Friday, December 01, 2006


Bill Frisell.

In the liner notes to Lee Morgan's Search for the New Land (1964), Nat Hentoff comments on the difference between "identity" and "style," suggesting that while Morgan's musical identity had been strong since he first started playing (at age 18) in Dizzy Gillespie's band, he was only then really beginning to develop his own style, in that you would be able to identify when someone else was copping Lee Morgan's licks.

I've always found this idea of identity vs. style interesting, particularly in regard to someone like Bill Frisell, who I think has one of the most original and recognizable styles in modern electric guitar. There's probably no single artist to whom I've spent more time listening over the last few years than Frisell, so it's appropriate that I feature him today as I prepare to take another break from blogging to make some headway in writing my thesis. Blogging will be light over the next couple months.


Remember Condoleezza Rice's comment last summer, that Israel's war with Hezbollah, the daily bombardment of Lebanon's civilian infrastructure, and the creation of thousands of homeless and refugees represented "the birth pangs of a new Middle East"? (You can be sure that the Arab world does remember.)

Richard Haas describes what that new Middle East looks like. In short, virtually every neoconservative assumption about the region has been proved wrong. Haas observes a radical reduction in U.S. influence, an increase in Iran's power, surging militant Sunni Islamism, and increased militia-ization, largely, though not completely, as a result of the invasion of Iraq.

A couple criticisms. I think Haass underplays somewhat the significance of the Shi'a revival, specifically the Arab Shi'a revival in Iraq, Lebanon, and to a lesser but still significant extent in Bahrain, which poses a challenge secular Sunni authoritarians and militant Sunni Islamists alike.

Haass also unfortunately repeats the standard Israeli line about having "no partner for peace" among the Palestinians. What that means is that Israel has no partner who is willing to acquiesce to its expansionist designs on the West Bank and Jerusalem, or who is able to control the violent extremism which that expansionism exacerbates. While Hamas and other hardline Palestinian factions may say that they want to make Israel disappear, it is Israel which has quite literally been making Palestine disappear, inch by inch, mile by mile, day by day, and year by year, as the expropriation of Palestinian land and the construction of illegal settlements and bypass roads continues without pause. Furthermore, it's simply preposterous to expect the Palestinians to sit down with the various ex-terrorists and irredentists who have represented the Israeli government, while granting Israel a veto over whomever it deems unfit to negotiate with. Like it or not (and, frankly, I don't), Hamas is the dominant party in the duly elected government of the Palestinian people, just as Kadima is of the Israelis. As has been noted repeatedly in regard to this conflict, you don't make peace with your friends. Haass seems to recognize this later on in the essay, indicating that reviving the peace process and bringing Hamas to the negotiating table is the only viable option.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006


As if to disinter, dismember, grind into fine powder, and then re-bury the "liberal media" canard, Good Morning America invites Glenn Beck on to discuss radical Islam.


Game of Death II

Tuesday, November 28, 2006


Dennis Prager:
Keith Ellison, D-Minn., the first Muslim elected to the United States Congress, has announced that he will not take his oath of office on the Bible, but on the bible of Islam, the Koran.

He should not be allowed to do so -- not because of any American hostility to the Koran, but because the act undermines American civilization.

First, it is an act of hubris that perfectly exemplifies multiculturalist activism -- my culture trumps America's culture. What Ellison and his Muslim and leftist supporters are saying is that it is of no consequence what America holds as its holiest book; all that matters is what any individual holds to be his holiest book.


When all elected officials take their oaths of office with their hands on the very same book, they all affirm that some unifying value system underlies American civilization. If Keith Ellison is allowed to change that, he will be doing more damage to the unity of America and to the value system that has formed this country than the terrorists of 9-11.

Someone needs to take his medication. The idea that America will come crashing down around us if Ellison takes his oath of office on a religious text other than the Bible is, I think, ridiculous on its face, but it's Prager's attempt to place the ethical monotheism of Islam outside the bounds of "our civilization," as if there should be something inherently objectionable to the American mind about Islam or the Koran, that I find particularly stupid and offensive. (Sure, he's not "hostile" to the Koran, he just thinks swearing on it constitutes a threat to national security.) I can't speak for Ellison's other supporters, but what I'm saying is that Ellison's culture is American culture, is part of our civilization now. If Prager has a problem with that, well, as my gastroenterologist used to say, tough shit. Muslims are a growing minority in the United States, and our culture will adjust and accomodate them, just as it had to accomodate the Germans, the Irish, the Africans, the Japanese, the Chinese, the Slavs, and whatever previously vilified stock Prager comes from. It won't be a painless process, it never is, but it really doesn't matter if Dennis Prager throws himself across the tracks or goes into a closet to suck eggs, either way the train's not stopping.

On the other hand, what if this dyspeptic bigot is right? I mean, if we start letting our elected leaders take their oaths on different books, who really knows what could happen? They might lose all sense of ethics and propriety. They might start selling policy favors in exchange for campaign donations. They might start allowing lobbyists onto the floor of Congress to write legislation. They might start engaging on extramarital affairs. They might start getting divorced, remarried, divorced and remarried again. They might start partying with lobbyists and hookers in expensive hotel suites. If Keith Ellison is permitted to take his oath on the Koran, one can even imagine, years and years from now, of course, that the United States might begin to operate a series of secret prisons wherein persons are held without charge and subjected to torture. I know that sounds wild. But maybe swearing on the Bible is what has prevented such things from coming to pass?

Monday, November 27, 2006


File under Cool Stuff I Didn't Know Yesterday: Sebastien Foucan, who played the incredibly agile target of Bond's pursuit in Casino Royale, is a co-founder and proponent of Parkour: "a physical discipline of French origin in which the participant — called a traceur — attempts to pass obstacles in the fastest and most direct manner possible, using skills such as jumping, vaulting and climbing, or the more specific parkour moves. The obstacles can be anything in the environment, so parkour is often practiced in urban areas because of many suitable public structures, such as buildings, rails, and walls."

I can't imagine a better promotion for the discipline than Casino Royale, that chase was amazing.


On the removal of six Muslim imams from a US Airways flight last week, Larry Kudlow writes:
I was so pleased to hear that US Airways threw six bearded troublemaking Muslims off the plane last week. But I’m not pleased (nor surprised) that Muslim Democratic Rep.-elect Keith Ellison from Minnesota defended these rabble-rousers.

Yes, those "bearded troublemaking Muslims." Who do they think they are, having beards and being Muslim in Larry Kudlow's America? Kudlow's misuse of the term "rabble-rousers" is perhaps ironically appropriate, as the very presence of these Muslims was enough to rouse the passions and prejudices of the rabble. Unlike Kudlow, however, I don't consider this something worth celebrating.

According to everything I've read, these men were not instigating anything, and no one has come forward with any evidence that they did anything wrong. US Airways has offered multiple explanations of why they ejected them from the plane and then refused to let them fly on the airline. Larry Kudlow, however, apparently feels that being identifiably Muslim is enough to warrant such treatment. (But what about Muslims who aren't immediately identifiable as Muslims? Isn't that a danger, Larry? Perhaps they should be required to wear some sort of ID badge, a yellow crescent over the left breast? Will that make you feel safer?)

Michelle Malkin gets to work playing Six Degrees of Osama bin Laden, featuring links which purport to demonstrate these imams' terrorist connections and sympathies, but of course do nothing of the kind. (This is the same sort of shifty slander that Joel Mowbray used unsuccessfully against then-candidate, now-Congressman Keith Ellison.) In any case, such aspersions have nothing whatever to do with why the imams were pulled off the airplane, and in fact only contribute to the atmosphere of fear and bigotry which caused these men to be singled out, harassed and detained.


Like Hezbollah and Hamas, much of the Mahdi Army's popularity can be attributed to the simple fact that they deliver:
On Thursday afternoon, bombs in six parked cars began detonating at 15-minute intervals in three sections of Sadr City, including the crowded Jamila Market. Mahdi Army militiamen quickly spread out around the vast slum, residents said.

They helped the injured into cars and carted the dead to funeral homes, where the corpses would be cleansed according to Muslim rituals. Some donated blood and helped fire fighters douse flames. Other militiamen, some clutching AK-47 assault rifles or rocket-propelled grenades, searched for the perpetrators of the bombings. They found one more car, filled with explosives, and took the driver into custody.

At Khadisiya Hospital, militiamen assisted doctors and nurses, carrying patients into emergency rooms, Abid said. With hospital supplies thin, Sadr officials sent over syringes, medicines and other equipment donated by merchants. And with only four ambulances in circulation, most of the wounded were being brought in cars.

"Most of the cars were Mahdi Army, or Mahdi Army men were inside to carry in the wounded," Abid said.

Others fanned out to protect their neighborhoods. On nearly every street, heavily armed militiamen stood guard, residents said. Concrete barriers and barbed wire were quickly erected, closing off streets to unfamiliar cars to prevent further attacks.

Entry and exit into Sadr City were controlled. When he learned of the bombings, Hendul said, he rushed to Sadr City. But the militiamen at the checkpoints refused to let him enter. He showed his Sadr identification cards, but they wouldn't budge.

"They prevented me from coming inside until they made phone calls to check who I was," Hendul recalled Friday. "Yesterday was a good example of how we can handle security. Our city can protect itself better than the government."

During the invasion of Baghdad in April 2003, Sadr militiamen had de-Baathified and secured Baghdad's "Saddam City" neighborhood, and renamed it "Sadr City," even before American troops had secured the rest of the city. During the looting which took place after Baghdad's fall, Sadr militiamen were out in force protecting Shi'a shops and homes. American troops protected the oil ministry.

From this week's Newsweek cover article on Moqtada:
Moqtada al-Sadr did not appearon anyone's radar screen ahead of the 2003 invasion. Even among Iraqis, although he came from an important clerical family he was seen as a weak figure. Moqtada's father, Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, had been a leading ayatollah, a rival to Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani and other top clerics. But gunmen—assumed to be working for Saddam—murdered the elder Sadr along with two of his sons in 1999. Moqtada was 25 at the time.


Saddam kept a close eye on Sadr because the young man inherited a wide network of mosques, schools and social centers built up by his father. The network was focused on the impoverished masses of Iraqi Shiites—the sort of people other religious and secular leaders didn't have much time for. Even some educated Shiites dismissed Moqtada as a zatut, or ignorant child. Some called him "Mullah Atari," because he apparently enjoyed videogames as a kid. He certainly lacked his father's stature: in his theological studies, Moqtada never reached beyond the level of bahth al-kharij (pregraduation research), according to a study by the International Crisis Group. But it's clear now that most everybody underestimated him.


[Grand Ayatollah Abdul Majid al-Khoei] returned to the holy city of Najaf, where he was born and raised, under U.S. military protection. He quickly organized a local council to get electricity and water flowing again, apparently with CIA money. (The CIA declined to comment.) But al-Khoei's father had been Iraq's top ayatollah—and a bitter rival of Sadr's father—during Saddam's rule. Now the sons were competing for power and influence. Sadr castigated al-Khoei as a U.S. agent, and demanded that he turn over the keys to the tomb of Imam Ali, the Prophet Muhammad's son-in-law. A gilded cage surrounding the tomb contains a box for pilgrims' donations, a huge and vital source of income for religious leaders.

As al-Khoei and a colleague visited the shrine on the morning of April 10, 2003, an angry mob attacked them with grenades, guns and swords. "Long live Moqtada al-Sadr!" the mob cried out. Al-Khoei was stabbed repeatedly, then tied up and dragged to the doorstep of Sadr's headquarters in Najaf, where he was still alive. A subsequent investigation by an Iraqi judge found that Sadr himself gave the order to finish him off: "Take him away and kill him in your own special way."

The murder of al-Khoei can be seen as the first move in Moqtada's struggle against the Shi'a clerical establishment, and an almost unimaginably bold one. Unlike challenging the American occupation, being seen as having participated in the murder of a Grand Ayatollah could have had real, dire consequences for Moqtada in terms of popular support. He took advantage of the post-invasion confusion to eliminate a competitor, one with much greater scholarly standing as well as the backing of the U.S. coalition. The death of al-Khoei both satisfied what many suspect was a family grudge, and removed a significant rival for political power. (Al-Khoei had also made the questionable move of approaching the shrine that day accompanied by its keeper, a known Baathist, in a conciliatory gesture. The crowd that surrounded and eventually murdered them both, however, was not in a conciliatory mood.)

As with Rumsfeld's blithe dismissal of the looting, one of the retired generals on Jay Garner's staff dismissed the murder of al-Khoei by saying "Oh, it's just them killing each other." Not only was Moqtada underestimated, the people that were put in charge of the occupation had little knowledge of the political-religious context within which he was operating.

Sunday, November 26, 2006


Via Crooked Timber, looks like bad news for David Horowitz.
A week ago, it looked like David Horowitz had a few things to be thankful for in the emerging report of the Pennsylvania legislative panel that was looking for examples of violations of students’ rights because of their political views.

Sure, the committee had reported that it didn’t really find examples of the alleged oppression that he maintains is widespread. But Horowitz pointed to the committee’s recommendation that colleges adopt policies to protect student rights. And he liked the many pages included in the draft report that summarized testimony by Horowitz and some of his allies. Those are all gone in the final version of the report the committee approved Tuesday, which is being hailed by academic groups as completely vindicating their views.

Horowitz said that he was furious about the “breathtaking audacity of this theft of the report by the Democrats and the unions,” and that a “cabal” of faculty leaders had convinced “weak-spined Republicans” (who controlled the committee) to go along with the “theft.” He maintained, however, that despite the “travesty and the cover-up,” he was in fact pleased with what he accomplished in Pennsylvania.

Yes, after all, he did get his name in the newspaper. Success!
In the end, though, the panel on Tuesday stripped away what he had been citing as points of victory. The final report kept the language saying that it couldn’t find evidence of problems with students’ rights. On whether colleges need new policies, the report’s language changed, noting that some colleges have such policies and need only review them. On student evaluations of faculty members, the report shifted from urging colleges to change them to urging colleges to look at them and make their own decisions.

Two other things struck academic observers as significant: By removing all the pages summarizing testimony (a summary that many college officials believed was one-sided in favor of Horowitz), the committee removed a permanent record that seemed unfavorable and many thought unfair to academe. And because the final vote on the report was unanimous — on a committee controlled by Republicans — the committee made it more difficult for Horowitz to blame his problems on liberals.

Yeah, so he probably won't be doing that any more...

Via LGM, an interview with Michael Berube in which Berube (once again) demolishes Horowitz.


Apropos of this recent post on Jack Chick: Galactus is Coming.(Via Vague Nihilism)


Mark Steyn says that Muslims breed like, well, you know, and they're coming to take over Europe.

Ralph Peters says not so fast: The Europeans perfected ethnic cleansing in the last few centuries, and they'll take it up again once they feel sufficiently threatened by the Muslims in their midst.

Peter Robinson, responding to Peters, argues that Europeans just aren't faith-based enough anymore to engage in the savagery necessary for such a project.

And now I need to go take a bath.

Thankfully, Dave Noon has not withheld comment.

Saturday, November 25, 2006


Marc Lynch on al Jazeera's coverage of elections in Bahrain:
There's been a fair amount of commentary on the Bahraini elections in the Arab media over the last few weeks. It isn't just al-Jazeera, of course - I watched a fairly lengthy report on al-Arabiya yesterday and there have been many essays throughout the Arab press. Some of the essays view it through the "rising Shia threat" lens, but the real debate seems to be over whether to view it as Egypt 2005 ("corrupt Arab regime manipulating elections to ensure its preferred outcome") or as Kuwait 2006 ("achieving some progress through the ballot box despite the obstacles"). And then there was an essay in yesterday's al-Quds al-Arabi, which described the Bahraini elections as "a model of reform in the American style": gerrymandering elections to a powerless Parliament in order to put on the appropriate show for foreign audiences. (Today's unsigned al-Quds editorial was more positive, highlighting that despite all its problems the election represented unprecedented democratic participation by Gulf standards.)

If nothing else, the Bahraini elections have proven galvanizing for young Bahraini political activists, who will perhaps build on this year's experiences and continue to push for a greater political role, more transparency and more accountability. And the elections have sparked another round of region-wide political debate about democracy and the possibilities for change. Just one more example of how the televised coverage and debate about Arab elections on al-Jazeera and its competitors can matter more than anything the United States does or says in shaping Arab attitudes towards democracy and reform.

And just one more example of a Bush screw-up, choosing to treat al Jazeera as an obstacle and refusing to recognize it as a legitimate and integral player in the process of Arab political reform.


Freddie King.

Friday, November 24, 2006


Straight away, you know Casino Royale is not comic book Bond. Grainy black and white, shadowy figures at shadowy purposes in shadowy offices. Bond makes his bones. Then, more bones.

The opening titles: Generally, I'm against dudes singing over the titles, although the third best Bond theme song (Live and Let Die) is sung by a dude. Not a bad tune, and not enough to spoil the afterglow of that great opening sequence. Also: there are no somersaulting silhouettes of naked women during the titles, in fact no women at all. I can certainly understand wanting to move the films away from the misogyny of the 60s and 70s (and, okay, 80s...and sort of the 90s, too) Bond films, but dammit Maurice Binder's title sequences are art, man!

The lack of women swinging on the barrels of guns was a tip to what was coming. The filmmakers very overtly made Bond the object of examination throughout the movie. Rather than wolfishly ogling women, this Bond is ogled by everyone else. He gets caught on camera invading an embassy, causing a scandal. He emerges from the surf in clear reference to Ursula Andress's iconic entrance in Dr. No, after which he is checked out by a couple of ladies on the beach. References are made to his "perfect ass" and his "keeping fit." He plays poker, a game in which constantly evaluating and re-evaluating your opponent's appearance and behaviour is central. And, obviously, Bond's performance as a new double-O is being appraised by M and MI6 just as Daniel Craig's performance is being appraised by the audience. Appropriately, the film ends with Bond sniping his enemy: Now Bond is the one doing the watching. Ba-nah-BANAHH-ba-na-nahhhh!

Also, if you haven't heard, Bond is brutally sexually violated in the film. I dearly hope never to have to find out how long it takes one to recover from getting one's testicles repeatedly meteor-hammered, but I'm going to guess that one wouldn't be up and at it within a few days, as it seemed Bond was.

The gambling: They changed Baccarat into No-Limit Texas Hold 'Em, which I suppose is not unrealistic, considering how popular Hold 'Em has become in European casinos, but I thought it unnecessary. It never really bothered me that I didn't know the exact rules to Baccarat, as I was able to follow the gambling just fine. (Having Giancarlo Giannini off to the side explaining the game to Vesper/the audience was annoying.) And "Baccarat" just sounds cooler than "No-Limit Texas Hold 'Em." Hold 'Em is a game I play on Saturday nights with my buddies. Baccarat is played in exotic locations by people wearing clothes that cost as much as my education.

The action sequences were great. The chase through the construction site was a triumph of design and editing, though the fact that Bond's quarry seemed to be some sort of simian-mutant-acrobat really pushed my suspension-of-disbelief envelope. Did it break? No.

Jeffrey Wright was so perfect for Felix Lighter that it took me a few minutes to realize, oh yeah, hey, that's Jeffrey Wright as Felix Lighter. Hope he sticks around.

The romantic dialogue was pretty bad, at times very bad, but I suppose this is part of Bond becoming Bond. He hasn't quite developed the Bond persona, he's still putting on his idea of a swinging sophisticate, still trying to weave snatches of romantic dialogue into the suave veneer that will enable him to effortlessly seduce women, still trying to achieve the level of near-sociopathic detachment that will enable him to casually dispose of them. I won't be disappointed if the sequels don't go this latter route, but I can see the argument for it being essential to the character. The story stresses that Bond still suffers from some measure of empathy, which I guess the end of the movie represents his having overcome with the blessed arrival of Monty Norman's theme, which had until then only been hinted at in the score.

Though Casino Royale 2006 brings the character back closer to his roots in the spy genre, the influence of Indiana Jones, which is what turned the films from near-parodies in the late-70s to outright actioners in the 80s and 90s, is obviously still there. Bond takes a huge licking and keeps on ticking, although the fact that he's back at the poker table moments afterward, cuts cleaned, tie perfectly tied, wearing a shirt even whiter than the one previous, instead of falling asleep under some train tracks or in an opium den, is what makes him Bond. Keeping up appearances, you know. Making the scene. Got it. It's not that I don't like action movies, I do and I consider them as artistically legitimate as any other film genre, let's just say that I like my Bond sneaking into secret facilities and garroting people more than I like him being dragged behind trucks.

Bottom line: A great time at the movies, and a very strong entry in the series, probably among my top 5 Bond films. That's pretty impressive, considering this movie had no Q. (Since it's a reboot, how about Brian Cox? Ian Holm?)

Thursday, November 23, 2006


10 lb Turkey, brined overnight.
Rosemary mashed potatoes.
Giblet gravy.
Wild Turkey apricot stuffing.
Sauteed garlic green beans tossed with sesame oil and soy sauce.
Candied yams.
Cranberry relish.
King's Hawaiian sweet rolls.
Harvest pandowdy pie.

Later this evening, Casino Royale at Cinerama.

I love this holiday. Hope you had a great one.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006


Juan Cole draws us a picture.
Lebanon for the past two years has been caught between several outside forces. The Hariris represent Saudi interests. Hizbullah and Amal, the Shiite parties, are aligned with Syria. The Gemayels have an old, longstanding behind the scenes alliance with Israel and the United States.

As I read the record, Syria provoked the initial crisis in fall, 2004, by overplaying its hand and making the Lebanese accept its choice for president, Gen. Emile Lahoud, for a further 3-year term. PM Rafiq al-Hariri resigned over this heavy-handed interference and looked set to challenge Damascus in the spring, 2005 elections. He was then assassinated in February, 2005. The assassin was himself a Sunni fundamentalist, but the operation may have been encouraged by Syrian or pro-Syrian actors.

The assassination of Hariri touched off a mass protest demanding that Syrian troops finally leave Lebanon (a peacekeeping force came in in 1976 with a US green light, during the civil war). The Syrians were supported by the Shiite Hizbullah, which staged demonstrations nearly as big as those of the pro-Hariri forces. Hariri was a Sunni, but the coalition put together after his death included Christians and Druze, as well.

Syria did withdraw. At that point, Lebanese politics became less polarized, and elections produced a national unity government that Hizbullah also joined.

But then in summer of 2006, Israel launched its long-planned war on little Lebanon, wreaking vast destruction on south Lebanon and on the southern slums of Beirut where Hizbullah was based. Israeli policy was in part to attempt to divide and conquer the Lebanese by making the reform government of Fuad Seniora attempt to disarm Hizbullah, which maintains a small paramilitary force of 3,000 to 5,000. The Lebanese government is too weak to take on Hizbullah, but members of the March 14th reform movement did lay the blame for the war at its feet.

As a result, Hizbullah has pulled out of the government. With Gemayel's assassination, the government will fall if it loses even one more cabinet minister. Worse, the society has now been economically devastated by Israeli bombing raids and is increasingly polarized. The Olmert government's plan for the second Lebanese civil war seems increasingly plausible. Syria has stupidly played into Israel's hands in this regard. The Lebanese themselves are in danger of once again allowing themselves to be used as proxies by people like Bush and Asad and Olmert. The positive achievements of the national unity government of summer-fall 2005 have been undone. Lebanon is on the brink.


Now that figures:
Senator Joseph I. Lieberman announced Tuesday that he had hired a new spokesman, which is not in itself that noteworthy, except that the said spokesman, Marshall Wittmann, is one of the great career vagabonds, ideological contortionists and political pontificators ever to inflict himself on a city full of them.

To say that Mr. Wittmann defies classification is like saying Paris Hilton defies modesty. But in his peripatetic soul, he is a Washington Original, a man without a political country going to work for a senator without a political party.

Mr. Lieberman, a longtime Democrat of Connecticut who was re-elected as an independent and calls himself an “Independent Democrat,” has not ruled out becoming a Republican.

Mr. Wittmann, meanwhile, is a Trotskyite turned Zionist turned Reaganite turned bipartisan irritant turned pretty much everything in between — including chief lobbyist for the Christian Coalition, the only Jew who has ever held that position.


There are of course plenty of political people who have undergone philosophical evolutions over the years. But Mr. Wittmann, 53, has zigzagged in the extreme, from stints in left-leaning unions to right-wing policy shops. He describes his career as “eclectic,” saying he has always been drawn to independent thinkers. “The good lord has made me a contrarian,” Mr. Wittmann said.

I suppose that's one word for it.

More on this entirely unsurprising development from Mark Schmitt:
It's tempting to make fun of Marshall Wittmann's newest guise, as Lieberman's communications director, as if it were just another twist in one of the oddest careers in Washington. The New York Times has some fun with that theme today.

However, it's quite obvious where this is going. John McCain will fail to win the Republican nomination, and he and Lieberman will turn up as a third party presidential ticket. They will have a great shtick: "We were each rejected by the ideological extremists in our parties, therefore we represent the true forgotten center of American politics." The Broders of the world will salivate over the possibility.

Except, of course, it will not be a centrist party. It will be the Neoconservative party, with Lieberman having taken that angry turn and McCain already there. And both are rank opportunists, for whom "straight talk" is an empty slogan.

Wittman should fit right in.


Invincible Armour.

"You were wrong, my weak spot isn't there!"

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


The assassination of a Lebanese government minister: Condemned within hours by President Bush.

A month of bombing of Lebanon, massive destruction of Lebanon's infrastructure, over a thousand Lebanese civilians dead, over five thousand wounded, and the creation of tens of thousands of refugees: How about a buttered roll?


A group of Muslim imams were removed from a flight on Monday, apparently for the crime of making the hayseeds nervous.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations called Tuesday for an investigation into the behavior of airline staff and airport security in the removal of six Muslim scholars from a US Airways flight a day earlier.

A passenger raised concerns about the imams _ three of whom said their normal evening prayers in the airport terminal before boarding the Phoenix-bound plane, according to one _ through a note passed to a flight attendant, according to Andrea Rader, a spokeswoman for US Airways.

"We are concerned that crew members, passengers and security personnel may have succumbed to fear and prejudice based on stereotyping of Muslims and Islam," Nihad Awad, the council's executive director, said in a news release.

The six were returning from a conference in Minneapolis of the North American Imams Federation, said Omar Shahin of Phoenix, president of the group.

"They took us off the plane, humiliated us in a very disrespectful way," Shahin said after the incident.

Shahin said Tuesday that three members of the group prayed in the terminal before the six boarded the plane. They entered individually, except for one member who is blind and needed to be guided, Shahin said. Once on the plane, the six did not sit together, he said.


When Shahin went back to the airport Tuesday morning, a ticketing agent told him his payment for Monday's flight had been refunded and the airline wouldn't sell more tickets to him or the other imams. An airline spokesman in Arizona said he wasn't aware of the ticketing decision and could not comment.

"We do not tolerate discrimination of any kind and will continue to exhaust our internal investigation until we know the facts of this case and can provide answers for the employees and customers involved in this incident," the airline said in a news release Tuesday.

"Unfortunately, this is a growing problem of singling out Muslims or people perceived to be Muslims at airports, and it's one that we've been addressing for some time," council spokesman Ibrahim Hooper said.

Hooper said the meeting drew about 150 imams from all over the country, and that those attending included Rep.-elect Keith Ellison, D-Minn., who just became the first Muslim elected to Congress. Shahin said they went as far as notifying police and the FBI about their meeting in advance.

Shahin expressed frustration that _ despite extensive efforts by him and other Muslim leaders since even before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks _ so many Americans know so little about Islam.

"If up to now they don't know about prayers, this is a real problem," he said.

Right, because if these men were up to no good, it makes complete sense that they'd call attention to themselves by praying in the terminal.

It's been said that ignorance is its own punishment, but in this case it punished these guys, too.


NY Times:
An Israeli advocacy group, using maps and figures leaked from inside the government, says that 39 percent of the land held by Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank is privately owned by Palestinians.

Israel has long asserted that it fully respects Palestinian private property in the West Bank and only takes land there legally or, for security reasons, temporarily.

If big sections of those settlements are indeed privately held Palestinian land, that is bound to create embarrassment for Israel and further complicate the already distant prospect of a negotiated peace. The data indicate that 40 percent of the land that Israel plans to keep in any future deal with the Palestinians is private.

The new claims regarding Palestinian property are said to come from the 2004 database of the Civil Administration, which controls the civilian aspects of Israel’s presence in the West Bank. Peace Now, an Israeli group that advocates Palestinian self-determination in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, plans to publish the information on Tuesday. An advance copy was made available to The New York Times.

The data — maps that show the government’s registry of the land by category — was given to Peace Now by someone who obtained it from an official inside the Civil Administration. The Times spoke to the person who received it from the Civil Administration official and agreed not to identify him because of the delicate nature of the material.

That person, who has frequent contact with the Civil Administration, said he and the official wanted to expose what they consider to be wide-scale violations of private Palestinian property rights by the government and settlers. The government has refused to give the material directly to Peace Now, which requested it under Israel’s freedom of information law.

While it's a bit depressing to think that anyone would be surprised by this, as Israeli landgrabs have been documented by Israeli and Palestinian human rights groups almost as exhaustively as they've been assiduously ignored by mainstream U.S. news media, it is a good thing to see it in print.

As I've said repeatedly, it's preposterous to insist that Palestinians curb their resistance to the occupation while this sort of blatant theft is ongoing. This isn't just empty land that's being taken, much of it is farmland which Palestinian families have tended for generations, and upon which thousands of people depend for food and income.

Just to clarify, all of the settlements in the Occupied Territories are on Palestinian land, but the Peace Now report indicates that 39% of them are on land known to be owned by specific Palestinian people.

Monday, November 20, 2006


This Yglesias post on "authenticity" has developed into an interesting thread on rock cover versions. My own list of favorites, original artist in parentheses:

Pretenders, Stop Your Sobbing (The Kinks) Their first single, a great way to introduce the world to Chrissie Hynde's gorgeous vibrato.

Van Halen, You Really Got Me (The Kinks) Also their first single, and a great way to introduce the world to Edward's amazing guitar work, which I still totally geek out over.

Jeff Buckley, Hallelujah (Leonard Cohen) This version has probably been overplayed, but there's no denying either Buckley's astonishing voice or his facility with the lyric.

The Clash, Police and Thieves (Lee Perry and Junior Murvin) No comment required.

The Who, Summertime Blues (Eddie Cochran) Still rocks.

Frank Zappa, Whipping Post (The Allman Brothers) From an early '80s bootleg, with Bobby Martin on vocals. (What, you think Frank's taking that one?)

fIREHOSE, Sophisticated Bitch (Public Enemy) From their Live Totem Pole EP, which consists entirely of covers.

The Pixies, Head On (The Jesus and Mary Chain) One seminal alt-rock band covering another.

Dinosaur Jr, Just Like Heaven (The Cure) Likewise, but with that monster bridge and a J Mascis guitar solo that always makes me cry a little.


Marty Peretz has now pulled the post to which I referred here off the main page of his blog, not, I'm guessing, because of any newly developed sense of shame over declaring the Arabs to be a subhuman race who just don't feel pain, grieve and suffer in the same way white people do, but because Peretz apparently realized, or, more likely, was informed by one of his infinitely brighter writers, editors, interns, or janitors that the Isaac Chotiner post which Mr. Editor-In-Chief had used as a jumping-off point for one of his typical racist tirades was meant to be sarcastic.

Solid. Gold.

Come on Marty, where's your spine? If you really agree with Michael Rubin, then stick by him, dammit! You've certainly shown a willingness to steer your magazine toward any number of other indefensible positions, why not this one?


So again, the problem with the radicals in the Middle East is not the lack of capital or mental energy. Rather under the influence of Islamism and autocracy a deep-seeded cultural malady distorts human effort and creativity solely for destructive purposes. In all of these places, radical leaders such as a Ahmadinejad, Nasrallah, or Sadr--the same thug has a thousand faces that come and go as we saw with Zarqawi, Saddam, and Arafat--are, like the Sultan and Grand Vizier of old, as fascinated with the West as they despise it.

They obviously want Western technology--whether the Internet or the plastic munition--but never the decadence of freedom, democracy, and tolerance that creates the very appurtenances they crave. It is like sacking European Constantinople and then moving into it as your new Window-on-the-West capital, with the requisite minarets plopped on Santa Sophia.

Such parasitism proves no lasting palliative, but only the goad for more envy and frustration.

There we have it: Ahmadinejad, Nasrallah, Sadr, Zarqawi, Saddam, and Arafat. They're all the same to Vic. Anyone who tries to suggest that these are different people with different grievances and conflicting goals is just another Neville Chamberlain.

Let's take Hanson's mention of the Santa Sophia cathedral. The Hagia Sophia, as it's more commonly known, was built by Emperor Justinian as a Christian cathedral, but the structure was so inspiring to the conquering Ottoman Muslims that they made improvements to its design (the original, while an impressive feat of architecture, needed constant shoring up to support the weight of its dome), transformed it into a mosque, and used it as a model for mosques throughout their empire.

Rather than view this appreciation, imitation, and innovation as a metaphor for the cultural exchange which has characterized the relationship between Islamic and Christian civilizations just as often as has "clash," Hanson views this as a form of "parasitism." This tells you a lot about his approach to the study of history, as well as his feelings about Islam in general. "We" create, "they" copy (and destroy). The fact that it was Muslim learning that turned the lights on and helped to end Europe's Dark Ages seems not to have penetrated Hanson's fuhrer's bunker of a head. I mean, sure, Fibonacci got people to abandon the abacus by introducing Arabic numerals and calculation to Italy, sure our word "algebra" comes from the Arabic al-Jabr, transposition, but who really even uses mathematics any more these days? Sure, Muslims developed the modern university, but when was the last time you heard of anyone "going to college"? What a bunch of parasites.
In short, while the Islamists get bolder and crazier, we become more timid and all too rational, quibbling over this terrorist's affinities and that militia's particular grievances--in hopes of cutting some magical deal with an imaginary moderate imam or nonexistent reasonable militia chief or Middle East dictator.

Well beyond us now is any overarching Churchillian vision of our enemies. We lack the practical understanding of an FDR that all of these Islamists loathe us far more than they despise each other. Their infighting, after all, is like the transitory bickering of thieves over the division of loot that always pales before their shared hatred of the targeted bank owner.

I feel pretty confident that no one will ever accuse Vic Hanson of being too rational. And just as a simple matter of fact, most extremist Sunnis, and certainly al Qaeda, loathe Shi'as more than they do Westerners. Westerners are merely infidels. Shi'as, on the other hand, are viewed as apostates who have abandoned the true faith and follow a false form of Islam. They hide information like this in places called "books."

Sunday, November 19, 2006


Scoobie Davis gets an interview with Jack Chick, Chick's first in over 30 years, for Davis's documentary.

Who is Jack Chick?

Here are some great Chick parodies.


Marty Peretz:
I actually believe that Arabs are feigning outrage when they protest what they call American (or Israeli) "atrocities." They are not shocked at all by what in truth must seem to them not atrocious at all. It is routine in their cultures. That comparison shouldn't comfort us as Americans. We have higher standards of civilization than they do. But the mutilation of bodies and beheadings of people picked up at random in Iraq does not scandalize the people of Iraq unless victims are believers in their own sect or members of their own clan. And the truth is that we are less and less shocked by the mass death-happenings in the world of Islam. Yes, that's the bitter truth. Frankly, even I--cynic that I am--was shocked in the beginning by the sectarian bloodshed in Iraq. But I am no longer surprised. And neither are you.

Memo to Peretz: Listen, you racist gasbag: It's bad enough that your commitment to ideology has perverted your intellect to the point where you can casually consign millions of people to a lifetime of suffering by telling yourself, and us, that "it's their culture." It's bad enough that you're either too stupid or just don't care to recognize the classic tropes of anti-Semitism that constantly appear in your own hate-filled leavings. It's bad enough that we live in a society where a loudmouthed bigot can marry an heiress, use her money buy himself a magazine, install himself as editor-in-chief, and be considered an authority on anything, by anyone. But don't you ever, ever, presume to speak for me.


Incurious George visits Vietnam:
On Saturday, Mr. Bush emerged from his hotel for only one nonofficial event, a 15-minute visit to the Joint P.O.W./M.I.A. Accounting Command, which searches for the remains of the 1,800 Americans still listed as missing in the Vietnam War.

There were almost no Vietnamese present, just a series of tables displaying photographs of the group’s painstaking work, and helmets, shoes and replicas of bones recovered by the 425 members of the command. He asked a few questions and then sped off in his motorcade.

On Sunday morning, Mr. Bush attended an ecumenical church service in an old French-built Catholic basilica to underscore the need for greater religious freedom.

But the mood of this trip could not have been more different from the visit of another president, Bill Clinton, exactly six years ago this weekend, when he seemed to be everywhere.

And while the difference says much about the personalities of two presidents who both famously avoided serving in the war here, it reveals a lot about how significantly times have changed — and perhaps why America’s “public diplomacy” seems unable to shift into gear.

In 2000, tens of thousands of Hanoi’s residents poured into the streets to witness the visit of the first American head of state since the end of the Vietnam War. Mr. Clinton toured the thousand-year-old Temple of Literature, grabbed lunch at a noodle shop, argued with Communist Party leaders about American imperialism and sifted the earth for the remains of a missing airman.

On Saturday, Mr. Bush’s national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley, conceded that the president had not come into direct contact with ordinary Vietnamese, but said that they connected anyway.

“If you’d been part of the president’s motorcade as we’ve shuttled back and forth,” he said, reporters would have seen that “the president has been doing a lot of waving and getting a lot of waving and smiles.”


Saturday, November 18, 2006


The Daily Star's Rami Khoury talks with George Mitchell about the prospects for Middle East peace negotiations.


Finally, the odious Glenn Beck is getting the attention he deserves.

Speaking to newly elected Congressmen Keith Ellison, the first Muslim in the U.S. Congress:
BECK: No offense, and I know Muslims. I like Muslims. I've been to mosques. I have to tell you, I have been nervous about this interview with you, because what I feel like saying is, "Sir, prove to me that you are not working with our enemies."

Unfortunately, unlike Borat, Glenn Beck is a real person.


NY Times article on the matrix of checkpoints which Israel has created within the West Bank:
For four years, the separation barrier Israel has been building just inside the West Bank boundary has drawn protests from Palestinians and international censure for the hardship it imposes on their movement and access to jobs and land.

But getting much less notice have been parallel and perhaps even more restrictive measures imposed by the Israeli military much deeper inside the West Bank. The internal checkpoints and barriers on roads have increasingly limited movement, something Palestinians say they find especially grating, because they are not trying to enter Israel, only to go from one Palestinian area to another.


Israel says the multiple layers of security not only keep Palestinian attackers out of Israel but also protect the 250,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Before the Palestinian uprising began in 2000, obstacles in the West Bank were relatively few.

There's logic for you: The occupation is necessary to protect Israel from Palestinian anger at the occupation and the illegal settlement enterprise which it facilitates.

One could get the impression from the article that these checkpoints sprang up only after the al-Aqsa intifada; in reality, they've been a constant presence in the West Bank since the occupation began in 1967, and have just gotten a lot more numerous and restrictive since 2000.

You have to like the neutral "getting much less notice" formulation at the beginning of the article, as if the New York Times bore no responsibility for this. The rest of the world is quite aware of the brutal realities of the Israeli occupation. It's only in the US, where our news media seem locked into a preposterously false equivalence between Israeli occupier and Palestinian occupied, that these things go unnoticed.

Friday, November 17, 2006


J Mascis.

Special bonus: Mike Watt on bass.

Extra special bonus bonus: Performing Maggot Brain.

Thursday, November 16, 2006


I'm not nearly enough of an economist to offer a substantive critique of Milton Friedman's theories myself, so I'll just note how ironic it is that the man who popularized the phrase "no free lunch" proved that if you were willing to argue against taxation and government regulation, there would always be a rich person willing to buy lunch for you.


Read Nir Rosen.

This article about Sadr from February is also very good.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006


Shorter Daniel Pipes:
The man in these pictures taken during the Iranian hostage crisis is probably not Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but it would be, like, totally messed up if it was. In fact, let's pretend it is. What an outrage!


Dave Noon has a post on the wingnut response to the new book by History's Greatest Monster, Jimmy Carter.

I'm certainly not surprised by this, as the wingers can always be counted on to cough up blood at the slightest suggestion that there's anything untoward about Israelis treating Palestinians like cattle. What's more disturbing to me is the cowardly response by liberals and Democrats, many of whom have taken pains to distance themselves from Carter's words, words which wouldn't be seen as particularly controversial in any country other than the United States, including Israel.
Carter reportedly states, “Israel’s continued control and colonization of Palestinian land have been the primary obstacles to a comprehensive peace agreement.” As a result of such excerpts – and the title itself – Democrats in the U.S. Congress made significant efforts in October to distance themselves from their former leader who nevertheless maintains his standing as the conscience of the party. Several have publicly lambasted him and in doing so shown a profound disregard for basic facts pertaining to Israel’s subjugation of millions of Palestinians.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (the next Speaker of the House of Representatives) took the lead in responding to questions about Carter’s book during an online Israel Working Group Town Hall. “With all due respect to former President Carter, he does not speak for the Democratic Party on Israel. Democrats have been steadfast in their support of Israel from its birth, in part because we recognize that to do so is in the national security interests of the United States. We stand with Israel now and we stand with Israel forever. The Jewish people know what it means to be oppressed, discriminated against, and even condemned to death because of their religion. They have been leaders in the fight for human rights in the United States and throughout the world. It is wrong to suggest that the Jewish people would support a government in Israel or anywhere else that institutionalizes ethnically based oppression, and Democrats reject that allegation vigorously."

Right, and Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I've ever known in my life.

Regarding the term "apartheid," I've come to believe that it probably is counterproductive to use the term, first because it allows people to nitpick over historical specificity, and second because the term "apartheid" is simply insufficient toi describe the system of oppression which Israel has designed and maintains through the occupation.

As for support of Israel being in the national security interests of the United States, the next person to demonstrate exactly how that is will be the first. We should maintain a supportive relationship with Israel to the extent that it shares our democratic principles. When Israel, or any country, blatantly and egregiously violates those principles, as Israel has done since the occupation began, the U.S. should withhold support.

Here's a report from human rights worker Joel Gullidge on IDF-supported settler violence against Palestinians near Hebron:
"Your heads will be on the stones if you don't leave this place", threatened an Israeli settler from illegal outpost Havot Ma'on (Hill 833), to members of Christian Peacemaker Teams in the Palestinian village of At-Tuwani. Captured on video, but ignored by district Israeli police, the threat is part and parcel of daily life for Palestinians - and the reason for the continuous presence of international human rights workers here since 2004. A few days later, during a "routine check", I witness my neighbor being physically abused by Israeli soldiers. Such abuse often ceases when soldiers become aware that internationals are present, filming their actions.

Ancient At-Tuwani is located in the South Hebron Hills of the West Bank, home to some one thousand Palestinians who reside in natural caves, living off the land and grazing their flocks of goats and sheep. The topography is harsh; there is no running water or electricity. Under complete Israeli control in "Area C," many South Hebron residents have been expelled and had their homes and property destroyed. Israeli settlers have attacked villagers and human rights workers, and destroyed olive trees. Villagers' livestock and one water cistern have been poisoned, an act UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) Director Robert Kennedy calls a form of chemical warfare.

The Israeli separation barrier along route 317 near At-Tuwani restricts villagers' access to their farmland and to vital services such as health clinics, education and markets in nearby cities. Multiple UN reports describe the South Hebron communities as "once self-sustainable, now having one of the highest poverty levels in the West Bank" due to the Israeli occupation. Prominent Israeli human rights group B'Tselem reports that the regions' "proximity to the Green Line and the sparse Palestinian population living there make the southern Hebron hills a 'natural' candidate for annexation [by Israel], as well as an attractive site for settlement that will create a contiguous Jewish presence on both sides of the Green Line."

In the village of Sussia, the Israeli military has crushed the residents' cave homes. Now the villagers live in tents. I travel there to take the testimony of a village elder assaulted that day by masked settlers. Days before, settlers had strewn metal spikes across the road attempting to prevent the truck carrying desperately needed water from reaching the community. Three tires were pierced and the water was delayed.

Back in At-Tuwani, my neighbor served me tea as we watched his children play near their home. "It's hard watching my children grow up under the same occupation I did," he says. "I don't want them to live in fear."

Until the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands is ended, the basic human and civil rights of such families will never be assured. And the fear which my neighbor knows so well will remain a constant.

Constant, until Americans are made aware of the daily atrocities underwritten by their tax dollars.



Jet Li vs. Donnie Yen: The Pacino and DeNiro of modern kung fu cinema.

Sunday, November 12, 2006


Via Dave Niewert, Michelle Malkin is now trying to spin the murder of actress Adrienne Shelly as an argument against illegal immigration.

Congratulations, Michelle. I never seriously thought it possible that I'd given you too much credit. You sure showed me.


Great article in today's Washington Post on Arab blogging, known as tadween, to chronicle.
"You can't write whatever you want in the newspaper here; you can't even lift up a poster in protest," said Farhan, 31, a computer programmer who attended Eastern Washington University in Spokane. "On the blog, it's a different world. It was the only way to express myself the way I wanted."

Farhan is part of a growing wave of young Arabs who have turned to blogging to bypass the restrictions on free expression in a predominantly authoritarian, conservative and Muslim region. Blogging is so novel here that the equivalent term in Arabic, tadween, to chronicle, was coined only this year. But it has spread rapidly among the increasingly urban youth and in the process has loosened the limits of what's open for discussion.

Activists have used their blogs to organize demonstrations and boycotts, and to criticize corruption and government policies. The less politically inclined have turned them into forums for heated debates on religion and a place to share personal stories and sexual fantasies.

"Several years ago, Arabic blogs in the Middle East could be counted on one hand," said Haitham Sabbah, Middle East editor of Global Voices Online, a media project sponsored by the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School. "Today, they are in the thousands and are becoming a new source for news and information."

Though only about 10 percent of people in the Arab world have Internet access, the rate continues to rise dramatically, having multiplied fivefold since 2000, according to Internet World Stats, a Web site that tracks Internet usage and related information.

The number of bloggers in Saudi Arabia has tripled since the beginning of the year, reaching an estimated 2,000.

Here's an article on the same subject from last month, though you won't find any mention of criticism of the Saudi regime in the Saudi-controlled Asharq Alawsat.


The Observer:
Israeli military commanders drastically reduced the 'safety' margins that separate artillery targets from the built-up civilian areas of Gaza earlier this year, despite being warned that the new policy risked increasing Palestinian civilian deaths and injuries, The Observer can reveal.

The warning, delivered in Israel's high court by six human rights groups, came after the Israeli Defence Force reduced the so-called 'safety range' in Gaza from a 300-metre separation from built-up areas to just 100 metres - within the kill radius of its 155mm high-explosive shells, generally regarded as being between 50 and 150 metres.

Disclosure of the new shelling policy, which went largely unnoted at the time, has emerged in international outcry over the latest artillery incident by Israeli gunners shelling Gaza - the killing of 19 members of an extended family in the Gaza town of Beit Hanoun. It was the highest Palestinian civilian toll in a single incident since the current conflict erupted in September 2000. The deaths were caused when what witnesses described as a volley of tank shells hit a built-up civilian area.

The revelation follows reports that the shelling of Gaza has continued despite the recent recognition by senior Israeli military officers, including the head of the IDF's Southern Command, that indirect artillery fire (ie, firing without seeing the target) was largely pointless in countering Palestinian rocket fire.

No one, not even the IDF, contends that the shelling of Gaza will be the least bit effective in stopping the rocket attacks. It's simply another form of collective punishment by Israel against the Palestinians.

Meanwhile, the U.S. vetoed a Security Council resolution condemning the Beit Hanoun attack, with the typically ridiculous comment from John Bolton that the resolution "does not display an even-handed characterization of the recent events in Gaza, nor does it advance the cause of Israeli-Palestinian peace." Unlike, I suppose, murdering 19 family members with blind artillery fire.

Saturday, November 11, 2006


Vladimir Palaniuk, better known as Jack Palance, has left us. Farewell to a great Ukrainian-American. The man had a lot of memorable roles to his credit, gunfighter Jack Wilson in Shane, Prokosch in Contempt, Murphy in Young Guns (shut up), but to me he'll always be Kaleel, the Jimmy Swaggart-like high priest of the Planet of the Slave Girls.


What's even less funny than Dennis Miller? Dennis Miller joking about waterboarding. In addition to managing to collect every specious argument in favor of the technique in one place, Miller also adds "Not one person has died from it." Yes, friends, Miller actually defended the practice of mock-execution by insisting that no one has ever died from it. But that's about the level of moral and intellectual rigor we've come to expect from Fox News.

Friday, November 10, 2006


James Mann (author of Rise of the Vulcans) on the nomination of Robert Gates as Seceratry of Defense, and why it may not represent quite the change of course that many think.


Buddy Guy.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


Consider this quote:
The Jews behave like lemmings which is one reason why their cause, such as is, without ethical meaning and without solidarity among themselves, is a losing one.

You would be right to expect a chorus of condemnation if this were written in any mainstream U.S. publication. You would be right to expect Marty Peretz, among many others, to scale the summit of Mt. Indignation upon reading such a thing, but the quote actually comes from Marty Peretz, and, of course, he wasn't writing about the Jews, but about the Palestinians. Which makes the blatant bigotry

Eric Alterman points out a generally acknowledged, but too little mentioned, fact:
Marty Peretz is a racist.

I know that's not news, but it's rarely demonstrated in an unarguable fashion. But look. Peretz begins a post in The Spine, here, which has become my favorite blog (just as the phony book at the top of it is my favorite of Peretz's "books"), thusly: "The French may be soft on the Arabs in their diplomacy."

Get it? Not "soft" on Saudi Arabia or Egypt or Jordan or Hamas, but soft on a particular ethnic group that encompasses hundreds of millions of people, all across the globe. That's racism, pure and simple. Peretz is saying, for instance that the French are "soft" on Rashid Khalidi, professor at Columbia University, and soft on the Arab auto mechanic in Detroit, and the Arab doctor in Ann Arbor, and the Arab taxi driver in New York City, and on the Arab children and grandchildren of these people, all over the world. How in the world is this any different than say, an Austrian or Iranian anti-Semite complaining that an American president is "soft on the Jews?" or James Dobson complaining that Democrats are "soft on homosexuals?" Discuss.

One could respond to Peretz's "lemmings" argument by pointing out that Israelis themselves have have been frightened into supporting and electing various war-criminals and ex-terrorists throughout their short history, and that it would be wrong to present this as evidence of anything particular to the Jewish "nature," something Peretz regularly does in regard to Arabs, but that would be giving the man and his arguments, such as they are, entirely too much credit.

There is no other person that I'm aware of in contemporary American political life who exhibits the sort of obsessive loathing of another ethnic or national group that Peretz regularly expresses toward Arabs and Palestinians. The man is an offensive joke, a drunken, bellowing, bigoted party guest who you wish would just drink up and pass out already.


Way of the Dragon: Bruce Lee vs Walker, Texas Ranger

In light of last night's events, you may view this as an allegory...


I like it. A lot.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


This NY Times Magazine article on Ahmad Chalabi is a must-read.

There's some great historical background on Chalabi's family, such as that prime minister Nuri al-Said sought refuge with Chalabi's older sister during the coup of 1958, and it was she who dressed Said in an abeya and tried to help him flee. Said was discovered hours later and shot in the street (interestingly, Chalabi insists Said "shot himself.") Later on, Said's body was disinterred by an angry mob, dragged through the streets, hung, and mutilated. This is what's known as "having a low approval rating."

The section on Chalabi's visit to Iran is worthy of an article all by itself. Chalabi's stroll through Tehran's Museum of Contemporary Art is a bit surreal.

Then there's this:
Richard Perle, Chalabi’s friend, discounted the idea that Chalabi might be a double agent. "Of course Chalabi has a relationship with the Iranians — you have to have a relationship with the Iranians in order to operate there," Perle said. "The question is what kind of relationship. Is he fooling the Iranians or are the Iranians using him? I think Chalabi has been very shrewd in getting the things he has needed over the years out of the Iranians without giving anything in return."

Right. Aside from helping to facilitate the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the removal of Iran's greatest rival, it's hard to see what, if anything, the Iranians got out of their relationship to Chalabi. He played 'em like an oud!

I do think, though, that it's important not to make too much of Chalabi's role in the Iraq war. I believe he was used as much as he used, by various groups. The "wily foreigner" is a familiar and usually racist character in Orientalist literature, but there should be no mistake: This was a Bush administration operation, and Chalabi seems only to have been willing to provide convincing-sounding bullshit to people who wanted desperately to be convinced by bullshit.

From everything I've read, Chalabi genuinely cares about the future of Iraq, but his committment to a modern, democratic country was overtaken by his strong belief that he should lead it. Before too long, his constant maneuvering simply became tiresome to people, and his cuddling up to Moqtada al-Sadr was the last straw for many.

The moral of this story is: Once you start bullshitting, it's really hard to stop.


I predict that tonight I will be sitting in front of the TV with a bottle of Herradura Blanco, watching election returns. Go Dems.

Friday, November 03, 2006



Just in case the brilliant songwriting, singing, producing, and arranging had distracted you from the fact that the man is an absolutely smoking guitarist...

Thursday, November 02, 2006


We last saw Ralph Peters calling for mass "therapeutic violence" as a solution to problems in Iraq. Before that, he was busy laying the groundwork for blaming the Iraq debacle on the fact that Arabs are a bunch of savages, something which I named the culture dodge, but which you may know by the more familiar name of "racism." In today's column, Peters stitches the culture dodge together with the incompetence dodge to create a truly pathetic spectacle of blame avoidance:
I supported the removal of Saddam Hussein. I believed that Arabs deserved a chance to build a rule-of-law democracy in the Middle East. Based upon firsthand experience, I was convinced that the Middle East was so politically, socially, morally and intellectually stagnant that we had to risk intervention — or face generations of terrorism and tumult. I still believe that our removal of Hussein was a noble act.

I also believed that removing Saddam was noble, but I've long since come to recognize that one cannot separate the act of removing Saddam from its tragic aftermath, and that it was wrong, wrong, wrong, to think that Bush and his gang of ideologues, cronies, and crooks were ever remotely interested in committing the resources and political capital necessary to give the new Iraq a fighting chance.

It's been said that Bush doesn't understand that Iraq is a political battle, not a military one. I think Bush does understand this, it's just that he's been waging the political battle in the wrong place: here at home. If Bush had devoted even a fraction of the energy and resources to preparing, planning, and rebuilding Iraq that he has in trying to manage domestic perceptions of the deepening chaos, I think we'd be in a much different, a much better, situation. But that's like saying if a grapefruit was a pineapple, it would be a pineapple. To even imagine such a scenario is to imagine an administration that is not George W. Bush's.
Iraq is failing. No honest observer can conclude otherwise. Even six months ago, there was hope. Now the chances for a democratic, unified Iraq are dwindling fast. The country's prime minister has thrown in his lot with al-Sadr, our mortal enemy. He has his eye on the future, and he's betting that we won't last. The police are less accountable than they were under Saddam. Our extensive investment in Iraqi law enforcement only produced death squads. Government ministers loot the country to strengthen their own factions. Even Iraq's elections — a worthy experiment — further divided Iraq along confessional and ethnic lines. Iraq still exists on the maps, but in reality it's gone. Only a military coup — which might come in the next few years — could hold the artificial country together.

We have no one but ourselves to blame for the rise of Muqtada al Sadr, whose power is a direct result of Bush's incompetence and Rumsfeld's lack of planning. Back when the Secretary of Defense was shrugging off the chaos in Baghdad ("Stuff happens") Muqtada's people were policing Shi'a neighborhoods, protecting shops, and setting up medical clinics and food distribution, things for which, by law, the occupying power is responsible, but which for Rumsfeld merely served as a punchline.

Iraq breaking down along sectarian lines was by no means inevitable, but the ad hoc fashion in which the Coalition Authority cobbled together an Iraqi government based on confessional and ethnic divisions (and with an over-emphasis on returning exiles with no base of support in the country), another result of poor planning and ignorance of Iraqi society, all but guaranteed that this would happen.

As for Maliki "throwing in his lot with Sadr", Maliki has always been part of Sadr's coalition. He's a member The Da'wa Party, which was founded by Muqtada's great uncle, Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Baqr al Sadr. What would Peters suggest Maliki do, join with Chalabi or Allawi, two U.S.-approved leaders with no base of support? Join with Hakim and SCIRI, whose committment to Iran is well known and not merely suspected (wrongly, in my opinion), as it is with Sadr? With the withdrawal of Grand Ayatollah Sistani from political life, Muqtada is probably the most powerful person in Iraq. More importantly, unlike the U.S. mission, Muqtada has shown an ability to get shit done, and so aligning with him seems a pretty understandable move by Maliki. But, of course, when Arabs make rational political decisions that we don't like, it's because they're "savages". Please see: Hamas, Palestine, elections.
Yet, for all our errors, we did give the Iraqis a unique chance to build a rule-of-law democracy. They preferred to indulge in old hatreds, confessional violence, ethnic bigotry and a culture of corruption. It appears that the cynics were right: Arab societies can't support democracy as we know it. And people get the government they deserve.

Well, I suppose expecting the Iraqis to get their political house in order while under military occupation, in the face of daily terror bombings, curfews, kidnappings, mass arrests, and without security adequate for any sort of recognizable social life is "unique" in a way...
For us, Iraq's impending failure is an embarrassment. For the Iraqis — and other Arabs — it's a disaster the dimensions of which they do not yet comprehend. They're gleeful at the prospect of America's humiliation. But it's their tragedy, not ours.

Gleeful? They're gleeful about finding the bound, tortured, bullet-riddled bodies of their sons and fathers in the streets every morning? I don't think that's glee, Ralph.

Iraq's impending failure is quite a bit more than just an embarrassment, it is a tragedy for which the United States, whether we choose to accept it or not, is responsible. Even in purely realist terms, it's simply daft to suggest that a collapsed Iraq doesn't have dire implications for U.S. interests in the region.
Iraq was the Arab world's last chance to board the train to modernity, to give the region a future, not just a bitter past. The violence staining Baghdad's streets with gore isn't only a symptom of the Iraqi government's incompetence, but of the comprehensive inability of the Arab world to progress in any sphere of organized human endeavor. We are witnessing the collapse of a civilization. All those who rooted for Iraq to fail are going to be chastened by what follows.

Iraq still deserves one last chance — as long as we don't confuse deadly stubbornness and perseverance. If, at this late hour, Iraqis in decisive numbers prove willing to fight for their own freedom and a constitutional government, we should be willing to remain for a generation. If they continue to revel in fratricidal slaughter, we must leave.

Bush supporters have been confusing stubbornness with perseverance since even before the Iraq invasion occured. Maybe Ralph Peters deserves some credit for finally recognizing what should have been clear to him more than a year ago, that Iraq is falling apart. His attempt to absolve the United States of any responsiblity for this, however, is ridiculous and reprehensible.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


Master of the Flying Guillotine.


BBC observes ten years of Al Jazeera, which premiered November 1, 1996.
Al-Jazeera's impact and popularity pressured several state-run television stations to update output to compete. Several Arab governments were forced to lift, if only partially, media controls.

Analysts believe al-Jazeera is responsible for politically educating ordinary Arabs and for raising awareness and political knowledge of both Arab and world affairs. It is also credited with raising the expectations of the masses from their governments.

However, its reporting has made it unpopular with Arab and Western governments.

Al-Jazeera was banned from reporting in Iraq in August 2004, and its bureau has not been allowed to reopen since.

The station's programmes have led to several Arab countries recalling their diplomats and its bureaus being shut down or attacked in Arab countries.

I recommend Marc Lynch's Voices of the New Arab Public for anyone interested in better understanding the revolution in Arab politics which Al Jazeera represents.


Jonah Goldberg, clearly grateful to be back on the safe, familiar ground of personality-driven trivia, on the Kerry nonsense:
The Internet lit up like a pinball machine. Sen. John McCain called on Kerry to apologize. Shortly thereafter the grand whirligig of the GOP message machine started churning, with denunciatory press releases from the usual suspects.

What's funny/tragic is that Goldberg writes of "the GOP message machine" as if completely unaware that he's a cog in it.

Wow. Striking out for new frontiers in bullshittery, Jonah now claims that Kerry's "intent now doesn't matter".
Kerry is the sort of person who one would expect to believe the sort of thing he actually said (just see some of the liberal blogs who insist Kerry's gaffe was accurate). In other words, it made sense coming from Kerry. I seem to recall Derb once noting that he wouldn't use the word "niggardly" in racially mixed company because it might be misconstrued even when his usage and intent were benign. Well, when John Kerry offers a statement like the one he did yesterday, a reasonable person might well say, "there he goes again." And a fair-minded person might expect him to apologize for any unintended offense. Kerry refused because Kerry has the self-awareness of carpet mold. So, rather than apologize for what he claims was a miscommunication, he insists instead that no fair-minded person in the world could have thought Kerry was the kind of guy who would haughtily denigrate the troops, even though Kerry has done exactly that on more than one occassion.

The overlapping layers of idiocy at work here are rather impressive: Because Jonah and other cogs in the right wing noise machine have mischaracterized Kerry's past criticisms of the President as "denigrating the troops", it's now completely reasonable to construe Kerry's criticisms of the President as "denigrating the troops." I notice with no surprise that Jonah doesn't provide any evidence for Kerry having "denigrated the troops" in the past, he just makes the unsubstantiated assertion and moves on. This pundit stuff sure is easy!


Ezra Klein on Kerry and McCain:
It's hard to look at this situation and not pity John Kerry. JK is, by all accounts, a good man, a thoughtful man, a decent man, but one who is singularly incapable of thriving in the soundbite era. His mistake is easy enough to understand, if only because no candidate with an eye towards 2008 would dare suggest our troops are anything but ubermenschen with Mensa memberships. And it's easy enough to understand why the right jumped on it -- they are desperate, bloodthirsty, and base. But McCain, who knows both the intent of his ambitious friend's comment and the agony its misinterpretation is surely causing him, would have once intervened to ensure a good man is not brought low by this sort of meaningless bullshit. Today, he will be the the hack with the knife. I hope it's worth it for him. I can't imagine it will be.

Even though yesterday's tsunami of canned Republican sanctimony over this obvious non-scandal caused me to gag more than once, for me the most disturbing thing about this is that, after more than sixty years on this planet, John Kerry still has not realized that he is not one of the people who can tell jokes well.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Blogger Mike Stark assaulted by George Allen brownshirts. Video here.

Allen's response: "Things like that happen."


Via the Slog, the Bonecrusher makes a long-awaited return to the ring:
HARINGSEE, Austria, Europe's immense bearded vulture, sometimes called the "bone crusher," boasts a wingspan of nearly 10 feet, plucks meals from avalanche debris, and breeds its chicks in the subzero temperatures of the wintertime Alps. Its gastric juices register a "1" on the pH scale, nearly pure acid. Seething belly bile is a necessity for a creature that subsists mainly on weather-bleached bones.

One tough bird, to be sure, but Gypaetus barbatus has been suffering hard times for the past 100 years or so, all but eradicated from its Alpine roosts. Today, however, the bone crusher is soaring toward a comeback as the continent's most ambitious -- and priciest -- wildlife reintroduction project achieves small but biologically significant success.

The species was hunted nearly to extinction in the Alps by the start of the 20th century, mainly by farmers and sportsmen seeking government-paid bounties on eagles, vultures, and other raptors. But it was ornithologists, ironically, who administered the coup de grace. Dismayed by the bearded vulture's sharp decline, natural history museums dispatched collectors to kill specimens for mounted display.

We'll see how excited everyone is after the first few children get carried off...


Shorter Martin Peretz:
Mark Steyn is a horrible political writer, but I really get the sense that he hates Muslims, so therefore I must recommend him.

I, on the other hand, must recommend the comments section of The Spine, which is always entertaining, as the majority of commenters seem to appreciate the opportunity to point out that Peretz is a clown.

Monday, October 30, 2006


Michael Ledeen:
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is trying his hand at a new social endeavor: family planning on a national scale. The Iranian president has announced his willingness to decrease the number of hours worked by married professionals in an average week as a way of encouraging greater fertility. Ahmadinejad’s plan, which is said to be currently under review by the Ministry of Health, would reverse population control measures put in place by the regime over the past decade to boost prosperity. It envisions a near-doubling of Iran's population, to some 120 million souls, in the foreseeable future.

Ahmadinejad's initiative appears to have a clear objective: international dominance. "Westerners have got problems," the Iranian president has told reporters. "Because their population growth is negative, they are worried and fear that if our population increases, we will triumph over them." (London BBC, October 23, 2006; Melbourne The Age, October 24, 2006)

No doubt Jonah, who has been working on his book about fascism, will have had the same reaction as I. For this is right out of the fascist manual. Indeed, Mussolini once wrote an impassioned introduction to a very boring book (authored by one Richard Korherr, who I do not believe was from Bologna, and called something like "shrinking population, the death of nations") urging Italians to reproduce like Topsy. And of course Hitler had all those breeding programs, about which I will say no more for fear of being lumped in with Webb and Libby as a foul-mouthed (or is it foul-penned, or foul-keyboarded) sex fiend.

Wow, imagine that: Creating positive incentives to encourage families to have children. This Ahmadinejad is indeed a monster. Here in America, our own pseudo-populist reactionaries have developed a much simpler way of encouraging population growth, by simply prohibiting women from obtaining safe abortions.


Fareed Zakaria has an assessment of the tragedy that Iraq has become, and suggests some ways that we could make a smaller disaster out of a potentially huge one.

This is where he loses me, though:
There is one shift that the United States itself needs to make: we must talk to Iraq's neighbors about their common interest in security and stability in Iraq. None of these countries—not even Syria and Iran—would benefit from the breakup of Iraq, which could produce a flood of refugees and stir up their own restive minority populations. Our regional gambit might well lead to nothing. But not trying it, in the face of so few options, reflects a bizarrely insular and ideological obstinacy.

Unfortunately, there's a strong possibility that these changes will not be made in the next few months.

Not only is it a strong possibility that Bush will not change policy towards Iran and Syria in the next few months, even if he made a complete 180 degree shift in policy toward those countries tomorrow, I doubt that his two remaining years in office would be enough time to repair the diplomatic damage that his incompetent execution of ill-conceived policies and his endless trash talk has done.

But as news coming out of Bush's meeting with the fluffer brigade indicates, a policy shift is simply not in the cards. Reading the transcript, I see that I was perhaps over-hasty in my earlier characterization of Bush's understanding of his own policies as being "about as complex as a crayon drawing." With crayons you can still make out eyes, ears, and mouth. Bush seems to be working more with splotches of paint, noting that that one there looks like a spider, and we should kill it. And this one? This one looks kind of like a monkey, and monkeys are funny. But we should also kill the monkey.

Here's Rami Khouri, a journalist of whom I strongly suspect George W. Bush has never heard, on the growth of extremism in the wider Middle East:
[I]n the United States one hears of Hizbullah and Hamas described in the public realm almost always only as terrorist groups. The problem with this one-dimensional focus on the anti-Israeli resistance and military aspects of these groups is that it ignores everything else they represent. The recent war between Hizbullah and Israel, in part a proxy battle between the United States and Iran, revealed that Hizbullah taps into sentiments and political forces across the Middle East that are very much wider and deeper than only its successful quest to drive Israel out of Lebanon.

Whether one likes or dislikes Hizbullah, or admires or fears it, it seems abundantly clear now that its wide support throughout the Arab-Islamic Middle East and other parts of the world reflects its ability to tap into a very wide range of forces, sentiments and political movements. This is noteworthy for two reasons: Such forces and movements have never before come together as they did in the support that Hizbullah enjoyed in recent months, and collectively they represent a significant new posture of resistance and defiance of the United States and Israel that continues to reshape politics in the region.


It remains unclear if this represents a fleeting flash of emotions, or a historic new shift of political direction in the Middle East - a new regional Cold War in which Arabs, Iranians, Islamists, nationalists and state patriots join forces to confront the Israeli-American side with its handful of Arab supporters.

What is very clear, though, is that Hizbullah's political standing in the Middle East represents political forces and sentiments, and national issues, that far transcend the acts of terrorism of which it is accused, and that seem to totally define its perception here in the United States. It is a shame that a global power like the United States should allow itself to have such a provincial view of things in the Middle East. The toll of imperium is deep and blinding indeed, for dead Arabs and blinkered Americans alike.

When the only choice offered is between crusade and jihad, it doesn't take a 90 year-old orientalist to figure out what a majority of the people of the Middle East will choose.

Given this administration's inability to face reality and its complete lack of self-criticism, I think we've got to come to grips with the idea that we're not going to see any significant improvement in Iraq, or in the region, until we have a Democrat, or at least a not skull-clutchingly stupid Republican, in the White House, and the policies and ideology of the Bush administration repudiated.