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Archive for October, 2006

He Finished Haggling Over The Price, And It Wasn’t Nearly Enough

[ 0 ] October 31, 2006 |

Shorter Jon Henke: “You have no reason to object to being assaulted for asking questions of your Senator, if you’re guilty of a history of…being a Democrat. Also, using “guerilla” as a metaphor for nonviolent activist immunizes any future attackers from any responsibility for beating the shit out of you in the future.”

If I ever become a paid shill for a political candidate, please shoot me. Thanks. I really couldn’t bear the indignity.


Walker, Texas Wanker

[ 0 ] October 31, 2006 |

Via Whiskey Fire, we learn that Chuck Norris now has a column at World Net Daily. It’s worse than you can possibly imagine. For instance, in his response last week to the circulation of satirical (and profoundly boring and un-funny) “Chuck Norris Facts” on the internets, Norris went ahead and just stripped the fun out of everything. To wit:

Alleged Chuck Norris Fact: “There is no theory of evolution. Just a list of creatures Chuck Norris has allowed to live.” It’s funny. It’s cute. But here’s what I really think about the theory of evolution: It’s not real. It is not the way we got here. In fact, the life you see on this planet is really just a list of creatures God has allowed to live. We are not creations of random chance. We are not accidents. There is a God, a Creator, who made you and me. We were made in His image, which separates us from all other creatures.

By the way, without him, I don’t have any power. But with Him, the Bible tells me, I really can do all things – and so can you.

I’ve never heard of these “Chuck Norris Facts” until today. But shit, Chuck. Eat a candy bar or something. You’re bumming me out.

Bottom’s up, it’s Halloween!

[ 0 ] October 31, 2006 |

As we spend the day inserting sleeping pills and needles into miniature candy bars, jamming razor blades into candied applies, and coating lollypops with LSD and angel dust, it’s worth recalling that Halloween was probably a lot more fun when it was a drunken, violent holiday for adults. Until well into the 19th century, English and American Protestants rarely celebrated Halloween because it carried vestiges of the heretical Catholic and pagan feasts; until the American Revolution, if colonists in North America observed an autumn holiday, were more likely than anything to celebrate Guy Fawkes Day (November 5), which commemorated the foiling of the Gunpowder Plot — a “popish” scheme to blow up Parliament in 1605. Sentenced to be hung until not quite dead, then drawn and quartered, Fawkes himself managed to leap from the gallows and snap his neck before his scheduled dismemberment.

Halloween, though, was imported to the United States during the 1830s and 1840s by my own Irish Catholic ancestors, who carried on like rude, inebriated beasts — setting fires, engaging in “rough begging,” and even occasionally invading the homes of middle class urban dwellers to rifle their pantries, sit on their furniture, and drink their alcohol. As the nativistic “Know-Nothing” movement rallied in opposition to the Catholic menace — even going so far as to produce a healthy genre of anti-Catholic pornography — Halloween was gradually “disciplined” into a genteel, polite, middle-class holiday. Working class rowdiness remained a staple of Halloween, however, until the 1900s, when the “Century of the Child” (as reformers often called it) transformed into an insipid children’s affair.

The Vagueness Problem

[ 3 ] October 31, 2006 |

I’m not inclined to intensify my disagreement with Amy Sullivan, but a couple points in her reply demand a clarification. Some of her claims I don’t even understand. If she’s not claiming that it’s not Democratic politicians who need to reach out to evangelical voters, I frankly have no idea what she is arguing. (To paraphrase the old line about Republican moderates, if the plan calls for ensuring that nobody with a blog somewhere or on low-rated cable shows ever says anything that could be negatively construed by evangelicals, we need a new plan.) Most importantly, at no point did I “endorse” the claim that ” evangelical aren’t worth targeting as Democratic voters.” What I did argue is that I don’t think there’s a free ride–I don’t think that some minor shifts in rhetoric will be sufficient. Like Sam Rosenfeld, I definitely take Sullivan’s point about the potential value in seeing that evangelicism is a more complex phenomenon than described by, say, Kevin Phillips. I’m potentially open to arguments about ways in which ways in which Democrats can attract some of these voters, and even open to claims that major Democrats have needlessly alienated religious believers. But not naming names (and, no, I don’t believe second-tier television personalities count as prominent Democrats for the purposes of this argument) and getting into specific policy choices–in addition to being irritating–makes it difficult for this discussion to occur. The data Sullivan points to are a non-sequitur. The fact that some evangelicals are disillusioned with the Republicans doesn’t mean that they’re ripe to be Democratic converts–if their disillusionment stems from the fact that the Republicans aren’t doing enough to criminalize abortion or legally stigmatize gay people, for example, they’re not fertile electoral ground for the Democrats. Anyway, if Sullivan is saying that the Democrats can attract evangelicals with no substantive policy shifts I disagree and don’t think she’s provided any evidence; if she believes that some substantive changes are necessary, I can’t evaluate the tradeoffs until she specifies what they are.

There’s also an additional problem. I’m interested that Sam linked to Noam Scheiber’s post about people seeing Hillary Clinton’s sincere religious belief as a punchline. Sullivan and Scheiber are certainly right that there’s a problem of perception here: churchgoing Dems are assumed to be irreligious, whereas a Ronald Reagan–who had little private commitment to cultural conservatism but wasn’t a churchgoer–can be seen as pious. But it seems to me that broad, vague descriptions of “Democrats” (or even “some Democrats”) being hostile to religion are part of the problem. A lack of focus and specificity on this issue isn’t just bad for debate–it’s bad politics.

…in light of David’s comment, I should make an additional point. In assuming that Sullivan’s talking about Democratic politicans and power brokers and strategists, I’m not trying to distort her argument; I’m trying to be charitable. I can’t believe she’s arguing that every individual secularist who supports the Democrats should be prohibited from criticizing the religious and cultural views of evangelicals. That’s not trying to broaden the Democratic coalition; that’s just wanting a different coalition. If the argument is about how Democrats seeking office can attract evangelical votes, that’s a conversation worth having. If the argument is that “anyone who disagrees with Amy Sullivan’s religious or cultural views has to shut up,” that’s too silly to even be worth engaging with.

Senate Polling

[ 0 ] October 31, 2006 |

Some new CNN data. It still looks like 50-49-1 to me, with Tennessee looking like a write-off. The one ray of hope is Virginia–the polls are still even, and given the D.C. suburbs I can see Virginia going Democratic in a toss up race the way I can’t see Tennessee. On the other hand, MO is also still a toss-up, although I’m inclined to think the Dems will take it.

Today in the Conservative War on Aesthetics

[ 0 ] October 31, 2006 |

Shorter Ann Althouse: Why can’t those pretentious writers and directors stop making television shows and movies, and just go straight to the blog summaries? Movies are only good for using as a pretext for remarkably implausible GOP cheerleading anyway.

What I really like about the last post is that the shooting the president thing was playing in very limited release and the Dixie Chicks thing in 4 theaters (where it pulled in more than $12,000 per, not bad at any rate.) So Althouse seems to be seeing a Republican groundswell…in Manhattan and Los Angeles. (Perhaps Prof B.’s mere presence in the Golden state has initiated a huge backlash.) Is this likely? I dunno, ask whoever’s running against Hillary Clinton, if any trace of his or her campaign exists. Maybe the porn star the Republicans seem to be running for Senate in California has finally gotten $25 grand in the bank…

In fairness, you probably remember that when America’s Heart and Soul tanked, it portended that massive Democratic landslide in 2004, so maybe the theory has something to it…

The Return Of Marty

[ 0 ] October 31, 2006 |

It’s post about annoying indie cinema reminds me that I’m vastly behind on my movie posts. (Alas, I haven’t seen Little Miss Sunshine yet, but I can confirm that Miranda July’s New Yorker short story was indeed outstanding. Of course, I also liked Me and You and Everyone You Know— I think it’s in the “so often cited as overrated it’s actually underrated” category.) But any discussion of movies should start with The Departed.

The Departed is unlikely to be a strong best picture contender–it makes no grand statements, it’s not striving to be the great American cinema, and thank God. While I guess I can understand why someone with Scorsese’s reverence for American cinema wanted the awards he deserved, trying to please the MPAA was hell on his art. I strongly recommend Roy’s post about late Scorsese–I’ll even go the whole contrarian hog and agree that Eyes Wide Shut will look more interesting in 10 years. (Roy is particularly astute about Kurbick using Cruise “for his weaknesses as much as his strengths,” and about Sydney Pollack, who I wish would act more and direct less.) The most uneven and flawed ones–Casino and Gangs–were the most interesting; most of his other post-GoodFellas movies weren’t bad, but had no reason to exist. But the disappointment of making very skillful middlebrow Oscar bait and still not being rewarded seems to have had a clarifying effect. The Departed is lower first-tier or high second-tier Scorsese–or, in other words, I’ll be shocked if it’s not by far the best American movie of the year. And, of course, also see Roy on The Departed itself: “Scorsese got a hell of a good script and directed the shit out of it. This is not a bloated obsessional gig like the last couple — it’s a lean mean one, with a crackerjack cast and Ballhaus and Schoonmaker and Shore on deck. You can feel the pleasure of the material in every artist’s hand.” Exactly right.

It’s particularly striking when you see it after the overrated Scorsese homage A Guide To Recognizing your Saints, but from the first frame of the movie to the end your in the hands of a master, someone finally making movies for himself than for the MPAA. DiCaprio was awful, especially in comparison with Day-Lewis, in GONY and couldn’t quite carry The Aviator, but as part of an ensemble he’s very effective, holding up with Damon and Wahlberg. Nicholson is allowed to chew exactly enough scenery. And like Moriarty, Bernhard and Bracco Vera Farmiga provides the crucial, soulful center. His knack for pacing is back (and his ability to use rock n’ roll); the movie is long, but holds one’s attention throughout. (Because of a communication mixup we had to see the 10:30 show–a problem for my morning-person friend–but it wasn’t an issue.) The plotting starts to unravel a bit toward the end–if anything, it could have been longer–but it’s a terrific picture. Like Time Out of Mind, it’s a master returning to form after a long drought of the failed and merely good. And in what looks like an off-year, the movies needed him.

…A good point in comments: I actually like the very underrated The Age Of Innocence.

Oh, for the love of —

[ 0 ] October 31, 2006 |

Can we please dispense at long, merciful last with the myth that the United States could possibly have won “had we not cut off aid to South Vietnam in 1974-5,” as the boundlessly ahistorical Victor Davis Hanson has once again insisted? Almost as bad is Hanson’s assertion that had the American War in Vietnam not turned out so badly — with the continuation of the civil war in Vietnam and the genocide in Cambodia and the refugees from nearly every country in the region — the “wartime leadership” of Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon would not today be viewed with such universal disdain.

As they say in 9th grade algebra, “please show your work, Victor.” How, pray tell, would an American “victory” in Vietnam have altered the uncontroversial facts that Johnson and McNamara deceived Congress about the events in the Gulf of Tonkin; that Johnson oversaw what was (to that point) the most devastating and least productive bombing campaign in the 20th century; that within two years of escalating the American War, Johnson’s closest advisers were incapable of discovering any measure of “victory” outside of raw body counts; that by 1969 the Johnson administration displaced nearly half a million peasants whose “hearts and minds” the US was supposed to win; that Nixon released a ton of bombs for every minute he was in office, with no discernible change in the negotiating strength of the US; that Nixon authorized the illegal expansion of the air war into Cambodia and Laos; and that Nixon’s desperation to stop leaks from within his own administration led him down the dark path to what John Mitchell later described to Congress as the “White House Horrors?”

Does Hanson somehow imagine that an American victory — dispensed by magic pixie dust or some such paranormal means — would have done anything to nullify this sorry record? More importantly, does Hanson believe — as he apparently must — than none of this was relevant to the actual outcome of the war? In other words, does Hanson actually wake up each day confident that the United States might have “won” in Vietnam in spite of two decades of accumulated miscalculation and incompetence and deceit spanning four presidential administrations — if only the US Congress had not decided that twenty years of pointless delusion were enough?

Patterson Film Series: The Third Man

[ 0 ] October 30, 2006 |

Last week the Patterson Film Series featured The Third Man. As a piece of filmmaking, what is there to say? Reed creates two of the most memorable scenes in the history of cinema, both focused on Orson Welles. The first is our introduction to Welles in the dark street, which is about the most perfect minute and a half ever committed to celluloid. The second is the Welles-penned conversation between Martin and Lime on the ferris wheel. Martin is so tied up in his half-wit moral dilemma that he can barely see that his life is in dire peril. Welles displays about as much charisma as one actor can convey in three minutes of film, all while demonstrating an absolute lack of any moral sense. It’s genius, all genius.

The Third Man finds its way on to our schedule mostly because of its political agenda. I decided to screen Third Man for two reasons. First, as mentioned above, it’s simply a work of aesthetic genius, and our students are better off for being more conversant in the art of film. More important, however, are The Third Man’s political implications. Third Man was penned by Graham Greene, and I like to think of it as one of his cautionary tales about the inadequacy of Americans where foreign relations are concerned. In this sense, he’s a bit like Niall Ferguson. Both Martin and Lime come to Vienna and immediately become lost. Martin is literally lost, completely incapable of dealing with the city in any productive way. He can’t speak the language, can’t understand the women, can’t find his way through basic ethical problems, and comes to construct a narrative based on the American dime Western with himself as protagonist. His is, briefly put, in over his head. Lime is lost in a much more profound way; he has become detached from any moral sense whatsoever, so much so that he refuses to produce even a rhetorical moral defense of his criminal activities. Maybe Martin and Lime were always like this, maybe not, but that’s rather the point; men like Martin and Lime are inadequate to the demands of empire, and the United States is presumably chock full of them. The Russian and British officials have some sense of what’s going on, as the Russians understand themselves to be the villains of the piece, in the sense that they don’t really accept the priors of everyone else, but they’ll be polite about it. The British major is a true Fergusonian (or perhaps Kiplingesque) imperial officer, understanding the demands of realpolitik but at the same time possessing a moral center that allows him to both detect evil and to fight it.

One student had an interesting read on the film, suggesting that Martin and Lime could be mapped onto the Marlowe-Kurtz relationship. I’m comfortable with seeing most everything in the light of Heart of Darkness (Scott is Kurtz; I’m Marlowe) but I had never thought of The Third Man in precisely those terms. I don’t think it’s quite right, and I suspect that the similarities we detect come much more from the shared cultural position of Greene and Conrad, but the analogy is nonetheless productive. The relationship is almost one of parody, as the competent Marlowe becomes the inept Martin, the moral Westerner Kurtz becomes the amoral Lime, and colonial Africa becomes ultra-sophisticated Vienna. You can still detect a critique of colonialism in there; if we can’t expect Kurtz to behave properly, then what happens when men like Lime find themselves in power. The anti-American sentiment is also still apparent, as the fact that the sophisticated residents of Vienna are smarter and better educated than our protagonists is lost upon the Americans because they can’t understand German and don’t have the faintest grasp of Joyce. Like I said, I don’t think I quite agree, but the purpose of such analogies is to illuminate rather than to provide a conclusive interpretation.

While I’m on the subject, be sure to read Rodger’s posts on his Global Politics Through Film course. Here are the entries thus far:

Twelve O’Clock High
Saving Private Ryan (very good discussion)
The Quiet American
Black Hawk Down
Breaker Morant (also a Patterson Film Series entry)
Red Dawn (which is glorious in every way, and soon WILL be a Patterson entry)
The Great Dictator
Wag the Dog

Stupid Ideas that Become the Pundit Consensus

[ 0 ] October 30, 2006 |

Mr. Trend is making sense:

Since when did governments spending money become a bad thing?

If the government is wasting money on weapons programs and military spending while ignoring social needs of its people (health, nutrition, medicine, famine, poverty, etc.), then spending can be justly criticized. But criticism of spending that, by means of international deals, investments, etc., increases a country’s GDP, brings people out of poverty, leads them out of malnourishment, increases employment, literacy, etc., seems ignorant at best. Why is it bad that governments spend to help their citizens? Or, along another line – how do you pay for highways? For the postal service? For infrastructure? How do you offer cheap public university education to your citizens? How do you pay for the issuing of passports so your citizens can travel? It’s not private money – it’s government spending.

Durned Liberals

[ 0 ] October 30, 2006 |

I, for one, welcome the return of the word “liberal” to something more closely approximating its political theory meaning. I’ve spent far, far too much time explaining to undergraduates that when political theorists and international relations theorists use the word liberal they mean something much different than what Rush Limbaugh means. Like Ezra, I’ve also been using the word “progressive” to describe leftish political tendencies in the United States.

…and Billmon points out some other reasons that “liberal” and “left” are not the same thing.


[ 0 ] October 30, 2006 |

Since at least 1980 — with the infamous Reagan campaign ad claiming that that Ayatollah Khomeini wanted Carter to win a second term — it’s become an article of faith to some that Islamic fanatics want nothing less than Democratic hegemony over all branches of government. The Bushies resorted to this narrative in the weeks leading up to the 2004 elections, reviving the broad “vote for us or you’ll die” rhetorical strategy first introduced (no kidding) by John Quincy Adams in 1824, refined by Johnson’s “Daisy” ad in 1964, and deployed to mixed renown by defense hawks throughout the remainder of the cold war. As someone who doesn’t study voting behavior, I can’t say how persuasive this move actually is, but the evidence suggests that plenty of folks believe it’s effective enough to keep rolling out; like the “War on Christmas,” however, the “terrorists want Democrats” argument will probably grow stale enough even for ordinary people inclined to believe it.

Speaking of the War on Christmas, defender of the faith John Gibson recently rolled out the “insurgents want Democrats” argument again by quoting a Pentagon source who — praise be — argued that the insurgency in Iraq is being accelerated to arouse domestic opposition to President Bush and influence the mid-term elections:

Now why would Al Qaeda want to affect American elections?

Because Al Qaeda needs an American exit date in Iraq, and if the Democrats win, all indications are they will see to it that there is an exit date in Iraq.

Gibson doesn’t bother to explain how a Congress that has ceded virtually all of its oversight responsibilities to the executive branch is going to be capable — even in the event of a Democratic victory — of reversing the Bush administration’s policies in Iraq. More substantively, as Marc Lynch explores, American commentators like Gibson evidently feel no need to ask serious questions about what exactly al-Qaeda “wants” in the context of US politics. Examining a long post that appeared recently on the al-Tajdeed forum (run by a Saudi dissident with well-documented ties to al-Qaeda), Lynch oberves:

The author’s premise is that al-Qaeda has consistently intervened in American domestic politics where necessary in order to ensure that America stays in Iraq. Whenever America seems like it might withdraw, he writes, Osama bin Laden or Ayman al-Zawahiri pops up to remind Americans that if they do then al-Qaeda will triumph in their wake – thus goading them to remain. This predictably silences those reasonable voices calling for withdrawal, who are even accused of national treason, and strengthens the voices of stupidity. The author offers several detailed examples, including the 2004 election in which bin Laden ensured that Bush would win and continue his policies in Iraq, and a Zawahiri video last year calling on Bush to flee Iraq and admit defeat which Bush used to silence his critics. Each time al-Qaeda’s leaders speak, he argues, Bush and his party are strengthened, and commit even more firmly to remaining in Iraq… while the mujahideen laugh from the depth of their souls.

The whole post is worth reading, if for no other reason than for its suggestion that al-Qaeda’s ability to effect US elections is as limited as its broader understanding of the American political process.

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