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Dept. of Corrections

[ 0 ] September 21, 2007 |

Lindsay has the news about NYC subway stations being wired for cell phone use. However, there is one minor error:

If everything goes according to plan, all 277 underground stations will get cell phone service within 6 years. Unfortunately, the tunnels won’t be wired.

Must be a typo. Here’s the corrected version:

Fortunately, the tunnels won’t be wired, so that people –some of whom are probably the same people who triple egress time from the subway because they can’t wait to get to the top/bottom of the stairs to check their goddamned messages — won’t make subway rides completely unbearable by producing a cacophony of voices on their goddamned cell phones.

Whew, dodged a bullet on that one.

…Kvetch offers a preview of when (God forbid) the tunnels are wired:

“Hello? HELLO? Hey, it’s me. What’s going on? I said WHAT’S GOING ON? WHAT? Nothing, I’m on the subway. What? No, THE SUBWAY! Hold on, you’re dropping out. WHAT? I said YOU’RE DROPPING OUT!! Six train, downtown. No, DOWNTOWN! Yeah. So, anyway, what’s going on? What? I said… WHAT? I SAID WHAT’S GOING ON?!? Yeah, nothing with me either. What? I SAID…”

I can’t wait.

When that happens, please shoot me.

"He went to all those funerals. And that grieving got us back to normal.”

[ 0 ] September 20, 2007 |

No, really — Bob Kerrey actually said that about the utter fraud otherwise known as Rudy Giuliani.

Hmmm. Something about that quotation seems incomplete. OK, so:

“Giuliani did what the president didn’t do,” he said. “He went to all those funerals. And that grieving got us back to normal. Until the president launched that fantastic war I supported, and everything got knocked into a cocked hat again.”

I dunno. It’s a start.


[ 0 ] September 20, 2007 |

Via Jeffrey Lewis at ArmsControlWonk, Chris Nelson is reporting that the Israeli airstrike on Syria targeted Scud missiles and missile parts. As Jeffrey notes, this makes a lot more sense than the nuclear accusation, and explains the involvement of North Korea.

Time is a Wastin’

[ 0 ] September 20, 2007 |

Turns out that the U.S. Senate has nothing better to do than to spend time passing a resolution to condemn free speech. Yep, you read that right: the Senate today officially condemned for its (brilliant) Betray-Us ad. John Cornyn (R-TX) sponsored the amendment, which passed by a huge margin of 72-25, with three Senators not voting (Biden, Cantwell, and Obama).

So when you’re wondering why none of the stuff the Democratic Congress promised to get done has happened, remember this vote and the twenty or so democrats who voted for the amendment. It’s at least the beginning of an answer.

Tool Time with Victor Davis Hanson

[ 0 ] September 20, 2007 |

This may surprise some folks, but I’d like to congratulate Victor Davis Hanson for stumbling upon the perfectly uncontroversial notion that Osama is bug-fuck crazy:

The truth is that bin Laden and al Qaeda want power for themselves, and use religious grievances and shifting political demands to try to achieve it.

In their worldview, Islam’s chance for a renewed united Muslim caliphate was shattered into impotent warring nations by sneaky 19th-century European colonists. They now want to reunite modern Arab nations into an Islamic empire run by the likes of bin Laden and his sidekick, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

. . . Such a single, united Wahhabi theocracy could dole out its oil to subservient importers, and use the profits to acquire enough weapons to unite the Arab world and prepare for the final war against us.

I would also like to extend my congratulations to Osama bin Laden for turning people like Hanson — who apparently can’t be troubled to sort out capability from intentions — into gibbering loons:

. . . bin Laden believes we will ultimately prove weak and suffer the Soviets’ fate. That’s why he keeps talking about breaking up our own states on the model of the now-defunct Soviet Union.

. . . So, despite bin Laden’s bragging, America remains the big stumbling block, the stronger horse. The United States alone ensures that bin Laden stays a sick man babbling in a cave — and not a Muslim caliph in flowing robes, with billions of dollars in oil under his feet and weapons merchants lined up at his palace door.

I wish this didn’t need to be pointed out — it being a mere six years into the Global War Against People Who Resemble in Some Vague Way the People Who Carried Out the 9-11 Attacks — but there is absolutely no compelling reason to take seriously the grand, utopian ravings of someone like Osama bin Laden. As an index of his enthusiasm for duplicating the 9/11 attacks, I’m sure his vlogs offer something of interest; as to whether they’re helpful in measuring his ability to actually do something with that enthusiasm, I’ll defer to someone other than Victor Davis Hanson.

The more pressing question, of course, is what Hanson and various other dolts get out of taking these delusions at face value — and what he gets out of assuming that only the US bestrides the world like a colossus, interrupting the dreams of a lunatic. I’m perfectly comfortable with the claim that American power has reduced bin Laden to “a sick man babbling in a cave.” I’m also perfectly satisfied that bin Laden is babbling in a cave in large part because the current administration decided in a fit of ADD to, you know, launch a war in Iraq that — as predicted — did a crackerjack job of bringing “al-Qaeda” (or at least people willing to adopt the franchise name) into a country where it hadn’t existed before.

But if Hanson wants to insist that “the United States alone” is keeping the Islamo-fascist-hippie-netroot-freemasons at bay, I’d suggest he stop yodeling about the “Anbar Awakening,” which — having jack shit to do with the exertions of “the United States alone” — undermines his thesis pretty convincingly.

Court Gossip

[ 0 ] September 20, 2007 |

From a (generally unfavorable) David Garrow review of Jeffrey Toobin’s new Brethrenesque book about the Supreme Court:

Toobin devotes two chapters to Bush vs. Gore, the case that decided the 2000 presidential election. He asserts, based on unidentified sources, that Justice Anthony M. Kennedy was overly eager for the court to resolve the dispute even before it came to them. He also stresses that Justice Stephen G. Breyer felt that the Florida Supreme Court’s decision to order a statewide recount “didn’t pass the smell test.” He relies heavily on not-for-attribution comments from law clerks who worked for the court that year, and he states that the clerks “set the tone in the building” each year, not the justices.

Obviously, one has to take off-the-record assertions from clerks with several grains of salt. But this rings true to me, partly because it seems consistent with the resolution of the cases. There are other sources confirming that Kennedy’s vote was never in play, and his claim in his abjectly embarrassing opinion in Bush v. Gore that the Court has exercising its “unsought responsibility” can be most charitably described as black comedy. Meanwhile, if the story about Breyer is true this would help to explain why Breyer didn’t — as I would have — pull his dissent when it became clear that Kennedy was playing him for a sucker. Apparently, he actually thought (unlike the majority) that there was an equal protection problem with the recount and was willing to apply it seriously. But it still makes no sense for Breyer to make this argument after he signed an opinion specifically instructing the Florida courts not to apply a statewide standard; like the majority, the impossibility created by his collective positions is basically inconsistent with the rule of law.

Meanwhile, like Michael O’Donnell, I have to admit that however dubious Toobin’s analysis is I’m happy to have some good clerk gossip, and he passes along more of the book’s dish: for example, “After Rehnquist died, Dick Cheney pressed for hunting buddy Antonin Scalia to be named chief justice.” Apparently, the book also repeats something I’ve discussed before — Ginsburg circulated an appropriately tough dissent in Bush v. Gore but immediately withdrew the passages that offended Scalia after he complained. (Coming from Scalia, these complaints about tough rhetoric exposing the illogic of a majority opinion are especially ridiculous, and I still can’t believe that Ginsburg would give in to the bullying.) He also claims that Souter wept and almost resigned after Bush v. Gore, although as Garrow points out this has been rebutted by Warren Rudman and Souter is known for his relatively leak-free chambers.

Today in Good Lines

[ 0 ] September 20, 2007 |

Garance reminds me of Belle Waring on Fred Thompson: “First of all, are women voters, taken as a whole, really so much like retarded kittens in our motivations? And secondly, doesn’t Fred Thompson pretty much look like a basset hound who’s just taken a really satisfying shit in your hall closet? Finally, even if we restrict our field of play to Republicans who have played prosecutors in the later seasons of Law and Order, I would much, much rather have sex with Angie Harmon, even though I’m not gay.” Indeed.

Of course, his objective attractiveness has nothing to do with why (predominantly heterosexual male) political reporters believe him the height of rugged handsomeness. Rather, it’s because he’s a Republican, and hence therefore represents an ideal type of masculinity to some journalists, just like America’s Mayor and Straight Talkin’ John McCain. (Alas, given his history when Matthews called Thompson an Aqua Velva man I’m pretty sure he meant it as a compliment.)

…I think this from Michelle Cottle’s profile, about conservative activists who seem to think they’re voting for his Law & Order character, is also relevant:

Happily for Thompson, his on-screen record of leadership is more successful–and vastly better known. Indeed, his four-year stint playing District Attorney Arthur Branch on “Law & Order” is arguably his number-one qualification for a presidential run. It’s not merely that Thompson’s character is a commanding yet avuncular figure; it’s that he’s an explicitly and appealingly conservative one, a type you don’t often find on network television. Within the context of the show, Branch is a down-to-earth, common-sense conservative surrounded by twitchy liberal Manhattan types whom he can lecture about their squeamishness on capital punishment and their ludicrously broad interpretations of the Constitution.

Authoritative but not authoritarian, paternal but not tyrannical, strong but not scary, Branch is, in many ways, the portrait of an ideal conservative. And, in the minds of countless Americans–including many inside the Beltway–Fred Thompson is Arthur Branch. As Bob Novak put it in a column a few months ago, “Sophisticated social conservative activists tell me they … are coming to see [Fred] Thompson as the only conservative who can be nominated. Their appreciation of him stems not from his eight years as a U.S. senator from Tennessee but from his role as district attorney of Manhattan on Law & Order.” One shudders to think how the unsophisticated activists decide whom to support.

I guess they didn’t learn their lesson with George Allen

McCarthy on Film

[ 0 ] September 20, 2007 |

Erik points out that John Hillcoat of The Proposition is set to direct Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, with Viggo Mortensen starring as the father character. Like Erik, I have mixed feelings. I didn’t really care for The Proposition, so I can’t say that Hillcoat’s participation has me enthused. On the other hand, I think Mortensen is an inspired choice (based largely on his outstanding work in History of Violence), and I don’t think that The Road is unfilmable in the same way that I think Blood Meridian is unfilmable. Speaking of the latter, I’m extremely skeptical of this Ridley Scott project.

I’m psyched, however, about No Country for Old Men. It’s a weak novel, but weak novels can make fantastic movies, and there’s something weirdly appropriate to my mind about the mating of McCarthy with the Coen brothers. McCarthy’s Anton Chigurh was just strange and not terribly appropriate, but the Coens’ films often drop a strangely violent and alien character into the middle of an otherwise conventional narrative. I’m very optimistic.

The Pretentious, Highly Unreliable Music Criticism Gap

[ 0 ] September 20, 2007 |

Apparently Pitchfork is an almost entirely all-male preserve — indeed, there are more reviews by guys named “Mark” than by women. [Via Ann and Amanda , the latter of whom explains why women leave the otherwise promising field of Insufferable Music snobbery.]

Beef…it’s what’s for dinner

[ 0 ] September 19, 2007 |

If you think eating meat is presumptively bad, skip this post.

Yum. Beef. It’s what’s for dinner — for tonight at least. For me, and for Frank Bruni too.

Last month, Scott (yes, Lemieux) and I went to Peter Luger’s. We had a great meal. Super service, the best steak I have had in a long while (if not ever) — perfectly charred . Sure, the wine list was lacking. But it was a superior meal.

So I was a bit disappointed — though not surprised — to see Frank Bruni (for whom I have previously expressed my contempt) downgrade Luger’s today to two stars (from its Ruth Reichl anointed three). For Bruni – who knows less about food than he does about pretty much anything else – it was a serviceable review. He’s right about that wine list, but wrong, I think, about the service and the location (gasp! Brooklyn!).

Anyway, all of this talk of Luger’s got me thinking about burgers, perhaps my all-time favorite comfort food. After a crummy day today (don’t ask), a burger was just what I needed, so I headed to the Corner Bistro, home to my all-time favorite burger (with the possible exception of Louis’ Lunch). Best meal in town. Plus you get a burger, beer, and fries for just about ten bucks. By New York standards, that’s unheard of.

All of which is to say this: I hear you, non-meat-eaters and ethical food proponents. But as long as Corner Bistro and Luger’s are around, I’ll have to make exceptions.

Is Clinton Evitable?

[ 0 ] September 19, 2007 |

Matt said recently that he “feels like Clinton is drawing close to checkmating her opponents.” Dana reminds us that it’s still early; Ezra avers that “it’s hard to make up 20 points when you won’t take chances.”

Understanding that a lot can happen, etc., and without quite being ready enough to say “lock,” I think that it’s pretty much over. What allowed Kerry to come out of nowhere was concerns about Dean compounded by the inept, undisciplined endgame to his Iowa campaign. Clinton, whatever else one can say about her, is a very disciplined campaigner; she’ll be very, very difficult to haul down from behind. I’m also inclined to think, given her strong basic political abilities and her lead, that the fact that she was two viable opponents probably helps her more than anything; both Obama and Edwards will stay in long enough to prevent a single anti-Clinton candidate from emerging until it’s too late. This is unfortunate, given that I think she’s both the least progressive and the weakest presidential candidate of the three, but I would be extremely surprised if she wasn’t the nominee.


[ 0 ] September 19, 2007 |

Fascinating; I find out that David Brin has a Daily Kos diary and a blog on the same day that I teach David Brin’s Thor Meets Captain America in National Security Policy.

It’s interesting, because I’ve been assigning that story for years, but I’d never had any idea about Brin’s politics until now. However, it probably shouldn’t be all that surprising, given that the reason I use the story is to demonstrate that there really are some things that we won’t do in the service of national security. I think that this notion is really the heart of a progressive vision of foreign policy and national security; the idea that we have or ought to have certain values as Americans, and that abandoning these values in the pursuit of additional security is really to abandon the idea of America, and consequently the point of fighting in the first place. This is another way of saying that all national security decisions involve value trade offs, and that understanding these trade offs is a critical element of the national conversation. To borrow from an earlier post, standing against this is a vision of American national security that doesn’t involve value trade offs:

J. Edgar Hoover justified his actions in terms of a defense of “America,” but it remains unclear precisely what that meant to him. Defending “America” doesn’t really mean anything; America is, after all, simply a collection of people, territory, and values. We can agree that some of these things are worth protecting, and others not, and these choices inform how we make value trade-offs; civil liberties in exchange for security from terrorists, for example. For Hoover, liberal Jewish “Harvard” lawyers like Felix Frankfurter represented a threat to “America” that required FBI surveillance, while the Ku Klux Klan and associated Southern lynch mobs were merely a local problem. Failing to specify what it is about America that you propose to protect can be strategic, as it allows you to do pretty much anything you like, but I’m nevertheless interested in how Hoover himself defined the America that he was so eager to protect. He obviously didn’t have much of an interest in civil liberties, or in the value of dissent, or freedom from state surveillance. Indeed, it’s hard to determine what exactly he did believe in. Ackerman is of the view that Hoover simply wasn’t philosophical enough to think in terms of protecting particular values at the expense of others. He undoubtedly thought about the rhetorical uses of protecting “America,” but it’s unlikely that he delved into a lengthy consideration of what that meant. Accordingly, for Hoover there were no trade-offs.

Of course, this is something we return to again and again in the context of George W. Bush’s foreign policy, a series of glittering generalities about freedom, democracy, and American glory without any complex vision of what such things mean, or how these things might be compromised by a fully militarized understanding of American national security. We are offered no contradictions and told there are no value trade-offs; we can have a long war without either taxes or a draft, and we can promote democracy while crushing our enemies (indeed, the more we kill, the more democratic they’ll become).

There’s a reason Loki doesn’t give up his secrets until the very end of Brin’s story; he knows that there are those who will use them, and he understands that this would make everyone worse off.

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