Friday, November 28, 2003
Appropos the Pitchfork post below, don't get me started on the bloody Rolling Stone top 500 albums list. Appetite for Destruction is apparently a better record than Physical Graffiti. Green Day's Dookie is better than Wire's Pink Flag. Purple Rain is a significantly (400 slots!) better record than Maggot Brain. Achtung Baby is better than Sticky Fingers. All That You Can't Leave Behind is better than OK Computer. Ten is better than Loveless.
Bleh. 500 more reasons I haven't read Rolling Stone since I was in high school.
Wednesday, November 26, 2003
Elections in Iraq will be accelerated, largely because Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani issued a fatwa calling for general elections that, despite his early cavilling, Administrator Jay Bremer could not ignore. Story via Calpundit, who can't decide whether it's a good thing or a bad thing. While some commenters, coming down on the "bad" side, point to Juan Cole's disturbing account of how the U.S. may have fumbled the opportunity for good relationships with the Shi'ite heirarchy, I have to think this is actually a pretty positive turn of events.
Think about it. The most powerful cleric in the country is calling not for jihad against the Americans, not for a Sharia-state like Iran, but for democratic elections. That's a pretty good thing. An unalloyed good thing? Of course not. Declarations and reversals of this kind make us look insincere, and the fact that we had to be held to the wheel to consent to early elections makes it look like we didn't really want them. But hell, we need the religious leadership to share this particular long term goal so badly that I think we can live with that perception if it means that we get an ally like Sistani in the overall project. Could Sistani be making a play for national authority, a wolf in sheep's clothing for an islamist state? Sure, I suppose. But I still think this is a promising sign.
The problem with this debate is that the right seizes every fragment of good news and, crowing, shakes it above their head in triumph, while the left seizes every bit of bad news and shakes their head over it muttering "I told you so." This is better news than it could be, worse than we were promised.
Oh, and check out Pitchfork Media's revised Top 100 albums of the 90's. Guaranteed to piss everyone off at least once, if not multiple times. No Repeater? Icky Mettle goes from #32 to oblivion? What the fuck?
Thursday, November 20, 2003
Hallelujah! Family Guy may return.
Richard Perle heads off the reservation again:
International lawyers and anti-war campaigners reacted with astonishment yesterday after the influential Pentagon hawk Richard Perle conceded that the invasion of Iraq had been illegal.
In a startling break with the official White House and Downing Street lines, Mr Perle told an audience in London: "I think in this case international law stood in the way of doing the right thing."
President George Bush has consistently argued that the war was legal either because of existing UN security council resolutions on Iraq - also the British government's publicly stated view - or as an act of self-defence permitted by international law.
But Mr Perle, a key member of the defence policy board, which advises the US defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, said that "international law ... would have required us to leave Saddam Hussein alone", and this would have been morally unacceptable.
French intransigence, he added, meant there had been "no practical mechanism consistent with the rules of the UN for dealing with Saddam Hussein".
Now, okay, the article is from the Guardian, which has, erm, a bit of a history of quoting American Department of Defense personnel out of context, but presuming this is accurate, holy fuck. I mean why don't they just take this guy out behind the chemical sheds and shoot him before he really gets Bush in trouble? Whether it's his call for Congress to grant authority to Bush to invade Syria, his declaration of the UN as irrelevant while threatening to invade more countries, or his invitation and sponsorship of Lyndon LaRouche advisors to brief Pentagon brass, Perle is a rogue ideologue, who doesn't seem to respect his boss that much.
Tuesday, November 18, 2003
"Legally, the court said, marriage means 'the voluntary union of two persons as spouses, to the exclusion of all others.'" In short, the Massachusetts Supreme Court declared the state's gay marriage ban unconstitutional, basing their finding upon straightforward equal protection grounds. The case is Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, and the opinion is here.
Here are the first few paragraphs:
Marriage is a vital social institution. The exclusive commitment of two individuals to each other nurtures love and mutual support; it brings stability to our society. For those who choose to marry, and for their children, marriage provides an abundance of legal, financial, and social benefits. In return it imposes weighty legal, financial, and social obligations. The question before us is whether, consistent with the Massachusetts Constitution, the Commonwealth may deny the protections, benefits, and obligations conferred by civil marriage to two individuals of the same sex who wish to marry. We conclude that it may not. The Massachusetts Constitution affirms the dignity and equality of all individuals. It forbids the creation of second-class citizens. In reaching our conclusion we have given full deference to the arguments made by the Commonwealth. But it has failed to identify any constitutionally adequate reason for denying civil marriage to same-sex couples.
We are mindful that our decision marks a change in the history of our marriage law. Many people hold deep-seated religious, moral, and ethical convictions that marriage should be limited to the union of one man and one woman, and that homosexual conduct is immoral. Many hold equally strong religious, moral, and ethical convictions that same-sex couples are entitled to be married, and that homosexual persons should be treated no differently than their heterosexual neighbors. Neither view answers the question before us. Our concern is with the Massachusetts Constitution as a charter of governance for every person properly within its reach. "Our obligation is to define the liberty of all, not to mandate our own moral code." Lawrence v. Texas, 123 S.Ct. 2472, 2480 (2003) (Lawrence ), quoting Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833, 850 (1992).
Whether the Commonwealth may use its formidable regulatory authority to bar same-sex couples from civil marriage is a question not previously addressed by a Massachusetts appellate court. [FN3] It is a question the United States Supreme Court left open as a matter of Federal law in Lawrence, supra at 2484, where it was not an issue. There, the Court affirmed that the core concept of common human dignity protected by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution precludes government intrusion into the deeply personal realms of consensual adult expressions of intimacy and one's choice of an intimate partner. The Court also reaffirmed the central role that decisions whether to marry or have children bear in shaping one's identity. Id. at 2481. The Massachusetts Constitution is, if anything, more protective of individual liberty and equality than the Federal Constitution; it may demand broader protection for fundamental rights; and it is less tolerant of government intrusion into the protected spheres of private life.
Barred access to the protections, benefits, and obligations of civil marriage, a person who enters into an intimate, exclusive union with another of the same sex is arbitrarily deprived of membership in one of our community's most rewarding and cherished institutions. That exclusion is incompatible with the constitutional principles of respect for individual autonomy and equality under law.
Whether you call it marriage, or civil union, or whateverthefuck ("We are here to unite these two people in the joyful bonds of whateverthefuck."), it's just not right to create a privileged status for a class of people, and exclude another class from that status, because of personal, immutable traits.* More importantly, it's not Constitutional, under the Massachusetts Constitution, or the Federal one.
Is this going to be like the tobacco companies losing that first big suit, and apres ceci, le deluge? Probably not. But this is a big step forward, without question.
Thanks to Dana for the tip.
* Now, I recognize that there is a debate about immutability of sexual preference, but suffice it to say that gay people have been present in every human society of which we have an at all detailed picture, which (to me anyway) is a pretty clear indicator that a particular subtrait is not caused by an "immoral choice" as defined by any contemporary morality.
Monday, November 17, 2003
Ezra Klein, formerly of Not Geniuses, debuts as co-blogger at Jesse Taylor's Pandagon today. Ezra starts off with an interesting post about how Iowa is shaping up as a fight between old-democrat Gephardt and new-style democrat Dean (and how may be indulging in some image management to defuse the potential allegation that he only gets the sissy unions). In another post, he cites to a blistering review of Peggy Noonan's new book by Piyush Mathur of the Asia Times, which includes the following quote:
Divided into 50 entries (excluding the Preface), A Heart, a Cross, and a Flag comprises journalistic articles and columns that Noonan originally put out between September 13, 2001 and September 11, 2002. The compilation is purported to capture and reflect retrospectively the spirit of America in the wake of the terrorist attacks. What it really delivers are the baffling reactions of an opportunist pleased somewhere underneath that a colossal national tragedy has succeeded in mainstreaming the brand of ideology that she happens to cherish.
It really doesn't get more spot on than that last sentence there -- in fact, that is the single best description of the Right's full reaction to 9/11 that I have seen. They're like a kid who just inherited a huge fortune from their dead Uncle -- sure the death was a tragedy, but that doesn't mean the money is going to charity!
Whasssup, Mikeee! Online lessons in social darwinism and drug policy.
I love maps. All kinds. I love yellowing 16th century Mercator projections of the known world, and I love road atlases of Akron, Ohio. I love battlefield maps, star maps, topographic maps of the ocean floor, and just about anything else even vaguely maplike I come across.
Therefore it is unsurprising that I should enjoy Maps and Territories so much. It's a weblog, but each entry is a fragment of a map, along with some personal anecdote or clipping from an historical source relevant to the location shown. In today's entry, a fragment of a barrage map from the WWI battle of Vimy Ridge is shown, along with a brief snippet from a government report on the battle. The first comment to the post: "My great-uncle died somewhere on that map."
Via Crooked Timber.
Wednesday, November 12, 2003
Sometimes it helps to have a philosophy major around. Matt Y. has posted an interesting rumination about how lofty ideals, or, at least, the top-level names we give to the most general notion of these ideas -- "justice," "fairness," "freedom" and the like -- can be used quite cynically to seize unearned rhetorical and moral high ground. It's not an entirely new point, but I'm not sure I've heard it expressed quite this cleanly:
One of the things they teach you about in political philosophy is the idea of "levels of abstraction." At a very high level of abstraction you might have a political belief like "I support justice." At a very low level, you might have a belief like "I support the Hatch amendment to the whatever bill."
The trouble with free speech is that it's one of those very abstract things that everyone can be "for" without anyone actually agreeing about anything.
The founding fathers, after all, were pretty clearly in favor of free speech, since they wrote into the constitution the idea that "congress shall make no law restricting the freedom of speech." Nevertheless, historically the US used to have lots of laws that nowadays the courts would insist are inconsistent with the first amendment. Leaving the legal issues aside, it's clear that there's a disagreement here not about whether free speech is good but about what free speech is. Similarly, some people think that campaign finance laws are restrictions of free speech, while others disagree. What they don't disagree about is whether or not they favor free speech.
At any rate, the point here is that sliding around your levels of abstraction can be an effective piece of rhetoric. "Let's go invade Iraq" "But why?" "To promote democracy, of course" "Doesn't sound like a good idea to me." "Why do you hate democracy you dirty, lying, traitor."
The insidious and damaging thing about this tactic is that it beggars the question at the practical level. Imagine a discussion between two points of view that are at approximately the same level of abstraction: "it was the right decision to invade Iraq on March 19, 2003" versus "it was the wrong decision to invade Iraq on March 19, 2003." If the pro-war side automatically presumes an equation between his low-abstract position and a high- or top-abstract concept like "democracy," the actual debate is over; the pro-war advocate has simply assumed total victory at every juncture without even bothering to fight.
Before I get all righteous, I should slow myself down and point out that the left does it too, all the goddamn time, and it's one of the most corrosive things that we do. We do it, most obviously, about race. High-abstract concepts can be negatives as well. "Racism" is certainly one of these. In the left's eyes (and in much of our commentary), anyone who advocates any change to the prevailing policy structure regarding race risks being rebutted with "Why do you hate black people?" This is sad, because there is a good faith case to be made against affirmative action, admissions preferences, and any number of other programs and initiatives that are designed to redress racism and assist black Americans. Those who make those cases are not de facto racists, any more than every opponent of the war is a de facto communist (fuck you very much, Instapundit). The problem with this isn't just that it's irritating, but that it chokes off debate at precisely the level where it would be most constructive.
Tuesday, November 11, 2003
The Bush-Dean Debate You'll Never See. All right, I know, this is just gratuitous, but all red-blooded American leftists will enjoy this recent piece by the unfortunately named Mark Spittle, posted today at Liberal Oasis:
The Bush-Dean Debate We'll Never See
JIM LEHRER: Thank you for joining us for the first Presidential debate between George W. Bush and Howard Dean.
The format tonight is a question to one candidate, followed by a comment from his opponent, and so on. Gentlemen, thank you for coming.
HOWARD DEAN: Thank you, Jim.
GEORGE W. BUSH: Thanks.
LEHRER: Mr. Bush, you won the coin toss for the first question.
Some of your critics have charged you with lying to the American people about the immediacy of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein in order to wage a war against Iraq that you had intended regardless.
Can you comment?
BUSH: That’s not true, and good Americans know it. It is true that our intelligence was faulty, but in the end the Iraqi people are free.
LEHRER: Dr. Dean, care to respond?
DEAN: I sure do. In 2001 Colin Powell gave a press conference in Cairo and said, I quote now:
“Saddam has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction.
“He is unable to project conventional power against his neighbors.”
A year later, the administration reversed its view without any explanation.
BUSH: That’s not true. Not true at all.
DEAN: I’m sorry, Mr. President, but it is true, and it means you are a lying sack of shit.
LEHRER: Well, Dr. Dean, the next question goes to you.
Your opponent, President Bush, has said that you are a radical liberal who intends on growing government on the backs of business. What is your response?
DEAN: With all due respect, my opponent has all the intelligence of a dead dog’s dick, and twice the stink.
I’ve made it quite clear that my positions are my own, and not the result of any ideological leanings.
LEHRER: Mr. Bush?
BUSH: What did he just say? About a dog?
I...the man’s a liberal, Jim. I mean, he’s just... a liberal... that’s all.
LEHRER: Well, let’s keep moving on then. Mr. Bush, your question. If re-elected, what would you do to repair the deficit?
BUSH: Well, Jim, I .. um... sorry, still can’t figure out what he said there before.
Anyway, I have a different view about the deficit.
I think deficits have been misrepresented. Deficits are known to stimulate economies in some cases, and I think we are seeing that right now.
The stimulus packages I put into place during my first term will be directly responsible for both short-term and long-term economic growth.
LEHRER: Dr. Dean?
DEAN: My opponent is a fuckbrained moron who went AWOL in the military, snorted coke, drove drunk, and almost ruined the Texas Rangers.
To expect him to understand the delicacies of economics is like asking a mule to conduct an orchestra, except the mule has a better chance of coming up with Mahler than Bush has of creating any economic growth.
His policies are designed to benefit the rich, shift the tax burden onto the poor, and permanently bankrupt social programs that have benefited millions of poor and middle class Americans.
LEHRER: Well, I ...
DEAN: ... Hold on, I’m not done.
LEHRER: Go ahead, sir.
DEAN: He is also an incompetent jackass, a repugnant blowhard, a flatulent bag of pus, and an insult to every pissfaced, dildoheaded bunghole on the planet.
LEHRER: Mr. Bush, would you care to rebut?
BUSH: ... I ... I can’t feel my legs ....
LEHRER: Next question, then. This one is for Dr. Dean.
How do you feel your experience as governor of a small state like Vermont helped prepare you for the role of leader of the free world?
DEAN: Better than being the governor of Texas helped that pork-assed pile of dung standing over there.
His only qualifications to become President were his daddy’s name and a photo he had of Antonin Scalia screwing some court clerk.
If my opponent were a block of cheese, he’d be smarter than he is now.
The only thing keeping him standing is his center of gravity, and the fact that his legs are too stupid to know how to fold over.
LEHRER: Okay, final question goes to Mr. Bush.
Mr. President, if re-elected, would you seek to permanently defeat Roe v. Wade through Supreme Court appointments?
BUSH: ... so dizzy... can’t.... can’t feel my tongue....
LEHRER: Dr. Dean, final reply.
DEAN: I want to say to the American people that if you elect me President, I promise to put the entire Bush family on a raft with no food or water, and set them adrift in the Pacific next to a school of ravenous sharks.
And I’ll balance the budget, too. Thank you.
LEHRER: Thank you, Dr. Dean. Good night.
BUSH: ... gurgle....
Via The Talent Show.
Damn, what is up with the Bush-as-Christ photos? Another one from the AP. Via Pandagon.
I suppose I shouldn't pretend that this is some big mystery - Christian imagery plays well to Bush's base, and this is just strong advance work by Bush's political image gnomes: rolling him out to speak at churches as often as possible and positioning the photo pit in an area where they have no choice but to take that shot. An added bonus of speaking at churches - it's rude to shout out questions, so no impromptu unscripted news conferences! It's a twofer! Yeehaw!
Sunday, November 09, 2003
More dark hints from Marshall:
One other thing: It's become conventional wisdom that the Pentagon, or rather the civilians at the Pentagon, muscled out the State Department on key issues of planning for Iraq. My recent reporting tells me it's much more a matter of Cheney and the Office of the Vice President. Much more. I repeat my question from last week: what the fuck is he up to?
Depressing but probably true. It has not been a great three years for the Democrats. Exhibit A: The unabashed ass-whupping we were handed in the 2002 midterms, leavened only slightly by the victory of Mary Landrieu (she's purty) over the execrable Bush-proxy Suzanne Haik Terrell. Exhibit B: California, Arnold, and the grisly and fatal mugging of the Davis administration (magic ticket, my ass!). Exhibit C: The not-entirely-unexpected losses in Mississsippi (how's that barbecue, Haley?) and Kentucky (despite the good offices of the Job Terminator). So, in other words, a bit of a dry spell.
Matthew Yglesias reluctantly arrives at the conclusion that that, while the instances taken separately are not particularly loud alarm bells, together they spell out some pretty bad news for (a) the ability of the Democrats to win at the state and local level, and (b) the long-term Democratic presidential farm system:
Presidential politics will always attract the best of whatever you've got, so we can still find credible nominees there, but as you descend from the White House to the Senate to the House, etc. it gets harder and harder.
If you take a look at the midterms from '02 and look at the seats that "should" have gone Democratic (i.e., lean left in presidential politics) but that the GOP won, you'll see a shocking proliferation of terrible campaigns, oftentimes run by deeply-flawed candidates, featuring ethical problems more frequently than one would think. This is a bad situation. Not all politics is local, and personality isn't everything, but it's an awful lot. If you can't get good people excited about running for office, you're not going to get far in the long run.
With all of which I agree. For every Max Cleland martyred by political gamesmanship in '02, there was a Robert Torricelli, who didn't deserve to get within a hundred miles of the U.S. Congress, even if it was only to clean the toilets. Who is in the pipeline to run for the House from, say, Denver, in, say, 2020?
Oh, and check out this invitation to Howard Dean from the leadership of the Council of Conservative Citizens, endorsing his pitch to the southern voters with the conferedate flag decals on their trucks. I don't really have an opinion about Dean's remarks, except to observe that (a) there are sure a shitload of people like that down here; (b) it would be nice if they voted for Democrats; (c) Dean is absolutely right that the economic interests of the Southern poor are, in fact, completely fucking misaligned if they think that the Republicans are looking out for them, especially given the fact that the 11 original states of the confederacy take in an average of $1.34 of big gub'mint largesse for every dollar their citizens pay in taxes (with Texas the only net contributor of the bunch at 92 cents on the dollar); (d) none of that shit matters and none of those people are going to vote democratic anyway, no matter how many Liebermanesque shuffles to the right we make; and, finally, (e) we don't need them. If we get all the states that Gore got, plus either Ohio or Indiana (or any other source of 10 electoral votes) we win. Sure, Florida would be nice, but it's not necessary.
I guess what I'm saying is whatever they tell you, Howard, don't go to that barbecue.
Monday, November 03, 2003
Bring back the draft! Via Oliver Willis we have this little gem from Salon, outlining the Bush administrations quiet push to reactivate and re-staff the draft boards which have languished since the expiration of the last draft in 1973. The Salon article points to this website: www.defendamerica.mil, which encourages prospective draft board members as follows:
The Selective Service System wants to hear from men and women in the community who might be willing to serve as members of a local draft board.
[ . . . ]
Local Board Members are uncompensated volunteers who play an important community role closely connected with our Nation's defense. If a military draft becomes necessary, approximately 2,000 Local and Appeal Boards throughout America would decide which young men, who submit a claim, receive deferments, postponements or exemptions from military service, based on Federal guidelines.
Positions are available in many communities across the Nation. If you believe you meet the standards for Selective Service Board Membership, and wish to be considered for appointment please visit our web site.
So, the draft is still just for the fellas, eh? Interesting. In any case, Charlie Rangel is surely delighted.
Justice Scalia speaks to the birds of the air. In Slate, Dahlia Lithwick indulges in some pop-psychologizing of the most dangerous man in America. She plays a familiar game of praising Scalia's intellect and broad and encyclopedic knowledge of the law, while implying that Scalia might just be a little bit nuts:
Is this brilliant jurist losing his mind? Is he so frustrated by 17 years of failure to sway an allegedly conservative court to his side on social issues that he no longer cares who he offends or how biased he may appear? Has he become so swept up by the Coulter/Limbaugh/O'Reilly game of court-bashing that he cannot see how damaging it is when played by a justice? Or is he running for elected office? What possesses Justice Scalia to eschew the reclusive public life of many justices, or at least the blandly apolitical public lives of most, to play the role of benighted public intellectual and knight gallant in the culture wars?
Scalia's public declarations often make it crystal clear what he brings to a certain issue every time he sees it. For example, in this 2002 article, also referenced in the Slate article, Scalia declared that he considers that the power to take life from transgressors was granted to the government by god, and "the government carries the sword as the minister of God, to execute wrath upon the evildoer." It is hard to imagine such a jaundiced eye objectively examining the appeal of, say, an obviously guilty triple murderer with a legitimate procedural due process beef. God's will be done! It is not necessary for a man who believes that he is doing god's work to safeguard the system - it's god's system, after all. Therefore it must be perfect. Off with his head!
But one cannot ignore—and Scalia would not have us ignore—the fact that he is also a deeply religious man. Scalia worships at a conservative Virginia church that erected a monument to unborn children several years back. And he joins many of the nation's religious groups in feeling besieged and marginalized by the constitutional wall that's been erected between church and state—a wall that keeps the devout from practicing and proselytizing in the public square. He is convinced that civilization is in decline and that this banishment of religion is directly responsible. He truly believes that the coarseness and callousness of modern mores and practices have imperiled us all. And if those beliefs make him sound more Jeremiah than Judge, well, Scalia would probably welcome the comparison.
But he's ever so smart! And handsome (pictured here with hunting buddy and fellow troglodyte Charles Pickering of Mississippi)!
Sunday, November 02, 2003
All Marshall, all the time. Nice line from today's TPM:
We hear again and again how all the bombings and mayhem are obscuring all the good things that are happening in Iraq. But this is like how the thunderstorm ‘obscures’ the underlying sunny day.
Saturday, November 01, 2003
What's Josh Marshall up to? In this post and this one, Marshall addresses, in a very careful and oblique fashion, the question of who actually forged the Niger uranium documents over which various furors have erupted. The question has remained largely unexamined, he notes, but hints that "that could change awfully quickly. And in a pretty dramatic fashion."
It's not yet entirely clear, but Marshall seems to be laying the groundwork for an allegation that elements in the governments of the U.S. or the U.K. were involved not only in the hyping of the Niger uranium documents, but in the actual production of the forgeries. He does not allege anything specifically, but in the first post, he notes that the documents did not arrive in the White House via the CIA, but rather, the CIA heard about it from the White House:
We know that everything got started when Dick Cheney brought up the Niger claims at a regularly scheduled CIA briefing in the early spring of 2002. Apparently, the briefer didn’t bring it up. Cheney did [ . . . ] [I]f Cheney didn’t hear about it from one of his intel briefings, where’d he hear about it? Specifically, who put Cheney on to the Niger uranium story?
Marshall then note's Sy Hersh's account of how the documents were first given to the press by an "Italian businessman and security consultant," and asks::
Who’s this “Italian businessman and security consultant”? Who’s he do his security consulting for? Any associations to any folks with names we know? Any connections to noteworthy figures in the United States?
Marshall delivers all of this with a wink that implies that he might have some interesting answers to these questions.
In the most recent post, Marshall discusses the extroardinary timing of the emergence of the documents:
It was precisely at this moment (in the last days of September and the first of October) that the advocates of the Niger story were most in need of some new evidence. And it was precisely at this moment when the new evidence --- at first seemingly incontrovertible --- popped up in Rome.
So, I ask again, what's he up to? Is it possible that Marshall has, or believes he has, evidence that tends to demonstrate that Dick Cheney participated in or was aware of the forgery of documents for the express purpose of deceiving the populace into war? Is that what I'm picking up here? I'm sure that this allegation and worse have been made elsewhere, at DU, Indymedia and their ilk, but (maybe I'm fooling myself), I think Marshall's got a bit more at stake than those guys. Since the Lott adventure, he undeniably has a wide readership among the media. I can't imagine he'd make an allegation like that, or even hint at it, unless he thought he had evidence strong enough that making the charge would not come back and damage his credibility.
So he's got to have something. Wonder what it is?