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Christopher Hitchens, Dirty Old Man

[ 0 ] June 12, 2007 |

No More Mister Nice Blog poses a question:

According to Christopher Hitchens, what in the world today “stinks — indeed it reeks — of whatever horrible, buried, vicarious impulse underlies kiddie porn and child abuse”?

(a) The ongoing slaughter and displacement of Iraqi civilians.
(b) The bureaucratic hurdles faced by U.S. troops seeking to have their war injuries properly classified as disabilities.
(c) The inability of tens of millions of Americans to obtain health insurance.
(d) The ongoing indifference to the displaced victims of Katrina.
(e) The legal and publicity woes of Paris Hilton.

You knew the answer to that one, just as surely as you know that Hitchens wrote his latest piece while nursing on the Q-Tips he’d used to swab the plastic innards of his last bottle of whiskey.

But as for Hitchens’ professed revulsion to “kiddie porn,” I really can’t offer much more than a simple juxtaposition. Here’s Hitch in paragraph two:

At some point toward the middle of last Friday, it seemed to me, one was being made a spectator to a small but important injustice. Those gloating and jeering headlines, showing a tearful child being hauled back to jail, had the effect of making me feel sick. So, you finally got the kid to weep on camera? Are you happy now?

And here he is in the next bloody paragraph:

I don’t mind admitting that I, too, have watched Hilton [ed. -- the previously-mentioned "tearful child"] undergoing the sexual act. I phrase it as crudely as that because it was one of the least erotic such sequences I have ever seen. She seemed to know what was expected of her and to manifest some hard-won expertise, but I could almost have believed that she was drugged. At no point did her facial expression match even the simulacrum of lovemaking.

There are at least 37 distressing images that could be wrung from those two passages, not the least of which is the baffling possibility that Hitchens might have intimate familiarity with the physiognomy (simulated or otherwise) of “lovemaking.”

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.

More of Creation?

[ 0 ] June 12, 2007 |

You live in Kentucky, you know a lot of people who go to the Creation Museum. Media Czech has an extended review, with plenty of cool pictures.


[ 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?


[ 0 ] June 11, 2007 |

Shorter D’Souza:

“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.

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.


[ 0 ] June 11, 2007 |

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.


[ 0 ] June 11, 2007 |

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.

Christopher at Snapping Turtle also has a terrific take, and Sully struggles but more or less comes to the right conclusion on the article, as well.

Who does this guy think he is, Josh Trev!n0?

[ 0 ] June 11, 2007 |

John Holbo links to the dispute between Scott Kaufman and a commenter at Jesus’ General. Long story short, a disagreement in comments at JG escalated into a full broadside denunciation of Scott as a white supremacist to his employers at UCI. Not satisfied with a single attack, the commenter in question has sent several e-mails to various levels of the UCI hierarchy, as well as to the office of Scott’s US Congresswoman.

As an academic, I may be oversensitive to these kinds of attacks on one’s employment. Nevertheless, while I can understand the reluctance to give out the IP address of the attacker, I can’t sympathize with it. From here on out at LGM, I think it’s fair to say that if you engage, as a commenter, in a series of attacks designed to get another commenter fired, you’ve relieved me of any obligation to keep whatever data I have private.

UPDATE BY SL: I concur, especially with the premise that this kind of tattling is reprehensible. It’s especially bad when the tattling is libelous, as in this case, but it’s always bad, and since I’m a fan of JG I’m dismayed that he’s enabling this kind of behavior. [On reflection, I think this charge against patriotboy is too strong. He's not responsible in any way; I wish he called out the individual commenter more forcefully, and didn't ban SEK for no obvious reason, but it's not enabling. Fundamentally, this is about his commenter, not him.]

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.)

Glenn Reynolds: The World’s Dumbest Living Human?

[ 0 ] June 11, 2007 |

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.

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