Tuesday, September 21, 2004


The phrase for today is strategic defeat. The tireless Paul Krugman, op-ed columnist for the Times, takes a measured, for him at least, jab at the Bush administration:

Mr. Bush's insistence that he is nonetheless "pleased with the progress" in Iraq - when his own National Intelligence Estimate echoes the grim views of independent experts - would be funny if the reality weren't so grim. Unfortunately, this is no joke: to the delight of Al Qaeda, America's overstretched armed forces are gradually getting chewed up in a losing struggle.

From the soft right, David Brooks channels me from yesterday to talk about the new forcefulness of Kerry's message:

Yesterday John Kerry came to New York University and did something amazing. He uttered a series of clear, declarative sentences on the subject of Iraq. Many of these sentences directly contradict his past statements on Iraq, but at least you could figure out what he was trying to say

Although, and naturally so, Mr. Brooks didn't miss a chance to comment on the infeasibility of a Kerry plan:

Rhetorically, this was his best foreign policy speech by far (it helps to pick a side). Politically, it was risky. Kerry's new liberal tilt makes him more forceful on the stump, but opens huge vulnerabilities. Does he really want to imply that 1,000 troops died for nothing?

Though that last question is better directed at Bush, right?

Monday, September 20, 2004


Professor Brad Delong of the Univeristy of California at Berkeley, Noble Laureate Joseph E. Stiglitz of Columbia University, and Aaron Eldin of University of Cal. at Berkeley just launched an online Academic Journal on Economics called, what elses, The Economists' Voice. Give it a whirl.

Analyze This!

When James Gandolfini heard James Spader's name, instead of his, for Best Actor in a Drama Series, there was, I guess, a lot more going through his mind. Dana Stevens from Slate, who maintains what seems to be a blog there, psychologizes Mr. Gandolfini reaction:

When the name of the Best Actor winner, The Practice's James Spader, was announced, you could track Gandolfini's response in three separate beats: pre-rehearsed modesty during the announcer's articulation of "James," an almost imperceptible moment of shock upon registering—somewhere mid-"Spader"—that this was a different James, and then a self-mocking laugh as he realized his own mistake and genially applauded the victor.

On Message.

I'm listening to a Kerry speech from earlier today on News Hour with Jim Leher, on PBS. From what I'm seeing, Kerry' finally appears to be articulating a firmer more coherent message. First, Kerry conceded that Congress had the responsibility to give the president authorization to use the threat of force and, if necessary, military force. Another good point Kerry brought up, intoning the flip-flop theme, was the president’s 23 justifications for the Iraq war: WMD, Human Rights, Democracy, The War on Terror, &c.

That the Bush administration made colossal mistakes in the post war planning for Iraq isn't in question, but that not a single member of the administration has been held accountable is deplorable, speaking volumes to the canard of Bush's ostensible leadership.

With Iraq turning another dangerous corner in its circuitous path to a stable democracy, Kerry finally appears to have a political opportunity to hold Bush's feet to the fire. I guess the Clintonites, Lockheart, Curry, Begala, and others, are finally pushing a strong, cogent message for the Kerry Campaign. The only question is will it gain enough traction?

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Tu Quoque

Of Liberalism and Conservatism and who is actually the relativist seems to be the issue of the day--from the blogs I frequent. I think the whole argument is Tu quoque, or at the very least, and in defense of Liberalism, should pragmatically take that tact. The pile on begins with Volokh humbling offering his thoughts; Yglesias tangentially weighing in; Beyerstein thoroughly confusing me; Weatherson leaving me nothing to object to because no normative depth is presented; and Kevin Drum being, in a word, terse.

My thoughts, respectfully, tend to reject the underlying premise of the argument. First, because as Conservatives so desultorily rationalize untidy histories of human existence and Liberals sometimes too often practice a pornographic sort of punitive historiography against human nature, the argument, and the consequent methods employed, isn't all that controversial and worthwhile. Second, because of the sheer terminology involved, specifically from a rigorously moded philosophic one, the degrees of difference between Moral Realism, Cognitivism, Non-Cognitivism, Moral Constructivism, Error Theory, Expressivism, Cognitivist Expressivism, Moral Phenomenology, Cognitive Phenomenology and a whack-load of others, the argument cannot be intelligible when we try to articulate normative variances from a colloquial vantage. In plain English: It doesn't mean much, really. But a word I will add, nonetheless.

Eugene Volokh makes this salient point:

It's true that some people do employ a sort of cultural relativism, in which actions are made right or wrong by the country or culture in which they happen. This is far from a purely liberal principle, though; in fact, sometimes it's liberals who are most universalistic in their calls for human rights.

I'd say I'm a cultural relativist when particular actions, deeds, and cultural mores are outside of my jurisdiction and area of influence. Indeed, I hold utter reprehension to the existence of Shari’ah in provinces of Nigeria and would hope that the weight of world opinion and legitimate international organizations, including any number of African nations, act accordingly to advocate the repeal of the harsher, physically brutal portions of Shari’ah, but who am I, and with what moral, epistemic, ontological justification do I have to ask a culture of millions to stop living there lives the way they have been for the past few millennia?

Do I hope that modernity catches up with them? Yes! Are there some instances where, perforce, modernity smokes them out of their holes? Yes. Sounds absolutist, though pragmatic at the same time. Sometimes I feel like a nut; sometime I don't. Paleo-Conservatives and Libertarians take relativistic stands when it comes to Humanitarian interventions, whereas hawkish Liberals and Humanitarian hawks take universalistic or absolutist stances.

Yet, again, the underlying premise that isn’t and obviously cannot be agreed upon by the interlocutors’ remains elusive. At the moment, I reject—research of String Theory aside—that true justified belief or the ultimate nature of reality and truth can be categorically determined. This doesn’t mean any malice irreligiosity on my part, rather that faith can and only should offer so much, as far as empirical argumentation goes-- likewise with the limits of Secular Humanism.

For example, I think Tony should be able to engage in consensual sex with the man of his pleasing—that didn’t sound right—ed: with his partner. I also think that if Wilbur is a responsible citizen and has his guns registered and properly kept, why not let him have his guns—clearly not assault weapons.( The Ban didn’t necessarily included particularly assultier assault weapons. It should have been wide ranging. Doesn’t really matter now, I guess). So who’s more morally relativistic, Conservatives or Liberals? I don’t think it’s a realistic question to ask or answer.

Update: I Re-read Beyerstein, and now it makes sense.

Saturday, September 18, 2004


This might be a first. Actually, it probably is a first. A blog I've been frequenting for a little over two months is blowing up. Majikthise, an eclectic, fluidly penned blog, and authored by a Canadian to boot, has been receiving gracious links from Yglesias and folks around the Sphere. What's cool is seeing the traffic numbers spike precipitously, and the comments start to steadily trickle in.

What once wasn't a widely read blog, and not necessarily an obscure one, has become a blog with heat. Just recently, Majikthise has been hit-up by the Weakly Standard (Sic) about her (the author, Lindsay Beyerstein's) indefatigable commentary during the CBS Memo Huff. This post, I shouldn't fail to admit, is as much about a shout out-- like she needs one-- as it is about sheer vanity. You see, Majikthise has kindly placed me on her blog roll, which is sick, because she's becoming a Blogosphere staple. And did I mention she's Canadian

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Memo Meme

The whole CBS Memo imbroglio has become an incessant echo chamber of drivel. It appears that the memo may be a forgery and CBS will be in a tight spot explaining the journalistic flub. What hasn't been addressed, though, is the substance of the allegations: That Bush disobeyed a direct order and refused to take a physical, also, that Bush was allotted preferential treatment because of his family connections.

But I guess that's beside the point, since no one in the conventional media is willing to plumb further into the substance of the story. Two questions remain: who exactly authored the memo and, more sinisterly, are Karl Rove's fingerprints all over this mess. Ms. Demur, Maureen Down, speaks to my neuroses with this op-ed in today's Times. Apparently, if Karl Rove has anything to do with l'affaire Memo, then it wouldn’t be the first time he's trafficked in hide the flag subterfuge. This choice excerpt seems apt:

Those who suspect Mr. Rove note that when he was Bill Clements's campaign strategist in a 1986 governor's race in Texas, he was accused of bugging his own office to distract from a debate, according to James Moore and Wayne Slater, authors of "Bush's Brain.'' They said it turned the election because after that, the Democrat could not get any attention.

But really, was it ever beneath Karl Rove to bring a gun to a knife fight?

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Retro 2: Kagan Bitin' My Style

Robert Kagan has a column in today's WaPo that picks up on the point I made yesterday in Retro, though, to be fair, he puts a finer edge on it. Here's an excerpt:

Throughout the past couple of years, however, the Bush administration has turned a blind eye to anti-democratic trends in Russia. Secretary of State Colin Powell made a strong statement against Putin's treatment of opponents last spring, and he expressed concerns about Putin's actions yesterday. But the White House has been relatively quiet. And the president's voice, the only one that really matters, has not yet been heard.

A great deal is riding on whether President Bush can muster the will to denounce the man he has regarded as an ally in the war on terrorism. Some will argue, and Bush may feel, that Putin is "with us." But now Bush needs to make a different calculation. Putin is not really "with us." With Russians confronting vicious terrorists, Putin is consolidating his own power. How, exactly, does that help us win the war on terrorism?

In fact, it will hurt. Failure to take sides with democratic forces in Russia will cast doubt on Bush's commitment to worldwide democracy. A White House official commented to the New York Times that Putin's actions are "a domestic matter for the Russian people." Really? If so, then the same holds for all other peoples whose rights are taken away by tyrants. If the Bush administration holds to that line, then those hostile to democracy in the Middle East will point to the glaring U.S. double standard; those who favor democracy in the Middle East will be discredited. That will be a severe blow to what Bush regards as a central element of his war on terrorism.

Nor should the president and his advisers doubt that vital U.S. interests are at stake in the Russian struggle. Fighting the war on terrorism should not and cannot mean relegating other elements of U.S. strategy and interests to the sidelines. A dictatorial Russia is at least as dangerous to U.S. interests as a dictatorial Iraq. If hopes for democratic reform in Russia are snuffed out, Russia's neighbors in Eastern and Central Europe will be rightly alarmed and will look to the United States for defense.

And there is an even more fundamental reality that the president must face: A Russian dictatorship can never be a reliable ally of the United States. A Russian dictator will always regard the United States with suspicion, because America's very existence, its power, its global influence, its democratic example will threaten his hold on power.

Finally, there is the matter of the Russian people themselves. Did the United States help undo Soviet communism only to watch as tyranny takes its place? Is that the legacy President Bush wants to leave behind?

Much depends on what Bush does and says in the coming days. No one should imagine there are any easy answers. If Bush denounces Putin, we will pay a price. If he goes further, as he should, and begins taking tangible actions in the economic and political spheres to express U.S. disapproval of Putin's latest moves, we may suffer a loss of Russian cooperation. These are chances we will have to take, however.

Perhaps in the face of global pressure, led by the United States but including Europe, Putin might feel compelled to back down. In any case, President Bush needs to try. He must remain true to his stated principles, both for the sake of principle and for the sake of U.S. interests.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004


Vintage, Retro, Old School—and countless others—are all slang references for a particular type of ambience within areas of the arts like music, movies, and fashion which have been, as of late, rather prevalent. Sometime after the end of the 90's and the death of Grunge, a new (old) aesthetic started being embraced. The return of 70' garage punk and 80's Synth pop--or now, emo indie rock with low-fi airy rhythms that hearken back to summer nights of honest ignorance-- would be somewhat tolerable if they weren't so fleetingly successive.

The Strokes, The Vines, and Interpol were trendy "like" two years ago. Today it’s Broken Social Scene, Franz Ferdinand, and the Hot Hot Heat-- for me at least. Even in fashion: Two years ago it was the light denim with a light stone wash and the vintage logo tee with the obligatory ice breaking entreaty. Today it's suede Asics and the requisite casual blazer. The speed with which aesthetics change has much to do with the celerity of our modern lives.

It's always interesting, however, when you get the chance to see a serious throwback in your own young life. 60 years from now, when I'm old and grey, what will my posterity be pilfering from the corpse of my pastiche of an aesthetic? -- Not much it seems; because it's a simulacrum of everything that preceded it.

But the serious-- deadly serious--throwback I mention is what seems to be taking place in Russia. This, today from Reuters:

The Kremlin leader said on Monday he wanted a new election law to limit the number of political parties and to have full control on nominating regional leaders to combat terrorism following the bloody Beslan school siege in southern Russia.

Critics immediately accused Putin exploiting the grisly siege, in which at least 327 hostages died, to amass power.

While expressing sympathy for Putin's desire to go after "terrorists" following the Beslan crisis, the bombing of two Russian aircraft and a Moscow subway bombing in the last month, Powell said Russia must balance this with democratic freedoms.

"We understand the need to fight against terrorism ... but in an attempt to go after terrorists I think one has to strike a proper balance to make sure that you don't move in a direction that takes you away from the democratic reforms or the democratic process," he said.

Putin has been, for some time, attempting to recentralize power back into the hands of the executive. With the oft-used aphorism that Russians like a strong, autocratic leader-- more like, are habituated only through contingency-- the rebuke against the Putin power grab hasn't been stern enough from nearly enough places: Powell doesn’t count anymore.

Powell, I think, has greatly degraded his rhetorical credibility, given that he's been the front man for all the damage control for the White House. He's been shoveling shit and doing all the heavy lifting for the past four years.

While Putin, as evidenced in the Khodorkovsky case and the recent Russian elections, seems keen on reassuming the gross state power of a Stalinist-type Soviet Union, the self-styled Reagan wannabe has remained silent. This clearly isn’t the type of retro throwback the world needs, the implications of which may prove intractable in the coming years.

Friday, September 10, 2004


After being away for a few days, and just now having a chance to reflect on the current state of affairs continentally and internationally, I've come to the bleak conclusion that the end of the world seems to be approaching rather quickly-- or was Nostrodamus off a couple of years? Consecutive Hurricanes in an electoral hotbed, ineffable tragedy in Beslan, Bombings in Jakarta, fighting in Najaf and Fullujah, genocide in Dafur, Religious intolerance in France's public schools, I could go on, but I'm sure I wouldn't nearly touch on everything of importance to anyone with regional particularities.

Although there does appear to be one thing that sprang to mind: Bin Laden Deputy: U.S. Will Be Defeated. For the purpose of synthesis this story seems to tie into, or be buried under, the political minutiae of the American Presidential campaign. Swift boat Vets and Texans for Truth notwithstanding, the issue of who can effectively fight the war on international terrorism (fundamentalist islamo-facist jihadists bent on the destruction of Western modernity) has been, sadly, framed in the wrong context. Because of threats like these:

The defeat of America in Iraq and Afghanistan has become a matter of time, with God's help," Ayman al-Zawahri said on the tape, which was broadcast by the pan-Arab television station Al-Jazeera. "The Americans in both countries are between two fires, if they continue they bleed to death and if they withdraw they lose everything.

It's hard to see what American efforts in Afghanistan, thus far, have done to either eradicate or stave off the resurgence of Al Qaeda and Taliban forces. All this because essential resources were redirected towards the toothsome appeal of slaying the dreaded Saddam: A venture surely overdue, key to the puzzle of "democratizing" the Middle East, integral in the Grand Strategy of the WoT, but infelicitously pursued before the marginal viability of Afghanistan. One step forward; ten steps back.

This from a TPM reader speaks to the urgency of a stronger articulation of the message:

1. Bush is A TERRIBLE LEADER IN THE "WAR ON TERROR". He has failed in the hunt for Osama, misdeployed resources, and put off allies who are key to our long-term success against terrorism. Look beyond the macho swagger of Bush and see that he is completely screwing up this incredibly important long-term battle.
2. Bush and the neocon puppet masters deceived the nation into Iraq, then completely blew the execution of a horrible war, costing us more than a thousand soldiers and billions of dollars, killing countless innocent Iraqis, and creating a disastrous and extremely dangerous situation for America for years to come.
3. Bush has blown the economy.
4. Kerry is the man to put America and the world on course for a better future.

This, I think, should be a meme with traction; though, I'm not sure why others haven't picked up on it and used the power of iteration to spread it. Will it take a tragic event or a momentous precipice in Iraq or Afghanistan to change people’s perspective? IRAQ WAS A BAD IDEA BECAUSE AFGHANISTAN WASN'T VIABLE. THAT'S ON BUSH.

Proviso: I'm not suggesting we take Zawahri’s word about the situation in Afghanistan, but a general understanding of the deteriorating security there is enough to know that it’s getting worse, not better, for US forces.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Hell hath no fury...

Best headline on last night's harrangue by Zell Miller is from The London News Review: Zell Miller backs Bush, and books himself a place in hell.

Here's the lede, a stingingly gratuitous one at that:

Yes, I'm a Democrat. But I'm proud to say that I now support the re-election of George W. Bush."
- Senator Zell Miller (D).

If there is a hell, and most likely Zell Miller believes in such a thing, then Democratic Senator Zell Miller is going to burn in it. Spin hotly on a giant griddle. For something close to eternity.

Oh yes, siree. He is going to burn in hell.

And the chances of hell existing have just skyrocketed, because if God exists then he's no kind of God unless he quickly fashions a hell for Democrat Senator Zell Miller to burn in. And even if the universe exists without a God, as many would contend, it is far from beyond the inarticulate power of this vast mass of galaxies, nebulae and planets to create - within itself - a dark and steaming corner where Mr. Zell Miller can dwell, for eternity, in unspeakable pain. We can call it hell or we can call it Georgia. Just so long as Senator Zell Miller suffers in it.

So - yes - Senator Zell Miller is a very bad person. Here's why.

There are very many hideous things happening in the world right now, and yet up amongst the evil Janaweed massacres and Simon Cowell is the thumpingly stupid and evil belief which is currently being espoused by the Repubicans: that the only way to fight terrorism is to be firm, strong, resolute, unflinching, unlistening, blind, unthinking, staunch.... like what George Bush Jnr is. Don't change your mind. Don't shift. Don't think.

Transcript: HardBall with Chris Matthews.

I'm surprised to be saying this, but Joe Scarborough makes a salient point:

We are three days into this convention, and we have been talking all year about how this election is going to be about George W. Bush. The Republicans, with their ad campaigns, the third-party attacks, this convention, three nights into this convention, this convention remains about John Kerry.

I can‘t remember a major presidential election where you have an incumbent that makes the central focus of their convention about the other guy, about the challenger. It is a radical departure from politics as usual. And what does it say about what they think George Bush has done over the past four years, and, more importantly, what the American people think of George Bush?

The Republicans have lost all semblance of purpose. They now realize they'll have an insurmountable task in appealing to undecideds and independents, since they're generally trending towards Kerry, so their left with one alternative: go negative to the nth-degree. Similar to what the Federal Liberals did towards Stephen Harper-- though, I like to think the Libs showed some civility--the Republicans can only try to drive up the negatives on Kerry in attempt to immobilize undecideds not to vote. It's pure demagoguery, nothing else.

The only thing another Bush administration has to offer the American electorate is the canard that a Kerry administration would endanger American security. One could almost begin to believe this slander if it weren't so false. Yet, one could have no choice but believe this slander if Kerry doesn't start strenuously defending himself. Since the run up to the Iraq War, the Bush administration has been eerily masterful at setting the parameters of discourse. Even the facts don't inhibit the administration's Orwellian turnspeak. So now, when all has been dragged through incomprehensibility, the simplest thing for an individual
Voter to do is disengage.

A while back Josh Marshall cited a prefiguring article in the Financial Times. Here's an excerpt:

The Bush campaign machine, well oiled and already rolling, should not be underestimated. The current president's father gained a formidable reputation as a nasty campaigner, though the presidential fingerprints were carefully wiped off negative blueprints administered by Lee Atwater, the first Mr Bush's ruthless chief strategist.

Karl Rove, a disciple of Mr Atwater, is similarly meticulous about keeping the president publicly above the fray. Yet it is an open secret in Washington that White House-blessed campaign strategists have been working quietly for months to compile potentially damaging background on all the Democratic candidates. In the early going, when it appeared Mr Kerry would emerge as the frontrunner, one senior Republican commented wryly: "By the time the White House finishes with Kerry, no one will know what side of the (Vietnam) war he fought on."

Actually, I'd be surprised if at either the end or the beginning of Bush's address to the delegates tonight Osama bin Laden isn't trotted out on stage as a Victory Trophy par excellence.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004


The sexual assault case against Kobe Bryant was dropped and this is what he says:

“Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did,'' Bryant said. ``I now understand how she feels that she did not consent to this encounter.''


Bryant, who still faces a federal civil lawsuit filed by the accuser that seeks unspecified damages, apologized to the victim ``for my behavior that night and for the consequences she has suffered in the past year.''

"Although this year has been incredibly difficult for me personally, I can only imagine the pain she has had to endure,'' said Bryant, who also apologized to her family, his family and friends and the citizens of Eagle.

Bryant said that while the civil case remains, that part of this case ``will no longer be a financial or emotional drain on the citizens of the state of Colorado.''

Statements like these are suggestive of two things: 1) He really did assault this woman, understands he has to settle the civil case, and wants to move on with his life. Or, 2) he plans on losing the civil case instead of settling. That blatant admission to rape that Kobe just offered out is admissible in the civil court proceedings, so if he actually didn't rape her, and felt no corresponding guilt, he didn't need to say that. Color me flummoxed.

Update: Errr.. This part of Kobe's statement I foolishly elided, "She has agreed that this statement will not be used against me in the civil case." So they conferred with each other on the text of the statement? Hmmm...? If the charges are scurrilious, defend yourself. But it seems Kobe can't be put through the trouble of defending his integrity if the charges really are baseless. It's much easier to settle. Either way you slice it, it's shameful.