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 universe is just like the DMV. Ergo, God exists. Praise Jesus!”
Having recently spent time at the local DMV receiving my license and registration renewals, I can personally attest that few things offer absolute proof of a directionless — if not openly malevolent — universe than the Department of Motor Vehicles.
That said, anyone who can write with a straight face about “my forthcoming book . . . out from Regnery in October” also supplies evidence to this end.
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.
Inspired by this.
More here, with plenty of room for growth. Go nutz.
Screw it. The internets are strange and confusing to me. I’ve been pounding my head against a wall with Flickr for the past hour, and I can’t seem to get the pool settings right so that non-Flickr members can see the pics. (And yes, I’ve ticked the settings button that would seem to actually to that simple task, but to no avail.)
So if you aren’t a Flickr member, you’re out of luck for the moment. Meantime, here’s another purty picture.
. . . OK, now. I still can’t get the pool thing to work, but the rest of the pics are here.
Peter Rodman and William Shawcross had an op-ed in the New York Times on Thursday that was staggeringly mendacious even for neo-conservatives.
First, we have the Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer defense, which in this case amounts to a “I am but a simple dirty hippie, and yet even I can understand that we shouldn’t withdraw from Iraq”:
Many years ago, the two of us clashed sharply over the wisdom and morality of American policy in Indochina, especially in Cambodia.
The point of this is to provide the illusion that the two authors come from substantially different viewpoints, yet have been forced to agree by the overwhelming obviousness of the position they wish to argue. It’s a lie; Shawcross, a much celebrated yousta bee, wrote a book justifying the launching of the war, and Rodman was an assistant Secretary of Defense from 2001 until last March.
Next, we get the dire consequences of US withdrawal from Vietnam:
The 1975 Communist victory in Indochina led to horrors that engulfed the region. The victorious Khmer Rouge killed one to two million of their fellow Cambodians in a genocidal, ideological rampage. In Vietnam and Laos, cruel gulags and “re-education” camps enforced repression. Millions of people fled, mostly by boat, with thousands dying in the attempt.
On Cambodia, the authors conveniently ignore that the American bombing of Cambodia that strengthened and enabled the Khmer Rouge, that the US tolerated the Khmer Rouge for balance of power reasons during the Killing Fields period, and that the Khmer Rouge were finally chased back to the jungle only when the Vietnamese People’s Army decided to invade. Other than those elements, the Killing Fields were all the fault of dirty hippies. The authors also forget or intentionally obscure the fact that predictions about a genocidal Red reign of terror over a prostrate South Vietnam never materialized; the North Vietnamese were quite brutal and oppressive, driving out even many of their erstwhile South Vietnamese supporters, but their behavior was tame compared with the dramatic predictions that were made in the US prior to the conquest. Moreover, there’s no evaluation of the costs of remaining in the war; how many Vietnamese died in the eight years of US intervention that otherwise would have survived?
It gets worse:
The defeat had a lasting and significant strategic impact. Leonid Brezhnev trumpeted that the global “correlation of forces” had shifted in favor of “socialism,” and the Soviets went on a geopolitical offensive in the third world for a decade. Their invasion of Afghanistan was one result. Demoralized European leaders publicly lamented Soviet aggressiveness and American paralysis.
I’m almost impressed with this. You’d think, given that the Eastern Bloc collapsed in 1989, that Rodman and Shawcross would be embarrassed to make the “but we’ll lose the Cold War if we leave Vietnam” argument. You’d be wrong; there’s really no limit to the nonsense they’re willing to spout. The assertion that the US withdrawal from Vietnam precipitated the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan is fortunately evidence-free, since any effort to provide evidence would have foundered on the sharp rocks of reality. Given that the Soviet invasion ended disastrously, and in pretty much the same manner as Vietnam, I’m kind of surprised that Rodman and Shawcross even think it was a bad thing. “Demoralized” European leaders had been opposed to the US intervention in Vietnam almost to an individual, and to the extent they lamented American paralysis blamed it on the insistence of the United States to get itself embroiled in a distant, expensive, colonial sideshow at the expense of Europe, where the real action was. Moreover, the “demoralization” produced no notable behavioral consequences.
And despite the defeat in 1975, America’s 10 years in Indochina had positive effects. Lee Kuan Yew, then prime minister of Singapore, has well articulated how the consequences would have been worse if the United States had not made the effort in Indochina. “Had there been no U.S. intervention,” he argues, the will of non-communist countries to resist communist revolution in the 1960s “would have melted and Southeast Asia would most likely have gone communist.” The domino theory would have proved correct.
Well, if Lee Kwan Yew asserts it to be the case, then it must be true. This is another evidence-free assertion, and given that there’s no notable indication that any state that didn’t go communist (Malaysia, Thailand, or Indonesia) would have gone communist in the absence of US action, I have my doubts. Moreover, the rest of the world gave up on the whole “unified front of communism” thing in 1960; perhaps someone should forward the memo to Shawcross and Rodman.
Today, in Iraq, there should be no illusion that defeat would come at an acceptable price. George Orwell wrote that the quickest way of ending a war is to lose it. But anyone who thinks an American defeat in Iraq will bring a merciful end to this conflict is deluded. Defeat would produce an explosion of euphoria among all the forces of Islamist extremism, throwing the entire Middle East into even greater upheaval. The likely human and strategic costs are appalling to contemplate. Perhaps that is why so much of the current debate seeks to ignore these consequences.
What is it with right-wing hackery and Orwell? Am I wrong in thinking that Orwell would be spinning in his grave if he knew he were being used, so consistently, in such a fashion (Christopher Hitchens is an entirely separate problem)? Anyway, it would have been helpful if Shawcross and Rodman had grappled with the fact that countries don’t just “choose” defeat; defeat often chooses them. It’s not enough simply to say that we have to win; in 1918, Germany “had to win”, just as in 1945 Japan “had to win”. If we can’t win, then we do nothing but exacerbate the “likely human and strategic costs [that] are appalling to contemplate”. US action has already, by the best estimates we have, led to the deaths of three quarters of a million Iraqis, plus untold damage to Iraq’s physical and health infrastructure. Anything we do will produce costs; you have to make a case that some courses of action are less costly than others.
Our conduct in Iraq is a crucial test of our credibility, especially with regard to the looming threat from revolutionary Iran. Our Arab and Israeli friends view Iraq in that wider context. They worry about our domestic debate, which had such a devastating impact on the outcome of the Vietnam War, and they want reassurance.
When government officials argued that American credibility was at stake in Indochina, critics ridiculed the notion. But when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, he and his colleagues invoked Vietnam as a reason not to take American warnings seriously. The United States cannot be strong against Iran — or anywhere — if we accept defeat in Iraq.
I’ve written about this before; it takes a truly impressive suspension of disbelief to think that the eight years and immense costs it required the Vietnamese to throw the Americans out were viewed by Saddam Hussein as a “plus” factor for his invasion of Kuwait. Moreover, since our “Arab friends” have not-quite-but-almost uniformally denounced the US occupation of Iraq as illegal, immoral, etc., I’m not sure that the domestic debate is really the problem.
In the end, Rodman and Shawcross don’t really have much of an argument. They toss out a series of justification for staying (“think of the Iraqi children!”, “think of Al-Qaeda!”, “think of our reputation!”) that are dismayingly similar to the shotgun-style initial justification for the war (“War on Iraq: It’s everywhere you want to be!” When I read pieces like this, it reminds me how happy I am that I’m not a conservative; I can advocate policies that I prefer without simply making shit up.
[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.)
This doesn’t make a goddamned bit of sense:
You know, if we had been firm in 1979, [Iran] wouldn’t think they could get away with these kinds of threats. If we responded firmly now, we’d get less of that in the future.
But we probably won’t, because our political culture makes a firm response to threats almost impossible. Which is why we get so many.
Actually, Glenn, it seems that as I write this, we’re four years and three months into a “firm response” mustered by “firm” people to a threat that wasn’t . . . um . . . actually very firm to begin with. And I hate to point this out — because it’s such an unbelievably inconvenient fact for people who want to simply bring the pain and bring it faster, please — but the “political culture” we inhabit still happens, for the time being, to qualify as a democracy. And wingnut protestations aside, we don’t actually inhabit a “warrior culture” that envelops the entire social order in an ethical code of submission and violence. It’s worth remembering that if certain advocates of “firmness” had been given the kind of free hand that Reynolds thinks is necessary to keep America from being threatened, the war on Iraq would have started in September 2001. That may be a small comfort, but it’s not an insignificant one.
And to take a historical detour, what precisely does Reynolds think a “firm” response to the 1979 hostage crisis would have been? Quiet assassinations of mullahs and scientists? Unilateral military action against Iran — a nation armed to the teeth with weapons we’d sold to its deposed ruler, and a nation bordering awkwardly upon another nation that the Soviets were a month away from invading? Or perhaps a declaration to the world that America’s hegemony over Persian Gulf oil was not up for negotiation, and that outside interference with those resources would be “repelled by any means necessary?” Or how about supporting Iraq in a brief, cakewalk of a war against its neighbor, whose army was by all accounts in a shambles after all the shah’s men had been purged? Oh, wait. That last one didn’t work out so well. Rummy’s handshake must not have been firm enough.
Anyhow, we get the point. Reynolds is a loon with a minimal grasp of history and utter contempt for reason. He’d have worked out quite well in the current administration, if only people like him hadn’t made such a bloody mess of things already.
Keep screwing in those lightbulbs, Glenn.
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.
I’ll refrain from guessing how the Soprano’s will end; we’ll find out soon enough. Spoilers ahead:
The return to relevance of Melfi might be the greatest accomplishment of the second half of the sixth season. I had come, like many others, to dread the Melfi appointments, as they stopped adding anything past about season three. This year they’ve become interesting again, first in the Moltisanti episode and later in response to the “sociopath” article. Tony’s conversations with Melfi in that episode (both real and imagined) gave some real insight into what Tony was thinking, and how he felt about Christopher’s wake. The “sociopath” comment also paid off quite nicely; I had initially thought that there was something not quite right about it, because Tony had clearly, over the years, seen some benefit from his therapy. During the last episode, though, I had to wonder if that was true. If maybe he’s been fooling Melfi such that she can’t trust her own appraisal, then maybe he’s been fooling the audience, too. Watching her lose trust in Tony, and become angry at herself for coming to grips with her voyeurism, was really wonderful television.
Last year Matt told me that he thought Tony had made a terrible mistake by not strongly backing Little Carmine in the power struggle with Johnny Sac. I disagreed, pointing out that the Mafia isn’t a zero-sum game; Johnny clearly seemed to be the more capable of the two, and it doesn’t necessarily do the Jersey crew any favors to have an inept partner in their many collaborative projects with New York. Now, I think I was wrong on the basic point and wrong on the logic. On the one hand, backing Little Carmine might have forestalled the rise of Phil Leotardo. On the other, I think that I may have mildly underestimated Little Carmine’s capabilities. He’s managed to stay alive in the bloodbath that New York has become, and to retain some influence within the family and with New Jersey. Malaprops aside, I think he’s acquitted himself well this season, suggesting that maybe he wouldn’t have been the complete, Fredo-esque disaster that I expected. The scene in which he described to Tony why he didn’t want to be Boss was priceless; his endless, tendentious, and boring interpretation of his dream was something that Tony, because of his own relationship with the dream world, had to respect.
As for Phil, well, he’s the revenge of Sonny Corleone. He doesn’t have Sonny’s style or sophistication, but he certainly has Sonny’s rage, brutality, and instinct for revenge. The Godfather taught us that Sonny’s day had passed, and that future crime bosses would have to be of the same ilk as Michael or Hyman Roth. Tony, being from Jersey, doesn’t really count, but Johnny Sack filled the bill quite nicely. Phil, though, shows us that murderous, almost indiscriminate brutality still counts for something.
Anyway, in preparation for the last episode, tonight we’ll be watching the first.
It’s good to be in something from the ground floor. I came too late for that, I know. But lately I’m gettin’ the feeling that I came in at the end. The best is over.
…this shall serve as a Sopranos’ finale open thread.
“I think we’ve got to be prepared to take aggressive military action against the Iranians to stop them from killing Americans in Iraq,” Mr. Lieberman said in an interview on the CBS News program “Face the Nation.”
This could be achieved mostly with air attacks, Mr. Lieberman said, adding, “I’m not talking about a massive ground invasion of Iran.”
What’s missing here is any causal logic. Unless Senator Lieberman thinks that attacks against Iran will destroy the industrial capacity to supply or the infrastructure to transfer weapons to Iraq (extremely unlikely since EFPs can be manufactured in any warehouse and transported by any truck), a successful campaign would require coercion, convincing the Iranian leadership to change its attitude on Iraq. The administration itself, however, refuses to assert that the Iranian leadership is behind the supply of any weapons to Iraqi insurgents. Even if the Iranian leadership is shipping weapons to insurgents, the success of an air campaign would depend on doing enough damage to Iran to convince the leadership to give up such behavior. Such would require the leadership to be far more reasonable and far more sensitive to costs than SENATOR LIEBERMAN HIMSELF has asserted that they are.
In other words, Joltin’ Joe is calling for attacks in a situation and in a manner in which force has almost no chance of working. And this is what passes for “serious”. The man is genuinely disturbed.
In the late thirteenth century, the son of the slave of an Abyssinian cheiftain deposed the last king of the Zagwe dynasty and married the king’s daughter. Yekuno Amlak claimed to be the sole male descendant of the ancient Kingdom of Axum, which had seen the rise of Christianity in Ethiopia and claimed, itself, to be descended from the union of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Yekuno Amlak’s descendants would expand their reach and hold power in the territory of modern Ethiopia until the 20th century.
In the fifteenth century Portugeuse explorers seeking Prester John, a mythical Christian king of Africa, arrived in Ethiopia and established contact. Both trade and diplomatic relations developed, and the Portuguese assisted the Solomonic kings in their wars against Islamic invaders in the 16th century. Relations between the Ethiopians and the Portuguese later broke down, and Jesuit missionaries were expelled in the 17th century. The next serious period of contact would come in the 19th century when British explorers arrived and developed widespread contacts. Ethiopia fought brief wars against both Britain and Italy, and retained its independence in spite of the suicide of one Emperor in 1868 and the death in battle of another in 1889.
Emperor Haile Selassie ascended to the throne in 1930. In 1935, Mussolini decided to extend Italy’s colonial holdings by invading and conquering Ethiopia. Although the Ethiopians under Selassie’s command fought well, superior Italian numbers and technology eventually won the day. Selassie fled into exile, and Mussolini declared Victor Emmanuel III of the House of Savoy Emperor of Ethiopia. Selassie did not give up, however, and gave what is recorded as an extremely stirring speech on the floor of the League of Nations. Unfortunately, League sanctions against Italy were quite weak and failed to break Italy’s hold over Ethiopia. In 1941, however, the British Army liberated Ethiopia and returned Selassie to the throne. In 1951, the UN awarded the former Italian colony of Eritrea to Ethiopia, a move which made everyone happy and has had no significant negative repercussions to this very day.
After the war, Selassie became an important advocate of African independence, in 1963 presiding over the creation of the Organization of African Unity. Presumably because of his prominence as an independent African leader, Haile Selassie became the focus of the Jamaican Rastafari movement. Selassie’s purported linkage to Biblical figures probably played no small part in his elevation. Rastafarians apparently view Selassie as God Incarnate and Messiah. The Emperor remained firmly within the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, but made no formal effort to disavow the Rastafari, or even to discourage the movement. In 1966 he visited Jamaica, and he later donated a piece of Ethiopian land for the creation of a Rastafari community. Rita Marley, wife of Bob, atteneded Selassie’s funeral in 2000 (Selassie was exhumed from his initial resting place to be given a full funeral by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church).
Economic dislocation resulting from a severe drought and ideological turn to the left within Ethiopia made the Emperor’s position tenuous by the mid-1970s. Although Selassie’s international profile remained high, his domestic position had slowly deteriorated over the 1960s. On September 12, 1974 Emperor Selassie was deposed by a military coup and imprisoned in an old palace. In August 1975 he died, reportedly of repiratory failure. Some believe that he was assassinated. Rastafarians, by and large, refused to believe that Selassie had died. The coup plotters aimed to put Amha Selassie, Haile’s son, on the throne, but the son refused and the monarchy was abolished in 1975. Amha Selassie accepted the title of “Emperor-in-exile” in 1989, but efforts to reach agreement with Ethiopia’s government about a return and possible restoration broke down in the early 1990s. His son, Zera Yacob, is the current head of the Solomonic dynasty, and lives in Ethiopia. Prospects for a restoration to the throne are uncertain. Amha Selassie actively pursued a restoration of the monarchy to no great effect. Zera Yacob and the rest of the imperial family have remained active in Ethiopian politics, and continue informally to seek some form of restoration.
Trivia: The heir to which throne received his undergraduate degree in the United States, learned to fly a fighter aircraft in the United States, and currently lives in Potomac, Maryland?