Monday, October 31, 2005


Dave Niewert starts getting his engine warm for Jonah's new book.
Jonah Goldberg's new book represents both a special problem, as well as a special opportunity, because of the Newspeak that its title -- "Liberal Fascism" -- represents. Goldberg, in the Newspeak tradition, is not just negating the meaning of both "liberal" and "fascism", but he's providing cover for a conservative movement that, evidently, is intent on adopting fascism as the essence of its agenda.

This is what makes his book the ultimate Newspeak: Newspeak is one of the earmarks of the budding fascist -- and what better way to bud further than to accuse your opponent of engaging in precisely the politics you intend to pursue?

And yet. And yet: What better way, really, to expose the nature of the conservative beast than to let conservatives bring up the subject of fascism?


Interview with Juan Cole over at HNN.


Never before have vegetables tasted so much like dessert. Made it last night. You should try it. (Note: No need to pre-cook the spinach, it will wilt sufficiently when added to the simmering cream.)

Sunday, October 30, 2005


Mr. Sunshine declares Brent Scowcroft an enemy of decency for his criticism of the Iraq War.
Even today Scowcroft says, "I didn't think that calling the Soviet Union the 'evil empire' got anybody anywhere." Tell that to Natan Sharansky and other Soviet dissidents for whom that declaration of moral -- beyond geopolitical -- purpose was electrifying, and helped galvanize the dissident movements that ultimately brought down the Soviet empire.

It was not brought down by diplomacy and arms control, the preferred realist means for dealing with the Soviet Union. It was brought down by indigenous revolutionaries, encouraged and supported by Ronald Reagan, a president unabashedly dedicated not to detente with evil, but its destruction -- i.e., regime change.

While I suppose it's significant that as doctrinaire a Reagan-humper as Krauthammer would actually admit that the Evil Empire did not collapse at a mighty wave of Reagan's steely phallu--err, missiles, you simply can't separate dissident movements from the diplomacy and peace movements of the time, which conservatives, then as now, constantly sniped at. Diplomatic efforts like the 1975 Helsinki Agreement, and the networks created by American and Western European democratic and anti-nuclear activists in its wake, are acknowledged as having provided integral support to the dissident movements which Krauthammer credits. Of course, it's essential that conservatives ignore this in order to continue arguing that what the Middle East really needs is a good beating.

And how perversely perfect of Charles to pick as his standard bearer of freedom Natan Sharansky, a man who, having escaped Soviet oppression, has remade himself into an abject apologist for Israel's oppression of Palestinians.

Friday, October 28, 2005


Libby indicted on 5 (count 'em!) counts, resigns. I must admit the waiting is delicious.

Thursday, October 27, 2005


Al Jazeera interviews Essam el-Erian, a recently released member of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood.


Philip Roth finally gets what every author secretly pines for, a plaza named after him.


John Kerry, a year late:
Kerry expressed regret yesterday about his vote to authorize the war, telling the audience: "I understand that as much as we might wish it, we can't rewind the tape of history." He added that he accepted responsibility for his vote but that at that time, he was not aware of the "full measure of the Bush administration's duplicity and incompetence."

Kerry is the highest profile Democrat thus far to come out in favor of a phased withdrawal from Iraq, which I think has been the obvious course for some time. Unfortunately, the good effects of any such decision by the administration will be undercut by the fact that the U.S. military is building four large "enduring bases" there. (more here)

Tuesday, October 25, 2005


LGM and others have been monitoring the developing story of pharmacists at Target stores refusing to fill prescriptions for emergency contraception because of religious beliefs, and Target's defense of this on civil rights grounds. Nice try. Not only will that dog not hunt, that dog's a chair.


Dick Cheney has offered a plan which would make Sen. McCain's proposed ban on torture essentially meaningless.
The proposal, which two sources said Vice President Cheney handed last Thursday to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in the company of CIA Director Porter J. Goss, states that the measure barring inhumane treatment shall not apply to counterterrorism operations conducted abroad or to operations conducted by "an element of the United States government" other than the Defense Department.

Hmm, so the executive branch would continue to have the authority to declare almost anyone beyond the scope of the legislation. No doubt Cheney would characterize this as a "compromise." Here's hoping McCain stays strong.


Whopper or Big Mac? This is kind of tough, because although I do not eat at either Burger King or McDonald's very often, there are rare occasions when almost nothing else will do, such as when I'm on a long road trip or deep in the bowels of a research paper.

It's like this: When a Whopper is good, it beats a Big Mac with a Big Stick. But compared to McDonald's Burger King is very hit or miss. Four times out of five you'll get a soggy bun, brownish lettuce, and too much mayo. A Big Mac, on the other hand, pretty much always tastes like a Big Mac, no matter where you are. This is why I enjoy eating in McDonald's in other countries, not because the food is so yummy, though to be honest sometimes it really hits the spot, but because I'm just so darn impressed, and a little frightened, by the global uniformity of it all. Moscow, Hong Kong, Istanbul, Frankfurt, Jerusalem, yes, friends, after a long, hard day of espionage and/or searching for ancient artifacts and/or deftly eluding capture by Nazis/Communists/narco-terrorists/autograph seekers, it's great to know that I can hunker down with a Combo Number 5 and be completely unsurprised.

That said, I'll take a Dick's Deluxe over either a Big Mac or a Whopper.

Monday, October 24, 2005


Israel has reversed its policy toward the Arab Israeli victims of August 4's terror attack by a Jewish extremist. Their families will now receive compensation, just as do Jewish Israeli victims of Palestinian attacks.
The quasi-governmental Jewish Agency announced Sunday that it would pay compensation for the first time to the families of Arab Israelis who have been victims of a Jewish "act of terrorism."

The relatives of four Israeli Arabs shot dead on August 4 by a Jewish extremist, who had hoped to sabotage the pullout of troops and settlers from the Gaza Strip, will receive 100,000 shekels ($22,000), the agency said.

"We have decided not to make any distinction between victims of whoever resorted to terrorism," the agency's director Zeev Beilsky told public radio.

The agency has previously paid out funds to some 3,000 families who have suffered as a result of attacks carried out during the five-year Palestinian uprising.


Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison on yesterday's Meet The Press regarding the possible indictments of Libby and Rove:
I certainly hope that if there is going to be an indictment that says something happened, that it is an indictment on a crime and not some perjury technicality where they couldn't indict on the crime and so they go to something just to show that their two years of investigation was not a waste of time and taxpayer dollars.

Hmm, like an investigation of a real estate deal that eventually resulted in impeachment for lying about a consensual sexual relationship? I don't know what's more disturbing, that Hutchison can say something like this without cracking a smile, or that she might actually believe it's consistent with her support for the Starr investigation. One of the very few upsides to the Bush presidency is that it has provided Republican after Republican the opportunity to demonstrate a complete lack of principles.

Sunday, October 23, 2005


Liz Phair's performance of God Bless America in yesterday's Game 1 may not have been the worst I've ever heard,, it was the worst I've ever heard.

Friday, October 21, 2005


This month Billion Dollar Brain(1967), the third film in the Harry Palmer spy series, was finally released on DVD. I'd never seen it before, and had been bugging my video store guy about it for years. (Turns out the hold up was because the film originally contained Beatles music in one scene, and licensing the tune for video release was prohibitively expensive. So they eventually just took that brief scene out.)

Serious fans of the spy movie genre should be familiar with the Harry Palmer films. The first two, The Ipcress File(1965) and Funeral in Berlin(1966), are both good entries made great by Michael Caine's fully inhabiting the role of Palmer, a grouchy, super-intelligent bloke dragooned into the service because, well, he's just so damned good at the work. TIF and FIB both made head fakes toward the counterculture by positioning the surly, working-class Palmer as a counterpoint to the suave, upper-class James Bond (Harry Saltzman was a producer of both film series.) This website puts it beautifully: "When Bond was getting the girl, Palmer was filling out government expense forms in triplicate." Palmer's relationship to his superiors is not one of playful rebellion, as is Bond's, it's one of genuine disdain. He knows he's being sent out there as cannon fodder, but he'll be damned if he'll give them the satisfaction of him dying for his country.

Billion Dollar Brain takes Palmer's alienation and essentially builds a film around it, while still staying within the lines of the 60s spy movie. Directed by Ken Russell (his first feature film), it has an Alice in Wonderland quality, unfolding like a dream, with every event making you shake your head as you reconsider the previous scenes. Each doorway indicates a new reality, the minimally but beautifully designed sets manage to stay just this side of bizarre, and characters make strange little asides as they come and go. Oh, and there's a barbecue picnic in Texas that turns into a Christian-fascist rally. Through it all there's Palmer, looking entirely unimpressed, with little more than his cynicism as defense, quite aware that there's only so much he can do to change the course of events.

There's a certain psychedelic quality to all spy films, given that they deal to such a great extent with questions of identity and perception. Russell takes this to brilliant lengths in BDB, creating one of the most flat-out trippy films I've ever seen. Highly recommended, though you might want to watch the other two first.


Lindsay Beyerstein is blogging Tom DeLay's perp walk.

Thursday, October 20, 2005


The right evil Raoul Vega has Thursday Deposed Monarch Blogging.

A couple more:
Khalifa bin Hamad Al Thani. Emir of Qatar, deposed by his son in 1995. Lived in France for a while, currently kicking it back in Qatar.

Tenzin Gyatso, better known as the Dalai Lama. Ruler of Tibet, deposed by the Chinese in 1959. Travels the world dispensing wisdom and good vibes.


You can always count on Holy Dolphin Lady:
We make presidents crazy. They receive endless encomiums from friends and staff telling them of their their brilliance, their courage, their foresight. "God sent you to lead us." And the authors of such statements aren't always or even usually sucking up. They mean it. They're excited, fervent, full of belief.

Peggy Noonan Mad Libs:
We make presidents out of liver pate. They receive endless encomiums from friends and staff telling them of their deliciousness, their courage, their creamy consistency. "God sent you to be spread on this cracker." And the authors of such statements aren't always or even usually sucking up. They mean it. They're excited, fervent, full of ground, whipped liver.


Dennis Ross offers the interesting suggestion that South Africa should get more involved in Palestinian affairs, while at the same time quibbling with the comparison:
Yasir Arafat loved to equate the Palestinian struggle for statehood with the struggle of South Africans against apartheid, but his was always a false analogy. In South Africa, less than 15 percent of the population controlled all the power and wealth and subjected the other 85 percent to a degrading, inhuman and segregated existence. For the oppressed majority, the answer was not one state for non-whites and one for whites; rather, the goal was justice and majority rule.

Compare that to the Palestinian movement for self-determination. Arabs today remain a minority in the area that encompasses Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. To be sure, given demographic trends, Jews will become a minority in that area within this decade, but even by 2050, Arabs would outnumber Jews by only 60 percent to 40 percent.

I really don't think demography is the pertinent aspect of apartheid, as if segregation and institutionalized racism would have been less despicable if the whites were a majority in South Africa. It certainly didn't make it less despicable when it was practiced in the United States, nor does it now in Israel, where Israeli Arabs live under a form of Jim Crow.

As for the occupied West Bank, the term apartheid is insufficient to describe the condition of 2.5 million Palestinian Arabs corralled within a series of military checkpoints for the benefit of 450,000 Israeli settlers.

Ross is probably right that the Palestinians would benefit from imitating the ANC a bit more, but I reject his root assumption that the Palestinians must prove themselves worthy of their own state, must prove that they deserve to have the military occupation of their land and the daily brutalization of their people ended. This argument would never have flown in regards to South Africa.


On a side note, though he doesn't specifically mention it, Ross's putting the onus on the Palestinians is of a piece with his efforts over the past few years to cast blame on Arafat and deflect it from Barak and Clinton (and himself) for the failure of the 2000 Camp David summit. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that I still run into intelligent people who regurgitate the "Arafat walked away from Barak's generous offer! This proves Arafat didn't really want peace!" line, given that this is virtually the only version on offer in U.S. media. It's simple, it's straightforward, and it safely plays into American assumptions about the reasonableness of people in suits versus the unreasonableness of people in kaffiyehs. It's true that Arafat didn't accept Barak's offer, because that offer was DOA. Arafat knew that Barak would not have been able to sell the offer to his own government, not least because of the opposition of people like Ariel Sharon. Was Arafat wrong not to counter-offer at Camp David? Very probably. Don't get me started on things that Arafat should have done. But the fact remains that Arafat warned the Clinton administration coming into the negotiations that he and his team had not had adequate time to prepare, and that he would not be pressured into accepting a deal. As it was, pressure was brought to bear from the moment Arafat arrived at Camp David. The only thing his refusal of Barak's offer proves was that he paid attention to Israeli politics.


Doritos or Cheetos? Come on, that's no contest. It's Cheetos. Along with being a spectacular shade of orange not found in nature, Cheetos crunch at a good three or four times the volume of Doritos. Also, if you hold a Cheeto and a Dorito up next to each other, the Dorito will show fear.

Let us not forget this.
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) -- A motorcade with two sheriff's cars and a fire truck were part of the ceremony that helped unveil a giant Cheeto as a tourist attraction in northwest Iowa. The event culminated with the Cheeto's first live television appearance.

The Cheeto appeared slightly smaller than a tennis ball and dwarfed a regular size piece of the snack food. It weighs only six-tenths of an ounce but has quite a girth, Wilson has said.

The Cheeto will be on permanent display in a glass case at Sister Sarah's Restaurant in Algona.

Frito-Lay, the Texas-based maker of Cheetos, donated items to be auctioned at the event. About $1,600 was raised for the Kossuth County food bank.

Perhaps one day I can make a pilgrimage to Algona and be healed.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005


Foreign Policy has this photo essay tracking the path of a diamond, from Sierra Leone to your finger. There is so much that is perverse about the world diamond trade, from the fact that prices are kept artificially high because supply is controlled by the DeBeers cartel, to the fact that, thanks to an almost century-long marketing campaign by DeBeers, Western working-class grooms feel obliged to scrimp and save to buy engagement diamonds dug by desperately poor Africans.

Those of you planning to get married, hear me now: Save the money for the rock, and have a full bar at your wedding instead.

Sunday, October 16, 2005


Today's Washington Post has couple of interesting articles about the Arabic language.

The Foreign Service classifies language ability into five levels, with "1" being the lowest (able to handle only the very simplest social situations) and "5" the highest (a level rarely assigned to anyone but a native speaker).


No responsible person would ask a 3 to speak before an unfriendly crowd at the local university (or at the embassy gates), much less put a 3 in front of a television camera and expect a clear, engaging and cogent discussion of U.S. Middle East policy in Arabic. For that you need a 4, and preferably a 4+ or a 5. So how many of these 4 and 5 level speakers do we have in Arabic? As of August 2004 -- 27. At the highest levels (4+ and 5), we have a grand total of eight individuals worldwide. (emphasis added)

Friday, October 14, 2005


Via LGM, a couple of posts from Shakespeare's Sister ask "which movie scenes always make you laugh, which always make you cry?"

Now, I've been known to cry at movies. I've never had a problem suspending disbelief (I'd probably be better off in general if this were harder for me), taking a film on its own terms and getting swept up. Been this way my whole life, except perhaps for a few pretentious years between 15-18. (There's a story of me at 8 years old watching Snoopy Come Home and just wailing over it, and my dad reminding me that I'd watched this show last year, and so I knew that Snoopy in fact did come home.) As Jack Handey said, it takes a big man to cry, and it takes an even bigger man to laugh at that man. At 6' 5", I've rarely ever been laughed at for crying. But it has happened. Anyway, the scenes that always get me:

The Sound of Music, when Christopher Plummer's voice breaks as he sings Edelweiss at the end. There's something very beautiful and moving in the way he breaks down at the thought of his beloved country coming under the Nazi shadow, a patriotism that is neither belligerent nor haughty. (Of course, Edelweiss isn't actually an Austrian folk song, but was written by Rodgers and Hammerstein for the musical. It was the last song the two ever wrote together, in fact.)

The Truman Show, when Truman pulls himself together and raises his sail again after Kristof has capsized his boat. Indomitability of the human spirit and all that, plus some of Philip Glass's most sublime music ever.

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, pretty much throughout, though the scene near the beginning where Elliot is explaining his stuff to the alien, the scene where Michael curls up amongst the toys as E.T. is dying, and of course the ending are all especially powerful. It's also got John Williams' best score, from way back when he actually wrote new music for each film instead of shamelessly cannibalizing his earlier work. I will spare you (for now!) my longer exegesis on E.T. as a commentary on the absence of God.

Field of Dreams, when Burt Lancaster is congratulated by the ballplayers for having saved the young girl's life. He had wanted so badly to be a ballplayer when he was young, it wasn't to be, and now he is praised by his own heroes for his life's work as a doctor.

As for scenes that always make me laugh, oh there are so many. I think the better question is: What scenes are so funny that they make you laugh as you're walking down the street and just happen to think of them?

Harold and Maude, Harold's sly look into the camera after he has faked his self-immolation and caused his would-be girlfriend to run screaming from the house. The Cat Stevens tune makes it even funnier.

Trading Places, Eddie Murphy's "Do you believe this shit?" look into the camera as the Dukes are explaining the buying and selling of pork futures to Billy Ray: "Bacon, like you might find in a bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich." Priceless. (The breaking of the fourth wall is one of my favorite gags, especially when it's done only once in a film.)

Crimes and Misdemeanors, when Woody and his niece are trying to find a taxi, and Woody goes "I think I see a cab. If we run quickly, we can kick the crutch from that old lady and get it."

Blazing Saddles, "Hey, where the white women at?" The insouciant look on Cleavon Little's face.

Young Frankenstein, "SEDAGIVE???!!!" Freaking Gene Wilder, man.

Animal House, the sound and frozen shot of the horse having a heart attack in Dean Wormer's office. I'm even cracking up as I write it.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005


Dave Niewert has a great post on recurring myths about fascism and socialism.
So, let's do a reality check: Both Hitler and Mussolini pretended to have socialist aspirations as part of their propaganda efforts during their rise to power, largely as a way of encouraging working-class support. But they were unquestionably right wing politically by the time they obtained power, and in fact were viciously anti-left-wing as well.

Those who repeat the "Nazis were socialists" claim are, in fact, falling for (and repeating) Nazi propaganda from the 1920s.

Mussolini was indeed an active socialist at the beginning of his political career. But he was remarkable for shifting his alliances and adjusting his ideology accordingly as he climbed the ladder of power; and by the time he had completed his climb, he was an outspoken and lethal anti-socialist.

And I'm very much looking forward to Niewert (along with probably many, many others) eventually taking his red pen to this.

Monday, October 10, 2005


I was at party this past weekend in the beautiful Wallingford neighborhood of Seattle, got into a political discussion with a few people out in the back yard after one woman announced that she had had a breakdown that evening while watching the McLaughlin Group. There had been some debate on the Group about fois gras, over whether the force feeding of ducks and geese in order to swell their livers should continue to be an acceptable practice. This woman was outraged that A) this point should even be debatable, of course no! and B) that the Group would waste time on such a stupid bourgeois subject when there were Important Political Issues much more deserving of attention.

That's fine as far as it goes. Me, I'd have just changed the channel. If I ever watch the McLaughlin Group it's usually only to see what new and fascinating shades of pink Tony Blankley has attempted to match. But I took her point. It did seem a rather frivolous subject for a political talk show. Plus, we had all been drinking, and drunken political rants are fun. Right then, this woman was joined by her friend, and the two ladies began a very animated conversation about Kate Moss and the raw deal she was getting, crucified by the media for her cocaine use. They both were very indignant about the injustice of this. Got that? Kate Moss. I mean, this woman's earlier fois gras rant still echoed down the street, and here she was expressing outrage over the press's treatment of a supermodel.

I mentioned we'd been drinking, right?

Now, I aways get a familiar feeling that lets me know a rant is coming on. Warm sensation in the stomach, pupils dialate, fingertips begin to vibrate slightly, old baseball injury in the right knee goes ding!

When the rant is very good, I go into a sort of trance, and don't remember a thing. I don't remember much about this one, but I think the thrust of it was: "I've got a limited amount of attention and compassion. Call me selfish, but I don't think a pampered, coke-snorting multi-millionaire deserves any of it. And weren't you just complaining about people wasting time on meaningless crap when there are Important Political Issues needing attention?" though of course with many more references and asides and, at one point apparently, me pantomiming the flogging of a Royal Navy sailor by Dick Cheney dressed as the Queen.

Through the rant-smoke still drifting out of my nose, the two ladies stared at me as if I'd offered them a severed human finger on a plate. Thankfully, I had my small dictaphone recording of thunderous applause which I carry for just such occasions. I clicked it on, and said over the cheering, "Well, the people seem to agree with me." Then I went to find a shot of tequila.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Saturday, October 08, 2005


This shiny happy website lists me thusly:
Duss, Matthew: This Seattle, Washington New Age Hippie Jew feels that Israel is an illegal occupier and colonizer. Really? Read this. He also a supporter of far left Jewish group, Brit Tzedek.

Is my writing really that good? Or is it my self-deprecating manner, my vaguely Semitic good looks, or my mania for smoked fish and latkes? As it happens, I am in fact not a member of the tribe, but thanks. I am a supporter of Brit Tzedek V'Shalom though, so they got me there.

The charge of "new age hippie," however, is one I consider worthy of pistols at dawn.

Readers with strong stomachs can follow the "Read this" link to get an idea of the sort of racist historical revisionism which characterizes that website, and which also prevails among many hardcore Zionists. Their central claim, most infamously elucidated in Joan Peters' book From Time Immemorial (which one might call The Bell Curve of Middle East Studies, though that might be giving Peters' work too much credit), is that there is no such thing as a Palestinian people, that the al Nakhba refugees of 1948 were recent Arab immigrants from surrounding regions who had been attracted to Palestine by Jewish enterprise and were "occupying" Jewish ancestral land, and that the Dome of the Rock was actually built in 1947 and specially painted to look "aged" (okay, Peters actually doesn't make that last claim, but it would not be out of place.) The book has been widely discredited, but unfortunately its central thesis, like so many poisonous-but-scholarly-sounding lies which serve to justify bigotry, persists.

Friday, October 07, 2005


The good professor argues with Bush.


Stacius turned me on to them and I haven't been able to listen to anything else for the past week.


Bitterlemons has a series of essays reflecting on five years of intifada.


David Frost to join al Jazeera.
Sir David is to appear on al-Jazeera International, the pan-Arab news network's new English-language channel, due to be launched next spring.

The Qatar-based channel said Sir David, who broadcast his final Breakfast with Frost programme for the BBC in May, would be among the "key on-air talent".

Sir David was quoted as saying he felt "excitement" about his new role.

Thursday, October 06, 2005


In yet another in a series of episodes that could have been specially designed in a lab to offend Muslims:
U.S. President George W. Bush believed that God told him to go to war in Afghanistan and Iraq, a senior Palestinian official says in a broadcast interview.

The British Broadcasting Corp. On Thursday released an excerpt from an interview with Palestinian Information Minister Nabil Shaath that was part of a series called "Israel and the Arabs." Shaath described his first meeting, in company with Palestinian Prime Minister Abu Mazen, in June 2003.

"President Bush said to all of us: 'I'm driven with a mission from God. God would tell me, "George, go and fight those terrorists in Afghanistan." And I did. "'And then God would tell me, "George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq." And I did. "'And now, again, I feel God's words coming to me, "Go get the Palestinians their state and get the Israelis their security, and get peace in the Middle East." And by God I'm gonna do it."'

Abu Mazen told the BBC that, at the same meeting, Bush told him: "I have a moral and religious obligation. So I will get you a Palestinian state."

And Karen Hughes was making such progress!

It's not hard to imagine the thought process, using the term loosely of course, that went into this inestimable PR nightmare. I'll bet Bush figured that he could speak and relate to Abu Mazen as a man of faith, completely clueless that his American evangelical "God is my buddy!" approach to religion would certainly be unfamiliar, and very likely offensive, to Mazen. Also, over the past 1400 years Muslims have had some experience with war in the name of God, and it's rarely been very enjoyable. Would it be indelicate to suggest that it's high time someone grabbed the president by his head and screamed this into his face?

As for Bush "getting" the Palestinians a state (after they've agitated, struggled, and suffered for one for more than half a century) well, that's really sweet of him. Of course, by the time Bush makes good on this, Palestine will probably consist of a few isolated, extremely overcrowded Arab enclaves amidst a matrix of Israeli settlements and bypass roads, settlements which Bush himself gave the green light to continue building. But it will be a state, just like Iraq and Afghanistan are democracies, so quit complaining.

UPDATE: The SF Chronicle has more.
"One of the biggest problems the Bush administration has is the translation of American Christian culture to the world, and specifically to Muslim countries," said commentator Micah D. Halpern, author of "What You Need to Know About: Terror."

"It's not that these societies are foreign to Christians, it's just that the Christianity that Bush embraces is not the Christianity that these Muslim countries see at home," Halpern said. "In that mistranslation, his message is ballooned out of proportion. One of America's biggest diplomatic mistakes is their lack of understanding of local Muslim and Arab cultures abroad. You can't just throw out the word God and assume that everyone's on the same page."


Holy Dolphin Lady never disappoints:
What everyone forgets about the case of Robert Bork in his confirmation hearings is that regular people watched him, listened to the workings of his fabulous and exotic mind, saw the intensity, the hunger for intellectual engagement, caught the whiff of brandy and cigars and angels dancing, noticed the unusual hair, the ambivalent whiskers, and thought, "Who's this weirdo?"

New feature: Peggy Noonan Mad Libs (which is how I suspect she writes anyway)
What everyone forgets about the bootleg video of Robert Bork in his shower is that regular people watched him, listened to the workings of his fabulous and exotic colon, saw the intensity, the hunger for spicy beef short ribs, caught the whiff of fire and brimstone and women dying of illegal back-alley abortions, noticed the unusual sideburns in the shape of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, the ambivalent hygiene, and thought, "Who's frying eggs?"
Maybe Rob, Erik, and Lance would like to play.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005


Shorter John Cornyn:
Harriet Miers is a qualified nominee because she was a trial lawyer.


Seen on the bus yesterday: Scruffy young dude listening to extreme heavy metal on those old-style headphones, young lady sits down next to him, he reaches into his backpack and withdraws a canister of whipped cream, says to her, all serious: "Would you like some whipped cream?" She declines, and he proceeds to spray whipped cream into his mouth for the next few blocks.

Maybe that move has worked for him in the past, I don't know.


What to do with an old tyrant's cadaver?
For eight decades he has been lying in state on public display, a cadaver in a succession of dark suits, encased in a glass box beside a walkway in the basement of his granite mausoleum. Many who revere him say he is at peace, the leader in repose beneath the lights. Others think he just looks macabre.

Time has been unkind to Lenin, whose remains here in Red Square are said to sprout occasional fungi, and whose ideology and party long ago fell to ruins. Now the inevitable question has returned. Should his body be moved?

Revisiting a proposal that thwarted Boris N. Yeltsin, who faced down tanks but in his time as president could not persuade Russians to remove the Soviet Union's founder from his place of honor, a senior aide to President Vladimir V. Putin raised the matter last week, saying it was time to bury the man.

May I suggest kicking him out of a helicopter somewhere over the Siberian tundra?

And here's the NYT playing to caricature:
Some still see in [Lenin] the architect of a grand and daring social experiment. Others describe an opportunist who ushered vicious cronies to power, resulting in a totalitarian police state.

And still others recognize that, vicious as his cronies and successors may have been, it was Lenin himself who defined the terms and exemplified the uses of party-state terror. It's way past time to dispense with any illusions that the dungeon which the Soviet Union became was in some way a Stalinist abberration of Lenin's idealism, rather than the necessary result of Lenin's eliminationist ideology.


Richard Brookhiser thinks he spies anti-semitism on the left. Or is it anti-Zionism? Or just pro-Palestinianism? Apparently they're all the same.
My National Review colleague Byron York reported on last Saturday’s anti-war rally on the Ellipse in Washington, D.C. The main message of the rally was President Bush’s evil and stupidity—fair enough, in a two-party system—and the main instance of it was Iraq...But another theme was anti-Zionism. As Mr. York reports, kaffiyehs outnumbered American flags. George Galloway, the left-wing M.P., wore one around his neck. Occasionally, the themes were weirdly conflated: One group of college kids chanted, “From Palestine to New Orleans, no more money for the war machine.”

Having been to more than a few such demonstrations myself, I've observed that some of the rhetoric and signage occasionally crosses the line. But, the presence of George Galloway aside, the mere display of Palestinian kaffiyehs does not in itself indicate anti-Zionism, let alone anti-semitism, any more than the display of the Israeli flag promotes the forcible transfer of Palestinians to Jordan.

Think of the word “neocon” and its current usage. The actual neocons were Jewish intellectuals who began thinking outside the Great Society box in the 70’s. Some of them—Irving Kristol, Norman Podhoretz—became conservative Republicans. Others—Daniel Bell, Nathan Glazer—remained liberal Democrats. Pat Moynihan allowed the neocons to say that they weren’t all Jewish. But none of that is what “neocon” now means. “Neocon” now means hook-nosed Nosferatu-the-vampire warmongers who plotted the invasion of Iraq, and the dumb goyim they manipulate. When Mick Jagger sings about “sweet neocon,” or when Maureen Dowd uses the word, every other paragraph or so, that is what they evoke. They evoke it, I am afraid, even if they don’t intend to, for the words we use can carry their own freight, and we are not always in charge of packing and unpacking them

Yes, they may not even know it or mean it, but these people are trafficking in anti-semitism. But what about Irving Kristol when he self-identifies as a neoconservative? Would Brookhiser argue that Kristol, unbeknownst to Kristol himself, is a self-hating Jew?

It's certainly true that there are those who use politically loaded code-words to communicate politically incorrect messages and stereotypes. Take the GOP's use of "welfare mothers" (poor, lazy blacks) or "coastal elites" (dope-smoking homosexual Democrat pornographers), for example. The difference is that you don't see anybody proudly self-identifying as those things, let alone publishing books with the title. Regardless of the ethnicity of those with whom neoconservatism originated, the term has come to stand for an ideology of American global dominance.

Throughout the article, Brookhiser attempts to weave criticism of Israel's invasion of Lebanon and occupation of the West Bank and Gaza into a narrative of liberal anti-semitism, even trotting out the 1984 Jesse Jackson "Hymietown" episode as evidence. Oy. Brookhiser is a conservative whose writing I generally admire (his Founding Father is an excellent short biography of George Washington), but I don't think this sort of careless argumentation, the lazy conflation of pro-Palestinian with anti-Jewish, is at all productive. Further, when you publish a piece entitled "American Jews Unprepared For Attacks From the Left," it might be a good idea to provide a single example of such an "attack" that isn't two decades old.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005


Indicted again. It's the little things like this that really make one's day.

Monday, October 03, 2005


This is just too much. David Frum on the Bill Bennet flap:
... my heart goes out to Bill Bennett this week. All of us who speak and write for a living have the experience of saying something less perfectly than we might later wish. If only life were like the Congressional Record, and we were all free to revise and extend our remarks. Still, even so, it seems to me almost incredible that anybody could have construed Bill Bennett's now controversial words about abortion and crime as anything other than a statement of his commitment to the equal value of all human life.


I never did quite see the point of organizing an elaborate and lavishly fund website just in order to mobilize angry emails to conservative writers who would promptly delete them. I get it now, though: The real value of Brock's site is that it can invoke the values of honesty and integrity in media and then go on to damagingly distort the words and beliefs of its conservative targets. It seems a lousy way to make a living - but there's no denying that after a decade in the wilderness, David Brock is once again exerting his special and inimitable influence on American politics.

As I'm sure Frum knows, David Brock began his career as a tambourine player in the right-wing noise machine funded by cranky conservative billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife, the main purpose of which was to damagingly distort the words and beliefs of its liberal targets, precisely what Frum accuses Brock of doing now to conservatives, though I'm pretty sure Frum didn't have any problem with Brock back then. (Scaife's smear operation also is responsible for Ann Coulter's career as cable news' go-to shrew, among other egregious offenses.) Focusing on Brock and ignoring the broad and diversified right-wing propaganda operation of which Brock was only one part is like blaming Nicolas Cage for National Treasure, never mentioning Jerry Bruckheimer.

As for Bill Bennett, I don't think he deserves to be condemned as a bigot. He deserves to be condemned, as always, as a sanctimonious, hypocritical blowhard.


Rami Khouri on democracy in the Arab world:
The mechanics of democratic practices are increasingly common throughout the Arab world, but the substance of power remains firmly in the hands of small ruling elites. Of the three keys to power that controls entire societies - guns, money, and knowledge - the state's ruling elites still dominate the security-military systems and the national budgets that in turn define economic interests and distribution of wealth. Only the control of information through the mass media has been largely pried out of the hands of the state, due to the impact of regional satellite television, FM radio services, region-wide newspapers, and the Internet.

The real test of democratic rule will be when legitimately representative civilian bodies oversee and hold accountable those in the government who decide on national budget expenditures and security-military policies. That has not happened in any Arab country, but serious agitation in that direction is now evident in several countries, including most notably in Lebanon, Egypt, Palestine, Bahrain, and Morocco.

A balance sheet of democracy in the Arab world would show that serious talk and some activism toward that end are now common throughout much of the region, but breakthroughs to success have yet to be achieved. When one Arab country does succeed in achieving democratic governance (probably with a strong Islamist tinge to it, like Turkey or Iraq), the impact throughout the region is likely to be electric, with other countries moving more quickly toward the same goal.


Over the past few weeks, Israel has been arresting Palestinian Islamist political activists to prevent them participating in upcoming elections.
The Israeli army is cracking down on civil servants and community leaders, including elected local government officials, throughout the West Bank, in what some believe to be a bid to force Hamas out of upcoming Palestinian elections.

Palestinian sources told that Israeli soldiers arrested on Monday dozens of Islamist political activists, including a number of municipal council officials.

One of the arrested is Hakim Shalalda, the mayor of Sair, 10km northeast of Hebron. Shalalda won the town's mayoral elections nearly three months ago.


Last week, the Israeli army arrested the seven elected members of the municipal council of the village of Shuqba in the northern West Bank.

Israeli soldiers continue to carry out nightly raids targeting the homes of potential Islamist candidates for the third and last phase of the municipal elections in the West Bank, set to take place before the end of the year.

Hamas sources estimate the number of Islamic political leaders and activists arrested during the past 10 days is 450, including academics, teachers, civil servants, students and business people.

According to East Jerusalem lawyer Tawhid Shaban, who defends many of the detainees before Israeli military courts, up to 80% of the detainees have already been sent to the Negev desert detention camp, Kitziot.

Danny Rubinstein suggests that Israel's actions only strengthen extremists:
After all, everyone knows that Abu Mazen and his colleagues in the Fatah leadership are afraid of Hamas success in the elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council (the parliament), which are to be held in late January. Against this background, people have begun to talk in the West Bank street about how the arrests are part of a scheme hatched by Abu Mazen and Ariel Sharon, with the aim of striking at Hamas and weakening it in the period leading up to the election. Such talk harms the chairman and his partners in the government.

Another outcome of the arrests that is possibly even more significant is that the Hamas movement could move increasingly toward clandestine underground activity. This is at odds with the Palestinian Authority's plan for dealing with it. Abu Mazen is trying to encourage Hamas to end terrorist activities and become a political party. He has had limited success, such as the cease-fire agreement in which Hamas was a partner, and its willingness to take part in elections to the city councils and to parliament. In the opinion of the Palestinian leadership, this is an important stage on the path of Hamas toward acceptance of the Oslo Accords and joining in the diplomatic process, which would mean recognition of the State of Israel.

Mass arrests such as those of last weekend, and the targeted assassinations, of course, make Hamas move backward, and strengthen its extremist wing. Since it is a movement that has won the admiration and respect of the masses, Israel's struggle against it must not take on a solely military character. An exclusively military campaign would not help. On the contrary, it would weaken Fatah and Abu Mazen and would fortify his opponents.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

AUGUST WILSON (1945-2005)

Our country has lost a great treasure today.

I was introduced to Wilson's work by a high school English teacher who took our class to see The Piano Lesson in New York. Ten years later I found myself living in his neighborhood, Capitol Hill, Seattle, and would see him around regularly, reading the newspaper in a coffee shop, or walking with his daughter. While I certainly respected his privacy, I consider Wilson an artist of such magnitude that I did make a point of greeting him one day as he was strolling down the street, and telling him how much I love his work. He was very friendly and gracious. I'm glad that I did it.

RIP, and thank you.


Interesting article on William F. Buckley's 1965 campaign for mayor of New York City. I've always been fascinated by Buckley, who, along with Joseph McCarthy, should be considered the father of modern American conservatism. A master debater and writer, he has the uncanny ability to give intellectual heft to ideas which are, in the end, quite destructive of genuine human liberty. I think this bit from the article perfectly captures the nature of Buckley's legacy:
Although he did not sound like a bigot - and indeed he was not - he seemed to give comfort to those who were.

There it is.

While we're on the subject, anyone who has never seen Buckley's catfight with Gore Vidal while they were commentators on the 1968 Democratic Convention should go watch, now.


Trying to do my part to push up its opening weekend grosses, I played hooky on Friday and went to a matinee of Serenity. It's been a while since I had this much fun at the movies. I enjoyed it so much I decided to wait a couple days before posting a review, thinking perhaps that I was just bedazzled by all the outer space coolness and the ZING! and the BOOM!, as has been known to happen. But no, a couple days' reflection confirms for me that it's a very strong film, and I'll probably try and catch it one more time in the theater. I'm pretty confident it would be enjoyed by someone who has never seen Firefly, though the experience will be much, much richer for anyone who has watched the series.

Let me get this out of the way: The dude falling on the sword at the beginning? That was messed up. That got a couple of "Daaaaaaaamn!"s out of me.

The action and the special effects are well done without being showy, but the strength of the film is the characters. All of them are played slightly darker than in the TV series, and it really works. Nathan Fillion is a great if somewhat unconventional leading man, and I would pay good money to watch Morena Baccarin fold laundry, but the true revelation of the cast for me remains Adam Baldwin as Jayne. I've been a fan of Baldwin's ever since 1980's My Bodyguard, his first film, but to my knowledge this is the first role in which he's ever steered this close to comedy, unless you count Animal Mother in Full Metal Jacket, which maybe you could. Jayne, like Buffy's Xander, because he's the dimmest of the group, seems to get the best punchlines. In addition to being just outright funny and well-timed, they relieve the self-conscious, occasionally annoying (though occasionally sublime) cleverness of Joss Whedon's dialogue.

I'll leave it to others to make too much of the film's lite conservative-libertarian message regarding the imperfectability of human nature and the value of jes' lettin' people be. Me, I enjoyed the stuff getting blowed up real good. I was, however, mildly disappointed that Vera didn't make an appearance.

One question: The Reavers. They're crazy insane feral outer space cannibals, yet lucid enough to maintain spacecraft? Okay.


New feature.

In the song Middle of the Road, track one from The Pretenders' Learning To Crawl, the part where Chrissie Hynde gives that kitty cat growl leading into the harmonica solo.

That is a Great Moment in Rock Music.


It's revealing of the sad state of conservative thought that Mark Steyn is considered by many conservatives to be one of their best writers. Ever the water-toting partisan clown, here we have Steyn dutifully pushing the always-useful "Blame the media!" meme in regards to coverage of Hurricane Katrina. Steyn seems to think that the fact that some of the worst rumours and predictions turned out to be untrue somehow exonerates the Bush gang, which is a bit like arguing that things are going great in Iraq because no one has set off a nuke yet (give Mark a few more months on that one). Take this:
The facts [the media] put in front of us were wrong, and they didn't talk truth to power. They talked to goofs in power, like New Orleans' Mayor Nagin and Police Chief Compass, and uncritically fell for every nutso yarn they were peddled. The media swallowed more bilge than if they'd been lying down with their mouths open as the levee collapsed. Ten thousand dead! Widespread rape and murder! A 7-year-old gang-raped and then throat-slashed! It was great stuff -- and none of it happened. No gang-raped 7-year-olds. None.

Think about that: Hurricane week was in large part a week of drivel, mostly the bizarre fantasies of New Orleans' incompetent police chief but amplified hugely by a gullible media. Given everything we now know they got wrong in Louisiana, where they speak the language, how likely is it that the great blundering herd are getting it any more accurate in Iraq?

Okay, taking Steyn's critique at face value (instead of acknowledging it as the red herring which it is), I wonder if he would consider his critique equally applicable to the media's credulity and complicity in advancing "evidence" of Iraq's WMD, or in publicizing the Swift Boaters' allegations? Somehow I doubt it, but I suppose part of the fun of being a shameless hack is never having to consider such things.