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Mass. Romantics

[ 0 ] June 14, 2007 |

The Massachusetts legislature has rejected the proposed constitutional amendment calling for the revocation of gay and lesbian marriage rights and the restoration of bigotry by a 151-45 vote. It should be noted that this is precisely the opposite of what was predicted by proponents of the countermobilization myth, people for whom it’s never the right time for social change, etc. Goodridge, we were often informed, was going to be a crushing setback for gay equality, but less than 5 years later it’s supported by an overwhelming vote in the legislature. The backlash, conversely, had been confined to states…that already overwhelmingly opposed gay marriage. Litigation is not, of course, appropriate in every situation, but sometimes it’s effective. Gay rights is the kinds of case where courts are likely to go first, and once they act 1)people realize that the predicted social apocalypse isn’t occurring, and 2)legislators who may be reluctant to extend rights on a divisive issue are much less likely to revoke rights.

…more from Pam Spaulding.

Be Careful What You Implicitly Agitate For

[ 0 ] June 14, 2007 |

What’s really funny about Glenn Reynolds’ latest passive-aggressive “nice freedom of the press you have here, be a shame if something happened to it” routine (not, alas, a new one) is his claim that the British press is bringing it on itself because of “shoddily political and dishonest” war reporting. Reynolds better hope that the mobs with pitchforks don’t rise up, because if “shoddily political and dishonest” reporting was a crime, Reynolds would be doing 20-to-life.

"Mercilessly Frivolous"

[ 0 ] June 14, 2007 |

Ezra gets this entirely correct:

The remarkable thing about the growing liberal hawk literature on Iran is its evasiveness — the unwillingness to speak in concrete terms of both the threat and proposed remedies. The liberal hawks realize they were too eager in counseling war last time, and their explicit statements in support of invasion have caused them no end of trouble since. This time, they will advocate no such thing. But nor will they eschew it. They will simply criticize those who do take a position.

Iran raises several complicated questions, but also a simple one: Do you think military force is called for in preventing Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons? Some, like me, say no. Some also, like me, do not believe the evidence supports the contention that Iran is a fully totalitarian society under the rule of a crazed and suicidal Mahmoud Ahmadenijad, and in fact think that such portrayals should be resisted and identified as part of a larger, pro-war narrative. This is how I ended up in Baer’s article as a convenient straw liberal who “excuse[s] the Iran regime, all the better to deny the very existence of a threat.”

Oddly, Baer did not take the opportunity to argue against my position. “Israel is again staring down a possible existential threat,” he wrote, “and the United States is once more facing a serious challenge to its interests in the region.” So the threat is to Israel, as well as to unspecified American interests in the region that face a “serious challenge.” Does that mean Baer thinks we should use force to prevent Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weaponry? Who knows? Baer retreats here to platitudes, saying that “it is incumbent upon us to provide a coherent foreign-policy alternative to Bush’s neoconservative vision, one that is true to the progressive legacy of internationalism — liberal democracy, rule of law, and equal opportunity.” But what about those nukes? What does that sentence suggest that we do?

Baer’s dodge is not rare. A while back, The New Republic demanded that “the West finally get ruthlessly serious about Iran.” Unless “ruthlessly serious” describes some subset of containment theory that I’m unfamiliar with, this seems like mercilessly frivolous advice. But such is the sorry state of discourse on Iran: lots of hyperventilating, but relatively little in the way of actual diagnosis or prescription.

It’s very simple. When it comes to Iran, “liberal hawks” need to either 1)explain in concrete terms what the threat to American interests is and — this is important! — what kind of military action can advance American interests and why, or 2)enjoy a delicious frosty mug of shut the fuck up. (And given their recent record of assessing American security interests and the efficacy of military force, perhaps some slinking away in shame would also be in order.)

Hillary’s Intragender Gap

[ 0 ] June 14, 2007 |

Riffing off this poll and this piece by Dana, Matt asks why Clinton has such a huge majority among progressive women — enough to make her a solid primary favorite — which doesn’t carry over among more conservative women. This is an important question, because if Clinton can’t change this it could make her a suboptimal general election candidate leaving aside normative issues — the progressive women that support Clinton are unlikely to vote Republican. My guess is that women with the strongest feminist commitments have the strongest stake in seeing a long-overdue woman as President, and will be particularly aware of (and place an especially high priority on) Clinton’s record on gender issues, which are Clinton’s strongest progressive credentials. But her (largely unmerited) reputation as a staunch liberal in general will make this less appealing to more moderate women. I’m not sure if the data will bear this out, but that’s how I would try to make sense of the gap.

Be Careful What You Wish For

[ 0 ] June 14, 2007 |

So the other day a Red Wings fan asked me what I thought about the Flames in ’08, and I told her that they had a potentially championship-quality base but Playfair was the wrong coach for this kind of team. With their two superstars on the last year of their contracts, they needed a hardass veteran short-term maximizer like Mike Keenan rather than an inexperienced coach who may or may not be good. I’m not sure I meant it this literally.

I guess this will re-kindle the debate among my Ranger fan friends about how much credit Keenan deserves for the ’94 Cup. My position has always been that Keenan’s contribution was greatly underrated; I know Messier was allegedly the real coach of the team or whatever, except that they still had Messier but were mediocre before Keenan came and were mediocre immediately after he left. Same thing with Philly and Chicago; like him or not, his teams greatly overachieved. His record with the Blues was less impressive but still not bad. He did an abysmal job as Florida’s GM, but that’s not really germane here. I don’t know if he’s still got it, but historically when he’s had anything to work with he’s won. He’s hockey’s Billy Martin–you pay for the improvements over the long term–but this is the last year for the Flames’ current core anyway. I may regret this, but I think it’s a great gamble.

Good News from Wal-Mart!

[ 0 ] June 14, 2007 |

God, how I love employee pilferage.

I mean . . . um . . . that’s illegal!!!!:

Shoppers at Wal-Mart stores across America are loading carts with merchandise — maybe a flat-screen TV, a few DVDs and a six-pack of beer — and strolling out without paying. Employees also are helping themselves to goods they haven’t paid for.

The world’s largest retailer is saying little about these kinds of thefts, but its recent public disclosures that it is experiencing an increase in so-called shrinkage at its U.S. stores suggests that inventory losses due to shoplifting, employee theft, paperwork errors and supplier fraud could be worsening.

The hit is likely to rise to more than $3 billion this year for Wal-Mart Stores, which generated sales of $348.6 billion last year, according to retail consultant Burt Flickinger III.

OK. But I don’t think “Burt Flickinger III” is his real name. Anyhoo:

Flickinger and other analysts say the increase in theft may be tied to Wal-Mart’s highly publicized decision last year to no longer prosecute minor cases of shoplifting in order to focus on organized shoplifting rings. Former employees also say staffing levels, including security personnel, have been reduced, making it easier for theft to occur. And, a union-backed group critical of the retailer’s personnel policies, contends general worker discontent is playing a role.

Wal-Mart declined to offer explanations for the rise in losses, but denied cutting security staff and said employee morale is rising rather than falling.

I think the proper response to that last point is “Bullshit.” If employee wages aren’t rising, employee moral isn’t rising either. It’s a pretty simple equation.

As for the rest of it, it seems clear to me that if Wal-Mart were serious about stopping theft, they’d set their watches to Giuliani Time right quick. As it happens, “loss prevention” employees at a Houston Wal-Mart accidentally suffocated a shoplifter in 2005 while awaiting the arrival of the police. If Rudy were the preznit, hired goons could do this sort of thing all the time. There’d be no broken windows in Sam Walton’s house.

The Other Side of TimesSelect

[ 0 ] June 13, 2007 |

Roger Ailes reads MoDo so you don’t have to:

Maureen Dowd embarassed herself again today with a column comparing Tony Blair and Tony Soprano. Did you know they both have the same first name? And that’s just the beginning of the comparative fun! It seems that neither the Prime Minister nor David Chase live up to Dowd’s lofty but unintelligble standards.

And…that’s really the entire column. Perhaps TimesSelect will give her an extended director’s cut so she can also draw the Tony Awards, Tony Oliva, and Tony the Tiger into the discussion. Well, she does judge the Sopranos finale insufficiently neat and simple-minded for her tastes, which has to be counted as a point in Chase’s favor. But, really, doesn’t James Gandolfini remind you of James Madison and James Taylor?

Forgotten But Not Gone

[ 0 ] June 13, 2007 |

Why is Camille Paglia being given space by Salon (in 2007!)?

Essentially every sentence in the thing is vacuous idiocy, of course, but this is particularly remarkable:

Whatever his high ideals, Gore is a mass of frustrated yearnings and self-defeating vacillation. Raised in a bubble of wealth and privilege, he has never fully emerged from his senator father’s judgmental shadow. Women (wife, daughters, wifty hired hands) have to buck him up and prod him in this direction or that.

So, sort of the silly “authenticity” argument but with some asinine pop-psych and a generous serving of misogyny smeared on top. (Needless to say, she celebrates the “electricity” of the Republican debate without getting into the glaring factual errors.) Good to see the pre-eminent online liberal magazine promoting this kind of brilliant analysis!

Finale (spoilers)

[ 0 ] June 13, 2007 |

Spoilers aplenty ahead, although if you haven’t isolated yourself from all media for the past four days I can’t imagine anything here will be surprising. I think it was a great episode, and I suspect that people will be talking about it for a long time.

The episode itself is structured around two great payoffs. Everyone has been wondering about the importance of Tony’s contact with Agent Harris. Would this amount to anything, or simply be another lose end? In their first scene, Tony flips the relationship on its head. Up until now, Harris has been trying to put an obligation on him, by invoking Meadow, patriotism, and so forth. Now, Tony turns it around; he provides (what we must assume) is false or spurious information in order to create an obligation on the part of Harris. We know that Harris will have to chase this down, because he just had to chase down a pointless lead about an airplane hijacking. Then, of course, Harris provides the key intel necessary to get back at Phil. This illuminates something critical about Tony’s leadership style/survival strategy; the reliance on intuition. Way back when, in the hospital, Artie Bucco described Tony as a calculating machine, adding up the numbers and figuring the moves way in advance, such that “the worst you’re going to get out of this is a free meal”. That’s close, but not quite right. Tony never seems to make those calculations in his conscious mind. What’s working and calculating is the subconcious, such that he essentially intuits his way in the right direction.

People don’t “win” deals with Tony. He was willing to give his high school friend an open credit limit at the big game because he understood, on some level, that he was going to make money. This is what Melfi realized in the end; everything with Tony was a lie, but it was difficult to accept this because Tony himself didn’t understand the lie. He believed that he was loaning the money to Artie as a friend; he beiieved that the line at the poker game would work out badly; he believed that he cared about terrorism. Melfi suddenly became cognizant of Tony’s lies and became understandably distressed.

This also helps shed light on Christopher Moltisanti’s death. Christopher is Tony’s great failure, a failure of reason, if you will. Maybe Tony intuited that Chris would be a problem, and maybe sentimentality overrode his intuition, but either way his hope that the long patronage of Christopher would pay off never worked out. Even Christopher’s film couldn’t find a distributor. Tony’s decision to smother Chris is his final realization that this was never going to work out. Chris was never going to give up the drugs, never going to become an adult, and never going to become someone that Tony could rely on.

Paulie’s survival pays off the earlier “Tony and Paulie go to Florida for some reason” episode. Paulie’s sole redeeming characteristic is and has always been his ability to survive, and of course he manages to escape the fates of Bobby, Chris, Sil, and all the others. Whatever reservations he had along the way, he always understood that loyalty to Tony was his best chance at survival. I think that his reluctance to take up Ralphie’s old crew was genuine; the cat served as an (unnecessary) reminder of how superstitious Paulie is and how seriously he takes his fears.

And about the end… I’m glad that there seems to be a growing consensus that it was not only appropriate, but in fact an inspired way to end the series. I don’t see what purpose would have been served in putting a bullet in Tony at the end, and that’s really the only thing that could have supplied closure. If Carmela had gone down in a hail of bullets, or if they had just faded away as the family had dinner, we wouldn’t really have known anything more than we know now. As a lot of people have pointed out, the Sopranos is not a moral tale, and Tony doesn’t deserve a Michael Corleone style send off in which he gets to pay a price for his thuggery. The only real options for the end were Tony dead or Tony alive, a point we should remember while listening to calls for closure.

I’m also reminded of the finale to Angel, which lacked the artistry (the last five minutes of the Sopranos will go down as some of the most compelling television of all time) but concluded in more or less the same way and faced the same type of critique. At the end some of the crew were dead and some dying, with the rest facing what seemed to be insurmountable odds. I can’t find the exact quote, but when challenged on the ending Joss Whedon denied that it represented a cliffhanger. He argued, rather, that the series had ended just as it had begun. Angel and his allies were holding on for dear life against insurmountable odds from the beginning of the very first episode, and the ending neither changed that nor portended something new. That’s how I like to think of this; we picked up Tony’s life at more or less an arbitrary point, got to watch it for a while, and then at another more or less arbitrary point we don’t get to watch it anymore. Maybe he was shot, maybe not, but there’s not much more to tell, and we’ve seen enough.

The Great Wanker Debate

[ 0 ] June 13, 2007 |

While I find Digby’s logic regarding a pardon of Libby quite compelling (it seems unlikely that Bush will pay much of a price for a pardon, and it would probably even improve his standing with the true believers), I have to agree with Ezra and Matt that Bauer’s counter-argument isn’t absurd on its face, and in particular that it doesn’t represent a “let’s take it easy” position on Libby. Frankly, I wouldn’t give the bones of a Pomeranian grenadier to see Libby in jail, except insofar that it embarasses the Bush administration and helps the Democrats. If I believed that pardoning Libby would hurt the President, I’d be as vocally pro-pardon as Bill Kristol.

…that said, “Wanker of the Day” belongs to Atrios, and he can thus dub whomever he likes.

UPDATE (BY SL): My take is here. I take no position on whether this rises to the level of wankerdom, but Bauer is pretty clearly wrong on the merits.

"Sort of like a cross between the Buddha, narcolepsy, and a deflated tennis ball left out in the rain."

[ 0 ] June 13, 2007 |

Thers, back from scoring AP tests, is on the case.

Big Media Lindsay

[ 0 ] June 13, 2007 |

Long-time friend of L G & M Lindsay Beyerstein has joined In These Times as a national political reporter. You can check out her first piece here.

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