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Though Arguably the "Soul Patch" is Worse

[ 11 ] November 10, 2007 |

Rich Cohen grows a Toothbrush, otherwise known as the Hitler Mustache:

I went out. In the street, some people looked at me, but most looked away. A few people said things after I passed. One man gave me a kind of Heil, but it was lackadaisical, and I am fairly certain he was being ironic. (People can be so mean!) Even friends said nothing until I asked, or else acted embarrassed for me. A woman said, “I think you were more handsome without the mustache.” I had been worried someone might try to hurt me. I imagined toughs from the Jewish Defense League attacking with throwing stars—Jewish throwing stars! But it turns out, when you shave like Hitler, you follow the same rule you follow with bees: They’re more scared of you than you are of them. Because either you really are Hitler, or you’re a nut. So people do with little Hitlers what people always do with lunatics in New York, the harmless or dangerous—they ignore, they avert, they move away. If you want to fly coach without being hassled, grow a Toothbrush mustache.

The whole piece — which is mostly a social and political history of the Toothbrush ‘stache — is really interesting. Evidently, Americans first introduced it to Germany in the late 19th century, when the ferocious and ornate kaiserbart dominated the nation’s upper lip. As Cohen points out, the blowback from that innovation was quite profound.

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Kerik’s Contribution

[ 3 ] November 10, 2007 |

Via Drum, John McCain:

“I don’t know Mr. Kerik. I do know that I went to Baghdad shortly after the initial victory and met in Baghdad with (Ambassador Paul) Bremer and (Lt. Gen. Ricardo) Sanchez. And Kerik was there. Kerik was supposed to be there to help train the police force. He stayed two months and one day left, just up and left,” McCain told reporters traveling on his campaign bus.

“That’s why I never would’ve supported him to be the head of homeland security because of his irresponsible act when he was over in Baghdad to try and help train the police. One of the reasons why we had so much trouble with the initial training of the police was because he came, didn’t do anything and then went out to the airport and left.”

But of course, as we ought to remember from our Imperial Life in th Emerald City, bailing out on the Iraqi police was probably the single greatest contribution that Bernie Kerik could have made to peace and security in Iraq. Rajiv Chadrasekaran neatly details how Kerik’s tenure with the Iraqi police force was disastrous even by CPA standards:

As they entered the Interior Ministry office in the palace, Gifford offered to brief Kerik. “It was during that period I realized he wasn’t with me,” Gifford recalled. “He didn’t listen to anything. He hadn’t read anything except his e-mails. I don’t think he read a single one of our proposals.”

Kerik wasn’t a details guy. He was content to let Gifford figure out how to train Iraqi officers to work in a democratic society. Kerik would take care of briefing the viceroy and the media. And he’d be going out for a few missions himself.

Kerik’s first order of business, less than a week after he arrived, was to give a slew of interviews saying the situation was improving. He told the Associated Press that security in Baghdad “is not as bad as I thought. Are bad things going on? Yes. But is it out of control? No. Is it getting better? Yes.” He went on NBC’s “Today” show to pronounce the situation “better than I expected.” To Time magazine, he said that “people are starting to feel more confident. They’re coming back out. Markets and shops that I saw closed one week ago have opened.”

When it came to his own safety, Kerik took no chances. He hired a team of South African bodyguards, and he packed a 9mm handgun under his safari vest.

The first months after liberation were a critical period for Iraq’s police. Officers needed to be called back to work and screened for Baath Party connections. They’d have to learn about due process, how to interrogate without torture, how to walk the beat. They required new weapons. New chiefs had to be selected. Tens of thousands more officers would have to be hired to put the genie of anarchy back in the bottle.

Kerik held only two staff meetings while in Iraq, one when he arrived and the other when he was being shadowed by a New York Times reporter, according to Gerald Burke, a former Massachusetts State Police commander who participated in the initial Justice Department assessment mission. Despite his White House connections, Kerik did not secure funding for the desperately needed police advisers. With no help on the way, the task of organizing and training Iraqi officers fell to U.S. military police soldiers, many of whom had no experience in civilian law enforcement.

“He was the wrong guy at the wrong time,” Burke said later. “Bernie didn’t have the skills. What we needed was a chief executive-level person. . . . Bernie came in with a street-cop mentality.”

Kerik authorized the formation of a hundred-man Iraqi police paramilitary unit to pursue criminal syndicates that had formed since the war, and he often joined the group on nighttime raids, departing the Green Zone at midnight and returning at dawn, in time to attend Bremer’s senior staff meeting, where he would crack a few jokes, describe the night’s adventures and read off the latest crime statistics prepared by an aide. The unit did bust a few kidnapping gangs and car-theft rings, generating a stream of positive news stories that Kerik basked in and Bremer applauded. But the all-nighters meant Kerik wasn’t around to supervise the Interior Ministry during the day. He was sleeping.

Several members of the CPA’s Interior Ministry team wanted to blow the whistle on Kerik, but they concluded any complaints would be brushed off. “Bremer’s staff thought he was the silver bullet,” a member of the Justice Department assessment mission said. “Nobody wanted to question the [man who was] police chief during 9/11.”

So don’t curse Bernie for “bailing out” on the Iraqis; if he had hung around longer, he probably would have done more damage.

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"All over the ship, all through the convoy, there was a knowledge that in a few hours some of them were going to be dead."

[ 12 ] November 10, 2007 |

Norman Mailer, R.I.P.

Between his misogyny and authenticity-obsessed nutty politics — whatever one thinks of the aesthetic quality of the work, I would avoid a first date with a guy who wants to meet you by leaving a note in An American Dream — Mailer was an anachronism. But he was also an anachronism whose best work — especially Miami and the Siege of Chicago and Armies of the Night and The Executioner’s Song — I’ve been drawn back to recently and holds up surprisingly well. I’m sure this will compel me to pull The Time of Our Times off the shelf and see how often I can be pleasantly surprised as well as infuriated or baffled.

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The Lodi Lieberman

[ 50 ] November 10, 2007 |

Dianne Fienstein (Senator Desperately In Need Of A Primary Challenge-CA) supports immunizing companies who acted illegally by violating the privacy of their customers. It would be holding companies “hostage” to punish them for illegal activity, since state actors were also involved! Boo-hoo-hoo-hoo! For reasons I can’t understand, the fact that litigation would be “costly” — and hence deter future illegal behavior and violations of customer privacy — is supposed to be a bug, not a feature. The classic coservertarian bait-and-switch.

With Lieberman out, it’s becoming overwhelmingly clear that with the appropriate regional adjustments Fienstein is the worst Democrat in the Senate. Can we at least get her booted off the Judiciary Committee?

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[ 2 ] November 10, 2007 |


Mailer has been a relative blind spot among American novelists for me; I’ve only read The Naked and the Dead (on the subject I prefer James Jones) and Armies of the Night. Mailer, of course, is more (or less) than his books; he’s also been a gadfly/punchline for the last thirty years of American political and cultural life. He didn’t really write things that made sense, but at least they failed to make sense in interesting ways, as long as you didn’t have to read them. My favorite Mailer moments come during When We Were Kings, as he and Plimpton discuss the Foreman-Ali fight and its greater significance. Mailer strikes a blow against the classic “white guy goes to Africa and goes crazy” narrative; he was clearly crazy before he arrived in Zaire.

Rest in peace.

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Media Mail

[ 13 ] November 10, 2007 |

So for some reason I have a subscription to the Sports Illustrated. I’m not sure how this happened, but when (apparently) free magazines begin showing up in my mailbox I’m not one to ask questions. I could also, I suppose, take five minutes and check my credit card statement to see if I’m actually being charged for this, but since the adjectives “freeloader” and “lazy” usually appear as a couplet pair [thanks to that boar joys literature-talking guy Thers for correcting me], I figure there’s no point swimming upstream.

Alaska being Alaska — which is to say, “far the hell away from everything” — media mail usually takes a while to arrive. And so today’s visit from the post office guy brought with it the October 22 edition of SI. I’m really grateful that I haven’t paid any attention to the intertubes over the past three weeks, because some really interesting developments are afoot in the world of sport, and I would hate to know how things turn out before my weekly magazines arrive from the distant past.

For instance:

  • It appears the Rockies and Indians are on the verge of winning their respective pennants. I’m disappointed that the Sox appear to be finished for the season, but I like Cleveland quite a bit and wouldn’t mind seeing them win a series for once. Plus, Mr. Trend is from Ohio, and I like to see my internet friends happy.
  • I don’t pay much attention to college football these days, but the season continues to be one of the wackiest in recent memory. South Florida has somehow lifted itself to #2 in the rankings after Kentucky’s remarkable win over LSU. Without making too many predictions, I suspect all the craziness will subside pretty soon. Don’t expect too much movement in the BCS rankings, particularly if you happen to be a Ducks fan.
  • The Patriots just beat the holy shit out of Dallas, but I don’t think they stand much of a chance against the Colts when they meet in two weeks six days ago. If you’re in a gambling sort of mood, I’d definitely bet your kid’s college savings on Indianapolis. I sure will be!
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The Crisis in Obama’s Campaign

[ 0 ] November 9, 2007 |

This is indeed depressing. In the debates, it was possible if one was inclined to excuse his comments because he disavowed the fake “crisis” before spouting nonsense on Social Security. But he’s now repeating it and explicitly using the crisis language. Ugh. There’s no way around it –and I say this as someone who’s leaned towards him from the start of the campaign — but he’s been a serious disappointment on the ground, and if he keeps this up it’s nearly a deal-breaker.

Bob Somerby recently pointed out that “it’s fairly clear that the press corps loathes Clinton and Edwards—but not Obama.” Although I wouldn’t necessarily bet on this continuing if he actually wins the primary, this remains one of his strongest selling points: better uncertainty than someone who we know will mean a full-bore return to Dowdite lunacy. But if he’s going to cultivate the press by actually adopting the Millionaire Pundit Values of the WaPo editorial board, that’s useless.

This isn’t terribly promising either.

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The China-Pakistan Relationship

[ 3 ] November 9, 2007 |

Via Yglesias, China Hand has a pretty interesting post about China’s influence over the Pakistani decision to crack down in Waziristan and at Lal Masjid:

It was, after all, the provocative kidnapping of 7 PRC nationals that compelled Musharraf—reportedly under heavy Chinese pressure—to abandon a policy of appeasement and compromise with Islamic militants at the Lal Masjid mosque in Islamabad and, in July of this year, launch a bloody assault that revealed the extent of the security crisis at the heart of the Pakistani military regime and displayed to the U.S. Musharraf’s—and Pakistan’s–wholehearted reliance on China.

This also reminds me of Jonathan Mirsky’s article in the November 8 NYRB about Xinjiang. Among other things, Mirsky reminds us that the PRC welcomed the War on Terror as an opportunity to launch its own crackdowns on Islamic militants (and Islamic non-militants) in Xinjiang. Memories of this (and notice of China’s role in Pakistan) should cause neo-Cold Warriors of the Kirchik/Hitchens variety to hesitate before making absurd claims about Chinese obstructionism in the War on Terror; it should, but it won’t…

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Centrist Fallacy

[ 0 ] November 9, 2007 |

To add just a bit to Atrios’ point, Centrism in the Blogosphere is the idea that people of all ideologies can come together to worship Glenn Reynolds.

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Mukasey is In.

[ 12 ] November 9, 2007 |

53-40, even without a disavowal of torture. Apparently Clinton, Obama, Biden and Dodd didn’t think this one was important enough to get to D.C. for. Or, more likely, they didn’t want to cast a vote that could be used against them in the election.

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"Just Like This Post Is An Abortion."

[ 30 ] November 9, 2007 |

Bean et al. have taken care of the most obvious atrocities in this post — suffice it to say that if manliness means beating up your wife after she declines to give birth to another generation of murderers, count me out — but as a connoisseur of Aesthetic Stalinism I can’t resist this:

One of the best scenes in the Godfather movie trilogy was in “Godfather II,” when Kay Corleone (Diane Keaton) told her husband Michael (Al Pacino) she was taking their two children and leaving him.

Whoa, whoa, whoa…one of the best scenes? Is this woman for real? To state the obvious, this scene is far and away the worst thing in the first two Godfather pictures, and indeed arguably worse than anything in the third one. She does us (although not her argument) the favor of quoting the dialogue, which is awful. “Like our marriage is an abortion” — ugh, and it isn’t helped by the wooden reading. (To put it charitably Kay was never Keaton’s finest hour — although she didn’t have much to work with — and this is the nadir of her performance and the character.) And as bad as it would look in isolation, this scene from a third-rate afternoon soap is incredibly jarring in what otherwise is an absolute peak of American filmmaking. The fact that it requires a bizarre reading to make the atrocious scene ideologically congenial enough to praise is icing on the cake.

Truly, one of the great achievements in Aesthetic Stalinism of our time. Libertas and the “Right-wing Dylan” guy should fold up and go home; they can’t compete.

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Putting Women in their Place

[ 19 ] November 9, 2007 |

What’s the best way to “punish” a woman who has had an abortion? Why, if you’re Jill Stanek or one of her readers, the answer is easy: just beat her up, of course! Feministe’s Jill F., bravely wading into the morass of Stanek and her commenters, reveals the depths of their misogyny. When people are pointing to Michael Corleone as the paragon of manhood, you know you’re in trouble. Jill F. [Feministe] reports:

That’s the right-wing, “pro-life” definition of ‘family’ for ya: A wife who you can control and slap around. Of course, Don Corleone was a murderer and a criminal (didn’t he kill his own brother? and didn’t he end up basically getting his daughter killed?), but so long as he’s pro-life and hits his wife when she steps out of line, he’s the image of a real Family Man. If I remember correctly, Corleone was specifically angry because he wanted a male child, and Kaye emphasized that had she continued the pregnancy, the baby would have been a boy — I suppose that falls pretty well in line with pro-life family values, too.

In Jill Stanek’s world, men who beat their wives — especially when she has gotten an abortion of his SON! — deserve to be slapped around. Amanda thinks it’s a total misreading of American gangster films:

The misogyny aspect of gangster movies couldn’t be more obvious—like the killing and the drug-peddling, it’s part of the entire evil package. In these movies, the way women are traded and flaunted as objects and not as human beings, the way wives are supposed to be quiet and obedient and look the other way when mistresses come into the picture, all this reflects the internal logic of the hyper-capitalist gangster world, where even human beings are commodities. It’s not supposed to flatter you or your gangster stand-ins onscreen. But leave it to an anti-choice nut to watch a scene where a woman’s being treated like a commodity and say, “Well, he can’t be all bad, because he knows how to put a bitch in her place. And wow, did you check out that slapping technique? Most men need some kind of weapon to silence a bitch that fast.”

But getting back to Stanek’s post, it’s her commenters who really highlight the rampant woman-hating going on here. The beauts include:

You see, pro aborts support the murdering of children, however when it comes to other issues, they suddenly become these “bastions of tolerance.” Domestic violence? I think he snapped. Abortion is murder. The act is wrong. Domestic violence is also wrong. You can’t condone one and loathe the other.

So if a woman gets an abortion, it’s ok to beat her up because she deserves it. Because she has exercised her autonomy and challenged the patriarchal paradigm and has just got to be put in her place. Because there’s no way to “honor” women like a little bruising. I’ve got to agree with Jill (@ feministe); I think I’ll keep my own family values thankyouverymuch.

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