Saturday, January 20, 2007

That meme thing

By Heraclitus

Well, since Michael tagged all of us co-bloggers, which includes me, for that meme thing, I suppose it would be rude not to reply. So, here are my long-winded and sarcastic answers (very long-winded, I can say now that I've finished it); if you have no interest in my reading or music-listening habits (in which case I applaud your good sense), there's no need to read any further.

1) Name a book that you want to share so much that you keep giving away copies.

Well, since I'm such a stingy and grasping bastard, I don't give away much, certainly not books. In fact, the only book I can remember giving away is Martin Heidegger's An Introduction to Metaphysics, of which I had read very little (I was in Amman at the time, which no doubt explains everything). If I were to start giving away copies of books, it would probably be copies of either Nietzsche's On the Genealogy of Morals or Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground, since I have several desk copies of each now. But I'm afraid I just can't get into the melodrama and false enthusiasm of the question. My friends have different tastes, different interests, and different outlooks and backgrounds, and I'm not sure I can think of an appropriate one-size fits all book. To the extent that I can think of such a thing, it would be a fairly obvious and uninteresting "classic." One fairly unknown or out of the way book that made a very profound impression on me was Richard Klein's Cigarettes are Sublime, although that would obviously be of much greater interest to long-time smokers than to those whose lungs have remained unblackened.

2) Name a piece of music that changed the way you listen to music.

Again, the melodramatic emphasis on some kind of epiphany here is annoying. I received, if I remember correctly, Bob Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited for my sixteenth birthday, and I think of that as the beginning of my adult experiences with music. Al Kooper's organ definitely changed the way I listened to any song with an organ, and Mike Bloomfield's guitar work is exemplary. The mixture of recognizably bluesy basics with an ethereal, other-worldly atmosphere and texture influenced my future tastes in music, and certainly did much to expand my adolescent conception of what was possible musically in the idiom of pop/rock. But, of course, the overwhelming virtue of Highway 61 Revisited is the lyrics, the songwriting. That certainly changed the way I listen to music, and I've been listening enthusiastically to Dylan ever since (I especially like the apocalyptic strain in his writing, evident in Highway 61 Revisited especially on "Desolation Row," but also "Ballad of Thin Man" and "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues" -- damn, just listing those songs reminds me of what an incredible album that is).

Also as a teenager, I remember getting a best-of Elvis Costello CD from one of those record clubs, and being especially taken with "Oliver's Army" and "Radio, Radio." That field would lie fallow for some time, though; it wasn't until more than ten years later that I started listening to EC again, and he has certainly changed the way I listen to music. Musically, his albums, with the Attractions and without, are extremely interesting and ambitious, but it is, again, the lyrics that grab me much more than the bare music (or so I think). Costello covers much of the same ground as Dylan, but his writing tends to be much more taut, overtly ironic, alienated, somewhat angry but still with a clear distance on himself and clear and clean sense of introspection or self-examination. Dylan, of course, does all of those things as well, but his best songs are often more visionary, less self-aware and less self-critical. One of my secret ambitions is to write a long essay or book comparing Dylan and EC, likening Dylan to Hölderlin and Costello to Heine, and discussing what they reveal about the modern or hyper-modern or post-modern conscience.

But, if I really had to pick one piece of music that really changed the way I think about music, or listen to music, it would probably have to be Sonic Youth's Daydream Nation. As the friend who recommended it said to me, "It will take you about a month to recover." Despite having blathered on at such length about Dylan and Elvis Costello, I can't think of much to say about Daydream Nation, except that it did more than anything else I've heard to expand my awareness of the complex possibilities of music.

3) Name a film you can watch again and again without fatigue.

You mean back-to-back? Although Michael wisely suggested epics by folks like Kurosawa wouldn't be on this list for him, I would probably prefer an ass-flattening six-hour marathon of dual viewings of Ran or The Seven Samurai than other favorite movies of mine like Casablanca or The Usual Suspects. Those latter two movies have great stories and tell them extremely well, but once they're over, I can't imagine watching them again. If I were going to watch a movie "again and again," I'd prefer something richer and denser. But, if the question is just asking about watching movies repeatedly over time, then pretty any of the movies listed on my blogger profile.

4) Name a performer for whom you suspend all disbelief.

I'm not entirely sure what this question is asking, but Robert De Niro and Sean Penn have been absolutely amazing in everything I've ever seen them in, as has Benecio del Toro. Robin Williams, believe it or not, has been convincing and even compelling in every role I've ever seen him act, from Mrs. Doubtfire to a man whose wife was murdered on Homicide to The Birdcage to Insomnia -- four extremely different roles. Some of the great television performances I've seen include Jimmy Smits on NYPD Blue, and Andre Braugher on Homicide, at least until they did that stupid stunt of having him suffer a stroke. There's a sequence of episodes in NYPD Blue where Sipowicz's son is shot and he starts drinking again, and Dennis Franz gives a performance unmatched by pretty much anything else I've seen on television, and the scenes where he's interacting with Simone or his lieutenant (speaking of great, though largely unsung, performances) are some of the best television I've ever seen (at least if it's as good as I remember it being). Michael Richards and Jason Alexander both gave brilliant performances in Seinfeld, and really created their characters more than the writers did. Hmmm...Anthony Hopkins. Kevin Spacey is another almost unbelievably talented actor, although he doesn't always choose his roles or his movies as carefully as one might like. He has an uncanny ability to communicate with his eyes, and to carry scenes where he is sitting and talking with another character. His turn in The Usual Suspects is an obvious example, but the moments in L.A. Confidential where he answers the question "Why'd you become a cop?" with "I can't remember," or when he says as he's dying, cryptically and menacingly, "Rollo Tomasi," are great examples.

5) Name a work of art you’d like to live with.

I'm really not a big fan of the overblown character of these questions. "Live with"? How pretentious is that? As if taking a dump or mopping the kitchen floor would somehow become more spiritual if a painting by Raphael or Rembrandt were hanging in the next room? Well, okay -- when I was kid, my favorite holiday was May Crowning. The mixture of adoration of an idealized feminine figure and the wonderful arrival of spring made me very happy. (Although the first memory that springs to mind when I think of this is of me stealing some flowers from the neighbor, which really isn't very pious.) So, I'd probably choose something featuring Mary, most likely Botticelli's Annunciation, maybe the most graceful representation of the human form I've ever seen. Damn, this is taking a long time. I'm leaving this answer at that.

6) Name a work of fiction which has penetrated your real life.

Name a more pretentious way of asking this question -- you can't do it! Again, this question is so bombastic as to be more or less meaningless, because I have no idea what "penetrated your real life" is supposed to mean. The first hundred pages of Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited are achingly beautiful and affecting, at least for me, and are probably the best expression or capturing of a mood, nostalgia mingled with regret and loss, that I've read (though it's rather downhill from there). Amos Oz's Don't Call it Night stirred something fairly deep in me, both because of the narrative voice, the male protagonist, and the fact that it is probably the purest example of atheist literature I think I've ever read. Not that it actually undertook to proselytize for atheism, like the indescribably boorish and crude Richard Dawkins, but in that novel, more than anything else I believe I've encountered, you have a very clear sense that there are only human beings in the world, no higher forces. It's a story only about human beings.

But, more and more, if I had to pick a favorite novelist, it would be Dostoevsky. I was fortunate enough to have the chance to teach him last year, and I hope to do so again as often as possible. What strikes me about him -- well, many things strike one about Dostoevsky, of course, but one important thing is that, in addition to his famous almost preternatural psychological penetration and intensity, he has probably the keenest sense of human absurdity of any writer I've ever read. His satirical abilities as well as his ability to capture the absurdly self-aggrandizing and self-destructive tendencies, or rather compulsions, of human beings are unmatched in my experience, and he usually presents them in ways that make me double over in laughter.

7) Name a punch line that always makes you laugh.

"George is gettin' upset!!" Like Michael, much in The Simpsons and Seinfeld makes me laugh no matter how many times I've heard it before. Unfortunate as it is, many of those lines are delivered by Michael Richards (but, hell, if I can still enjoy Ezra Pound, why not Kramer?). One example: the story of how he saves a toe and drives it to the hospital in a bus while fighting off an assailant.

Well, damn, if you've made it this far, you probably feel like me, exhausted and in need of a good stretch and some refreshment. So, for you brave souls who soldiered on to the end of this, my apologies for dragging it on for so long. Being the solipsistic and anti-social bastard that I am, I tag no one, not least because the last thing I want at this moment is to prolong the agony I'm currently experiencing because of this list.

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Fox, lies and videotape

By Capt. Fogg

I've often used Fox News as an example of the fact that when it comes to politics in America, there is no bottom, but each time I say that, I'm faced with new evidence of the bottomlessness of the pit. Fox's obsession with the Senator from Illinois continues with the latest accusations that Obama is hiding his Muslim extremist past.
Watch the Video here.

I don't wish to dignify this smear by calling such crude and baseless insinuations "allegations." but that's what Fox calls them and, in order to distance itself from the slander, blames it all on Hillary Clinton. The slimefest is larded with references to The New York Times and other Fox strawmen, but, according to the London Times, it began with the "moonie"-owned right-wing magazine Insight. The Fox and Friends crew mumble on endlessly about the significance of Obama having been enrolled in a madrassa at the age of six and having lived in Indonesia as a small child, and admits that this doesn't mean he was taught Wahabbist doctrine or that his Christian commitment isn't real. It's another example of "we make it up -- we don't reveal the source -- you decide" journalism.

Although the panel of smiling liars at Fox claim that Obama's exposure to Islam was not mentioned in his biography, people who have read it say otherwise. But Fox usually gets away with depending on the ignorance of its audience, and, despite the attempt to lay the blame for this assault at the feet of Senator Clinton, the transparent purpose of this is to arouse fear and suspicion without taking any responsibility for the truth or accuracy of their words.

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A political animal

By Creature


Fine, I'll talk about Hillary too. Politically and conventionally speaking, today's web announcement was brilliant. This soft, fuzzy, middle-of-the-road conversation starter made it clear that Hillary is on top of her political game. She struck a populist theme, she appealed to the Oprah voter (a class of voter she desperately needs to recapture from Obama*), she appealed to the Internets with her three day chat and faux YouTube video, she bashed Bush, embraced health care, and she's had positive news coverage all day and will probably continue to enjoy positive coverage into the week, maybe even stealing a bit of Bush's thunder on Tuesday.

Putting my numerous and almost insurmountable issues with Hillary aside, I must say, this was a smart, strong start to her campaign. I credit Peter Daou.

Watch the announcement for yourself.

* Still, though, how pissed must Hillary be that Obama has forced her to run that much harder?

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)


UPDATE: Can't get enough Hillary today? There's been, needless to say, a lot of reaction in the blogosphere, and you can find what you're looking for at Memeorandum.

A few recommended posts: The Carpetbagger Report, Political Animal, Pandagon, Booman Tribune, The News Blog, Taylor Marsh, The Heretik, The Democratic Daily, Bob Geiger, Liberal Values, Seeing the Forest, and Outside the Beltway.

And go see our new co-blogger Libby Spencer at The Impolitic.

For coverage in the MSM, see The Washington Post, The New York Times, CNN, and the AP, as well as the BBC and The Times.


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Where are we going? And why are we in this handbasket?

By Libby Spencer

This on its face would seem to be good news. Reid sternly warned the President that he could not attack Iran without Congressional approval. The problem is it's just so much political posturing. As if that would stop Bush from launching missiles if he decided to do it?

If Reid wants me to believe he's serious, then he has to gather the party together and immediately rescind the "war powers" and the Patriot Act. It probably wouldn't stop Bush either, but it might slow him down to have to consider he was suddenly much more culpable for crimes against the state if he no longer could wrap himself in the mantle of "War President" to justify his unilateral decisions.

It's time to rewrite the script. The truth is Bush isn't a war president; he's presiding over an occupation of a sovereign country with democratically elected leaders. We've fulfilled every one of dozen justifications from destroying non-existent WMDS to regime change to execution of the brutal tyrant Saddam. So can someone just tell me exactly what the mission is now and why we should commit greater resources to it?

And we can't allow any president to claim war powers under an undeclared war against a non-state player. The truth is we're not in a war on terror. We're in a battle against terrorism that has been going on since the beginning of time. It's a battle that will never end as long as the desire for vengence or empire beats in the hearts of cruel and hot-headed extremists. It's a fight against an idea, not a place or a decipherable demographic, and no one man should be allowed to decide its course without the consent of the people in any country that calls itself a democracy.

Meanwhile, if you don't think Bush has an itchy finger on the nuclear trigger, I do and I'm not all comforted by this assurance from our new Defense Secretary.

This week, the administration sent another aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf _ the second to deploy in the region. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the buildup was intended to impress on Iran that the four-year war in Iraq has not made America vulnerable. The U.S. is also deploying anti-missile Patriot missiles in the region.

Cool. We can scare Iran. So what are we going to do to impress China? Because frankly, this scared the bejebus out of me. China didn't decide to successfully test a ground to satellite missile at just this moment for no reason. And I'm sure you remember that we haven't had a successful test of the same technology since Reagan started our own Star Wars Defense system.

Perhaps it's time to start building bomb shelters in our backyards again.

(Cross-posted at The Impolitic.)

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Wassily Kandinsky: Composition VI (1913)

By Michael J.W. Stickings

From time to time, and often for no apparent reason, I post art at The Reaction -- and this is one of Kandinsky's most amazing works. St. Petersburg's Hermitage Museum, where it's housed, describes it thusly: "Swirling piles of matter run riot like waves; lit up by flashes of lightning and soaked in thundery showers, they create an impression of universal catastrophe."

And it seems oddly appropriate today as a representation of our time, of our world.

Depressing that may be, but submerge yourself in this as in all of Kandinsky's works. Our world has gone mad, but it's been mad before, and perhaps the forces that are driving us to "universal catastrophe" are also the forces that can save us from it.


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The assault on Obama

By Michael J.W. Stickings

You've got to feel sorry for Barack Obama.*

Last month it was just a crazy and bigoted wingnut blogger, Debbie Schlussel, going after him on account of his middle name (Hussein) and his familial ties to Islam. She impugned not only Obama, who is not Muslim, but also Muslims generally. To their credit, many on the right distanced themselves from such idiocy.

But now it isn't a crazy and bigoted wingnut blogger but the crazy and bigoted FOX News that is going after Obama. This time because he attended a Muslim school, a madrassa, in Indonesia when he was a child. One of the ignorant Fox & Friends hosts, Steve Doocy, pointed out that such schools are anti-American. Did any of that rub off on young Barack? Maybe, he implied. In fact, "maybe [Obama] doesn't consider terrorists the enemy". And then came the callers. And yet more ignorance and bigotry. Think Progress has the video and transcript here.

Obama only attended that Muslim school for two years, beginning when he was six years old. And he had no choice. But then he moved on to a Catholic school. And, not that it really matters to anyone but the bigots, but Obama is a practising Christian, not a Muslim. And yet somehow we can't be sure he doesn't side with the terrorists? We'll just have to "see about that," in the words of FOX anchor Brian Kilmeade?

Outrageous. But there's FOX News for you. And it's targeting Obama.


* Yes, this is outrageous, and I have nothing but contempt for Schlussel and FOX News and all the other wingnuts going after him, but I don't feel all that sorry for Obama. Or, rather, I'm sure he can handle himself and respond accordingly. Unfortunately, this sort of thing comes with the territory.

Right now Obama is the Democratic celebrity who can do no wrong. Except for that dubious property deal in Chicago, but that really wasn't anything of significance. And so, exploratory committee established, he's saying all the right things and doing so with truly uncommon eloquence, just as he has since he first entered the national scene on the national stage of the '04 Democratic convention in Boston. He impresses, let me put it that way.

Still, co-frontrunner though he may immediately have become, I have my concerns and reservations. Plus, I like Edwards. All I can say about Obama is that he has a lot to prove, not to mention some awfully lofty expectations to live up to. He won't be on that pedestal for much longer.

And yet there is no excusing the assault on Obama from the right. It is truly despicable. It's one thing to question his positions on the issues, as Democrats themselves will begin to do more and more, quite another to subject him to such ignorance and bigotry, to impugn his character, question his faith and patriotism, and essentially call him a traitor, a supporter of terrorism.

And the campaign hasn't even started yet in earnest. The assault will continue. And it will only get worse.

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Friday, January 19, 2007

The fanaticism of Alberto Gonzales (and all that he stands for)

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Speaking of the executive power fanatics who underpin the Bush presidency, which I did earlier today in a post on Hugo Chavez's autocratic rule in Venezuela, it doesn't get much more fanatic, at least in speech, than what Alberto Gonzales argued before the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday.

According to Think Progress, which has the video and transcript, Gonzales claimed that "there is no express grant of habeas in the Constitution". Which is to say, there is no explicit constitutional right to habeas corpus in the United States. There may be "a prohibition against taking it away," but, well, there's no right to take away. And if there's no right to take away, then no right can be taken away. Which means -- and this is what the exchange was really all about -- that Bush has done nothing wrong. He hasn't taken away anyone's right to habeas corpus because no one has a right to habeas corpus. Bush can treat a detainee, citizen or otherwise, however he pleases.

Executive power = arbitrary rule.

In response, and much to his credit, Republican Senator Arlen Specter told Gonzales that he was "violating common sense". If there is a prohibition against taking something away, that something must exist in the first place. Obviously.

As Cernig put it well at NewsHog, this was "one of the most startlingly mendacious examples of worm-tongued weaselry ever uttered by a member of the Bush administration (and this administration has set a mind-bogglingly high bar for worm-tongued weaselry".

"These are sad days for the American Constitution," wrote Jack Balkin in response to Gonzales's claim.

Perhaps Gonzales misspoke under the glare of a hostile judiciary committee hearing. But his remarks show a very worrisome approach toward the Great Writ, and it is not the first time we've seen it. It is the same approach we've already witnessed in the Administration's views about Jose Padilla, Yasser Hamdi, and other accused enemy combatants, as well as its views about detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Under this approach, habeas corpus is *not* an individual right. It is merely a default rule that can be waived in the interests of national security according to the judgment of the President as Commander-in-Chief.

What is most troubling about this view -- that habeas is not a right but a default rule rather easily dispensed with -- is that it undermines the very purpose of the Great Writ, both in the United States, and in Great Britain, where it originated: The possibility that the King could dispense with the rule of law and throw individuals in prison because he regarded them an enemy of the state is the very reason why we have a writ of habeas corpus. Substitute "George W. Bush" for "King" and you are rapidly approaching the Administration's desired position.

Yes, maybe it's time for impeachment. The focus is usually on impeaching Bush, not one of his minions, but one of his minions just crossed the line. If he truly believes that there is no right to habeas corpus in the Constitution, he shouldn't be AG.

But, of course, Gonzo's not alone. He's a mouthpiece. This sort of un-Americanism pervades the Bush Administration, with extremists like David Addington and others around Cheney pushing for ever more executive power. They all need to be gotten rid of, and the best way to do that is to vote them out of office in '08. In the meantime, let Congress come down hard on them -- as hard as possible.

(For more, see The Carpetbagger Report ("Who knew Gonzales would end up being scarier than John Ashcroft?"), Daily Kos, and The Heretik.)

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The Tyrant of Caracas

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Let no one think that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is anything but a tyrant. He may have "won" a third term in December, but there is no democracy in Venezuela. The BBC reports:

Venezuela's National Assembly has given initial approval to a bill granting the president the power to bypass congress and rule by decree for 18 months.

President Hugo Chavez says he wants "revolutionary laws" to enact sweeping political, economic and social changes.

He has said he wants to nationalise key sectors of the economy and scrap limits on the terms a president can serve...

The bill allowing him to enact laws by decree is expected to win final approval easily in the assembly on its second reading on Tuesday.

You know what they say about absolute power. Or what Aristotle said about tyranny -- it is truly the worst of all possible regimes. And now there may not even be the facade of democracy in Venezuela. Chavez talks up his Bolivarean revolution -- his efforts to transform his country and Latin America, in alliance with like-minded rogue states like Iran, into a grand anti-American bloc -- but what forms the core of his rule is not liberation but absolutism. In this case, the rule of "revolutionary" law -- in effect, the arbitrary rule of a single unchecked man -- is nothing but tyranny, authoritarianism, the oppression of the people. Arbitrary rule always is. Which is why the rule of law, as opposed to the rule of man, is so central to democracy. And which is why, in our advanced democracies, we must safeguard the rule of law vigilantly and diligently, protecting it from the trespasses of those who would weaken it, scrap it, in the name of executive authority.

Bringing this back to an American context, let's hope Bush and the executive power fanatics who prop him up -- Cheney, Addington, etc. -- don't get wind of this. With Congress no longer rubber stamping the president's arbitrary rule, those fanatics may seek other and more radical ways to undo the rule of law and, with it, the very foundations of American democracy, if not democratic rule itself.

[Creature's Note: Once again, Michael has put me to work posting his words. So, I must add the disclaimer: I take no responsibility for the opinions discussed above -- though I thoroughly agree.]

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100 Hours!

By Creature

  • raise minimum wage - check
  • port security - check
  • stem cell research - check
  • lower prescription drug costs - check
  • cut interest rates on student loans - check
  • recoup billions of dollars in lost royalties and tax breaks from oil and gas companies - check
"Today, Democrats stood united to say that we have kept our promise to the American people," said Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California.

Well done. Thank you, Nancy.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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Thursday, January 18, 2007

Further incompetence from Bush

By Heraclitus

Ah, the Republicans. The party of foreign policy expertise, fiscal responsibility, small government. The party of the entrepreneur, the hard-working small businessman. Quite seriously, is there anything the GOP can do anymore, other than whine about being in the minority?

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Maher Arar: Some justice at last

By Vivek Krishnamurthy

One aspect of this afternoon's Senate Judiciary Committee hearings that have received very little attention in the American media is Sen. Patrick Leahy's questioning of the Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales, on the case of Maher Arar.

Mr. Arar is a Canadian citizen of Syrian origin who was detained at Kennedy Airport in 2002 and "rendered" to Syria, where he was detained in a coffin-sized cell for a year and subjected to brutal torture. The U.S. government alleged that Mr. Arar has connections to Al Qaeda, but a recent judicial inquiry in Canada concluded that there is not a scintilla of evidence to support this assertion.

At today's Judiciary Committee hearing, Sen. Leahy tore into Mr. Gonzales and the Bush Administration's depraved policy of extraordinary rendition with an intensity rarely seen in sedate Senate proceedings. For your listening pleasure, I have uploaded audio of the hearing from CBC Radio. You can hear it by clicking here.

Your faith in Congress, and in America, will be restored.

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Dinesh D'Souza is a fucking idiot

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I refuse to quote such a vile right-wing blowhard here. Suffice it to say that in an op-ed in the L.A. Times he blames 9/11 on...

Can you guess? Come on, it's easy. What's the usual target of vile right-wing blowhards?

That's right.

The left. Or liberals. I'm not quite sure. I suppose anyone to the left of, say, Pinochet is a liberal. Or a leftist. He seems to use the terms interchangeably, so typically ignorant is his, uh, argument. In this case, the "left" means Carter and Clinton. And his, uh, argument consists of accusing Carter of paving the way for theocratic Iran and Clinton of not doing anything to get bin Laden. So somehow Iran was behind 9/11. I'm not sure how. I suppose he lumps all Muslims together just as he lumps all liberals and leftists together. And somehow Clinton's alleged weakness emboldened bin Laden. As if killing off bin Laden would have kept al Qaeda or other jihadists from attacking the U.S.

D'Souza doesn't seem to understand any of this. His purpose is solely to attack liberals and leftists and everyone else to the left of Pinochet. And his ignorance is revealed most clearly early on, in the second paragraph. He doesn't understand why Muslims -- or at least the more radical elements among them -- would find U.S. involvement in the Middle East, well, disturbing. The U.S. can do no wrong and has done no wrong, the implication seems to be, except where Carter and Clinton and all those like them are and were concerned. This sort of partisan reductionism is common among vile right-wing blowhards, of course -- consider Coulter, Malkin, Hannity, O'Reilly, and their ilk -- but the right often succumbs to it more generally. And it is ubiquitous here. D'Souza ignores Islam and the divisions within it, the history of the Middle East and U.S. involvement there, and the complex social, political, economic, religious, and psychological factors that brought al Qaeda and jihadism more generally into being. And he ignores them because they do not suit his partisan purpose, his ideological agenda. And perhaps because he doesn't -- and can't possibly -- understand them.

Such ignorance comes as no surprise -- this is D'Souza, after all -- but the breadth of his ignorance is breathtaking nonetheless. It takes uncommon ability so pack to much ignorance into a single op-ed.

There aren't many who have that ability quite like Dinesh D'Souza.

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Condi supports child abuse

By Capt. Fogg

"My Fox guys, I love every single one of them."
So said our gap-toothed Secretary of State last week, thinking the mike was off. Every single one would include perforce Slimy Bill O' Reilly and slimy Bill thinks it makes for good ratings to tell you St Louis kidnapping victim Shawn Hornbeck wasn't really kidnapped by Michael J. Devlin, the guy who seems to have a history of kidnapping and perhaps murder -- he was just skipping school.

"The question is why didn't he escape when he could have? There are all kinds of theories about that…"

"Theories:" these are the vague things people like Bill invoke to make the preposterous seem possible and the demonstrable seem doubtful, but whether O'Reilly is deranged or just a whore is a less important question than why someone with as much power to destabilize the world as does George's favorite retainer would support, much less "love" him. O'Reilly may make excuses for a child molester for profit, out of irrational hatred of everything good and decent or for other reasons of his own. He's only an ugly and malignant nobody. I can only speculate as to Rice's reasons for backing such a man, but then I can only speculate about her reasons for backing Bush, whose mouthpiece she is.

But if she loves and supports someone who supports a kidnapper of young boys, she has something to answer for, and if Condi is a conduit for the opinions of Bush, perhaps he too loves and supports a man who apologizes for child molesters.

There are many theories about that, but the search for traces of honesty, decency, logical consistency, or intelligence in George Bush and his familiars is best left to dishonest, indecent, deranged, and stupid people like O'Reilly and the Fox Boys -- and of course the bitter, aging and angry women who love every single one of them.

(Cross-posted at Human Voices.)

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More political resistance to Bush from his purported Iraqi allies

By Heraclitus

Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, a leading Shia politician and theologian in Iraq, has publicly criticized the US military's arrest of five Iranian "diplomats." Hakim is close with Bush and has American support (he recently met with Bush in the White House), and also has the backing of Grand Ayatollah Sistani, the most powerful Shia religious figure in Iraq (by the way, did you know that Sistani has his own web site?). But Hakim is also on friendly terms with Iran, where he spent many years in exile. Hakim is discussed in this video clip I put up last week, as the likely successor to Maliki when the latter is turned out by the Americans. For him to publicly rebuke Bush's attempt to move on Iran is noteworthy and, one hopes, will help convince Bush and his underlings to stop playing "mine is bigger than yours" with Iran.

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The human factor

By Michael J.W. Stickings

A recent cartoon by one of the best, Mike Luckovich of the AJC:

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In search of Democratic courage

By Michael J.W. Stickings

So it seems that Senator Chris Dodd of the state one drives through to get from New York to Boston has, according to WaPo, "introduced legislation to cap the number of troops in Iraq at roughly 130,000, saying that lawmakers should take an up-or-down vote on Bush's plan to send additional troops to the country and not settle for the nonbinding resolution several Senate leaders prefer."

On the preference for binding over non-binding, I agree. Democrats need to stop Bush, not just talk about stopping Bush. But on the troop cap, also promoted by Hillary Clinton of the state with Buffalo in it, I agree with Drum:

Legislation to get us out of Iraq would be a fine idea. Legislation to reinstitute the draft and send 200,000 more troops to Iraq would be a horrible idea, but would at least have some internal consistency. But legislation that essentially locks in place the status quo? That really makes no sense at all. If there's anything we can be absolutely sure of, it's the fact that the status quo isn't working.

Democrats should either go the political route and pass a nonbinding resolution, or they should pull up their socks and support legislation that defunds the war and sets a timetable for withdrawal. There's really no way to triangulate out of this.

Ah, triangulation. How nice.

Last time I checked, seeking a middle option when the other side is completely insane is, well, almost as insane.

Courage, Democrats, courage!


A better legislative start, it seems to me, flows from the bipartisan efforts of Senators Joe Biden of the state better known as a corporate tax haven, Carl Levin of the state with all them cars, and Chuck Hagel of the state also known as Nebraska. The three of them have "[put] forward a resolution that describes Bush's troop buildup in Iraq as 'not in the national interest of the United States.'" (See WaPo link, above.) Which seems obvious enough. It isn't.

But let's have more than mere rhetoric. Bush has neither popular nor political support for The Surge, his "new way forward" in Iraq. Doesn't that mean anything? Let me repeat: The president is without popular and political support. The country has finally turned against him and his disastrous misadventure in Mesopotamia.

What more do Democrats need to stop him? Are they waiting for his approval rating to slip into the teens?

Enough already. You won. Now go for it.


It looks like Barack Obama of the state crazy about Da Bears will soon introduce "phased redeployment" legislation.

If only John Edwards, my preference, were back in the Senate with a bill up his sleeve. Or maybe not. Let the good senators jockey for position in the legislative pit. Edwards has the toughness and the vision to stand firm against the warmongers. And his candidacy, I believe, will prove it.


But let me be clear about something: Whatever their differences, now is not the time for internecine strife among Democrats. There will be time enough, come the primaries. Now, right now, the objective should be -- must be -- to stop Bush from flushing it all, whatever's left, down the toilet.

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

FISA -- that was then and this is now

By Libby Spencer

In an abrupt about face, after arguing for well over a year that their warrantless wiretapping was not only justified but entirely legal, the White House announced that it would be willing to submit it to overview from a FISA court after all. Which may be a moot point since Bush's personal stooge, AG Gonzales, also announced the administration would be dropping this program -- which they consistently claimed was integral to the neverending war on terrorism -- once the current authorization expires, "in favor of a new approach." I don't want to think about what new civil-liberty-busting scheme they have up their sleeve now.

In the meantime, all this flip-flopping is enough to make one break out the dramamine. As Glenn Greenwald points out, this leaves Bush supporters who bought the White House's arguments in favor of the illegal eavesdropping with some major egg on their face. Enough to make an omelet big enough to solve world hunger. How are they now to reconcile supporting the president's right to break the law when he suddenly decided to comply with it?

Furthermore, what is one to make of the fact that the White House's main argument in favor of ignoring the law in the first place was that it carried too stringent a standard by insisting the government show the centuries-old requirement of probable cause rather than the low standard of "reasonable suspicion" the administration claimed was necessary in order to act rapidly against alleged terrorist threats?

It's difficult not to read this as a response to the turnover in the Congress, since under a Democratic majority the White House is now facing real investigation of the illegal practice. Perhaps the White House is hoping to avoid the hearings by agreeing to play by the rules. One hopes the Democrats won't be so easily dissuaded from pursuing the investigations anyway, in order to exact some accountability for the administration's previous actions over the last five years.

(Cross-posted at The Impolitic.)


Libby has another good post on Gonzales here. (And so does TalkLeft here and Daily Kos here.)

For reaction from around the blogosphere to the FISA news, see The Carpetbagger Report, The Mahablog, Political Animal, Balkinization, The Democratic Daily, The Huffington Post, The Heretik, Gun Toting Liberal, TalkLeft, Liberal Values, and, further to the right, where there may not be quite as much enthusiasm for this flip-flop, Captain's Quarters, The Volokh Conspiracy, and JustOneMinute.

Gonzales's letter to Sens. Leahy and Specter can be found here.

And there's more essential Greenwald.

And be sure to check out Creature's State of the Day.


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Hagel joins anti-surge movement in Senate

By Michael J.W. Stickings

From the Times (via The Left Coaster):

Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, an outspoken Republican critic of the administration's Iraq policy, will join two leading Democrats in introducing a resolution opposing President Bush's buildup of troops in Iraq, putting a bipartisan stamp on the looming Congressional showdown over the war.

This is big. Though a renegade who has already abandoned Bush and most of his party on Iraq, Hagel was careful to stress that the resolution is not meant to "bash the president," but other Republican senators could follow Hagel's lead -- if not to support Democratic efforts, at least to seek "alternatives" to the surge, as John Kyl put it.

The spin has been predictable: "White House officials have dismissed Mr. Hagel as an established critic of the war who is now seeking to stake out antiwar ground in the nascent Republican primary fight for president." But the White House, surprised by the extent of opposition to "the new way forward" (if still intent on pursuing the new strategy regardless of the lack of popular and political support), is clearly worried that "any substantial Republican support for the resolution would be a symbolic blow".

And Hagel isn't alone: "Members of both parties in the Senate have said as many as a dozen Republicans may ultimately support a resolution against the president’s policy." Assuming that Joe Lieberman is the only Democrat who would side against the resolution, that would be a vote in opposition to Bush's "new way forward" of 62 to 38. A decisive vote. The Democrats should go ahead with the resolution regardless of the extent of Republican support, but no matter how this turns out it is clear that there is widespread bipartisan opposition to Bush's conduct of the war.

And that says something. Even if Bush goes ahead with the planned surge, a message has been sent.

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Are we kicking their asses?

By Heraclitus

Joe Gandelman, at The Moderate Voice (I believe Michael may have some connection with that blog), points to a post by Taylor Marsh in which she reveals that some right-wing blogger named Debbie Schlussel (such an unlikely mish-mash of down-home femininity -- mmmm...Swiss Cake Rolls -- and scary Teuton nazium...wisecrack) threatened to sue her for using a copyrighted picture of Schlussel in a critical post about her at (shudder) The Huffington Post. Here's a taste:

Debbie Schlussel (who was pictured at the top of this post, until she threatened to sue me for a photo I got off of Google) isn't Atlas Shrugged but she is equally unhinged, though she also is not "Christian," but "Jewish." Her attack on Obama is so prejudice and loaded that the implication and inherent danger of such accusations and assaults makes you wonder if Ms. Schlussel isn't trying to do more than ruin Obama's political career. At the very least it is scandalously un-American. However, it is also an aggressive assault out of fear of Senator Obama's power with the public.

[Long and tedious screed of wing-nuttery by Schlussel omitted because we want to help you.]

Over the years, the right-wing nut squad has co-opted God, guns, Jesus, the military, trucks, the flag and everything in between. What they have done with these symbols of "true Americanism" is divide and conquer by associating only Republicans with these brands, that is, until we crushed them this past November...

We've got the most overtly "Christian" president we have had in our lifetime who uses his presidential pulpit to preach preemption, advocate torture and the destruction of enemies both real and imagined, all in the name of God. A crusade is how Mr. Bush began his onslaught. All in the name of religion, faith and spreading democracy, while being the leader of a political party that maligns anyone of faith who doesn't hold to the standards of Republicans who believe they are qualified to judge. The record proves otherwise.

Nice. Anyways, this Schlussel person, who, let's face it, probably doesn't even really exist, threatened to sue Marsh for using an image of her, itself widely available on the internets, without her consent. (Actually, on Schlussel, see this earlier post by Michael.)

(By the way, and for purposes of full disclosure, I should admit that I like Marsh because she agrees with me on a crucial point -- "[Heraclitus] really is a bastard!" Where did I say I was a bastard? Well, by my actions, pretty much everywhere. But in so many words, here, among various and sundry other places).

This little threat, understandly, inspired a few comments by other bloggerinos, and this is the point I really wanted to get to here. Bob Geiger responds by arguing that the left blogosphere is kicking the once-dominant right blogosphere's flabby old ass:

[A] few weeks ago, she [Schlussel] dipped into the Republican slime bucket and tossed a big blob of it in Barack Obama's direction, trying to scare her troglodytic readers to death by making a big deal out of Obama's middle name, which is "Hussein."

Taylor Marsh is from the new school of Democratic operatives and writers -- those of us who make clear that it's a new day in political discourse, we don’t reach across the damn aisle and any attacks from Republicans will open an enormous can of Progressive whoop-ass on them.

I completely agree with this. When one side doesn't believe in global warming and evolution, winks at torture and illegal detentions, wants to outlaw contraception, thinks Barack Obama's middle name is significant and that the catastrophe in Iraq is a media conspiracy, only an idiot tries to compromise or "work with them." And don't bother telling me that not all conservatives believe these things -- I have yet to see any prominent conservative politician, pundit, or blogger have their own little "Sister Souljah moment."

Geiger continues:

But Little Debbie Schlussel is like so many on the right-wing side of the blog world. They're real tough when attacking someone else and launching any manner of lying, racist or McCarthyite attack but they suddenly turn into sniveling little weasels when anyone hits back.

I guess she fits right in with every other candy-ass Republican in this country right now. Congressional Republicans are whining because the Democratic Majority may treat them much like, well, they treated the Democrats all those years. Likewise, many conservatives got into blogging at a time when they thought they could kick sand in every liberal's face and get away with it -- and they're finding that's not really the case now.

So this is my question: is this true? Well, actually, my first question is, does it get any better than "candy-ass Republican"? But, after that, and seriously, are left-wing or liberal blogs somehow winning? I know it's probably impossible to give any kind of a quantitative answer, but I wonder how much good the leftish or progressive blogosphere is doing. I know that it's qualitatively better than the right. As if eager to prove my point for me, Pajamas Media shows up in the comment thread at TMV with a link to a post about the "catfight" between Marsh and Schlussel. I mean, it's what, ten years since Seinfeld mocked the idea that every conflict between two women is some kind of "catfight," and wing-nut bloggers still can't let it go? Seriously, reading most right-wing blogs is like hanging out with Biff Tannen. But, of course, and as so often, the sexist garbage serves a broader rhetorical purpose, in this case obscuring the fact that Schlussel is a scummy and unhinged hack, instead making this sound like a silly dispute between two equally irrational and wrong-headed broads.

So, given that almost all right-wing blogs with which I'm familiar (which, to be fair, is only a small percentage) are indescribably execrable in more ways than I care to count, are the left-wing blogs beating them and their influence back? Are we doing any good by so frequently pointing out that most right-wing bloggers are, to paraphrase David Brock, "a little bit nutty and extremely stupid and dishonest"? I ask this even though when I throw questions out to our readers I'm usually met with a mildly embarrassing silence. Part of this question, of course, is bound up with the question of whether the recent, historic Democratic win marked a historic turn to the left in American politics, or just the consequence of Americans finally grasping the full meaning of the promise of Bush's brave new world unfurling itself beneath the clear blue sky. Was it a vote for progressive politics, or just a vote for competent technocracy? So, if so inclinded, feel free to speculate in comments.

And now, for something completely different (as I think they used to say on some tv show), check out this video by Matisyahu that Kai Chang put up.

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Just another day in the life and death of Iraq XXXI

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Today, as reported by the Post, it was Mustansiriya University:

The coordinated detonation of two bombs during the after-school rush at a Baghdad university killed at least 60 people Tuesday and wounded more than 140 in what university officials described as one of the deadliest attacks on academia since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

Reuters currently has the death toll at 70, "many of them young women students". "In all, at least 105 were killed in bombings and a shooting in the capital" today.

The BBC also has it at 70, with 170 wounded. "Pictures from the campus showed a scene of devastation, with wrecked and blackened vehicles scattered across a wide area."


It isn't enough for Prime Minister Maliki to say that "a hopeless group of Saddamists and extremists" is to blame. To imply that the Sunni insurgency is "hopeless" is only to belittle it, to misrepresent it, perhaps even to misunderstand it. This from a Shiite puppet with ties to Sadr. It may be true that Sunni insurgents perpetrated these horrendous acts today, but what is to blame overall is not one side of the sectarian divide or another, for such blame only deepens the divide, but the sectarianism itself, the culture of violence that has been unleashed as a result of America's botched war and occupation and that cannot be controlled by a government that lacks both legitimacy and authority.

Perhaps Iraq is beyond repair. If so, the violence will continue and perhaps worsen. (And I suspect it will.) But it would help if the Iraqi government weren't itself a sectarian offshoot and if there were greater understanding on all sides of the nature of the sectarianism that, unleashed, results in the mass murder of innocent students at a university.

There is more than enough blame to go around.

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Just another year in the life and death of Iraq II

By Michael J.W. Stickings

In case you haven't been paying attention, 2006 was a pretty bad year for Iraq:

Nearly 35,000 civilians were killed last year in Iraq, the United Nations said Tuesday, a sharp increase from the numbers reported previously by the Iraqi government.

Gianni Magazzeni, the chief of the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq, said 34,452 civilians were killed and 36,685 were wounded last year.

Iraqi government figures in early January put last year's civilian death toll at 12,357. When asked about the difference, Magazzeni said the U.N. figures were compiled from information obtained through the Iraqi Health Ministry, hospitals across the country and the Medico-Legal Institute in Baghdad.

Conservative estimates from the U.N., one suspects, no matter the rosy picture the Iraqi government tries to paint. Is is even possible to put a number on such violence?

And now, of course -- The Surge.

Fantastic. Happy 2007, everyone.

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Obama opts in

By Michael J.W. Stickings


Here's WaPo: "Illinois Sen. Barack Obama (D), one of the Democratic Party's brightest young stars, jumped into the 2008 race for the White House today, establishing a presidential exploratory committee that is expected to lead immediately into a full-blown campaign for president."

A bright young star indeed.

I like Obama, don't get me wrong. He may very well be the future of the Democratic Party. And perhaps that future will come sooner than expected. But expectations are awfully high. It's one thing to be a bright young star, quite another to be a party's saviour. Perhaps saviour is too strong a word, but it would be a mistake, I think, for Democrats to pin their hopes on Obama so prematurely. There is a lot of time left before '08. And, hopefully, a lot of time left in Obama's political career.

And he has a lot to prove. The expectations demand it. That '04 convention speech was stirring, and Obama shows signs of the sort of bully-pulpit qualities the presidency requires, but saying the right things at the right times isn't enough. Nor are hollow soundbites, no matter how quotable, no matter how inspiring. I do not doubt that he is a man of substance and profundity, but the junior senator from Illinois, still so raw, must add solidity to his vision. His lack of experience means the lack of a disturbing track record, of the sort that plagues senators more than governors, but he must prove to be more than an Oprah-oriented talk-show celebrity. It's one thing to talk about race, sex, and religion, quite another actually to do something about America's ills. He is running for commander-in-chief, after all, not therapist-in-chief.

And yet he immediately jumps to the front of the pack, ahead of Edwards and Clinton, Clark and Richardson, Kerry and the rest. Which is to be expected. He is an exciting candidate and there are good reasons to be excited, whatever my reservations.

But the hype will pass. It's time to see what Obama is really all about.

(For more, see Shakespeare's Sister, The Impolitic, Taylor Marsh, The Democratic Daily, and The Moderate Voice.)

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Gore opts out

By Michael J.W. Stickings


Chris Bowers is reporting on a Reuters story that suggests that Gore has decided not to run for president in '08. Although I like John Edwards a great deal, I must admit I am somewhat saddened by this news (if true). I admire Gore immensely, and, given my view that the climate crisis is the most pressing issue of our time, and given his profound grasp of national security and foreign policy, as well as economic and domestic issues, I believe he would have been the right president at the right time for America and the world. But perhaps it is not to be. He won in 2000, but America ended up with one of the worst presidents in its history. Hopefully 2008 won't bring yet another disaster. Perhaps Gore's time is yet to come.

At least he'll still be leading the way on addressing the climate crisis. It's "a different kind of campaign," to be sure, but we need him to be waging it as determinedly as possible.

(For more, see Bloomberg.)

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Flat-earth Republicanism

By Michael J.W. Stickings

According to The Wichita Eagle, presidential hopeful and religious conservative Sam Brownback has added support for the flat tax to his platform, making it "a fiscal policy cornerstone" of his campaign for '08.

I'm sure it's the Christian position to take.

1 Timothy 6:10: "For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows."

Pope John Paul II, Homily at Yankee Stadium, New York (Oct. 2, 1979): "The poor of the United States and of the world are your brothers and sisters in Christ. You must never be content to leave them just the crumbs from the feast. You must take of your substance, and not just of your abundance, in order to help them. And you must treat them like guests at your family table."

This notwithstanding, it is expected that the entire Republican base will swoon in ecstasy.


In related news, it is being reported that Brownback will announce next week in Topeka his support for flat-earth geocentrism. "The lies of Galileo, Copernicus, and Newton will be exposed for what they are," said one senior aide to the Kansas senator, "a liberal plot to overthrow the Kingdom of God on earth." He added: "It is time for a reckoning, and Sam Brownback will deliver it just as Augustine would have wished."

Reached for comment at a fundraiser telethon in Sioux City, Iowa, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney denied that his Mormonism would influence his policy on "the reality of the flat-earth paradigm". A Romney spokesperson said that a major PowerPoint presentation on "geocentrism and its discontents" is planned for next month.

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani told CNN that "9/11 was a national nightmare regardless of the shape of our planet". Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich told FOX News that the South "should have won the Civil War".

In response to Brownback, presumptive Republican frontrunner Senator John McCain of Arizona issued a statement declaring his support for flat-earth geocentrism: "I have always believed the world was flat. To prove how serious I am, I am co-sponsoring a bill with Senator Lieberman that would mandate the teaching of the flat-earth worldview in public schools."

Observers expect a strict party-line vote on the bill in the Senate, with Lieberman crossing the aisle to vote with his fellow Republicans and Vice President Cheney casting the deciding Yea vote. The White House has already announced that President Bush will sign the bill "if the heliocentric House does the right thing and doesn't let the terrorists win," according to Press Secretary Tony Snow. "Flat-earth geocentrism completely changes the equation in Iraq," said National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley. “Victory is right around the corner.”

Once again, it is expected that the entire Republican base will swoon in ecstasy.

The Dark Age cometh. The GOP bringeth it.

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Monday, January 15, 2007

The UAE is the new USA

By Michael J.W. Stickings

On the environment, that is. And it isn't a compliment. The AP reports:

The average person in the [United Arab] Emirates puts more demand on the global ecosystem than any other, giving the country the world's largest per-capita "ecological footprint," [World Wildlife Fund] data shows. The United States runs second.

But the oil-rich Emirates is considered a developing country, and even as a signatory to the United Nations Kyoto protocol on global warming, is not required to cut emissions.

But at least the UAE is trying to do something about its poor environmental showing, even if its hyper-American culture of consumption won't be reformed easily: "The federal environment agency is devising strategies to cut emissions, including a public campaign that may offer economic incentives to those who turn down their air conditioning." It has what one official calls "an action plan".

The same, alas, cannot be said about Bush's America, which has a poor record on the environment, period, including global warming, which it essentially denies. (There have been rumours circulating, based on a British newspaper report that quoted a source close to Blair, that Bush would publicly reverse his position on global warming in his upcoming State of the Union, but the White House has denied them.)

But my own country, Canada, isn't doing much better. Although there is far more of a commitment to the environment here, not to mention a recognition of the reality of the climate crisis, even from our Conservative (and Kyoto-unfriendly) government in Ottawa, we rank fourth in the WWF report, behind Finland and ahead of Kuwait. Not good.

We can all do a lot better.

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A few initial reactions to the 24 premiere

By Heraclitus

I'm sure at least one or two readers watch 24, the television show about a counter-terrorist unit led -- in action if not in name -- by "Jack Bauer" (Kiefer Sutherland) and told in real-time. Since the show deals with terrorism and questions of executive authority, I thought it might be worthwhile to write out some of my initial thoughts or reactions to it.

The episode/season begins with a series of deadly suicide bombings sweeping the nation. None of the attacks are anywhere near the scope of September 11th, but the cumulative effect, and the fact that no end is in sight, make the consequences worse.

The President has thus negotiated Bauer's return from the Chinese, who had (rather improbably and annoyingly) kidnapped him at the end of last season, so the US government can hand him over to be tortured to death by a terrorist, Abu Fayed, whose brother Jack had tortured to death in a previous season (but the show doesn't feel quite as gory or sadistic as this summary sounds). When Jack gets off the plane with a huge beard, he looks more like Jebidiah Springfield than Our Lord and Savior, but the beard and the scars all over his back put one in mind of The Passion of the Christ. Much of the detail, for instance that Bauer did not speak a single word during twenty months' captivity in China, as well as the shots of his scars, seem needless. The point seems to be to underscore Bauer's heroism, but that heroism is presented in distinctly masochistic tones (this emphasis on masochism is familiar to anyone who has seen a Bruce Willis movie, though Bauer lacks Willis's sardonic streak, his everyman's reluctance to become a hero). The ethos is one in which nobility is understood as masochistic self-sacrifice, and the viewer will soon be witnessing Bauer being tortured again.

Lauren at Faux Real Tho recently wrote an interesting post on a species of action hero called "Save the Day Guy," who embodies a cheap, thin, and meretricious version of masculinity. Save the Day guy has much in common with what Orwell, surveying boys' magazines in the late '30s, described as the "American ideal, the 'he-man,' the 'tough guy,' the gorilla who puts everything right by socking everybody else on the jaw" (this is from his essay "Boys' Weeklies" -- on this theme see also his brilliant essay, "Raffles and Miss Blandish"). It is this version of masculinity as crude mastery basking in its well-deserved admiration that, it seems to me, dominates the minds of Bush and Cheney and their ardent supporters (see again the Glenn Greenwald post I linked to earlier today).

I think that the version of masculinity driving 24, one centered on masochism and self-sacrifice (remember that, for all his bluster about the "infinite justice" of our "crusade," W just couldn't bring himself to utter the word "sacrifice") is both more interesting and more admirable than the masculinity of Save the Day Guy. But if it is deeper and more complex, it can also be much darker. Later, when the terrorist masterminding the bombing campaign (Abu Fayed) addresses a teenage suicide bomber, he says something like, "When you overcome your fear, you prove your worth." His comments, and the resolve they inspire, come from the same place as Jack's willingness to sacrifice his own life, and indeed his ability to stand up under torture.

More on torture in a moment, but let me return to the dilemma with which the episode opens. When Bauer is handed over to be killed, one of his long-time friends and colleagues in the Counter-Terrorism Unit, a computer specialist, is very unhappy. Her beau, a sarcastic Brit who is constantly skirmishing with authority figures, and who was apparently previously fired from CTU and had to work selling women's shoes for a while, tries to use a satellite to find Jack, but the terrorist finds out, and threatens not to keep his end of the deal (telling them where they can find and kill the allegedd mastermind behind the bombings). The deal seems jeopardized, and the sequence reads like a fairly hackneyed exercise in reinforcing cliches about realpolitik and gender stereotypes. The woman and the woman's shoe salesman and inveterate fuck-up can't stomach the hard reality, and almost ruin everything by being overly emotional, nay, irrational.

Except, of course, what's irrational is to make a deal with a known terrorist and except him to help you. Iran-Contra, anyone? Abu Fayed, in the course of torturing Jack, reveals that the terrorist whose location he is giving to CTU is in fact a peacemaker, and it is he, Abu Fayed, who is waging war on the United States (yes, he reveals his secret master plan when his nemesis seems helpless, but it feels less ridiculous and trite here, since it makes Jack's torture that much worse by making it meaningless). Later, when Jack has a choice between stopping a suicide bomber from killing a couple dozen people and following someone back to Fayed, he makes a similar choice, refusing to sacrifice a relatively few innocent lives in order to improve his chances of catching the arch-villian (although someone else does follow the other agent).

In other words, although Bauer exemplifies a masculine form of heroism, it is not one based on "hard-boiled realism." It is, however, one which must prove itself through enduring physical suffering, thus the ubiquity of torture in the show. In the second episode, there is scene where Jack and his new partner, the former super-terrorist-turned-peacemaker, Assad (imaginative name for a Middle Eastern bad guy), try to get information out of one of Assad's men who has betrayed him to Fayed. Jack tortures him very briefly, then concludes, "I can see it in his eyes -- he's not going to tell us anything." Assad, however, takes a knife and drives it into his knee cap. The man, of course, screams and writhes in agony. He also gives them more information. All of this takes place in front of an American flag draped over a window; the flag is the backdrop, and the scene is lit with the light coming through the flag. It's probably a mistake to read this as some kind of allegory for special rendition. The point seems rather to be that, after have been locked in a windowless Chinese dungeon and tortured daily for nigh on two years, Jack no longer has the stomach to torture others. He tells Assad, "I don't know how to do this anymore," but he seems to be referring to a change in his character, not being out of practice or having forgotten his training.

24 is a very popular show, and although it can be violent (already this season Jack has killed a man by biting him in the throat), it has a clear moral code, and one superior, I think, to that animating the White House. Although I don't think the show will revolutionize people's attitudes towards torture terror suspects or anything else, I think it will be interesting to see how all of this develops. As always, I'd like to come up with a snappier ending (and perhaps revise this post to make it a little more focused), but I really have to go.

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The theory and practice of failure in Iraq

By Michael J.W. Stickings

The Surge is bad enough in theory, but it may be even worse in practice -- if it ever even comes to be. As John Burns et al. are reporting in the Times, Bush's "new way forward in Iraq" is "[facing] some of its fiercest resistance from the very people it depends on for success: Iraqi government officials."Whatever they say publicly, the Iraqi government -- essentially Iraq's Shiite government -- doesn't much care for Bush's "new" strategy. And, what's more, there's the not-so-little matter of actually implementing the plan. It's not going well:

American military officials have spent days huddled in meetings with Iraqi officers in a race to turn blueprints drawn up in Washington into a plan that will work on the ground in Baghdad. With the first American and Iraqi units dedicated to the plan due to be in place within weeks, time is short for setting details of what American officers view as the decisive battle of the war.

But the signs so far have unnerved some Americans working on the plan, who have described a web of problems — ranging from a contested chain of command to how to protect American troops deployed in some of Baghdad’s most dangerous districts — that some fear could hobble the effort before it begins.

First among the American concerns is a Shiite-led government that has been so dogmatic in its attitude that the Americans worry that they will be frustrated in their aim of cracking down equally on Shiite and Sunni extremists, a strategy President Bush has declared central to the plan.

All predictable problems, of course, but Bush and the warmongers are so far removed from reality in Iraq that it should come as no surprise that those who are actually on the ground in Iraq, embedded in its reality, tasked with putting theory into practice, are encountering them.

Bush and the warmongers didn't know what they were getting themselves and their country into back in 2003. Nothing has changed.

Failure, once again, is imminent.

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