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New Frontiers in Authoritarian Gibberish

[ 0 ] December 30, 2006 |

Following up on Josh Marshall’s take, Jim Henley notes:

And it’s also true that the US and its Iraqi allies chose to try Saddam on one of his relatively minor crimes because if they did so they could get him safely hung before they had to try him for the major ones, the gas attacks and massacres that happened during The Years of Playing Footsie with the United States. The Dujail reprisals were a war crime, no doubt about it, a bigger sham of justice than Saddam’s own trial, by two orders of magnitude. They were also the sort of war crime that people like Ralph Peters and a hundred other pundits and parapundits think the United States should be committing. Every time you read a complaint about “politically correct rules of engagement” you are reading someone who would applaud a Dujail-level slaughter if only we were to perpetrate it. Those are the people who are happiest of all about tonight’s execution. Smells like – victory! It’s the pomander they don against the stench.

And, as if on cue, Jeff Goldstein shows up to claim that the fact we haven’t stopped sectarian violence is “the fault of a military strategy that has been too introspective and politically circumspect.” If only we had learned more from Hussein before he was executed! This is followed up by his familiar stab-in-the-back routine–apparently Iraq would look like Belgium if only the United States were a little less democratic and showed a little more uncritical reverence for a failed President’s catastrophic policies–but my very favorite part has to be this:

Let them, for one brief moment, bracket their partisan aggressions and reflect on what the US and its allies have done in removing this butcher from power—which, contrary to received wisdom, has made Iraq a far better place, if only for the moment potentially.

And as the year ends, I will reflect on and celebrate the fact that I made a trillion dollars this year, if only for the moment potentially.

Hatchet Jobs: "The Worst Kind of Middlebrow Horsehit" Edition

[ 0 ] December 29, 2006 |

What better way to spend a slow blogging season than by posting some favorite hatchet jobs? In comments to yesterday’s post, many people are bringing up Matt Taibbi’s classic review of The World Consists of Cabdrivers Who Repeat the Same DLC Cliches I’ve Written Many Times, and what better place to start:

The usual ratio of Friedman criticism is 2:1, i.e., two human words to make sense of each single word of Friedmanese. Friedman is such a genius of literary incompetence that even his most innocent passages invite feature-length essays. I’ll give you an example, drawn at random from The World Is Flat. On page 174, Friedman is describing a flight he took on Southwest Airlines from Baltimore to Hartford, Connecticut. (Friedman never forgets to name the company or the brand name; if he had written The Metamorphosis, Gregor Samsa would have awoken from uneasy dreams in a Sealy Posturepedic.) Here’s what he says:

I stomped off, went through security, bought a Cinnabon, and glumly sat at the back of the B line, waiting to be herded on board so that I could hunt for space in the overhead bins.

Forget the Cinnabon. Name me a herd animal that hunts. Name me one.

This would be a small thing were it not for the overall pattern. Thomas Friedman does not get these things right even by accident. It’s not that he occasionally screws up and fails to make his metaphors and images agree. It’s that he always screws it up. He has an anti-ear, and it’s absolutely infallible; he is a Joyce or a Flaubert in reverse, incapable of rendering even the smallest details without genius. The difference between Friedman and an ordinary bad writer is that an ordinary bad writer will, say, call some businessman a shark and have him say some tired, uninspired piece of dialogue: Friedman will have him spout it. And that’s guaranteed, every single time. He never misses.

On an ideological level, Friedman’s new book is the worst, most boring kind of middlebrow horseshit. If its literary peculiarities could somehow be removed from the equation, The World Is Flat would appear as no more than an unusually long pamphlet replete with the kind of plug-filled, free-trader leg-humping that passes for thought in this country. It is a tale of a man who walks 10 feet in front of his house armed with a late-model Blackberry and comes back home five minutes later to gush to his wife that hospitals now use the internet to outsource the reading of CAT scans. Man flies on planes, observes the wonders of capitalism, says we’re not in Kansas anymore. (He actually says we’re not in Kansas anymore.) That’s the whole plot right there. If the underlying message is all that interests you, read no further, because that’s all there is.

It’s pretty much all that good.

Sebelius Watch

[ 0 ] December 29, 2006 |

Again, I say: Sebelius for VP!

[Link Fixed.]

Some New Entries: Althouse Edition

[ 0 ] December 28, 2006 |

As noted by many commenters, the inevitable meltdown as Althouse refuses to acknowledge the plain meaning of her remarks or suggest another coherent one has occurred [no link because she not only refuses to link to anybody she's dishonestly criticizing but whines endlessly when Andrew Sullivan links to her only through third parties]:

So many people — in the comments and on other blogs — are attributing things to me that I did not write here. Reading with comprehension has, apparently, become optional. Amusingly, the blundering blowhards out there keep calling me and [sic] idiot. Mirrors are in short supply these days.

Look, it’s very simple–you talked about the Iraq Death Toll equaling that of 9/11, and then ask how many people would have died in future attacks had we not “fought back.” The only plausible reading of this sequence of sentences is that Iraq constituted “fighting back” against 9/11. Given the farcical nature of this claim, I can understand why she wants to disown it, but it’s what she said. Which is why, of course, she refuses to identify any of the specific “misreadings” she alleges in general, or to explain what she did mean when she wrote something that didn’t explain what she meant (and why her defenders argue that Iraq was too connected to 9/11.)

Anyway, although the comments are the predictable treasure trove of new variants of “flypaper theory,” enough. I know discussing Althouse by definition requires belaboring the obvious, but this episode seems particularly depressing. Instead, let’s coin some new terms for the Wingnut Debate Dictionary:

The Althouse Defense Initiative (ADI): All incoming substantive critiques of ridiculous arguments are deflected by claims that the critics lack “reading comprehension skills,” without any explanation of why the critics were misreading the post or any substantive rebuttal to the critics’ arguments.

Althouse Apathy Aggrandizement (AAA): Wearied claims by complacent, affluent, moderate reactionaries that nothing is more vulgar that people who actually care about politics, perhaps even going so far as to become minimally informed about them before pontificating about them on vanity websites.

Project Runway Politics (PRP): A political philosophy that holds the fashion choices of various political enemies as being of greater importance than the merits of substantive issues that the blogger often nominally pretends to care about. [See also: Mickey Kaus, passim.]

Better wordings, titles, or entries welcome…

Hatchet Jobs Against Worthy Targets: First in a Hopefully Extensive Series

[ 0 ] December 28, 2006 |

Apropos of nothing, I would like to note that this John Leland [thanks to commenter for the typo correction] review of some compilation of the unread profit-taking by famous authors and unfunny dirty jokes from the pages of Playboy has some excellent lines:

In the first issue of Playboy magazine, published in December 1953, Hugh M. Hefner wrote an essay speaking for its envisioned readers: “We like our apartment. We enjoy mixing up cocktails and an hors d’oeuvre or two, putting a little mood music on the phonograph, and inviting in a female acquaintance for a quiet discussion on Picasso, Nietzsche, jazz, sex.” On first blush his commercial strategy here seemed straightforward: Men who make a habit of inviting female acquaintances in to talk Picasso, Nietzsche, jazz and sex will have a lot of free nights for reading Playboy magazine.


With its ribald jokes and cartoons, airbrushed “pictorials” and prose selections from America’s best-paid writers — all wrapped up into a glossy connoisseurship that Mr. Hefner called the “Playboy Philosophy” — the magazine can be seen as a mad plot: to create a race of men more boring and insecure than any before.


In the 1950s and 1960s Cavalier, Nugget, Escapade and other euphemistically dubbed “men’s magazines” published some of the most adventurous new writing in the United States, jump-starting or sustaining the careers of Mario Puzo, Bruce Jay Friedman, Terry Southern, Jack Kerouac and others. The magazines could risk a little raunch, so they were in the right place for the earthier fiction emerging from the margins. The writers collected in “The New Bedside Playboy,” by contrast, are established brand names, apparently selling from the back of their files. One thing about the Playboy mystique: the paychecks were real. And it is good to know there is still a remunerative home for an Ian Fleming story that begins, “The stingray was about six feet from wing tip to wing tip and perhaps 10 feet long from the blunt wedge of its nose to the end of its deadly tail,”


Was there really a time when swingers imagined themselves in silk jammies chatting about Nabokov and Brubeck and the latest Cognac? No doubt. Ring-a-ding-ding. The right literary reference, the right hi-fi gear, and voilà: the freedom to go home alone, unswung, to a bit of light fiction, corny jokes and an airbrush that liberated the white-collar male from the uncomfortable burden of human curiosity.

I have nothing against Heidi Julavits in general, but is appropriate snark in reviews is wrong, I don’t want to be right. (And apparently serious attempts to elucidate the “Playboy Philosophy”… it doesn’t get much more appropriate than that.)

"Where Powerful Interests Bemoan Modernity"

[ 0 ] December 27, 2006 |

I see that, via various links from this year’s Wank of the Year awards, that The Editors’s classic Shill Central Station parodies have all been conveniently restored to the intarweb (1, 2, 3, 4.) Enjoy!

Bias: It’s Holding That Legal Texts Conflict With The Platform of the Texas Republican Party

[ 0 ] December 27, 2006 |

Steve Benen points us towards some twelfth-rate agitprop by a sitting judge, which repeatedly uses the term “femifascist,” presumably to apply to people who believe that the state shouldn’t coerce (poor) women to carry pregnancies to term. Here are some of the other insights offered by Judge Dierker:

* The judicial tyrants’ legal theory in a nutshell: history and tradition count for nothing, the language of the Constitution is meaningless, and the only criterion for a law is whether or not it will advance the liberal agenda

* “All men are created equal, but some are more equal than others”: how affirmative action laws have enshrined this as a cornerstone of American law

* How liberal courts have used the largely trumped-up phenomenon of racial discrimination as the spearhead in their fight to take control of American culture

* How liberal judges and courts have radically revised both the Equal Protection Clause and the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause

* Liberal legal notions of sexual harassment and sex discrimination: little to do with law and everything to do with power

* The liberals’ shoddy reasoning in arguing that the Constitution demands that religion have no place whatsoever in government or public life

* How Leftist judges are bent on weakening America in the war on terror by striking down anti-terror laws in the name of resisting “racial profiling” and “religious discrimination”

* Why recapture of the Senate and the presidency by the Democrats could spell the end of any association of American law with the Constitution on which it is supposed to be based

* Defiance of the Supreme Court: how and why, under certain carefully defined circumstances, it can and must be done

In other words, we’re pretty clearly dealing with a book that is not only Grade-A wingnuttery but utter crap as legal analysis. You have to like the fact that it complains about liberals ignoring original meaning and then argues that Courts should ignore the original intent of the 5th and 14th Amendments and strike down affirmative action laws, how only 50 years after the end of formal apartheid he can call racial discrimination a “trumped-up phenomenon,” and of course how he can accuse liberals of distorting the Equal Protection clause in the wake of Bush v. Gore. The juxtaposition between the appalling nature of affirmative action and the hearty endorsement of racial profiling is also good. I’d also love to know what radically lawless pro-feminist Supreme Court decisions he’s talking about; maybe U.S. v. Virginia, which was so radical it was joined by noted MacKinnonite William Rehnquist. And to top it all off, you have a sitting judge–after claiming that anyone who doesn’t share his far-right views doesn’t believe in the law at all–claiming that it can be acceptable to resist Supreme Court decisions.

Verdict: I think we’re dealing with someone who makes Mark Levin look like Blackstone. As well as someone utterly unfit to serve on the bench.

…UPDATE: As a correspondent reminds me, in fairness Dierker does talk about sexual harassment too. So perhaps he’s talking about Meritor, which was also written by that well-known far-left champion of human rights William Hobbs Rehnquist. Or perhaps he means Onacle v. Sundowner Offshore Services, which was written by prominent Andrea Dworkin disciple Antonin Scalia, with a concurrence from radfem in theory and practice Clarence Thomas. The femifascist conspiracy is a far-reaching one, brothers and sisters!

Gerald Ford, 1913-2006

[ 0 ] December 27, 2006 |


Give him this: he put John Paul Stevens on the Supreme Court.

Today in Non Sequitur Theater

[ 1 ] December 26, 2006 |

Homer: Ah, not a bear in sight. The Bear Patrol must be working like a charm!
Lisa: That’s specious reasoning, Dad.
Homer: Thank you, honey.
Lisa: By your logic, I could claim that this rock keeps tigers away!
Homer: Uh-huh, and how does it work?
Lisa: It doesn’t work.
Homer: Uh-huh.
Lisa: It’s just a stupid rock.
Homer: Uh-huh.
Lisa: But I don’t see any tigers around here, do you?
Homer: (Looks around) Lisa, I’d like to buy your rock.

[Now Starring as Homer Simpson: Ann Althouse.]

After pointing out that more Americans have died in the Iraq war than in 9/11, Althouse–quite remarkably at this late date–asks:

A key question — with an unknowable answer — is: How many Americans would have died in post-9/11 attacks if we had not chosen the path of fighting back?

Well, the answer is indeed unknowable, but given that Iraq had no substantial connection to Anti-American terrorism and posed no security threat whatsoever to the United States, the overwhelmingly likely answer is “zero.” Whatever Iraq was, it wasn’t “fighting back” against the Islamic radicals who actually attacked New York.

Of course, if it was only Republican pundits who don’t actually know anything about foreign policy who think that replacing a secular dictatorship with an Islamist quasi state was an effective way of “fighting back” against Islamic terrorism, this would be relatively harmless (although pathetic.) The truly appalling thing is that people actually in charge of American policymaking also didn’t demand any logical connection between a given military response and the actual threat facing the country, and as a result nearly three thousand Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have died for nothing.

This Christmas, Hear The Sound of the Funky Drummer

[ 0 ] December 25, 2006 |

The incomparable James Brown, R. I. P.

…see also this excellent AP obit.

And A Happy New Year!

[ 0 ] December 24, 2006 |

In this holiday season, it’s nice to see yet another stinging defeat in the courts for Kansas’ former Immolater of Privacy General Phil Kline.

Can The Stabbed-in-the-back Defense Initiative Work?

[ 0 ] December 24, 2006 |

With respect to the Ackerman/Farley/Lemieux debate, a formerly ambivalent Kevin Drum (along with Mona) comes down squarely in the Ackerman camp. Yglesias and Atrios disagree, and of course I still do. A couple of additional points:

  • The reason that letting them having their surge won’t really change much about the political dynamics is that you can always have done more. As Kevin notes, this narrative was used about Vietnam, which was prosecuted in a much more brutal fashion in Iraq. If you’re inclined to make (or, more importantly, to believe) such arguments, objective actions are always beside the point. As long as the country hasn’t been nuked into oblivion, you can always move the goalposts yet again.
  • My other question is how much effect the “do we get to win this time?” narrative of Vietnam has really had on perceptions of Democratic weakness of foreign policy. My guess is actually very little, and most of what exists is concentrated among people who would never vote Democratic anyway. I think that the link of opposition to an unpopular war to an even more unpopular counterculture, for example, was much more important. I think it’s a small part of the story. (Perhaps Rick Perlstein can adjudicate.)

So I’m still where I was. I don’t think the surge is anything like a net benefit because I doubt that it will provide a substantial political benefit, and it will certainly mean more young men and women sacrificed in a hopeless cause.

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