Friday, September 28, 2007

Friday Guitar Blogging

Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Blatantly Foolish

This bit from Peter Galbraith's article on how George W. Bush helped establish Iran as the Middle East's new regional hegemon deserves more attention:
"In May 2003, the Iranian authorities sent a proposal through the Swiss ambassador in Tehran, Tim Guldimann, for negotiations on a package deal in which Iran would freeze its nuclear program in exchange for an end to U.S. hostility. The Iranian paper offered "full transparency for security that there are no Iranian endeavors to develop or possess WMD [and] full cooperation with the IAEA based on Iranian adoption of all relevant instruments." The Iranians also offered support for "the establishment of democratic institutions and a non-religious government" in Iraq; full cooperation against terrorists (including "above all, al-Qaeda"); and an end to material support to Palestinian groups like Hamas. In return, the Iranians asked that their country not be on the terrorism list or designated part of the "axis of evil"; that all sanctions end; that the United States support Iran's claims for reparations for the Iran-Iraq war as part of the overall settlement of the Iraqi debt; that they have access to peaceful nuclear technology; and that the United States pursue anti-Iranian terrorists, including "above all" the MEK. MEK members should, the Iranians said, be repatriated to Iran.

Basking in the glory of "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq, the Bush administration dismissed the Iranian offer and criticized Guldimann for even presenting it. Several years later, the Bush administration's abrupt rejection of the Iranian offer began to look blatantly foolish, and the administration moved to suppress the story. Flynt Leverett, who had handled Iran in 2003 for the National Security Council, tried to write about it in the New York Times and found his Op-Ed crudely censored by the National Security Council, which had to clear it. Guldimann, however, had given the Iranian paper to Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, now remembered both for renaming House cafeteria food and for larceny. (As chairman of the House Administration Committee he renamed French fries "freedom fries" and is now in federal prison for bribery.) I was surprised to learn that Ney had a serious side. He had lived in Iran before the revolution, spoke Farsi, and wanted better relations between the two countries. Trita Parsi, Ney's staffer in 2003, describes in detail the Iranian offer and the Bush administration's high-handed rejection of it in his wonderfully informative account of the triangular relationship among the United States, Iran and Israel, Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the United States."

Parsi was quoted in a June 2006 Washington Post article on the Iranian offer:
"Parsi said that based on his conversations with the Iranian officials, he believes the failure of the United States to even respond to the offer had an impact on the government...Iranian officials decided that the United States cared not about Iranian policies but about Iranian power.

The incident "strengthened the hands of those in Iran who believe the only way to compel the United States to talk or deal with Iran is not by sending peace offers but by being a nuisance," Parsi said."

In other words, the aggressive unilateralism of our hardliners strengthened their hardliners. It bears repeating: Here we had Iran offering not just to talk, but even agreeing in advance to the U.S.'s main demands: transparency in Iran's nuclear program, cooperation in Iraqi security and reconstruction, and ending support for terrorism against Israel. Not only didn't the Bush administration pursue it, they didn't even respond. In a presidency almost completely defined by its successive foreign policy blunders, this will surely be remembered as one of the worst.

Monday, September 24, 2007

The New Order

Writing in Salon yesterday, Peter Galbraith goes into great detail about Iran's new role as regional hegemon. The LA Times reported on Mahmoud Ahmedinajad's growing popularity throughout the Middle East, a result of his steadfast opposition to the U.S.'s continuing occupation of Iraq. I think the latter story is very significant in that it suggests the troubling prospect of a scenario in which the U.S. is allied with authoritarian Sunni Arab governments against popular Arab movements increasingly inclined, if not specifically toward Iran, then at least toward the Shi'i ethic of resistance which Ahmedinajad, along with Hizballah's Nasrallah and Muqtada al-Sadr, have come to represent.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

On Tequila

Scott’s liquor blogging got me thinking about one of my own current hobbies: Tequila. As I wrote in comments over there, most of my formative tequila experiences, like probably many people, involved shots/margaritas with Cuervo Gold or worse, and then later, in the morning, writhing in pain in bed, clutching my flaming skull and screaming at god to kill me. A few years ago a buddy of mine brought a bottle of fresh mezcal back from Mexico, and I loved it. In trying to find something like it, I began sampling 100% agave tequilas, and have been a convert ever since. Though I do occasionally enjoy a nice, big margarita (I would not have survived this summer in DC without them) I tend to think that any tequila worth putting in a margarita is better taken neat, in a lowball glass, or, if you're a big fancy-pants, in a snifter.

I generally prefer the blanco (also known as plata, platinum, or silver), clear, unaged tequila. This is where the agave flavor comes through the strongest. I like a few reposados ("rested" in charred oak barrels between two months and a year) and fewer still anejos (aged a least a year), though some connoisseurs insist that the latter represents the height of the tequilero's art. I disagree. While there's no question that quite a few reposados and anejos achieve a very impressive balance of flavors, for me there's nothing like the crisp, peppery finish of a good blanco.

As for brands, my number one fave is El Tesoro de Don Felipe. Interestingly, this bottle is less expensive than some of the other top-shelf brands like Don Julio, Casa Noble, and Herradura, all of which are great tequilas, but, in my opinion, don't come close to El Tesoro's flavor. Even in El Tesoro's anejo, the agave is right up front. A few other good brands to look for are Corralejo, El Charro, and Cazadores.

Irony: A Tool, Not a Raison D'Etre

On their blog, the Bad Plus defend their choice of modern pop and rock cover tunes from the charge of "irony":
"Irony -- and its allies: surrealism, sardonicism, and dementia -- do occasionally play roles in our music, just as it does in the work of many artists we admire. Consider some famous performances of jazz standards: What is more ironic than Thelonious Monk's "Just a Gigolo?" What is more surreal than Duke Ellington's trio version of "Summertime?" What is more sardonic than Charlie Parker's quote of "Country Gardens" at the end of many ballads? And what is more demented than Django Bates' "New York, New York?"

But just like with those artists, irony is just a small part of the story in The Bad Plus. Here's our real story: We love songs. We believe in the power of song. We write songs as well as we can. There is not anything in TBP's repertory that is not based on melody, originals included. Thinking that we are not serious about the melodies we play is incorrect.

Once, a very straight-ahead jazz player came up to us after a gig and said, "You know, I'm surprised! 'Heart of Glass' is actually a good song!" Hell yeah it is."

Hell yeah it is. One of the reasons I think a lot of people find jazz so inaccessible is that it tends to rely on a reportoire of "standards" that were never experienced by modern audiences as popular songs in the first place, and thus provide no entry point for audiences to appreciate what the musician is doing with it. That's why I really like what the Bad Plus does with their choice of "new standards," taking familiar pop songs and recognizing them as compositions worth exploring, (I think the greatest example of a modern artist doing this is probably Hendrix's "Star-Spangled Banner") and why their approach has never struck me as overly ironic. That they get tagged so often as "ironists" says more about critics' inability to approach music on its own terms, and their fear of being seen as "not getting the joke," than about the band.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Friday Guitar Blogging

Jeff Beck.

Let the Outrage Begin

Pop Matters rates the 100 Best Country Music songs. It seems obvious to me that a Hank Williams tune should be at the top, but apparently not.

Don't Let's Stay the Course

Victor Davis Hanson, promoting the carnival shooting game model of anti-terrorism:
"One of the untold stories is just how many of the al Qaeda kingpins who started this war on 9/11 are now dead, arrested, or in hiding. It is not just the likes of Zarqawi or Khalid Sheikh Mohammed or Mohammad Atef or Ramzi Binalshibh who are not longer free or alive. On August 31, the U.S. military announced that the Egyptian and Afghan veteran senior al Qaeda leader Abu Yaqub al-Masri was killed.

I think that this is the same al-Masri whom Sheik Mohammed, in a transcript of his testimony, said was responsible for setting up recruiting protocols for al Qaeda prior to 9/11 in Afghanistan. Although it is taboo to say so, it really is true that Afghan veteran terrorists like al-Masri and Zarqawi did flee from Afghanistan to Iraq where they often ended up dead."

It's not "taboo" to say that Masri and Zarqawi fled from Afghanistan to Iraq, it's just more relevant to point out that they did so because they saw the U.S. invasion of Iraq as a great opportunity to expand their jihad. Yes, they were both eventually killed there, but not before they'd facilitated the arrival, indoctrination, and training of scores of new Salafist mujahideen. I don't think this can be considered a success for the war on terror.

The lesson to be drawn from the "untold story" of the capture or death of various al-Qaeda kingpins (each of which is celebrated in Right Blogistan as proof that we've turned yet another corner) is how little effect each has had on the level of violence in Iraq, or on the growth of al-Qaedism internationally. The simple, unavoidable fact, which has yet to penetrate Hanson's secure bunker of a skull, is that Bush's anti-terrorism strategy is creating terrorists faster that the military can kill them.

Everybody Can Take It Easy, We Got The Toyman

Michael Goldfarb notes the killing of reputed al Qaeda car-bomb specialist Abu Yaqub al-Masri, and links to this wonderful post that I think perfectly captures the deliriously triumphal macho-geek essence of the species warblogger:
"Important that we don't understate how important of a kill this was... if Al-Qa'ida Iraq was structured like the Legion of Doom, this clown would be sitting somewhere between Bizzaro Superman and the Black Manta. I bid a fond farewell to all terrorists, but for this guy I'd be willing to break out the champagne and party poppers, and hire a band to belt out the Axl Rose version of "Knockin' on Heaven's Door"..... all while steely eyed soldiers usher him along to meet Allah."

Yeah, remember when the we got AQI's Lex Luthor, and then the Iraq war was over? That was awesome.

It's great that we've gotten rid of a guy who was blowing up civilians. It's tragic that we created a situation where he could practice and perfect his craft, and teach it to others. Before popping the corks over the death of the Toyman, we should consider that he's created dozens of other Toymen, who will in turn create dozens more.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Steady as a Rock

Jonah Goldberg, on the inconstancy of President Bush's war critics:
"Perhaps the answer is that when it comes to bashing Bush about the war, no accusation is inaccurate -- even if it contradicts all the accusations that came before. Some say it's all about the Israel lobby. Others claim that Bush was trying to avenge his dad. Still others say Bush went to war because God told him to.

Which is it? All of those? Any? It doesn't seem to matter. It's disturbing how many people are willing to look for motives beyond the ones debated and voted on by our elected leaders."

Right, on the other hand, President Bush's justification for invading Iraq has always stayed the same: Saddam has WMD. Or, Saddam has connections to al-Qaeda. Or, Saddam wanted to develop WMD, and might could possibly have had connections to al-Qaeda. Or, we're building democracy in Iraq. Or, now we're fighting al-Qaeda in Iraq so we don't have to fight them here. Or, now we're fighting Iran in Iraq.

Why can't Bush's critics be more consistent?

Redneck Chic

Is there anything more pathetic than the spectacle of the wealthy conservative pundit, that creature of millionaire-funded think tanks, TV studio green rooms, and catered symposia, trying to establish some red-state cred by pretending to be down with redneck culture?

Michael Ledeen:
"Barbara and I went to Indianapolis for a Toby Keith concert, where we partied with something like 25,000 happy rednecks, most of them young, most of them wearing boots and cowboy hats (and cheering Keith's great song "I Should Have Been a Cowboy"). It's a great show, and he's a wonderful performer, not least because of his deeply moving patriotic songs like "American Soldier," "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue," and " The Taliban," etc.

It's great to get out of the Washington culture of narcissism and spend some time with the rednecks, a.k.a. real Americans. And it's simply great, as the encores end, and a downpour of red, white and blue confetti covers the crowd, to see Toby say "don't ever apologize for your patriotism," and then lift the middle finger of his right hand to the skies and say, "F*** 'Em!"

Which, after a week of disgusting anti-Americanism in Washington, nicely summed up our feelings.

You ought to try it. Does wonders for the spirit."

The condescension of Ledeen's little paean should be obvious, as he treats his visit to flyover country as if he had just been swimming with the dolphins ("Does wonders for the spirit"!) There's also a pretty clear racist subtext to his assertion about "real Americans" (Read: white, conservative Americans.) What, Michael, the people who cater your speaking engagements, clean your office, and park your car aren't "real American" enough for you? (I wonder if, when, at long last, his very serious, thoughtful, argument that has never been made in such detail or with such care is finally released, Jonah Goldberg will have anything to say about the tendency of fascist propagandists to locate the authentic soul of the nation among the rural volk, away from the corrupting, cosmopolitan intellectualism of the cities, and, if so, whether this tendency is more characteristic of Democrats or Republicans?)

Bottom line, rednecks and caterers: Whether he considers you a real American or not, Michael Ledeen has no problem with your being sent to fight and die in his next war.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Dream Palace of the Neocons

Fouad Ajami yesterday in Tigris Beat magazine, err, the Wall Street Journal, remembering Sheikh Abdul Sattar Abu Reisha:
“This was the dashing tribal leader who emerged as the face of the new Sunni accommodation with American power, and who was assassinated by al Qaeda last week. I had not been ready for his youth (born in 1971), nor for his flamboyance. Sir David Lean, the legendary director of "Lawrence of Arabia," would have savored encountering this man. There was style, and an awareness of it, in Abu Reisha: his brown abaya bordered with gold thread, a neat white dishdasha, and a matching headdress.”

The air was heavy with cardamom and fatoush, the palms beat gently in the breeze...or was it my heart? The rest of Ajami’s piece shows Abu Reisha as someone who had mastered the art of telling Americans exactly what they wanted to hear, and Ajami as someone completely committed to playing along. Given Ajami’s reputation as an analyst and interpreter of high-flown Arab rhetoric, it’s astonishing how credulous he becomes when that rhetoric accords with his own political beliefs. As tragic as Abu Reisha’s death is, at least we’ve now been spared the spectacle of conservative pundits inevitably turning against him after it finally became apparent to them, long after it had become apparent to everybody else, that Abu Reisha actually had his own political agenda, and it was quite different from theirs.

I should mention that Ajami’s The Foreigner’s Gift is actually a pretty good book on Iraq. Ajami writes about the various elements of Iraqi society, particularly modern Iraqi Shia history and political thought, with an elegance and depth that is to be found nowhere else among the various experts upon whom neoconservatives usually rely to consecrate their aggression. That Ajami employs this elegance in the service of a fantastically simplistic and transparently self-serving thesis, Iraqis stupidly refused America’s gift of freedom, is unfortunate, but it’s also key to understanding Ajami’s role in the neoconservative vanguard.

In his most popular work, Dream Palace of the Arabs, Ajami criticized modern Arab writers and intellectuals for having created a fictional sense of their own modernity and secularism, which Ajami claims has promoted a chauvinistic and conspiratorial worldview throughout the Arab world. Consider this quote from the book:

“In an Arab political history littered with thwarted dreams, little honor would be extended to pragmatists who knew the limits of what could and could not be done. The political culture of nationalism reserved its approval for those who led ruinous campaigns in pursuit of impossible quests.”

Heh, indeed, those deluded Arabs and their ruinous campaigns in pursuit of impossible quests. Luckily, we in the modern, civilized, freedom-loving West have abandoned such things. The ramifications of this kind of analysis should be clear: We don’t really have to listen to what Arabs say, they’re dishonest with themselves and with us, and thus we can ignore their protestations and warnings as we set about remaking their societies.

I don’t particularly disagree with Ajami that much of modern Arab political and intellectual discourse has been constrained within a series of rhetorical edifices, nationalist mythologies, and self-justifying victimization narratives. I disagree, however, that there is anything profoundly or uniquely "Arab" about this. The construction of rhetorical edifices is not just a feature of Arab politics; it is a feature of politics. The fact that Ajami’s quote above could serve as an accurate description of George W. Bush’s Middle East adventurism bears this out. Fouad Ajami has been a tireless propagandist for that adventurism, and, I would argue, given that he’s one of the very few neoconservative writers who possesses more than basic knowledge of the region, an invaluable one. He has consistently employed his literary and rhetorical skills to help the neocons construct and maintain a picture of the Middle East, and of America, that is a fantasy in the service of folly. It’s deeply ironic that, having notably attempted to deconstruct the Arabs’ "dream palace," Ajami has so enthusiastically laid stone for the neocons’ own.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

The Israel Bubble

Via Ezra Klein , Tony Karon has an excellent, detailed post that gets at a lot of what I've been thinking about the tendency of some liberals to damn Walt and Mearsheimer with faint criticism, and to resist engaging with the actual facts of Israel's occupation and colonization of Palestinian land.
[Mearsheimer and Walt] share with Jimmy Carter that ability to call forth a rather unfortunate habit among sections of America’s liberal punditocracy, in which sharp and fundamental criticisms of Israel must be discredited and squashed, even at the cost of the cool reason for which the pundits in question are usually known. To put it unkindly, when Israel is under the spotlight, many liberal commentators feel compelled to embarrass themselves in its defense.

I noticed this phenomenon last year when Jimmy Carter made the entirely valid comparison between Israel’s West Bank regime and the apartheid system that prevailed in South Africa until 1994. That prompted Michael Kinsley — a well-known and generally smart liberal pundit — to denounce Carter’s comparison in an op-ed that only served to show how little he knew about either the Middle East or apartheid South Africa. Clearly, though, the idea that Israel was committing crimes equivalent to apartheid clearly made Kinsley so uncomfortable that he felt compelled to blurt out something — anything, really, to negate Carter, and make the discomfort he caused go away. (I critiqued his lame response to Carter in an earlier post.)

This phenomenon is reflective of a trend that has been confirmed to me anecdotally dozens of times, both in the U.S. and at home in South Africa, where some Jewish liberals of faultlessly progressive politics on every other issue turn into raving tribal belligerents of the Ariel Sharon hue when the conversation turns to Israel.

Karon takes on David Remnick's confounding snipery in last week's New Yorker:
In response to Mearsheimer and Walt, New Yorker editor Remnick offers a fresh specimen of the denial pathology.

What is most strking about his piece, however, is that it is more of a kvetch, designed to discredit M&W in the eyes of New Yorker readers, than a serious engagement with their argument.


While denying that M&W are anti-Semites, Remnick nonetheless questions the bona fides of their intervention. His message to his readers is, don’t worry about what these guys are saying, they’re just grinding an axe. Wink. “Taming the influence of lobbies, if that is what Mearsheimer and Walt desire, is a matter of reforming the lobbying and campaign-finance laws,” but he suggests that, intead, the authors are a product of a polarized political moment, reducing all ills to a single cause — the Israel lobby. But Remnick hasn’t honestly engaged with their arguments aside from clucking over the settlements: Does Remnick agree, for example, that the U.S. should leave Israel no choice but to withdraw its West Bank settlements, by threatening to cut off the spigot if it doesn’t stop and reverse its colonization of the West Bank? Should the U.S. not use its considerable power over Israel to march it back to its 1967 borders? That, really, is what’s at issue here.


But he’s substantially correct in challenging the M&W idea that the lobby is singularly responsible for policing America’s public discourse on Israel. After all, nobody asked Remnick to write these pieces. Nor did anyone tell Kinsley to try and shoot down Jimmy Carter’s apartheid argument. Just as important as challenging the Israel lobby is drawing attention to the deep-rooted tropes of knee-jerk defensiveness in sections of the liberal-Jewish intelligentsia that allows them to avert their eyes and cling to fantasy when Israel is an agent of oppression.

Indeed. Just as the U.S.-Israel special relationship is an anomaly in terms of Mearsheimer and Walt's realist model, so, I think, reflexive support for Israel is an anomaly in the worldview of many otherwise liberal pundits. Even recognizing that opinions and degrees of support vary among this group, I don't think there's any question that the general and continuing failure of the liberal punditocracy to deal honestly with the consequences of the U.S.'s unquestioning support for the Israeli occupation is a critical component of the lobby's efforts to keep that support coming.

UPDATE: In regard to the broader mainstream media's role in maintaining a state of denial about the Israeli occupation, last Tuesday the Washington Post ran an editorial offering Israel's detainee policy as a model for how the U.S. could "fight terrorism without sacrificing due process." I'm at a loss to really convey the Alice in Wonderland quality of the Post's description of the various rights and privileges enjoyed by Palestinian detainees, which is utterly at odds with the vast majority of reportage on the subject. The "due process" afforded Palestinians, who are rounded up on the flimsiest charges and whose detention can be renewed indefinitely, is so superficial as to be meaningless. There are literally thousands of Palestinian men who spent the better part of their young adulthoods in Israeli detention, essentially for the crime of being a Palestinian nationalist. Do you think this has made them less radical, or more radical? (Unfortunately, I think Israel's detainee policy already does serve as a model for the U.S.) But hey, it's in the Washington Post, so it must be true.

Ironically, or maybe just sadly, on the same day, the Post published this story, entitled "Persistence of Myths Could Alter Public Policy Approach." Heh.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Friday Guitar Blogging

Apropos of my review of the new Van Halen biography at TAP: Eddie Van Halen