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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…

Tort Reform For Thee, But Not For Me

[ 0 ] June 8, 2007 |

Robert Bork edition.

UPDATE: In fairness, he’s probably just riveted by the sociological significance of it all…

…more on the merits here.

Hardly Working

[ 0 ] June 8, 2007 |

In addition to basic ignorance of basic facts about Iraq, in the most recent debate Mitt Romney defended his flip-flop on don’t ask don’t tell, arguing that “It’s been the policy now in the military for what, 10, 15 years, and it seems to be working. And I agree with what Mayor Giuliani said: that this is not the time to put in place a major change, a social experiment, in the middle of a war going on.” What does he mean by “working?” Apparently, firing an extremely scarce Arabic translator because he’s gay, even though he didn’t publicly tell about his sexuality. So, if you think that if an effective policy is one that prioritizes bigotry over national security, I would urge you to vote Republican in ’08.

The True Casualty Of War

[ 0 ] June 8, 2007 |

Is, according to Fouad Ajami, Scooter Libby. Even for the WSJ editorial page, this is something. Fortunately, if this war has taught us anything, it’s to not take Ajami seriously; this just draws a line under it. As AL says, “Libby isn’t a fallen soldier. He’s a convicted felon. There’s an enormous difference.”

A Battle Deferred

[ 0 ] June 7, 2007 |

The Juidicary Committee has postponed its vote on Leslie Soutwick, which would seem to be good news. Emily Bazelon explains why the Committee should reject the Mississippi version of Alito:

But other data show that Judge Southwick’s answer fits with his larger record. He has a pattern of voting against workers and the injured and in favor of corporations. According to the advocacy group Alliance for Justice, Southwick voted “against the injured party and in favor of business interests” in 160 of 180 cases that gave rise to a dissent and that involved employment law and injury-based suits for damages. When one judge on a panel dissents in a case, there’s an argument it could come out either way, which makes these cases a good measure of how a judge thinks when he’s got some legal leeway. In such cases, Judge Southwick almost never favors the rights of workers or people who’ve suffered discrimination or been harmed by a shoddy product.

You know how many more of these kinds of judges 5CA needs? None. What’s the argument against voting against him? “Apparently that if the Republicans get Southwick, they’ll remember when the next Democratic president asks their support for his judicial nominees.” Yeah, that sounds like a great deal. If you’re the kind of person who would lend the keys to your new Porsche to a stranger on parole for Grand Theft Auto.

In addition to this, kudos to Leahy and company for passing on a bill to restore habeas corpus rights. Yes to habeas corpus, no (or at least not yet) to Southern-fried Robert Borks; I believe this is “elections have consequences” in a good sense.

Distinction

[ 0 ] June 7, 2007 |

This is Rob’s department, but since he’s away I’ll note that the idea that Stephen Walt had an undistinguished academic career prior to his LRB article (which I happen to think is not his finest hour) is crazy. He’s a major international relations scholar; I have only a couple of seminars in the field and I’m very familiar with his work. Certainly, I have to agree with Matt that his career strikes me as one of considerably greater distinction than, say, using your wife’s money to purchase a magazine and running it in a way that substantially reduces its quality while hemorrhaging circulation.

…Rob weighs in.