Friday, March 31, 2006


Hugh Hewitt on CNN today:
The blogosphere on the left came into being just at the moment the Democratic Party was the angriest, after the Florida 2000 election. And it has captured that anger. And there were no grownups there to direct it to legitimate and constructive political activity. They are training a generation of young Democratic activists to be angry, vulgar, profane, and cruel.

On the other hand, the Republican bloggers, Power Line blog, Instapundit blog, the blogs, responsible, oriented towards issues, always constructive.

So, I think what we have got is basically a monopoly on responsible new media on the center-right side, and talk radio is responsible new media, even though that fever swamp on the left, the Michael Moore-disease-ridden Democrats on the left, they don't want to admit that, so they won't. But, in fact, talk radio is quite responsible. (emphasis added)

I think the stone stupidity of this screams for itself (and I didn't even include the bit where Hewitt insisted that President Bush's social security reforms had been stymied by "an obstructionist Democratic Senate.")

I made the mistake of going to Hewitt's blog to see what kind of "responsible, oriented towards issues, always constructive" right-wingers that Hugh was linking to, and I was led to this undelightful bit of bigotry in a post entitled "Islam is the Problem":
Since Islam is a political doctrine as well as religion, can a truly devout Muslim truthfully take the oath of citizenship in the USA and mean it?

Which is funny, because (bigoted) people used to ask the same thing about Catholics.

The blog to which Hewitt approvingly linked is called The Jawa Report. Got that? As if you need it explained, by Jawas they mean Arabs. This is extraordinarily funny if you are an asshole. (One suspects that "Sand Nigger Update" and "Towel Head Watch" were considered, but the authors went with "Jawa Report" as their title because that's what passes for clever in Wingnuttia.)

If this is what Hewitt means by "responsible, oriented towards issues, always constructive", then I really don't think those words mean what he thinks they mean. On the other hand, maybe he knows full well what those words mean and he's just a blatantly dishonest partisan crank.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006


Who knew that a fight between two people named "Charles" and "Francis" could be this interesting?

Monday, March 27, 2006


Interview with Yitzhak Nakash on his new book Reaching for Power:The Shi'a in the Modern Arab World. Nakash will be speaking at Seattle Town Hall tomorrow night.


...On the Capitol Hill shooting at the Stranger's blog.
The shooter fired “dozens” of rounds, according to (Seattle Police Chief) Kerlikowske. In Huff’s truck, the police found a massive arsenal of ammunition and weapons, which included several hundred rounds of rifle, shotgun, and handgun ammo; several banana clips loaded with more rifle ammo; a rifle; and a machete. “The amount of ammo this suspect had—the arsenal of weaponry that he had—is cause for serious concern,” Whitcomb says.

Yeah, serious concern.

The Seattle Times decides to handle the story with a large helping of self-parody:
The dance, called by some attendees a rave, seemed to be a peaceful event where perhaps drug and alcohol laws were violated but no violence or arguing was reported. Still, teen dance rules in our city must be thoroughly reviewed to see if they go far enough to protect young people. One of the six victims was apparently a 15-year-old Bellevue girl. What precautions or rules could have helped her? Could anyone protect her at a private party at a private home?

It will be a while before a motive or the role, if any, of drugs and alcohol are known.

At this point, our community has to rethink late-night activities of young people. We must do what we can to prevent such a horrific incident from happening again.

One of the victims was a teenager, therefore "teen dance rules must be thoroughly reviewed"? Please. A kid could slip and fall at a rave and the Seattle Times would insist that it's time to revisit the Teen Dance Ordinance. I'd submit that more violence occurs in ballpark parking lots on a single day of baseball season than has ever occurred at all the raves ever thrown, yet this has never caused the Seattle Times to suggest that we need to "re-think pro sports."

Without knowing the full story, I do have to wonder why a 15 year-old girl was out all night partying. To me that's an issue to do with parenting, not with "teen dance rules in our city." That and insane gun laws which enable mentally unbalanced individuals to amass Punisher arsenals.

UPDATE: Correction, two of the victims were teenagers.

Saturday, March 25, 2006


So I was up playing with Ana this morning (okay, she was playing and I was dozing on the couch) when we heard this clack!clack!clack! from a few blocks away. Oh look, Seattle's on CNN.

Friday, March 24, 2006


Erstwhile supervillain Colonel Muammar Gaddafi:
"There is no state with a democracy except Libya on the whole planet," he told an audience at New York's Columbia University via live satellite link.

He then declared himself the Lizard King, insisting that he could "do anything."


Nicholas Lemann's article on America's favorite thin-skinned populist poseur contains this wonderfully definitive statement:
O’Reilly, like every political talk-show host with a big following, is a populist, who, in his beyond-irony way, is a rich, middle-aged white guy aligned with the ruling party, and who has the guts to stand up to the élitists who run (but also hate) this country. To say that that doesn’t make any sense is to deny oneself the pleasure that a close study of O’Reilly affords.

Thursday, March 23, 2006


Juan Cole on the Iraqi Civil War:
That there should be a political controversy over whether there is a civil war in Iraq is a tribute to the Bush administration's Orwellian attention to political rhetoric. By the most widely accepted social science measure, Iraq is incontestably in a civil war.

J. David Singer and his collaborators at the University of Michigan (where I also teach) have studied dozens of such conflicts and have offered a thorough and widely adopted definition of civil war. It is:

"Sustained military combat, primarily internal, resulting in at least 1,000 battle-deaths per year, pitting central government forces against an insurgent force capable of effective resistance, determined by the latter's ability to inflict upon the government forces at least 5 percent of the fatalities that the insurgents sustain." (Errol A. Henderson and J. David Singer, "Civil War in the Post-Colonial World, 1946-92," Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 37, No. 3, May 2000.)

The definition focuses on three main dimensions of civil war: that it is fought within a country rather than between states; that it is fought between insurgent forces and the state; and that the insurgent forces offer effective resistance.

The Iraqi central government is pitted against an insurgent force capable of effective resistance. Some 50 distinct cells, spanning the political spectrum from secular Arab nationalists to religious fundamentalists, direct the activities of at least 20,000 to 30,000 part-time guerrillas, and perhaps many more. They strike regularly throughout seven key center-north provinces, including Baghdad, which at 6 million persons contains a fourth of the inhabitants of Iraq. In civil wars, the violence is staccato and almost random. Journalists or bloggers who visit Iraq and find bustling bazaars and brisk traffic are often fooled by their naiveté into thinking that the violence has been exaggerated. But it should be remembered that boys went swimming and fished not far from where the battle of Gettysburg was being fought in the U.S. Civil War. Guerrilla violence does not need to be omnipresent to effectively disrupt the society.


Singer and other social scientists working on the Correlates of War Project at the University of Michigan find that civil wars are associated with low levels of economic development in postcolonial states, with what they call semi-democracy as opposed to full democracy, and with high levels of military spending. It is not clear, however, that once they have begun, such civil wars can be settled through small-scale political compromise.

To be sure, the civil war in Iraq could be more acute. Nonetheless, Iraq is in civil war, as social scientists define it. We have a good notion of how it fell into civil war, and the responsibility the U.S. bears for that outcome. What remains unknown is whether the Bush administration can do anything effective about it. The relative passivity of U.S. forces during the sectarian riots after the Golden Shrine was destroyed, and Rumsfeld's startling pledge that the U.S. military would stay out of civil war-type conflicts, do not inspire faith that it can.

Indeed not. Given how long it took the Bush gang to admit that the insurgency was in fact an insurgency, I figure we've got at least another six months to a year until Bush's fortress of truthiness is finally penetrated by the barbarian hordes of inescapable fact.


Ayman El-Amir on the advent of Al Jazeera International:
AJA (Al Jazeera Arabic) did not set out to be controversial but to be different. To do that, it had to introduce new standards of broadcast journalism -- new to a region that had been stymied by official national media that played the tune of a cluster of small dictators with big egos. With its new brand of counterpoint journalism, AJA was as much a liberating factor in mainstream broadcast Arab journalism as it was for the mass of Arab viewers. As it pursued a hard- nosed independent editorial policy, AJA ruffled quite a few feathers. In defending its independence, the channel sustained many slanders, ranging from accusations of being an Israeli tool for airing the views of Arab opposition figures, to US charges of acting as the "mouthpiece" of Osama Bin Laden for broadcasting his taped video messages. For all that, it paid a heavy price in staff casualties and assets as it stood its ground in Kabul, Baghdad and Madrid. It continues to defy harassment by several Arab governments.

The Arabic language Al-Jazeera was indirectly born out of a failed media partnership between Saudi Arabian financial moguls and the BBC that was designed to introduce an Arabic language news programme broadcast by the BBC. When the short-lived marriage broke up in 1996 over Saudi objections to the BBC's free journalistic standards, it produced a group of professional Arab staff whose BBC training inspired them to establish a free Middle East media project. They found their niche in Qatar's new satellite TV channel initiative that was launched in 1996, the same year the Saudi-BBC partnership was terminated. Soon they lent their expertise to it and became its core staff. It was from this perspective that AJA saw its mission. It welcomed the rewards of an independent, credible brand of Arab television journalism and endured the consequences with equanimity. Before long, AJA achieved international recognition.

AJI faces a different set of challenges. While AJA benefited considerably from the "CNN format" and the professional discipline of immediacy, particularly during its exclusive coverage of the invasion of Afghanistan, AJI would not fly as the Arab CNN to the world. It took CNN 11 years to establish its footprint as the leading international satellite news channel. Now the "CNN effect" is wearing off and the network has been outstripped in domestic ratings by Rupert Murdoch's neo- conservative cable television Fox News Channel. The "CNN effect" was eroded by the post-11 September phenomenon of a fragmented and strongly polarised world, shaped by the US's lone superpower-borne simplistic classification of "either you are with us or against us." When the invasion of Iraq took place three years ago, CNN too fell in line and was embedded with the military. As the Rev Jesse Jackson put it later on "Fox and Clear Channel are organising war rallies. Our media was in bed with the tanks." It was his way of lamenting the absence of an independent source of news information for the American public.

I continue to think that one of Bush gang's most regrettable blunders since 9/11 has been their alienation of al Jazeera, and their inability to recognize what a revolution the channel itself represents in the Middle East. There was an article in the New Yorker magazine (I think it was) a few months ago which described a group of men in rural Egypt gathered around a tiny black and white television with an aluminum foil antenna, hanging on every word of a debate between Arab intellectuals. Such a thing, of which we have channel upon channel here in the U.S., is radical and new in the Arab world. The U.S. has utterly failed to recognize or engage with this phenomenon in any positive way.


Incoming Palestinian interior minister says he will not order the arrest of Palestinian fighters:
"The day will never come when any Palestinian would be arrested because of his political affiliation or because of resisting the occupation ...

"But the right to defend our people and to confront the aggression is granted and is legitimate.

"Saeed Seyam did not come to the government to revive any security co-operation or to protect the occupation and their settlers," he said. "I came to protect our people and their fighters, to protect their trees, their properties and their capabilities."

Wednesday, March 22, 2006


Iran's Ayatollah Khamenei sanctions talks with the U.S. over Iraq.


Rami Khouri on Arab political reform.


...on the Walt and Mearsheimer piece here, here, and here.


Asharq Alawsat reports on ongoing debates within the European Muslim community.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006


Torie Clarke, responding to the suggestion that Rumsfeld should be fired for gross incompetence:
CLARKE: What kind of signal would it send, by the way? This is tough stuff, no two ways about it. There have been good things that have happened. There has been important progress made in Iraq. Nobody seems to focus on the positive. They only focus on the negative. People on the ground understands how tough this is, understands that this secretary has backed them up completely with what they needed, when they needed it, what they want.

BLITZER: Torie makes a point, Paul. What kind of signal would it send to al Qaeda and the terrorists, the insurgents, if Rumsfeld was forced out?

BEGALA: It would send a signal to our soldiers that incompetence would be punished. When Les Aspen was secretary of defense for President Clinton, he was asked to send armor in to Somalia. He declined to do so. Eighteen rangers were killed. It became "Black Hawk Down." Les Aspen lost his job for that. He made an enormous mistake. Men died because of that mistake. He was fired because of that.

Secretary Rumsfeld has made much larger mistakes and many more people have died. He overruled his military commanders who said they need 300,000 troops to peacefully occupy this country. Now people are dying because of Mr. Rumsfeld's incompetence. We have to show there is price to be paid for incompetence.


CLARKE:There is an urban legend that Rumsfeld has overruled the military leadership. Nothing could be further from the truth.

By the way, it is an insult to people like Abizaid and Casey and Franks who have 30 to 40 years in uniform to suggest something like that. It is an insult to them. You're insulting them when you're saying they're not getting what they need when they needed it. (emphasis added)

BEGALA: Shinseki was the Army Chief of Staff, the number one general in America. He testified under oath that we needed hundreds of thousands of troops. Mr. Rumsfeld and this pinhead Professor Wolfowitz who worked for him, publicly insulted him and trashed him and effectively relieved him from his duty.

CLARKE: Urban legend. Months before General Shinseki testified and said it would take several hundred thousand troops, months before it was publicly known that Shinseki was not coming back. Do not propagate the myth.

That is classic Rovespeak: Pointing out that Rumsfeld over-ruled his commanders is itself an insult to those commanders. Why? Because they didn't object strenuously enough? Because they didn't resign? Because they behaved like soldiers and carried out their orders?

Regarding General Shinseki and urban legends, traditionally when a story has been repeatedly substantiated, it ceases to be called an urban legend. I may, however, be mired in pre-9/11 thinking here in that I cling to the perhaps outmoded belief that assertions require proof. On the circumstances of General's exit, here's an interview with James Fallows.
Q: In the tensions existing between the Pentagon and the military, Shinseki seemed a particular target. Explain.

FALLOWS: Shinseki's last, say, year and a half in office was a series of apparently calculated and intentional insults from the civilian leadership, especially Donald Rumsfeld. The episode that got the most public attention was when Rumsfeld announced Shinseki's successor as chief of staff, about a year and a half before his term was up. Usually this announcement is made right at the last minute to avoid turning the incumbent into a lame duck.

Q: Three weeks before the war, Shinseki testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Describe what happened.

FALLOWS: Shinseki has been, through his career, a real by-the-book guy. So he would not go out of his way to make public disagreements that were clearly going on inside the Pentagon. But in the hearing where Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan was sort of drawing him out on what he expected the troop levels to be, Shinseki finally said, based on his own past experience, that he thought it would be several hundred thousand troops. This became a real arcane term about, what did several hundred thousand mean? But let's say 300,000 and up. His real level, internally, had been in the 400,000 range.

Several days later, Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defense, appeared before a different committee. [He] went out of his way essentially to slap Shinseki in the face, to say there had been some recent estimates that had been wildly off the mark -- using the term, "wildly off the mark." Then he went on to say that it was almost impossible to imagine that it would be harder, and take more troops, to occupy Iraq than it had taken to conquer them; whereas that point, that it would be harder to occupy than conquer, was in fact the central theme the Army had been advancing before the war.

Q: Was this public rebuke surprising?

FALLOWS: The public rebuke of Shinseki by Wolfowitz was probably the most direct public dressing-down of a military officer, a four-star general, by a civilian superior since Harry Truman and Douglas MacArthur, 50 years ago. This public confrontation between Wolfowitz and Shinseki must have reflected the really deep disagreements going on within the Pentagon then, and a sign of the civilian leadership's impatience with what they viewed as the lack of cooperation from the uniformed military.

A couple of days later, Paul Wolfowitz was testifying before another congressional committee. He went out of his way, in a gesture that everyone involved recognized as being directly addressed to Shinseki, to say, "Let me address some of the ideas that have been floating around recently." He went on to say there had been suggestions of the levels of troops that might be required that were, quote, "wildly off the mark."

This was not the way that generals and Pentagon superiors talked to each other.

Okay, if he wasn't fired, he was humiliated and effectively neutered. It also fits the pattern of the Bush Gang's treatment of others who strayed too far into candor, such as economic adviser Larry Lindsay, who made the disastrous mistake of offering an honest estimate of the Iraq invasion's costs ($200 billion, which actually turned out to be a lowball), and was quickly thereafter shown the door.

Monday, March 20, 2006


Face the Nation yesterday:
SCHIEFFER: Mr. Vice President, all along the government has been very optimistic. You remain optimistic. But I remember when you were saying we'd be greeted as liberators, you played down the insurgency 10 months ago. You said it was in its last throes. Do you believe that these optimistic statements may be one of the reasons that people seem to be more skeptical in this country about whether we ought to be in Iraq?

CHENEY: No. I think it has less to do with the statements we've made, which I think were basically accurate and reflect reality, than it does with the fact that there's a constant sort of perception, if you will, that's created because what's newsworthy is the car bomb in Baghdad. It's not all the work that went on that day in 15 other provinces in terms of making progress towards rebuilding Iraq.

Coming soon: Cheney claims it is actually the media themselves who are carrying out the bombings.

Sunday, March 19, 2006


That's almost an anagram. Any ideas what to do with the "mone"?

This study by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt on the pro-Israel lobby makes two claims. First, that from a realist perspective, U.S. policy toward Israel is inconsistent with U.S. interests. Second, that this counterproductive policy is the result of a well-organized and very effective "Israel lobby."

As for the first claim, I think the authors are clearly correct. I've never heard a convincing realist case for the billions of dollars which the U.S. shovels at Israel, and the close relationship between our two countries has unquestionably damaged U.S. interests in the region. I think there was a reasonable case for the alliance during the Cold War, but that does not exist now. The only two justifications for the U.S.-Israel alliance that I see now are 1) to show other countries how well our friends make out, and 2) that security guarantees which Israel receives from the U.S. act as a constraint on Israel. Both are rather weak.

As to the moral case for supporting Israel, which as a liberal I think is worth considering, the U.S. does have an interest in supporting and strengthening democracies, and Israel is a democracy. This doesn't mean that Israel gets a colonize-your-neighbors-for-free card just because it holds regular elections, just that U.S. support for the right of Israelis (all Israelis) to live as free, equal citizens within secure, internationally recognized borders should be unequivocal, as it also should be in regards to the rights of Palestinians. It is entirely appropriate to question whether U.S. policy toward Israel furthers these goals. In my opinion it does not, but even if Israel were the greatest democracy ever this would not explain the staggering sums of money the U.S. provides it every year.

As to Walt and Mearsheimer's second claim, I think it's somewhat less clear. Scott Lemieux is right that it's difficult to really quantify the effectiveness of a particular lobby, although as the authors mention Fortune magazine attempts to do just that, regularly placing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in the top two or three most powerful lobbying organizations in Washington based on polling of lawmakers, lobbyists, and congressional and White House aides. This is by no means definitive, but at the very least I'd suggest that the fact that lawmakers, lobbyists, and congressional and White House aides perceive AIPAC as extremely powerful and effective strengthens, rather than weakens, Walt and Mearsheimer's argument that AIPAC is extremely powerful and effective.

As does this Fox News report from four years ago, though of course it presents the power of the Israel lobby in overwhelmingly positive terms. The Fox story also makes the laughably inaccurate historical claim about the "strong U.S.-Israel alliance dating back to Israel's 1948 foundation," which could itself be taken as proof of the effectiveness of the lobby's mythmaking. On the other hand, it could be taken as proof that Fox News replaced its fact checkers with a Coke machine years ago.

Another story that I think underlines Walt and Mearsheimer's argument is that of Larry Franklin, the Pentagon analyst who was recently sentenced to twelve years in prison for passing classified information on Iran to Israeli lobbyists:
Franklin said he passed the information because he was "frustrated" with the direction of U.S. policy and thought he could influence it by having them relay the data through "back channels" to officials on the National Security Council.

Here we have a Pentagon analyst who concluded that he could have more effect on U.S. policy by working through the Israeli lobby than by working within his own chain of command. So was Franklin just prone to conspiracy theories, or did this twenty-five year defense policy veteran actually have an accurate idea of how to get things done in Washington?

Scott also links to this question from Dan Drezner:
If "The Lobby" is as powerful as Walt and Mearsheimer claim, why hasn't there been a bigger push in the United States for more fuel-efficient cars, alternative energy sources, and the like? After all, the only strategic resource that Israel's enemies possess is large quantities of oil. If "The Lobby" is so powerful and goal-directed, wouldn't they have an incentive to reduce the strategic value of their adversaries?

This is wafer thin. I see Drezner making this argument:
X is in Israel's interest. The fact that the pro-Israel lobby has neither advocated nor achieved X is evidence against the power of that lobby.

There are number of things which are clearly in Israel's interests which the lobby (as M&W define it) does not advocate, the most obvious being the withdrawal of the settlements and the end of the occupation, but I think this misunderstands the aims of the lobby, which is not concerned with a genuine appraisal of Israel's security needs but rather with defending the particular policies of the Israeli government and with keeping American taxpayer money flowing to it. It also seems rather weak to claim that the lobby's effectiveness is called into question by their (entirely understandable) decision not to confront another set of extremely powerful lobbies (oil and automobile) on an issue which is much more relevant to a much larger number of Americans than U.S.-Israel policy.

Finally, briefly, you simply must read the bilious reactions by right-wing bloggers who seem intent on proving Walt and Mearsheimer's assertion that "anyone who merely claims that there is an Israel Lobby runs the risk of being charged with anti-semitism." This would almost be funny if weren't so heinous and transparent an attempt by these clowns to distract from the actual issue at hand. Agree or disagree with it, there is nothing in Walt and Mearsheimer's argument that suggests anything close to anti-Semitism on the part of the authors, unless of course you consider the very act of examining U.S. policy toward Israel to be inherently anti-Semitic, in which case...yeah, okay. You'll notice that the Fox News report, which made many of the same claims as Walt and Mearsheimer regarding the power and effectiveness of the Israel lobby, was not met with similar accusations of conspiratorial Jew-hatred.

It's just a sad reality that anyone who chooses to get involved in discussions relating to Israel and Palestine must be prepared to have their motives and background constantly questioned. I have been condemned at various times as both a Zionist stooge (for suggesting that Arab governments have behaved reprehensibly in regard to the Palestinians, and for suggesting that Palestinian terrorism is both morally wrong and politically counterproductive) and an anti-semite (for suggesting that Israel should actually be held to the standards of international human rights conventions which it has signed.) It's no fun, but the upside is that such accusations can generally be taken as proof that those making them have a weak argument.

Friday, March 17, 2006


The Navy is putting more sailors on the ground in Iraq.
The sailors do not perform raids or attack insurgent positions. But some of their missions, particularly defusing homemade bombs, can be dangerous.

Though most sailors sent to Iraq and Afghanistan volunteer, Navy officials say everyone should be prepared to serve.

"If you're wearing a uniform, you're a volunteer for whatever the military needs from you," said Lt. Trey Brown, a Navy spokesman. "We want to take the people who are more eager, but everybody has got to be ready to go."

Not all sailors are enthusiastic about the Navy's support role.

A Naval Academy graduate based in San Diego received orders on Wednesday to report to another base in 12 days and ship out to Iraq, even after he specifically turned down a request to volunteer. To him, the program refutes pronouncements by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that the Army is "battle-hardened" but in good shape.

"Rumsfeld says the Army is not stretched too thin, but you have sailors relieving the Army," said the officer, who wished to remain anonymous. "A little straightforwardness goes a long way. We'd like the same from the folks on high."


Thursday, March 16, 2006


It seems obvious to me that, political calculations aside, Feingold is right on the NSA wiretapping. (text of the resolution) The President clearly broke the law. It remains to be seen whether he'll get away with it, and whether the legal gymnastics routines of Gonzales and Yoo will continue to impress the judges. I think to win this argument, however, not just on the facts but in the sense of bringing more voters out for the Democratic Party on November 7 and retaking Congress, Democrats need to win the other argument, the one about September 11.

Democratic strategery apparently involves continuing to grin about putting the kibosh on the Dubai ports deal, and continuing to hope that public opinion of Bush stays low. It's pretty clear that much of the outrage over the ports deal was driven by good old fashioned xenophobia, and as much as I enjoyed seeing Bush undone in part by the xenophobia he and the Republicans helped stoke, Democrats should be better than that. Feingold has given them a chance to be better than that, given them what I think is a way to go on the attack, and they are not taking it out of concern over censure being used as a rallying point for conservatives. Feh.

Since 9/11, Bush and the Republicans have been much, much better at saying what 9/11 is and what it means, and Democrats have been unwilling to seriously contest those definitions. That needs to end. Conservatives have effectively used September 11 as a political weapon, good for beating almost any boneheaded legislation through Congress, good for beating up anyone who suggests that the reasons for September 11 might go deeper than people hating our freedom. They must be relieved of that weapon. The criminality of Bush's wiretaps needs to be folded into a greater argument about his reckless conduct in the war on terror, and Democrats need to offer a clear alternative, one which recognizes a number of important things that Republicans do not (I just happen to have a list here):
-America's greatest weapon is the influence it wields as a free democratic republic, when it acts like a free democratic republic. There's a fine line between being a leader and a bully, and in the eyes of too many the United States has crossed that line.

-Although many people in this world would like the political rights Americans have, they don't want the particular cultural baggage that often comes with it.

-Americans are participants in a precarious political experiment, not subjects of an Empire. It's extremely important that the rest of the world know that we know this.

Disgust at Bush and the Republicans is a wonderful thing, but I don't think it will be enough to bring a Democratic takeover of Congress. No matter what issue the Democrats land on, no matter what Republican scandal blows up between now and Election Day, Bush is always going to come back with "We're at war." And it will work, as it has worked over the past five years to justify Bush's arrogance and distract from his incompetence, until Democrats finally challenge not only Bush's methods of fighting the war, but begin to chip away at his representation of the war and his characterization of its causes.

For simplicity and mook appeal it's difficult to beat "They suck! We Rule! Let's kick ass!" as a motivating ideology, but I think a significant portion of voters are ready and waiting for a national security policy that, while being no less determined and robust in preventing terrorism and tracking down perpetrators, presents a competing view of the world that is more complex and conciliatory.


Wow, first Isaac Hayes quits the show in protest over Scientology being mocked just like every other religion, and now Comedy Central has pulled the Trapped in the Closet episode under a threat from noted pharmacology expert Tom Cruise that he would not do any publicity for Mission Impossible 3 if it were re-aired.

First: Friends, it is imperative that you watch and forward this deeply offensive episode to all your friends and relatives. Second: I don't think it matters one bit whether Tom does publicity for this film, as audiences worldwide are obviously going to flock to it for OSCAH-WINNAH PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN. (Having thus been eclipsed by Hoffman in the action genre, very soon thereafter the better part of Cruise's hugely reduced income came from delivering lectures to packed houses on the history of psychiatry, with performances of some of his favorite movie scenes thrown in. His Stefen Djordjevic at the Dayton dinner theater had the whole place weeping, and drew the longest standing ovation in the dinner theater's seven-year history.)


Hilarious article about the Irish Pub craze.
In the last 15 years, Dublin-based IPCo (Irish Pub Company) and its competitors have fabricated and installed more than 1,800 watering holes in more than 50 countries. Guinness threw its weight (and that of its global parent Diageo) behind the movement, and an industry was built around the reproduction of "Irishness" on every continent—and even in Ireland itself. IPCo has built 40 ersatz pubs on the Emerald Isle, opening them beside the long-standing establishments on which they were based.


When you're ready to open, your pub will need a name. The concept is not properly served by joke names like McSwiggins or Filthy McNasty's, but it will thrive with a Gaelic phrase (Dún na nór or An Cruiscín Lán) or one of the hundreds of standard family names provided on the concept site. (A helpful hint: "To create the illusion of history, '& Sons' can be added to the name.") Authenticity, apparently, is key. In answer to the question, "Why is authenticity important?" the concept states that "Sales per square foot in current authentic pubs are exceeding the U.S. average by a factor of two." The Irish Pub Company's stance on this issue is even more enigmatic: "The authenticity of the Irish pub concept stands up to scrutiny—the deeper you dig, the more interesting and attractive it becomes."

This reminds me very much of a project I've been trying to get off the ground for a few years, the Ukrainian pub. It's much like the Irish pub, though instead of Guiness and boxties we'll have vodka and varenikiy. For extra added authenticity, several times a day a gang of Bolsheviks will storm in, smack the customers around, and completely empty the place of food.

Have had little success tempting investors. Please contact if interested.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006


The impression I get from this Ezra Klein piece is that a Newt Gingrich run at the White House is much more plausible than it ever, ever should be. Which is even a tiny little bit.

What I find so extremely, err...tragiridiculironic about the convincing case that Klein lays out is that Gingrich seems to have benefitted from his resignation, in disgrace, in 1998, in that he avoided the GOP's subsequent descent into the blatant, brazen, cartoonish corruption that we've seen during the Bush Administration. Not that the GOP under Gingrich weren't a bunch of corporate whores, but at least they had the decency to try and hide it a little bit.

And friends, if Newt Gingrich does run for president and gets a free pass about his having an affair with a congressional aide during the very time that he was leading impeachment of Bill Clinton for having an affair with an intern, well then I might just have to cover my naked body in cake frosting and goose-step up and down University Avenue clanging a pair of orchestra cymbals and speaking in tongues. And you don't want that. You just don't.


Judy Rosen on Matisyahu:
The truth is, Matisyahu isn't really a novelty—his is the oldest act in the show-business book. Minstrelsy dates back to the very beginnings of American popular music, and Jews have been particularly zealous and successful practitioners of the art. From Irving Berlin's blackface ragtime numbers to Al Jolson's mammy songs—from jazz clarinetist Mezz Mezzrow, who passed as black, to Bob Dylan, who channeled the cadences of black bluesmen, to the Beastie Boys—successive generations of Jewish musicians have used the blackface mask to negotiate Jewish identity and have made some great art in the process.

Indeed, they have. And all art, to some extent, involves the fashioning and wearing of masks, so in this respect Matisyahu is, as Rosen suggests, comfortably within the American pop music continuum. This is aside from the fact that his tunes sound they were pilfered from vintage Casiotone demos and his lyrics strongly indicate that he has not in fact given up smoking dope. Like, a lot.

For me, when I want some brilliant, innovative Jewish music I go for Zorn. Electric Masada and Bar Kokhba are particularly excellent, and about as different from each other as Zorn's work is from the reast of modern jazz. His band's set at the 2002 Earshot Jazz Festival was also one of the most flat-out astounding musical performances I've ever experienced.

Reminds me of some funny: A few years ago Stu and I went to see the Seattle Chamber Players perform with Zorn at Seattle's Benaroya Hall. Almost as great as hearing the music itself was watching the stunned reactions of the staid season ticket holders as Zorn assaulted them with a ten-minute circular breathing free improvisation on alto saxophone. Good times, good times.


Asharq Alawsat interview with Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh.


Al Jazeera:
The United States may want to keep a long-term military presence in Iraq to bolster moderates against extremists in the region and protect oil supplies, the army general overseeing US operations in Iraq has said.

While the Bush administration has downplayed prospects for permanent US bases in Iraq, General John Abizaid told a House of Representatives subcommittee on Tuesday he could not rule that out.

What's funny to me is that these guys think they can create the impression that permanent bases haven't been part of the plan the whole time.


Once again, the Palestinians are victimized by the vicissitudes of Israeli electoral politics. Ehud Olmert has an election to win, so it's time to kick the cousins.

The Daily Star:
Israeli occupation forces smashed into a West Bank jail with tanks and bulldozers on Tuesday, pulling out scores of prisoners and guards and seizing a prominent Palestinian prisoner after a siege that killed three Palestinian and ignited protests across the territories. Ahmad Saadat, accused by Israel of involvement in the 2001 killing of Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi, was among a group of prisoners who surrendered just after nightfall, Palestinian and Israeli sources said.

The coverage of the Israeli siege of the Jericho prison is an excellent miniature of the press coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in general. Little or no background is given, Israeli claims of "responding" in "self-defense" are pretty much unquestioned, and the fact that Israel maintains a brutal and dehumanizing (to both parties) illegal forty-year old military occupation is all but unmentioned.

So who was Rehavem Zeevi, the man whose assassination five years ago necessitated invasion and kidnapping by the Israeli military? Zeevi was a stark-raving racist eliminationist. He referred to Palestinians as "lice" and "a cancer." He, and the Moledet Party which he founded, advocated the forcible transfer of Palestinians out of their homeland and into Jordan. In short, he was Hamas' opposite number, though of course instead of relying on suicide bombers to commit murder on his behalf, he had the IDF.

As vile a person Zeevi was, this of course does not justify his assassination, any more than it justifies ongoing extra-judicial murder by the Israeli occupation forces. I wonder, though, if Israel will have the sense to avoid assassinating any Palestinian leaders as they try a Palestinian for assassinating an Israeli leader.

It's important to understand the way in which Israeli electoral politics have consistently adversely affected the peace process and Palestinian human rights. For example, it's widely accepted that Binyamin Netanyahu beat Shimon Peres in the 1996 election because of a wave of suicide bombings by Hamas (the first time that Hamas began employing this tactic). What is not as widely known is that those suicide bombings were themselves in response to a wave of assassinations of Palestinian leaders ordered by Peres. Why would Peres do such a thing at such a moment? Because he needed to shore up his security cred to protect his right flank from the hardliner Netanyahu. We're seeing this same dynamic repeated now, as Olmert tries to protect his right flank from the same Netanyahu.


William Grieder on the United States' greatest Senator.


I can't think of any single person (other than the president) in more dire need of having his ass fired, and then a long, long rest in a facility where his movements are...constrained, than Don Rumsfeld. His press conferences, even more than the president's, have taken on a pure Alice in Wonderland quality, where one gets the distinct sense that this man, who just happens to control our military, is simply unmoored from anything as quaint as reality.

In a press conference chock full of hallucinogenic flights of fancy, I enjoyed this bit of sunny optimism/dissembling:
Iraqi security forces control the battle space currently for about 60 percent of Baghdad, including areas such as Haifa Street, Sadr City and the airport road.

Yes, bad enough that only 60 percent of Baghdad is under control three years after the invasion. Much, much worse when you consider that Iraqi security forces are deeply infilitrated by Shi'a militiamen, many of whom are effectively under the command of Moqtada al Sadr.

As for Rumsfeld's (and the entire administration water brigade's) insistence that there is no civil war in Iraq, one is forced to ask: What is your definition of a civil war?

You know, it's a good question, and we have been trying to look for a way to characterize what are the ingredients of a civil war, and how would you know if there was one, and what would it look like, and what might be its progression, either up to increased violence or down to less violence. And it's a hard thing to do, and people are analyzing that and thinking about it. And I think until I've had a chance to think more about it and -- I will say, I don't think it'll look like the United States' civil war.

So, basically it comes down to the fact that the insurgents haven't yet designed their own flag. Also, we don't know yet who gets to wear blue and who gets to wear gray.

civil war
A war between factions or regions of the same country

Of course, it's well known that the people who designed the English language hate America, love tyranny, and want the president to fail. So such obviously partisan definitions can be dismissed out of hand while a new definition is cooked up which won't add to the mountainous buffet of evidence of Donald Rumsfeld's criminal incompetence.

I attended a talk by Anthony Shadid a few weeks ago, he suggested that a civil war had begun over a year ago. Given that Shadid a) has spent a great amount of time in Iraq before, during, and after the invasion, b) speaks fluent Arabic, and c) doesn't have a history of bald-faced lying, I'm inclined to go with his assessment. Rumsfeld is right, though. Iraq's civil war won't look like the United States' civil war. It will look more like Lebanon's, where there aren't two sides, there are five. Or more.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006


A revisionist corrective to President Bush's own revisionism on the Iraq War.

Thursday, March 09, 2006


Noonan! pontificating on the self-importance of Hollywood (Very original, Peg):
Will Charlize [Theron] turn into someone who gets the joke, or someone who is the joke?

Is that shiny and beautiful or what?

Tuesday, March 07, 2006


Has died.


Obviously, posting has been very light lately, as I've been extremely busy with school work. Let me just say that the Sadr movement in Iraq is endlessly fascinating. Hope to get back to writing more soon.

Thursday, March 02, 2006


Daniel Pipes:
Iraq's plight is neither a coalition responsibility nor a particular danger to the West....

I cheer the goal of a "free and democratic Iraq," but the time has come to acknowledge that the coalition's achievement will be limited to destroying tyranny, not sponsoring its replacement. There is nothing ignoble about this limited achievement, which remains a landmark of international sanitation. It would be especially unfortunate if aiming too high spoils that attainment and thereby renders future interventions less likely. The benefits of eliminating Saddam's rule must not be forgotten in the distress of not creating a successful new Iraq.

Fixing Iraq is neither the coalition's responsibility nor its burden. The damage done by Saddam will take many years to repair. Americans, Britons, and others cannot be tasked with resolving Sunni-Shiite differences, an abiding Iraqi problem that only Iraqis themselves can address. (emphasis added)

Yes, it would be a shame if we learned from our mistakes and in the future avoided intervening in countries whose societies we don't fully (or nearly) understand on the basis of faulty intelligence. A real shame.

Meanwhile, for those of us in the non-peyote-based community, it's simply morally unserious to suggest that the U.S. has no responsibility for the upheaval in Iraq. The idea that we should be able to pop in, knock off the government, and leave brutalized populations to pick up the pieces without even an "'Ow's your father?" is just daft (ladies and gentlemen, I give you Daniel Pipes). While Sunni-Shia differences may be "abiding," in Iraq, the violence we're seeing now, the explosion of Shia resentment which festered under Saddam's rule, is a direct result of the Bush Gang's post-war indifference and incompetence, which left a security void that Shia militias, ex-Baathists and al Qaedists were all too willing to fill.

It's equally unserious to suggest that the situation in Iraq now, with Islamist militants moving freely in and out of the country, a looming sectarian civil war, and a professed Khomeinist ready to play king-maker if not king, is much preferable to a relatively stable dictatorial regime, however disgusting, or that the former is "not a particular danger to the West." At least that's what the head of Shin Bet says.

And no, I don't wish that Saddam were still in power. What I wish is that the Bush Gang had spent a fraction as much energy managing the reconstruction of Iraq as they have managing public perception of it here at home.

On the other hand, maybe Pipes needs to put in a call to Vic Hanson, who will tell him (probably with many, many references to the Peloponnesian War) that contrary to what his lying eyes are telling him, things are really going swell in Iraq.