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John Updike

[ 0 ] January 28, 2009 |

R.I.P. Wolcott has more.

Fighting The Last War

[ 0 ] January 27, 2009 |

I think Steve M.’s analysis of the problems with defenses of Paterson’s senate appointment are very astute. One line of argument goes that Gillibrand was a strong choice for 2010 because a more progressive candidate would have their support too localized in New York to win, so we could end up with an Al D’Amato/Pataki situation. The main problem with such arguments , as Steve points out, is that 1)Westchester, Long Island, and other NYC bedroom areas are much more liberal than they were 15 years ago, and 2)upstate has shrunk relative to the population in the NYC metro area. Basically, the old Republican competitiveness formula no longer works. Any vaguely credible Democratic candidate, including one significantly more progressive than Gillibrand, would be a massive, massive favorite in 2010 even before we get to the question of who exactly the D’Amato/Pataki figure for the GOP is supposed to be. I suppose there may be good reasons to have picked Gillibrand, but the idea that the Dems needed her to win in 2010 certainly isn’t one of them.

Gee, ya think?

[ 0 ] January 27, 2009 |

Michael Rubin asks, with an evidently straight face:

I won’t get into the substance of Obama’s comments—others are doing that across the web—but I am curious whether the choice of al-Arabiya signals the administration’s abandonment of the U.S.-funded al-Hurra satellite channel. Al-Arabiya is the second-most popular channel in the Arabic-speaking Middle East (after al-Jazeera), so audience reach was not the only factor Obama’s handlers considered when determining on which Arabic satellite station he should appear.

Setting aside the fact that people only watch it when their cats accidentally step on their remote controls, al-Hurra is — like the administration that sponsored it — a sump of incompetence that can’t even maintain a consistently pro-American line of propaganda. Nevertheless, I can’t imagine why the incoming administration wouldn’t jump at the opportunity to validate five years of failed media strategy by appearing on a network that symbolizes its predecessor’s total incapacity to take people in the Middle East seriously.

Marc Lynch has more…

Blog Launch-Progressive Realist

[ 0 ] January 27, 2009 |

Check out Progressive Realist, a new blog bringing together a number of progressive foreign policy writers (including yours truly). Here’s the About; the project has been brought together by Robert Wright (of Bloggingheads et al). I’m proud to be a contributor; check it out.

Quid Without the Quo

[ 0 ] January 27, 2009 |

Obama is apparently urging House Dems to strip birth control funding from the stimulus bill. While this would be wrong on the merits, as Matt says what’s even worse is that the Dems seem to be getting absolutely nothing in return. Indeed, Obama should be moving in the other direction; since at this point it’s obvious that there’s essentially no chance that the Republicans will vote for the bill, and it will make no difference to any future election how many Republicans vote for it (voters will give Democrats the credit or blame irrespective of the final vote), the Dems might as well pass the best bill they can.

[X-Posted at TAPPED.]

Elsewhere: On the Side of Angels

[ 0 ] January 27, 2009 |

Jacob Levy is hosting a crookedtimber style book symposium on Nancy Rosenblum’s new book, On the Side of the Angels: An Appreciation of Parties and Partisanship. The first several posts are by Rosenblum herself, laying out main arguments of the book:

Nancy Rosenblum’s account moves between political theory and political science, and she uses resources from both fields to outline an appreciation of parties and the moral distinctiveness of partisanship. She draws from the history of political thought and identifies the main lines of opposition to parties, as well as the rare but significant moments of appreciation. Rosenblum then sets forth her own theoretical appreciation of parties and partisanship. She discusses the achievement of parties in regulating rivalries, channeling political energies, and creating the lines of division that make pluralist politics meaningful.

I’m about 100 pages in to this rather long book, so all I’ve really seen so far is her historical account of what she calls “the grand traditions of antipartyism” in political thought. While I’ve yet to get to her own positive argument, so I’ve not yet formed a worthwhile opinion, this looks like an important book; even if the core of the argument seems rather obviously right (as it does to me, and I suspect most of our readers) assembling all aspects of the argument in one place. I’m hopeful, from the list of participants, that some will offer some of the critical pushback I wouldn’t necessarily come up with as an overly sympathetic reader. There’s quite a bit already up, and I probably won’t have time to read it all until the weekend, but if you’ve got the time and the interest, check it out.

Influenza Literature

[ 0 ] January 26, 2009 |


But in some ways the most interesting thing about the Spanish Flu is the extent to which its occurrence has been purged from our historical memory despite the fact that it was extraordinarily deadly—killing more people than World War One. But it’s barely mentioned in our history textbooks, doesn’t seem to come up much in famous books by Hemingway or Fitzgerald.

Now this is an interesting point. We have an enormously rich body of post-Great War American literature, focusing both on the ex-pat experience and on various elements of the national life, and it’s hard for me off hand to remember any reference to the Spanish Flu. Am I misremembering, and if not, why does it seem as if an entire generation of writers simply ignored one of the most important events of their lives?

Would Jesus Run Up the Score?

[ 0 ] January 26, 2009 |

I’m not taking a position on whether or not the coach should have been fired, but I do have to wonder what a “Christlike” margin of victory would have been:

The coach of a Texas high school basketball team that beat another team 100-0 was fired Sunday, the same day he sent an e-mail to a newspaper saying he will not apologize “for a wide-margin victory when my girls played with honor and integrity.”

On its Web site last week, the Covenant School of Dallas, a private Christian school, posted a statement regretting the outcome of its Jan. 13 shutout win over Dallas Academy. “It is shameful and an embarrassment that this happened. This clearly does not reflect a Christlike and honorable approach to competition,” said the statement, signed by Kyle Queal, head of school, and board chair Todd Doshier.

Covenant coach Micah Grimes, who has been criticized for letting the game get so far out of hand, made it clear in the e-mail Sunday to The Dallas Morning News that he does not agree with his school’s assessment.

Open to suggestions in comments regarding the positions that Buddha, Moses, Mohammad, and Richard Dawkins might have re: running up the score. Also curious as to thoughts on doctrinal differences between Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox approaches to 100-0 shutouts in women’s high school basketball.

The End of an Error

[ 0 ] January 26, 2009 |

Six of the sweetest words in the English language: “This is William Kristol’s last column.” Although it will really limit public discourse in this country now that Kristol’s thoroughly uninteresting propaganda will be limited to his other seven or eight sinecures. I suppose the question now is who the replacement will be? Karl Rove? Erstwhile Dowd-for-a-painful-month Ann Althouse? Ace O’ Spades? (I’d link to think that its financial crisis will cause the Times to question the value of paying a significant salary to writers who bring in approximately zero readers, but…)

Finally, since Kristol includes a quote from Harvey Mansfield, I have an excuse to remind readers of Martha Nussbaum’s decimation of Mansfield’s idiotic pensees about “manliness.”


[ 0 ] January 26, 2009 |

NY politics maven Julia has more. If I read her correctly, although my framing was more negative (and my title may have — like some others — implied that I wanted Kennedy; for the record, my choice among the two was “neither”) I don’t think I actually disagree. Here’s Julia’s bottom line:

Now, none of this means that I’m enthusiastic about having a Senator to the right of the one I currently have, or that I think the state which supports Virginia’s gunrunning should have a Senator with a 100% NRA voting record, or that I like the position she took on gay rights (although she’s already said that’s going to change now that she doesn’t have to vote her district), or that I’m happy about her family ties to Joe Bruno, George Pataki and Al D’Amato, or that I think that people to the left of her shouldn’t primary (as Carolyn McCarthy of Long Island is already planning to do) or that I don’t think that progressives should donate to those primary candidates if they’re so moved.

I basically agree with all of this. Indeed, I would if anything be more generous to Gillibrand; here dynastic ties to Republicans are a trivial issue (the proof is in etc.), and given the vanishingly small possibility of consequential gun regulation passing Congress in the near future, as long as she’s not in state politics I don’t much care about her NRA lockstep (and indeed can even see it as a point in her favor; if you have to attract Republican votes, better that than abortion.) It’s likely that, with a statewide constituency that she’ll be a generic moderate Democratic Blue State Senator (warning: my crumble under minor Republican pressure.) But, as Remo Gaggi says, why take a chance? There were solid progressives to choose from, which increases the possibility of a good senator rather than a DiFi-type wet. (And of course I agree with Julia about the political logic for Patterson, but that’s really neither here nor there on the merits of the appointment.)

I’m also intruiged by Lance’s argument that “[L’s upstate father] is worried about losing that district, too, but the odds are that it’ll be lost anyway after the next re-districting.” If true, this is important; getting a worse Senator plus potentially losing a house seat was what was should have been a deal-breaker. Perhaps this wasn’t an issue. But I also don’t see why this would be true, although I hope Julia or Lance or other readers who know more than I do can fill me in if there’s some quirk I’m missing. It seems to be that for Gillibrand to lose her seat in 2010 would represent gross incompetence on the part of Democratic leadership (not, admittedly, something than can be completely discounted.) I mean, it’s Gerrymandering 101 that you never re-district out your own incumbents — there must be plenty of ways to re-draw shrinking upstate areas that stick it to Republican instead. Am I missing something?

The Awfulness of Billy Joel

[ 0 ] January 25, 2009 |

This isn’t exactly a revelation, but Ron Rosenbaum inexplicably fails to include the song that is arguably BJ’s five-minute shite-load, “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” When I teach historiography and methods every other year, I typically devote about ten minutes on the first day to that particular crime against history. By now, most students are young enough to have no memories of the song; I, by contrast, had to share a dorm suite with a guy who thought it was the greatest thing he’d ever heard until he got hooked on that unendurable Skid Row album.

Leaving aside the inscrutable chorus, the topical stupidity of the song is boundless (e.g., Why mention Malekov and not Khrushchev? Are the “rock and roller cola wars” really the final straw, provoking Joel to shake his fist and declare that “I can’t take it anymore?”) But I think the song’s essential malignance is summed up by one line: “JFK, blown away — what else do I have to say?” Because, of course, nothing is quite as historically self-explanatory as the fucking Kennedy assassination.

God, I want to punch something right now.

Fans of Chuckie

[ 0 ] January 25, 2009 |

This came crawling across my Facebook news feed this morning. It was not an ironic gesture.

I have no further comment, except to note that Krauthammer’s fan club exceeds Kristol’s by a near 3-1 margin.