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Archive for March, 2007

Matthew Dowd: Finally Traveling at the Speed of Obvious

[ 0 ] March 31, 2007 |

It may be that a week of sunshine and sloth have lulled my brain into a Vitamin D and tequila-drenched stupor, but my initial response to this is “big deal.” I suppose it’s something that Bush’s re-election campaign strategist has reached the astonishing conclusion that he worked for hacks with nonexistent social commitments; hell, I’m even willing to give Dowd somewhat of a pass for thinking that Bush “cared about education” while he was occupying whatever passes for an executive branch in Texas during the 1990s.

What I can’t abide, though, are meaningless gestures like these from someone who urged Bush to use the Swift Boat attacks for all they were worth:

“I think we should design campaigns that appeal not to 51 percent of the people,” he said, “but bring the country together as a whole.”

He said that he still believed campaigns must do what it takes to win, but that he was never comfortable with the most hard-charging tactics. He is now calling for “gentleness” in politics. He said that while he tried to keep his own conduct respectful during political combat, he wanted to “do my part in fixing fissures that I may have been part of.”

I’m sure this sort of High Broderism will be just as consequential as Lee Atwater’s deathbed conversion to the cause of civility. While Dowd doesn’t come within a mile of Atwater’s unblemished trail of sin, his record as a political strategist will always bear the weight — I would argue justifiably — of one insidious presidential campaign, for which he will forever dangle from a hook. The big difference between the two men, of course, is that Atwater is currently resting toe-up in a pine box; Dowd, meanwhile, is young, healthy and presumably capable of doing something constructive with his newly-discovered sense of conscience.

Alas.

Mr. Dowd does not seem prepared to put his views to work in 2008. The only candidate who appeals to him, he said, is Senator Barack Obama, Democrat of Illinois, because of what Mr. Dowd called his message of unity. But, he said, “I wouldn’t be surprised if I wasn’t walking around in Africa or South America doing something that was like mission work.”

He added, “I do feel a calling of trying to re-establish a level of gentleness in the world.”

He’s also apparently written a “never-submitted” op-ed entitled “Kerry Was Right.” Now that’s commitment!

If we were keeping score, I’d just go ahead and declare an automatic five-point deduction for anyone who uses this article as further “evidence” that the Bush administration is falling apart. Dowd’s revelations are worse than useless.

Comparative Evidence of Idiocy

[ 0 ] March 31, 2007 |

I’ve always thought skipping the 13th floor (although calling it “12A” rather than skipping it is a new one on me) has always been among the starkest evidence about the number of extremely stupid and irrational people a country has. I’m still not sure if it’s worse than the fact that astrology columns appear in major newspapers, though…

[ 0 ] March 30, 2007 |


Friday Cat Blogging… Nelson and Starbuck

"Before you could say Eric Keroack you’d turn your back and I’d be gone."

[ 0 ] March 30, 2007 |

The anti-contraception wingnut appointed to oversee the nation’s birth control policy has resigned. Lots of interesting stuff at the link about Keroack’s rather fishy medical practice. Also, there’s a good reminder of this story about the scientifically inaccurate propaganda distributed at his “crisis pregnancy centers”:

A Woman’s Concern promotes itself to pregnant women considering abortion as a “pregnancy health center designed just for you.” Nowhere does the center reveal that its real mission is to dissuade women from abortion.

The center staff told our volunteer misinformation and lies about abortion. Counselors provided gruesome exaggerated details of an abortion procedure – including a description of “prying” open her cervix to get the “bigger baby out” because her pregnancy was past the first trimester. Our volunteer was also told gross exaggerations about the risks associated with RU-486 (the abortion pill), including hemorrhaging and ineffectiveness.

Counselors further made false assertions about the mental health effects of abortion –including telling our volunteer that she would likely have severe depression as a result of her abortion and that this was a common occurrence. Such assertions about “post-abortion syndrome” are not supported by the weight of scientific evidence, nor recognized by major psychiatric associations.

A Woman’s Concern also provided our volunteer with pamphlets containing information falsely linking abortion to a risk of breast cancer. This long-time anti-abortion myth has been repeatedly discredited. Other pamphlets in the center’s waiting room likewise contained disinformation about condoms and sexually transmitted infections, and were often seriously outdated.

A Woman’s Concern adopts an air of medical authority but in actuality it fails to provide accurate information or legitimate medical services of use to any woman.

Good riddance.

The Moderate Senator…Who Terrorized Chris Matthews!

[ 0 ] March 30, 2007 |

It is quite remarkable how obsessed Chris Matthews, remains with Bill Clinton’s sex life. (Why the adultery of Hillary Clinton’s husband is a major campaign issue while we can be free to swoon over Republican adulterers, some of whom actively humiliate their exes, remains unclear. Although one prominent law professor does claim that Hillary’s campaign events are being used as fronts for Bill to meet women — I’m sure Matthews will be discussing that soon.) Needless to say, this is just one dimension to his exceptionally creepy misogyny. Bob Somerby finds Matthews engaging in the following sober analysis, in language that occasionally bears resemblances to English:

You know, somewhere out in the Atlantic Ocean, I think there might be a giant, green, ugly, horny monster. A gigantic, gigantic monster of anti-Hillary, and anti-woman Hillary, anti-liberal woman Hillary, some real ferocious beast out there that says no matter what happens between now and Election Day, they’re not going to let her win. Men, some women, are just not going to let this woman, this woman win the presidency. I don’t know whether that monster’s out there. All men I meet are afraid to talk like that. You only hear criticism of Hillary from smart, college-educated women. They’re the ones that always have a problem with her now.

[Count Floyd] Vasn’t That Scarrrrry! [/Count Floyd] I know I can’t have a conversation with a smart, college-educated women without her expressing abject terror about Hillary Clinton winning the presidency either! I’m assuming they all really like the idea of the Straight Talk Express running into town to invade their uterus, though.

In Defense of Iwo

[ 0 ] March 30, 2007 |

In a March 3 American Prospect article, Charles Taylor did a fine job of debunking the myth of Clint Eastwood. As Scott has noted, while Eastwood is a talented filmmaker, his catalogue is uneven, and the worst work nearly unwatchable. Unfortunately, in the process of criticizing Eastwood, Taylor gets his latest work, Letters from Iwo Jima, badly wrong.

Taylor and Stephanie Zacharek have argued that Eastwood presents a picture of the Imperial Japanese Army that takes insufficient account of its brutality. In World War II, the Japanese Army operated with barbarity against both civilian and military foes. The IJA committed many atrocities in its eight year was against China, including most notably the Rape of Nanking. After capturing the Chinese capital, the IJA ran wild, raping and beheading civilians without any apparent purpose other than terror. In Manila in 1945, a retreating and isolated Japanese army turned its frustration on the local population, massacring thousands before American forces could retake the city. The Imperial Japanese Army’s treatment of prisoners was similarly brutal. After defeating a combined Filipino-American force at Bataan, the IJA marched 75000 American and Filipino troops nine days in horrific conditions, killing thousands. Similarly, 16000 surrendered Allied troops died in slave-labor conditions during the construction of the Burma-Thailand Railway. The issue of Japanese use of “comfort women”, or forced sex slaves, has again come to the fore as a consequence of the unfortunate comments of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Indeed, the depredations of the Imperial Japanese Army had effects beyond the murder of its victims. As Christopher Bayly and Tim Harper detail in Forgotten Armies, the brutality of the Japanese Army in China, Burma, Malaya, and elsewhere helped undercut support from anti-colonial groups that might otherwise have been sympathetic with, or at least neutral toward, Japan’s pan-Asian propaganda.

Taylor and Zacharek contend that because Eastwood doesn’t depict the Japanese Army massacring civilians or killing very many American prisoners, Letters from Iwo Jima amounts to a whitewash. Of course, there were few civilians on Iwo Jima for the Japanese Army to massacre, and because of the tactical situation it had very few opportunities to brutalize and kill American prisoners. This left Eastwood with several options. He could refrain from making a movie depicting the Japanese view of the Battle of Iwo Jima. He could demonstrate Japanese brutality through flashbacks, an effective if clumsy device. Finally, Eastwood could, instead of giving us obvious examples of Japanese brutality, show us an Army that would, given the opportunity, commit atrocities. Eastwood chose the last, and did his job with uncharacteristic subtlety. He told the story so well, in fact, that some critics seem to have missed it entirely.

Taylor saw a stylized, honorable Japanese Army that bore no relationship to the real Japanese Army. Eastwood showed me, on the other hand, an army capable of committing the atrocities of Manila and Nanking. Eastwood ably demonstrated the character of the Imperial Japanese Army, both how it understood itself and how that understanding could break down into an orgy of unrestrained, irrational violence. Early in the film, as the Americans take control of Mount Suribachi, a group of Japanese soldiers is ordered to abandon their position and retreat to a more defensible point. Infused with “warrior ethos” several in this group decide to commit suicide (using hand grenades) instead of obeying orders and retreating. The rest of the group, less enthusiastic about detonating themselves, nevertheless complies because of both overwhelming social pressure and the very real threat of battlefield execution. This scene is key to Eastwood’s understanding of the Imperial Japanese Army, but neither Taylor nor Zacharek mention it. Along with a few others, this scene demonstrates that Eastwood understands the internal problems that helped lead the IJA to commit atrocities.

Armies do not, by and large, commit atrocities because they’re full of horrible people. Instead, they engage in horrific behavior because of institutional and situational factors. Military units that display extreme ideological commitment easily dehumanize the enemy, leaving just a few short steps to atrocity. Even then, committing atrocity doesn’t often appeal to a lot of soldiers. Social cohesion and pressure to conform, especially in a culture that puts a particularly high value on conformity, can lead soldiers to temporarily forget their own values in favor of group togetherness. Terror also pushes soldiers to commit atrocities, both in response to threats from their own comrades and as a reaction to fear of the enemy. Finally, while some armies commit atrocities in response to direct orders from superiors, many don’t. Military units that respond poorly and erratically to central orders tend to take matters into their own hands, including relations with civilians and prisoners of war. The political imperative to treat conquered civilians and captured prisoners humanely requires tight discipline at the unit level, as the urge for vengeance and rampage can easily take over a group of soldiers.

Eastwood gives us an army designed for atrocity. He depicts the Japanese Army as enthusiastic to the point of irrationality, deeply invested in social cohesion and group conformity, terrified both of itself and of the overwhelming American power, yet with extremely poor chain of command discipline. This is an army that would, given the opportunity, do terrible things. That it lacked the opportunity on Iwo doesn’t change the fundamental nature of the organization. Eastwood reminds us that the men of such an army, in spite of all the evil that they could do, still clutch pictures of their loved ones when they die. Moreover, he shows us the limits of what professional soldiers can do within such an organization. While Taylor saw the depictions of General Kuribayashi and Baron Nishi as a mixture of archetypes borrowed from war and samurai movies, I saw a couple of officers trying to win a battle, hindered not just by the Americans but also by the limits of their own organization. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the characteristics that make an army likely to commit atrocities also make it ineffective on the battlefield. The Japanese Army performed unevenly during World War II, combining occasional brilliance with consistent problems of discipline, supply, and organization. The suicidal tendencies that Kuribayashi has to deal with make it harder to defend Iwo, not easier.

Eastwood doesn’t literally show us the Rape of Nanking. Instead, he does something far more important; he shows us the army capable of committing the Rape of Nanking, and the Bataan Death March, the Burma-Thailand Railroad, and the atrocities in Manila. Both Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima attempt to understand the battlefront in terms of the home front. In the former, Eastwood is at his clumsiest and most obvious. In the latter, he’s at his most subtle. Letters from Iwo Jima should be understood as part of a family of films, along with Breaker Morant, Battle of Algiers, or The Grand Illusion, that conceptualize the practice of war as distinct from but embedded within a larger social universe. It’s among Eastwood’s best work, and critical over-appreciation of Eastwood’s other films shouldn’t obscure its quality.

Cross-posted to TAPPED.

The Crucial Question

[ 0 ] March 30, 2007 |

Fred Thompson scares me in the general more than Matt if he could secure the nomination. (I think Giuliani is a poor general election candidate — he largely takes social issues of the table, which won’t be good for the GOP in a lot of swing states, and paradoxically his lengthy record of social liberalism means that he will have to make more specific claims about the unpopular goal of overturning Roe more generic reactionaries like Bush had to.) On the other hand, I think it’s important to consider that campaign restrictions may result in his Law & Order reruns being taken off the air, which is a major social good. It would be one step toward returning to the golden age of L&O reruns, when the crappy new episodes were relegated to TNT where they could be easily avoided while the good old ones were on A&E. Has someone asked Dianne Wiest about running for the Senate somewhere?

Purpose?

[ 0 ] March 30, 2007 |

Via Drum, this seems quite likely right to me:

The Revolutionary Guard may also have hoped to sabotage diplomatic negotiations over the nuclear issue. U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said several weeks ago that the United States was getting “pinged all over the world” by Iranian intermediaries who wanted a resumption of talks. Iran’s chief negotiator, Ali Larijani, hinted at such a message in his recent contacts with the European Union’s top diplomat, Javier Solana. But the prospect of nuclear talks may have been blown out of the water, as it were, until the British issue is resolved.

Maybe that was the goal of seizing the sailors and marines. The Revolutionary Guard, after all, can’t be happy about curbing the nuclear program that would allow it to project power even more aggressively.

This is the problem with neocons; everyone has them. Just like the United States, Iran has a group of people who believe that the enemy only understands force, and that semi-treasonous diplomats seeking negotiations do nothing but weaken the nation. Whether in Iran or the US, their response to a dangerous situation is always the advocacy of more force, of a more threatening posture, and of less negotiation. When they’re allowed to control parts of the foreign policy and defense apparatus of the state, things get very dangerous very quickly.

Irregular Air Power

[ 0 ] March 29, 2007 |

According to Jane’s Defence Weekly, the airstrike that the Tamil Tigers launched against a government airfield is the first air attack by a non-state armed group. Is that true? I can’t think of any other examples off the top of my head (other, perhaps, than the rather special case of the 9/11 attacks), but it sounds a bit unlikely to me. Anybody have any ideas?

Kingdaddy Unleashed

[ 0 ] March 29, 2007 |

Victor Davis Hanson feels the wrath. Given how VD Hanson interprets Herodotus and Thucydides, what must he have taught the fine undergraduates of the Classics Department at Fresno State University?

But If We Make Access to the Ballot Easier, Democratic Unicorns Will Steal Our Elections!

[ 0 ] March 29, 2007 |

A really terrific piece by Michael Waldman and Justin Levitt about the GOP’s vote fraud fraud. The scam is advanced by the common method of “generalizing from apocryphal anecdotes”:

Allegations of voter fraud — someone sneaking into the polls to cast an illicit vote — have been pushed in recent years by partisans seeking to justify proof-of-citizenship and other restrictive ID requirements as a condition of voting. Scare stories abound on the Internet and on editorial pages, and they quickly become accepted wisdom.

But the notion of widespread voter fraud, as these prosecutors found out, is itself a fraud. Firing a prosecutor for failing to find wide voter fraud is like firing a park ranger for failing to find Sasquatch. Where fraud exists, of course, it should be prosecuted and punished. (And politicians have been stuffing ballot boxes and buying votes since senators wore togas; Lyndon Johnson won a 1948 Senate race after his partisans famously “found” a box of votes well after the election.) Yet evidence of actual fraud by individual voters is painfully skimpy.

Before and after every close election, politicians and pundits proclaim: The dead are voting, foreigners are voting, people are voting twice. On closer examination, though, most such allegations don’t pan out. Consider a list of supposedly dead voters in Upstate New York that was much touted last October. Where reporters looked into names on the list, it turned out that the voters were, to quote Monty Python, “not dead yet.”

Or consider Washington state, where McKay closely watched the photo-finish gubernatorial election of 2004. A challenge to ostensibly noncitizen voters was lodged in April 2005 on the questionable basis of “foreign-sounding names.” After an election there last year in which more than 2 million votes were cast, following much controversy, only one ballot ended up under suspicion for double-voting. That makes sense. A person casting two votes risks jail time and a fine for minimal gain. Proven voter fraud, statistically, happens about as often as death by lightning strike.

Yet the stories have taken on the character of urban myth.

And not only does the grossly exaggerated problem of voter fraud detract attention from the really serious problems with voting in this country, such as unreliable voting machines that vary across districts, insufficiently staffed vote booths, etc.–these urban legends are used to actually oppose efforts to make it easier to vote, as it is in most liberal democracies (which don’t seem to have problems running fair elections.)

…see LizardBreath as well.

Cicero: Is there anything he can’t do?

[ 0 ] March 29, 2007 |

Minstrel Boy channels some kickass Cicero to think about the attorney scandal. From In Verrem:

Gentlemen of the court, at this great political crisis there has been offered to you, not through man’s wisdom but almost as the direct gift of heaven, the very thing you most need—a thing that will help more than anything else to mitigate the unpopularity of your Order and the suspicion surrounding these courts. A belief has become established—as harmful to the republic as it is to yourselves—that these courts, with your senators as the jury, will never convict any man, however guilty, if he has sufficient money.

The problem, of course, is that while Quintus Hortensius had shame, George W. Bush does not. Via litbrit.

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