Friday, August 31, 2007


Victor Davis Hanson is an idiot.

After making that point in painful detail about fifty times, I shouldn't have to make it yet again. But my dead tree gazette insists on putting his nonsense on my breakfast table and spiking my systolic on a regular basis. So, briefly...

You don't really need to read past the headline:

Terrorists' ravings indicate Bush has made progress

But let's.

He starts off conceding that the Preznit is a tad unpopular here in the U.S. of A. Of course, his approach is to characterize that unpopularity as manifesting the classic winger construct: Bush Derangement Syndrome. He follows by conceding that Bush is almost universally reviled abroad as well. Is this the same Victor Davis Wingnut we know and loathe?

But redemption is at hand. The turnaround is so staggering in its blockheadedness, I cannot do it justice, and thus reproduce it in full:

Finally, there is at least one group whose hatred of Bush is more than welcome: Osama bin Laden and his Al-Qaida terrorists.

Now, if you were to believe the criticisms of the president by many of the groups outlined above, it would follow that bin Laden would actually be delighted by Bush's "war on terror."

After all, Bush supposedly waged an unnecessary and divisive war that only empowered his enemies. The administration supposedly drove "moderates" into bin Laden's camp, divided the American public over Iraq, and turned off allies with Guantánamo and wiretaps. We are surely less safe, it is argued, post-Sept. 11.

But why then does bin Laden hate George Bush so passionately? He serially rants about the president. In October 2004 he even released a pre-election video addressed to Americans, lambasting Bush in hopes that he would lose the election.

The truth is that, thanks to Bush, bin Laden's original bases in Afghanistan are lost. His Al-Qaida followers in Iraq are being systematically decimated - with the help of Sunni tribesmen repulsed by jihadist atrocities. A recent poll from the Pew Research Center revealed a precipitous drop in support among Middle Easterners for the tactics of suicide bombing, and a growing unpopularity for bin Laden himself.

Al-Qaida terrorists no doubt hate every American president. But bin Laden's venom for feisty George Bush is special, galvanized by the president's success in eroding Al-Qaida militarily while trying to foster enough reform to ruin the terrorist organization politically.

George Bush's war on radical Islamic terrorists and their sponsors apparently makes a lot of widely different people uncomfortable. But the irony here is that bin Laden's dislike for the president should show Bush-haters here and abroad that he deserves some praise. Their common enemy is as enraged as he is reeling.

Yes, indeed. We should all let our opinion be dictated by Osama bin Laden. We should like those he hates, and hates those he likes, period. Like the Iranians, who are his sworn enemies, ergo ... um...err...

But that is only the half of it.

In October 2004 he even released a pre-election video addressed to Americans, lambasting Bush in hopes that he would lose the election.
How stupid does a person have to be to look at how things played out in the 2004 election to believe that? How willfully simplistic do you have to be to ignore the widely discussed fact that, every time bin Laden released a statement or tape threatening the U.S. or bashing Bush, Bush's poll numbers went up? Apparently the kind of simplistic reverse psychology that undamaged humans see through
by junior high school still works just fine on Victor Davis Wingnut.

I have no doubt that OBL's opinion of GWB is not very good. (On the other hand, I am also pretty confident that if bin Laden had the ability to install a sock puppet in the White House who did Osama's biding, I'm not sure we would see much difference.) But al Qaeda is doing pretty well, as our own government has concluded. And they aren't growing in numbers and strength in spite of Bush's Iraq nightmare -- they are growing because of it. Saying that Osama's rhetoric indicates Bush's success is evidence of ..., well, wingnuttiness. (Even Sully agrees.)

And yet, like Kristol and Krauthammer and Bobo Brooks, Vic does not seem to have worn out his welcome on the nation's OpEd pages. I guess idiots deserve a megaphone, too.

Saturday, August 25, 2007



Digby makes sense of what we lesser mortals assumed was mere incompetence in the Administration's handling of Katrina.


I was going to say something to the effect that I cannot imagine that there is such a cynical explanation for what they have done to Iraq. But then I remembered that I wrote one.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Perils of Parallelism, Part II

So Dubya actually wants us to draw parallels between Vietnam and Iraq now?


Here's one: refusing to concede the obvious didn't do Texan Lyndon Johnson much good. He handed the quagmire off to his successor, but Johnson was forever tarred with his tragic mistake.

Monday, August 20, 2007

The perils of parallelism

The LA Times published a mewling, stupid, jealous column about blogs. It specifically trash-talked John Josh Marshall, who has done some incredibly important original reporting -- Attorneygate really started there. And the author of the anti-blog screed admits he did not write about TPM, but that he signed off when an editor inserted a few specifics (because apparently, his screed against the shoddy unsupported work of bloggers lacked them).

"I said I did not refer to you in the original. Your name was inserted late by an editor who perhaps thought I needed to cite more examples ... "

Well. I guess that settles that.

There are bad bloggers and there are good ones. There are bad journalists and there are...

Never mind.

Update: And if Washington is Hollywood for ugly people, David Broder is US Weekly for ugly people.

Friday, August 17, 2007

The day the music died

Max Roach died yesterday.

He represented the last real bridge to the birth of bebop.

Most of the giants died long ago. Bird and Brownie in the 50s, Trane and Bud Powell in the 60s. Monk disappeared before I really knew who he was. Sonny Rollins is still around, but he was more settler than pioneer, at least in my book. I saw Miles and Diz play, but long past their prime.

Roach was incredibly important. Every jazz drummer you have ever heard is doing what Roach (and Kenny Clarke) did, and virtually no one before them had done. The same is largely true of drummers in most of popular music over the last 50 years. Those two in effect established the syntax and grammar of their instrument.

Yeah, yeah, it ain't politics. But my blog, my rules. I write about what moves me. My first published works were published in a jazz magazine. (The experience left a bad taste, and I gave up writing about it or anything else for more than a decade.) I love the stuff, but there is something pervasively bittersweet about it for me now. It transformed, during my lifetime, from a live art form (in the sense of continuing evolution) to one preserved in amber, like classical music. And so when we lose perhaps the last member of the circle of true creators of he last major shift in what is often called the true American art form, it moves me.

Update: Howie Klein has more, as does the Times. And I just realized my "degrees of Kevin Bacon" -style connection -- I performed once with Anthony Braxton (as part of a college ensemble, and definitely not because of my own chops). Roach performed with Braxton. There you go.

Update: #2: Here is Roach at the dawn of bebop, in concert with Bird and Diz in 1945. Genius all around.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Stark raving mad

Digby has an absolutely stunning quote from Rudy Giuliani:

“We look upon authority too often and focus over and over again, for 30 or 40 or 50 years, as if there is something wrong with authority. We see only the oppressive side of authority. Maybe it comes out of our history and our background. What we don't see is that freedom is not a concept in which people can do anything they want, be anything they can be. Freedom is about authority. Freedom is about the willingness of every single human being to cede to lawful authority a great deal of discretion about what you do.”

I guess we have to give the guy credit for being right up front about his fascism. None of this "kinder, gentler" nonsense.

One of her commenters offers up a helluva deep insight:

I fear that China is the new model for these autocrats. During the Cold War, conservatives believed democracy and capitalism were interdependent. China has proven -- at least to the Romneys and Giulianis --that capitalism can exist, and even thrive, without liberty. Freedom is being redefined. We are free to engage in business without regulation. We are free to support the government or leave the country. We are free to entrust our civil liberties to a government that will ensure that business will not be interrupted again. Thirty percent of the country is just fine with that.

That makes a lot of sense, and is so redolent of irony as to blow multiple fuses: the leading Communist country teaching the leading democracy how to be better fascists.

Perhaps that is what they mean by globalism.

Friday, August 10, 2007

If I wanted to be listened to, I'd speak of Friedman Units

I have frequently gone on about the absurdity of using air power to deal with an insurgency -- especially in a country where we claimed to prevail four years ago. To me, it is simply self-evident that you don't attack your own territory with airplanes.

It appears the willingest folks in the coalition of the willing now agree:

UK officer calls for US special forces to quit Afghan hotspot

High civilian toll as teams rely on air strikes to provide cover

Tension between British and American commanders in southern Afghanistan erupted into the open yesterday as a senior UK military officer said he had asked the US to withdraw its special forces from a volatile area that was crucial in the battle against the Taliban.

British and Nato defence officials have consistently expressed concern about US tactics, notably air strikes, which kill civilians, sabotaging the battle for "hearts and minds" and infuriating Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president.

Des Browne, the defence secretary, recently raised the issue with Robert Gates, his US counterpart, and Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, Nato's secretary general, admitted last month that an increasing number of civilian casualties was undermining support for alliance troops. He said Nato commanders had changed the rules of engagement, ordering their troops to hold their fire in situations where civilians appeared to be at risk.

Yesterday, a senior British commander was quoted in the New York Times as saying that in Sangin, in the north of Helmand province, which had been calm for a month, there was no longer a need for special forces. "There aren't large bodies of Taliban to fight any more," he said. "We are dealing with small groups and we are trying to kick-start reconstruction and development."

Twelve-man teams of US special forces had been criticised for relying on air strikes for cover when they believed they were confronted by large groups of Taliban fighters and their supporters.

Unnamed British officers were quoted yesterday as saying the US had caused the lion's share of casualties in their area and that after 18 months of heavy fighting since British forces arrived in Helmand they were finally making headway in securing key areas, but were now trying to win back support from people whose lives had been devastated by bombing.
To the army with laser-guided, video-equipped hammers, all the world looks like a nail. And those hammers are breaking everything they touch.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Best. Friedman Unit Exhibit. Ever.

A very nice visual tool to shame anyone who takes the latest Friedman Unit 3-card Monte throwers seriously.

(Assuming, for the sake of argument, that they are capable of feeling shame.)

Friday, August 03, 2007

Still here

A month ago the hard drive in my notebook crashed. Last week the hard drive in my desktop crashed. Many things have suffered as a consequence.

Also, the news has been uniformly depressing, and I have not felt great profundities asking for release.

But I'll share this: I recently finished reading "American Fascists" by Chris Hedges, which was recommended by loyal reader Randy. (May I be half as influential on you, dear readers, as you are on me.)

The thesis of the book, that the religious right is dangerously authoritarian, will not be news to most or all who frequent these parts. Frankly, the book added little to my understanding of these folks, and I thought the rhetorical structure and technique left much to be desired. But I still got tremendous value from the exercise.

I have thought and written at length about how fundamentalist religion has contaminated and endangered our political process. But I had not gotten very far in understanding the question that conclusion raises: why has fundamentalist pablum become so attractive? Hedges actually offers real insight on that score, though almost in passing. His theory is that breakdowns and dislocations in our civil society have paved the way -- in other words, that changes in secular society (and in particular, the intentional dismantling of the safety net by conservatives) in effect lowered our national immunity to such opportunistic infection.

You can make a pretty good argument that the thirty or so years after WWII were a historical anomaly, but that anomaly allowed working class people to make good money, own homes, send kids to college, etc. Many lives were made pretty good by the financial power of labor. That three-decade honeymoon began to unravel in the late 70s, of course. I realized in reading Hedges book how little I have thought about the profound disruption and dislocation that change has brought to so many lives. When a factory in Dearborn or Cleveland closed, as they did in huge numbers, it didn't just hurt the workers -- it hurt their families and destroyed their communities. I went to college in Ohio during some of the worst of it, and local unemployment was about 40%. I was largely insulated from it, and did not recognize the sea change at the time. The things that once gave those workers feelings of self-worth vanished. The fabric of those communities was shredded. Reality, in short, sucked.

When life threw people curves in the past, they generally had support networks, in the form of extended families and friends and, yes, government programs. But entire communities have disappeared, families no longer have the resources to offer much help, and the safety net has been dismantled. There is no longer a place the real "left behind" can go to change their reality. That's why they are so vulnerable to preachers who insist that they are "saved," and not society's recyclables. In that context, it is understandable why they would abandon their search for truth, and embrace the fantasy that is tailored to their despair.

The result is what we often marvel at -- millions of victims being convinced to further victimize themselves via fantasy in order to benefit the very people who destroyed their connection to real world. It is perhaps the most effective and massive case of Stockholm Syndrome in history, and the most tragic feedback loop of our time.

The other thing that resonated for me in the book was a quote from Karl Popper that opens the first chapter:

Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.

In this formulation, I do not imply, for instance, that we should always suppress the utterance of intolerant philosophies; as long as we can counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion, suppression would certainly be unwise. But we should claim the right to suppress them if necessary even by force; for it may easily turn out that they are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument, but begin by denouncing all argument; they may forbid their followers to listen to rational argument, because it is deceptive, and teach them to answer arguments by the use of their fists or pistols.

We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant.

I think that is the thorniest problem we face -- at least the thorniest theoretical problem. It seems a bit academic compared to the rise of fascism happening before our eyes, and the total Democratic acquiescence therein. It also seems a bit academic in the sense that those of us who really give a damn about tolerance are apparently such a tiny percentage of the population that it is laughable to talk about what we are willing to "tolerate," except as a prelude to a discussion of when to head for higher ground.

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