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War and Freedom
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The End of Gay Culture
 And The Future of Gay Life
- The New Republic, (November 1, 2005)

An American Hero
 Ian Fishback Steps Forward
- Sunday Times, (October 2, 2005)

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 Copyright 2001 Andrew Sullivan


Monday, January 16, 2006
TONIGHT'S THE NIGHT: At midnight, this blog moves to Time.com. Don't worry about finding us. Just type in the usual URL - www.andrewsullivan.com - and you should be automatically redirected to the new site. The same applies to bookmarks: no need to change them. Of course, I'm nervous. There will surely be early glitches so please bear with us if there are. I'm also headed to NYC, despite this horrible bronchial bug that seems to be going around. I'm scheduled on The Colbert Report Tuesday night. And happy MLK Day.

- 12:56:00 PM
QUOTE FOR THE DAY: "We could also restore Dr. King's role in the continuing story of freedom to its rightful prominence, emphasizing that the best way to safeguard democracy is to practice it. And we must recognize that the accepted tradeoff between freedom and security is misguided, because our values are the essence of our strength. If dungeons, brute force and arbitrary rule were the keys to real power, Saudi Arabia would be a model for the future instead of the past." - Taylor Branch, peerless historian of the African-American civil rights movement, NYT, today.

MLK DAY: Aaron McGruder has, as usual, a less serious take here. I love Boondocks' grand-dad. I wish there were more of him.

- 12:38:00 PM
WHAT TO DO ABOUT IRAN: Hoder has a suggestion.

KING GEORGE?: It was partly Sam Alito's idea back in 1986 to take the rarely and sporadically used device of presidential signing statements and use them as a battering ram to increase executive power. For a couple of centuries barely two dozen were appended to laws. During Reagan, they became more popular, and were continued under the first Bush and Clinton. But under W, their use has exploded. By some estimates, this president has used them five times as often as any predecessor and has vastly increased their scope. When it comes to passing laws that affect any executive branch, including the military, this president has all but declared himself an independent body. My own take on this can be found here. The NYT has a story here. Not much has been written on this but there's an excellent summary by Philip J. Cooper and original documents to back up his analysis here (click on the link that says "Public Law, Policy, and Public Administration"). This can be esoteric stuff, but it matters. If it means this president will continue to break the law and authorize torture, it matters a lot.

- 12:34:00 PM
ALITO AND CAP: A Princeton grad thinks I'm missing something:
I graduated from Princeton in the mid-1980s and remember CAP and Prospect well. While that particular article may have been satire (and ask yourself, what exactly were they satirizing? Who is laughing at whom here?) the viciousness of CAP's language throughout its existence was apparent to everyone who saw it. That is why the organization had no support on campus, even from conservatives. CAP didn't oppose affirmative action, it opposed the admission of women, people of color, gay men and (doubly) lesbians, to Princeton. As far as I can recall, CAP existed solely for the purposes of spreading this ugly rhetoric. They did nothing aside from publishing Prospect, nothing except for finding various ways to express their bigotry.
Why does this matter for Judge Alito? Of course there is no reason to think he is personally a bigot. But in order to get a job he was willing to say “yeah, I’m with those bigots over there.” Should someone like that have a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court? This is not guilt by association – Alito is the person who chose to do the associating. He volunteered a connection to an extremist organization and it is reasonable and appropriate to ask him about why he threw his lot in with these people. While Judge Alito may not have signed off on each and every word, he did sign off on the group as a whole at a time when very few Princeton alumni did. And it really is shameful.
Duly noted.

- 12:33:00 PM

Sunday, January 15, 2006
THE MISSING CENTER: An emailer concurs:
"I think for a lot of people in the center, what party loyalty they have is based on which extreme they fear or dislike more: The religious right or the radical left.
Personally, I often disagree with the religious right -- I'm a social and cultural libertarian -- but I've never considered them to be anathema. For me it's the radical left personified by Dean, Kennedy, Cindy Sheehan, Moveon.org, etc. that I find so repellent to keep me supporting GOP candidates.
However, give me a viable center party that believes in defending the nation and practicing social tolerance and I'll be there supporting it. Problem is, the key word is "viable." Until then, I remain a reliable Republican voter, if only to keep the Deans and Ted Kennedys of the nation out of power."
Yes, there's nothing so valuable to George W. Bush and the religious right than Daily Kos, Moveon.org and Ted Kennedy. What would he do without them?

- 10:01:00 PM
WHAT TO DO ABOUT IRAN: Hoder has a suggestion.

- 2:20:00 PM
BREMER'S BOMB-SHELL: And Fred Barnes' fellatial biography of Bush. (He makes Powerline read like the Daily Kos.) I try and make sense of each here. More on Fred's book soon.

OUR NEW HITLER: Niall Ferguson fingers Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as the new aggressor; and the West, hobbled by Iraq, as the new appeaser. Iran will be the major foreign policy problem of the next few years. I, for one, believe that you should take the words of genocidal maniacs seriously. As soon as Ahmadinejad gets a nuke, he will do what he can to wipe Israel off the map. He will also do what he can to get nukes or nuke material detonated in Western cities. Yes, it would mean an apocalypse of sorts, but if you're Ahmadinejad, that's a plus, remember?

LAHAYE AND AHMADINEJAD: The apocalyptic visions of the president of Iran are shared, of course, by America's dispensationalist Christianists. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, meet Tim LaHaye. Here's the latest from the "Left Behind" website, homebase for the most popular adult book series in America:
When Jesus died on the Cross, it fulfilled a prophecy. More prophecies were likely fulfilled in 1948 when Israel became an Independent nation and in 1967 when Israel regained control of Jerusalem from Jordan in the Six Day War.
"They will be brutally killed by the sword or sent away as captives to all the nations of the world. And Jerusalem will be conquered and tramped down by the Gentiles until the age of the Gentiles comes to an end (Luke 21:24)."
As incredible as the Rapture, the Antichrist, the Tribulation, the mark of the beast, and the Millennium sound, they really are going to happen because the Bible says they will!
Put that guy on Karl Rove's direct-mail list. But what's really unnerving is how the Christianist right and the Islamist right both believe Israel is doomed. Here's another version of the same mindset:
All streams of Islam believe in a divine saviour, known as the Mahdi, who will appear at the End of Days. A common rumour - denied by the government but widely believed - is that Mr Ahmadinejad and his cabinet have signed a "contract" pledging themselves to work for the return of the Mahdi and sent it to Jamkaran.
Iran's dominant "Twelver" sect believes this will be Mohammed ibn Hasan, regarded as the 12th Imam, or righteous descendant of the Prophet Mohammad.
He is said to have gone into "occlusion" in the ninth century, at the age of five. His return will be preceded by cosmic chaos, war and bloodshed. After a cataclysmic confrontation with evil and darkness, the Mahdi will lead the world to an era of universal peace... Mr Ahmadinejad appears to believe that these events are close at hand and that ordinary mortals can influence the divine timetable.
Of course, America's fundamentalists don't want to nuke anyone. I'm not equating their actions with Islamists, just their theology. And as far as the imminent apocalypse is concerned, they're on the same page as the Mullahs in Tehran. Just in case you were sleeping soundly at night.

- 1:28:00 PM

Saturday, January 14, 2006
ON THE OTHER HAND: Just when you feel no one gets it, another reader emails:
Looking forward to the new site. I stumbled across your site, I believe as a link from Josh Marshall's in the winter of 2001, and the two of you have provided me with much sanity and enjoyment during the last four-odd years.

What's impressed me with your blog and writings is how your personal politics and your own definition of "conservative" have largely stayed the same, despite the right-ward drift of our body politic and Washington leadership and the resultant bastardization of what "conservative" means, or at least, used to mean.

I've always voted for Democrats, but like you, I've grown distrustful of the current direction of the party. I'll never be a Republican (the religious fundamentalists are anathema to me), but as your blog continually asks, I wonder/hope if there can't be a third way in American politics? Not a Bill Clinton "Third Way," but a true, grass roots, independent third party that combines some of the old-school conservatism of what used to be the GOP (fiscal sanity, foreign policy realism etc.) with the best of the Democratic party (inclusiveness, domestic competence, worker's rights etc.). Or more simply: Fiscally conservative, socially liberal.
My dream too. And my book is an attempt to make the case more systematically than a blog can.

- 1:48:00 PM
FROM THE YOU-CAN'T-WIN DEPT: I've got several emails like this today:
So you couldn't be a Democrat because Kennedy may have accidentally misunderstood CAP-endorsed bad satire (assuming arguendo that what the CAP contributer says is actually true) as a demonstration of what CAP really believed. But Delay and the Abramoff scandal, the Terry Schiavo mess and the Bush's adminstration's demands that they be allowed to torture don't turn you off the Republican party? Says a lot more about you and your self-delusions than about the Democratic party.
First off, my dislike of the Kennedy approach to hearings is not because he may have been duped by a satire, but because he has no idea of the law as a means rather than as an end, and has no compunction in smearing people for things utterly unrelated to their jurisprudence. Second, if a reader of this blog thinks I haven't criticized the GOP over Schiavo, Abramoff and torture, then she simply cannot read. To the right, I've drifted "left" because I want a competent war. To the left, I'm self-deluded because I object to Kennedy's low blows. The space for any thought between these two polar partisanships is getting harder and harder to find. And for the umpteenth time, I belong to no political party, have endorsed candidates from both over the years, and count myself a limited government conservative. I am not now and never have been a member of the Republican party.

- 1:32:00 PM
A PETITION: Many Christians are signing an online petition to ask Pat Robertson to cut the Fred Phelps routine or retire. You can sign too.

MALKIN AWARD NOMINEE: "From Clement Haynsworth, William Rehnquist, Bob Bork, and Clarence Thomas, to Jeff Sessions, Bill Pryor, Charles Pickering, and Sam Alito — and scores of others — Kennedy has played the role of McCarthy for 40 years, and always to a fawning press. He’s a greater menace than McCarthy ever was." - Mark Levin, National Review Online.

- 1:17:00 PM
THE SADDAM DOCS: Hard to disagree with Bill Kristol on this one. We haven't really had a thorough investigation of the documents from the Saddam regime that may or may not confirm Saddam's extensive relationship with international terrorists. They're not classified. Maybe there's so much that it would take an age for government officials to comb through them. So here's an idea: throw them to the blogs! Have the army of Davids scramble through every detail. Whatever side of the debate you're on, we should all want to find out the truth, no?

- 1:11:00 PM

Friday, January 13, 2006
SO LONG, FAREWELL, AUF WIEDERSEHEN, GOODBYE: Well, thanks once more to Andrew, both for his kind words and for subjecting all of you to my rambling for these past weeks. And, of course, to Ross, with whom I never did get to fight about his natalist impulses—which is probably just as well, as it likely spared me the embarassment of having my clock cleaned. Combining a Catholic conservative and a libertine libertarian was, in retrospect, probably a rough approximation of Andrew's own Herman's Head–style internal dialogue, but it's time to let the elevator door close on the Muzak version and restore the Andrew Philharmonic. It's been a blast folk; feel free to come visit here or here next time your boss isn't looking over your shoulder.

—posted by Julian

- 7:51:00 PM
JULIAN AND ROSS: It's been a privilege. I don't think there's much doubt that Ross Douthat and Julian Sanchez are among the brightest minds in their generation, and I've been honored to have them aboard, while I concentrate on book-writing. The debates we've had illustrate, I'd like to think, how diverse the "conservative" world is now, and also how we can debate civilly without being boring. Don't miss them in their usual homes, Ross here and Julian here. Thanks for being so welcoming to them and indulgent of my extra-curricular work.

BOOKS AND BLOGS: Thanks too for helping me write the book. Virginia Postrel recently noted how some "mainstream journalists" see bloggers as people who don't read books. Ahem. We also write them, as Virginia has shown and as Glenn will soon prove. What I'm finding in my own book-writing is how much the blog has helped inform the book, how it has become a treasure trove of information and comment and ideas from all over the place. When looking to buttress a particular point or hunt down a piece of evidence, I find myself searching my own blog for links and data. The readers - that's you - have also helped me immensely. Take the recent discussion of zygotes and dispensationalists. They are minor parts of the book, but I've gained a huge amount from your input. Not only is blogging compatible with book-writing, it may be helpful. The main problem is finding long spaces of time to wander around in your own thoughts. Books need that. Blogging makes it very hard. But that's the only real conflict I've found.

FLAT-LINING: After a small bounce in November, Bush's ratings are stuck in the low 40s. Mystery Pollster has the goods.

- posted by Andrew.

- 5:19:00 PM
WHISPERS FROM THE NSA: I've got an interview with NSA whistleblower Russell Tice just up at Reason. He's got to speak in pretty general terms or hypotheticals for most of the conversation, but I did want to flag this bit:
That would lead one to ask the question: "Why did they omit the FISA court?"

I would think one reason that is possible is that perhaps a system already existed that you could do this with, and all you had to do is change the venue. And if that's the case, and this system was a broad brush system, a vacuum cleaner that just sucks things up, this huge systematic approach to monitoring these calls, processing them, and filtering them--then ultimately a machine does 98.8 percent of your work.

A huge, computerized "vacuum cleaner" system that already existed, but that needed its "venue" changed for domestic surveillance, huh? That sounds a hell of a lot like the Echelon program to me. It seems like it would've been very tempting—and, I imagine, relatively easy—to just turn a system developed for mass analysis of foreign communications inward.

—posted by Julian

- 5:07:00 PM
SIGNING OFF: I was going to write a gala farewell post that somehow linked zygotes, big-government conservatism and maybe Brokeback Mountain in a marvelous bloggy pastiche. But it's a sleepy Friday afternoon, and I'm sleepy myself, so I'll confine myself to thanking Andrew for being generous enough to let a member of the theocratic RightTM like me hang out here and spar with him - and Julian for sparring as well, and for handling all that complicated civil liberties stuff.

And if this whole fancy-pants, white-wine-and-caviar "Time Magazine" schtick starts to go to Andrew's head, you know where to find me . . .

-posted by Ross

- 4:40:00 PM
NOW, EVIDENCE OF COVER-UP: New FOIAed docs from the military, procured by the ACLU, suggest attempts to cover up and destroy evidence of abuse and torture. The good news is that many of the worst incidents do seem to have been investigated and culprits punished. The bad news is that many weren't, many were actually ignored, and others actively covered-up. There's a lot here and I haven't had a chance to examine them yet. You make your own mind up.

- posted by Andrew.

- 12:05:00 PM
THE CAP SMEAR: I have to say that Senator Kennedy's attempt to smear Samuel Alito with an article in a magazine he never even read, an article that was apparently meant as satire, was about as low as it gets. It was a smear. In some ways, it was a symbol of how some Democrats think of people like the Alitos, people with obviously conservative leanings, but also the kind of people who would never engage in the basest of ethnic or sexual slurs. Kennedy hurt himself more than anyone. But it was disgusting nonetheless - not that, after Kennedy's performances in other hearings, it was particularly surprising. I'm not a Kennedy-hater. He's done some good things in the Senate, and I'm close to members of his family. But this tactic was crude, inappropriate in a judicial hearing, and completely counter-productive. It reminded me again why, for all my alarm at what has happened to Republicanism, the left is always there to remind me why I couldn't ever be a Democrat. I don't think I'm the only one.

- posted by Andrew.

- 11:53:00 AM
HEADS UP: Next Monday night, we switch servers to our new home at Time.com. So this is the last (sniff) non-holiday weekday that I'll be blogging from this site, with its current design. It's been a tough week ironing out glitches and figuring out how to operate the new site, but I think it's a big improvement. I know you'll let me know. I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank one of my oldest and dearest friends, Robert Cameron, who, from the get-go, worked tirelessly and diligently in creating this site, managing it, re-designing it, handling all the finances, fixing tech problems, and so much else. He's the one who suggested I blog in the first place - way back in the spring of 2000. Sometimes people ask me why I say "we" when I mention this site. It's not a royal prerogative. This venture has been run all the time by two of us; and one great advantage of the new home will be allowing Robert to be free of most of his current responsibilities, all of which he did gratis. I couldn't have begun to do this without him; and, amazingly, our friendship has survived intact. We're looking forward to hanging together in the future without mentioning bandwidth, blogads, server glitches, and on and on. Thanks, Robert. For everything.

GEN. GEOFFREY MILLER: He's the key figure in the decision to introduce torture and abuse of detainees in the U.S. military. He's the one who set up the abuse program at Guantanamo Bay and was then sent by Rumsfeld to "Gitmoize" Abu Ghraib. He's the one who told General Karpinski to treat detainees "like dogs." He's the one who organized the framing of Muslim chaplain James Yee, after once confiding in Yee that he had problems with Muslims in general. As usual, the Bush administration has done all it can to protect Miller, because he could explain who, higher up in the administration, sanctioned torture and abuse. Secure that no one in the real chain of command would contradict him, Miller has, in the past, cooperated with Pentagon investigations. Even so, the Fay report concluded that he had recommended policies that contravened the Geneva Conventions, which were supposed to apply in Iraq. But now, he's gone silent. Hmmmm. Money quote:
General Miller's decision to invoke his right not to incriminate himself came shortly after Col. Thomas M. Pappas, whose military intelligence unit was in charge of interrogations at the Abu Ghraib, was granted immunity from prosecution and ordered to testify in the dog handlers' coming courts-martial. Major Crawford said she and General Miller were not aware that Colonel Pappas had immunity protection when General Miller invoked his military Article 31 rights.
Yeah, right. The good news is that, with painful slowness, even the military investigatory apparatus may eventually uncover the high-level policies that crafted the abuses at Abu Ghraib, and then blamed them on a few reservists. And hold someone accountable. Higher up, I hope, than General Miller.

- posted by Andrew

- 11:39:00 AM

Thursday, January 12, 2006
STRIP POKERS: One of the more frustrating things about the many questions asked about Judge Alito's dissent in Doe v. Groody [PDF], which concerned whether law enforcement officers were liable for searching for drugs persons not explicitly included in a warrant, is that they kept hammering, for rhetorical purposes, that the officers had strip-searched a 10-year-old girl. A ten year-old-girl. Strip searched. Strip searched! A ten. Year. Old. Girl! (I eventually started hearing the sing-songy refrain of Walter from The Big Lebowski in the back of my head: "Yeah, yeah... they're going to kill that poor woman")

Again, rhetorically, I suppose that emphasis made sense. But focusing on that aspect allowed Alito to respond, perfectly correctly, that there's no special Fourth Amendment for ten-year-old girls, and that it's a damn good thing, since if there were criminals would have even more incentive to stash all their contraband on young children. There's no question that, had the warrant explicitly granted officers permission to search anyone they found on the premises, as well as their suspected drug dealer, that it would have been perfectly proper.

But, of course, that's not the point—or ought not to be. The point is that Alito bent over backwards to squish in some kind of tacit approval for a broader search than the explicit text of the warrant sanctioned. And that's troubling whether the subect was a 25 year old man or a nonagenerian hermaphrodite. I'd have liked to have seen less senatorial fixation on nude prepubescents and more on whether Alito takes a fast and loose, "so long as they meant well" approach to the Fourth Amendment.

—posted by Julian

- 5:46:00 PM
LIES, DRUGS, AND ALCOHOL: A friend who's spent some time grappling with alcoholism passes along this quote, from AA's Big Book, which seems appropriate for the case of James Frey:
Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path. Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves. There are such unfortunates. They are not at fault; they seem to have been born that way. They are naturally incapable of grasping and developing a manner of living which demands rigorous honesty.
In a similar vein, Seth Mnookin's
Slate piece on Frey is worth a read. This passage, in particular, sums up the case against Frey's anti-self-help self-help book:
. . . because A Million Little Pieces—one of the best-selling books about drug addiction ever written—has been trumpeted as an unflinching, real-life look into the world of a drug addict, it has helped to shape people's notions about drug abuse. Ironically, the very abundance of its clichés has likely helped make it a runaway best seller: People, after all, like having their suspicions confirmed. For nonaddicts, Pieces reinforces the still dangerously prevalent notion that it's easy to spot a drug addict or an alcoholic—they're the ones bleeding from holes in their cheeks or getting beaten down by the police or doing hard time with killers and rapists. For those struggling with their own substance-abuse issues, Pieces sends the message that unless you've reached the depths Frey describes, you don't have anything to worry about—you're a Fraud. And if you do have a problem, you don't need to necessarily get treatment or look to others for support; all you need to do is "hold on." In building up a false bogeyman—the American recovery movement's supposed reliance on the notion of "victimhood"—Frey has set himself up as the one, truth-telling savior. In fact, it seems clear that Frey would have been well-served by taking the kind of unflinchingly honest look at his own life that most recovery programs demand.
This makes me want to take back my earlier quasi-praise for Frey's tough-guy writer act. Poseurs can be harmless; poseurs who cast themselves as experts on how to beat addiction are bad, bad news.

- posted by Ross

- 4:58:00 PM
THE THREATDOWN: Move over, bears. The new threat is a declawed 14-year old cat.

- 4:43:00 PM
FTBSITTTD: James Frey's tattoo deconstructed.

GOD'S WEATHER: A reader writes:
Isn't the Bible replete with examples of God inflicting natural disasters on people? Some because they do not act righteously (Sodom, Gomorrah, Egypt, etc.) and at least one, very famously, to test his faith (Job)?

My point is not that Robertson is right, but rather that people who want to maintain their belief that the Bible is the word of God and yet disbelieve in Robertson have an awful lot of rationalizing to do.
I wish I had put it as simply as that. By the way here's a very helpful clarification of the differences between premillennialists and dispensationalists.


- posted by Andrew.

- 4:34:00 PM
THE HAMZA PRINCIPLE: Andrew quotes the loathesome Abu Hamza below. What I've read about his case persuades me, first, that I would not be terribly upset if this man were slowly gnawed to death by rabid hamsters tomorrow, and second, that his prosecution is nonetheless pretty troubling. The most serious charges against him involve "soliciting" murder—which seems to involve saying a lot of appalling things about, well, everyone but adherents of his necrotic brand of Islam, and talking about the duty to "fight" and "bleed" the "enemy," declaring at one point that "killing the kafir for any reason is OK." There are an additional four counts of "using threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour with the intention of stirring up racial hatred". And he had a book regarded as "useful to terrorists."

None of the accounts I've read have suggested that they've got, to put it crudely, a body—someone who was killed or some act of violence committed at Hamza's prompting—or that there was any kind of direct involvement with any particular plan or target. And it seems to me that there's a big difference between a narrow command, with an expectation that it will be obeyed, to harm some particular persons, or a direct incitement to riot ("They're over there, get 'em!") and this kind of general advocacy, which seems to be (if only barely) within the ambit of speech a free society ought to countenance. The new British policy is to go after those who seek to "justify" or "glorify" terrorism. And it's hard to see how you draw a bright line that stops you short of putting in that category, for instance, Pat Robertson's implication that the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin was divinely inspired.

ISLAMO-FASCISM This isn't directly related, but since Andrew defends the term "Islamo-fascism" in passing, I'll chip in that I've been persuaded by Olivier Roy's excellent Globalized Islam that this is not a terribly helpful term. That's not to say it's never apt—it might be well suited for Iran under Ayatollah Khomeini—but that using it in a blanket way for any radical Islamism of an authoritarian stripe elides more than it illuminates. (And I know that as an Orwell fan, Andrew will be acutely sensistive to the problem alluded to in "Politics and the English Language" of watering down terms until "[t]he word Fascism has...no meaning except in so far as it signifies 'something not desirable.'")

One of Roy's key points (one of many in an insight-rich book) is that the modern terrorists he dubs neo-fundamentalists represent an important break from state-focused Islamism as we previously understood it. One central trend he identifies among these newer groups, for example, is de-territorialization: What is in many ways radical and dangerous about these new doctrines is that they reject the local and national accretions that different forms of Muslim practice have picked up over the years in favor of an ostensibly purer, trans-national, trans-racial Islam. The driving force here is a desire for a practice not embedded in any local or national culture. In a perverse way, it is more individualist than traditional Islamism, and, argues Roy, the neo-fundamentalists' "quest for a strict implementation of sharia with no concession to man-made law pushes them to reject the modern state in favour of a kind of 'libertarian' view of the state: the state is a lesser evil but is not the tool for implementing Islam."

Of course, this description too is a broad one that won't accurately capture every sort of violent fundamentalist—and probably some will regard all this as picking nits. But as Sun Tzu advised, if you "know the enemy and know yourself, in a hundred battles you will never be in peril." And however rhetorically satisfying it is, "Islamo-fascism" as an umbrella term doesn't seem like a helpful tool for knowing the enemy.

—posted by Julian

- 11:08:00 AM
TEAR UP THE RULE BOOK, CARPENTER: At the end of a piece about the rare occasions on which Alito sided with the poor, the downtrodden, and the huddled masses in his lower court rulings, Emily Bazelon writes:
In almost none of these cases, though, does Alito seem like a little-guy champion. He seems like a judge who dutifully follows the law. When the law instructs him to find for the criminal defendant or the plaintiff, he does so. When you get to the Supreme Court, though, you get to rip up the instruction manual and rewrite it. There's very little in Alito's record that suggests his revisions will favor the little guy.
Just so we're clear: Alito's record as a judge indicates that he only rules for the little guy when the law dictates that he should. And this is really bad, because we need Supreme Court judges who are willing to "rip up the instruction manual" (I believe it's known as "active liberty" jurisprudence these days, but maybe Bazelon didn't get the memo) to help the little guy, or at least the little guy as defined by Ted Kennedy. And the way we should pick them is by nominating lower court judges who have . . . torn up the instruction manual on the lower courts? (Like this guy, I guess.)

MORE FREY: Why he - and many "memoirists" these days - probably meant to write a novel.

- posted by Ross

- 10:46:00 AM
FREY ON KING: About the best television I've seen in forever. Last night, Larry King interviewed James Frey, author of factually-challenged best-selling "memoir", "A Million Little Pieces." First off, you have the spectacle of a public person insisting that he did too do lots of crack and spend months in jail and so on and so forth. Then you have a website that usually exposes the lurid pasts of public people actually exonerating the guy, and depicting him as a nice middle-class boy, struggling with addiction. Then it dawns on you that all this will only help sales of the book. Then Larry King brings up the Jerzy Kosinski controversy as an analogy, Frey demurs, and then Larry reminds Frey that Kosiniski was so ashamed he killed himself. Then Frey's mom shows up, and we watch mortified as this woman is asked to pick between her love for her son and his obvious deceptions. And then, just when you think it can't get any weirder ... God descends. Oprah's on the phone, and claims she was ringing for ages but couldn't get through. Weirder? The nation falls silent as God speaks. She doesn't exactly defend the fraudulently packaged book, she blames the publishers and then somehow manages to bring you almost to the point of thinking that a book that does so much good need not be trashed for basic misrepresentation. For Oprah, the therapy trumps the integrity. Or there's a deeper integrity to the guy's recovery that should trump concerns about his obvious misleading of the reader. At this point, you are as gob-smacked as Anderson Cooper. And then he brings up his mother. And with images of Gloria Vanderbilt floating in my head, we find ourselves watching Project Runway. Bravo.

- posted by Andrew.

- 12:57:00 AM
AN IMMINENT THREAT? Iran appears to be on the verge of nuclear capacity. John Keegan sums up the situation admirably here. Sorry to ruin your morning.


THE NSA AND THE LAW: Critical legal analysis of warrant-less wire-tapping of American citizens can be found here.

ONE OF A KIND: Apparently, I don't look like any celebrities known to the web. Phew.

YGLESIAS AWARD NOMINEE: "It is true that any Washington influence peddler is going to spread cash and favors as widely as possible, and 210 members of Congress have received Abramoff-connected dollars. But this is, in its essence, a Republican scandal, and any attempt to portray it otherwise is a misdirection." - Rich Lowry, National Review.

CONDOMS AS GUNS: The latest Catholic analogy.

- posted by Andrew.

- 12:24:00 AM
QUOTE FOR THE DAY: "I am at a loss to know how creationism has got mixed up with conservatism. I have always thought of conservatives as the cold-eyed people, unafraid to face awkward facts, respectful of rigorous intellectual disciplines, and decently curious, but never dogmatic, on points of metaphysics. Conservatism thus understood is, in my view, the ideal outlook for free citizens of a free society. Contrariwise, pseudoscientific fads, metaphysical dogmas like "dialectical materialism," magical explanations for natural phenomena, and slipshod word-games about "agency" and "design" posing as science, arise most commonly in obscurantist despotisms. The old USSR was addled with such things, Lysenkoism being only the best known. You may say that an obscurantist despotism can be conservative in its own way, and you may have a terminological point; but that's not the style of conservatism I favor." - John Derbyshire, NRO, in an exchange with Tom Bethell.

Once again, I find myself in complete agreement with the old codger. How can that be? Once you get past his prejudices, which he proudly displays, Derbyshire is actually a recognizable old-style conservative. His description of the conservative temperament and attitude toward reality is absolutely something I share and, as he puts it, absolutely consonant with deep religious faith. I can see now what will be a main line of criticism of my book: that its understanding of conservatism is an English one, not American. Maybe that's the origin of my detente with the Derb. But if our shared conservatism draws inspiration from English tradition and history, it is also a philosophical argument, available for universal inspection and debate. The point is not whether such a skeptical, empirical, practical, limited government conservatism can survive in today's America. The point is whether it offers an attractive politics for the West in modernity. I agree with Derb that it is the ideal outlook for free citizens of a free society. I also believe it is the best politics for maintaining our freedom in modernity. Which is why fundamentalists of all kinds - Muslim and Christian - feel so threatened by it.

- posted by Andrew.

- 12:22:00 AM

Wednesday, January 11, 2006
EVANGELICALS VERSUS DISPENSATIONALISTS: Here's a document from some evangelical leaders specifically attacking the notion that the current state of Israel is Biblically mandated. These leaders differ from the increasingly popular and now mainstream fundamentalist notion of the End-Time, the Rapture, and the role that a unified and expansionary Israel will play in such a moment. Evangelical protestantism is not monolithic, but the dispensationalists are clearly gaining ground, as the astonishing success of the "Left Behind" books shows. I should add that dispensationalism is a relatively recent development. Like much that now passes for ancient truth (like the Catholic church's insistence on the human person present in the zygote), its origins are actually very modern. In this new and modern brand of absolutist faith, the more extreme Christian fundamentalists are similar to many Islamic fundamentalists.

- posted by Andrew.

- 8:51:00 PM
"KILL ALL NON-MUSLIMS": London's most famous mullah unplugged. According to the prosecutor,
"In the course of one lecture [Abu Hamza] accused the Jews of being blasphemous, traitors and dirty. This, because of the treachery, because of their blasphemy and filth, was why Hitler was sent into the world."
And people question why some of us insist on calling these monsters Islamo-fascists. The answer: because we speak English.

- posted by Andrew.

- 7:25:00 PM
EMAIL OF THE DAY: "This is in response to your emailer yesterday. I'm a (theologically) liberal Unitarian serving as an enlisted man in the military. I've had a number of religious discussions that included a number of dyed-in-the-wool fundamentalists and I've never been insulted/dismissed the way your correspondent was. Of course, that may be because I manage to explain my views respectfully without coming off like a condescending, pedantic ass. I think this unknown sailor was probably responding less to that individual's theology than to what a jerk he was being. Unfortunately, I get the sense that their exchange was representative of too much of the interfaith 'dialogue' that goes on."

- 6:12:00 PM
THE LACK OF RECOGNIZABLE GENITALIA SHOULD'VE TIPPED US OFF: Concerned Women for America apparently believes that Barbie is part of an insidious transgendered propaganda ploy. Because nothing says "deconstructing traditional gender roles" like Barbie.

—posted by Julian

- 3:15:00 PM
BUSH AND TORTURE: If he has to break the law he signed, he will. The consequences of presidents doing this to clear legislative intent are profound. I have no doubt that, for all his platitudes yesterday, the fundamental reason Alito was nominated was to remove one check from the president's assumption of new and permanent powers. In an issue like the McCain Amendment, Roberts and Alito will back the president against the veto-proof vote of the Congress. That's why they're there.

- posted by Andrew.

- 2:43:00 PM
ISRAEL AND ROBERTSON: Not so much any more.

- 2:24:00 PM
THE NEW HUMAN FACE: Here she is - one hundred percent a product of computer graphic technology.

- posted by Andrew.

- 2:19:00 PM

I HAVE IN MY HANDS THE NAMES OF 57 TERRORISTS: Here's a question I found myself batting around with Yglesias last week: How many committed al Qaeda operatives, people willing to kill and perhaps die for the cause, do we think there are in the U.S. right now? The initial New York Times piece on the NSA wiretap story suggested that about 500 people were being tapped at any given time. How many do we think were full-blown al Qaeda terrorists? One in ten? One in twenty?

I wonder, because if you've ever engaged in the rather morbid thought experiment of contemplating what it would take to stage some catastrophic and deadly attack, it actually seems terrifyingly easy. It would take a fair amount of work and planning, of course, but 9/11 was pulled off by a relatively small team on a relatively small budget, and it certainly seems like you could do a sub-9/11 scale but still highly destructive attack with a lot less—a couple guys, a rented truck, and some explosives, say. And if you were an al Qaeda member in the U.S. in the years following 9/11, mightn't it seem as though the newly aggressive efforts to track folk like you down meant it was advisable to get anything you were planning executed as quickly as possible?

Maybe we've just been that effective at catching these folk—or maybe we managed to deport a big chunk on visa violations—and I'm certainly not implying there aren't any U.S.-based al Qaeda. But if they've got even a fraction of 500 people here involved in their plots, why hasn't one of them managed to pull anything off?

—posted by Julian

- 12:49:00 PM
MORE FROM BREMER: The Weekly Standard has a great summary of some of the juicier bits from the Bremer memoir (and by 'memoir,' I don't mean the current publishing view that this includes complete fiction). Both Bremer and Powell - let's call them the Sanity Chorus - were insistent that an occupation that couldn't even control Baghdad was woefully under-manned. Powell emerges as a real hawk in arguing to take out Moqtada al-Sadr. Rumsfeld seems absolutely indifferent to reality on the ground, contemptuously unresponsive to Bremer, and eager to downsize the mission at every moment. The evidence is beginning to mount, it seems to me, that Rumsfeld ran this war. His arrogance, pig-headedness, ideological fixations, and sheer incompetence are what have led us into our current knife-edge position, and are indirectly responsible for the deaths of the 30,000 innocent civilians who died because the occupying power decided - yes, consciously decided - to let mayhem rule. In this, Bush is responsible. He appointed Rumsfeld. And he has kept him on. I don't see how anyone can have much confidence in war-management until he is removed.

IN RESPONSE TO ROSS: I'm aware of the Christian doctrine of the Fall implies that continued human suffering is ultimately a consequence of original sin. I was unaware that this doctrine included the notion that original sin caused the weather.

- posted by Andrew.

- 12:30:00 PM
A PAIR OF QUIBBLES: A reader cites Albert Mohler as an example of a religious right leader who doesn't think that God intervenes directly to punish sin - via hurricane, for instance - and Andrew replies:
Mohler differs from Robertson in not seeing a specific weather event as God-induced. But he shares with him the notion that all bad things in the universe stem in part from human sin.
Well, of course he does - because that's one of the basic tenets of Christianity, no? Not that your sin or mine causes Hurricane Katrina, but that death and suffering are a result, ultimately, of the Fall of Man, and that this primordial catastrophe is responsible for the wounded quality of the world. It would be pretty odd if Mohler, or any Christian leader - Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, whatever - didn't think that human sin, understood generally, has a strong relationship to human suffering and death.

Also, I think that Andrew's last Malkin Award nominee - a pastor named Herbert Lusk who said, "my friends, don't fool with the church because the church has buried a million critics" - probably wasn't threatening to actually kill or do violence to his critics. It's a pretty commonplace piece of Christian rhetoric to point out that the faith has outlasted most of its critics over the last two thousand years, and that this is perhaps a sign of God's favor and ought to give would-be opponents pause. (Here's how Chesterton put this line of argument, rather more eloquently.) But I admit Lusk's comments are open to Andrew's interpretation as well.

- posted by Ross

- 12:19:00 PM
ALL WE ARE SAYING IS GIVE PEACE A GLANCE: The Raw Story has documents from the joint NSA/Baltimore PD monitoring of a Baltimore anti-war group.

—posted by Julian

- 12:08:00 PM
ISRAEL POLLING: Here's the best I can find:
Fully 44% of Americans believe that God gave the land that is now Israel to the Jewish people while a substantial minority (36%) thinks that "the state of Israel is a fulfillment of the biblical prophecy about the second coming of Jesus." White evangelical Protestants and, to a lesser degree, African-Americans accept both of these propositions. Significantly fewer white Catholics and mainline Protestants believe Israel was granted to the Jews by God or think that Israel represents a fulfillment of the Bible's prophecy of a second coming.
When a poll of all adults finds over a third holding the view that the state of Israel is fulfilling the prophecy of the imminent Second Coming, you can see that pre-millenarianism is not some fringe idea, touted by Robertson. It's fundamentalist orthodoxy. Robertson is cruel and tactless, and many evangelicals would agree. Their compassion forbids them from making personal attacks as Robertson does. But he didn't make up his theology. And it's mainstream.

- posted by Andrew.

- 11:26:00 AM
QUOTE FOR THE DAY II: "Man: All together now: Death to America! Death to Israel!

Crowd: Death to America! Death to Israel! Death to America! Death to Israel! Death to America! Death to Israel! Death to America! Death to Israel!

Speaker: Today, the impure world Zionism, in the modern Age of ignorance, has emerged with the same (polytheistic) ideology, but with new methods. It wants to take over the fields of economy, of culture, and politics, as well as the military, throughout the world.

We, the pilgrims who have come to the house of God, condemn the plots and the measures taken by the international Zionism – the deceitful Satan who spreads heresy, polytheism, and idolatry, enslaving human beings with a new method. It abuses the divine religion of Moses. It takes Satanic measures, and arouses the world's hatred towards this divine religion, and its true followers. We denounce these criminal acts. We call upon the world of Islam and the free peoples to take significant measures to thwart the Satanic policy of this camp.

Crowd: Allah Akbar. Allah Akbar. Allah Akbar." - a mullah from an Islamo-fascist rally in Mecca. This is the religion fueling global terror. Its pathological anti-Semitism is indistinguishable in most respects from Hitler's. (Hat tip: Justin.

- posted by Andrew.

- 11:12:00 AM
CORRUPTION AND CONSERVATISM: In one sense, the current bout of corruption in Washington is explicable enough: politicians, Democrat or Republican, who hold power long anough succumb to its temptations. But in another, it's a function of the degeneracy of Bush-DeLay conservatism. When conservatives have embraced big government, massive increases in spending, huge new entitlements, a blizzard of earmarks, and an increasingly complex tax code, they have merely increased the incentives for sleaze. As David Broder also points out, some states - Texas stands out, as do many other parts of the South - have a very long history of federal government largess, cronyism and back-door quid pro quos. All we're seeing is a shameless political culture being nationalized. That used to be LBJ's mojo. Now, it's DeLay's.

QUOTES FOR THE DAY: "Bremer also said he raised his concerns with Bush at a lunch that month and again in June 2003 in a video link with a National Security Council meeting chaired by Bush. 'I was trying to reach the president's ear, because I had the impression that the armed services, and possibly Rumsfeld himself, were in a hurry to get our troops home,' he writes in the book, 'My Year in Iraq," ... In a memo dated May 18, 2004, Bremer urged Rumsfeld to send more troops. 'We were trying to cover too many fronts with too few resources,' attempting to control borders, secure convoy routes and protect Iraq's infrastructure, Bremer states in his book. 'We've become the worst of all things - an ineffective occupier,' he says he told Condoleezza Rice, then Bush's national security adviser." - Washington Post, yesterday.

"The president said at a National Security Council meeting that he depended on Bremer for a candid assessment of the state of affairs in Iraq. 'If Bremer's happy, I'm happy,' Bush said. 'If Bremer's nervous, I'm nervous. If Bremer's uneasy, I'm uneasy. If Bremer's optimistic, I'm optimistic.'" - Fred Barnes, in his forthcoming hagiography of the president, "Rebel-In-Chief," page 100.

What are the odds that Fred's source for the NSA meeting was not Bremer?

MOHLER AND ROBERTSON: I asked readers to prove me wrong about a major religious right leader dissenting from Pat Robertson's view that the End-Time will lead to a rapture of the faithful and destruction of the unfaithful; and that God intervenes directly in our lives ot punish sin. Here's Albert Mohler with a more nuanced position:
God created the world as the theater of His own glory. It is a world of great beauty and wonder; a world that allows crops to grow and provides everything that we physically need. Yet, it is also a world of terrible storms and natural disasters. In part, all this is the result of the devastating effects of human sin. As the Apostle Paul makes clear, the whole creation anticipates the redemption that is to come. But, as we experience the reality of weather after the Fall, we should not trace any particular weather pattern to contemporary human sins. Jesus explained that the rain falls on the just and the unjust. The weather is not fair.
Mohler differs from Robertson in not seeing a specific weather event as God-induced. But he shares with him the notion that all bad things in the universe stem in part from human sin.

- posted by Andrew.

- 10:45:00 AM

Tuesday, January 10, 2006
DIVIDING ISRAEL: A reader writes:
To quote David Barry, I swear, I am not making this up.

A few years ago, I was sitting in the galley of the Naval Training Center in Illinois. There was a television playing CNN headline news. The program gave the results of a poll about Americans' views regarding the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. I forget the exact numbers as to which side people supported, but what struck me was a second poll - if you support Israel, why? As I recall, the plurality said they supported Israel because of terrorism, but a pretty substantial majority said they supported Israel because of its "biblical claim to the land". Perhaps inadvertently, I scoffed slightly. Another sailor asked me what I was thinking, and when I told him, he said something to the effect of, "What's wrong with that? Unless you don't believe in the Bible ..."

Mr. Sullivan, I had a fairly decent Christian education. So I retorted something like, "Why do they have a claim? Because God promised the land to Abraham? Well, Abraham had 8 sons. Why are you going with the second son? Okay, fine, let's take Isaac. He had two sons - why do you give the whole land to the second son? Well, fine, let's take Jacob. There were 13 tribes of Israel (everyone forgets Levi) - why are you only counting Judah for the whole land? Surely Tel Aviv wasn't part of the original tribe of Judah. But, okay, let's take Judah. Well, didn't the Babylonian captivity pretty much end the Jewish claim to the land? Didn't Jesus say that he could raise children of Abraham from the stones, that being a child of Abraham didn't count for much?" The guy I was talking to paused for a second, then said, "Wow. You're gay, aren't you?"

Yes, I probably was playing a bit fast and loose with those biblical references. It was 5:30 am - what do you want from me?
I wonder if there is a poll out there explaining American attitudes toward Israel along these lines. Let me know.

- 10:39:00 PM
TWO GREAT TASTES: So, you've been enjoying Andrew's posts about both Brokeback Mountain and the Abramoff bruhaha... but wish you could somehow get both in one convenient package? Ask and ye shall receive. (Hat tip: Josh Marshall)

—posted by Julian

- 7:52:00 PM
IT'S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD: Or maybe it isn't. There's plenty of good stuff in the latest Atlantic, for those wise enough to subscribe - Paul Elie on the papal election, Caitlin Flanagan on oral sex - but perhaps the most fascinating piece is from Ben Schwarz, writing on the potential demise of mutually assured destruction. We've known for a while that our nuclear supremacy has been increasing since the end of the Cold War, as our arsenal improves, Russia's military decays, and China's remains static. But now there's evidence that our supremacy is so great that we could, for the first time, actually win a nuclear war outright by destroying the enemy's entire arsenal in a first strike. Or at least that's the conclusion of a forthcoming RAND study, cited by Schwarz. Here's what it found:
In a feat of technical sophistication and strategic insight, [the authors] have modeled a U.S. first strike against Russia. (Although China is Washington's most probable great-power rival, the authors argue, Russia presents a "hard case" for their contention that America has achieved nuclear ascendancy.) That model, which they presented at the Council on Foreign Relations in October, has been vetted by most of the top civilian defense analysts. To be conservative, it assumes that U.S. nuclear weapons will perform with much less accuracy and reliability than should be expected. Even so, the authors conclude, a U.S. attack today would destroy the entire Russian nuclear arsenal. To grossly oversimplify: the erosion of Russian capabilities, combined with new, overwhelming warhead yields and the "accuracy revolution" in U.S. nuclear forces, has largely obviated the problems of "fratricide" (the prospect that U.S. missiles on the attack would destroy each other, leaving their targets safe) that once helped make a disarming strike impossible to achieve.
Schwarz's piece is primarily about the dangers associated with this imbalance. Since "Moscow and Beijing will surely buy deterrence by spreading out their nuclear forces, decentralizing their command-and-control systems, and implementing 'launch on warning' policies," he argues, there's a greater chance that a future crisis will spiral out of control, leading to "the unauthorized or accidental use of nuclear weapons."

This is a serious concern, and I hope that I don't minimize it when I say that my initial, gut-level, Cold-War-geek reaction to this news can be summed up in just one word: cool.

- posted by Ross

- 6:44:00 PM

- 6:09:00 PM
BOMBING AL JAZEERA: Was Bush serious about it? Hitch wants to know.

- 5:12:00 PM
FROM THE HEARTLAND: A bumper crop of emails recently, weighing in on fundamentalism, the heartland and "Brokeback Mountain". Here are three with good points:
Thanks to 'Variety' for perpetuating the fly-over/red-state stereotypes. I have to say, for those of us in Des Moines, Brokeback's strong opening here is not a surprise. I imagine it will do well and continue to do well because it's a beautifully powerful film, well-reviewed, and hyped as controversial. The movie release has been managed well and the expectations set, masterfully drawing people into theaters. My opening night experience in Des Moines was in a suburban theater and the audience was primarily middle-age couples, young women and a large (but not-the-majority) gay contingent.

As far as the opposition goes, it's just not there or just not organized. And call me bitter blue in a red state, but the political/cultural context of Iowa (and Des Moines in particular) is nowhere comparable to Texas or Oklahoma. The strength and emotional force of the Christian Coalition (and the anti-gay forces) in the state is nowhere near that of OK or TX. Largely, Iowans keep to themselves as a whole and can't be bothered. It's the educated, quietly patriotic, thoughtful side of our agricultural past coming through.
Point taken. There's a huge difference between the culture of the Mid-West and the South. But even many Texans seem open-minded about "Brokeback." Another reader sets me, er, straight on that one:
I was born and raised in Texas, not far from where Jack "lived" in Texas. In my twenties, I lived all over the state: San Angelo, Odessa, Lubbock, Dallas, Houston, and Austin.
I spent nearly 5 years in Lubbock where I met my best friend and his wife, both ardent Republicans. I shared a house with him and his cousin who was a cowboy and a bouncer at a local honky tonk. Both knew I was gay and couldn't have cared less. I have always said that the libertarian streak in west Texans outweighs any social conservatism and I stand by that assertion to this day. I never recall hearing of any fag bashings while I lived in that part of the state. They occurred often in Dallas while I lived there and I was the victim of two of them.
Lubbock is the only place in Texas where I never experienced any, and I mean, any homophobia. That the movie is a success there doesn't surprise me at all.
That just goes to show that generalizations even about one state are fraught with peril.

FUNDAMENTALISM DEFINED: My depiction of fundamentalist millenarianism also comes in for criticism from this reader:
So "most members" of the "religious right" believe that the world is on the brink of the rapture and coming to and end, and exactly how do you know this to be true? I can garauntee you that if you knew me, you would list me too as a member of your so-called "religious right", and yet I think Pat Robertson's eschatalogical views are absurd and I deplore his recent comments regarding Sharon. Pat Robertson and his like on evangelical TV would do themselves, and me personally, a HUGE favor if they would stick to their (and mine) Christ-sponsored mission of spreading the good news of Christ's love, forgiveness and ultimate sacrifice, rather than indulging in every political foray of the day. And you, my dear blogger, would do yourself a favor to either get to personally know a few more conservative-evangelical Christians (like me).
I'm sure there are many Christians who share the reader's view of the priority of love and forgiveness - rather than vengeance and violence - at the center of the Christian Gospel. And many vote Republican. But my point about Robertson was a narrower one. It is that he believes that there is a looming End-Time in which judgment will be passed on non-believers, and also that God intervenes directly in the lives of people right now to punish and warn. How do I know this? Because there's plenty of explicit evidence proving it. For the book, I've been steeping myself in Protestant fundamentalist texts, and the prevalence of these themes is overwhelming. In the past few years, many leaders of the religious right have reiterated those views, whether it's James Dobson's warning about the imminent "destruction of the earth" caused by gay couples getting married, or Jerry Falwell blaming feminists for 9/11, or Franklin Graham blaming New Orleanians for Hurricane Katrina. If a reader can show me a leader of the religious right who does not believe in millenarianism or a God who directly intervenes to punish sinners, and can prove it, I will gladly post their evidence. Please prove me wrong. To discuss these theological views, by the way, is not to be a "hater" or "demonizer," as Jonah Goldberg claims. It is simply to reveal what religious right leaders clearly and unapologetically believe.

- posted by Andrew.

- 4:54:00 PM
RAMBO AND RELIGION: At the end of a TPMCafe post bemoaning the failure of Dems to adequately take advantage of the Abramoff scandal, we get this revealing reflection:
When we get tarred with the same brush every time the Republicans screw up, we can never separate ourselves from them in the voter's minds. That leaves the voters deciding their votes only on quasi-religious, and Rambo grounds, and we will never win on those grounds.

I'm not sure, at least in my more cynical moods, that this is necessarily an inaccurate portrait of the modal American voter—responsive only to scandal and tribal instincts—but telegraphing that attitude may have something to do with why "we will never win on those grounds."

—posted by Julian

- 3:52:00 PM
QUOTE FOR THE DAY: "Until the Bush administration, with its incontinent spending, unleashed an especially conscienceless Republican control of both political branches, conservatives pretended to believe in limited government. The last five years, during which the number of registered lobbyists more than doubled, have proved that, for some Republicans, conservative virtue was merely the absence of opportunity for vice." - George Will, on great form today. Thank God he and David Brooks are still around, and still calling it like it is.

- posted by Andrew.

- 1:31:00 PM
GALLOWAY IN PAJAMAS: And he's not even blogging.

- 11:51:00 AM
SCHMALITO: I guess I should say something. I've long been a believer in deference to presidential court appointees (check TNR archives and way back in the 80s, I wrote one of the first pieces outraged by the Borking of Bork). I have a marginally less expansive view of executive power in wartime than Alito, and probably despise Roe vs Wade more than he does, but these are quibbles. He seems perfectly fine to me: the kind of uber-nerd you want on SCOTUS. He reminds me of Milhous on the Simpsons, all growed up. He spent one vacation learning how to juggle. The hearings are a great opportunity to explore the meaning and role of constitutional executive power. But the blather yesterday - and the fact that I don't think either Roberts or Alito are going to satisfy the fire-breathers - reminds me why I'm not glued to the TV screen. That, and a book deadline.

RIGHT-BLOGGERS AND MEHLMAN: Hugh Hewitt has an interesting account of conservative bloggers grilling Ken Mehlman. At times, it's an impressive display of journalistic independence and skepticism on the rightwing blogosphere about the administration. More, please.

FOLGER ON ROBERTSON: Here's a fascinating exchange from Fox News. It concerns Pat Robertson's orthodox fundamentalist view that Ariel Sharon may have been targeted by God for death because of his decision to divide the land of Israel as forbidden by the Bible:
John Kasich: Now, Janet, what I need to know from you is, when Pat does things like this or says things like this -- and I think you would agree, it wasn't the appropriate time. Agree with that? It was just not the right time to be talking about this.

Janet Folger: Look, the time you make statements like that is when you can do something about it -- don't divide the land.

John Kasich: So, inappropriate time. The question is, does Pat sort of undermine the movement when he makes a statement like this -- that he might -- which he says was taken out of context or whatever -- does it undermine the movement, the Christian movement? People say, I'm not gonna listen to that.

Janet Folger: You know -- again, I'm not gonna be another voice to bully up or beat up on PR. He's free to defend himself and he's very capable of it --

John Kasich: Yeah, but I want to know what you think.

Janet Folger: -- but I don't think we should blame him for reading from the bible. And I'll be honest with you -- the way I read the Bible, it talks about -- nations that bless Israel are gonna be blessed, nations that curse Israel are gonna be cursed -- and I'll be honest with you, where I worry about the judgment being cast is that I think we need to look in the mirror -- because we're one of the groups, the nations that actually strong-armed the prime minister into giving up land, making Israel less secure. And --
Good for Folger for sticking to her beliefs. Just like Falwell after 9/11, she also fears that it's America that will actually experience the wrath of Jesus if we don't get our Israel policy right. Kasich's main worry, of course, is not that what Robertson said is obscene or lunatic, but that it might cause trouble for what he calls the "Christian movement." Kasich apparently believes it's important that most Americans are kept in the dark about the actual tenets of the core activists who now control the Republican party. More about Folger here.

- posted by Andrew.

- 11:32:00 AM
PICKING UP THE PIECES: I'm of two minds about the apparent unraveling of James Frey, the Oprah-canonized memoirist whose tales of drugs, crime, and personal tragedy have turned out to be more than a little embellished. On the one hand, Frey has always come across as a poseur - a wannabe tough-guy, a dime-store Mailer - and it's nice when poseurs turn out to be frauds as well. Also, I didn't much care for his first book - and of course, I share in the pathetic-yet-delightful schaudenfreude that any would-be writer feels while watching an overpraised (and overpaid) author go down in flames.

But then again, there was something occasionally bracing about the Frey pose, even when you could see right through it - the hard-case persona, the "F.T.B.S.I.T.T.T.D." tattooed on his arm (for "fuck the bullshit it's time to throw down," which was my motto for a while too), the boasts about becoming the greatest writer of his generation, the profanity-laced attacks on other writers' mediocrity. Sure, it was fake - but it was a relief to encounter Frey's brand of fakeness in a literary world where too many writers seem to follow the Dave Eggers/Jonathan Safran Foer "let's-all-be-nice" approach to the writing life. I'll take a phony tough guy any day, for instance, over this kind of pious crap (from Eggers):
It was our hope . . . that the literary world could be one of community, of mutual support, of spirited but nonviolent discourse—all in the interest of building and maintaining a literate society. It's what we teach . . . that books are good, that reading is good, that everyone can and should write in some capacity, and that anyone pissing in the very small and fragile ecosystem that is the literary world is mucking it up for everyone—and sending a very poor message to the next generation.
The gang at N+1 - who are neither as great as they've been made out to be, nor as bad as Stefan Beck suggests in this month's New Criterion - offered an excellent response to this theory of literature in their latest issue:
The final, insidious manifestation of the reading crisis is the way it gives cover to the hostility to criticism. One’s critics “piss in the fragile ecosystem that is the literary world” (Eggers); or they are merely “resentniks” (Foer). The real trouble of course is that if “books” are “good,” as the mantra goes, you don’t have to face how good or bad your book actually is. The criterion is only to “make readers.” I make readers, the writer deludes himself, waving his sales reports—surely these millions came into existence only for him? It no longer matters what he wrote. In this way the novelist becomes as protected as the poet is today, a member merely of an endangered species (in the “fragile ecosystem”), or say of an identity group, who cannot be disagreed with, to whom certain months of the year will be dedicated, who is not only tolerated but encouraged and petted by the powers that be, not because of the content of what he writes (there is no content), but because, well, what sort of powers would they be, to discourage the flowering of such an art?
Social work is important, and so is novel-writing (at least if your novel is any good). But the two really aren't the same thing. James Frey is a poseur and apparently a liar, but at least, I think, he understands that much.

- posted by Ross

- 10:42:00 AM

Monday, January 09, 2006
BROKEBACK IN LUBBOCK: Variety has an update:
"Brokeback" came out ahead of several new pics on twice or four times as many playdates, including "Casanova," "Bloodrayne" and "Grandma's Boy." Among the new markets where the critically acclaimed pic opened strong were Tulsa, El Paso, Des Moines and Lubbock, Tex.
Lubbock, Texas, is the place the president often refers to when he talks about the heartland of America, and it's where his library will be sited. The Mickster hasn't mentioned the movie he hasn't seen in quite a while. He predicted it would bomb in the heartland. Does Lubbock count? As for the mainstream, on "Desperate Housewives" last night, there were three separate graphic scenes of two late-teenage boys french-kissing, waking up naked in the same bed together, and mauling each other's necks. Brokeback is tame in comparison.

(CORRECTIONS: Although Lubbock is favored to house Bush's library, the decision has not yet apparently been taken. And, although he hasn't mentioned it on his blog, the Mickster has indeed seen Brokeback Mountain. And says he wasn't grossed out.)

- posted by Andrew.

- 5:38:00 PM
PICTURES FROM AN INSTITUTION: Doubt won the Pulitzer Prize for drama this year, and after seeing it this weekend (the last weekend with the original actress, Cherry Jones, in the lead role, unfortunately) I think it richly deserved the win. The play deals with the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church, and what's particularly remarkable about it, in this year of hectoring works of art (most of them involving George Clooney), is it's steadfast refusal to filter its story through an ideological lens. Set in 1964, Doubt follows a nun who suspects that a priest in her parish is molesting students, and given that description, it's easy to imagine a bad, fashionable play about a heroic feminist nun taking down an evil, repressed, pre-Vatican II priest. But the playwright, John Patrick Shanley, is smarter than that: he makes the nun a tough-minded, old-school Catholic who sees the world in black and white, and the priest a young, hip, progressive figure who embodies all the ideas about religion that a Broadway audience is likely to find appealing. She seems heartless, tyrannical, and prejudiced; he's questing, broad-minded, charismatic. But over the course of the play, the audience is invited to recognize the virtues contained within her old-fashioned attitudes, and the weaknesses at the heart of his charm.

Not that the priest ever entirely forfeits the audience's sympathy, or that the nun is without her faults - again, the play is too intelligent to fall into a schematic view of its protagonists. What it does instead, more effectively than any work of art I've seen, is dramatize both the weaknesses of old-fashioned, pre-Vatican II Catholicism - the legalism, the occasional cruelty, the seeming heartlessness - and the ways that the 1960s reforms went so quickly wrong, good intentions and all. It dramatizes, as well, the central paradox of the entire sexual abuse scandal, which is that it partook of the worst of both "liberal" and "conservative" Catholicism - the former's sexual permissiveness and contempt for time-tested traditions, rules and safeguards; and the latter's clericalism, its insistence that the hierarchy knew best and the laity should just "pray, pay and obey," its willingness to use authority as a screen for irresponsibility. In the name of freedom and progress and experimentation, priests justified their own sins and those of their fellows; in the name of order and tradition and obedience, their superiors protected them.

And everybody meant well. True monsters like Fathers Geoghan and Shanley aside, this the reality of the sex abuse scandal, but also of nearly every great historical tragedy - and it should be written in gold letters on the wall of every screenwriting workshop and creative writing class in these United States. There are exceptions to the rule, of course, but not nearly enough to justify the number of "serious" works of art that take an absurdly Manichean view of the world, and never even attempt to plumb the motives, or the humanity, of their villains. Terry Teachout (who loved Doubt) summed up this tendency earlier in the year:
. . . great art "takes you out of yourself." By definition, it then puts you into somebody else, and in so doing enriches your understanding of reality. To do this successfully, it must be in the deepest sense sympathetic. The New Shorter Oxford Dictionary defines sympathy as "the fact or capacity of sharing or being responsive to the feelings or condition of another or others." Such a capacity is a sine qua non of all serious art. It is what makes Shakespeare's villains believable: We feel we can understand their motives, even if we don't share them. It is also central to the persuasive power of great art. Without sympathy there can be no persuasion. Even a caricature, however cruel, must acknowledge the humanity of its subject in order to be funny. The artist must create a whole character and not simply show the side of him that will most convince us of his villainy.

What I find striking about much of today's political art, by contrast, is its unwillingness to make such acknowledgments. Instead of seeking to persuade--to change the minds of its viewers--it takes for granted their concurrence.
Teachout was talking about plays, for the most part, but his comments are even more telling after our autumn of Good Night, and Good Luck and Syriana and The Constant Gardener - all skillfully-made movies that would have been worlds better with some bare acknowledgement that not every anti-communist was a McCarthyite, and not everyone who works for an oil company, a pharmaceutical company, or the CIA has knowingly sold their soul to the devil. Doubt is a welcome exception to this depressing habit. May there be more like it.

- posted by Ross

- 4:42:00 PM
THE HUMOR OF TORTURE: Gags about torture and detainee abuse can be found at National Review here, here, and here.

- 4:27:00 PM
MOORE AWARD NOMINEE: "No matter what the greatest tyrant in the world, the greatest terrorist in the world, George W. Bush says, we're here to tell you: Not hundreds, not thousands, but millions of the American people ... support your revolution," - Harry Belafonte, buttering up Venezuela's president.

MALKIN AWARD NOMINEE: "My friends, don't fool with the church because the church has buried a million critics. And those the church has not buried, the church has made funeral arrangement for." - religious right leader, Herbert Lusk, appearing to threaten those who disagree with him. Every now and again, you see the violent and intolerant subtext of fundamentalist Christianity - especially with respect to their opponents - emerge into the mainstream daylight.

HALF A MILLION: That's how many troops Paul Bremer believed were needed to fight the Iraqi insurgency in mid 2004. He was ignored, of course.

- posted by Andrew.

- 4:13:00 PM

- 12:25:00 PM
MOORE AWARD NOMINEE: "Most great figures in world history are remembered for their compassion. [Martin Luther] King shared this trait with the Ghandis, Mother Teresas, and Mandelas of the world. He also shared this trait with the late Stanley Tookie Williams." - Renford Reese, associate professor of political science at Cal Poly Pomona University.

- posted by Andrew.

- 12:19:00 PM
ROBERTSON'S GAFFE: Plenty of evangelicals and Republicans have dumped on Pat Robertson for saying that Ariel Sharon's stroke is related to his decision to divide the land of Israel. I'm baffled. It would be astonishing if Robertson did not believe something like that. Robertson's version of Christianity is fundamentalist pre-millenarianism. He believes, as do most members of the religious right, that the world is soon coming to an end, and that the unification of Israel is integral to that story-line. (The Jews who don't accept Christ will all die in a second and more extensive Holocaust, orchestrated by Jesus.) He also believes, as do millions of Americans, that God directly involves himself in our lives, as does Satan, and that He is a terrifying God who has committed mass murder and genocide in the past against those who flout his will (the Bible proves it) and will do so again. A mere stroke for Sharon? He should count himself lucky.

THE FUNDAMENTALIST REALITY: It's also absurd to describe Robertson's views as somehow out of the mainstream of contemporary Christian fundamentalism, or Republicanism. His 700 Club reaches more people than most CNN shows and has more viewers, as Laurie Goodstein points out, than CNBC or MSNBC. That's why establishment conservative Fred Barnes was on the show last week; and why Karl Rove checks in with Robertson over judicial nominees. Moreover, the only reason anyone got mad at his statement about Sharon is because somone at PFAW is paid to listen. Do you think any of his 800,000 "Christian" viewers would be in any way discombobulated? This is their faith. As the Derb points out, it's clear from the Bible what the consequences of ceding the West Bank are. Robertson is not alone in his beliefs about the looming end-times - indeed, the most vivid depiction of what current evangelicals believe, the "Left Behind" series, is the bestselling adult series of books in the whole country. In a recent installment, Jesus is an unrelenting future mass murderer of those who do not accept him. When he speaks at the end of time,
"Men and women soldiers and horses seemed to explode where they stood. It was as if the very words of the Lord had superheated their blood, causing it to burst through their veins and skin ... Even as they struggled, their own flesh dissolved, their eyes melted and their tongues disintegrated."
Why should Robertson be singled out for saying what he believes? This is the faith that animates the religious right, and that propels every electoral victory for the current Republican party. Why on earth should he apologize?

MANSFIELD ON THE EXECUTIVE: My former teacher is, as always, worth reading. The American executive is indeed designed to be able to act as a unitary actor in emergencies. War is such an emergency. Secrecy is, in part, essential in that function. The difficulty in our current moment, however, is that the emergency has been defined as permanent. And so instead of ceding extra-legal power to the executive in extremis, we are in danger of shifting the entire emphasis of government toward a routine executive power unrestrained by law. There is a balance we need to restore here - because this war is indeed different, in its longevity and involvement of American citizens. I see no reason why a revised FISA law wouldn't be a prudent response to this problem. Especially when we have a war-president deeply distrusted by around half the country.

ZYGOTES: More discussion over at the Corner. I think all we can say with absolute certainty is that a majority of zygotes never make it to become grown-ups. I call them "human beings" and "unborn children" because, according to natural law philosophy, that's what they are. To quote Robert P. George, the grandfather of theoconservatism:
A human being is conceived when a human sperm containing twenty-three chromosomes fuses with a human egg also containing twenty-three chromosomes (albeit of a different kind) producing a single cell human zygote containing, in the normal case, forty-six chromosomes that are mixed differently from the forty-six chromosomes as found in the mother or father.
All I'm doing to taking the arguments of the theocons and following their logic.

- posted by Andrew

- 11:37:00 AM
THE PARTY OF THE COUNTRY CLUB: Somehow, I don't think this, from Time, is exactly the message that George W. Bush wants to be sending to his base:
The President's inner circle always treated DeLay as a necessary burden. He may have had an unmatched grip on the House and Washington lobbyists, but DeLay is not the kind of guy—in background and temperament—the President feels comfortable with. Of the former exterminator, a Republican close to the President's inner circle says, "They have always seen him as beneath them, more blue collar. He's seen as a useful servant, not someone you would want to vacation with."
Via Matt Yglesias and Michael Crowley, who are loving every minute of it. As they should.

You better believe it, says Anthony Lane.

MORE ZYGOTES: Because you can't get enough of the tiny little blighters, can you?

- posted by Ross

- 10:56:00 AM

Sunday, January 08, 2006
THE BAGPIPE DIDN'T SAY NO: Lots of defenders of the proposition that the president has inherent authority under Article II to authorize taps of communications from persons in the U.S. to persons abroad have been citing U.S. v. U.S. District Court as though it's dispositive, because the Court restrains itself to the fact pattern at issue and notes:
As stated at the outset, this case involves only the domestic aspects of national security. We have not addressed, and express no opinion [407 U.S. 297, 322] as to, the issues which may be involved with respect to activities of foreign powers or their agents.

Every time I see that, I think of this Shel Silverstein poem.

—posted by Julian

- 4:15:00 PM
OPEN SECRETS: I'd been meaning to reply to an exceedingly silly PowerLine post that strained to bolster Bush's claim that, somehow, national security was compromised by the revelation that the NSA was eavesdropping on them without warrants as well as with them. (As Frank Rich points out today, behind the Times' irrelevancy firewall, the Showtime drama Sleeper Cell beat the New York Times to the punch on this anyway.)

Fortunately, Glenn Greenwald has a quite thorough response posted already, so I can just reiterate the highlights:

  • The notion that Osama bin Laden stopped using his sat phone because press accounts tipped him off that we could track it is probably bogus.
  • The claim that it's "extremely unlikely" that al-Qaeda terrorists were aware of FISA until now because "few Americans knew anything about FISA before the current controversy arose" is, well, mindboggling. I guess it could be that they only just started reading the New York Times, but even ignoring the fact that FISA's been prominently discussed in the news since the early debates on the Patriot Act, it seems as though hardened terrorist might, you know, have somewhat more of a personal incentive to learn about American wiretap policy than the average Joe. Bush apologists need to make up their minds: Are these guys such a fiendishly clever and unique threat that they require massive expansion of executive power to defend against, or are they some sort of darkside Qeystone Qops so inept that disclosing the obvious gives them new information?
  • It's similarly hard to imagine that terrorists had been previously counting on the by now hyper-debunked assumption that "it would take days, weeks or months to obtain a FISA order." If they were minimally attentive, they'd know that FISA allows law enforcement to initiate a tap immediately and then submit a retroactive request for authorization up to three days later.

—posted by Julian

- 3:47:00 PM
WIRE-TAPPING: This piece seems to me to come up with at least something of a solution:
Some kind of oversight - possibly an independent counsel housed within the executive branch, perhaps a beefed-up, streamlined, and more secretive FISA court, and preferably not a Congressional subcommittee - would go a long way toward ensuring some amount of honesty and trustworthiness.
I'd want some kind of independent court or Congressional oversight to check the executive in this. Nothing too onerous; just a reassurance that safeguards are in place to prevent abuse. This isn't about Bush as such, although his complete disregard for means rather than ends in the war on terror remains a huge liability for him and us. It's about all future presidents as well, since this war will go on for the indefinite future. Maybe the FISA law needs reform. But the job of the executive, once it has recovered from emergency mode, is to figure out new procedures for the new challenges we face. We long ago needed a clear legal system for dealing with enemy combatants. Instead, we got ad hoc executive improvisation, which gave us Abu Ghraib and widespread detainee abuse. We now clearly need new procedures for wire-tapping. If Bush and Cheney could drop their arrogance, they could find friends in the Congress and the public who would be all too willing to help.

CALLING YOUR GIRLFRIEND: Memo to straight guys: women like it when you call them up for no reason and chatter on. I know. It can be a real pain in the ass. But no one said the heterosexual lifestyle was easy. Dan Savage, as ever, has some great advice on the subject.

MALKIN AWARD NOMINEE: "Homosexual sexual relationships are wrong. That's the reason they should not be celebrated. Not because they haven't yet been ingratiated into the public conscience or shamelessly accepted by their practitioners. The reason people are repulsed by homosexual sex isn't because people are bigoted. It's for the same reason people are repulsed by pedophilia, theft, murder and lying. It's because God is repulsed by sin and we all inherently understand right from wrong. (See Romans 1.)" - Mark Landsbaum, analogizing a gay relationship to murder, on the Concerned Women for America website.

- posted by Andrew.

- 3:03:00 PM

Saturday, January 07, 2006

WOULD THAT WHAT IT CONCEALS WERE NOT UNIFORM: Earlier this week, Florida's Supreme Court struck down the state's Opportunity Scholarship Program, which provided vouchers to kids in failing schools. The ruling turns on Article IX, Section 1 of the state's constitution, which stipulates:

(a) The education of children is a fundamental value of the people of the State of Florida. It is, therefore, a paramount duty of the state to make adequate provision for the education of all children residing within its borders. Adequate provision shall be made by law for a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools that allows students to obtain a high quality education and for the establishment, maintenance, and operation of institutions of higher learning and other public education programs that the needs of the people may require.

The court's logic here is that since private schools are not, in point of fact, "uniform," a program that attempts to provide for the education of children by means of such schools runs afoul of that provision. As the court puts it:

It diverts public dollars into separate private systems parallel to and in competition with the free public schools that are the sole means set out in the Constitution for the state to provide for the education of Florida’s children. This diversion not only reduces money available to the free schools, but also funds private schools that are not “uniform” when compared with each other or the public system.

Far be it from me to claim expertise in Florida law, but this is hard to make much sense of. First, those free uniform public schools are plainly not the "sole means" offered—the very same clause refers to "other public education programs that the needs of the people may require." More generally, it seems odd to read that second clause as limiting the first. It's a well settled point of federal constitutional law that parents must be permitted to send their children to private schools, so Article IX can't be read in a way that suggests the state has failed to meet its "adequate provision" obligations unless all children are educated by means of these free, uniform public schools. And an ordinary reading of a mandate of the form "The state shall provide for X. In service of X, the state shall establish Y," does not entail that the state may not also do Z in service of X.

You can make the argument work a little better by stressing the "diversion" of public funds from the state system to private schools—but not much better. For one thing, it would prove too much: Since money is fungible, any of these "other public education programs" are, in essence, competing with public schools for funds. Moreover, there's at least some good empirical reason to believe that subjecting poor public schools to competition from voucher schools imposes pressure for improvement. If you look at the net effect instead of focusing myopically on cash flows, there's a case to be made that the OSP is, among other things, a mechanism to raise the quality of those underperforming public schools.

DOUBLE ENTRY ACCOUNTABILITY: Kevin Drum at The Washington Monthly and Greg Anrig at TPMCafe both harp on putative contradiction between conservatives' infatuation with standardized testing as an accountability mechanism and the lack of some equivalent requirement for private schools receiving voucher funds. Now, I'm not all that wild about standardized testing in the first place, but I don't think this is much of a contradiction.

If we had a state quasi-monopoly on shoes, with shoe factories run directly by the government and the shoes distributed to citizens, you'd need some kind of elaborate accountability mechanism to provide quality oversight on the shoes—some combination of public inspectors, maybe focus groups and surveys of shoe wearers. But that's self-evidently (I hope) a second- or third-best form of "accountability." The best sort of accountability is direct accountability to the shoe wearer. Shift to a private market in shoe provision, maybe coupled with higher public assistance benefits or refundable tax credits so the indigent have some extra cash with which to buy shoes, and the oversight becomes largely otiose. That's because you've suddenly unleashed the dispersed information—what Hayek called "local knowledge"—that had been suppressed in the absence of a viable exit option under the state quasi-monopoly. So when Anrig asks "How are parents supposed to discover good schools in the absence of any reliable, systematic source of information about them?" one answer is that they already have some excellent sources of information about the relative quality of schools for their children, in the form of direct observation of their kids' performance and informal conversations with other parents.

That's not to say you don't want more systematic data, both to assist individual parents in their decisionmaking and to get some threshhold assurance that we're not just funding finger painting lessons in some basement. But it's not clear why that requires some kind of one-size-fits-all standardized testing regime. There are a plethora of public and private accreditation agencies to which the federal government refers in determining eligibility in programs like the Montgomery G.I. Bill.

IF THE SHOE FITS: I think Anrig is right to say, though, that "the whole theoretical reason for vouchers disintegrates if the private schools are subject to the same oversight and requirements as public schools." Uniform shoes for diverse feet aren't going to provide uniform satisfaction. But to measure schools by a single common metric, you need not just "uniformity" in the sense that kids aren't unfairly assigned to much poorer schools than their peers the next town over, but a kind of standardization of curricula that clashes with the kind of dynamism that may be the best argument for educational choice.

The real genius of entrepreneurial markets lies not just in making old production methods more efficient (a cheaper, sturdier horse carriage) but in finding innovative new ways to serve old needs (the Model T). Making schools as we now know them better is clearly a worthy goal. But I'm also excited by the possibility of greater experimentation with things like, say, student-directed learning or some kind of middle-ground between homeschooling and the factory-model school—maybe small overlapping but shifting clusters of students working with a series of hired tutors.

Doubtless there are some bare-bones criteria any school is going to have to satisfy for it to be doing something we're willing to call adequate education. But, to keep the shoe-fetish a moment longer, think of the immense variety of functions a simple commodity like a shoe is supposed to serve. Do you want something to play basketball in? Something to match your Armani suit? Maybe a nice pair of Birkenstocks to let your toes breathe? Something quirky that makes a statement about your personality? Something leather-free, because you're committed to animal rights? Something to wear out dancing? To pad around the house?

How much more varied, then, are the functions education serves? The virtue of dispersed accountability is not just that (to borrow A.O. Hirschman's lingo) the option to exit enhances the voice of those with the best direct experience of a school's capacity to further given ends. It also expands their power to give the ends. In some cases, admittedly, that will mean fundies deciding that a good school looks like a madrassa with more Jesus. But it also makes it less likely that we'll see schools producing students as standardized as their tests.

—posted by Julian

- 9:40:00 PM
BUSH AND THE LAW: More support for believing he has been pushing the envelope, at the very least, on the legal exercise of his powers.

- 3:00:00 PM
SADDAM'S TERROR TRAINING CAMPS: This Stephen Hayes piece shows how dangerous the Saddam regime was - even without WMDs. Of course, the number of terrorists training in Iraq under Saddam was a fraction of the number operating freely - and devastatingly - there today. But that says something about the execution of the war, not the very good reasons for deplosing Saddam in the first place.

- 1:53:00 PM
QUOTE FOR THE DAY: "We are Iraqis, and Al Qaeda came from outside our borders. They defame the name of the noble resistance inside Iraq," - "Abu Omar", the nom de guerre of a member of the Islamic Army in Abu Ghraib. The enemy is not just evil; it's also dumb. In that lies the slim, but still present hope for the future in Iraq.

A FULLER LIST: The recipients of Abramoff's bounty, with party affiliation highlighted.

UH-OH: After he copped a plea deal, Randy Cunningham wore a wire for a while to record his conversations.

THE NEXT GENERATION: The latest Hamilton College/Zogby poll of high school seniors shows a generation morally troubled by abortion and highly supportive of gay rights. 53.6 back marriage rights, an additional 20.1 percent back civil unions, and 63 percent are fine with gay adoptions. Catholics, as ever, are the most pro-gay of Christian denominations. Here are the results from 2001. The marriage question, alas, has changed. In 2001, 66 percent favored marriage rights, but were not given a civil union option. Today, a combined 74 percent favor one or the other. The proportion of students who were staunchly antigay in 2001 was 30 percent. In 2005, it was 20 percent. The bulk of them came from evangelical and fundamentalist backgrounds. As the broader society becomes much more accepting of gays, the religious right has hardened its hostility. Oh, and the idea of amending the federal constitution to bar marriage and civil unions for gays? It has 26 percent support among the next generation. Hence the urgency among the older fundamentalists to get it passed - soon.

- 12:27:00 PM

Friday, January 06, 2006
LOSING IT AT THE MOVIES: When you see this trailer, you'll either start choking up, or think that Hollywood's exploitation of tragedy has finally gone too far. I choked up.

Also, if you didn't much care for Jarhead (I didn't) it's because you can't see the bright line running backward from Sam Mendes' work to Sartre, Beckett, and Bunuel. Just so you know.

- posted by Ross

- 5:21:00 PM
"BUSH DERANGEMENT SYNDROME" DERANGEMENT SYNDROME?: Andy McCarthy penned a truly strange column over at National Review yesterday. The gist is that we shouldn't be suckered in by Bush critics' fixation on little technicalities like "whether electronic searches were authorized by warrant" because the rabid, Bush-deranged liberal mainstream media would have pitched a hissy fit even if the very same program had been carried out with judicial oversight. In other words, the fifth columnists at The New York Times would've created a scandal-story no matter what... so best not to get too worked up about this "warrant" business. You wouldn't want ot be a dupe of The New York Times, would you?

The problem is, put warrants back in the picture and (leaving aside the nebulous data mining thing, which isn't what McCarthy's talking about) there is no "program"... there's just law enforcement officers seeking FISA warrants, as we've known they do for years. The Times could, of course, find some top-secret insider to leak the information that FISA warrant applications and approvals have recently reached record highs. Fortunately, they wouldn't have to look very hard, because the Justice Department releases those figures to Congress each year.

In other words, we don't need McCarthy's fertile imagination to know what the NSA tapping story might look like if judicial oversight were added to the mix... because it's the story we'd been getting for years already.

- 5:07:00 PM
THE COVERT OPTION: Matt Yglesias flags an excerpt from James Risen's new book, in which it's revealed that the CIA may have given the Iranians defective blueprints for a nuclear bomb, in the hopes that this would send their nuclear program down a primrose path to failure. The excerpt casts the whole incident as a fiasco that may have actually helped the Iranians, though as Matt points out, it's hard to tell from the details whether the plan backfired or succeeded. And the story seems a little fishy in any case. But either way, it's not terribly shocking that we'd attempt something like that. As my Atlantic colleague, Terrence Henry, pointed out in last month's issue, this kind of skullduggery is an obvious way to sabotage a nuclear program that can't be stopped by diplomacy or direct action. It's quite likely that we've tried to sell Iran defective parts, ensured that certain ships bound for the Persian Gulf have found their way to the bottom of the ocean, and plotted acts of sabotage against Iran's uranium-enrichment facilities.

What's less likely, however, is that we've taken up the Israeli approach to covert anti-nuclear action:

Iraq bought the cores for the Osirak reactor from France. Originally they were to be shipped to Iraq in April of 1979, but shortly before their departure an explosion ripped through the warehouse that held them. An organization calling itself the French Ecological Group, which had never been heard of before (and hasn't been heard from since), claimed responsibility. Shipment was delayed for six months while the cores were repaired.

The next year Yahya al-Meshad, an important scientist in Iraq's nuclear program, arrived in France to test fuel for the reactor. The morning he was to return home a maid entered his Paris hotel room and found that he had been stabbed and bludgeoned to death. (The only person known to have seen the scientist the previous night, a prostitute who called herself Marie Express, was killed a few weeks later in a hit-and-run accident. The culprit was never found.) Soon afterward workers at firms supplying parts for the reactor began to receive threatening letters from a mysterious group called the Committee to Safeguard the Islamic Revolution. Bombs went off at the offices of one of the firms, in Italy, and at the home of the company's director-general. Over the next several months two more Iraqi nuclear scientists died in separate poisoning incidents.

Not that Israel ever claimed responsibility for any of this, mind you. And it's worth noting that even after all this effort, it still required an air strike to permanently take down the Iraqi nuclear program.

- posted by Ross

- 4:24:00 PM
RAUCH ON THE EXECUTIVE: His fine column is now posted.

- 3:16:00 PM
LIB-DEM MELTDOWN: Britain's third party may soon lose its leader.

- posted by Andrew.

- 3:04:00 PM
HAS ISRAEL WON? Matt Yglesias thinks so.

- posted by Andrew.

- 2:58:00 PM
SUNNIS VERSUS ZARQAWI: Has the monstrous mass murderer turned his allies against him with another round of nihilist carnage? Here's hoping.

- posted by Andrew.

- 1:21:00 PM
BUSH'S EXTRA-LEGAL PRESIDENCY: More thoughts here from Marty Lederman. There's no doubt in my mind that this administration has sought to establish an extra-legal executive as far as it possibly can. No wonder civil libertarians are worried. Two points worth noting: the president has defined the theater of war as including the territory of the United States and including citizens of the United States; he has also defined the war as without end. So his war powers, although moderate in effect compared to what, say, Lincoln and FDR got away with, are exponentially more far-reaching. Because this war is forever, as Jon Rauch explains in his latest National Journal column (not online yet). And countless future presidents will be given the right to ignore, flout or finesse domestic law if they so wish. I wonder how many Republicans will object when president Hillary is wiretapping their private conversations. They'd better speak up now, hadn't they?

- posted by Andrew.

- 1:07:00 PM
THE LAST ZYGOTE POST, I SWEAR: I'm afraid I'm still puzzled by where this line of argument is supposed to take us. Certainly not to the absurd conclusion that Andrew's email correspondent draws, which that if we grant legal protection to zygotes or embryos, we would need "start refusing to sell alcohol to breeding-age women," or "refuse to let them ski, ride horseback, or cycle," because "all those activities can cause miscarriages." (And if you disagree, you're siding with the Taliban - which I suppose has replaced "that sounds suspiciously like something Hitler would say" as the clinching argument of choice.)

Right. And similarly, because we extend legal protection to born children, we don't let their parents take them swimming or skiing, and we arrest parents who keep guns in the house, and also alcohol, and of course there's secondhand smoke and all the other "activities that can cause accidental death" and that are therefore illegal. Except . . . they're not illegal, because we make a rather obvious distinction between "activities that might accidentally harm or kill another human being in your care," and "activities intended to directly cause the death of another human being." So I still don't see how the fact that zygotes and embryos die accidentally all the time bears on whether killing them is wrong - beyond the instinctive feeling that if something happens a lot without our thinking about it much, it can't be bad.

As for why we don't think about it that much - well, certainly Julian's right, in a sense, that we respond differently to earthquake deaths than to accidental zygote deaths because earthquake victims have a lot of qualities that prompt pity and empathy and grief, and zygotes don't. The zygote doesn't have friends, he doesn't have a personality or memories, he doesn't have the kind of intimate bonds that are ruptured by the death of an adult human being. So the tragedy isn't nearly as great as it would be if I were to die, or Julian, or Andrew. And similarly, not all murders are created equal, which is why
I don't think there's any contradiction between saying that abortion is murder and should be illegal, and admitting that there are greater extenuating circumstances - because of the intimacy of pregnancy and the understandable terror associated with becoming pregnant unintentionally - and less suffering involved for the victim than in almost any other form of murder, and that the penalties for a woman who procures an abortion should therefore be minimal or nonexistent.

Yet acknowledging that all deaths aren't the same, and that all murders aren't equally wicked, doesn't mean that all lives don't deserve legal protection. If I shoot a mother of four, it's a much greater tragedy than if I shoot a friendless bum, and you'd probably want to give me a much stiffer prison sentence.
But it doesn't mean the mom should have the right to life and the bum - or the fetus, the embryo, or the zygote - shouldn't.

And of course, the other reason we don't respond emotionally to zygote deaths is because we don't know they're happening. The "zygote intuition" argument would make a little bit more sense, in this regard, if people never felt grief over a miscarriage. Then you could argue - "look, our moral intuitions tell us not to grieve over human life before that life acquires a personality, or self-awareness, or a face." But of course, people do feel grief over miscarriages, by and large - just as they feel guilt (again, by and large) over abortions. Which suggests, in turn, that we don't grieve for zygotes not because we somehow intuit that they aren't really people, but because - unlike embryos and fetuses - we aren't aware of their deaths. You can't grieve for something you don't know exists.

And you can't kill it, either. I know that the argument-from-zygotes is intended to show the alleged extremism of the pro-life position, not make an empirical claim about the nature of abortion in the U.S. - but even so, it's worth pointing out that no abortion clinic is in the zygote-killing business. They're in the embryo and fetus-killing business, because by the time anyone knows they're pregnant, the zygote is all grown up. So if for some reason we decided to move to an entirely intuition-based abortion regime, our zygote intuitions wouldn't really matter much anyway - only our embryo and fetus intuitions would.

- posted by Ross

- 12:52:00 PM
PONNURU IN THE WEEDS: Alas, Ramesh cannot even spell "hydatidiform mole," let alone explain why their existence renders my summary of the scientific literature incorrect. Thanks, Derb! Ponnuru describes the emails below as "idiotic," without citing anything actually inaccurate about them. Here's an account of hydatidiform molars:
A hydatidiform mole is a rare mass or growth that may form inside the uterus at the beginning of a pregnancy. A hydatidiform mole results from over-production of the tissue that is supposed to develop into the placenta. The placenta normally nourishes a fetus during pregnancy. Instead, these tissues develop into a mass. The mass is usually made up of placental material that grows uncontrolled. Often, there is no fetus at all.
I would infer that Ramesh argues that this phenomenon impedes the successful development of a zygote. Sure. My stats take into account all possible obstacles for the countless full-fledged human beings Ramesh believes are dying in vast numbers inside their mothers' bodies. Here's Wikipedia's account of teratomas. They're a form of tumor or benign cyst. Again, the relevance of this to the debate is mystifying. Maybe a reader could let me know how these two phenomena would affect my calculation of a ratio of roughly 8:1 natural abortions compared to procured ones. I'm jut trying to get as accurate a number as possible, however irritating it might be to pro-life absolutists.

- posted by Andrew.

- 12:31:00 PM
ANOINTING ALITO: Yep, this is where judicial hearings are headed. Hey, this is all about God, isn't it?

ABRAMOFFZZZZ: The Cornerites are bored by the Abramoff scandal. They were bored by the torture scandal. They were bored by the illegal wire-tapping scandal. But not all conservatives are quite as sleepy.

BROKEBACK BREAK-OUT? The Kaus-Rich argument about the box office viability of "Brokeback Mountain" has some more data to crunch. Before Christmas, Brokeback averaged a take of $58,000 per theater, compared to King Kong's $20,000. Yes, it was restricted to very few theaters in blue states. But from the latest Variety report:
"Brokeback" gained an amazing 61% in its fourth frame despite adding only 52 theatres. Focus' Ang Lee-helmed gay cowboy love story lassoed up $4.8 million at 269 playdates, giving it a three-day per-screen average of $13,407.
Pic expanded to just a few additional mid-sized cities and made boffo grosses in all of them, including $37,000 in Nashville, $44,000 in Columbus, and $32,000 in Milwaukee. Lowest grossing theatres are in the suburbs, where "Brokeback" is averaging mid-single digits, similar to moderately performing wide pics like "Geisha" and "Rumor Has It."
Today, the movie moves into the redder of red states, but the New York Daily New's critic, Jack Matthews, doesn't think that will make a big difference. Money quote:
A studio spokesperson says the producers are encouraged by the advance buzz from red state critics. "Brokeback" has won the Best Picture award from critics groups in Florida, Dallas/Fort Worth, Las Vegas and in the state of Utah (the last presumably using a secret ballot).
According to exit polls, "Brokeback's" audience started as women in their 30s and now is about evenly split along gender lines. Straight men may be leaving shoe-leather skidmarks on the way into the theaters, but they're going. Like "Curb Your Enthusiasm's" Larry David, who voiced his tongue-in-cheek objections to "Brokeback" in a recent New York Times op-ed piece, I felt that "cowboys would have to lasso me, drag me into the theater and tie me to the seat" to make me watch a pair of range riders steam up in a pup tent. But I've now seen the movie three times (twice with my wife, if you have to know) and it is one of the most devastating Hollywood love stories of all time.
We'll see how this progresses - but the idea that a movie with bareback gay sex in it would have been this successful even five years ago seems unlikely to me. That bareback sex would be a way of revealing deeper love is even more astonishing.

THE LIBERACE POPE: Say what you will about his theology, but his couture is fabulous!

- posted by Andrew.

- 11:49:00 AM

Thursday, January 05, 2006
ZYGOTIC EPISODES: A reader clarifies something:
Ramesh should know a zygote is a fertiziled egg (an embryo is a fertilized egg that has divided some arbitrary number of times). Sometimes the womb is to blame, but there are lots of zygotes that are defective so they never get far into the embryo stage (let alone the fetus implanted in the uterus stage). It is not the womb or mother's internal architecture that is defective--its the fertilized egg itself that has some sort of chromosome damage or other abormality that prevents it from going forward (could even be the father had some bad seed). When my wife and I first started trying to have children it did not happen instantly after we stopped using birth control--she felt "something" for the first couple of months of attempts that didn't pan out into a positive pregnancy result. It may have been in her head, but then again it may have been a zygote that didn't make it.
The reason I single out zygotes is simply because that's what the theocons have done. Robert George insists that human life begins at the moment a new splicing of 46 chromosomes occurs at the moment of fertilization. The reason these zygotes don't make it may be chance, environment, competition or their own genetic errors. I think the latter is what Ramesh is referring to. Some zygotes die because they're objectively disordered, if you'll pardon the expression. But they're still complete human beings, according to the Pope. Just like the disabled, dying, and even gays. And they die by the millions in America ever year. According to the Pope, their deaths are no less morally significant than those of the miners who recently perished in the Sago mine. As another reader points out, the political implications of this are mindboggling:
You are on the right track with the zygote discussion. The question for lawmakers about abortion is not whether it's a good or bad thing: it's always bad. The question is whether it's a bad thing government should regulate and if so, how? The reason the zygote question is important is because it's very difficult for government to ban ordinary physical processes, and miscarriage (known in medical books as "spontaneous abortion," by the way) is a completely natural process. We do well to remember that banning something doesn't stop people from doing it, it just allows the government to punish those who do. In this case, if it's not possible to determine easily whether something was natural or induced, how can the state legitimately apply punishments?
If zygotes or blastulae or embryoes become 14th Amendment persons, entitled to all the protections thereof, how do we go about ensuring their protection against say, negligent acts by the mother? Could we start refusing to sell alcohol to breeding-age women? Refuse to let them ski, ride horseback, or cycle? All those activities can cause miscarriages, and 14th Amendment persons have the right to be protected from other 14th Amendment persons' harm, intentional or otherwise. If one objected to the Taliban, one cannot coutenance the kinds of restrictions necessary to protect zygotes from their mothers, who are quite often unaware of their existence.
This helps explain the disconnect between the rhetoric and logic of the pro-life movement and what they actually do about it.

- posted by Andrew.

- 9:39:00 PM
EMBRYOS AND ZYGOTES: It appears Ramesh Ponnuru is unaware of the distinction.

- 6:17:00 PM
SHARON, ROBERTSON, AHMADINEJAD: Here are the specific responses to Ariel Sharon's stroke by two leading fundamentalists in the world, Pat Robertson and Mahmoud Ahmedinejad. Julian cites them below. Robertson:
"He was dividing God’s land. And I would say, Woe unto any prime minister of Israel who takes a similar course to appease the E.U., the United Nations or the United States of America. God says, This land belongs to me. You better leave it alone."
"Hopefully the news that the criminal of Sabra and Shatila has joined his ancestors is final."
The difference, of course, is that only one of these maniacs is on Karl Rove's A-list rolodex.

- posted by Andrew.

- 5:57:00 PM

YIGAL AMIR, SWORD OF GOD?: Bloggers such as Steve Clemons and John Aravosis have noted Pat Robertson's grotesque suggestion that Ariel Sharon's stroke was some kind of divine retribution for "dividing gods land." I did an extra double take (I guess we're on triple takes) at this, however:

And the same thing -- I had a wonderful meeting with Yitzhak Rabin in 1974. He was tragically assassinated, and it was terrible thing that happened, but nevertheless, he was dead.

What's that now? The Rabin assassination was "the same thing"? Because this "terrible thing" caveat notwithstanding, the only way I can parse that introductory bit is to read Robertson as suggesting that Rabin's murder, too, was an act of God—which would entail that God guided Yigal Amir to kill the Israeli prime minister, perhaps even made sure the bullet found its target. Which, funnily enough, is Yigal Amir's take on the killing as well: That he was acting under divine guidance to prevent Israeli land from being ceded. The only puzzle is how Robertson can think that divine intervention constitutes a "terrible thing." Shouldn't he be proclaiming these murders and cerebral hemorrhages holy, even miraculous? And if Robertson endorses Amir's defense that he was only carrying out God's will, will Robertson follow that thought to its logical conclusion and demand that Amir be freed?

—posted by Julian

- 5:28:00 PM

"C" IS FOR COOKIE: On the heels of news that the NSA website had been improperly placing persistent tracking cookies on Web visitors computers, Declan McCullagh writes that dozens of government agencies have been doing the same. I'm not exactly prepared to freak out over a few cookies, but it is, apparently, illegal.

—posted by Julian

- 2:16:00 PM
WOMBS—NATURE'S LITTLE ZYGOTE ABATTOIRS: I don't think Ross' post below gets at what's of primary interest about "nature's waste" when it comes to zygotes. The point is not that personhood is somehow a function of survival rates (as he points out, the death rate is always 100 percent eventually), nor that hey, nature kills 'em so why can't we—indeed, I'd love to see conservatives in general resist the urge to conflate the natural and the normative. What's key is, as he suggests, the question of personhood, and I think our reaction to learning about "nature's waste" is at least a handy intuition pump in this case.

Our reaction to a genocide is, obviously, different from our reaction to an earthquake that kills millions. Still, anyone with a moderately well developed moral sense reacts to the earthquake with horror and sadness. And if someone is unmoved, we can articulate at least somewhat clearly what's gone awry: If it's a failure of empathy because the victims are far away, we can focus attention on how the victims suffered just as you and your neighbors would, had plans and hopes in many ways like yours that have been destroyed, and so on.

Now, my response to learning this fact about nature's "waste" of zygotes is not anything like my reaction would be to learning that some plague had wiped out millions of people I'd never met. (For the reactions to be similar, among other things I would have to feel as though it were extremely important to change our public and private medical research priorities, ranking spontaneous miscarriage of zygotes higher than just about every other illness.) Maybe that's a theory-laden intuition, and people's response to this fact just tracks pretty well their position in the abortion debate. But if, as I suspect, most of us do not now feel as though we are daily surrounded by little killing machines, I think that shines a spotlight on the morally salient features that are missing to account for that relative lack of concern. And I think it comes down to the things I suggested we'd appeal to earlier to show someone who failed to react to the earthquake properly—facts about mental states and related features absent by stipulation.

Now, Ross might say that even if I'm right about people's common reaction to this, that's a merely intuitive as opposed to logical argument. But when we get to questions like "what is it about people that matters, morally?" we're down at the ethical equivalent of accounting for the rules and operators of logic themselves. The foundational question, in each case, can't be answered within the system except in a kind of rule-circular or coherentist way. That's not to say a raw, pre-reflective intuition ought to carry a whole lot of weight in itself, but they're also ultimately the brute facts we've got to work with. Maybe we just need our intuition reconditioned by a bit of reflection and abstraction, as in the case of the bigot or the man unmoved by far-off disaster, but it may also draw our attention to the lack of the raw material with which we'd ordinarily do that work.

—posted by Julian

- 1:46:00 PM
ZYGOTES: Andrew writes:
If you believe that human beings exist from the moment a zygote comes into being, there are almost no environments more dangerous for humans than inside their own mother.
Well, sure - but if you believe that human beings exist from the moment a zygote comes into being, you could just as easily argue that the safest environment for a human being, at that stage of its development, is inside its own mother. Yes, it's still a pretty dangerous place - but so was the environment outside the mother's womb, until the last hundred years or so. A kid born in Chicago in 1870, for instance, had a fifty percent chance of reaching the age of five. But that didn't make him any less of a human being.

And it's not quite true that, as Andrew puts it, "comparing the scale of what humans do to the unborn with what nature does is like comparing a high tide with a tsunami." It's more like comparing a middling tsunami to a major one. There are about 4 million births a year in the United States, and if we suppose that only a third of zygotes make it through to birth, that means that about eight million human lives perish naturally in utero. This is obviously a lot more than the between 1 and 1.5 million abortions that have taken place every year since the mid-1970s - but not so much more that the latter statistic fades into insignificance.

And even if it did, so what? "Nature" kills everyone, eventually. The death rate for people in the stage of development we call the eighth decade of life is probably around eighty percent or so. That doesn't make it less of a crime if someone bumps my grandmother off. We don't have laws against murder because we want to lower the death rate to zero - we have laws against murder because we accept that 1) everyone dies, but 2) it's not okay to kill them.

Obviously, nature's waste is a strong intuitive argument against the pro-life position - i.e., if zygotes and embryos perish in such great numbers, how can they be that important? If we don't know these lives exist, and don't grieve when they're accidentally snuffed out, why isn't okay to kill them? But I don't think it makes for a very strong logical argument. The crux of the abortion debate is whether there ought to be a legal distinction between human lives (which zygotes and embryos and fetuses obviously are) and human persons - defined variously by brain activity, ability to feel pain, level of self-awareness, possession of language, ability to survive independent of their mother's body, or what-have-you. And intuitions aside, I don't think even the most ardent pro-choicer wants to start defining "personhood" based on survival rates. You won't like where it takes you.

- posted by Ross

UPDATE: I simply want to echo every single point of Ross'. There's a distinction between wilfull taking of human life and nature's toll, beyond human control. The argument about zygotes does not logically alter the absolutist pro-life case, but it does, I think, provide context for an intuitive sense (echoed by Aquinas) that it's too extreme a view. The tsunami-tide metaphor may be excessive. But the ratio of natural abortions to procured ones is still around 8:1. As for "personhood," Ross is right again: that's a separate question. I deal with all this in the book. The blog post was designed to nail down a fact.

- posted by Andrew.

- 12:06:00 PM
THE ORWELLIAN WORLD OF DICK CHENEY: Try reconciling what we know for a fact about what the administration has done and the words uttered by the vice-president yesterday:
I was in Washington in the 1970s, at a time when there was great and legitimate concern about civil liberties and about potential abuses within the executive branch. I had the honor of serving as White House Chief of Staff to President Ford, and that experience shapes my own outlook to this very day.

Serving immediately after a period of turmoil, all of us in the Ford administration worked hard to restore people's confidence in the government. We were adamant about following the law and protecting civil liberties of all Americans, and we did so. Three decades later, I work for a President who shares those same values. He has made clear from the outset, both publicly and privately, that our duty to uphold the law of the land admits no exceptions in wartime. The President himself put it best: He said, "We are in a fight for our principles, and our first responsibility is to live by them."
So why violate our principles by authorizing torture of detainees? Why retain the right to torture them even after a law has been passed to prevent it? Why violate the terms of the 1978 law that was precisely a result of the worries about civil liberties after Vietnam and Watergate? And is there any connection between what the vice-president says and what he actually does? My extended take here.

- posted by Andrew.

- 11:51:00 AM
YGLESIAS AWARD NOMINEE: "Weirdos and charlatans and self-interested hacks like Lou Sheldon and Grover Norquist have long discredited the conservative ideas they purport to represent. Their political allies in Washington and Congress may be tempted to defend them. I hope they don't. We'll all be better off when they're gone." - Tucker Carlson, on his blog.

BROKEBACK REVISITED: This time, a kiss didn't exactly go as planned. (Hat tip: Boozhy.)

- posted by Andrew.

- 11:38:00 AM
QUOTE FOR THE DAY I: "The men were taken by ambulances to a nearby hospital for examination." - USA Today, yesterday. The MSM strikes again. USA Today is the largest circulation paper in America. Blogs are no less reliable. The best blogs are more reliable.

QUOTE FOR THE DAY II: "The country's on the verge of a civil war," Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, Tuesday, about Iraq.

THE INFRASTRUCTURE: Over the past three years, I've heard many, constantly shifting defenses of administration policy in Iraq after the fall of Baghdad. The latest has been that, while U.S. troops cannot control violence or maintain order (we never sent enough to do that), they can protect the infrastructure and push the democratic process forward. One problem: the critical energy infrastructure seems to be helpless in the face of insurgent violence. So we didn't even send enough troops to protect the pipelines.

HOW HUMANS DIE II: Every human life begins in zygote form - a tiny speck of genetic material that exists the moment a sperm conjoins with a fertilized egg. Natural law philosophers, those who provide the intellectual spine of the pro-life movement, argue that human beings exist from that moment on. The Pope reiterated that point in his Christmas message. If that's true, human life truly is nasty, brutish and short. The numbers are hard to pin down because most unborn children - to use the pro-life term - die so soon after coming into existence that the mother is not even aware that she has become pregnant. The scientific consensus is that, at the most conservative end of the spectrum, half of all unborn children die before they even get a chance to get implanted in the uterus (some estimates put that figure even higher at around 70 percent). Of those that successfully get implanted, the mortality rate is lower, somewhere around 35 percent. The most recent research has consistently increased the estimates of early death. The numbers for such infinitesimal occurrences are inevitably vague. But we can securely say that a clear majority of human beings die before they are even a few weeks' old. We're talking about millions of deaths annually in the United States - a human toll unknown in any other environment. Natural abortions, in other words, far exceed the number of procured abortions. Comparing the scale of what humans do to the unborn with what nature does is like comparing a high tide with a tsunami. You can explore more of this here, here, and here.

- posted by Andrew.

- 11:25:00 AM
MAN ON FIRE: That would be David Brooks, in today's column:
I don't know what's more pathetic, Jack Abramoff's sleaze or Republican paralysis in the face of it. Abramoff walks out of a D.C. courthouse in his pseudo-Hasidic homburg, and all that leading Republicans can do is promise to return his money and remind everyone that some Democrats are involved in the scandal, too.

That's a great G.O.P. talking point: some Democrats are so sleazy, they get involved with the likes of us . . .

. . . Back in the dim recesses of my mind, I remember a party that thought of itself as a reform, or even a revolutionary movement. That party used to be known as the Republican Party. I wonder if it still exists.
Of course, you probably don't have Time$elect, so you can't read the whole thing.

- posted by Ross

- 10:49:00 AM

Wednesday, January 04, 2006
HOW HUMANS DIE: Thanks so much for your numerous responses to the zygote question. I'm deluged with information in a matter of hours, so no need for more. I'll write up a post detailing what I found out for tomorrow's Dish. But the bottom line is clear: if you believe that human beings exist from the moment a zygote comes into being, there are almost no environments more dangerous for humans than inside their own mother.

- 8:14:00 PM

A PENNY (OR MORE) FOR YOUR THOUGHTS: If Doug Bandow's farewell column on the muddled intersection of money and punditry has a faintly self-serving, "all the kids are doing it" odor to it, I think it nevertheless raises an important point—one I'm inclined to take a little further, actually. If accepting a direct payment to write an op-ed on a particular topic without disclosing the payment is pretty obviously improper, there is, as Bandow observes, a big gray area involving indirect support by way of institutions, or more tenuous links where a writer has previously done unrelated work for some party with an interest in a topic she later writes about.

I don't worry a great deal about these things. I do occasionally worry, in my own case, about the self-reinforcing nature of Beltway opinion work. Put it this way: I work at a wonderfully non-dogmatic libertarian periodical, where I've never felt any pressure to toe a particular line or hush up one of my various heresies from a "pure" libertarian position. I'm quite sure my friends who're also political comrades wouldn't launch some kind of Amish-style shunning if my own views moved to the left (say), and the many liberals in my social circle would probably pat me on the back and congratulate me on having seen the light. I expect I'd be perfectly happy writing apolitical stuff or going back to graduate school. Still, there's a pretty clear sense in which it would be both socially and professionally awkward if, over a few months of rumination, I decided that A Theory of Justice were pretty much dead-on after all. And I'm 26; doubtless that's far more the case for someone who's been, in effect, a professional ideologue (which is more or less what I am) for several decades.

Now, the market value of my opinion is low enough that nobody's ever bothered to try buying it—but if they did, I expect it would be an easy enough lure to resist precisely because it would be so obvious and clear-cut, the devil approaching with horns protruding and eyes glowing red. It's the background pressure of an ideological community that I find more worrying, because the way it operates is far more subtle. At the end of the day, you can't really be sure you wouldn't have changed your mind on this or that issue in a different context, because there's no big flashy crisis point—instead you're looking for the dog that didn't bark, the internal dialogue you didn't bother having because (as you and all your friends know) such-and-such counterargument isn't worth taking all that seriously anyway.

That kind of pressure, I hasten to add, is pretty clearly not "improper" in the sense of running counter to canons of journalistic ethics. It's probably an inevitable upshot of having a commmunity or a social network. But from the point of view of personal, more than professional, integrity, it's the kind of "contamination" I find most troubling.

—posted by Julian

- 7:43:00 PM
QUOTE FOR THE DAY: So Marion Barry was robbed at gunpoint last night, and he wasn't best pleased:
"There is a sort of an unwritten code in Washington, among the underworld and the hustlers and these other guys, that I am their friend," Barry said at an afternoon news conference in which he described the robbery in detail. "I don't advocate what they do. I advocate conditions to change what they do. I was a little hurt that this betrayal did happen."
Somewhere in here, there's a joke about liberals who get mugged by reality, but I can't quite put my finger on it . . .

- posted by Ross

- 6:09:00 PM
A ZYGOTIC BLEG: Here's a question. I'm working on a section of my book that deals with abortion. I've read a bunch of scientific sources and have varying answers to a simple question. The question is: what proportion of human zygotes successfully make it to being born babies, without being impeded by deliberate human intervention? A zygote is the very first entity that can be called human life: it's the speck containing 46 chromosomes that exists the moment after conception. According to advocates of the new natural law (Aquinas differed), all these zygotes are fully-fledged human beings. What percentage of these human beings perish by the cruellty of nature in their mothers' wombs? I've heard estimates from 50 to 80 percent death-rates. Maybe it's impossible to get more accurate figures. But I'm frustrated by not finding anything definitive. I'm not looking to get into an argument here, merely trying to nail down a fact. I'll pass on what I find out.

- posted by Andrew.

- 6:02:00 PM
THE MSM AND SAGO: The misreporting of Sago could well be another crippling blow to the credibility of the mainstream media. Isn't relying on unverified sources and broadcasting them before double-checking what blogs were supposed to do?

THE RELIGIOUS RIGHT VERSUS GAYS: The Muslim mainstream, that is.

- posted by Andrew.

- 1:54:00 PM
ABRAMOFF AND SAGO: Maybe there's a budding connection. What happens when coal executives spend lots of money on Republican politicians? A looser regulatory and safety regime? Kevin Drum lays out the potential political impact of this tragic story, and my old friend, Clara Bingham, exposed the background last year. You want to wean working class whites off the GOP? This horrible story might be of some help.

- posted by Andrew.

- 1:44:00 PM
GINGRICH KNIFES DELAY: In the front. With plenty of witnesses.

- posted by Andrew.

- 1:36:00 PM
HALF A MILL: That's what appears to have coaxed Ana Marie Cox out of blogging. Two years of blogging (some of it part-time) and you get to be a demi-millionaire. I'd say that's a sign of the times, wouldn't you?

- posted by Andrew.

- 1:28:00 PM
THE LIST: Here's the entire roster of the recipients of Jack Abramoff's largess. Enjoy. (Hat tip: Petrelis.)

- posted by Andrew.

- 1:00:00 PM
AND DEATH SHALL HAVE NO DOMINION: In a year of war, tsunami and hurricane, what just happened in the West Virginia mine might feel like a small tragedy, but then again where death is involved there are no small tragedies. And the twist of the knife - the false reports that twelve miners survived, and the premature celebrations - makes it that much more unbearable.

This is the point where Christians often murmur something about the mystery of suffering, or God's mysterious ways. There is a mystery associated with suffering, but in general the language that David Hart used, following the tsunami, seems more appropriate to me - that "when confronted by the sheer savage immensity of worldly suffering . . . no Christian is licensed to utter odious banalities about God's inscrutable counsels or blasphemous suggestions that all this mysteriously serves God's good ends. We are permitted only to hate death and waste and the imbecile forces of chance that shatter living souls, to believe that creation is in agony in its bonds, to see this world as divided between two kingdoms - knowing all the while that it is only charity that can sustain us against 'fate,' and that must do so until the end of days."

There's a trend in religious thought lately that dismisses the whole idea of heaven, of resurrection and eternal life and a redeemed creation, as anachronistic and spiritually immature. I wrote about it a little bit here, but it's best embodied by a recent Harper's essay on "The Scars of a Christian Inheritance," in which the author, Scott Korb, offers this bit of wisdom:
Focusing on confession and love of the here and now may be just the right way to stomach this Christian legacy I'm living under. I can let go of both the ancient miracle of the Resurrection and the modern miracle Catholics experience when priests change bread and wine into the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. In fact, I must let go of these most basic elements of Catholicism that point to the afterlife, salvation, and personal, eternal reward. But why? Karen Armstrong, a former nun turned religious scholar, who is also not interested in the afterlife, has answered this question well: the afterlife is about preserving your ego "eternally in optimum conditions." It's that sort of egotism that God would have us let go of, and that builds walls between people.
You know, I very much doubt that when the miners' families in West Virginia hope and pray for a resurrection of the body and a life everlasting, they're indulging in "egotism," or throwing up walls against God or each other. And yes, I'm taking a cheap shot - but sometimes cheap shots can get at an essential truth, which is that Christianity is about the conquest of death, not its enlightened acceptance, and that in the absence of a resurrection, no pious words can make either the miners' deaths or our own anything but a horror.

- posted by Ross

- 12:52:00 PM
THE HIGH COST OF LIVING: Economist Steven Landsburg had an interesting piece at Slate yesterday on the case of Tirhas Habtegiris, a terminal cancer patient whose ventilator was disconnected after she proved unable to pay her hospital bills. Various bloggers on the left howled that "economic considerations" factored in such a decision—while Landsburg argues that they should. Kevin Drum calls it a "condescending, juvenile, obtuse, and soul cankered" effort that reads like "it was written by a native of Alpha Centauri trying to parody Ayn Rand," and his commenters trot out some predictable tongue clucking about heartless economists who know the price of everything and the value of nothing. While here the critics are mostly on the left, the argument parallels closely what you'll hear from opponents of assisted suicide on the right: revulsion at the prospect that terminal patients might make decisions about when to end their lives on the basis of "economic considerations." I'm with Landsburg: It seems mad not to allow economic considerations to play a role—that's not heartlessness so much as the ethical equivalent of refusing to let your genitals do the thinking for you.

RESCUE RANGERS: What's at issue here, in part, is what bioethicists sometimes call the "rescue principle": the idea that scarce (medical) resources are to be devoted to the cases in the most dire need, rather than in the way they'll produce the greatest overall benefit. And that has some intuitive appeal, but some equally intuitively unappealing results—not to mention, as Landsburg notes, being wildly out of whack with how most ordinary people make decisions the rest of the time. Every time you drive or take a bus rather than flying somewhere because driving is cheaper, you're implicitly accepting a higher risk of accident as part of that tradeoff. For that matter, every time you catch a movie instead of jogging or have that slice of chocolate cake instead of a salad, you're making an "economic" decision about allocation of scarce resources, and not allocating in favor of maximizing lifespan. Someone who actually consistently acted as though health were lexically prior to all other values would probably strike us as a bit loopy. But we then have this weirdly asymmetric attitude when dealing not with risks prospectively but with remedies for conditions that have actually manifested. In the hospital room, we say life is priceless. But a hundred times a day, our decisions suggest we don't really think so.

Medicine—despite the popularity of the phrase—never actually "saves" lives; at best it leases them back from oblivion for a while longer. So the actual choices we face in medicine aren't ever really of the form "how much is this life worth?" but rather "how much is it worth to prolong this life another day, or week, or month?" And, of course, since there's not an objective answer to that question, it's just as well that mostly those are decisions made by each person about her own life. But we've also got cases like these, where someone else has to make the call. The rhetorically appealing answer is that we should treat the value of life as infinite for each increment. But it's also a slightly crazy answer. As Landsburg points out, pretty much nobody actually makes that call about her own life. Our public spending across the board certainly doesn't suggest that sort of priority. And even if we did think that were the case, it would be hard to see why a rescue-principle approach would be the one we chose. Because of our time-asymmetrical attitudes, we end up willing to prolong a fading life "at any cost" when the resources devoted to that care would probably do a lot more life-prolonging in some more preventative capacity. But why does it make sense to bias outlays in favor of the most urgent cases, when this only guarantees that there will be more urgent cases—the ones who got less care at earlier stages because we were devoting vast sums to that extra month on a respirator—in the future?

TIME'S WINGED CHARIOT GETS STUCK IN TRAFFIC: The question becomes more pointed the better our medical technology gets. If my colleague Ron Bailey is right, eventually we'll all just be nanotech-enhanced cyborgs who stay physically about 30 years old for centuries. I'm looking forward to it. But in the meantime, we're facing the prospect of being able to prolong life in tiny increments at ever higher costs. If we took the rescue principle seriously in its most extreme form, we could probably, eventually, devote all our medical resources to eking out a few more days for people on the verge of death.

If we could, but wouldn't, then we're already dealing in the language of tradeoffs. And that, more or less by definition, means paying attention to "economic considerations." What really bothers most people about this case, I assume, is not that they think people always ought to have their lives prolonged at any cost for any increment, but that there was something unjust about the poverty that prevented this particular woman from having insurance. And that's a fair objection, but it's super important, I think, to keep the spheres of argument distinct to the extent possible: There's one question about economic justice, whether someone has a share of resources we think is adequate to give someone a fair range of real options—to put food on the table and also, if she wants it, provide for medical insurance. There's a distinct question about how we react once people have disposed of just shares as they see fit and still find themselves in dire medical straits. As I suggested, technology will eventually make that an issue even for the affluent, as it increasingly becomes possible to squeeze out a few more weeks for a few more millions.

With that in mind, we can reframe the question this way: Do we really have one question, about economic justice, where there's only a further, distinct-seeming question about justice in health care because people are trying to correct for perceived injustice on that front. Or is it, rather, that there's a really distinct sphere of justice for healthcare, where even after someone's disposed of their fair share of wealth, we're obligated to treat life extension (and maybe only or especially at the verge of death) as of infinite value, even if the person herself didn't or wouldn't have? Landsburg's catching flak for having answered the second question, I think correctly, in the negative, without really acknowledging the first question properly. But the answer to the second question still ought to be in the negative, and we're apt to arrive at some profoundly screwed up ideas about medical ethics and health policy if concerns on the first front push us to confuse it with the second.

- posted by Julian.

- 12:20:00 PM
THE PRESIDENCY UNBOUND: You can say this for the president. The powers he seized after 9/11 have indeed apparently helped neuter al Qaeda as we once knew it. That's a big deal and a big achievement. We haven't been attacked since: another big deal, in my book. But the flip-side of unchecked executive power is also the chance of self-reinforcing error (WMD intelligence) and abuse of power (authorizing torture against domestic and international law). Here's a nugget from the Risen book, as reported by Time, that gives a concrete example:
Risen devotes a chapter to Sawsan Alhaddad, an Iraqi American recruited by the CIA as part of a "Hail Mary" prewar effort to gain intelligence on Saddam Hussein's weapons program by tapping the relatives of Iraqi scientists. Alhaddad was one of at least 30 Iraqi expatriates who risked their lives to travel to Iraq to ask their relatives about Saddam's arsenal. According to Risen, all of them reported that Iraq had abandoned its WMD program - but the CIA never informed the White House.
The founders divided government for a good reason. It may be time to tame the prince.

REMEMBER TIA? That was John Poindexter's much-ridiculed 2002 proposal for "Total Information Awareness" - a domestic spying program that was hooted down as way over the line in the balance between security and liberty. Turns out, in the super-secret and illegal NSA program, we got something much more invasive than even Poindexter envisioned:
Adm. John Poindexter, TIA's creator, believed in the potential intelligence benefits of data-mining broadband communications, but he was also well aware of the potential for excess. "We need a much more systematic approach" to data-mining and privacy protection, Poindexter said at a 2002 conference in Anaheim, Calif., sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Poindexter envisioned a "privacy appliance," a device that would strip any identifiers from the information — such as names or addresses — so that government miners could see only patterns. Then if there was reason to believe that the information belonged to a group that was planning an attack, the government could seek a warrant and disable the privacy control for that specific data. TIA funded research on a privacy appliance at the Palo Alto Research Center, a subsidiary of Xerox Corp. "The idea is that this device, cryptographically protected to prevent tampering, would ensure that no one could abuse private information without an immutable digital record of their misdeeds," according to a 2003 government report to Congress about TIA. "The details of the operation of the appliance would be available to the public."
No such protection exists for the NSA snooping program. Bush just decided that as a law-free commander-in-chief, he could spy on any American he wanted to. And no one laughed.

REPUBLICAN WIRE-TAPPING: More common than you'd think. Here's a PDF report on deployment of domestic wiretapping in anti-trust enforcement by the Justice Department. The law authorizing such domestic taps was passed last year. Under the Republicans, government doesn't just get bigger and bigger; it gets progressively more invasive. Yep: under the Republicans.

ANDERSON UNPLUGGED: He won't dye his hair and he reads this blog. Respek.

THE NEA EXPOSED: A little glimpse into the political activities of the union dedicated to keeping American education mediocre.

- posted by Andrew.

- 1:24:00 AM

Tuesday, January 03, 2006
TRANNY BARBIE? The religious right has another conniption.

- posted by Andrew.

- 5:45:00 PM
PERPETUAL PEACE?: I see Cato is hosting (and streaming over the Web) an interesting looking event next week with Columbia's Jack Snyder and U Penn's Edward Mansfield about their new book Electing to Fight: Why Emerging Democracies Go to War. I spoke briefly to Snyder, after reading a chunk of his previous book on this topic, about a year back while working on a short squib on the rather more radical ideas of Princeton political scientist Joanne Gowa, a skeptic of the democratic peace hypothesis. Without going so far as to endorse Gowa's critique in all its particulars, she and Snyder are a useful antidote to the assumption that, from the point of view of promoting stability and security, "spreading democracy" (in the formal sense of popular elections) is some kind of silver bullet. What would likely be effective to that end is the spread of liberal democracy—which entails cultivating a whole complex of mores and institutions. It is, of course, much easier to focus on flashier, more photogenic milestones like lines of purple-fingered voters outside polling stations. But as Snyder and Mansfield make clear, it may also be dangerous.

—posted by Julian

- 3:34:00 PM
REALISM AND THE NEOCONS: There's a smackdown debate on conservative foreign policy in the correspondence section of Commentary. Check it out.

ALITO AND EXECUTIVE POWER: It's why he was nominated, why Miers was nominated and why Roberts was nominated. They all believe in an executive branch on steroids - the kind of thing conservatives once worried about. Sandy Levinson elaborates here.

TORTURE IN BURMA: The Burmese regime is one of the most odious and nutty on the planet. Read this account of torture in Burmese prisons. Now remember that, according to the Wall Street Journal, James Taranto, Mark Levin, Rich Lowry, John Yoo, and many others, nothing detailed in this account qualifies as torture at all.

A FIRST AMENDMENT FOR BRITAIN? A good idea from what looks like a stimulating book, "The Retreat of Reason."

TACKLING JESUS: Not an easy decision.

- posted by Andrew.

- 3:32:00 PM
THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER: One of the risks associated with certain ongoing socioeconomic trends - the upper class getting richer, the middle class shrinking, the barriers to social mobility increasing as a college diploma becomes ever-more essential - is that the twenty-first century U.S. will end up looking more and more like class-bound Europe, or worse, Latin America. Let's just hope that hunting isn't a leading indicator: it's long been a much more democratic and working-class pastime here than in Europe, but Christina Larson argues that it's now often too pricey for many Americans to afford.

NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTIONS: For politicians, from N. Gregory Mankiw, and worth a read by left and right alike.

- posted by Ross

- 1:09:00 PM
WHAT IF MENCKEN BLOGGED? Jack Shafer wonders whether it's true that H. L. Mencken actually produced 70 million words in his lifetime. He reckons it's more in the 5 million range. But what if he'd been a blogger, as I suspect he would be if he were alive today? I just counted up the words typed into this blog over 2005. I say "typed" because a chunk of them are quotes or emails from readers and the like. Nevertheless, at 530,000 words a year, a blogger could match Mencken's lifetime record in a decade. Six years and counting ...

THE MEDIA VERSUS ISRAEL: A round-up of last year's worse anti-Israel bias.

CONSERVATIVES AGAINST WIRE-TAPPING: Remember when conservatives believed in restraining government power, not allowing it to spend as if there were no tomorrow and to let it wiretap citizens without so much as the flimsiest of rubber-stamping court checks? It turns out there are still some conservatives willing to resist the imposition of an above-the-law executive. Digby cites several sources here. Glenn Greenwald surveys the scene here. Bill Safire is on board. Even one priest in the Bush-cult called Powerline has demurred. Cato has suggested that if the president can simply break the law when he feels like it in pursuing the war on terror, why bother with the Patriot Act at all? Or the McCain Amendment?

- posted by Andrew.

- 12:04:00 PM

Monday, January 02, 2006
EMAIL OF THE DAY: "You've stated precisely the right question. It's interesting that in his signing statement, Bush appeals to the "constitutional authority of the President" and the "constitutional limitations on the judicial power," but nowhere mentions the constitutional authority of Congress, which includes the powers: "To declare War, grant Letters of Marqe and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water," "To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces," and, "To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offences against the Law of Nations" (U.S. Constitution, Art. 1, Sec. 8). It seems that even a strict constructionist would have to concede that Title X falls well within these powers."

We're not talking strict constructionism here. We're talking about a president who believes that he alone can determine any policy even vaguely related to a war that he has redefined as a permanent condition for the indefinite future. My best guess is that we've only begun to find out what powers he has secretly assigned to himself. I certainly don't trust him not to authorize torture again in the future. The only recourse is the press and the Congress. The Courts are in the process of being stacked with men and women completely deferent to executive power. I'm beginning to believe that Democratic retaking of at least one half of the Congress this year is essential to resisting the potential dangers of our current situation. And I'd say the same if we had a Democratic president with Bush's contempt for the rule of law, and if the Republicans were the party in opposition.

- posted by Andrew.

- 7:26:00 PM
THOSE "SIGNING STATEMENTS": This is a useful primer on how the Bush administration has tried to add executive interpretation to Congressional law as a way to affect its implementation and potential review by the Courts. No big news that Sam Alito was behind the push to extend executive power. The entire point of Bush's Supreme Court nominations is to buttress executive power at the expense of the Courts. But this should clearly be a central issue in the Alito hearings. As the imperial presidency nudges toward the edge of an imperial monarchy, this issue needs airing. Badly.

- posted by Andrew.

- 3:29:00 PM
A PRESIDENT ABOVE THE LAW: In my view, this could turn out to be the big question of the new year: Do we have a president who refuses, in any matter tangentially related to the war on terror, to obey the law? We know he broke the FISA law and lied about it. We know he broke U.S. law against torturing detainees, and lied about it. Now we find that he is declaring himself unbound by the McCain Amendment. Marty Lederman is on the case. Money quote from the president's signing statment of the Amendment:
The executive branch shall construe Title X in Division A of the Act, relating to detainees, in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President to supervise the unitary executive branch and as Commander in Chief and consistent with the constitutional limitations on the judicial power, which will assist in achieving the shared objective of the Congress and the President, evidenced in Title X, of protecting the American people from further terrorist attacks.
Translation: I will violate this law whenever I feel like it. I hoped we had put this issue behind us. It appears we haven't.

- posted by Andrew.

- 1:48:00 PM
"MSM," MEET "MSB": That's Frank Foer's description of the "Mainstream Blogosphere." Ouch. What goes around ...

- posted by Andrew.

- 1:17:00 PM
ONE LAST ROUND-UP: iFilm's best clips of 2005 are well worth a gander. My favorite Chinese Backstreet Boys wannabes are in there. Enjoy.

- 12:28:00 PM
GAYS VERSUS ISLAM: The culture war heats up in Britain.

- posted by Andrew.

- 12:21:00 PM
THE ABANDONMENT BEGINS: After never sending enough troops to provide order for a peaceful democratic transition in Iraq, the Bush administration is now cutting Iraq's reconstruction funds to zero in the future. Once again: a memory check. Do I recall being told that a critical element in winning over Iraqis would be a massive Marshall-Plan-type effort to rebuild the economy? Was I then reassured that America's military strategy would be primarily to protect infrastructure and to rebuild the shattered energy and electricity grid? Last week saw a major oil refinery succumb to insurgent sabotage. And up to a quarter of all reconstruction funds have been soaked up by security. Now the funding will end altogether. And people wonder why the Bush administration has a trust issue with the American public.

GAY COWBOYS: Been there. Done that. Pudding, anyone? Meanwhile, Ross reviews ...

- posted by Andrew.

- 12:15:00 PM
UP ON BROKEBACK: Well, Heath Ledger isn't better than the best of Marlon Brando, and you can find things to dislike in it without being "an insecure idiot." But it's a very strong movie, one of the year's best in a way - restrained, graceful, and moving, at once spacious and intensely personal. The initial summer on Brokeback Mountain, I thought, was the weakest section, perhaps because it's extremely difficult for any filmmaker, lacking the luxury of interiority, to dramatize how two essentially uncommunicative people fall in love. But once you accept that Ledger's Ennis and Gyllenhaal's Twist are in love, the rest of the pieces of the story fall into place, and the long unhappiness of their post-Brokeback lives - and the lives of their wives - is one of the more effective stories of personal tragedy that I've seen onscreen of late. (Though with Capote and The Squid and the Whale, this has been a good year for the cinema of intimate tragedy.) In a sense, the people who say that this isn't a "gay movie" are right - insofar as it's a story of love found and then partially denied, and the human costs of that denial, its themes are universal. Indeed, it's just a sign of how few impediments the modern world places in the way of romantic passion that this kind of story can basically only be told about homosexuals - and perhaps not even about them anymore.

But of course it is a gay movie, too, in the sense that it's a movie that doesn't just tell the story of two men in love, but advances certain ideas about the nature of that love. There isn't a political agenda in Brokeback Mountain, exactly - it isn't a brief for hate crimes laws or domestic partnerships, except by implication - but there's unquestionably a moral and philosophical agenda, and one that's more radical, I think, than most critics are likely to acknowledge. The film is a study in the contrast between homosexuality and heterosexuality, and the former is - almost without exception - presented as preferable to the latter, as purer and more beautiful, and ultimately as more authentically masculine. Critics have noted, rightly, how Ang Lee portrays his heroes' wives sympathetically - particularly Michelle Williams's Alma - and this is true, so far as it goes. But while the film invites the audience to like them and pity their plight, it also trades in the darkest stereotypes of domestic life - the squalling babies, the tiny apartments and the mounting bills, the domineering in-laws and the general claustrophobia that almost any man feels, at one point or another, in his married life, but that Brokeback Mountain portrays as being the whole of it.

To a certain extent, the drama of the movie necessitates this kind of contrast, but it's significant, I think, that the film doesn't offer any model of successful heterosexual masculinity, or of successful heterosexual relationships in general. The straight men are all either strutting oafs, bitter bigots like Jack Twist's father, or "nice-guy" weaklings like Alma's second husband, whose well-meaning effeminacy contrasts sharply with Ennis's rugged manliness. Jack and Ennis are the only "real men" in the story, and their love is associated with the high country and the vision of paradise it offers - a world of natural beauty and perfect freedom, of wrestling matches and campfires and naked plunges into crystal rivers - and a world with no girls allowed. Civilization is women and babies and debts and fathers-in-law and bosses; freedom is the natural world, and the erotic company of men. It's an old idea of the pre-Christian world come round again - not that gay men are real men too; but that real men are gay.

- posted by Ross

- 10:25:00 AM

Sunday, January 01, 2006
CRACKING THE INSURGENCY: A case-study from the front-lines.

- 3:06:00 PM
CAMILLA, ICON: That's what some are predicting.

- 3:03:00 PM
DEFENDING THE NYT: I think I should second Shafer on the NYT NSA story. Here too. Calame's Public Editor column today seemed weak to me. The only place the NYT obviously scrwed up was in not disclosing Risen's forthcoming book. But taking a year to verify an important story, and getting the right sources to firm it up, is good journalism. I find the notion that this somehow undermines national security a little odd. Do we really think al Qaeda members previousloy believed all their calls to the U.S. were free from any surveillance? Now that we know it for sure, will this change much? I doubt it. Instapundit's case that the only people to blame here are the Times' editors is underwhelming:
Since the Pentagon Papers, at least, the rule has been that papers could publish classified information in a whistleblowing mode, but that they would be sensitive to national security concerns. In return, the federal government would tread lightly in investigating where the leaks came from. But the politicization of the coverage, and the outright partisanship of the Times, has put paid to that arrangement.
I don't get it. This is a real story, highlighting arguably illegal activity by the president, breaking with precedent and creating a warrant-free license to listen to American's phone conversations, with no independent vetting at all. The NYT waits a year to get its facts right and its sources firm. The editors confer with the president himself, adjust the story to remove anything that might seriously jeopardize sources or intelligence, and then publish. What the hell is wrong with any of that? It seems just the right balance. One big issue for the coming year is whether we have an executive that is out of control, pushing beyond legal and constitutional limits in ways that beg pushback. This new information informs that important debate. Good for Keller and Sulzberger for exposing it.

- posted by Andrew.

- 2:56:00 PM
A RESPONSE TO ROSS: We've been becoming our own version of a mini-Corner recently. Lovin' it. Ross makes several excellent points below. I only differ with a couple. The first is about conservatism's relationship in America with the cultural and social realities in certain regions, namely the South and West. Because I seem to leave out the West in my reading of recent Republican history, Ross and Ramesh think I'm off-base. I agree with Ross that the 1980s were conservatism's intellectual apogee in both America and Britain - and as a young right-winger interested in ideas, I can only tell Ross what bliss it was then to be alive. The fight against the Soviets and the welfare state united all of us. But I believe the golden age of governing conservatism was actually in the mid-1990s, in that blissful period when welfare was reformed, taxes kept relatively low, spending restrained, the budget balanced, and a blast of technological creativity transformed our economy and ways of life. Yes, we even had a president then who could actually insist that "the era of big government is over." If Bush said today what Clinton said a few years ago, he'd be laughed off-stage. Unless they'd stacked the crowd with the usual Bush-bots.

SOUTHERN DISCOMFORT: But you'll notice something interesting about the conservative 90s. The West - the former balwark of conservatism - shifted profoundly toward the Democratic party. Reagan was unimaginable without California. Today's GOP is unimaginable with it. And that's the big shift of the last decade or so. The South is a powerful force, and it swiftly forced the West out of the Republican column. Only the pathetic Democrats kept the more socially liberal or libertarian wing from full defection. Maybe if McCain had won in 2000, he might have kept the Western-Southern alliance alive a little longer. But fundamentalism is an inherently expansionist philosophy. It cannot tolerate dissent the way easy-going California conservatism once did. With George W. Bush's ascent and a fully-evolved policy of not merely coopting the South, but becoming a Southern party first and foremost, Republicanism shifted with speedily away from its previous principles and balance. War accelerated the process. The GOP is now a fundamentalist, Christian, Southern party first - and tries to cobble some more slices of the pie onto that base. With war behind it, and gay-baiting for good measure, it still managed to pull together barely 51 percent of the electorate in 2004.

WHAT WORKS: Ross' deeper point, however, is that conservatism shifted to big-government meddling, fiscal profligacy, and religious fundamentalism because that's where the votes are. This is a poor argument both empirically and normatively. Why, for example, did Clinton announce the "end of big government" as a way to shore up his second term? Because it would hurt him? Why did Bush's tax cuts prove so popular? Why did a balanced budget constitutional amendment come within a whisker of passage? These, of course, are unanswerable hypotheticals. You can't run history again; and we can argue about what might have been forever. But the second point is that a political movement, while taking note of public opinion, should say what it believes, not what people want to hear. Does Ross believe that the pro-life position should be abandoned because it doesn't command a real majority? Or does he think that the job of political leaders is to persuade people, rather than to merely follow them? Maybe this is what sets my generation apart from Ross'. He grew up observing Clinton and the first Bush. I was lucky enough to witness Thatcher and Reagan. What Ross is telling us now - that the public wouldn't stand smaller government - was what everyone told Reagan and Thatcher then. They took that as a challenge, not as a road-block. I'm with them; and one step in arguing for a different brand of conservatism from Bush's is trying to explain how it coheres, what its premises are, and why it's still very relevant. We may succeed; we may not. But if we don't try, we'll never know. My book is an attempt to make the case. I write it with no expectation that its outlook or recommendations will ever be implemented. But I can hope.

- posted by Andrew.

- 2:52:00 PM

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