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The Dilemma of the Irresponsible Media

[ 40 ] January 7, 2008 |

Dana is right, of course, that there was a considerable amount of sexism inherent in characterizations of Clinton’s debate performance on Saturday. (“Medusa look,” ugh.) This presents Democratic primary voters with a dilemma, for reasons that Matt’s point should make clear:

Getting good press is part of being an effective candidate and part of being an effective president. Will Obama continue to get this kind of worshipful coverage in the general election campaign? Probably not, especially if he has to run against Saint John of Arizona. But will he get better coverage than Clinton or Edwards would? Almost certainly. And I don’t think it makes sense to let resentment be the governing consideration here.

I’m a little ambivalent about this. On the one hand, I agree that since any major Dem would be vastly preferable to any major GOP candidate, it would be irresponsible to just ignore the fact that Obama is likely to receive much more favorable coverage than Clinton or Edwards. On the other hand, it’s important to be careful not to fall into a “blame the victim” trap here. While maybe some of the problems that Gore and Hillary Clinton have had with the media may be failures of management, I suspect most of the problem is caused by the fact that a lot of elite media figures don’t like them and there’s nothing they can do about it. (In Gore’s case, the evidence is pretty clear.) And in Clinton’s case, where some of the bad coverage reflects grossly sexist assumptions, there’s the additional risk that placing too much weight on media coverage will make this sexism become a self-sustaining dynamic that excludes women from political office.

For me, the dilemma is resolvable because while I would be extremely reluctant to let the prospect of unfavorable media coverage dissuade me from supporting a candidate I thought was clearly superior on the merits, I don’t think that Clinton has made this case. (YMMV.) But even if Clinton isn’t your first choice, it’s still important to be vigilant about sexist smears of her in the media — whatever its effect on the primary it’s unacceptable.

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Bagram: Still There

[ 72 ] January 7, 2008 |

There’s a good piece by Tim Golden in today’s Times about the detention center at Bagram, where conditions are even more bleak than at Guantanamo; conditions are overcrowded (the population having increased from around 100 to nearly 700 since 2002), detainees have no access to lawyers, and the the US continues in many instances to prevent the Red Cross access to prisoners in a timely fashion. Moreover, as Emily Bazelon among others reported nearly three years ago, there’s no question that the US has used torture at Bagram as well as other facilities in Afghanistan. And the Jacoby Report, the only official investigation into these abuses, was so heavily redacted as to be nearly useless — at least to anyone who might be interested in how detainees are defined, what kinds of interrogations tactics were approved, what oversight measures might have been in place to prevent abuses, and so on.

The Bush administration vaguely claims (as it does with Gitmo) that it would prefer to shut down the facility and turn over the mostly Afghan prisoners to the Karzai government, but the Times article makes it clear that this won’t be happening any time soon. There are several reasons for this, but among the more telling points made in the piece, Golden reports that while a new Afghan-run facility has been completed, the US won’t turn over the detainees unless Afghanistan promises to replicate the legally dubious system created by the Bush administration.

Yet even before the construction began in early 2006, the creation of the new Afghan National Detention Center was complicated by turf battles among Afghan government ministries, some of which resisted the American strategy, officials of both countries said.

A push by some Defense Department officials to have Kabul authorize the indefinite military detention of “enemy combatants” — adopting a legal framework like that of Guantánamo — foundered in 2006 when aides to President Hamid Karzai persuaded him not to sign a decree that had been written with American help.

On the one hand, it’s instructive to note that the Afghan government seems to be pushing back on this; I’m sure the weakness of the state itself (rather than any devotion to principle) explains the resistance. Still, the apparent permanence of the Bagram facility is an appalling prospect.

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Escaping the Penn

[ 9 ] January 7, 2008 |

One does indeed hope that should Clinton go on to lose the primary it would have the salutary effect of permanently discrediting Mark Penn. (Although, alas, always losing competitive campaigns hasn’t been much of a bar to cashing checks from Democratic candidates in every cycle in the past.) And I also agree that choosing Penn has to be seen in itself as a significant strike against Clinton, especially since her shrewd political intrinsics are supposed to be a major selling point. I don’t know about you, but I don’t fully trust someone willing to put her primary fate in the hands of the architect of Joementum! to win the general election.

Speaking of prescient Mark Schmitt posts, this critique of Penn’s largely worthless polling contains a passage that seems especially relevant:

Penn also makes a particular use of his political typology, which is to declare that a certain voter category of his own devising is “the key” to the election because it could go either way: soccer moms, office park dads, wired workers, etc., or in his corporate work, “Mom-fluentials.” Even if the category is firmly defined, and even if it is a “swing” category, that form of analysis rests on two other assumptions: That almost all other demographic categories are not swingable, and that the electorate cannot be expanded — that is, that non-voters cannot be made voters. But neither assumption is justified: As I argued last fall, Karl Rove showed that the Republican base could be expanded, and so can the Democratic base, and in 2006, virtually every demographic category increased its Democratic vote significantly. To define a particular group as key is to deny those other possibilities, and in doing so, leads to a particular narrowing brand of politics focused exclusively on the concerns of the group defined as “key,” which in Penn’s case is reliably the upper half of the middle class.

Obama’s upset win in Iowa is probably in some measure a result of his understanding things about American politics that Clinton’s team doesn’t. And the fact that Penn’s strategy is always focused on the upper-middle-class may explain why Obama’s apparent status as the “wine track” candidate hasn’t held up.

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Kristol Channels Friedman

[ 12 ] January 7, 2008 |

The general absurdity and delusion aside (how could anyone ever have expected something different from a cog so deeply enmeshed in the GOP/think tank machine; moreover, should Kristol be celebrating a defeat for the most right wing foreign policy candidate in the Dem primary?!), the worst part of Kristol’s column has to be this:

I was watching the debate at the home of a savvy, moderately conservative New Hampshire Republican. It was at this moment that he turned to me and said: “You know, I’ve been a huge skeptic about Huckabee. I’m still not voting for him Tuesday. But I’ve got to say — I like him. And I wonder — could he be our strongest nominee?”

Oh, come on, Bill, be straight with us; wasn’t it really a software engineer from Bombay? Or a Tel Aviv taxi cab driver? If you’re going to put together a Friedman-Kristol mashup, at least put in some effort.

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Grey’s Anatomy? Seriously?

[ 27 ] January 7, 2008 |

Old news, but I hadn’t seen before that Barack Obama had declared the Wire his favorite television program, while Clinton prefers Grey’s Anatomy, and Edwards remains stuck in 1994. It’s kind of interesting; even at this late date, I would have thought there was some risk for a politician in describing a preference for a show that constitutes “an elaborate, moving brief for despair and (ultimately) indifference”.

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[ 7 ] January 7, 2008 |

Bill Kristol’s got his first column up in the Times today. And he comes out swinging. His column’s main point: Huckabee might be the best nominee the GOP has to offer. It’s a doozy.

Here’s a preview of his twisted world-view:

But gratitude for sparing us a third Clinton term only goes so far. Who, inquiring minds want to know, is going to spare us a first Obama term? After all, for all his ability and charm, Barack Obama is still a liberal Democrat. Some of us would much prefer a non-liberal and non-Democratic administration. We don’t want to increase the scope of the nanny state, we don’t want to undo the good done by the appointments of John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court, and we really don’t want to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory in Iraq.

That’s right kids. Vote democrat and we lose in Iraq. Funny – I thought we were already doing that now.

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Is RFK Liberalism’s Best Hope? This Week In Parade!

[ 6 ] January 7, 2008 |

When I was in D.C. I was reminded about Parade, the Sunday insert for readers who find In Style a little too highbrow. This seems about right

Speaking of Berube, I wonder if he has the influence to pull this off:

The Flyers’ president, Peter Luukko, has had “informal conversations” about staging a game between the Flyers and the Penguins at Penn State’s Beaver Stadium, a Flyers spokesman said.

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Dr. Pepper And Port

[ 0 ] January 7, 2008 |

That sounds like a good bad drink, if you know what I mean. And Dr. Pepper (alcoholic or not) made with actual sugar would be fantastic, although it’s probably for the best that such a thing isn’t available and I’m stuck with the Diet Cherry Vanilla instead…

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In for the Long Haul

[ 15 ] January 7, 2008 |

CNN’s got a story up claiming that Edwards is in for the long haul — no matter what, he’s claiming he’ll stay in ’til the convention. Judging by the photo that accompanies the CNN story (with JE’s shirttails hangin’ out) and by the results in Iowa, it looks like it might be a long haul.

Notwithstanding, judging also by Edwards’ performance in the debate last night, seems to me like Edwards might be running to be Obama’s veep candidate. Or something like that.

New Hampshire predictions? Thoughts on how long Edwards will actually stay in if New Hampshire is a mess?

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"Imagine getting stuck on a ski lift with Dr. Phil for nearly two hours. "

[ 4 ] January 6, 2008 |

Clicking through Orr’s top-10 list I saw his review of Guy Ritchie’s Revolver. I didn’t really investigate it other than skimming what seems to be the charitably lukewarm NYT review; even knowing nothing about it having been on the shelf for two years, seeing the horrifying credit “written by Luc Besson” was enough to keep me well away from the theater. And hence, I had no idea that it turns out to be a pretentiously-cut gangster movie overlaid extensively with…reams of pretentious New Age horseshit. Without meaning it as a joke. It seems to fall into the category of “almost but not quite bad enough to warrant Netflixing”:

Gradually, one begins to suspect that this movie thinks it has Something Important to Say and, unfortunately, it does. (A spoiler follows, though trust me, this is something you’ll want to know before deciding to shell out your eight bucks.) As the film progresses, Green’s homily-spouting voiceover becomes ever more intrusive before ultimately blossoming into a full-blown attack of schizophrenia in which he bickers, Gollum-like, with his own dark side in a stopped elevator. The lesson, you see, is that his only real enemy is his ego, and not the fellow with the gun waiting outside the elevator to kill him.

And, indeed, when the doors open the anticipated showdown is less climax than coda, as the newly enlightened Green strolls right past his would-be assailant, who is paralyzed by his own insecurities. For viewers thick (or incredulous) enough not to get the message, Ritchie helpfully provides, as the credits roll, a series of brief psycho-spiritual testimonials in which luminaries such as Leonard Jacobson and Deepak Chopra explain, “The ego is the worst confidence trickster, because we don’t see it.”

Wow–so it’s sort of Smoking Aces meets Johnathan Livingston Seagull, in dead earnest. And the sad thing is, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels was pretty entertaining, although certainly one can see many signs of potential for unimaginable wankery in it.

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Sunday Deposed Monarch Blogging: House Dadiani

[ 0 ] January 6, 2008 |

In 1184, the Lord High Steward of Georgia was given, for his troubles and services, a small duchy on the Black Sea. Duke Vardan II Dadiani ruled Mingrelia, an area of about 3500 square kilometers, for 29 years before passing it on to his son. For the next seven hundred years, Vardan’s descendants would, with one or two exceptions, rule Mingrelia. During this time Mingrelia (and the rest of Georgia) endured occupation by the Mongols, the Ottomans, the Persians, and eventually the Russians. In 1671, the French adventurer Jean Chardin visited Mingrelia (then a Christian island among Persian and Turkish dominated lands), and described a wretched peasantry ruled over by an arrogant nobility.

In the 18th century Russia began to pursue control over Georgia in earnest. Georgia was incorporated into the Russian Empire in 1801, but Mingrelia and a few other small states held out until 1803. The Dadiani continued to rule Mingrelia as hereditary princes until 1867, when they abdicated in return for various favors associated with Russian nobility. Many of the Dadiani served in the Russian Army, one losing his legs in the Russo-Japanese War.

In 1899, the wretched Mingrelian peasantry produced a boy named Lavrentiy Beria. In March 1917, young Beria joined the Bolsheviks, just as the wretched peasantry (and wretched workers, and wretched everyone else) decided to settle the score with the arrogant Imperial Russian nobility. The head of House Dadiani at the time was Nicholas II Dadiani, Gentlemen of the Bedchamber to the Emperor Nicholas II of Russia. Prince Nicholas II, like Emperor Nicholas II, did not prosper after the Revolution; he survived his Emperor by eight months, dying in a Bolshevik prison hospital in March 1919. It is unlikely that Beria, then working in Azerbaijian, ever met Prince Nicholas II, but he made his career through leading the repression of the Georgian national uprising of 1924, which included Mingrelia.

Prince Nicholas II’s sister, Salomea, escaped to France with her husband and her four children. Although the husband shot himself in 1924, Salomea survived until 1961. One of her sons joined the French Resistance, and was murdered by the Gestapo in 1944. He received a posthumous Order of the Great Patriotic War of the USSR. Alexander, her second son, survived the war and had a son who eventually relocated to the United States. Prince Sergei Valerianovich Obolensky was born in New Haven, CT in 1956, and is, as far as I can tell, the heir to the Duchy of Mingrelia.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Georgia has regained its independence. Several quasi-states within Georgia have aspirations towards independence, including Mingrelia, whose people are linguistically distinct from other Georgians. However, these aspirations have never reached the level of those in Abkhazia or other breakaway regions, and in any case it seems unlikely that the Mingrelians would seek out an heir whose family gave up the throne 140 years ago. As such, prospects for a return to the throne appear extremely grim.

Trivia: What deposed monarch has made intermarriage one of the central planks of his restoration campaign platform?

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The Ending

[ 0 ] January 6, 2008 |

The first two hours of There Will Be Blood are unassailably outstanding; if you don’t think it’s one of the best American pictures of recent years I don’t know what to say other than that tastes differ (i.e. mine is good.) Not only is Day-Lewis exceptional as always, he has a director with an eye to match. The ending will be much more divisive even among people who otherwise admire the film; see, for example Christopher Orr. But, granting that I loved the pretentious-on-paper Raging Bull homage that concluded Boogie Nights and don’t even dislike the plague-of-frogs ending of Magnolia, like Yglesias I didn’t find it particularly objectionable. There is a powerful internal logic to the last sequence; more than anything, Plainview can’t accept abjection, and his revenge makes sense (although I need to see it again before being sure about the bowling-alley sequence.) I did think that the penultimate scene was by far the weakest in the picture; it went on to long and the twist is an overused one. But it’s a trivial weakness given the overall virtues of the film. And it’s a nice recovery for Anderson; although both Magnolia and Punch Drunk Love had significant virtues (the latter actually holds up better for me) he hasn’t been this fully in command of his exceptional talent since Boogie Nights. I can’t wait for his next one.

UPDATE: Interesting thoughts from Glenn Kenny.

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