Friday, May 13, 2005

Holy See, Batman! The new inquisitor is an American!

(A brief diversion from the emphasis on American politics and culture that has characterized The Reaction of late. But this is truly important stuff, and I hope you give it a read.)

Needless to say, I haven't written much on the papacy since my analysis of Cardinal Ratzinger's win (and emergence as Pope Benedict XVI) -- although I intend to write something substantial on the so-called "dictatorship of relativism" in the not-too-distant future. But there's been some important news out of the Vatican today, and it deserves mention:

Benedict XVI (B16) has announced his first two major decisions as pope:

First, he will speed up the process to beatify his predecessor, John Paul II, by waiving the mandatory five-year waiting period before that process can begin. Given the outpouring of love for John Paul in the days leading up to his death, not to mention the subsequent mourning, this would seem to be a no-brainer. As a Canadian, the first equivalent that came to mind was the decision to fast-track Wayne Gretzky into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Gretzky was the best player of all time (or at least one of the top three or four, if you include Mario Lemieux, Bobby Orr, and Gordie Howe), and John Paul was at least the most important and influential pope of recent times -- and we have only just begin to feel the long-term impact of his papacy. It's not for me to say whether or not John Paul should be recognized as a saint. Like the recent papal election, the process of beatification, a step towards sainthood, will be somewhat political -- very much reflective of how the Church views itself and of how it wants itself to be viewed. And, obviously, it wants to tap into John Paul's immense popularity among the faithful (especially among the young) and to celebrate his many accomplishments, not to mention his alleged miracles (a requirement for sainthood).

See my earlier posts on John Paul (here, here, and here). In the end, this move is hardly a surprise, though for my part I think that what is needed most is a more detached and balanced evaluation of his papacy, not fast-tracked sainthood. Although I celebrated John Paul's extraordinary faith and good works in those earlier posts, I remain somewhat ambiguous regarding his papacy as a whole. Much of what he did, such as his stand against Communism and his promotion of social justice in developing parts of the world, was inspiring, but so much else, including his absolutist "culture of life," was counter-productive, if not outright destructive.

Second, and much more relevant to our present concerns, he named Archbishop William Levada of San Francisco his successor as prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (formerly the Holy Office, i.e., the Inquisition), the office that enforces theological orthodoxy throughout the Church. It was notoriously authoritarian and conservative under Ratzinger, and is likely to remain so under Levada. According to the Times, "[h]e is... a theologian who has staunchly defended church teaching on many of the social issues confronting the church, including abortion, homosexuality, euthanasia and the role of women," and he has remained staunchly conservative even while heading the Church in two of America's most liberal cities, Portland and San Francisco.

For an excellent (and quite positive) overview of Levada's background, including his experience working for the Congregation under Ratzinger, see John Allen's piece in the National Catholic Reporter. Writes Allen: "What Levada does seem to bring is intellectual preparation and life experience well suited for the challenge of heading the doctrinal office, plus a pre-existing relationship with the pope."

(Allen is a must-read for anyone who wants to follow happenings at the Vatican, and this wide-ranging piece is a useful look at the early days of B16's papacy in general.)

It's obviously too early to determine what Levada's appointment means. It's hardly surprising that B16 would appoint a theological conservative with whom he is familiar, if not friendly. Just as Ratzinger was ready to step into JP2's shoes, so is Levada ready to step into Ratzinger's. What is interesting is that, as Allen argues, his "appointment to the CDF is tantamount to a vote of confidence, in a certain sense, for American Catholicism," as he will be the highest-ranking American in the Vatican's history. Given the state of Catholicism in America -- the sex-abuse scandals, debate over contentious social issues like abortion and contraception, etc. -- Levada'a appointment very much reflects B16's intention to turn much of the Church's attention back to the West (and therefore, to an extent, away from JP2's global evangelism), where secularism and the "dictatorship of relativism" have, in his view, taken firm hold. The cardinal-electors voted overwhelmingly for a European pope with outspoken views on the West, and Levada, B16's former colleague, should be able to speak to American Catholics in a way that has eluded the Vatican thus far. This could be an interesting addition to America's raging culture wars. Although the Church will continue, officially, to be on the conservative side of those wars, Levada at least seems to understand America's social, political, and moral landscape.

Finally, at a meeting with foreign delegates to the Holy See, B16 mentioned certain countries (left unnamed) with which the Vatican does not maintain diplomatic relations. He was likely referring to China and Vietnam, but perhaps also to Saudi Arabia. Given the worries that B16 would be a narrow-minded pope focused on fortifying orthodoxy and turning the Church into a "creative minority," this is clearly a good sign. Maybe B16 will end up defying expectations by reaching out to the broader diversity that makes up the Church.

(Back to politics and culture later tonight or tomorrow.)

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Bolton update: Almost the right thing isn't good enough

Courage? Is there any courage in the room? Posted by Hello

With a 10-8 party-line vote, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has sent John Bolton's nomination to the floor. But it did so without actually endorsing Bolton. As the Times reports, "[t]he highly unusual move was only the third time in 22 years that the committee has sent a nomination to the Senate without a favorable recommendation". Following up yesterday's post, all four Republican moderates -- Chafee, Hagel, Murkowski, and Voinovich -- voted for Bolton. But Voinovich "broke with the party and denounced [Bolton], calling him 'the poster child of what someone in the diplomatic corps should not be'". I'm impressed that Voinovich summoned enough courage to break with Republican orthodoxy -- rare these partisan days -- but why did he vote for someone he denounced? Shouldn't it have been a 9-9 tie?

And this just makes me sick. Voinovich: "What message are we sending to the world community? We have sought to appoint an ambassador to the United Nations who himself has been accused of being arrogant, of not listening to his friends, of acting unilaterally, and of bullying those who do not have ability to properly defend themselves. Those are the very characteristics that we are trying to dispel."

The Times goes on: "In deciding not to block the nomination in committee, Mr. Voinovich also appears to have bowed to pressure from the White House, which has said for weeks that Mr. Bolton deserved a vote by the full Senate. Mr. Voinovich said he was willing to 'let the Senate work its will,' but said he would plead with colleagues 'to consider the decision and its consequences carefully'."

Regardless, it seems unlikely that Bolton's nomination will die on the floor. With Republicans in firm control of the Senate, he'll soon be the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., warts and all. (Unless Voinovich's flimsy courage somehow rubs off on a few others.)

Feel free to shudder.


Elsewhere, the Times is reporting that moderate Republican are feeling intensifying pressure in the Senate:

"The unusual pact that permitted the nomination of [Bolton] to go forward on Thursday without the support of a crucial Republican senator has exposed, in a very raw and public way, the extreme pressures facing Republican moderates in a Senate that is increasingly dominated by conservatives."

With an upcoming vote on reforming Senate rules to do away with the filibuster (thereby paving the way for confirmation of Bush's more extremist judicial nominees -- including, soon, one or more Supreme Court nominees), this development is especially troubling. The pressure will be on moderate and independent-minded Republicans -- Chafee, Hagel, and Voinovich, along with John McCain of Arizona, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, and Olympia Snow and Susan Collins of Maine -- to stand firm. The Democrats will fight a noble battle, but they just don't have the numbers.

Still shuddering?

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Thursday, May 12, 2005

Sign of the Apocalypse #5: Will that be saline or silicone with your existential crisis?

This one was suggested to me by friend, colleague, and fellow blogger Vivek Krishnamurthy (see link, right). It's my first non-celebrity Sign, but like celebrity-worship and media sensationalism it's a symptom of the degradation of our civilization, with its obsessive focus on the body (and the material) as the defining quality of the human being. They're all different sides of the same phenomenon. This one's much more serious than the other four, however.

Here are the key passages from an article in today's Times:

Such is life for shoppers who have faced the double-edge scalpel of plastic surgery, which has allowed hundreds of thousands of American women to have the cleavage they deem ideal, though they no longer fit the svelte silhouette dictated by many fashion houses.

In regions where breast augmentation is most popular, like Southern California, Texas and Florida, the wave of implants is skewing the selection of designer clothes sold at some stores, favoring sizes and styles more ample on top and creating a new market for alterations...

Surgery for breast enlargement (including breast lifts) has grown by 257 percent since 1997, reaching 432,403 patients last year, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. Saline implants, filled with salt water, have largely replaced silicone in the United States. Last month a committee of medical experts advised the Food and Drug Administration to allow the return of silicone, which was never conclusively linked to health problems. The federal agency has not yet decided whether to follow that advice.

In total surgeons have performed about of 1.3 million augmentations in the last decade (including repeat customers), not enough to have a broad impact on the American clothing market in a population of 149 million women. But the implant trend has affected the styles sold in designer boutiques in certain cities and regions where surgeries are most popular. For example a woman who was a standard Size 6 before surgery - a 34.5-inch bust, 26-inch waist and 36.5-inch hips - and whose implants increase her bust by two cup sizes, would need a Size 10 dress. But because she remains slim through the waist and hips, the dress would have to be altered.

So. It boils down to this: More and more women are getting breast implants, but many of those implants so distort the body that designer clothes no longer fit properly. So those same women often need to send their designer clothes for alteration. One woman quoted in the story, a 30-year old Houston marketing executive who shops at Prada, had a a breast augmentation that increased her cup size to 34F, and now she needs to have her clothes tailored accordingly. "I'm bigger around the top, but I'm small everywhere else," she says.

Where to begin with this madness? Breast implants? Well, it's unfortunate that so many women feel that they need to have implants. That itself is sad, but it says something about our society. No, not just that men look for women with big breasts (some do, some don't) and that women must respond accordingly if they hope to attract attention. As much as women feel pressure to look a certain way, and as much as there is more pressure on women than on men to look that way, I would argue that many men are similarly obsessive about their bodies and that this obsession is increasing. Anyone who's been to a gym lately knows what I'm talking about.

What it says to me is more existential: Pardon the gross generalization, but many men and women have nothing but their bodies to provide them with any sort of meaning. It all comes down to the death of God (as Nietzsche understood it), to which I would add the pursuit of perfection. Human beings seem to desire perfection. Some seek perfection in a god (God), and the continuing power of religion, especially in the United States, the most materialistic of all societies, seems to reflect some sort of response to rampant materialism. But religion has lost its hold in the modern (and postmodern) world, with the result that many people have been left without any alternative source of meaning. And when perfection can no longer be found in the divine, given its absence, it can only be found in either the social or the individual. Which is why the two most powerful political forces of modernity have been liberalism (the primacy of the individual) and nationalism (the primacy of the nation). One is liberal, the other collectivist, but both are this-worldly pursuits of perfection: the perfection of the individual self or the perfection of the nation (which is why nationalism often assumes the form of racism/ethnocentrism, with its division between perfect "us" and imperfect "them"). Where the latter may lead to war and genocide in the name of perfecting the nation (Nazi Germany, Serbia, etc.), the former, far less noxious, may lead to the pursuit of bodily perfection through obsessive dieting, exercising, plastic surgery, and the like. The modern world may have been a battleground upon which the forces of liberty and the forces of collectivism clashed (and continue to clash), but both liberal individualism and national collectivism are responses to the absence of God.

Those 432,403 patients are just looking for a way out of their existential crisis. It's just a shame some of them think they have to look like porn stars.


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Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Bolton update: Will a courageous Republican please stand up, please stand up?

The Bolton vote in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is coming Thursday. The Times reports that Bolton has indicated, in a response to a written question from John Kerry (who strongly opposes his nomination), that a policy-maker should be able to "state his own reading of the intelligence". Uh, really? Is it really for the U.N. ambassador to interpret intelligence reports? Is it even for the president to interpret them? Isn't that what experienced intelligence analysts are for? Oh, except when they contradict policy-makers with the facts. Remember that the truth holds no place in Bush's faith-based reality.

Now it's all up to the moderate Republicans to do the right thing. The White House, however, is lobbying hard for a straight party-line vote to send the nomination to the floor. Indeed, the Post reports, one of the moderates, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, has stated that he will vote for Bolton. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska will likely do so, too. Which means it's going to come down to George Voinovich of Ohio, whose last-minute reservations prompted this three-week delay. He has yet to make up his mind, he claims. We shall see. I suspect the White House will get its way. For more analysis, see here.

As I've argued here before (here, here, here, and here -- wow, I dislike this guy!), this is an incredibly important vote. It's time for Bolton to go down. But who will have the courage to cross the aisle?

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A thoughtful reply to my Strauss posts

A fellow blogger, Orthos Logos, has written a thoughtful reply to my two Strauss ("What it means to be a Straussian") posts (here and here). Check out his full reply, as well as his blog generally, but let me quote a few passages here, unedited:

"What really irks people about Strauss, I think, is precisely this simultaneously unpretentious and exquisitely ambitious theme: he forces the question of the truth of our way of life. This is nothing other than the Socratic question, which one way or another most people are trying to avoid -- and often as not for reasons that are understandable (not to say necessary), and which themselves form the subject of political philosophy from Plato on down the line. Like Socrates and Christ, Strauss insists that only truth sets us free, and is reviled by those who would rather shuffle along unthinkingly -- never a small group in any society, and one that in ours includes the vast majority of the 'elite'.

"I strongly agree with Michael's account of the results of a Straussian education. The way I would put it is that Straussianism is defined more than anything else by an awareness of the fundamental issues or alternatives facing man, and the dogged pursuit of the truth thereon, chiefly aided by the art of reading the great books that map out this territory. (In other words, what is most important about Strauss is nothing unique to him at all, but just a recovery of liberal education which has always been what it is.) This is an education that liberates one from the shackles of one's day and age and opens up the realm of possibilities facing man as man. It is a chance, if any chance may be had, to reach for true self-knowledge and knowledge of what is."

Extremely well put -- certainly not mere "ramblings," as he suggests. Orthos Logos and I obviously have our differences, as you'll see when you look at his site, but on this issue we have much in common, and this is clearly a case of the blogosphere allowing different people from different backgrounds to share their experiences and perspectives. Sure, it can be a bit crazy out here, what with all the self-importance and extremism, but there are indeed signs of intelligent life to be discovered.

Thanks for the kind words, Orthos Logos. I would be happy to hear what others have to say about Strauss. Keep the comments coming.

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Making self-esteem fun: Oprah's chartreuse-green pop-religion

True believers. Posted by Hello

I just published a post on Oprah -- scroll down or click here. But this article on Oprah's recent appearance in Washington on her "Live Your Best Life" tour has forced me to do some quick re-thinking. Towards the end of my earlier post, I acknowlege that Oprah likely does more good than harm. I'll stick with that assessment (because the underlying message is still a positive one), but these little nuggets stand out:
  • "Your money buys access to 'The Personal Growth Center' with interactive demonstrations, self-esteem building exercises, lunch and Oprah sharing life lessons while answering audience questions."
  • "[O]n tour, Winfrey delivers another message: It is much more important that people connect with themselves and let everything else flow from there. And if she can help make that happen, be a conduit -- in a chartreuse-green Valentino jacket with a belted snakeskin accent at the waist, at that tiny, tiny waist -- well, then that's just one more detail on her journey."
  • "Inside, women mill around the booths. There's the 'Every Woman Is Beautiful' display by Dove and onstage presentations like 'Making Fitness Fun' and 'The Importance of Me Time'."
  • After she recites Maya Angelou's syrupy "Phenomenal Woman": "The crowd, on its feet, blisses out. In this moment, what they say to themselves, what they know for sure is she's talking about me... The women perhaps cry in ways different than they thought they would before the 'Live Your Best Life' tour."

Yup, it's pop-religion all right. Ew.

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War is (financial) hell

Alarm bells. The Washington Post reports:

The Senate gave final passage yesterday to an $82 billion emergency war-spending bill, sending President Bush a measure that will push the cost of the Iraq invasion well past $200 billion.

Even with such large, unanticipated expenditures, Army officials and congressional aides say more money will be needed as early as October. The Army Materiel Command, the Army's main logistical branch, has put Congress on notice that it will need at least two more emergency "supplemental" bills just to finance the repair and replacement of Army equipment. By 2010, war costs are likely to exceed half a trillion dollars, according to nonpartisan congressional researchers...

The overwhelming vote and the desultory debate over the mounting cost of the war in Iraq belied concerns that the war is taking a toll on both the U.S. Treasury and the military's efforts to retool for the future. For fiscal 2005, the Pentagon has now been allocated about $100 billion for war costs, 45 percent more than last year. That total is nearly 30 percent of the $350 billion deficit the federal government is projected to run this year.

With the president's signature, the government will have allocated $350.6 billion for war-related spending since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the Congressional Research Service estimates. Since 2003, Congress has given the Defense Department $183 billion for Iraq, while appropriating an additional $25 billion to other government agencies operating in Iraq, such as the State Department, for a total of $208 billion, according to the CRS. During last year's presidential campaign, the Bush team excoriated Democratic challenger John F. Kerry for asserting that the war would cost $200 billion.

An additional $74 billion has been appropriated for Afghanistan. Still more has been spent on enhanced security and other military operations that stemmed from the 2001 attacks.

So Lawrence Lindsay, fired White House economic advisor, was right. More than right. What was it Paul Wolfowitz said about the war more or less paying for itself?

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Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Thou shalt have no other gods before Oprah (and maybe Dr. Phil)!

But graven images are fine. In fact, the more the merrier.

No, no -- I'm not going to place Oprah among the Signs of the Apocalypse. To be sure, there's a good deal I dislike about her -- such as her ubiquitous cult of personality, sustained by what must be a massive, I-am-the-lord-thy-favourite-TV-personality ego (uh, who always appears on the cover of her eponymous magazine?), her everywoman I'm-just-like-you-so-follow-me pretension (uh, isn't she, like, one of the richest people in America?), her claim to literary taste (uh, who is she exactly to determine the enduring quality of a book?), and at least one unfortunate product of her celebrity seed (uh, didn't she spawn Dr. Phil?). But there is a case to be made for her, and that case is made in today's Washington Post by columnist Eugene Robinson, who claims that Oprah leads what amounts to a new religion, exemplified by her 2005 "Live Your Best Life" tour:

Oprah's great gift, and the foundation of her lay ministry, is her understanding that even women who have enjoyed great success in their personal and professional lives can still struggle to find meaning and fulfillment, and that they can learn from Oprah's own search for the same things.

Oprah gets fat, Oprah goes on a diet, Oprah loses the weight, Oprah gains it back, Oprah loses it again, maybe this time for good. Oprah fights an ongoing battle with her hair. Oprah's relationship with her significant other seems to lack something, since she and Steadman never get married, but she hangs in there with him anyway. Oprah has a best friend, Gayle, who sticks with her through everything. Oprah makes charitable gifts. Oprah promotes books, mostly by women writers or with strong female characters, many of them difficult books that offer not comfort but more questions.

Fair enough. Shall I mention, however, that tickets to the feel-good shows of her tour cost at least US$185? Is that important? No, maybe not. So what if most people will only ever be able to admire (worship?) her from afar, through the detached medium of television?

Despite my unavoidable skepticism, for I am skeptical of all such pop-religions, I do appreciate that many people out there, and not just women, "struggle to find meaning and fulfillment" in a world that seems increasingly devoid of either. Modernity has witnessed the breakdown of traditional religious institutions and the concomitant deification of the autonomous individual -- a development itself torn asunder by postmodernism's reckless de-deification of the autonomous individual (and all such truths). Simone Weil captured this existential phenomenon with the term "rootlessness," and it is fair to say, I think, that many of us feel somehow rootless, unable to connect with anything beyond ourselves (if even ourselves). This is how the Japanese writer Fumiko Enchi put it so eloquently in her beautiful short story "The Flower-Eating Crone": "When people no longer have any impact on the world around them, when they can no longer move forward, perhaps the only way they can continue living is to direct their gaze down into their own psyche --either that, or else, digging out old memories, to look back at their past." This is precisely what has made Oprah what she is.

Yes, Oprah offers the ready-made therapeutic band-aid so characteristic of pop-psychology. However, in the sense that she gives people hope, in the sense that she helps people build self-respect, believe in themselves, and deal more effectively and compassionately with the world around them, in the sense that she acts as a role model to rootless people searching for some way to live healthy, meaningful lives, I'm not sure anymore that that's such a problem. In fact, despite my continuing resistance to her annoying cult of personality, I can finally admit that she does more good than harm (and that much of the harm is already built into our culture).

But Dr. Phil? That's truly unforgivable.

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Witchcraft and child abuse in Hackney (2005)

An astonishing story that I read today in The Times (U.K.):

According to reports, an unnamed 8-year old Angolan girl (now 10) in London’s East End borough of Hackney was accused by a boy, perhaps her cousin (no one’s quite sure, though all the characters in this horrible story seem to be related), of being a witch – that is, of having ndoki, or being in a witch-like state of possession. She was subsequently subjected to 15 months of daily torture by her aunt, who had brought her to England from Angola in 2002 and who was pretending to be her mother (her real parents likely died in Angola), and various other relatives. Sometime during the period of abuse, she was stuffed in a laundry bag and almost dumped in a canal. The abuse went largely unnoticed by teachers, social workers, and neighbours, and the girl was only rescued when street wardens found her with facial injuries.

Key passages from the story:

A GIRL aged 8 was stuffed into a bag after being denounced as a witch and was moments from being drowned in a canal by her family, a court was told yesterday. She had been starved, beaten, cut with a knife and had chilli peppers rubbed in her eyes in the plot to kill her, it was said…

Now aged 10, she attended a school in Hackney, but had considerable periods of absence. It was only after a medical examination in January 2004 that the extent of her injuries were found. She had scars on her face, one 3 cm deep, and injuries consistent with being hit with a belt buckle and stabbed with the tip of a knife. The aunt was arrested. Ms Kisanga is charged with child cruelty and conspiracy to murder.

Mr Pinto, 33, is charged with aiding and abetting child cruelty. Kiwonde Kiese, 21, Mr Pinto’s girlfriend, is charged with aiding and abetting child cruelty. The aunt, 38, faces five counts of child abuse and one of conspiracy to murder. She is also accused of wilfully illtreating and assaulting the girl.

All four deny the charges and blame each other, claiming that they did not know of the attacks. The trial continues.

Said the prosecutor, Patricia May: “There’s a feeling that in Britain in 2005… no adult would believe it.” Well, believe it. This stuff goes on right under the noses of our eyes-wide-shut moral complacency. Let’s hope the accused get what they deserve. And that the poor girl can somehow lead a healthy, happy life after recovering from her living nightmare.

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Monday, May 09, 2005

Sign of the Apocalypse #4: Paris Hilton, American princess?

Duh... Posted by Hello

Okay, way too easy and way too obvious. I couldn't resist. From a recent interview with AP (with real-time commentary by The Reaction):

AP: What's hot right now in entertainment? What TV shows do you watch? What music are you listening to?
PH: I only watch The Simple Life [episodic Signs of the Apocalypse, with or without Nicole]. I don't have time to watch anything else. I like 50 Cent [strike one!], Maroon 5 [strike two!], Britney Spears [strike three! yer out!].

AP: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
PH: I don't know. Married to my boyfriend with two kids and a house [yeah, right]. Still acting and doing stuff [acting?!].
AP: What kind of wife would you be?
PH: A good one [uh-huh]. I'd cook and clean [and make home movies for easy internet downloading].

AP: Why are you so popular?
PH: I don't know, because of who I am [a blithering idiot with way too much inherited money and unwarranted fame]. I'm not like anybody else [phew!]. I'm like an American princess [which is why America's a republic].
AP: What would you be like if you were - I don't know - Paris Smith?
PH: I'd be the same [just not a media whore]. Maybe I'd be a veterinarian [don't you have to go to school for that?].
AP: In your career, what are you most afraid of happening?
PH: I don't know. Nothing [is going on in my brain].
AP: Nothing? What about in your personal life?
PH: I don't know. Death [oooh!].
AP: Why? What's so scary about death?
PH: Because I don't know what happens.

She doesn't know much, does she? But she's soooo deep!

But, once again, what's worse, the shallow phenomenon known as Paris Hilton, soon to burn out for good, or the usual fawning and groping of entertainment reporters who sustain themselves by sucking at the teat of celebrity-worship?

Enough said.

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Dobbs, Shmobbs: Xenophobia on CNN

Do you ever watch CNN? Do you ever watch Lou Dobbs? Even a snippet? Do you ever wonder what the hell he's on about? I mean, with all his talk, over and over and over, of outsourcing sending good ol' American jobs overseas to undeserving, good-for-nothing foreigners, of hordes of undeserving, good-for-nothing foreigners swarming over the borders to take good ol' American jobs from good ol' Americans, of undeserving, good-for-nothing foreigners -- now illegal aliens! -- stealing jobs and public finances from good ol' Americans and otherwise destroying America as we know it? Does his Americanism shtick just make you want to puke, or perhaps even destroy your TV set in a fit of rage over how this idiot got his own show in the first place, and why CNN, supposedly the anti-Fox, allows him to go on TV every evening to spew his moronic, Pat Buchananite xenophobia?

Then check out Tim Goodman's latest in the San Francisco Chronicle. Key passage:

And now Dobbs is running amok inciting the nation about undocumented immigrants while CNN chooses to do nothing about his fear-mongering. Gone are the business stories. Now Dobbs is an issue guy -- long before CNN forced perfectly good news anchors like Aaron Brown to become really good feature story narrators, Dobbs already had his single-item newscast. And that item was the influx of foreigners. Undocumented immigrants. "Broken borders," as his graphics read. Or America under siege from Mexicans. The man has immigration on his mind in the worst way, and CNN is letting him scare the bejesus out of the red states with nary a concern that he may have abandoned his anchor chair for a bully pulpit.

Plus, what's happened to Dave Chappelle?

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North Korea: What "nightmare scenario"?

Yes, this is indeed where our attention should be:

On CNN's Late Edition, Mohamed ElBaradei, Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said that North Korea may already have as many as five or six nuclear bombs, and the Pentagon announced last Friday that North Korea may be preparing to test one of those devices. Said ElBaradei: "I think that test could open a Pandora's box, frankly. I do not know what will happen afterwards... I do not know how sophisticated the North Koreans are with regard to conducting a test without radiological fallout. But clearly there would be a lot of insecurity fallout... I think everybody today should be calling Pyongyang trying to persuade Kim Jong Il not to go ahead with such a test." CNN reports a potential "nightmare scenario" here, along with updates on both North Korea and Iran.

So what was that about Paula Abdul again?

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Robin W. Hood: The Krugman perspective

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman's tireless campaign to expose the lies, hypocrisies, and inconsistencies of the Bush Administration, not least of the Bush Administration's class-warfare masquerading as economic "policy" (and I use the word advisedly), is, well, occasionally tiresome. Perhaps more so to me, an ardent non-economist, than to his fellow number-crunchers, but, in general, I just don't seem to share his remorseless pessimism. But let me give him his due. He's almost always on the right side of the issues, his analyses of the issues are undeniably profound, and, given the innumerable lies, hypocrisies, and inconsistencies of the Bush Administration, his tirelessness is nothing if not admirable.

In today's column, which deserves particular note, Krugman links Bush's tax cuts and Social Security privatization plan (i.e., future benefit cuts for Social Security recipients), and puts them in remarkable perspective:

Let's consider the Bush tax cuts and the Bush benefit cuts as a package. Who gains? Who loses?

Suppose you're a full-time Wal-Mart employee, earning $17,000 a year. You probably didn't get any tax cut. But Mr. Bush says, generously, that he won't cut your Social Security benefits.

Suppose you're earning $60,000 a year. On average, Mr. Bush cut taxes for workers like you by about $1,000 per year. But by 2045 the Bush Social Security plan would cut benefits for workers like you by about $6,500 per year. Not a very good deal.

Suppose, finally, that you're making $1 million a year. You received a tax cut worth about $50,000 per year. By 2045 the Bush plan would reduce benefits for people like you by about $9,400 per year.

I'm not being unfair. In fact, I've weighted the scales heavily in Mr. Bush's favor, because the tax cuts will cost much more than the benefit cuts would save. Repealing Mr. Bush's tax cuts would yield enough revenue to call off his proposed benefit cuts, and still leave $8 trillion in change.

The point is that the privatizers consider four years of policies that relentlessly favored the wealthy a fait accompli, not subject to reconsideration. Now that tax cuts have busted the budget, they want us to accept large cuts in Social Security benefits as inevitable. But they demand that we praise Mr. Bush's sense of social justice, because he proposes bigger benefit cuts for the middle class than for the poor.

Sorry, but no. Mr. Bush likes to play dress-up, but his Robin Hood costume just doesn't fit.

Perhaps it's a good thing I don't live in the United States anymore (unless I made a million dollars, in which case I'd buy me some art, perhaps a Garfunkel).

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Sunday, May 08, 2005

Bolton: Ain't got nothing if you ain't got love

My former student, friend, and fellow blogger Charles Trapunski (see link, right) chided me for not including a Michael Bolton reference in either of my two Bolton posts thus far (here and here). Well, Chas, why don't I just link to his website. That, to me, is enough of a joke. The hunger! The hunger!

Another fellow blogger, Jeremy Dibbell (see link, right), has written a couple of good posts surveying the recent news on the Bolton nomination: here and here.

Okay, Bolton's nomination isn't anything like the real "nuclear option" discussed in my previous post, but it's terribly important. In a sense, dealing with the nuclear capabilities of Iran, North Korea, and others (whether sovereign states or state-less terrorist networks) requires a U.N. ambassador who can skillfully navigate the diplomatic community. Bolton is clearly not the man for the job. John or Michael.


Open letter to J. Bolton from The Reaction (with a little help from M. Bolton):

Dear Mr. Bolton,

You don't know me, but hear me out. All the way.

This is a time for letting go, Mr. Bolton. Completely. Walk away, don't go the distance. Some of your supporters said they loved you, but they lied. And now you need to find a safe place from the storm, because a heart can only be so strong. Why me, you ask? Why am I fallin'? Well, remember that forever's just a matter of time, and that's how long you'll have to wait to be U.N. ambassador. This is the way. It's all that you deserve. So come on, Mr. Bolton, I wanna hear you say it. Simply. Slowly. Say it, Mr. Bolton: I surrender. At last.


P.S. What are you doing the rest of your life?

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What to do about a nuclear Iran?

This story isn't getting nearly enough attention. What will the U.S. do about two emerging threats far more serious than Saddam's Iraq? I've addressed both Iran and North Korea in recent posts (here and here), but here, once again, is Slate's Fred Kaplan, whom I seem to be quoting more than usual these days, likely because he's ever so right about one of the most important issues, if not the most important issue, of the day:

At the [United Nations] general assembly this week, the Iranian delegates have insisted on their rights under the NPT [Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty] to enrich uranium—and they are correct. This is a major loophole of the treaty: It allows, even encourages, signatories to develop technology for nuclear energy as long as they forgo nuclear weaponry. The problem is that the technology is the same for both. The Iranians insist they are enriching uranium strictly for peaceful purposes. But they could readily—and legally—go all the way up the line that separates atomic power from atomic weapons; abrogate the treaty; then step over the line and amass an arsenal...

The Iranians say they want enrichment strictly for energy—implausible, given all their oil, which they could extract much more cheaply. Why do they want nuclear weapons? The usual reasons: to deter an attack (from, to name a few, Israel, the United States, perhaps a resurgent Iraq); to provide a cover for their own expansionist aims (if Saddam Hussein had built a few nukes before he invaded Kuwait in 1991, the U.S. and its coalition might have been more reticent in pushing him back); or simply to gain prestige.

So Iran will have nuclear weapons, perhaps, according to Israeli intelligence, by 2008, and something clearly needs to be done about it, as Kaplan indicates. Isn't this a more important issue than, say, the filibuster? Yet we're all so concerned, apparently, about the "nuclear option" in the Senate, where Republicans would do away with the filibuster and allow for judicial nominees to be confirmed by simple majority (50%+1). Sure, I see the importance there, especially if Bush is able to stack the Supreme Court and the federal benches with right-wing activists who will work to dismantle certain of the pillars of the liberal state. (For more on this, see fellow blogger Mark Schmitt's typically insightful comments here, here, and here.) But what about the "nuclear option" that will soon be available to Iran, as it is already to North Korea, and perhaps to al-Qaeda or some other state-less terrorist network? That, to me, is our immediate crisis. If something isn't done about it, there might not be much of a liberal state left to dismantle.

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