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.