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Archive for October, 2009

There Is A Crack In Everything

[ 0 ] October 26, 2009 |

Apparently the ramps in the new Yankee Stadium were made out of paint, breadsticks, and shellac. I wish I could say that their issues with their construction company Valdazzo Brothers Olive Oil symbolizes their World Series odds, but…the Angels delivered a near-death knell to the forces of less evil by not forcing the Yankees to pitch Sabathia. Getting to start Lee against Burnett, the Phils would have been a very live dog; having to face Sabathia 3 games out of 7, much less so.


Griffin, the BNP, and the BBC Redux

[ 0 ] October 25, 2009 |

I, and several others, suggested that in the wake of Nick Griffin’s appearance on the BBC, support for his non-racist British National Party would not appreciably increase. Indeed, Andrew Rawnsley writes a scathing, at times hilarious, piece in “Comment is Free” in today’s Observer, in which he admits surprise that Griffin turned out to be “a big, blubbery wuss . . . a nervous, sweaty, shifty, amateurish and confused man, manically grinning when confronted with his back catalogue of repulsive quotes and occasionally venting bursts of incoherent nastiness.”

In fact, his own party is critical of his appearance on Question Time for not going far enough, for attempting to portray the Party as modern and moderate, and, worst, for not being prepared: “Maybe some coaching could of been done so that Mr Griffin could of answered any questions articulately.”

However, while Rawnsley points out that:

The more people see of the BNP, the more poisonous they will see them to be. I take that view even though they claim – not a boast to take at face value anyway – that they got 3,000 new recruits from a programme watched by an audience of 8 million. So the BNP’s “breakthrough moment” won over, on his own figures, less than half of a thousandth of those exposed to its leader.

A YouGov poll conducted for The Times in the aftermath of Question Time has some surprising findings — surprising if considered without context. It’s common for any hyped appearance by political actors to receive a polling bump following said appearance, the most obvious of which is the “convention bounce” that the two nominees for the U.S. Presidential election receive following their convention appearances. The same largely occurs in the UK with the party conferences. I interpret this as no different. Indeed, those who would vote for the BNP if an election were held tomorrow increased from 2% prior to QT to 3% in this poll: neither a large boost, and well within the margin of error for a sample size of around 1300. In other words, meaningless.
More interesting, and likely to scare more people, is that 22% of respondents would “seriously consider” voting for the BNP in an upcoming election. Again, I’m not terribly worried that the UK will suddenly become a fascist state (at least not more of a fascist state, at any rate). We don’t know the motivations for these responses, but my strong suspicion is that it has far more to do with the general mood in the UK regarding Parliament and the major parties considering the ongoing MP expenses scandal and a general if perhaps unarticulated disquiet with the electoral system. On the latter, the third Labour government was elected with only a little more than 35% of the vote in 2005, meaning 65% of those who voted voted against Labour and Tony Blair / Gordon Brown. Hence I suspect that this vague support for the BNP is a classic manifestation of protest voting, which will (and has been — the EUP election as an example) manifest itself to greater degrees in second-order elections: those that don’t matter as much if at all.
Again, Rawnsley:

The BNP has two main sources of support. At the core are extreme racists. The greater and softer section comes from disaffected voters who feel ignored and disenfranchised by the conventional parties and to whom the BNP presents itself as a stick with which to beat the political establishment.

Hence, I’m not terribly worried about Griffin’s QT appearance dramatically inflating support for the BNP. There were only 3,000 more membership applications filed out of the 8 million viewers, and his own party isn’t terribly happy with his performance.
The only people happy with the performance are likely the BBC.

Canadian Popular Song: Sublime And Ridiculous

[ 0 ] October 25, 2009 |

I saw Leonard Cohen on Friday; more later, although my bottom-line reaction would be to say that it exceeded even the very high expectations established by the consensus of previous attendees. When entering the concert, however, we were initially — once for the devil — in the line for the concert at the Bankrupt Banskter theater at MSG, where the “attraction” was…David Foster and friends. For people who haven’t heard of him, let’s just say that he’s produced so much unlistenable dreck (with, to be fair, some career nadirs for once-gifted artists sprinkled into the mix) that as we speak Slate has commissioned Jonah Weiner to write an article about how he should be considered the equal of Jerry Wexler. And research indicates that his show lives down to expectations: 1)Of the many artistes Phillip Bailey would seem to be by far the most talented one, and 2)two words: Peter Cetera.

"I Swear, I’m Not Making This Up"

[ 0 ] October 25, 2009 |

If nothing else, Rand Paul’s quest for the Senate seat once held by Henry Clay will go down as one of the most entertaining campaigns in American history:

Thank you Jonathan. I met Jonathan a few months ago at a tea party over in Frankfort. The Tea Party Movement seems to be everywhere. In fact, the biggest crowds and meetings that I’ve been to in Kentucky have all been Tea Parties. I had to promise my family one thing when I went out on the road to campaign. I had to promise them that I would never sing. As you can tell, my voice is kind of raspy, so I’m not going to sing. But I do have the lyrics to a song I’d like to tell you. This is a song called Trees, by Rush.

It gets better from there.

Who Knew that Radical Right Wing Nationalists Could Disagree?

[ 0 ] October 25, 2009 |

Especially when they come from different countries?

Former Ambassador Martin Indyk revealed an interesting wrinkle to the story of Eastern European missile defense system, which the Obama administration canceled last month, a move conservatives have heavily criticized as — what else? — appeasement.

Recounting recent meetings with Israeli national security officials, Indyk said that “the Israelis were upset at the way that Bush had offended Russia with missile defense” in Eastern Europe. The Israelis, like many Americans and most of the rest of the world, saw the deployment of untested missile defense technology in Poland and the Czech Republic as needlessly provocative of Russia, whose support is seen as necessary for any effort to bring Iran’s nuclear program under control.

Speaking about President Obama’s engagement policy, Indyk said “The key to this strategy has always been Russia,” because of their close relationship with the Iranians, and Obama “is bringing them [the Russians] around.” After the administration announced the canceling of the missile defense system, Indyk said, the Russians told the Iranians “if you do not go along with the proposal to ship out low enriched uranium” to Russia for reprocessing, “then you will be on your own.”

President Obama’s diplomacy “is about trying to concert the international community into a solid block against the Iranian nuclear program such that the Iranians would see that it is not in their interest to pursue nuclear weapons.” Indyk said “That is what is happening now.”


A simple point but an easy one. Right-wing Israelis can easily afford to hope for the United States to take a neoconnish line on Iran. And right-wing Poles can afford to hope fro the United States to take a neoconnish line on Russia. But the desires of right-wing Israelis are in significant tension with those of right-wing Poles. And officials in the United States of America can’t realistically take a maximalist line on every point of geopolitical tension. Regional powers basically have their priorities set for them by circumstances. But the hegemon has the luxury of deciding what it cares about. That luxury, however, doesn’t eliminate the basic need to decide.

There are some interesting observations to be made here regarding interdependence of commitments. Neoconservatives are HUGE on reputation; a reputation for weakness means that the terrorists will destroy us, while a reputation for strength means that they’ll cower in their dark caves until they undergo conversion and emerge as fierce advocates of Reaganomics. Indeed, neoconservatives elevate this conception of reputation above all other diplomatic considerations, such that any move that takes into account the genuine foreign policy concerns of Russia, China, or Iran in fact indicates weakness, and thus should be avoided. This concept achieved a certain Purity of Essence in reference to missile defense; once the technological justification for the Eastern European systems was removed, all that was left was the need to demonstrate our strength to the Russians, which we would accomplish by wasting money on a pointless system that most Eastern Europeans didn’t want.

For American neocons, the pro-Israel logic worked as followed: If the United States demonstrated an irrational commitment to a useless system just to piss off Russia, then it would indicate that the US would pay high costs to do irrational things in support of Israel. If we failed to push forward with the missile system, then our commitment to expensive, irrational programs would be in question, Israeli “will” would fracture, and the Jordanians would push the Israelis into the sea, or something. As all commitments are interdependent, the North Koreans would soon conquer Japan, Turkey would capitulate to Tehran and work to restore the Caliphate, Brazil would elect Hugo Chavez as God Emperor, and Washington State would secede and join Canada.

Of course, real Israelis have to actually live in Israel, and they saw the world a bit differently. Israeli hawks recognize that the US commitment to Israel matters in a non-rhetorical way. The defense system in Poland had no practical, real world impact on Israeli security. Moreover, Israel actually needs to deal with Russia; simply intimidating Moscow into acquiescence isn’t on the table. Maybe US flexibility on missile defense wouldn’t make the Russians more flexible on Iran, but a US hard line certainly wasn’t helping matters. Accordingly, the Eastern European system was worse than useless to the Israelis.

None of this is terribly complicated. These observations are only useful in so far as they fracture the neoconservative vision of seamless alliance of liberty against tyranny, in which American, Israeli, and Polish hawks all have the same interests and policy preferences. It turns out, rather, that neither the Poles nor the Israelis care overmuch about the other; rhetorical support for the neocon vision of liberty/missile defense/bunker busting/awesomeness/sexy/democracy/whiskey collapses in the face of real world material interest. In the end, it’s almost as if our allies value material and institutional commitments to their defense more than they value a nebulous American reputation for “toughness”.

Am I getting too good at this, or is the stupid just getting easier?

[ 0 ] October 24, 2009 |

So, I read in the Times that Obama’s eliminated some bureaucratic hurdles by declaring the swine flu outbreak a national emergency. His decision makes sense to me, because if flu activity currently rivals its annual winter peak, this season’s peak could tower over Everest like some dread Olympus Mons. By signing the order now, Obama frees hospitals to prepare for the worst by, for example, “issu[ing] waivers expediting health care facilities’ ability to transfer patients to other locations.” Sounds logical, right? However:

The declaration allows hospitals to apply to the Department of Health and Human Services for waivers from laws that in normal times are intended to protect patients’ privacy and to ensure that they are not discriminated against based on their source of payment for care, including Medicare, Medicaid and the states’ Children’s Health Insurance Program.

As a practical matter, officials said, the waiver could allow a hospital in danger of being overwhelmed with swine flu patients to remove them, and any emergency room visitors suspected of having the illness, to a location such a local armory to segregate such cases for treatment.

Do you know what this means? The government now has the power to segregate certain people (wink conservatives wink) on the basis of how they pay. Where do you think all those Cadillac owners are going to end up? In the hospitals, with doctors, in armories, because Obama knows he’ll need guns to keep conservatives away from theirs. The National Guard will be mobilized, then the “debate” over health-care reform will end as will America, as a permanent state of martial law will be declared on account of the continuing swine flu crisis.

This has been another edition of “Tomorrow’s Conservative Talking Points Today.” Gah.

"Now, we’re not saying rape is good, I’m just not convinced people should be punished for it. Want some money?"

[ 0 ] October 23, 2009 |

I’m at a loss. (Thankfully, Franken is proving himself to be the kind of Senator who won’t let his glorious amendments die mute.)

Nick Griffin Caused Controversy? For Real?

[ 0 ] October 23, 2009 |

Nick Griffin, leader of the avowedly non-racist British National Party, appeared on the BBC’s Question Time Thursday night. Although currently in the US, I’ve had it recorded so I look forward to being adequately entertained upon my return.

While I have a lot of time for United Against Fascism (and I’m also in favor of oxygen, my daughter, beer, baseball, and opposed to domestic violence — I’m really going out on a limb here), their suggestion that Griffin be banned from the BBC is dead wrong. While abhorrent, the BNP were surprisingly successful (by their standards) in the EU Parliamentary elections (receiving nearly one million votes) as well as a smattering of local elections across England. In a democracy, this matters; furthermore, the remit of the BBC requires it to be politically inclusive given that everybody on the island with a (color) TV will be paying £142.50 this year for the privilege. Indeed, as Sholto Byrnes argues in The Independent, Griffin should have perhaps been given more respect, not less. While his fellow panellists “could have given him all the rope he needed to hang himself”, they treated him as a pariah, interrupting and shouting him down. This is the behavior we expect out of the teabagging wingnut brigade in the US, for whom reasoned debate is a foreign concept where one’s ideas just might be challenged, but not front-bench representatives of the three leading British political parties.

This is an easy, obvious line to take, but there’s little chance that Griffin added to his support. If anything, he would have lost potential supporters who were on the fence. Reviews of both Griffin himself and the rest of the panel are mixed. The Times invited several of their writers to share their observations. According to David Aaronovitch, his demeanor would not exactly remind one of “gravitas”:

For much of the programme Nick Griffin’s body language was that of a ten-year-old on his birthday. He was nervous and excited, given to exaggerated nodding and head-shaking.

“Nick”, as everyone called him, did quite well during part of the show, but only when he was silent.

However, it appears that Jack Straw did even worse, which is surprising. By most accounts, Bonnie Greer injected some much needed humor into the event, the Liberal Democrat Chris Huhne “was lucid and confident, and spoke cogently, but said little that was distinctive; he didn’t lead; he didn’t take the argument forward”, keeping in line with the Lib Dem approach to, well, anything (aside from Vince Cable of course); and it appears that Lady Sayeeda Warsi, a member of the Tory shadow cabinet, won the day. According to Matthew Parris at The Times, she “was cool, she was measured, and spoke with quiet passion. She sounded sincere and avoided fireworks.”

If the polls are correct, Lady Warsi is coming soon to a government near you.

The British being, well, British, have to complain. I disagree with the assessment that the BBC erred by making Griffin appear bullied and sympathetic, but I also strongly disagree with some of the lunatic fringe commenting over at the often entertaining Guy Fawkes’ Blog. A sampling includes these gems:

“Classic left wing BBC. Which is why I will never buy a TV licence.”

“Shame on you all and how do we unplug the BBC>?”

What was it that I said a few months ago about some of the British not appreciating what they have in the BBC? These comments were left by supporters of Griffin (of which there were several who crawled out from under their log to comment, if not eloquently, at least vociferously). Would Griffin’s good mate David Duke receive similar exposure on a national network in the United States? For the record, Griffin defended Duke, arguing that Duke was an ex-leader of “a” Ku Klux Klan, one which was “almost totally a non-violent one, incidentally” (clip can be found at the top of this page here), a stance which didn’t particularly impress the Chicago born Bonnie Greer, sitting to his left. Predicating your legitimacy on the suggestion that Duke et al. consider you a “sell out” strikes me as a somewhat precarious strategy.

As (presumably) one of the non-indigenous indirectly responsible for ethnically cleansing London by making it a non-British and non-English, or to quote Griffin directly while he was whining about the unfairness of having Question Time in London (where, you know, the studio is and stuff):

“Do it somewhere where there are still significant numbers of English and British people [living], and they haven’t been ethnically cleansed from their own country.”

He added: “There is not much support for me there [in London], because the place is dominated by ethnic minorities. There is an ethnic minority that supports me: the English. But there’s not many of them left.”

I feel that this is precisely what the BBC ought to be doing (in addition to East Enders and Strictly Come Dancing, of course). It also resulted in the highest ratings in the 30 year history of Question Time. Furthermore, it offered Griffin a platform to, perhaps unconvincingly for a former holocaust denier, assert that he is not a Nazi.
My favorite line, brought to my attention last night by a good friend who lives just down the street from me in Plymouth, and repeated in most of the coverage I’ve read, is recounted in this article in The Guardian:

A British Asian man was clapped when he accused Griffin of wanting to hound him out of Britain. “You’d be surprised how many people would have a whip-round to buy you a ticket and your supporters to go to the South Pole. It is a colourless landscape that will suit you fine.”

Come Back Half Hour News Hour, All Is Forgiven…

[ 0 ] October 23, 2009 |

Especially given the rape jokes, I think this could well be the very least funny conservative “comedy” ever, including Ernie Mannix.

Friday Daddy Blogging

[ 0 ] October 23, 2009 |

Elisha and Miriam. Bonus points to whoever can figure out the location.

The water soon becomes pink and two roses appear

[ 0 ] October 23, 2009 |

For years, I’ve been searching for an excuse to embed an old Bongwater video.

Now — thanks to the Minnesota Supreme Court — I have it.

Bigotry or Custom

[ 0 ] October 23, 2009 |

They really have nothing else.

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