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Archive for February, 2005

Egyptian Democracy

[ 0 ] February 28, 2005 |

I think that Yglesias and Atrios were a bit quick in calling the warblogging right out on the issue of democracy in Egypt. Though I won’t favor him with a link, I hear that the Man from Tennessee has already taken credit on behalf of his brotherhood. However, Matt and Duncan are right to wonder why the blogstorm hasn’t been as violent as, say, when Libya gave up its nuclear program. The question is even more pertinent given that you can actually draw some plausible causal connections between Bush administration policy and movement in Egypt, as really isn’t the case with Libya. I think that there are a couple of answers.

First, as Atrios points out, democracy really isn’t the first thing that most conservatives think about when they turn their minds to foreign policy. Indeed, the whole democracy thing is rather new to the right. They like to believe that the Reagan years were all about democracy promotion, and have engaged in some vigorous revision to make that seem plausible. Democracy promotion, however, does not sit easily on the minds of foreign policy conservatives. I recall that when I taught my first American Foreign Policy course in Autumn 2000 the conservatives were of one mind on American policy; isolation. I remember a conservative student patiently explaining to me that the problem with liberals was that they wanted to intervene all around the world to save people, were driven by emotion, and did not have a sufficiently dispassionate and realist understanding of the international system. This sentiment was echoed (and I do mean echoed) by the rest of my conservative students. Of course, that all changed a couple years later. It’s not surprising, however, that the Bush administration made the case for the Iraq war almost entirely on old fashioned national security grounds, and not on democracy promotion. The willingness of Americans, especially conservative Americans, to see their sons and daughters die on behalf of the political liberty of distant foreigners is notoriously limited. They’ll go along if the leftists hate it, but saving people doesn’t turn them on so much.

I think there’s another reason, specific to Egypt. Authoritarian Egypt has, for the last thirty years, been on speaking terms with Israel. This is not, I am to understand, a popular position among the Egyptian people. This distinguishes Egypt from Saudi Arabia, where the authoritarian government has been consistent in its anti-Israel sentiment. I’m sure that some of the people at the Corner know this, and understand that real democratic change in Egypt may threaten the relationship with Israel. As I’ve noted previously, there’s already some nervousness on this score with respect to Turkish democracy.

Sovereignty

[ 1 ] February 28, 2005 |

Missed this on Friday. From the Globe and Mail, via Brian Leiter and Matt Yglesias:

The formal announcement Thursday that Canada will refuse any further participation in the controversial U.S. missile-defence shield was met with an immediate warning that Canada had given up its sovereignty.
Although Prime Minister Paul Martin said Canada would “insist” on maintaining control of its airspace, U.S. Ambassador Paul Cellucci warned that Washington would not be constrained.

“We will deploy. We will defend North America,” he said.

“We simply cannot understand why Canada would in effect give up its sovereignty – its seat at the table – to decide what to do about a missile that might be coming towards Canada.”

Yglesias writes:

Now the reality is that if the United States manages to construct a working ballistic missile shield, and if some rogue state then manages to develop ballistic missiles capable of hitting the United States, and then if that state chooses to fire a missile at the United States, and — finally — if that missile is routed such that it passes through Canadian airspace, we’re going to fire our anti-missile missile at the hostile missile and the government of Canada isn’t going to stop us.

Which is all very true, and makes the discussion here seem kind of absurd. What fascinates me, however, is the understanding that the Bush administration is putting forth regarding sovereignty. We know, for example, that the administration did not consider the Taliban government of Afghanistan to be “sovereign” in any kind of meaningful sense. This is demonstrated not so much by the invasion as by the treatment of elements of the former regime; instead of prisoners of war, we get unlawful combatants, even if the individuals in question have nothing to do with Al Qaeda. The approach to sovereignty in the Iraqi case was also curious. The administration largely abided by standard legal norms in the treatment of Iraqi prisoners, but only after determining that it didn’t need to, as the Iraqi government represented less a true, sovereign state than a gang of criminals. For an nice example of how the Bushies understand sovereignty in such states, check this out:

Pseudo-states control areas and populations subject to personal, clan or tribal rule. A leader supported by a small clique (like Hussein and his associates from Tikrit) or a tribal faction (like the Pashtuns in Afghanistan) rule. Political institutions are weak or nonexistent. Loyalties depend on personal relationships with tribal chiefs, sheiks or warlords, rather than allegiance to the nation.

Quasi-political bodies such as the Iraqi Baathist Party, the Taliban or even the Saudi royal family exercise government power. Defeat of the “national” leader or clique typically results in the complete disintegration of the regime.

A treaty like the Geneva Convention makes perfect sense when it binds genuine nations that can reciprocate humane treatment of prisoners. Its existence and its benefits even argue for the kind of nation-building that uses U.S. troops and other kinds of pressures in places like Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq; more nation-states make all of us safer. But the Geneva Convention makes little sense when applied to a terrorist group or a pseudo- state. If we must fight these kinds of enemies, we must create a new set of rules.

This is quite remarkable, and given that it was written by two Bush administration Justice Department officials can be understood as genuinely reflective of Bush policy. I daresay that the above definition would exclude probably half of the nation-states currently recognized as such in the world. Since international law only applies to nation states, these “pseudo states” exist in the legal wilderness, making it fair to fuck with them any time we want. It is something of an understatement to say that this interpretation of sovereignty has revolutionary implications for international law. Let’s be absolutely clear; the argument here is that the United States need pay no attention to international law, including the Geneva Conventions, when dealing with a “psuedo-state”. Abiding by civilized prisoner of war regulations can be seen as a courtesy rather than as a legal obligation. Moreover, since the definition of pseudo-state is so expansive it can be applied to any potential US foe, including the People’s Republic of China. Defining away the sovereignty of unpleasant states also makes it easier to understand the pre-invasion incursions into Iraqi territory, the incursions into Iranian territory, and (perhaps) the failed coup in Venezuela. A territorial unit with no rights has no legal standing and cannot be “violated” in any meaningful sense.

The statements above by Ambassador Celluci go a step farther. According to the logic of Delahunty and Yoo, at least modern, democratic nation-states get to keep their sovereignty. I think, however, that Celluci’s argument is reflective of a deeper set of beliefs in the administration about the institution of sovereignty. Canadian sovereignty is defined as “a seat at the table.” This is really a very curious way of defining sovereignty. I suppose that you could interpret this as a commitment on the part of the Bush adminstration to an international standard of deliberative democracy, in which we only truly become sovereign through participation, but somehow I doubt this is where they’re going. Rather, I think that nation-states hold sovereignty by virtue of their willingness to go along with US policy. I hasten to add that this is a TRULY revolutionary understanding of sovereignty, since a state only becomes sovereign when, well, it gives up its sovereignty. Only by abasing yourself before the United States do you become free. Now that I think about it, I suppose there’s a nice (and disturbing) parallel between this understanding of international law and Protestant theology, with the US playing the role of Jesus.

Finally, I don’t think that there’s anything particular inconsistent about the approach the administration is making. Whereas some would argue that international law is an extension of the liberal project, Bushies would argue that the liberal project is bound to the fate of the largest, oldest, and most important liberal state. As the US goes, so goes liberalism. To the extent that international law, including sovereignty, restricts the US, the liberal project is endangered. The dangers (and contradictions) of this view are clear, and I don’t think I need to go into them here.

Backlash

[ 1 ] February 28, 2005 |

No, not another abortion post–that will be later today. Instead, so that it doesn’t clutter up my 10-best list, a quick note about one of the best pictures of the year. Sideways, now facing a severe backlash. In light of this, I saw it a second time with as much feminist guilt as I could muster. And I still think it’s an outstanding film.

I am tempted to call the anti-Sideways backlash Medvedism of the left, but that wouldn’t be entirely fair. The critique about the implausiblity of the Madsen/Giamtti relationship is certainly fair, and is an actual aesthetic critique. Even granting that Madsen knew him well before he hit rock bottom, it is a male fantasy. I’m not sure why Sideways, in particular, is getting hammered for something that affects most Hollywood movies, but it’s still a fair point. In addition, I of course have no objection to those who say the movie isn’t to their taste; the movie is quite male-identified, and I can understand having no particular interest in that, in the same way that I don’t really care if I see any of the Lord of the Rings movies again, because while they’re exceptionally well-made my sensibility is very different than Tolkien’s, and even the best long battle sequences make my mind wander. It would be wrong to deny that they do what they intend to do, but tastes differ. The argument that it’s a very good movie that critics tend to overrate because they over-identify with the male leads is certainly viable. I would have preferred a sad ending myself (although the actual ending is rather more ambiguous than Quinn suggests.)

On the other hand, one staple of Medvedite criticism is that the characters in a film represent a filmmaker’s unmediated beliefs; obviously, to them, the choices made by the characters in Million Dollar Babyrepresent Eastwood’s ideological attitudes. This is, of course, laughably incompetent criticism, anti-art and anti-human. Similarly, a staple of Sideways haters seems to be to point out that Haden Church’s character is an asshole, and hence an indictment of Payne. (This is best observed in Charles Taylor, who went from arguing in Salon that Payne was cruel to the two male characters to arguing in the Slate film club that he was celebrating them. Contraianism in search of a rationale.) Of course this character is an asshole. You’re not supposed to think otherwise. And Jake LaMotta was an even greater scumbag. So what? And as to charges that the Church/Oh relationship is implausible, with all due respect, bullshit. I’m sorry, but self-confident, good looking jerks do in fact sleep with women who deserve far better all the time. People make irrational choices in relationships. These aspects of the human condition are not worthy of celebration–and the film doesn’t celebrate them–but to pretend they don’t exist is silly.

But the criticism of Payne I have absolutely no patience for is the claim that he “exploits” characters who aren’t conventionally attractive. The whole point of the sequence with the waitress near the end of the film is that Church’s assumption that she was the “grateful type” was completely wrong. She wasn’t naive, or a sucker; she got what she wanted out of the tryst, and was not under the spell of the has-been actor by any stretch. Even worse is the criticism about the use of Kathy Bates in About Schmidt. You see, fat people could never possibly be comfortable with their bodies, let alone have (or, God forbid, enjoy!) sex, so a brief nude scene with Kathy Bates must somehow be exploitative. There’s nothing in the way that either sequence is structured to suggest contempt on Payne’s part; essentially, his critics assume the validity of the stereotypes that they criticize him for allegedly deploying. These criticisms are revealing, all right, but far more about the critics than about the film. (These assertions of contempt are particularly amusing coming from Taylor, who moans “if I ever grow that pathetic—–or dress that badly–—this is public acknowledgment that you have my permission to take me behind the barn with a shotgun.” How dare Payne put non-stylish people on screen! How gauche!)

I may be wrong about Sideways being one of the best movies of the year, but the content of most of the criticism isn’t very convincing, and (with one exception) has virtually nothing to do with the aesthetic merits of the film. So I’m sticking by my original judgment.

Drizzle

[ 0 ] February 28, 2005 |

For the first time in two weeks (and only the fourth time this month), it is raining in Seattle.

The Body of Work Award

[ 0 ] February 27, 2005 |

An old Roy Edroso post makes a relevant point:

The big news was the historic redress of an old, shameful shortcoming on Oscar’s part. I speak of course of Randy Newman’s Best Song Oscar. Newman has written several great albums, and some fine film scores, but the piece of shit for which he was lauded for (its slightness made self-evident by its wretched performance in the program) shows how far the Academy will go to make restitution for ancient slights.

First of all, this is obviously pertinent to Freeman, who was (as always) very fine, but has not only given as good or better performance any number of times, but has played the essentially same character many times. But one can’t really call his winning an injustice, although I probably wouldn’t have voted for him this time. He’s more than earned the award.

Anyway, this is more pertinent to Scorsese; the only interesting thing about the Oscars is the chance to reflect on the industry’s internal perceptions. I feel mixed about Scorsese for the reasons above. Part of me thinks it’s probably good he didn’t get rewarded for second-rate work. There was no injustice here, per se. The Aviator was an enjoyable, old-fashioned entertainment, but that’s it. I prefer the uneven, derivative Casino and the very flawed but much more ambitious Gangs of New York. And the past injustices are so scandalous and disgraceful that they can’t really be rectified. I mean, Scorsese has made 3 of the greatest pictures of the past 30 years, and of the movies they lost to Rocky, for Chrissakes, was the best, and by a considerable margin. 1990 is remarkable, because even if one grants thatGoodFellas is a little weaker than Raging Bull and Taxi Driver, it lost to one of the most wanktastic movies in living memory. (Pauline Kael: “This movie was directed by a bland megalomaniac. They should have called him “Plays With Camera.”) Part of me thinks it’s more useful to have this egg on the Academy’s face rather than trying to make a “too little, too late” atonement.

I also wonder if Eastwood should be writing Rush Limbaugh and Michael Medved thank you cards. That’s one thing to celebrate: the defeat of anti-art criticism is something to celebrate, even if it was spent on a movie I consider very overvalued.

Corrections Department

[ 0 ] February 27, 2005 |

Matt Yglesias:

Technically, though, Vancouver isn’t located in Oregon or Washington.

Except. . .

Vancouver, Washington sits on the north bank of the Columbia River directly across from Portland, Oregon. The Pacific Coast is less than 90 miles to the west. The Cascade Mountain Range rises on the east. Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument and Mt. Hood are less than two hours away. The spectacular Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area lies 30 minutes to the east. Vancouver combines the excitement of a major metropolitan area with small-town charm and abundant recreational opportunities.

Miscellany
City Incorporated: January 23, 1857
City Charter Adopted: February 20, 1952
Government: Council/Manager
Vancouver City Hall: 210 East 13th Street, Vancouver, WA 98660
Size: 44.8 square miles (as of 1/99)
Population: 152,900 as of April 1, 2004
County: Clark County, Washington

Elevation: 150 – 290 feet
Latitude: 45° 37′ 54″ N (measured at City Hall, 210 E. 13th St.)
Longitude: 122° 40′ 07″ W

City’s Namesake: Captain George Vancouver – British sailor/explorer (1758/1798)

In fairness to Matt, it’s easy to miss a city of 152000 when you live in New York. And, as they say, any publicity is good publicity.

I should also mention how deeply grateful we are to both Matt and Brad Delong for giving us positive mentions. Thanks very much.

Scorsese

[ 0 ] February 27, 2005 |

Wow, what a kick in the teeth. While marginally better than the overrated Million Dollar Baby, The Aviator was minor Scorsese; we’re not talking 1980 or 1990 here. But given the number of awards the movie won…ouch.

Social Conservatism Defined

[ 0 ] February 26, 2005 |

“When uniformity is compromised, then authority no longer holds.”

This reminds me of my favorite part of John Holbo’s famous review of Dead Right:

 

This sentiment or intuition or feeling (whatever you call it) produces a strangely hypertrophic concern with what seem (to me anyway) like rather ornamental details:

““If I am bearded, and I notice that my boss and the last four men in my section to win promotion are clean-shaven, I will find myself slowly nudged toward the barbershop. If the owner of the gas station across the road from mine smiles a lot, and I don’’t, I will find myself forcing a cheerful manner myself, no matter how snarly I may inwardly feel. People who do not have to work for a living, however, can indulge themselves in a hundred little peculiarities of behavior – one reason that the English upper class is so famously odd. Millions of Americans now live as free from the pressure to conform as any English lord, thanks either to the direct receipt of welfare or to civil service employment where promotion is by seniority and firing is unheard of. The fact, as much as any fashion change, explains the sudden flaunting of ethnic difference in manner and dress that so distresses Patrick Buchanan in his native city. Relatively few vice presidents at Proctor & Gamble would dare wear a kente cloth or keffiyeh; nobody who intends to earn very much of a living in the polymer business can hope to get away with not learning English; but city hall employees and welfare mothers can do both.”
This is supposed to sound sober and sensible. If cultural conditions are functions of economics, you can’t change the culture without altering the economics. So conservatives must keep up the titanic, colossal, epic, probably cosmically doomed and tragic economic struggle to keep government small so people will not dress funny or wear their hair in hairy ways? Sort of wimpy, as ragnaroks go. Notable disproportion here between means and the wished-for end. Even if you are the sort of person who feels deeply offended by funny, ethnic clothes (we’re off the deep end) – even if you think it is anything like your business to dictate fashion sense to everyone around you (we’re so off the deep end) – how could you possibly think it was so important as all that? And yet immediately we are off and running about after the bourgeois virtues, all dying out: thrift, diligence, prudence, sobriety, fidelity, and orderliness. I won’’t bother to quote. Why can I not exhibit all these virtues beneath and/or behind a beard, kente cloth and/or keffiyeh? Frum seems to find it too obvious to bear arguing that the trick is impossible. (Yet he can’’t actually think that.) Does Frum seriously believe there are no shrewd, sober businessmen in those parts of the world where businessmen wear beards and keffiyehs and kente cloths? (Obviously he doesn’’t. That’’s crazy.) So what does he think? I think he just has a powerful feeling that: things ought to be a certain way. And if they are that way, everything will be all right.

Bearded Guy: I like my beard.

Frum: You should shave it.

BG: Why?

Frum: Because it should have been the case that you were too afraid to grow it.

BG: But I wasn’’t.

Frum: But you should have been.

BG: Why?

Frum: Because you are wrecking the culture.

BG: Why?

Frum: Because the culture will decay and then the economy will fall apart and we’’ll all be poor.

BG: Because of my beard?

Frum: Just think about it. Our economy depends on a healthy culture.

BG: But you don’’t even care about the economy. You said you don’’t.

Frum: I wish you hadn’’t mentioned that.

BG: But I did.

Frum: Look, if you shave the beard, everything will be better.

BG: You’’re a moonbat.

Frum: It’’s all related to foreign policy and wheelchair access in public school, in ways that would take a long time to explain.

BG: Get away from me!

Frum: Look. Just shave your beard!

Seinfeld had his Soup Nazi. Frum is sort of a Suit Nazi. (OK, that’s too mean.) A kente cloth-free zone. An advocate of radical (what shall we call it?) sartorauthoritarianism. Society and culture conservatively dictate everyone’s dress code down to a whisker.

 

It never ceases to amaze me that people can think like this. American social conservatism seems to be an extension of the beliefs of the most dour and humorless middlebrow high school principal, applied to adults. I wonder why they continue to lose ground…

 

Neiwert

[ 0 ] February 26, 2005 |

Stop what you’re doing and read this post.

What all of them miss, importantly, is the role of movement leaders — particularly Bush, Cheney, Karl Rove, and the neocons — in encouraging these proto-fascist traits. There is no evidence that they’re doing so because they themselves are actually proto-fascists; rather, I think it remains clear that these people are pro-corporate crony capitalists, and the evidence strongly suggests that they’re indulging this style of politics for the sake of shoring up their numbers and securing their political base. The strongest evidence for this is the ongoing minuet the Bush administration dances with the neo-Confederate faction that now rules the South.

In other words, “movement conservatives” are being molded into a mindset that increasingly resembles classic fascism, but it’s being done by leaders who mostly find this mindset convenient and readily manipulable. Unfortunately, the history of fascism is such that the arrogant corporatist belief that they contain these forces is not well grounded.

David Neiwert, in my view, is the very best of the small community of bloggers who concentrate on quality over quantity. His work on fascism in America, as recognized by the Koufax Awards, is indispensible.

The Fable of the “Pro-life” Kettle

[ 0 ] February 26, 2005 |

Shorter Sebastian Holsclaw: “The decision of the Kansas Attorney General to create a new policy, exceptionally invasive of the most intimate privacy and transparently overbroad if its purpose was to enforce late-term abortion statutes, proves that pro-choicers are unprincipled.”

Wow, I can’t wait for further applications of this newly-minted standard. “Look, if you don’t believe that police can randomly break into hotel rooms and bedrooms and check birth certificates, you’re just not serious about enforcing statutory rape laws! Make up your mind!” Again, if there’s a set of arguments that are more of a moral, legal, political and ethical shambles than those advanced by most American “pro-lifers,” I don’t know what they could be (and don’t want to know.)

Via Fables of the Reconstruction and Jeremy Osner.

Eymania

[ 0 ] February 25, 2005 |

My reaction to some eastern Washington legislators calling for secession? Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out. I’d offer cab fare, but your roads are going to disintegrate so fast once Seattle stops paying the bills that it wouldn’t do any good.

I’m kind of curious about how these people think. Do they really, on the one hand, believe that Seattle needs Eastern Washington and would be sad to see it go? Do they really have so little grasp of fiscal reality that they think eastern Washington (or eastern Oregon, for that matter) could survive economically at anywhere near its current level? Or, on the other hand, do they simply think that they’re constituents are dumb enough to believe these things? My wager is that it’s a little from column A and a little from column B.

Doesn’t matter. Take them up on the offer. Take them up so fucking fast that it’ll make their heads spin. The downside, of course, is that it would result in two more Republican senators, which is not a good thing. However, it would come close to guaranteeing Democratic dominance in western Washington, where, you know, the people live. My favorite option would be to cut both Oregon and Washington in half, call the west half (now having Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia, Vancouver, Portland, Salem, and Eugene) Cascadia, and the other half (with metropolitan areas like Spokane and Pendleton) Idaho II: Revenge of the Rednecks.

Never happen, but we can dream.

Ah, Syria

[ 0 ] February 25, 2005 |

Credit where due; the Bush administration has found something that Syria is good for. When American torturers don’t get the job done, we give the Syrians a shot:

In the fall of 2002 Mr. Arar, a Canadian citizen, suddenly found himself caught up in the cruel mockery of justice that the Bush administration has substituted for the rule of law in the post-Sept. 11 world. While attempting to change planes at Kennedy Airport on his way home to Canada from a family vacation in Tunisia, he was seized by American authorities, interrogated and thrown into jail. He was not charged with anything, and he never would be charged with anything, but his life would be ruined.

Mr. Arar was surreptitiously flown out of the United States to Jordan and then driven to Syria, where he was kept like a nocturnal animal in an unlit, underground, rat-infested cell that was the size of a grave. From time to time he was tortured.

I have lost count of the things that I once believed were unthinkable.

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