociology in the service of bigotry.

Friday, November 18, 2005


Via Altercation, M.J Rosenberg (in a great essay) notes a stunning suggestion from the New York Sun:
Right after the Amman bombings, the neoconservative New York Sun editorialized that Jordan should disappear. “We don't have a big stake in the perpetuation of the Hashemite monarchy,” the editors wrote, “our own preference would be Israeli rule on both sides of the Jordan, as Vladimir Jabotinsky suggested and as obtained in biblical times.” In other words, Israel should keep the West Bank and take the East Bank (which is Jordan) too.

Lessee, Iranian President Ahmedinajad calls for Israel to be wiped off the map, he is roundly and rightly condemned by both Democrats and Republicans. The editors of the New York Sun call for the same thing in regard to Jordan, and we hear...(almost) nothin' from nobody. I thought the right was supposed to be so good at policing its own extremes? Oh well.

And yes, by the way, Israel occupying Jordan would surely do wonders for security the Middle East. Great idea. By all means, let's reorganize the region "as obtained in biblical times." Who has the Romans' number?


Many of the notable successes in preventing terrorism since 9/11 have come from international cooperation on intelligence, working from a base in, ahem, Paris. Too bad for the wingnuts who want to pretend that this is the War of the Ring.

Thursday, November 17, 2005


I'm surprised this isn't getting more coverage. I knew Martha was hardcore, but now she's insisting, Tyson-like, that she's indestructible, that she'll take all comers, anywhere, any time.

The rumor, and I've heard this from a few different sources, is that soon after her release from stir, she underwent a process by which adamantium, the strongest metal known to science, was fused to her skeleton. She also has secretly developed a very powerful plasma-bolt firing visor which can punch holes through the side of an aircraft carrier. It's suspected that Stewart actually has three of these visors, in Sherwood green, smoky pink, and perriwinkle.

A special forces unit dispatched to Turkey Hill to deal with the Stewart threat has not been heard from, and are presumed utterly wiped out. Stewart herself was last seen in a forest near her home, chopping down trees with her bare hands.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005


The Daily Star editors on the Condi-brokered deal between on the Gaza border crossing:
The fact that the disputes over the border's reopening were resolved so quickly after Rice arrived in the region is proof - if any more proof were needed - that American involvement in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict gets results. In fact the very nature of the Palestinian-Israeli peace process has always been trilateral, with the American playing an indispensable role in bringing both parties to the negotiating table. We have seen that in the absence of that American role, the peace process has stalled. But when the Americans, the strong third party, decide that something needs to be done, both the Palestinians and Israelis are quick to do it.


While the logic of using U.S. military might to promote peace, stability and democracy is questionable, U.S. diplomacy has proven to be a worthwhile tool for achieving these goals. Having secured a deal on the Gaza crossing, the U.S. can carry the same diplomatic effort forward and work to remove other obstacles to peace, stability and democracy throughout the region.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005


Dave Niewert has a review of Michell Malkin's latest, err, work. He didn't love it.


Maher Arar is a Canadian citizen who, while connecting through JFK, was detained by the INS and eventually delivered to Syria, where he was held for over ten months and claims he was tortured.

The Canadian government created The Arar Commission to investigate Mr. Arar's claims, and its final report has been released. The commission's finding:
Mr. Arar was subjected to torture in Syria. The effects of that experience, and of consequent events and experiences in Canada, have been profoundly negative for Mr. Arar and his family. Although there have been few lasting physical effects, Mr. Arar's psychological state was seriously damaged and he remains fragile. His relationships with members of his immediate family have been significantly impaired. Economically, the family has been devastated.

Do I really need to point out how staggeringly reprehensible it is for George W. Bush to criticize Syria for it's lack of democracy while at the same time delivering people there to be tortured?


The thing I honestly don't understand from folks like EJ Dionne (Ramesh links below) is when they write things like this:
Bush was not subtle. He said that anyone accusing his administration of having "manipulated the intelligence and misled the American people" was giving aid and comfort to the enemy. "These baseless attacks send the wrong signal to our troops and to an enemy that is questioning America's will," Bush declared last week. "As our troops fight a ruthless enemy determined to destroy our way of life, they deserve to know that their elected leaders who voted to send them to war continue to stand behind them."

I can understand that liberals don't like to be told their arguments make the troops' job harder. Who would want to hear they're undermining the war effort?

But what EJ and so many others almost always fail to do is answer whether they think it's actually true. Does EJ think Bush is lying when he says that showing a lack of resolve is harmful to troop morale and/or encouraging to our enemies? Or does EJ think it is true but nobody should say it?

I mean that seems like an important part of the equation, doesn't it?

In a typical example of Jonah's base-stealing, questioning the President's use of intelligence in making a case for war magically equals "showing a lack of resolve." I know that conservatives don't handle complexity well, but it is in fact possible to both support the troops and their mission while at the same time asking whether the reasons for putting them there were as strong as we were led to believe, and whether the WMD intelligence was presented honestly.

As for whether questioning the president's use of intelligence hurts troop morale, I'd guess that it does, for some, though the more intelligent troops understand that questioning our leaders is part of a healthy democracy, something that doesn't and shouldn't stop during wartime. I'd also guess that sending American forces into Iraq under-equipped, undermanned, underpaid and overworked (not to mention failing in our obligations to them when they return home) has done quite a bit more to hurt troop morale than Democratic criticism ever could.


Israeli justice:
The Southern Command court on Tuesday acquitted Israel Defense Forces Captain "R" of all charges relating to the killing of a Palestinian girl in the Gaza Strip in October 2004.

The case received wide-spread media attention when R was suspected of "confirming the kill" and shooting the girl multiple times once she had already been hit by IDF gunfire and was lying on the ground.

R's defense attorneys, Yoav Meni and Elad Eisenberg, succeeded in finding contradictions in testimony provided by the prosecution's witnesses during the trial.

The witnesses, Givati Brigade soldiers from R's company, said they lied during the military probe of the incident and in statements they provided the court in an effort the cause the ousting of R from the company.

Understand, this barbarian was acquitted of the murder of a 13-year old Palestinian girl because of misstatements by his own troops. The act of emptying machine gun rounds into her body was exonerated as proper procedure, "a known IDF practice employed to eliminate immediate threats."

The Guardian has a transcript of the IDF radio communication from that day:
The tape recording is of a three-way conversation between the army watchtower, the army post's operations room and the captain, who was a company commander.

The soldier in the watchtower radioed his colleagues after he saw Iman: "It's a little girl. She's running defensively eastward."

Operations room: "Are we talking about a girl under the age of 10?"

Watchtower: "A girl of about 10, she's behind the embankment, scared to death."

A few minutes later, Iman is shot in the leg from one of the army posts.

The watchtower: "I think that one of the positions took her out."

The company commander then moves in as Iman lies wounded and helpless.

Captain R: "I and another soldier ... are going in a little nearer, forward, to confirm the kill ... Receive a situation report. We fired and killed her ... I also confirmed the kill. Over."

Witnesses described how the captain shot Iman twice in the head, walked away, turned back and fired a stream of bullets into her body. Doctors at Rafah's hospital said she had been shot at least 17 times.

On the tape, the company commander then "clarifies" why he killed Iman: "This is commander. Anything that's mobile, that moves in the zone, even if it's a three-year-old, needs to be killed. Over."

Ayman's family responds to the acquittal:
Ayman's uncle Abu Jihad Salman told Ynet the decision was "cruel, but not surprising."

"The Israeli and Zionist enemy are a group of infidels, so what is there to expect? Can infidels be expected to have humanity…? The answer is no," Abu Jihad said.

"Everything is in the hands of Allah. Everything is from Allah and Allah is the one who will bring us justice," he added.

Why should the Palestinians have any faith in legal and political processes when this is repeatedly the result? Should we be shocked when one of Ayman's brothers, cousins, or uncles turns himself into a bomb?

Ending the occupation will not magically end the violence between Israelis and Palestinians, but it is a key prerequisite. Never before has an occupied people been required to ensure the security of their occupier, as the Palestinians are, and I think by now it's clear that the very idea is preposterous. Sharon and other hardliners well know this, and their clear intention is to forestall negotiations, to maintain the violence at an acceptable level while they consolidate major settlement blocks around Jerusalem and in key water-rich areas of the West Bank. And Americans are helping pay for it.

Monday, November 14, 2005


Kathryn Lopez:
Associated Press:
AMMAN, Jordan — American forces last year detained and later released an Iraqi with a name that matched one of three suicide bombers who struck Amman hotels, killing 57 people, the U.S. military said today.

From the story:
Jordanian authorities said Safaa Mohammed Ali, 23, was part of the al-Qaida in Iraq squad that bombed the Grand Hyatt, Radisson SAS and Days Inn hotels on Wednesday.

In Baghdad, the U.S. command said a man by that name was detained by American forces in November 2004 during their assault on the insurgent stronghold of Fallujah. The Americans said they did not know if the man they detained was the same Safaa Mohammed Ali identified by the Jordanians as one of the bombers.

"He was detained locally at the division detention facility" but was released two weeks later because there was no "compelling evidence to continue to hold him" as a "threat to the security of Iraq," the military said.

The U.S. detention of thousands of Iraqis has been cited — especially by members of the Sunni Arab minority that fuels the insurgency — as a major motivation for the continuing campaign of violence.

I have to ask, because I doubt Lopez or anyone else at NRO would ever think to: If it turns out that Safaa Mohammed Ali was in fact detained by American forces last year, did his treatment while in custody have anything to do with his decision to become a human bomb?

Sunday, November 13, 2005


VATNAJÖKULL GLACIER, ICELAND—In an emergency session Tuesday, members of the Supreme Metal Council strongly condemned the increasing use of the metal hand sign in lay society, claiming that its meaning has become perverted by overuse.

"The metal sign, or 'sign of the goat,' has all but lost its impact as a token of respectful recognition for something truly 'rocking' or 'metal,'" SMC president Terence "Geezer" Butler said. According to Butler, members are upset that their sacred gesture is being used to acknowledge and celebrate "favorable but clearly non-metal events."

"We have all heard the reports of people using it to greet their in-laws, or after starting their lawn mowers with a single pull," Butler said. "But recently it was brought to our attention that someone used the gesture in a Texas convenience store after snagging the last box of carrot cakes. This simply won't do."

...Should the abuse continue, Butler said the council "will defer the matter to Satan."


This headline immediately reminded me of this one.


Al Qaeda inadvertently aided in the capture of one of the Jordanian terrorists:
Jordanian authorities today arrested an Iraqi woman who confessed to being part of a husband-and-wife team of suicide bombers but whose explosives failed to detonate during a terrorist attack on three Amman hotels last week.

Jordanian officials said yesterday they had found the remains of only three suicide bombers -- all males -- and discounted the claim that a woman was involved. But the statement by the group, al Qaeda in Iraq, focused the search for accomplices on an Iraqi woman, and security forces picked up the alleged fourth bomber this morning at a safe house in Amman.

Al Qaeda in Iraq, the group headed by Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab Zarqawi, was apparently unaware that Rishawi had survived the suicide attacks when it issued a series of statements claiming responsibility for them last week and identifying the perpetrators as an Iraqi married couple and two Iraqi men. The latest of three statements identified the bombers by pseudonyms and said the wife of one of the men had chosen to follow her husband into martyrdom.

Thursday, November 10, 2005


Syrian filmmaker Mustafa al Akkad was among the casualties of yesterday's bombings in Amman.
Internationally well-known Syrian director Mustafa Al Akkad was one of the victims of the tragic Jordan terrorist attacks leaving him in very critical condition and killing his daughter on the spot. Sources at the hospital Mustafa is being treated in revealed that the director’s condition is so critical that they doubt he will make it.

Al Akkad had come to Jordan from Syria and his daughter came from Lebanon to attend a wedding ceremony scheduled to take place on Friday November 12 in Aqaba and was staying at one of the hotels that were attacked. The director was waiting in the lobby of the Hyatt Amman Hotel to greet his daughter, who entered at the same time the bombing took place and was killed instantly.

Al Akkad is best known in the Arabic-speaking world for his 1976 film Al Risalah (The Message) which tells the story of the prophet Muhammad and the beginning of Islam. Observing the Islamic proscription against any representation of the Prophet, Muhammad is never shown or heard in the film, though various characters address him offscreen. The method is a bit jarring at first, but you get used to it quickly. It's a good, epic film in its own right, but also quite appropriate for anyone interested in learning about the early history of the Islamic faith.

Al Akkad also produced John Carpenter's Halloween, as well as its sequels. That, friends, is called versatility.

Sadly, AP reports that al Akkad has left the building.


What is the War? salutes the people who make the movies we love work.

M. Emmet Walsh had fine turns in countless great films, among them Blade Runner, Blood Simple, and, of course, The Jerk. I will always remember him most fondly, however, as Dr. Jellyfinger in Fletch.

No relation, as far as I know, to perhaps the greatest character actor of the late 20th century.


David Corn on Ahmed Chalabi's speech at the Death Star, err, American Enterprise Insitute.


Al Jazeera reports on the (officially outlawed) Muslim Brotherhood's growing prominence in Egyptian politics.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005


This guy kills me.
Ahmad Chalabi, the former Iraqi exile who went from being a Bush administration favorite to persona non grata, arrived in Washington on Tuesday to face uneasy talks with American officials and a new demand by Senate Democrats that he testify about the possible misuse of prewar intelligence on Iraq.

Aides to Mr. Chalabi, who is a deputy prime minister of Iraq, have been hoping that his visits this week with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Treasury Secretary John W. Snow and Stephen J. Hadley, the national security adviser, will pave the way for a reconciliation with the Bush administration.

He is also likely to meet with Vice President Dick Cheney, a senior administration official said Tuesday evening.

Given Chalabi's track record, I wouldn't be surprised if Rice, Snow, Hadley, and Cheney all end up with new used cars by the end of the week.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005


President Bush, yesterday:
"We are finding terrorists and bringing them to justice," Bush said at a news conference with Panamanian President Martin Torrijos. "We are gathering information about where the terrorists might be hiding. We are trying to disrupt their plots and plans," he said.

"Anything we do to that end in this effort, any activity we conduct, is within the law," Bush said. "We do not torture. And therefore we're working with Congress to make sure that as we go forward, we make it possible, more possible to do our job."

Richard Nixon:
"Well, when the president does it that means that it is not illegal."


The parents of a Palestinian boy killed by Israeli soldiers in the West Bank have donated his organs for use in Israel, in the hope of promoting peace.

Twelve-year-old Ahmed Ismail Khatib was shot in the town of Jenin by troops who mistook his toy gun for a real one.

His organs were transplanted into five Israeli children and a woman aged 58.

Monday, November 07, 2005


Via Americablog, a California church is under investigation by the IRS for, wait for it, opposing war:
The Internal Revenue Service has warned one of Southern California's largest and most liberal churches that it is at risk of losing its tax-exempt status because of an antiwar sermon two days before the 2004 presidential election.

Rector J. Edwin Bacon of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena told many congregants during morning services Sunday that a guest sermon by the church's former rector, the Rev. George F. Regas, on Oct. 31, 2004, had prompted a letter from the IRS.

In his sermon, Regas, who from the pulpit opposed both the Vietnam War and 1991's Gulf War, imagined Jesus participating in a political debate with then-candidates George W. Bush and John Kerry. Regas said that "good people of profound faith" could vote for either man, and did not tell parishioners whom to support.

But he criticized the war in Iraq, saying that Jesus would have told Bush, "Mr. President, your doctrine of preemptive war is a failed doctrine. Forcibly changing the regime of an enemy that posed no imminent threat has led to disaster."

Haven't these "Christians" heard? The new, improved Amurkin-Republican Jesus likes war, likes tax cuts for the rich, likes torture, likes slashing social programs, likes corporate tax loopholes, and likes gutting environmental protections. Faith, hope, and love are nice, but new, improved Amurkin-Republican Jesus believes in the combined power of the market and the military to change lives.


Even if this Steve Salerno piece were only a paragraph long, it would still be one of the silliest things I've ever read:
Ever wonder why one hears so little talk of right-wing demagoguery? Oh, now and then some particularly dyspeptic liberal will lodge such charges against Rush, or get in a snit over some other outspoken conservative stalwart. But the Right has no true counterparts to the likes of Jesse Jackson, Terry McAuliffe, Patricia Ireland, Al Sharpton, et al. There simply is no conservative whose stock in trade is the chronic spewing of grandiose pronouncements or pithy sound bites having no purpose other than to remind constituents of how much they need him in their corner.

Where to begin? First, to wonder whether Salerno knows the definition of the word demagogue, which nicely describes Republican strategy since about Joe McCarthy. Whether it's Hollywood Communists, welfare queens, murderous Islamists, atheistic elites, baby-eating feminists, Mexicans stealing your jobs, or gays trying to get married and have sex with your children, GOP strategy has been to A) make you fear it, and B) convince you that only they can protect you from it. I don't deny that there's an element of this in all politics, but to survey the American scene and conclude that the real demagogues are to be found only on the left is to signal stupidity at the cellular level.

Bill O'Reilly wrote a book entitled Who's Looking Out for You?, which, aside from recycling his newspaper columns, had no purpose other than to remind readers of how much they need him in their corner. Sean Hannity. Rick Santorum. Laura Ingraham. Tom DeLay. Ann Coulter. Check, check, check, check, check. I particularly like how Salerno tries to steal a base regarding Limbaugh, suggesting that only oversensitive types could find him offensive. Offensive? Occasionally. Demagogue? Certainly.

I'm reminded of a C-SPAN interview with National Review's Jay Nordlinger last year in which he condemned Michael Moore as "poisonous," and moments later chucklingly referred to Ann Coulter as "flamboyant." This sort of ideological blindness is probably as common on the left as on the right, but as others have pointed out, the difference between left-wing and right-wing demagogues is that right-wing demagogues, in addition to being on the airwaves and in the newspapers every day of the week, actually occupy positions of power in their party.