Monday, January 31, 2005


Andrew Sullivan:

QUOTE OF THE DAY II: "These elections have not yielded much. It is necessary to wait and see the results, but I think all this is unreliable and dubious." - former communist apparatchik, Mikhail Gorbachev. Yep. You can understand why he's not too keen on democracy.

Describing Mikhail Gorbachev as a "former communist apparatchik" is about as accurate as describing Andrew Sullivan as a "former college student." Not untrue, but imprecise almost to the point of dishonesty. Of course, it's easy to understand why Sullivan chooses such language: according Gorbachev any credit whatsoever for the end of the Cold War might challenge the dearly held conservative myth that Ronald Reagan smote the Soviets with a wave of his mighty hand, and for a well known Reagan's leg-humper like Sullivan, whose political identity depends upon that mythology, this is simply out of the question.

Friday, January 28, 2005


James Wolcott reports that Doug "the stupidest fucking guy on the face of the earth" Feith will be getting his own show on Fox News channel, called Feith and Friends. Wolcott also reports that mathematically challenged economist Donald Luskin will join Feith on the show. Excellent. One guy to whom almost every bad idea the Pentagon has had over the last four years can be traced, and the other a hack economist who was too stupid to wring any money out of the Bush administration for producing "research" which purported to support their economic figures. In other words, business as usual at Fox News.

Also joining the cast will be a series of disgruntled, conservative muppets who for years have been blackballed from the left-wing, America-hating Sesame Street. "Lil' Rupert" will be on hand to tell us why federal regulations against media consolidation are bad, "Reverend Elmo Gantry" will explain why God hates fags and the poor, and "Eichy the Brownshirt" will sing songs which illustrate how liberals are the enemy within. Also, Bill O'Reilly will stop by to teach kids how to spell F-A-L-A-F-E-L.

UPDATE: On further reflection, the above comments, while of course brilliantly funny, really do not do justice to the extent of Doug Feith's disservice to this country. He's a Class-A shitheel. Juan Cole has a more detailed explanation of the damage that can be, and was, wrought by one mendacious, hidebound fool.


A couple of foul posts over at NRO's the Corner regarding torture at the Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay prisons.

John Derbyshire:

By way of consolation, everyone who commented agrees with me that the Abu Ghraib horseplay does not rise to the level of "torture," nor even to the level of routine arduous-training exercises in the U.S. armed forces, and the stupendous fuss raised by the media & congressional bedwetters is at least as big a scandal as the prisoner abuses themselves.

Now, I recognize that Derbyshire is getting old, and may require certain kinds of "horseplay" to get it up, but it doesn't take a genius to understand that what may constitute a fun night at home for him, his wife, some smoked turkey, and some genital shock treatment attains a more sinister and in fact criminal quality when practiced upon prisoners by their jailers.

One also has to wonder what inspired Derbyshire to entitle his post De Profundis (Latin for Out of the Depths, referring the first lines of Psalm 29, known as the psalm of souls trapped in purgatory), which is best known as the title of Oscar Wilde's sublimely tragic letter of reproach to his former lover, Lord Alfred Douglas, inspired during Wilde's two-year jail sentence for sodomy, a sentence that a bigot like Derbyshire would undoubtedly have approved of, and probably wishes were still enforced. Of course, Derbyshire is writing from entirely different depths than the exceedingly brilliant (and now deservingly celebrated) Wilde: the depths of depravity.

It would be easy enough to dismiss Derbyshire's effluvia as yet another example of what I have termed the Derbyshire Effect (whereby the editors of a magazine feature the writings of a decrepit old bigot in order to make the work of the rest of the staff look somewhat more reasonable by comparison), but a few entries down we get Jonah Goldberg surrendering any claim to morality or decency:

I was expecting to hear from someone that we should be outraged by the "sexual tactics" at Gitmo. A few folks offered some arguments about how maybe we should be troubled. But not much outrage. One reader argued that we should be bothered by any attempt to separate a man from his God. How would you feel, he asked, if American soldiers were forced to witness a crucifix being desecrated or a Torah being destroyed? I thought this was interesting, but really not very persuasive. I'd gladly settle for that sort of treatment over beheadings.

...I'm not a close student of the history of intelligence gathering, but it seems to me that the use of sex to extract information -- in all sorts of way wasn't invented in Gitmo and that nothing of the sort happened under, say, Eisenhower's command. Prudishness and squeamishness is not automatic cause for concluding that the people involved are dishonorable. Again, I can't say I love that we're doing this. But it doesn't seem like something to bang my fist about either.

I'd like to take Goldberg's poor syntax here as an indication that he was blogging while drunk, and thus might be excused for the fascist drool contained within, but unfortunately, like much of the U.S. conservative press, he's been slipping down this slope for a long time. He'd gladly settle for religious desecration over beheading? So would I! How clever! So now, I guess, we're using al Qaeda as our moral compass, and anything short of beheading is A-OK? Regarding the use of sexual torture to obtain information, the best this self-appointed defender of civilization can do is admit that he doesn't "love that we're doing this." How very decent of you, Jonah. Bravo, bravo.

The American Right is decreasingly a place that any decent, moral person can call his or her political home. I'm not a Chicken Little when it comes to the onset of American fascism, though I do see disturbing portents here and there, the ever-more repugnant discourse at National Review being a perfect example. If and when fascism does come to the U.S., it will be carried aloft by such people as Derbyshire and Goldberg, who will insist at every step that, though they don't "love it," this and this and this simply must be done to preserve our American way of life.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005


John Podhoretz, the Melissa Rivers of punditry, offers his reading of the Liberal Mind:.

Their pessimism isn't really based in concern about Iraq's elections. It's really based in concern about the success of American policy in Iraq.

Anti-Bush partisans — both Democrats and Leftist ideologues — understand that if the elections are seen as a triumph, they will be seen as Bush's triumph, and they cannot stomach it.

Two things. First, no matter what happens on Sunday, Podhoretz and others will declare it a triumph, declare the Bush policy a success, and insist that widespread chaos and violence are how Arabs have traditionally celebrated successful elections. Second, bite me, Podhoretz. I, and I suspect a majority of Bush critics, would love to see American policy succeed in Iraq. The reason that American policy will not succeed, at least not according to any criteria that were set out before everything went to shit, is that the Bush team failed to adequately plan for the post-war occupation or to take seriously the potential for a significant insurgency, and moreover that they dismissed, in a huff of ideological fervor, the now-vindicated advice those of who knew better. Maybe if some members of Bush's own party, conservative pundits for instance, would have pointed these mistakes out to him instead of enabling and validating his Walter Mitty-like delusions that everything was on course, we might be in a position to expect a more positive result. In any case, suggesting that Bush's critics would prefer to see the situation continue to deteriorate, and Iraqis and Americans continue to die, rather than confront a Bush success is just vile.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005


Via Altercation, an article by Paul Craig Roberts on the psychosis which currently defines American conservatism.

The Iraqi War is serving as a great catharsis for multiple conservative frustrations: job loss, drugs, crime, homosexuals, pornography, female promiscuity, abortion, restrictions on prayer in public places, Darwinism and attacks on religion. Liberals are the cause. Liberals are against America. Anyone against the war is against America and is a liberal. "You are with us or against us."

This is the mindset of delusion, and delusion permits no facts or analysis. Blind emotion rules. Americans are right and everyone else is wrong. End of the debate.

That, gentle reader, is the full extent of talk radio, Fox News, the Wall Street Journal Editorial page, National Review, the Weekly Standard, and, indeed, of the entire concentrated corporate media where noncontroversy in the interest of advertising revenue rules.

Great piece.


It's now obvious from Bush's inauguration speech that the word "freedom" is a sort of mantra for him. He says it a lot. It makes him feel good to say it.

And did the kids ever lap it up. Taking a break from kneeling at his Reagan shrine, Jonah Goldberg wrote "I think this will probably be the most historic inaugural since at least Kennedy's and perhaps FDR's first or fourth."

Committing yet more violence against actual history, Victor Davis Hanson declares that "this is the first time that an American president has committed the United States to side with democratic reformers worldwide."

The first time? Not really.

Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans--born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage--and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.

Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.

This much we pledge--and more.

Sorry, Vic.

As always, Jon Stewart offered a concise and devastating review of Bush's speech: "This offer not valid in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan..."

And, as if to confirm Stewart's analysis and repudiate Hanson's and Goldberg's fluffery, in the days after the speech various members of the Bush circle, including Bush's own father, stressed that it was just a speech.

White House officials said in interviews Friday that Bush was not signaling a shift in policy but rather seeking to clarify what administration officials call the "Bush doctrine of liberty" that the president feels should guide policy well after he leaves the White House. The president's father reinforced that message yesterday.

Some have excused the speech's reach, suggesting that inaugurals are supposed to be rhetorically excessive. I can see that to a point, but I think it's not too much to expect that a president evince some measure of comprehension of the details and ramifications of his grand initiatives. Bush never has, and I doubt ever will. His references to freedom are pure kitsch. They contain no genuine intent, and are meant merely to make Americans feel good about being Americans, and about having George W. Bush as their president.

From Denis Dutton's review of Tomas Kulka's Kitsch and Art:

At the center of Kulka’s argument are three criteria, “necessary and sufficient conditions,” for kitsch in visual arts. First, “kitsch depicts objects or themes that are highly charged with stock emotions.” A little girl, holding a puppy, with big tears rolling from her eyes (and aren’t those eyes the size of grapefruits!). Sad clowns, mothers with infants, cute, baby animals (mainly mammals), cheerful hobos, Swiss Alpine scenes with lovely, blond Swiss girls in folk dress, dolphins sporting in the water, and so on. Second, the subject of kitsch must be “instantly and effortlessly identifiable.” No visual ambiguity: the audience must never have to strain to recognize what is depicted. Finally, a purely negative condition: kitsch does nothing “to enrich our associations relating to the depicted objects or themes.”

For Kulka, kitsch is essentially transparent: the audience for kitsch is not focused on the formal or technical features of the work as art, but looks through the kitsch work to a subject-matter, normally something sentimental or morally edifying. The self-consciousness of the appeal of the kitsch subject is also important, Kulka indicates, echoing Milan Kundera’s notion of the second tear. “Kitsch causes two tears to flow in quick succession,” Kundera has written. “The first tear says: How nice to see children running on the grass. The second tear says: How nice to be moved, together with all mankind, by children running on the grass! The second tear makes kitsch kitsch.” There is a sense of self-congratulation in that second tear, but also an enjoyment of the fact of universality. So when Bambi appears on screen, and everyone sighs, “Awaaah,” part of the appeal of the event is the recognition that everybody’s awaahing at the same time. “Since the purpose of kitsch,” Kulka says, “is to please the greatest possible number of people, it always plays on the most common denominators.”

Bush's references to freedom exemplify Kundera's 'second tear': "How nice to be moved, together with all America, by the concept of freedom!"

Kitsch in art is merely a turn off. Kitsch in politics, because politics is obviously of more immediate consequence, is somewhat more wretched. George W. Bush's presidency has been defined by it.

Monday, January 24, 2005


Just in case you were one of those poor, deluded souls who believed that Israel's "security fence" was not designed with the specific intention to create a permanent boundary:

With the recent construction of the fence in the Jerusalem region, Palestinian landholders from Bethlehem and Beit Jala requested permission to continue working their fields, which are within Jerusalem's municipal jurisdiction. The state's response stated that the lands "no longer belong to them, but have been handed over to the Custodian for Absentee Property." At stake are thousands of dunam of agricultural land on which the Palestinians grew olives and grapes throughout the years.

The BBC has more:

Israel has reportedly begun seizing tracts of east Jerusalem land owned by Palestinians in the West Bank under a law not used for decades...

That legislation allowed the seizure of property of Palestinians who had left Israel during the 1948 war.

Under the law, an absentee is anyone who in 1948 "was in any part of the land of Israel that is outside the area of Israel" - such as the West Bank.

The "absentee" owners - who in some cases live only 100 metres from their land on the other side of the separation barrier - may have no right to compensation for their lost land.

Johnny Atik, a Bethlehem resident, told Haaretz that property belonging to 40 people in his neighbourhood had been taken. He plans to appeal to the Supreme Court over the eight acres of olive groves he has lost.

He said: "The olives fall on the ground. We see them, but can't get to them."

Daniel Seidemann and Mohammed Dahla, lawyers acting for several of the landowners, said hundreds of other Palestinians could be at risk of having land seized.

"We're talking about land that those Palestinians in Beit Jalla have owned for hundreds of years," Mr Dahla told Haaretz. "They are not absentees... In fact, they continued to cultivate the land up until now."

Pay special attention to the language of that Israeli law: any part of the land of Israel that is outside the area of Israel. The language of the law assumes that, regardless of the UN partition plan or any internationally recognized boundary, all of what was British mandate Palestine is in fact the land of Israel, though for the time being that land inconveniently happens to be inhabited by hundreds of thousands of Arabs. The ideology of Greater Israel, and the concomitant destruction of Palestine, is inscribed into the very laws of the State of Israel.

While Israel may have only recently reactivated this particular law, it has for decades used various other bureaucratic mechanisms to expropriate Palestinian land. Usually it goes something like this: Palestinian resident owns land in East Jerusalem. Palestinian resident wants to develop that land, for which he must obtain a permit from the occupying Israelis. Palestinian applies for permit. Palestinian waits. Palestinian waits. Sorry, come back tomorrow. Sorry, we lost your paperwork. Sorry, the guy who handles those particular permits for that particular neighborhood isn't here today. He might be back next week. Months pass. Years pass. Whoops, since that land has lain undeveloped (never mind why), Israel declares it "abandoned" and passes ownership to a group of Jewish settlers, sends in bulldozers to create a "security perimeter" for the new enclave (destroying a playground in this particular instance), and builds a literal Jewish fortress, flags flying, armed guards walking the ramparts, smack dab in the middle of an Arab neighborhood. Shalom, muthafuckas.

Stories like these represent only one part of the broader process of mass immiseration of the Palestinians by their Israeli occupiers which Baruch Kimmerling has termed politicide.

Israel under Ariel Sharon became an agent of destruction, not only for its surrounding environment, but for itself as well, because its domestic and foreign policy is largely oriented toward one major goal: the politicide of the Palestinian people. By politicide I mean a process that has, as its ultimate goal, the dissolution of the Palestinian people's existence as a legitimate social, political, and economic entity. This process may also but not necessarily include their partial or complete ethnic cleansing from the territory known as the Land of Israel. This policy will inevitably rot the internal fabric of Israeli society and undermine the moral foundation of the Jewish state in the Middle East. From this perspective, the result will be a double politicide—that of the Palestinian entity and, in the long run, that of the Jewish entity as well. Therefore, the current Israeli Government poses a considerable danger to the stability and the very survival of all the peoples of the entire region.

Politicide is a process that covers a wide range of social, political, and military activities whose goal is to destroy the political and national existence of a whole community of people and thus deny it the possibility of self-determination. Murders, localized massacres, the elimination of leadership and elite groups, the physical destruction of public institutions and infrastructure, land colonization, starvation, social and political isolation, re-education, and partial ethnic cleansing are the major tools used to achieve this goal.

And this is the environment in which Mahmoud Abbas is expected to reign in militants.

One might ask why the Sharon government is choosing now to reactivate a particulary egregious and manifestly racist law which is sure to increase Palestinian resentment and make Abbas' job substantially more difficult. I think the reason is that Sharon wants to make Abbas' job more difficult. It's fairly obvious that, despite what he may say, Sharon is and always has been opposed to any kind of Palestinian self-determination that involves genuine sovereignty and an actual state, as opposed to a massive refugee camp (albeit one with elections, with ballots and everything) guarded on all sides by Israeli soldiers, pockmarked with heavily armed Jewish enclaves, and intersected by Israeli-only highways, a vision which this law obviously brings closer to reality, both by strengthening the Israeli presence in Palestinian territory, and by inciting resistance on the part of Palestinian militants, resistance which Sharon will be then be able to point to as proof that the Palestinians just aren't serious about making peace.

Friday, January 21, 2005


The always-willing Charles Krauthammer:

The great project of the Bush administration - the strengthening and spread of democracy - is enjoying considerable success. Most recently, we witnessed the triumph of the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, which followed the Rose Revolution in Georgia, bringing historic breaks from authoritarianism in two key former Soviet republics. Less publicized were elections in two critical Muslim states - Indonesia and Malaysia - in which Islamic parties were decisively defeated.

Oh good lord. Krauthammer's argument here seems to be that, since Bush has stated his goal as "the strengthening and spread of democracy," any positive democratic development anywhere in the world must therefore be credited to Bush. As Frank Zappa said, "Now, ladies and gentlemen, we have moved beyond mere mumbo-jumbo into the world of mumbo-pocus." George W. Bush deserves about as much credit for Ukraine's Orange and Georgia's Rose Revolutions as he deserves blame for the Asian tsunami. Regarding Indonesia and Malaysia, far from deserving any credit, Bush's ridiculous "I am God's Crusader" rhetoric has if anything strengthened more hard-line elements, and given credibility to claims that democratic reforms are just part of a attempt by the Christian West to destroy Islam.

Up next: As yet more proof that the Bush World Democratic Revolution is working, Krauthammer points to the fact that chicken is tasty.

A comment also about Krauthammer's implied assumption that the defeat of Islamic parties is necessarily a good thing. One should, I think, distinguish between Islamic and Islamist parties. The former term encompasses a variety of both liberal and conservative political approaches. The latter specifically refers to more fundamentalist ideologies. The Islamic Party of Malaysia (PAS) is Islamist, while Indonesia's Islamic parties, at least the ones that are even mildly competitive, are not.

I think it's a good thing that hard-line Islamist parties are kept out of power, but it's important to understand that one of the main reasons why such parties enjoy as much support as they do is that religious parties were for many years barred from elections in many Islamic countries, and still are in more than a few, a situation which has always resulted in the strengthening of the more radical organizations, and at the expense of moderate ones. When religious parties are allowed to compete, as in Indonesia, radical influence tends to be diffused in favor of more moderate alternatives, such as political parties which concentrate less on things like bringing death to the Great Satan and more on things like controlling inflation, lowering unemployment, and getting the trash collected.

Finally, people like Krauthammer should quickly disabuse themselves of the idea that we will ever see a purely secular Western-style politics in the Islamic world. The separation of church and state took centuries to obtain in the West, arose from specific conditions in Europe, and is an idea which is totally alien to Muslims, so it's fantastically silly to think that we could graft this concept onto these societies. That's not to say that there aren't elements of Western-style democracy that I don't consider deal-breakers, such as free, fair, and regularly held elections, women's rights, and protections for religious and ethnic minorities, just that I'm not convinced that these things could not be achieved under a constitutional system which gives preponderant influence to Islamic legal traditions.


Since 9/11, Victor Davis Hanson has taken on the role of Bush Court Military Historian, constantly pounding out tracts which glorify the West and treat George W. Bush as a combination of Pericles, Churchill, and Jesus Christ, and which read like they should be set to Wagner. Here's Hanson holding forth on what he calls "postmodern war." The contents will probably be familiar to those who've ever read Hanson before, as he pretty much has only the one essay (entitled "America, Fuck Yeah!" or, if you prefer, "Triumph of the Will") that he keeps updating with new names and places and ever more facile historical comparisons.

To an American television audience, al-Qaida videos of pajama-clad killers in ski masks beheading captives look scary, of course. But a platoon of Rangers would slaughter hundreds of them in seconds if they ever approached Americans openly on the field of conventional battle or even for brief moments of clear firing. In Mogadishu, Somalia, everything boded ill for a few trapped Americans—outnumbered, far from home, facing local hostility in urban warfare—and yet the real lesson was not that a few Americans were tragically killed, but that the modern successors to Xenophon’s Ten Thousand or the Redcoats at Rorke’s Drift managed to shoot their way out and kill over 1,000 in the process.

Nevertheless, the numerous setbacks of Western armies from Thermopylae to Vietnam prove that there are several ways to nullify these military advantages, both on conventional and irregular battlefields. The question is: Are such historical precedents still relevant to the modern age?

Dutifully performing his function here, Hanson tries to to cast the war against terrorism as just the latest in a long series of battles pitting the courageous, enlightened West (white hats) against the barbaric, much less frequently bathing East (black hats). It's one thing to buy into the characterization of the relationship between the Islamic and Christian world as a "clash," though I think this characterization is selective, chauvinistic, and ultimately counterproductive, but reaching back to the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC, fer chrissake, in order to support this bone-tired thesis is really above and beyond the call. Leaving aside the fact that classical Greek society would have seemed only slightly less alien to the modern West than would Persian society, Hanson wants us to ignore the hugely important role played by Islamic scholars in the preservation of Greek texts and development of the sciences, work which was inherited by the West after the West decided to grab a shower and emerge from the Dark Ages.

Hanson then cuts this jewel:

The hysteria over the Iraqi war in the 2004 election did not really result from a failure to find weapons of mass destruction or to publicize a clear link between al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. These were issues raised after the fact for political purposes during a campaign that happened to coincide with a change in American perceptions as the war’s rocky aftermath unfolded. After all, on the eve of the invasion over 65 percent of Americans supported the war, and three weeks later, when Saddam’s statue fell, support was nearing 70 percent. The current depressing debate about preemption, allies, WMD, and al-Qaida ties originated in the subsequent inability of the United States to project a sense of absolute victory in the postbellum occupation, as looting led to terrorist reprisals, an insurgency, and televised beheadings.

"Political purposes." Right. You've got to love Hanson's insinuation that it's somehow tawdry for the opposition to point out that the administration's two most significant reasons for war have turned out to be bunk. It's also funny that Hanson refers to the growing concern over the ever-increasing chaos in Iraq as "hysteria," given that hysteria is precisely what Bush was trying to create in the lead-up to the predecided invasion with grave comments about mushroom clouds and the nonexistent (at least before the war) Iraq-al Qaeda relationship. Bush over-represented the evidence for these things to create public support for the Iraq invasion, in other words: He did it specifically for political purposes. Unlike Hanson, I'm not going to feign shock that there is politics going on here, but I will point out that the difference between Bush and his opponents in this case is that Bush said things that are not true.

In his favor, though, Hanson is probably right that the Iraq war would be enjoying better ratings now if the post-war occupation was going better. I applaud him for this stunningly incisive observation.

One doesn't particularly enjoy slogging through the muck of Hanson's propaganda, but it's important to have as clear an idea as possible of the Bush's worldview, such as it is, and Hanson's work is acknowledged to have a strong influence on the perspective of the President and his inner circle. I strongly suspect that's mostly because, without fail, he tells them what they want to hear, and is willing to perform all sorts of rhetorical gymnastics to defend their misguided (partly by him) policies.

Monday, January 17, 2005


No, that's not the title of a new bit of fan fiction I'm writing. In the interest of degrading Charles Krauthammer, who enjoys the most undeserved reputation of almost any commentator that I can think of, and whose preening, priapic rubbish is regularly hosannahed by conservatives who should know better, here's James Wolcott giving it to Chuck for his paint-by-numbers pile-on of Dan Rather.

The very title of his latest syndicated column is a groan-inducer: "Rathergate confirms the media's left bias." Liberal bias, that poor strawless scarecrow with which conservatives can't bear to part. He uses the panel report about the 60 Minutes II Bush National Guard debacle to once again decry the leftward slant of the elite media in general and CBS News in particular. Proof of this endemic bias being the fact that CBS did "ad-hominem investigative stories" on the Swift Boat vets instead of an "examination of the charges," but it doesn't matter what CBS did, because if they had debunked the debunkable charges (as so many other outlets did), that would have been damning evidence of liberal bias too. Everything in Krauthammer's column is paint-by-numbers, he can't even bother to twirl it up a bit. So we get the standard saw about the "liberal media cocoons" of New York and Washington--as if any cocoon could be more snug and self-reinforcing than the studios of Fox News or the think tanks of DC. And how's this for a starchy paraphrase of a Dylan lyric? "[You] do not have to be a weatherman to ascertain wind direction." Open snuff box, sniff.

I suppose it was entirely predictable, though nonetheless ridiculous, that given everything going on in the world right now conservatives should spend the last weeks concentrating on CBS' mishandling of National Guard memo story, a story whose main lines still appear to be largely true. It almost seems that responding to The Machine's well-orchestrated Rather offensive accords the story a status and significance that it really doesn't deserve. It's a great example of the win-win situtation which the Right has created for itself by flogging the myth of the liberal media all these years: Respond to their attacks, and grant them legitimacy. Ignore them, and you're part of an elite media conspiracy of silence. Or something.


I think he got off easy, but it's still significant that he got serious time. It's also obvious that, far from being the instigator or ringleader of the torture, Graner was just an easily manipulable sadistic lunkhead bully who was used by intelligence officers (who were smart enough not to have their pictures taken) and given the green light to do what he had probably made known that he wanted to do anyway. Hopefully we'll see a few of those spooks in the dock, but I'm not holding my breath.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005


Top ten things Dino Rossi can do while Christine Gregoire is being sworn in as Washington's new governor:

10. Help a friend paint his living room
9. Finally finish The DaVinci Code
8. Rend his clothes, pour ashes on his head, and sit outside the city walls proclaiming the end of the world
7. Get baked and listen to Dark Side of the Moon on headphones
6. Put the finishing touches on his model of the aircraft carrier USS Governor Dino Rossi
5. Help a child learn to read
4. Make soup
3. Rent a Supreme Court Justice costume, use a meat tenderizer as a gavel, sit at his dining room table and rule in favor of himself
2. Watch TV and pout
1. Go into a closet and suck eggs

Tuesday, January 11, 2005


Says Halliburton.

TEHRAN: Iran said Monday that U.S. oil giant Halliburton had won a major contract to drill for gas, despite U.S. sanctions against foreign investment in the country's energy industry. "Halliburton and Oriental Kish [an Iranian company] are the final winners of the tender for drilling South Pars phases 9 and 10," Pars Oil and Gas Company managing director Akbar Torkan said, according to state television.

An unidentified Pars company board member said the deal for the gas fields in the Gulf off the south coast of Iran was worth about $310 million. He said Halliburton had not directly signed the contract but that it had offered its services via Oriental Kish.

Under a law introduced in 1996, the United States threatens sanctions on both American and foreign companies investing more than $40 million in Iran's petroleum industry. Halliburton, once chaired by US Vice President Dick Cheney, has come under investigation in the United States for its dealings with Iran through a Cayman Islands subsidiary.

Why does Halliburton hate America?


You'll love the Trench.

The Israeli army is seeking permission to build a trench along the Gaza-Egypt border, to curb Palestinian efforts to smuggle in arms through tunnels.

The AP news agency says the three schemes put to the attorney general would mean the demolition of between 200 and 3,000 Palestinian homes.

And, as usual, while the Israelis are going about destroying the homes and communities of the Palestinians, they will demand that the Palestinian Authority control Palestinian terrorism.

Monday, January 10, 2005


Charles Graner, one of the Abu Ghraib torturers, is now on trial.

The lawyer for a US soldier accused of mistreating prisoners at Iraq's Abu Ghraib jail has said the alleged abuses were valid methods of control.

Guy Womack, attorney for Specialist Charles Graner, said US cheerleaders often formed human pyramids.



The general consensus among the 80s movies list makers is that the 1980s were a weak decade for film. I can't say that I disagree. Conversely, the 1980s were a phenomenal decade for music, so much so that, try as I might, I simply could not limit myself to only ten, so I went for twenty, which was only slightly less difficult.

For your consideration:

Zenyatta Mondatta(1980) The Police
Fair Warning(1981) Van Halen
Thriller(1982) Michael Jackson
Imperial Bedroom(1982) Elvis Costello
Murmur(1983) REM
Purple Rain(1984) Prince
Zen Arcade(1984) Husker Du
Meat is Murder(1985) The Smiths
Raising Hell(1986) Run DMC
The Joshua Tree(1987) U2
Paid in Full(1987) Eric B and Rakim
You're Living All Over Me(1987) Dinosaur Jr
Daydream Nation(1987) Sonic Youth
Appetite for Destruction(1987) Guns n' Roses
It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back(1988) Public Enemy
Nothing's Shocking(1988) Jane's Addiction
Doolittle(1989) The Pixies
Paul's Boutique(1989) The Beastie Boys
Disintegration(1989) The Cure
Three Feet High and Rising(1989) De La Soul

Looking over this list, it's amazing to me how many of these records are still considered masterpieces and even milestones of popular music.

What was it about the 80s?

Sunday, January 09, 2005


Responding to Matt Yglesias' bleg, here are my ten favorite movies from the 80s. Not "the best," necessarily, or the "most significant," but my favorite. That is, if I were to be stuck on the proverbial desert island, or for variety's sake, a derelict spaceship, the ten movies I think I would most need to keep it together:

The Long Good Friday (1980)
The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
An American Werewolf in London (1981)
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Blade Runner (1982)
E.T. (1982)
Fletch (1985)
Raising Arizona (1987)
A Fish Called Wanda (1988)
Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)

Special Mention (guilty pleasure):
Road House (1989)

Friday, January 07, 2005


Mark Krikorian in The Corner:

...given that Christians and Jews were the negroes of the Islamic empire, protected only so long as they accepted their subordinate status, the proportion of Muslims grew, and after the Crusades Islam became the majority religion. In fact, I think it likely that the glory of Islamic civilization is inversely related to the proportion of Muslims in the society; i.e., in the Abbasid Empire (and later the Ottoman Empire), culture flourished precisely because most of the people weren’t Muslim, and decline began as soon as that changed.

There are two points Krikorian makes here, and two kinds of dishonesty. As to the first, while it's true that Jews and Christians had subordinate status to Muslims in Islamic civilization, this is true of religious minorities in every civilization up to and during that time. Islamic civilization is in fact notable for the rights and protections which religious minorities did enjoy, rights and protections which existed in few, if any, other societies until about the 19th century.

Let's consider the status of Jews and Muslims in Christian lands. To the extent that these communities existed, they had it far, far worse than their co-religionists under Islam. Jewish and Christian communities existed under Islamic rule in a way that minority communities never did under Christianity. Jews and dissident Christians regularly fled to Muslim lands from Christian Europe to escape persecution. There was no comparable emigration in the other direction. This is called voting with your feet.

As to Krikorian's second point, that "the glory of Islamic civilization is inversely related to the proportion of Muslims in the society," well, this is just offensive, on top of being entirely unsupported by anything other than Krikorian's frankly racist opinion. And you have to be amused by Krikorian's construction "In fact, I think." I don't doubt that that is, in fact, what he thinks. That is, of course, distinct from his thought actually being a fact.

What really bothers me here is the apparent need to degrade Islamic civilization an an attempt to establish Western cultural superiority. Western culture may be in many respects dominant at this point, and while I am exceedingly grateful to be living in a Western-style liberal democracy it's worth remembering that it wasn't always thus, and that Muslims were developing, among many other things, chemistry, pharmacy, architecture, and higher mathematics at a time when Europeans were living in their own shit. Krikorian's attempt at rewriting history here seems of a piece with a broader conservative attempt to characterize Islam as inherently barbaric and intrinsically belligerent, whether it's Ann Coulter advocating "killing their leaders and converting them to Christianity" or Jonah Goldberg making glib allusions to the forces of Mordor.

Once again, let's look at history: How many people were slaughtered in Christian lands in the 20th Century, with Western Civilization at its apex, versus those in Muslim lands? There is no contest: Christians massacred each other with an efficiency and ferocity and in numbers without historical parallel. To claim, when faced with that fact, that Islamic civilization is inherently barbaric or intolerant, especially when compared to Western civilization, is to declare oneself utterly unmoored from reality.

But I suppose in order to be a conservative in 2005 America one does have to believe several impossible things before breakfast. And that's just getting started.

Thursday, January 06, 2005


Coming in a bit late, here's Peggy Noonan's requisite "here's how the Democrats can get serious (if they really want to!)" piece.

To steal a line from P.J. O'Rourke (indeed, the same line of his I always steal when writing about Noonan), pointing out Peg's silliness is about as "difficult as hunting dairy cows with a high powered rifle and scope." But, just as hunting cows would be if they happened to regularly shit in my yard and moo outside my window all night, it's deeply gratifying.

I'm thinking really hard, but it's very difficult for me to come up with anyone whose advice I might value less than Holy Dolphin Girl's. Phoebe from Friends? Hmm, no, there's always the chance that Phoebe might say something pithy by mistake. Never so with Peg. Lassie? No, Lassie's at least good for letting one know when Timmy is trapped down a well. The best Peg could do would be to rationalize why Timmy likes it down there, and why his being there is a sign of God's providence, and how this proves once again that Ronald Reagan was the greatest human being ever, okay maybe not as great as Christ himself but certainly with more attractive feet. Mrs. Howell from Gilligan's Island? Okay. I'll go with that. I would value Lovey's advice less than I would Noonan's. But Lovey's gone. So it's Peg.

Monday, January 03, 2005


James Dobbins writing in Foreign Affairs, describing the tragedy/farce which Iraq has become:

The recent American presidential campaign has had the perverse effect of postponing any serious national debate on the future U.S. course in Iraq. Electoral considerations placed a premium on consistency at the expense of common sense, with both candidates insisting that even with perfect hindsight they would have acted just as they did two years ago: going to war or voting to authorize doing so. The campaign also revealed the paucity of good options now before the United States. Keeping U.S. troops in Iraq will only provoke fiercer and more widespread resistance, but withdrawing them too soon could spark a civil war. The second administration of George W. Bush seems to be left with the choice between making things worse slowly or quickly.

The beginning of wisdom is to recognize that the ongoing war in Iraq is not one that the United States can win. As a result of its initial miscalculations, misdirected planning, and inadequate preparation, Washington has lost the Iraqi people's confidence and consent, and it is unlikely to win them back. Every day that Americans shell Iraqi cities they lose further ground on the central front of Iraqi opinion.

The war can still be won--but only by moderate Iraqis and only if they concentrate their efforts on gaining the cooperation of neighboring states, securing the support of the broader international community, and quickly reducing their dependence on the United States. Achieving such wide consensus will require turning the U.S.-led occupation into an Iraqi-led, regionally backed, and internationally supported endeavor to attain peace and stability based on the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Read the whole thing. It chillingly illustrates the current catastrophe, and the hubristic incompetence which created it, better than could a hundred Nation editorials.

It also reinforces my belief that we will only ever see real success in the War on Terrorism when we recognize that terrorism is first and foremost a political problem and not, as Bush keeps insisting, a military one. Unfortunately the U.S. has so polluted its reputation in the Muslim world with it's conduct of the Iraq war that our best option at this point, as Dobbins indicates, is to begin to withdraw and let others move in to clean up our mess. Of course, that would require the recognition on the part of President Bush that things aren't going absolutely swimmingly, and we all know how much he likes staying the course.

Sunday, January 02, 2005


It's double bonus time for the people of Washington State. Not only has Christine Gregoire pulled out a win for governor, Dino Rossi's stubborn refusal to concede the race daily diminishes him in the eyes of voters. Considering how well he is (or, very soon, was) positioned to challenge Cantwell for Senate in '06, this is very nice.

Keep on fighting, Dino!

Saturday, January 01, 2005


First, a conservative vanity imprint publishes a book by a blowdried nitwit advocating racism as sound anti-terrorism policy, in this case registering and monitoring Muslims.

Then a conservative scholar spins said nitwit's hysteria into something resembling a rational argument for racism as sound anti-terrorism policy, bestowing on it something resembling academic weight.

Then, when most reasonable people reject this idea for the abhorrent bit of fascism which is most certainly is, conservatives point to this as yet more proof of the all-powerful liberal media/academia axis (never, of course, as more proof that their ideas are stupid), and begin writing more books on how liberals hate America.

Rinse and repeat.

It should be obvious to all why registering anyone based solely on their professed faith is a bad idea. First, I highly doubt that any terrorists will be heading down to the post office or wherever to register themselves. The only people who are likely to register are law-abiding citizens (though I suppose "putting the fear in 'em" is an implied component of the plan). Second, how would the U.S. presume to advocate democracy, human rights, and the rule of law in the Muslim world while simultaneously rounding up Muslims in the U.S.? Hearts and minds, indeed.

And, oh yeah, third: it's immoral. But I guess it's all relative, huh? I suppose harassing and degrading millions of people on the basis of their faith is a small price to pay for Michelle Malkin's feeling a little bit safer.

I wonder if Malkin or Pipes would agree that all Christians should be forced to register in anticipation of an abortion clinic bombing? Or if all skinny, creepy, Caucasian loners who'd ever purchased or read the Turner Diaries should have been registered after Oklahoma City? Of course not, because the vast majority of Christians and skinny, creepy, Caucasian loners are mostly real Americans who love their country, whereas Muslims, in Malkin's or Pipes' view, apparently aren't.