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Against Authenticty

[ 1 ] June 13, 2007 |

I was busy Monday and forgot to mention Krugman’s great column. Bob Somerby summarizes for the non Select:

“Authenticity” became the press corps’ favorite buzz-word in 1999, along with its silly handmaiden, “comfortable in his own skin.” And let’s state the obvious: When the press corps adopted such subjective markers as key standards of measure, they were giving themselves the right to tell whatever story they choose. It’s perfectly easy to shape a narrative in which any candidate is most “authentic.” As long as our standards of measure are so subjective, there’s no real process of assessment being conducted at all.

Right. And assertions of “authenticity” are not only feeble tautologies that are worthless as criteria of value. As Krugman points out, this focus — with the focus on the haircuts of John Edwards being the most recent example — on balance cuts strongly against progressive politics. Although there’s no reason that a wealthy person can’t advocate policies that help the poor — FDR came from considerably greater means than Reagan — suddenly any politician with lots of money (i.e. any politician who could be a serious national candidate under the current system) can be tarred as “inauthentic” if they propose progressive economic policies (although a rich actor renting a pickup as a campaign prop is good enough for a Republican to be “authentic.”) Not only is the Dowdian transmutation of political coverage into gossip and meaningless personality narratives bad in itself, in other words, its overall political effects are not random but reactionary. Which is why the behavior of people like Dowd and Frank Rich in the 2000 campaign is considerably more damaging than Fox News.

Pride

[ 0 ] June 13, 2007 |

The Nation on Hunter College and immigration.

Shameless Hack of the Day

[ 0 ] June 12, 2007 |

Andrew Ferguson.

…seriously, the “he doesn’t have footnotes [because he has endnotes]!” routine? I can understand why Ferguson did it–he’s a hack, is apparently entirely comfortable with comically transparent dissembling, and wanted to get yet another “Al Gore Invented the Internet While Wearing Earth Tones” smear out there. But did the WaPo think nobody would notice? Let’s be clear: the War On Gore’s most important locus has always been the mainstream media.

More great stuff from Boehlert. (via)

…Somerby has more on Ferguson’s hack dissembling:

First, note how pathetic the paper is as it struggles and strains after ways to trash Gore. Let’s suppose, for the sake of argument, that this actually is one of the bogus quotes that float about, attributed to Lincoln. No one—no one but the Post, that is—would ever think that this would merit full treatment in an Outlook piece. But the Post is in love with denigration of Gore, who is too fat—and too big a smarty. And so, like the blithering fools that they are, they turned this trifle into a full “Outlook” piece, complete with mocking commentary on what pure crap Gore’s book is. (For the record, Gore’s book is the current New York Times number-one best-seller. His last book, An Inconvenient Truth, pretty much transformed the world.)

But denigrating Gore wasn’t enough; the Post also felt the deep compulsion to show the world how stupid it is. Has Ferguson read any books in the past dozen years? Not seeing footnotes, he dumbly assumed that Gore hadn’t sourced his work. And apparently, Outlook’s editors were too f*cking stupid to double-check this improbable claim for themselves.

Politcs of Resentment, Edwards Consultant Division

[ 0 ] June 12, 2007 |

Several people have already commented about the self-immolation of Mudcat Saunders’ poor-poor-pitiful-rural-Democrats shtick at Swampland. Obviously, substantive engagement with someone who declares that “I don’t care what the “Metropolitan Wing” of my party thinks. I don’t like them,” while in the same paragraph claiming that the Strawman Ressentiment Built is guilty of “erroneous stereotyping of my people and culture” is impossible. So, instead, I thought I would summarize the content of his posts in quantitative terms:

  • Number of serious policy proposals: 0
  • Examples of substantive disagreements between the crude stereotype wings of the party adduced by Saunders: 0
  • Citations of actual Democrats who express contempt for their rural allies: 0
  • Citations of urban, online Democrats who disagree with his earth-shattering claims that we need to “fight Republicans”: 0
  • Actual content of the posts once the blubbering self-pity, crude attacks on large groups of people based on cultural stereotypes straight out of GOP anti-Dean ads, and insincere apologies are boiled off: too small to be measured.

Although I tend strongly toward Tom’s view of such matters, I’m very open to serious arguments about ways in which Democrats can appeal to more rural voters. Saunders’s posts, however, has absolutely nothing useful to contribute to this question. Why the Edwards campaign thought that sending out someone with literally nothing but insults about unnamed urban elitists and banalities about how we need to oppose Republicans to contribute was a good idea I can’t tell you.

Question

[ 0 ] June 12, 2007 |

Like ogged, I wasn’t sure how to respond to the news that Norman Finklestein has been denied tenure at DePaul (an issue I read a fair amount about when I was in Chicago this spring): “I have no idea if he’s a bad scholar or the victim of a witch hunt.” Given that his department voted him tenure I lean toward the latter, but I just don’t know enough about his work to be sure. Is there any serious argument that his work was poor, or is it just a matter of political disagreement?

The Democracy/Security Conflation

[ 0 ] June 11, 2007 |

Beyond the obvious, what’s puzzling about Ken Baer’s attack on Ezra is this claim: “[s]ome even go so far as to excuse the Iranian regime, the better to deny the very existence of a threat.” Even leaving aside Baer’s hackish misrepresentation of Ezra’s position, he’s conflating two very different questions. First of all, the Iranian regime is obviously illiberal but not as repressive as many other regimes (say, Saudi Arabia) that one apparently doesn’t have to support bombing in order to meet the Ken Baer Test of Seriousness. And secondly, does Baer seriously believe that a genuinely democratic Iran would be less of a threat to Israel? And if so, on what evidence? The fact that democratic regimes in which citizens have generally liberal values generally don’t pose a security threat doesn’t mean that this will be true of democracies in which the population isn’t particularly liberal and is generally even more hostile to the U.S. and Israel than governing elites. If Baer wants to argue that Iran is a security threat, he needs some independent evidence he’s not revealing; that the Iranian regime isn’t fully democratic 1)isn’t in dispute and 2)in itself neither here nor there in terms of whether it’s a threat to the United States.

Sopranos Final Season: Preliminary Notes

[ 0 ] June 11, 2007 |

[Pretty much all interesting discussion of good TV or movies is going to include spoilers.]

  • The last episode was excellent. It was very well -structured, the typical day-in-the-life rhythm of the show with some subtle Last Episode events (I liked Hunter coming back as a med student.) It was good to see Harris’ entanglement with Tony pay off so strikingly, providing a resolution without false hope. The concluding sequence was brilliant, and I’m baffled by people who would prefer a neat, tidy, Friends-like ending. One can read the ending as assuming that the guy won’t come out of the bathroom with just his dick in his hand, with the fade to black reflecting the recalled warning that you don’t see it coming. Or the bell ringing that concluded the show could suggest that the killer (or the FBi) just walked in. Or to represent the fact that Tony, despite Philly’s killing, will be looking up at every bell for the rest of his life. Would just choosing one of these endings be more satisfying? Of course not. The ambiguity is more appropriate. I don’t want The Sopranos to be a typical middlebrow broadcast drama–to repudiate what made it great–and am glad it didn’t go out that way.
  • The final season was very, very strong. Admittedly, I’ve always opposed the lazy narrative that held that it declined steadily after the first and second seasons; several of the best episodes were in the fifth, the final episodes of season 3 all spectacular, and there was no real decline in quality until the 6A, which (especially in the first half) was genuinely subpar. It very much recovered in season 6B, however. After the terrific opener a couple of the episodes were clearly transitional, setting up the final plotlines, but none were weak and they kept getting better. The need to use Melfi had been a drag on the show for a while, but the conclusion in the penultimate episode was perfect.
  • The one episode I need to watch again is “Kennedy and Heidi.” I was very much torn between thinking that Christopher’s death wasn’t given enough dramatic weight, and thinking that its sudden, opportunistic nature was just right. The more I think about it, the more I lean toward the second option.
  • Like Rob, I was baffled by Matt’s point here. Tony’s gambling was hardly a new “character trait,” but a dramatically interesting manifestation of the impulsiveness and desire for immediate gratification that has consistently caused problems for his business and his marriage (as well as a means of addressing the economic insecurity that he’s worried about since literally the first episode.) It’s precisely the same aspect of his character that, later in the season, caused him to kick out the teeth of the guy who mildly insulted his daughter when rational long-term planning would dictate laying low.
  • I felt confident that Chase would not end things with a shootout. I was worried about a dream sequence, but thankfully he seemed to get it out of his system. (I should note that while the second half of 6A improves on a second viewing, the lengthy dream sequence gets even worse–knowing how trite the payoff will be makes the vacuous pretension even worse, a bizarre lapse in quality for such a remarkable achievement.)
  • I don’t want to say much more until I’ve had a chance to watch them twice, but certainly this was a much more satisfying conclusion than I expected.

UPDATE: Matt is, of course, correct that there’s nothing necessarily “middlebrow” about a neat conclusion and to call out my implication otherwise, but I do think there is something middlebrow about requiring a neat conclusion (although not everybody dissatisfied with this particular ending necessarily falls into this category, so in that sense the charge was unfair.) In terms of the “Stockholm Syndrome” charge, I think it’s pretty effectively rebutted by the dream sequence link above, as well as what I’ve said about the atypical Sorkinesque position-paper-reading in “Christopher.” Chase is definitely capable of shooting bricks (one of which nearly wrecked a season); I just don’t happen to think that the final episode was one of them, and in general have also never heard a good argument about how the show got aesthetically worse in seasons 1-5. (And not because I think the first season was perfect; the dream sequences/visions in the penultimate episode were pretty annoying, actually.)

Abrupt

[ 0 ] June 10, 2007 |

Let the interpretations begin…

I’m simultaneously gratified and disappointed that Chase didn’t provide for a neat, unambiguous ending.

…actually, I’m going to declare the ending sequence brilliant.

Wait ’til Next Year!

[ 0 ] June 10, 2007 |

Renewable in perpetuity.

You Say Patriarchy, I Say Equality (With Bonus Quiz!)

[ 0 ] June 10, 2007 |

Shorter Ann Althouse: “What’s the deal with you flighty “pro-sex” feminists? First, you believe that patriarchal repression of female sexuality is bad. Then you object if someone engages in creepy sniggering about your body when you appear dressed appropriately at a political event and attacks you with erroneous descriptions of your website and lunatic, insulting conspiracy theories. Make up your minds!”

Bonus contrarian silliness: Althouse approvingly cites this allegedly “debunking” argument by Mickey Kaus: “Murray reminds me of those radical feminists who insist that their reasons for censoring pornography are completely different from Pat Robertson’s. No they’re not.”

You’d think that as a MacKinnonite radical Althouse would understand this, but yes, they really are. Catharine MacKinnon and Donald Wildmon really don’t want to censor pornography for the same reasons, and often don’t even favor the same remedies. Both of their conclusions are, I believe, mistaken–I don’t believe that state suppression of sexually explicit material is desirable on policy grounds or consistent with the First Amendment properly understood–but to argue that there’s no normative difference between wanting to ban sexually explicit material to uphold traditional (and patriarchal) sexual mores and wanting to create a civil remedy in cases where pornography has demonstrably harmed women is absurd.

Here, as an educational service, is a quick quiz. One of those quotes is from Catherine MacKinnon’s Feminism Unmodified, another from Robert Bork’s Slouching Towards Gomorrah. See if you can spot the difference!

  • “Pornography turns sex inequality into sexuality and turns male dominance into sex difference…Thus does pornography, cloaked in the essence of nature and the index of freedom, turn the inequality between women and men into those twin icons of male supremacy, sex and speech, and a practice of sex discrimination into a legal entitlement. Confronting pornography through civil rights law–meaning, with a concrete intention of actually doing something about the damage pornography does to women’s safety and status–has somewhat illuminated the social meaning of state power.”
  • “Sooner of later censorship is going to have to be considered as popular culture continues plunging to ever more sickening lows…It is possible to argue for censorship…on the ground that in a republican form of government where the people rule, it is crucial that the character of the citizenry not be debased…Can there be any doubt that as pornography and depictions of violence become increasingly popular and increasingly accessible, attitudes about marriage, fidelity, divorce, obligations to children, the use of force, and permissible public behavior and language will change?…It would be better, I think, to drop the word “feminism” because the movement no longer has a constructive role to play; its work is done. There are no artificial barriers left to women’s achievement.”

Tough one, eh? Everyone else is dismissed. For Althouse and Kaus, Bork is the second set of quotes. You’re welcome!

Fear the Domino Effect!

[ 0 ] June 10, 2007 |

Just as warbloggers and other apologists predicted, Middle East dictators walk with shaky knees! Democracy, whiskey, sexy! And surely the installation of an Islamist quasi-state under indefenite American occupation will make liberal democracy look even better throughout the region!

Starry-Eyed

[ 0 ] June 9, 2007 |

As a follow-up to Digby’s follow-up of Marcy, I recommend Bork’s Human Events tribute to Ken Starr, “Man of the Year”:

That is not because he has .achieved celebrity or, more accurately, had celebrity thrust upon him. Others, including some not very savory personages, have rated more column inches and television coverage than Starr, but no one has exemplified old-fashioned republican virtue in the pursuit of civic duty than he.

Bill Clinton may or may not be removed from office, but, if he is not, that will in no way diminish Starr’s performance. The destruction of the President was never Starr’s objective or the measure of his success.

Stop it, you’re killing me. Unless Bork means “Republican” in the large-R sense.

Though reliably on the conservative wing of the court, which meant that he tried to follow the law and minimize the role that inevitably a judge’s personal outlook plays in decisionmaking…

Hah, that’s rich. This is pure comedy gold, really. I could go on to talk about how Bork considered Starr insufficiently zealous, and how uneasily this sits next to his attacks Patrick Fitzgerald, but I trust this speaks for itself…