Author Page for Scott Lemieux
Rob says most of what needs to be said about Jonah Goldberg’s inevitably failed attempt to turn the Iraq catastrophe into a policy problem for…liberals. I’d like to address this: “If you can justify causing genocide in order to end a nation-building exercise that — unlike similar efforts elsewhere — is fundamentally linked to our national interest, then how can you ever return to arguing that we should get into the nation-building and genocide-stopping business when it’s explicitly not in our interest?”
The problem here should be obvious: attacking a country that posed no threat to the United States in order to install an Islamist quasi-state that would be a breeding ground for anti-American terrorism was not in the national interest; indeed, it was dramatically contrary to the national interest. Which is why conservatives started a cynical, largely ex post facto attempt to sell it as a humanitarian intervention. If Goldberg means that it would now be in the national interest to find a large network of unicorn stables in Iraq, I can’t disagree, but this would seem to provide an easy out for the strawliberals who want lots of ineffective military interventions with no consideration of the national interest: just raze a country’s government and completely botch the occupation, and then the intervention automatically becomes in the national interest! Rational liberals, of course, can continue to ignore Goldberg’s silly dichotomy altogether, and will also remember that the fact that outcome x would be really nice doesn’t magically produce the capacity to make it possible.
Jules Crittenden excuses corpse desecration by applying “the legal principle of who cares?” With, of course, an approving link from Glenn Reynolds.
Evidently, this will have a million uses. “The Constitution gives the President virtually unlimited and plenary power to declare and conduct wars.” “Actually, several Constitutional provisions explicitly give such powers to Congress.” “In that case, I’ll apply the legal principle of who cares?” I’d expect Crittenden to get a job in the DOJ soon…
I know, what can you expect from Roger Scruton, but it’s pretty embarrassing for someone to assert that “Environmental movements on the Left seldom pause to consider the question of human motivation…[t]he problem with that approach is that it makes mistakes into permanent legacies and provides no incentive to ordinary citizens” when they don’t seem to understand even the most basic aspects of the collective action problem. Even large numbers of libertarians recognize that pollution is a negative externality that requires some state intervention, and anyone who thinks that people will just spontaneously and collectively agree to, say, start driving more fuel efficient cars despite the infinitesimal effect of any individual action on air pollution needs to be permanently enjoined from ever using the word “incentive” again.
Since Atrios has responded to Matt’s suggestion that Harry Potter books be a gateway drug with some actual positive discussion of books (I concur with his praise of the beautiful Never Let Me Go, which I think is Ishiguro’s best), since I’ve been trying to read more fiction and I’ve been lucky enough to pick some really good ones recently.
For some reason, despite the generally glowing reviews I was never compelled to pick up Veronica — perhaps my disinterest in the fashion industry? But then a friend recommended Two Girls, Fat and Thin with those magic words “Ayn Rand satire,” and after I read it I bought the new one. Both are absolute knockouts. The first of the Two Girls is the more voluptuous one, who lives in Queens and works the graveyard shift doing clerical work at a Wall Street firm. The second is a conventionally attractive journalist who meets her looking for interviews about an Randian cult. The satire of the Rand-esque group is, as one would suspect, entertaining, but Gaitskill also makes clear that it provided real value for the severely wounded character; a community discussing even bad ideas is better for a smart but isolated person than not having any intellectual outlet at all, the character’s experience implies, and to anyone stuck in a horrible job I think this will ring true. She’s also very psychologically convincing about the journalist, who falls into submissive (and not just role-playing, but genuinely self-abasing) relationships with people she knows to be assholes who should be rationally unworthy of her time.
Veronica focuses on a model’s friendship with an older, plainer woman who contracts AIDS in the early days of the epidemic, told from a period after which her looks have faded and her own health has deteriorated. In addition to a lot of interesting insights it expands on the themes of friendship between people of differing social status developed in the first novel — especially the ways in which pity and obligation can not only coexist with but nourish genuine (if always incomplete) affection — and despite the less interesting story is in some respects even better. (“A long time ago, John loved me. I never loved him, but I used our friendship, and the using became so comfortable for both of us that we started really being friends.”) She writes beautifully and is an incredibly acute and tough- minded observer of relationships. Neither is, I suppose, feel-good beach reading, but both are incredibly absorbing; strongly recommended. More picks later in the week.
As an aside Gaitskill also seems to have really good taste in movies. Even granting the obvious thematic relevance of The Dreamlife of Angels and The Piano Teacher (Rob would want me to mention Breaking the Waves here too) to her own work I’m always impressed by someone who touts them. Oh, and speaking of Dreamlife I was thinking that Zonca was going to become the Ralph Ellison of the film world, but apparently he’s got a movie starring Tilda Swinton coming out soon. I will be cautiously optimistic…
Huh, until I found it scrolling through a list of the year’s worst films so far I had completely forgotten a picture about some kind of numerology horseshit starring Jim Carrey and directed by Joel Schumacher was released earlier this year. It would seem like a mortal lock for worst movie of the year even with the Tim Allen motorcycle thing and the Robin Williams priest thing, but then there was that Torture Porn For Nice Guys (TM) thing. Gawd, there’s been some horrible, horrible-looking movies this year; I can imagine Bay not even making the top 5. I assume that later in the year Kevin Smith will be directing a sequel to Jersey Girl…
On the other hand, as I will get to writing about eventually, I can now unequivocally recommend two mainstream movies that have come out in recent months! Plus conceivably the worst movie I’ve seen in the theater since The Rock…
Although I remain, as far as I can tell, the only progressive blogger to whom the TNR diary now creating a firestorm instinctively seemed a bit fishy in its details, I certainly agree with this. Any argument premised on the idea that no solider ever does anything really bad is self-evidently ridiculous, and the idea that reporting on such bad things is some slander on “the troops” in general despicable demagoguery. You may remember this from the attacks on Kerry; discussing (indisputably true) incidences of criminality is turned into a claim that Kerry was accusing “the troops” are war criminals. As I’ve already said, nothing of any political consequence turns on the veracity of this particular account. We already know that some individual members of the military do horrible things, and that they are obviously not representative.
Jamison Foser has a lot more on Marc Ambinder’s remarkable, matter-of-fact admission that “healthy chunk of the national political press corps” is out to get John Edwards and will give Mitt Romney a pass, because…he’s
a Republican the frontrunner, and the fact that you have a better chance of being the most powerful person in the country means…you should be subject to less scrutiny. Perfectly logical!
It’s been quoted elsewhere, but I can’t resist returning to Pierce:
However, where in hell do we go with that last passage there, about how the haircuts matter because “a healthy chunk of the political press corps” doesn’t like Edwards, and how they’re staying away from a sauce-for-the-goose position on Mitt Romney’s makeovers because of their own private calculations of the relative electability of the two candidates. OK, here’s the deal. Every member of that “healthy chunk” of the press corps should be fired. Today. This minute. Without pay or recompense. Let them all walk back inside the Beltway from Cedar Rapids if they have to. I value what I do. I value the work of the people in my business who do it correctly. But, holy mother of god, these people do not do what I do. It’s OK to sneer at a candidate if you don’t like him? It’s OK to create a destructive narrative out of unmitigated piffle because he doesn’t kiss your ass with the regularity you think you deserve, or because his press buses don’t run on time, or because one of his staffers was late with the Danish in Keene? I watched a roomful of them boo Al Gore seven years ago, behavior that would have gotten them run out of any press box in the major leagues. Do you think one of these jamokes — or jamokettes — is thinking, “Maybe we should lay off the haircut thing because of what we all did to Gore in 2000, and look how well that worked out.” Please.
I’ll also add that any editor who assigns a reporter who is “looking to bury” John Edwards to cover him should also be fired. Which will happen the same day the Senate is abolished.
And, of course, this won’t be limited to Edwards–cf. Clinton’s highly troubling breasts. (Warning: PHOTO NSFW!!!!1111!!!11!1! Ann Althouse fainted twice!) Foser is good on this, but the nice thing about junior-high school narratives is that they leave an entirely blank slate for the reporter. A reporter writing about something substantive might (however accidentally) allow her readers to learn something, and tendentious critiques might lead to claims that are plainly false. When stories involve people’s haircuts, suits, decolletage, etc. you can infer anything about anything. The fact that Ambinder — first with ABC News’ atrocious “The American Pravda“, now with the Atlantic Monthly — takes for granted the use of trivia by reporters in order to pursue personal vednettas is instructive in an extremely depressing way.
Fred Hiatt really is a marvel. His latest seems to contain every idiotic possible argument for defending Bush’s perpetual war while pretending not to: willful blindness about Bush’s actual position, wails about “partisanship” (that, of course, are entirely directed at Democrats), the Petraeus dodge, etc. In other words, pretty much what you’d expect from an editorial board shocked to discover that Sam Alito is a conservative.
Winger icon Michael Yon sees an upside to the Isalmist quasi-state we’re killing hundreds of thousands of people and spending immense amounts of money to install in Iraq for no obvious reason: the insistence that “Allah u Akbar” be inscribed on the Iraqi flag reminds him…of the flags celebrating our own apartheid police states! Sniff.
I guess the point here — Yon’s thinking and writing are so muddy it’s hard to tell — is that if we can overcome our own Civil War and produce democracy in the South in only 100 years, why, it could happen after the Iraqi civil war too! And so it could. But Yon fails to explain why the secular authoritarianism the Iraqis already had isn’t an equally good candidate to become an actual liberal democracy long after we’re all dead.
Apparently there’s a book coming out today about a teenage wizard saving the world from Derek Jeter or something. People can discuss it here if they so choose.
Meanwhile, like LB I think it’s odd that Megan McArdle thinks that problems of internal logic are problems of bad economics, but otherwise I think she has a point; one reason that magic can be annoying is that it can be used to get the author out of traps in ways that are usually unsatisfying, like the L.A. Confidential problem where a carefully plotted noir just ends with a big shootout like in a Chuck Norris movie. There are exceptions to everything, but fantastical premises are generally interesting devices only when they follow their own internal rules. I can’t, of course, say whether LB and McArdle are correct in applying the accurate general premise to the Harry Potter books specifically.
Meanwhile, for those who want to be positive, um, why are you reading LGM? But, anyway, ogged has a counterpoint. I retain zero interest in reading them but, hey, de gustibus etc.