Tuesday, May 31, 2005
# Posted 9:07 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
In defense of leg infantry, my father's division was in the line for approximately seven months. The only break was moving from Holland out of the British Army's command, to the Third Army farther south. A military road march on trucks was a "break" only if the alternative was worse--which, of course, it was.(0) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 2:17 AM by Ariel David Adesnik
Believe it or not, I found myself compelled to watch Risky Business because I am writing a dissertation about the Reagan era. As some of you will no doubt remember, Ron Reagan Jr. did his own version of the underwear dance when he hosted Saturday Night Live in 1986. This embarrassed his conservative father to a certain extent, althoug not as much as Iran-Contra did later that fall.
Anyhow, in case you were thinking of watching Risky Business after reading about it on OxBlog, I have one word for you: Don't. (Unless you are a big Sopranos fan and absolutely must see every film in which Joe Pantoliano plays an Italian gangster.) (0) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 12:45 AM by Ariel David Adesnik
Although there are lots of good reasons not to write about a book until you've finished reading, I was so surprised by the first chapter of BoB that I feel I have to write about it, if only to make sure I don't forget my first impressions.
The conventional wisdom about BoB the film is that it is an extremely loyal adaptation of BoB the book. Thus, you won't be surprised to hear that while reading that first chapter, I kept coming across paragraphs and sentences that seemed to correspond perfectly with the images I'd seen on film.
However, from a more analytical perspective, I felt that I was reading about a very different Easy Company than the one brought to life by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg. Hanks & Spielberg want Easy Company to serve as a metaphor for the millions of Americans who served in uniform during World War II. The courage, fortitude and good humor of their Easy Company is supposed to stand in for the courage, fortitude and good humor of an entire generation -- of The Greatest Generation.
As I noted in an earlier post that was critical of BoB the film, I have had it up to here with the mindless nostalgia that pervades almost every discussion of The Greatest Generation (or TGG for short, because even typing out that silly name gets on my nerves).
Initially, the overall strengh of BoB the film prevented me from caring all that much about its nostalgic presentation of TGG. However, Ambrose's book makes it clear from the very beginning that Easy Company was in no way representative of the generation that fought the war.
It is true that Easy Company was comprised of "citizen soldiers" (p. 13) who were rich and poor, urban and rural, Catholic and Protestant. At the same time, Easy Company and the whole of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment consisted of the toughest soldiers in the entire United States Army.
These soldiers were put through an exceptionally brutal training regimen. The small percentage of those that made it through training earned the right to wear their wings. According to Ambrose, only 1800 of the 5300 enlisted men who volunteered for the 506th made it through training. Of 500 officers who volunteered, only 148 made it through.
Since more than a month has passed since I saw the first episode of BoB the film, I cannot say categorically that Hanks & Spielberg ignore this issue entirely. I do remember a few stray comments about the airborne being a very tough branch of the service. But there you get no sense from the film that 2/3 of the men couldn't even make it through training.
Another fascinating piece of information that I don't recall being in the film has to do with the Non-Commissioned Officers (or NCOs, mostly sergeants) in Easy Company. Because the 506th was an "experimental outfit" (p. 16) that hadn't existed before the war, it had to draw all of its NCOs from more established units. Gradually, those NCOs all quit "as the training grew more intense".
From comic books or documentaries, almost every pop culture portrayal of the NCO is that of the grizzled old sergeant who is ten times tougher than all of the kids half his age. Although the sergeants in BoB the film don't seem particularly old, Hanks & Spielberg do provide them with the same halo of greatness that has become a Hollywood cliche. But if you read Ambrose, you realize that the NCOs in Easy Company were not run-of-the-mill members of TGG or even run-of-the-mill NCOs. Rather, they were the best of the best, the chosen few among the chosen few who had survived airborne training.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the execellence of the 506th inspired a certain condescension toward the undifferentiated mass of soldiers that made up most of the American armed forces. Ambrose writes that the men of Easy Company
"knew they were going into combat, and they did not want to go in with poorly trained, poorly conditioned, poorly motivated draftees on either side of them." (p. 14)That makes perfect sense to me. But if you just watched BoB the film, you'd never know that there were any poorly trained, conditioned or motivated soldiers in the US Army. In fact, you'd probably just assume that the Army was full of soldiers who could suffer through the most brutal weather and the bloodiest confrontations with the Wehrmacht and still have the same unflinching desire to march forward and serve their country. (And don't disagree with me by bringing up Episode Three and Pvt. Blithe. He may be afraid, but he becomes a hero by the end, too.)
In closing, let me say that I mean no disrespect for those who served, whether in the most humble unit or with the select few of the 506th. But as I scholar, I must stand opposed, as I said before, to
Unthinking nostalgia that makes it very hard to think about the present in a realistic manner. In the same way that our glorification of the Founding Fathers makes us lament the intense partisanship of today, our glorification of The Greatest Generation does the same. Yet like the Founding Fathers, The Greatest Generation often found itself riven by partisan and ideological conflicts.(0) opinions -- Add your opinion
Saturday, May 28, 2005
# Posted 2:24 AM by Ariel David Adesnik
I found the most fascinating aspect of both profiles to be their description of how moral and practical reasoning is taught at the academies. According to Time, whose profile focuses on West Point's Class of 2005,
Captain Chris McKinney, who led an infantry company during the first months of the Iraq invasion, had been brought to West Point to teach Fundamentals of Tactics...I certainly couldn't have provided much in the way of an answer to Capt. McKinney's question. I doubt many civilians could. I think McKinney's sensitive and creative thinking go a long way toward explaining why American soldiers have adapted to the social and cultural challenges of occupation so much better than many observers expected.
Now consider the following:
[Maj. Jason Amerine] manages to pack a war's worth of heresy against Army doctrine into a 50-min. class. He presses cadets to enunciate a meaningful difference between insurgent leader Abu Mousab al-Zarqawi and West Point icon and Revolutionary War hero Thaddeus Kosciuszko, a Pole who was the foreign fighter of his era.What Maj. Amerine is teaching may be "heresy", but the fact that is he is an instructor at West Point suggests that the United States Army understands the value of unorthodox thinking. One might even say that this sort of devil's advocacy is the best sort of training that officers can have for the challenge of promoting democracy in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
The WaPo's profile of the Naval Academy Class of 2005 suggests that instructors at Annapolis also emphasize the moral complexity of warfare:
Scandals such as Abu Ghraib have forced the schools to stress ethical and moral leadership. [My impression was that the service academies have always emphasized ethical and moral leadership, but whatever.]I can only hope that students also get this kind of education on our nation's civlians campuses. (0) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 2:21 AM by Ariel David Adesnik
# Posted 2:10 AM by Ariel David Adesnik
Thursday, May 26, 2005
# Posted 4:44 PM by Patrick Belton
If anything, the centrality of Japan in US strategy will be reinforced, especially in the anticipated transfer of the command functions of the US Army I Corps from Washington State to Japan and a parallel proposal to integrate the command activities of the 13th Air Force based in Guam with those of the 5th Air Force at Yokota Air Force Base.(0) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 4:37 PM by Patrick Belton
# Posted 3:11 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
Although the editors of the WaPo have made the right decision to single out this absurd comparison as the dumbest and most offensive remark made by AI's Secretary General, Irene Khan, this single outrage should not obscure how thoroughly offensive her entire speech was.
The purpose of Khan's speech was to introduce and summarize AI's annual report on human rights. Before getting into what Khan did say, it is far important to observe what she didn't say, namely anything about North Korea, let alone Cuba or Syria. This sort of calculated ignorance constitutes nothing less than a betrayal of the millions and millions who suffer at the hands of the world's most reactionary dictatorships.
I say "calculated" because I presume that Khan's emphasis on the US (and the UK), reflects her knowledge that exerting pressure on the world's greatest democracies may actually result in a change of behavior, whereas Kim Jong Il and Fidel Castro couldn't care less about what Amnesty International thinks of their behavior.
This, however, is no excuse for Khan's behavior, because there are many, many nations that are susceptible to pressure and which commit atrocities far worse than anything that happened at Abu Ghraib. Let's start with Syria. Just a few months ago, I might have ignorantly said that Bashar would never listen to foreign critics. But now he has no choice, and Amnesty should recognize how much good it might accomplish by emphasizing Syrian brutality.
Of course, there is a chapter on Syria in AI's annual report. The same is true of Cuba and North Korea. But when the head of the organization singles out the US and UK for criticism, she lets the Cubans, Syrians and North Koreans know that they are not her biggest concern. It's exactly the same as when Bush singles out Egypt for criticism but lets Pakistan and Saudi Arabia slide.
At least Bush can say in his own defense that the Saudis and Pakistanis are helping us fight the war on terror. Amnesty could never say that the Cubans, Syrians, or North Koreans are doing anything to make the world a better place. (0) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 10:29 AM by Patrick Belton
# Posted 8:34 AM by Patrick Belton
# Posted 8:28 AM by Patrick Belton
# Posted 8:13 AM by Patrick Belton
* ah, the google hits we'll get today. (0) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 8:00 AM by Patrick Belton
(And as to whether posting will remain rather more truculent than normal until any hypothetical birthday hangover subsides, I maintain scrupulously no comment.) (1) opinions -- Add your opinion
Wednesday, May 25, 2005
# Posted 9:31 AM by Patrick Belton
# Posted 8:04 AM by Patrick Belton
UPDATE: Daniel Drezner, always one of my favourite bloggers, adds what Easterbrook left out: the role of the United States as hegemon enforcing a pax americana, principally. (0) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 8:00 AM by Patrick Belton
Tuesday, May 24, 2005
# Posted 10:48 AM by Patrick Belton
# Posted 10:07 AM by Patrick Belton
# Posted 6:51 AM by Patrick Belton
Sunday, May 22, 2005
# Posted 8:03 AM by Patrick Belton
Um, I'll have what he's having? (0) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 7:59 AM by Patrick Belton
# Posted 7:49 AM by Patrick Belton
# Posted 6:51 AM by Patrick Belton
# Posted 6:36 AM by Patrick Belton
# Posted 6:03 AM by Patrick Belton
This Time on Jeremy Springer: Catfighting Political Theorists
Crowd: Jer-ry! Jer-ry! Jer-ry!
Jerry: Today's guests are here because they can't agree on fundamental principles of epistemology and ontology. I'd like to welcome Todd to the show.
Todd enters from backstage.
Jerry: Hello, Todd.
Todd: Hi, Jerry.
Jerry: (reading from card) So, Todd, you're here to tell your girlfriend something. What is it?
Todd: Well, Jerry, my girlfriend Ursula and I have been going out for three years now. We did everything together. We were really inseparable. But then she discovered post-Marxist political and literary theory, and it's been nothing but fighting ever since.
Jerry: Why is that?
Todd: You see, Jerry, I'm a traditional Cartesian rationalist. I believe that the individual self, the "I" or ego is the foundation of all metaphysics. She, on the other hand, believes that the contemporary self is a socially constructed, multi-faceted subjectivity reflecting the political and economic realities of late capitalist consumerist discourse.
Todd: I know! I know! Is that infantile, or what?
Jerry: So what do you want to tell her today?
Todd: I want to tell her that unless she ditches the post-modernism, we're through. I just can't go on having a relationship with a woman who doesn't believe I exist.
Jerry: Well, you're going to get your chance. Here's Ursula!
Ursula storms onstage and charges up to Todd.
Ursula: Patriarchal colonizer!
She slaps him viciously. Todd leaps up, but the security guys pull them apart before things can go any further.
Ursula: Don't listen to him! Logic is a male hysteria! Rationality equals oppression and the silencing of marginalized voices!
Todd: The classical methodology of rational dialectic is our only road to truth! Don't try to deny it!
Ursula: You and your dialectic! That's how it's been through our whole relationship, Jerry. Mindless repetition of the post-Enlightenment meta-narrative. "You have to start with radical doubt, Ursula." "Post-structuralism is just classical sceptical thought re-cast in the language of semiotics, Ursula."
Crowd: Booo! Booo!
Jerry: Well, Ursula, come on. Don't you agree that the roots of contemporary neo-Leftism simply have to be sought in Enlightenment political philosophy?
Ursula: History is the discourse of powerful centrally located voices marginalizing and de-scribing the sub-altern!
Todd: See what I have to put up with? Do you know what it's like living with someone who sees sex as a metaphoric demonstration of the anti-feminist violence implicit in the discourse of the dominant power structure? It's terrible. She just lies there and thinks of Andrea Dworkin. That's why we never do it any more.
Ursula: You liar! Why don't you tell them how you haven't been able to get it up for the past three months because you couldn't decide if your penis truly had essential Being, or was simply a manifestation of Mind?
Todd: Wait a minute! Wait a minute!
Ursula: It's true!
Jerry: Well, I don't think we're going to solve this one right away. Our next guests are Louis and Tina. And Tina has a little confession to make!
Louis and Tina come onstage. Todd and Ursula continue bickering in the background.
Jerry: Tina, you are... (reads cards) ... an existentialist, is that right?
Tina: That's right, Jerry. And Louis is, too.
Jerry: And what did you want to tell Louis today?
Tina: Jerry, today I want to tell him...
Jerry: Talk to Louis. Talk to him.
Tina: Louis... I've loved you for a long time...
Louis: I love you, too, Tina.
Tina: Louis, you know I agree with you that existence precedes essence, but... well, I just want to tell you I've been reading Nietzsche lately, and I don't think I can agree with your egalitarian politics any more.
Crowd: Wooooo! Woooooo!
Louis: (shocked and disbelieving) Tina, this is crazy. You know that Sartre clarified all this way back in the 40's.
Tina: But he didn't take into account Nietzsche's radical critique of democratic morality, Louis. I'm sorry. I can't ignore the contradiction any longer!
Louis: You got these ideas from Victor, didn't you? Didn't you?
Tina: Don't you bring up Victor! I only turned to him when I saw you were seeing that dominatrix! I needed a real man! An Uber-man!
Louis: (sobbing) I couldn't help it. It was my burden of freedom. It was too much!
Jerry: We've got someone here who might have something to add. Bring out... Victor!
Victor enters. He walks up to Louis and sticks a finger in his face.
Victor: Louis, you're a classic post-Christian intellectual. Weak to the core!
Louis: (through tears) You can kiss my Marxist ass, Reactionary Boy!
Victor: Herd animal!
Louis throws a chair at Victor; they lock horns and wrestle. The crowd goes wild. After a long struggle, the security guys pry them apart.
Jerry: Okay, okay. It's time for questions from the audience. Go ahead, sir.
Audience member: Okay, this is for Tina. Tina, I just wanna know how you can call yourself an existentialist, and still agree with Nietzsche's doctrine of the Ubermensch. Doesn't that imply a belief in intrinsic essences that is in direct contradiction with with the fundamental principles of existentialism?
Tina: No! No! It doesn't. We can be equal in potential, without being equal in eventual personal quality. It's a question of Becoming, not Being.
Audience member: That's just disguised essentialism! You're no existentialist!
Tina: I am so!
Audience member: You're no existentialist!
Tina: I am so an existentialist, bitch!
Ursula stands and interjects.
Ursula: What does it [bleep] matter? Existentialism is just a cover for late capitalist anti-feminism! Look at how Sartre treated Simone de Beauvoir!
Women in the crowd cheer and stomp.
Tina: [Bleep] you! Fat-ass Foucaultian ho!
Ursula: You only wish you were smart enough to understand Foucault, bitch!
Tina: You the bitch!
Ursula: No, you the bitch!
Tina: Whatever! Whatever!
Jerry: We'll be right back with a final thought! Stay with us!
Commercial break for debt-consolidation loans, ITT Technical Institute, and Psychic Alliance Hotline.
Jerry: Hi! Welcome back. I just want to thank all our guests for being here, and say that I hope you're able to work through your differences and find happiness, if indeed happiness can be extracted from the dismal miasma of warring primal hormonal impulses we call human relationship.
(turns to the camera)
Well, we all think philosophy is just fun and games. Semiotics, deconstruction, Lacanian post-Freudian psychoanalysis, it all seems like good, clean fun. But when the heart gets involved, all our painfully acquired metaphysical insights go right out the window, and we're reduced to battling it out like rutting chimpanzees. It's not pretty. If you're in a relationship, and differences over the fundamental principles of your respective subjectivities are making things difficult, maybe it's time to move on. Find someone new, someone who will accept you and the way your laughably limited human intelligence chooses to codify and rationalize the chaos of existence. After all, in the absence of a clear, unquestionable revelation from God, that's all we're all doing anyway. So remember: take care of yourselves - and each other.
Announcer: Be sure to tune in next time, when KKK strippers battle it out with transvestite omnisexual porn stars! Tomorrow on Springer! (0) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 1:58 AM by Ariel David Adesnik
# Posted 12:56 AM by Ariel David Adesnik
Not having been to any pundit-parties before, I was a little nervous when I got there. In those rare instances when I have in the presence of Washington celebrity types, I've discovered that the best thing to do is to stay far away from them, because they are surrounded by people who want to talk to them only because they are famous.
However, I've also discovered that if there happens to be a celebrity or two afoot, then there also tends to be a good number of un-famous, unpretentious and extremely interesting people around. Moreover, retired folks are often the most interesting to talk to because they have simply lived through so much.
So, earlier this evening, when I arrived at the upscale Bethesda home where the party was being held, I didn't see anyone I recognized, so I introduced my self to a kindly-looking and very well-groomed older gentleman. I said, "Hi, my name is David Adesnik." He said, "I'm John Poindexter."
That threw me for a loop. I couldn't decide if I should be on my best behavior or if I should say something like "Broken any laws today, Admiral?" Or was this not even the John Poindexter?
As it turned out, it was him. I found out that Prof. Naftali had spoken to him extensively about the Reagan administration's counter-terrorism initiatives. The admiral seemed nice enough, although by no means talkative.
I decided stay firmly within the bounds of polite cocktail party banter, even if I was thoroughly tempted to start asking questions about Iran-Contra. After all, Prof. Naftali (also a Charlottesville man) had been nice enough to invite me, so I figured that discretion was the better part of valor.
It turned out that the rest of the party was also filled with neo-con gliterati, such as Jeane Kirkpatrick, Joshua Muravchik, Stephen Schwartz and Ken Pollack (who is probably more of a realist, leaving aside his anti-Saddam activism). And our host for the evening was Allen Weinstein, the newly appointed Archivist of the United States.
At this point, I must confess that I technically compromised my celebrity avoidance doctrine. I spoke to Josh Muravchik because I am friends with his daughter and son-in-law. I spoke to Stephen Schwartz because he saw the Argentine flag pin on my lapel and started asking me questions in Spanish.
On the buffet line, Amb. Kirkpatrick asked me to identify one of the main dishes. Being the nice Jewish boy that I am, I told her it was pork. Now, I was just a little bit hurt that she didn't recognize me, since it was only four months ago that I spent an hour and a half interviewing her for my dissertation. But she is in her eighties now, so I won't hold it against her.
In closing, I would like to say two things. First, I haven't read either of the books the party was thrown to celebrate, since they are new. Second, I did meet one extremely interesting person who was un-famous, unpretentious and an accomplished scholar in her own right. As it turns out, Prof. H is an acquaintance of Mr. Chafetz as well as an occasional reader of this blog. She was even willing to forgive me for voting for a Democrat for president. (0) opinions -- Add your opinion
Saturday, May 21, 2005
# Posted 8:46 PM by Patrick Belton
# Posted 8:26 PM by Patrick Belton
# Posted 6:05 PM by Patrick Belton
Bugger, come to think of it, that makes us fairly old whores, doesn't it? I'll at least call dibs on being still resident at Oxford to be the high-class escort, and let my coauthors sort out amongst themselves who gets to be the New Haven whore and the media whore. (0) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 10:02 AM by Patrick Belton
Lately, I've discovered I'm not only a geek (what, this is new? you're a blogger!), but a geek whose friends move to inconvenient countries like UAE and Bangladesh (motto: literally the most corrupt place in the world!). So I've begun relying on instant messenger to keep in touch with them all, especially the nice ones in Nigeria who are trying to give me money. (And for those of you who didn't know just how much fun you can have with your Nigerian spammer, go read Lads of Lagos immediately.) Except that, and in distinct defiance of the predictions of game theory, there are a number of instant messaging programs and having them all open at the same time makes me feel ... well, just a little too geeky. Fortunately, there's a multi-protocol IM client called Fire for Mac users which permits you to only have one window open, to talk to all your Nigerian spammers and Russian ex-girlfriends at once. *This, you see, is called progress.
* This also gets around the OS X / MSN Messenger 4.0 compatibility issues. (0) opinions -- Add your opinion
Friday, May 20, 2005
# Posted 7:16 AM by Patrick Belton
# Posted 12:13 AM by Ariel David Adesnik
The Empire doesn't want slaves or destruction or "evil." It wants order.Moreover, Jon says,
Palpatine is a dictator--but a relatively benign one, like Pinochet.I wouldn't exactly call Pinochet benign, but the real point is here is that, these days, no one at the Weekly Standard would ever defend the prioritization of order over justice or of dictatorship over even the most ineffectual republic. As someone or other once said, America's most important "attempt to sacrifice freedom for the sake of stability left a continent divided and unstable."
UPDATE: After mentioning Jon Last, I figured I should go over and check out whether there is any Star Wars commentary up on Galley Slaves. The answer is yes. First of all, Jon's Star Wars retrospective/review of Episode III is now online at the Standard.
In addition, Jon was kind enough to link to my previous speculations about the Dark Side. Given Jon's prediction that
By the time the HD DVD versions of the movies are released, championing the Empire will be a respected vein of thought,I take it as a complement that he describes the Imperial officers in Episode III as being "dressed smartly in gray and all have the look of Oxbridge men."
Finally, Jon has revised and updated his 2002 defense of the Empire. This time he makes sure to blast the Jedi for being "oligarchs" who do nothing to defend democracy. Moreover, he asks how a supposedly good Republic could tolerate legalized slavery on planets such as Tatooine. Jon still makes his point about order, but I'd say this is very much a post-Iraq, more purely neo-con defense of the Empire. Not that there's anything wrong with that! (0) opinions -- Add your opinion
Wednesday, May 18, 2005
# Posted 3:54 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
The report last week that U.S. military interrogators had desecrated the Koran has now been retracted by Newsweek magazine after five days of violent protests in Afghanistan that left 15 dead.Although the Post is careful not to say flat out that the report caused the riots, this article and many others seem pretty confident that there was a direct relationship. The standard liberal response to this point is that Gen. Richard Myers, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that our commander in the ground in Afghanistan thought that the rioting "was not at all tied to the reporting in the magazine." Brian Montopoli of CJR Daily thinks that Myers' statement pretty decisively clears Newsweek of responsibility for the riots. Josh Marshall seems to concur. But Kevin Drum disagrees. He says of Myers' comments that:
I guess what I'm looking for now are reports from Pakistan and Afghanistan which look at what actually happened on the ground rather than relying on statements from the Pentagon.
Moving, one point that has turned out to be at least as contentious as the facts is the question of its signifiance. The most compelling version of the liberal argument on this point is made by Anne Applebaum in her column from this morning entitled "Blaming the Messenger". In addition to its logic, what makes Applebaum's argument compelling is the credibility of the author. If you follow her work, you know that Applebaum never hesitates to deconstruct liberal shibboleths, such as the moral integrity of the United Nations. Anyhow, the crux of Applebaum's argument about the Newsweek issue is that
The larger point is not the story itself but that it was so eminently plausible, in Pakistan, Afghanistan and everywhere else. And it was plausible precisely because interrogation techniques designed to be offensive to Muslims were used in Iraq and Guantanamo, as administration and military officials have also confirmed.That is a very hard point to rebut. As bad as Newsweek screwed up, the Koran incident pales in comparison to Abu Ghraib, et al.
In contrast, some of the other liberal arguments about the significance of this case seem tendentious and overblown. Josh Marshall, who is certainly no stranger to high dudgeon, says that he sees
A clear pattern -- a White House trying to decapitate another news organization. The parallels with CBS are obvious...CBS brought the Rather-gate avalanche down upon itself with some very sloppy journalism, but the White House quickly saw the opportunity and grabbed it, effectively taming an entire news organization.I'm not sure how much evidence there is that CBS has been tamed or, if it has, how long it will stay that way, but Josh goes on to observe that
What I see here is an effort by the White House to set an entirely different standard when it comes to reportage that in any way reflects critically on the White House." [Emphasis in original]I'm not sure how Josh gets to that conclusion either. Hasn't the White House -- both this one and all of its predecessors -- always lashed out at journalists whose work it doesn't like? Somehow, Josh makes it seem that because the White House now has an actual reason to be pissed off at journalists, its criticism is less legitimate than ever.
While I agree that the White House seems somewhat oblivious to its effort to call the kettle black, journalists tend to be equally oblivious to their own shortcomings. So as far as I'm considered, this is just another round of bickering in the well-established love-hate relationship between the press and the White House.
On the bright side, I am always grateful for any scandal du jour that gets Josh Marshall interested in foreign policy, since he always stands four-square behind the principle of democracy promotion, even if he only seems to write about when things are looking bad for this administration. (0) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 3:16 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
# Posted 6:28 AM by Patrick Belton
# Posted 5:42 AM by Patrick Belton
# Posted 3:27 AM by Ariel David Adesnik
# Posted 2:22 AM by Patrick Belton
Tuesday, May 17, 2005
# Posted 10:19 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
# Posted 9:36 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
I most fondly remember watching the first trilogy in the late 1970s and the early 80s at the movies, when I was a boy living in the then communist Poland...I'm not sure, but I've never even come close to thinking of Star Wars as an anti-Communist allegory. Perhaps Lucas' references to the Roman republic/empire and Weimar/Nazi Germany were so overwhelming that I didn't even consider other parallels.
But for a young boy in Communist Poland, what could be more natural than to interpret the films as Arthur did? Now that I think about it, Vader's corrupt existence as half-man and half-machine is the perfect metaphor for Communism's perversion of the soul.
Then again, a committed Communist might say that Vader's condition is an apt metaphor for capitalism's perversion of the soul. But speaking more broadly a Communist reading of the film doesn't work very well because of Lucas' emphasis on individual liberty. The Rebel Alliance's only ideology is freedom.
Toward the end of his open letter to George Lucas, I think Arthur goes a little bit over the top by suggesting that Lucas somehow thinks that Fidel and Mao and Brezhnev were on the right side of history. But what if...what if the entire six-film saga really is just Rebel propaganda?
In the 1960s, the lack of reliable information about domestic affairs in China facilitated the efforts of the European and American left to construct elaborate fantasies about the PRC being the true worker's paradise, as opposed to the corrupt and imperialist Soviet Union.
Now, I think it's fair to say that these days, there is a lack of reliable information about Coruscant, Alderaan, Tatooine and the other planets supposedly under the sway of (or obliterated by) the Galactic "Empire". As such, I think it's entirely probable that Lucas is totally confused about who the good guys and who the bad guys are in that galaxy, far, far away.
Exhibit A is Han Solo. Even Lucas admits that Solo is an amoral, self-centered smuggler. I wouldn't be surprised if the real Han Solo is some sort of organized crime lord or narcotics kingpin.
If the Rebels are really on the up and up, why do they associate with criminals like Solo? For that matter, why is Ben Kenobi so familiar with the inner workings of Mos Eisley, which even Lucas describes as a "wretched hive of scum and villainy"?
Now we come to Luke and Leia. They may have good intentions, but the bottom line is that they are just convenient figureheads for a Rebel leadership about which never learn all that much in any of the six films. Leia especially strikes me as the classic example of a child of wealth and privilege who runs off to join the guerrillas because her parents never taught her the value of hard work.
Finally, there is Vader. Why must the black man always be the villain? Moreover, is it any way appropriate in this day and age to suggest that someone is evil because of his physical disabilities? My sense is that the real Vader may be something of a cross between Martin Luther King Jr. and Stephen Hawking.
But alas we shall never know the truth, until Fox News opens up a bureau on Coruscant in order to provide us with a fair and balanced look at the universe. (0) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 3:27 PM by Patrick Belton
# Posted 3:24 PM by Patrick Belton
Monday, May 16, 2005
# Posted 6:25 AM by Patrick Belton
# Posted 4:41 AM by Patrick Belton
Sunday, May 15, 2005
# Posted 11:26 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
# Posted 11:11 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
At the moment, Prime Minister (and sometime dictator) Meles Zenawi seems to have won a third term of office. Whether he really won is hard to say. But a good rule of thumb is that real democratization doesn't happen until the dictators are thrown out office, hopefully in a peaceful manner. Dictators often allow liberalization -- enough to even threaten their hold on power -- but for as long as they stay in office, the government cannot be expected to behave in a democratic manner. (0) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 11:03 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
The price I pay for this roundabout approach to entertainment is that I see all of my favorite programs long after the MBA-having, BMW-driving, HBO-waching elite has digested them and spit them out. So please forgive me for reviewing the first season of Deadwood, which those of you with MBA's, BMW's and HBO will have seen long ago.
The bottom line about Deadwood is this: It is extraordinary. HBO continues to produce television shows that are far more sophisticated than 95% of what comes out of Hollywood.
FYI, Deadwood was an actual 19th century mining camp in the Black Hills. At the time, the Black Hills belonged to the Sioux, so Deadwood was not part of the United States of America and therefore had no laws, since all of its inhabitants were trespassing on Sioux territory.
The great strength of Deadwood is that it is a show about an entire world. Television is full of doctor shows and cop shows and political shows and romance shows and cowboy shows, but Deadwood integrates all of them into a single vision. By crossing over incessantly from genre to genre, Deadwood smashes the cliches that often make other shows so boring. Instead, it explores relationships that are so rarely portrayed on television.
The character who best represents this crossing and subversion of genres is Doc Cochran, the town's physician. In one of the show's first episodes, Cochran cares for an immigrant orphan whose family was murdered by highwaymen. Whereas most doctor shows just tell you what is wrong with the patients, Cochran jealously guards such information and regularly mispresents the orphan's condition to others in town.
Why? Because Cochran suspects that the highwaymen who murdered the orphan's family are in the employ of saloon owner/crime lord Al Swearengen. If Swearengen expects the child to die, he won't try to have her killed because of her potential to identify his thugs.
The situation becomes more complicated because Cochran earns a good amount of his income from Swearengen, who pays Cochran to be the gynecologist for the whores in his brothel. Because whores in a 19th century mining town are subject to considerable abuse and isolation, Cochran knows that he is often the only one with a sincere interest in the girls' welfare. Yet because of that humanitarian mission, it is dangerous for Cochran to lie to Swearengen about the orphan, since it may prevent him taking care of the whores (and being paid for it).
That is just a sample of the complex relationships in which Cochran is involved. Thus, the wealth of detail provided in the previous three paragraphs just begins to suggest the degree of narrative complexity favored by the creators of Deadwood. As Steven Johnson might rush to point out, watching Deadwood is good for you because it forces to engage in sophisticated intellectual analysis.
At the same time, Deadwood revels in its ability to take televised (or any other kind of) profanity to unprecedented heights. Above all, the screenwriters for Deadwood fetishize the word "cocksucker", which is used to describe just about every male resident of the town, in the way that you and I might describe someone as a "guy".
[NB: Although I make a habit of putting asterisks in words such as "f***" and "s***", that won't exactly work with "cocksucker", since "c***sucker" doesn't accomplish enough and "c*********" would simply be confusing.]
Frankly, I find this obsession with profanity off-putting and gratuitious. In one of the mini-documentaries that comes packaged with the DVD, the show's creator, David Milch, suggests that the use of profanity is integral to the characters' realism. To remove it would compromise the characters' emotional authenticity and thereby prevent the audience from truly understanding them.
First of all, I wonder whether 19th century Americans even used the word "cocksucker" as often as Deadwood suggests. However, I am going to trust Milch on this one since he used to be a lecturer in the English department at Yale. Nonetheless, in spite of the show's admirable devotion to recreating the costumes and architecture of the American frontier, it takes so many liberties with other aspects of realism that toning down the profanity would hardly damage the show's historical mission.
For example, what do you think the odds are that all of the most important people in the real Deadwood mining camp were extremely good-looking? Not high, to say the least. However, Milch doesn't seem to mind giving in to the Hollywood convention that actors must be good looking.
One detail that really hammered home this sort of un-realism was when, in the final episode of season one, we discover that heroic ex-lawman Seth Bullock has perfectly shaven chest. Now, history does suggest that the real Seth Bullock was a heroic ex-lawman. But I seriously doubt whether his pecs were that frikkin' smooth.
I raise this point because Bullock is a character who seems to test the show's commitment to moral and narrative realism. He is simply too perfect. As chance would have it, the most ethical man in town is also the most strikingly good looking. Moreover, Bullock has 21st century attitudes toward gender and race despite living in one of the most racist and sexist parts of 19th century America. (Then again, Bullock is himself an immigrant from Canada, so perhaps that is why he is so enlightened.)
In the course of Season One, Bullock relentlessly antagonizes all of the powerful but morally deficient men in town, regardless of the threat this might present to his own safety. He also rescues and watches over the most beautiful damsel in distress, ultimately bedding her (at which point we discover his shaven chest).
This is where things may get interesting. Bullock is married, and his wife and child are set to arrive on the scene in Season Two. On the other hand, Bullock only married his brother's widow and adopted his child as a gesture of good will, so we know he isn't "really" cheating. So, will the screenwriters find an easy way out for Bullock that allows him to keep both his damsel and his reputation, or will Bullock suddenly turn out to be somewhat human?
Even if the screenwriters make the wrong choice about Bullock, however, this would hardly take away from their superb achievements so far, as well as I what I expect to be an extraordinary sophomore outing. (0) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 7:35 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
One of the things I found striking about the article was its opening paragraphs:
Before Hadi bin Mubarak Qahtani exploded himself into an anonymous fireball, he was young and interested only in "fooling around."Notice that the apparent motive for Qahtani's suicide assault was not the invasion of Afghanistan, the invasion of Iraq or any other act of American aggression. Rather, it was the spectacularly brutal assault on American territory on September 11th.
Perhaps the WaPo's correspondent was trying to hint at this observation in a very subtle manner. Or perhaps not. Regardless, what matters is this telling bit of evidence that American weakness rather than American power is what motivates the foreign fighters in Iraq.
In contrast, I would argue that it is American power (and Shi'ite power) that motivates the local resistance. The men who once ruled Iraq were thrown out of power and now want to take it back. That is what the insurgency is about, although the insurgents seem terribly afraid to admit it.
One point that the WaPo article makes very clearly is that the suicide bombers in Iraq fit a sociological profile that isn't all that surprising:
In a paper published in March, Reuven Paz, an Israeli expert on terrorism, analyzed the lists of jihadi dead. He found 154 Arabs killed over the previous six months in Iraq, 61 percent of them from Saudi Arabia...Many of the bombers were married, well educated and in their late twenties, according to postings...So in casy any of our friends on the left are still clinging to the "root causes" hypothesis, i.e. that poverty and desperation are the primary motives for terrorism, they can forget about it. If there is such a thing as a root cause, it is the misguided belief that Islam sanctions the murder of innocents.
With regard to the reliability of the evidence from which such conclusions are drawn, I found the following anecdote to be telling:
Evan F. Kohlmann, a researcher who monitors Islamic extremist Web sites, has compiled a list of more than 235 names of Iraqi dead gleaned from the Internet since last summer, with more than 50 percent on his tally from Saudi Arabia...Those must be some pretty interesting conversations that Kohlmann has when he calls up the bombers' families.
On a tangentially related note, I wonder if any of the suicide bombers blog on a regular basis during the months before they become martyrs. That would be one heckuva publicity gimmick (not that I want to give the bad guys any good ideas, but I'm sure they could've come up with this one on their own.)
What I can say for sure is that there is at least one bad guy out there who thinks that blogging is a good way to keep in touch with his fans... (0) opinions -- Add your opinion
Saturday, May 14, 2005
# Posted 11:32 AM by Patrick Belton
# Posted 11:27 AM by Patrick Belton
# Posted 12:59 AM by Ariel David Adesnik
FYI, "American political development", or APD for short, refers to the idea that history is an important part of American politics and that politics is an important part of American history. That may sound obvious, but professional scholars have a marvelous ability to ignore the obvious.
Anyhow, I gave a paper on American efforts to promote democracy in the Philippines in the 1980s. The paper is available as a PDF, but you may want to read the first couple of paragraphs before committing to something so soporific:
Enjoy. (0) opinions -- Add your opinion
Friday, May 13, 2005
# Posted 11:33 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
I only know one scholar who fits that description. His initials are JW. If I told you his full name, I'd have to kill you. Back in the old days, J used to conduct "investigations" for a "government agency". But J got tired of being a productive member of society and decided to finish his Ph.D. instead.
These days, J's idea of fun is being written about on OxBlog. He said to me that he wants to see himself mentioned on this site before sunrise tomorrow. I don't usually let people tell me what I'm supposed to write about on OxBlog, but in this situation, my personal safety has to come before my commitment to journalistic principle. (0) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 5:58 AM by Patrick Belton
Thursday, May 12, 2005
# Posted 7:53 PM by Patrick Belton
The Department of Defense announced today the establishment of an Internet site to support recruiting efforts for civilians to work in the Afghanistan Reconstruction Group, a joint program with the State Department that assists officials at the highest levels of the Afghan government.(0) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 7:00 PM by Patrick Belton
# Posted 5:51 PM by Patrick Belton
# Posted 2:11 AM by Ariel David Adesnik
# Posted 1:54 AM by Ariel David Adesnik
# Posted 1:40 AM by Ariel David Adesnik
# Posted 1:02 AM by Ariel David Adesnik
In light of how little attention the American media has been paying to events in Haiti, Randy Paul deserves considerable praise for his continuing efforts to keep us apprised of what is going in Port-au-Prince. To go directly to his long string of posts about Haiti, click here.
Recent concerns about the situation in Haiti include the pardoning of convicted human rights violators, the imprisonment of former ministers on political grounds, and reports of police brutality.
Randy also has plenty of harsh words for the Bush administration (no surprise there), which seems to be taking a somewhat lackadaisical approach to the situation. The Brazilian president, Mr. DaSilva, is also taking a lot of heat since Brazil is in charge of the UN peacekeeping force that is on the ground but apparently not accomplishing much. Really? An incompetent UN peacekeeping mission? Say it ain't so!
In light of how little I know about the situation in Haiti, I don't dare make any suggestions about what the US or any other foreign government should do. All I really can do is keep my fingers crossed. (0) opinions -- Add your opinion
Monday, May 09, 2005
# Posted 1:15 PM by Patrick Belton
# Posted 7:03 AM by Patrick Belton
# Posted 6:53 AM by Patrick Belton
# Posted 12:36 AM by Ariel David Adesnik
On a related note, take a look at Gene's defense of allowing open homosexuals to serve in the military. It demonstrates that you can argue for tolerance on rational grounds without smearing your opponents as bigots. (0) opinions -- Add your opinion
Sunday, May 08, 2005
# Posted 11:23 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
The purpose of this post is to put of a bit of a twist in the he said/she said hypothesis by pointing out that journalists often discard the norm of balance almost entirely. This is not necessarily a bad thing. I am not going to argue that journalists dispense with the norm of balance by ignoring the conservative side of the debate (an approach that is not unknown).
Rather, I want to point out that journalists consider it entirely appropriate to write articles that focus almost entirely on one side of the debate provided that the articles leave a balanced impression about the merits of that side of the case. In fact, journalists are even willing to focus almost entirely on the conservative side of a debate.
Take for example, the front page article in today's WaPo about Baptist minister Rick Scarborough, architect of some of the most visible opposition to the Democratic filibuster threat. At the very end of this relatively long article, there are two brief quotations provided by Scarboroughs critics. But that's not balance. Rather, it's the way that the WaPo correspondent describes Scarborough that provides balance. The first two sentences of the article run as follows:
In his home town of Pearland, Tex., Baptist minister Rick Scarborough was tireless in promoting his conservative Christian way of thinking."Tireless" is better than lazy, but it's a pretty neutral description. "Attack" suggests that Scarborough tries to win arguments by volume rather than reason, but it's pretty reasonable to describe a staunch partisan as a attacking his opponents.
Shortly thereafter, the WaPo tells us that the filibuster debate
Provides a fiery new front in the culture war. And Scarborough is emblematic of the Christian right leaders who have been drawn to the fray.This is an interesting pair of sentences. I'd suggest that "fiery fronts" and "culture wars" carry some strong negative connotations. Almost everyone, and especially newspapers, idealize cool, rational debate about substantive policy proposals. References to fire and war suggest that Scarborough deviates from that norm. Nonetheles, he was "drawn" to this debate rather than igniting it.
The first time we hear directly from Scarborough, this is how it goes:
"One of my goals in life is to give the Republican Party courage," Scarborough said in a recent interview. "We have a lot of gutless wonders who wear the tag conservative Republican. Anytime there's any amount of fire, they crater."Here we have a Republican criticizing other Republicans, so you can't say the article is unfair to Democrats. Yet forgive me for suggesting that this quote made it into the article in order to demonstrate how radical Scarborough is, since journalists almost never describe the GOP as the more timid of the two parties.
The next time we hear directly from Scarborough, it is when the WaPo says of the leadership of the Christian right that
Their real power rests in their unique access to millions of voters "who happen to go to church," as Scarborough puts it. "It's straight to the heart of people from men and women they trust," he said.In this instance, Scarborough is analyzing politics rather than making the case for his point of view. Thus, the exclusion of his opponents from the narrative makes little difference. I would suggest, however, that this passage hints at the danger of dictating politics from the pulpit. Along with idealizing cool and rational debate, we tend to condemn theological interventions in politics, since they divide audiences according to faith. Thus one might say that what's really happening here is that the Post is giving Scarborough just enough rope to hang himself.
The third time we hear from Scarborough, the minister comes off looking good. In the second half of the article, we learn that
Scarborough, 55, started preaching while a student at Stephen F. Austin State University. His other preoccupation was football; one teammate was future Redskins star kicker Mark Moseley. "I hiked every ball he kicked in college," Scarborough says.Go Skins! There's always next year! Anyhow, this bit of puff coverage just sets the Post up for his finisher:
[Scarborough's] first foray into politics came two years later, when he attended a local high school assembly on AIDS awareness, and was appalled at the frank talk about condoms and "various sex acts." He read the transcript from the pulpit one Sunday morning and took his complaints -- and at least 400 parishioners -- to the school board. Eventually, the high-school principal was replaced by a supporter of abstinence-based sex education.So is this an instance of positive grassroots action, or the unforgiving purge of a principal who refused to toe the party line? The Post's description only consists of facts. But the selection of facts is just as important as whether or not they are true. And even the truest facts have connotations.
Now perhaps the situation with regard to that principal was exactly what the Post suggests: an ideological purge. I have no reason to think otherwise except that I am generally suspicious of whatever the Post says about Christian activists. If it was an ideological purge, than readers should have that information available when forming their opinions about Scarborough.
But remember what this post is trying to show: that even by focusing exclusively on one half of the debate, one does not necessarily disadvantage the other side. In subtle ways, a purely factual focus on just one side can be even more effective than splitting the column inches between both.
Since this post is getting long, let's just consider one final quotation from Scarborough. According to the next-to-last paragraph of the article,
Scarborough insists that his broad goal is simply to put in place "constitutionally minded judges."'Insists' is a fascinating word. One doesn't have to 'insist' about facts. No one insists that the capital of Virginia is Richmond. (Although I guess if someone told you that the capital of Kentucky is Lexington, you might have to insist that it is Frankfurt.)
The use of 'insists' in this article is expecially intersting, since we find Scarborough insisting that his stated opinion is his actual opinion. From that, one should infer that the good minister is not to be fully trusted, even on the subject of his own motives.
Strangely, the article never tells exactly what sort of opinion that Scarborough might be hiding. The answer is obvious, of course: the opinion that the real litmus test for judges is not whether they are "consitutionally minded" but whether their theology resembles that of Scarborough.
So what we have here is a case in which only Scarborough is quoted and he is defending own his opinion, but the article still isn't unfair to the missing side of the debate.
Now, if you're still reading this post, either because you hate it or because you are procrastinating, let me predict that the biggest criticism of this post will be that it reads far too much into the language of correspondents who are constantly trying to meet deadlines and don't have the time to think about the subtle connotations of every one of their words.
As a pre-emptive response to that objection, let me remind you of an observation made by Mike Allen, one of the Post's top political correspondents. Allen told an audience at a public discussion of the US media that
News writers are trying to present both sides' points-of-view, hence the "he said, she said" quality to [their work], but that they're trying to present these points-of-view in such a way so that a discerning reader can tell who's right based on reading the story. [NB: This is a paraphrase, not a direct quote, provided by one of Allen's fellow panelists.]I certainly have enough confidence in the WaPo to believe that its correspondents are fully capable of filling their work with interpretive hints, even when they are under deadline pressue. I just wish they would be a little more forthright about their opinions. (0) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 11:11 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
# Posted 10:14 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
# Posted 7:35 AM by Patrick Belton
# Posted 3:09 AM by Ariel David Adesnik
I intentionally suggested that Jeffrey Goldberg was a liberal journalist with an axe to grind. But according to a well-informed reader, Goldberg was an avid supporter of the invasion of Iraq and a darling of the neo-cons. For example, Goldberg wrote (and the New Yorker published) this in-depth account of Saddam's mass murder of the Iraqi Kurds. In that same article, Goldberg tantalized his readers with hearsay evidence to the effect that Saddam and Al Qaeda enjoyed (what we might now call) a collaborative relationship.
So, the only preliminary thing about my mea culpa is that it may not entail sufficient recognition of how extremely wrong I was. In the next few days, I intend to read more of Goldberg's writing in order to gain a little more perspective on my own folly.
In the meantime, you may savor the irony of how this inveterate critic of liberal media bias exposed his own bias in such an extraordinary manner. (0) opinions -- Add your opinion