Life During Wartime ...


I've got a new Think Again column called "Everything is Beautiful: The Fox Business Network," here.

Some days it doesn't pay to pay attention to the news

From Today's Papers:

"The Washington Post leads with word that Senate Democrats and President Bush reached a tentative agreement on legislation that would give immunity to telecommunications companies that cooperated with the administration's surveillance program. Leaders of the Senate intelligence committee support the draft bill but it's not clear whether other Democratic lawmakers would join them."

I forget who made this observation first but the Bush administration is admitting criminal activity by asking for retroactive immunity. The administration also pressured others -- in these cases, the telecom companies -- to commit crimes as well. Remember when the punditocracy was so upset that Bill Clinton had allegedly "suborned perjury" in re: a blowjob or two? (George Stephanopoulos was the first person to raise the specter of impeachment on the basis of this possibility.) In fact, Clinton was innocent of this charge, but here Bush is guilty of far worse in order to spy illegally on Americans, and who cares?

"USA Today leads with a classified report by the Transportation Security Administration that says security screeners at the main airports in Los Angeles and Chicago failed to catch most of the fake bombs that were taken through security checkpoints."

This administration is incompetent at everything, yes, but some of this was predictable when everybody was so gung-ho to start a new war. Even a competent government can only do so much at once. Homeland security was always going to suffer while we were out creating new terrorists ...

"The Los Angeles Times and the Wall Street Journal's world-wide newsbox lead with attorney general nominee Michael Mukasey telling the Senate judiciary committee that the Justice Department should not be used as a tool for partisan politics. Mukasey said he would not be afraid to disagree with the president but was careful not to cast judgment on several administration policies and programs, including warrantless surveillance."

Actually, I prefer this headline (it has since been changed) -- which pretty much says it all -- "Mukasey Signals Change For Justice Department: Attorney general-designate vows to adhere to law, protect civil liberties of Americans if confirmed."

"The New York Times leads with the Turkish parliament, as expected, voting overwhelmingly to authorize a military incursion into northern Iraq to target Kurdish rebels. An actual invasion is unlikely in the near future, but the vote amounts to 'a blunt request for the United States to acknowledge Turkey's status as an important ally,' notes the NYT."

Look at how incompetent this administration's foreign policy is. It's almost beyond imagination. Remember, Paul Wolfowitz nearly threatened to aid a coup in Turkey to get them to go along with the war and it still failed. Now they can't keep them from invading Iraq again, and this is the case even though Congress is caving on the genocide bill (with help from the ADL, which apparently only concerns itself with genocide against Jews). People who paint themselves as defenders of the Kurds argued on behalf of this stupid war, but actually, the Kurds were doing just fine without a war. Now they're part of what Ricardo Sanchez aptly terms "a nightmare with no end in sight."

Back to the surveillance bill: "News of the agreement came after Republicans in the House managed to use parliamentary tactics to delay a vote on a surveillance bill that would have placed more restrictions on the administration. There was a lot of partisan bickering, but it all ended when Democrats pulled their bill after Republicans introduced a measure 'that on its face asked lawmakers to declare where they stood on stopping Osama bin Laden,' notes the NYT. Democrats feared they'd be labeled soft on terror (what else is new?), so the leadership pulled a major bill before a scheduled vote for the first time since taking control of Congress. As the Post makes clear, it all amounted to a victory for Bush and an embarrassment for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi."

My God. Is it sexist to tell the Democratic leadership that it would be good politics to grow some balls? People want you to fight for what you believe in; it doesn't matter so much what that is. Pollsters miss this because they are always polling the issues, but Americans don't care about issues, except insofar as they relate to character. Here is a good post on that unhappy phenomenon, albeit in another context.

And then this: "The NYT off-leads word that the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission wants to decrease restrictions on media ownership in the next two months. Kevin Martin is proposing a plan that would get rid of a rule that prohibits a company from owning both a newspaper and a TV or radio station in the same market. "

You knew this was coming back. I can't quite make the connection, but maybe someone else can, but I wonder if this has anything to do with the cooperation the administration has received for its program of criminal activities related to illegal wiretaps. ... Anyway, the media companies always get what they want eventually from Congress, and they almost always do so in an election year, when politicians need to run, in, um, the media. ... Too bad the costs of the commercials from which they profit so handily destroys the democratic basis of our electoral system and helps insure that only the voice of the wealthy and powerful will be heard ...

OK, that's enough of Today's Papers. ... It's getting to be lunchtime and it's killing my appetite.

You knew the punditocracy was not going to let their deepest love interest disappear without a fight. ... You can pretty much set your clock on stories like this by Joe Klein ...

This is really interesting, and all too symbolic. Did Limbaugh threaten a Time reporter to get a cushy cover story with evidence of, um, jerking off?

Typical conservative journalistic ethics? You tell me ...

This sad story about Christopher Hitchens. ("The way to win the war is to kill so many Moslems that they begin to question whether they can bear the mounting casualties"), leads a friend to recall Orwell's response to Auden's line about "necessary murder."

"It could only be written by a person to whom murder is at most a word. Personally I would not speak so lightly of murder. It so happens that I have seen the bodies of numbers of murdered men ... [t]herefore, I have some conception of what murder means -- the terror, the hatred, the howling relatives, the post-mortems, the blood, the smells. To me, murder is something to be avoided. So it is to any ordinary person. ... Mr. Auden's brand of amoralism is only possible, if you are the kind of person who is always somewhere else when the trigger is pulled. So much of left-wing thought is a kind of playing with fire by people who don't even know that fire is hot."

Marty Peretz Quote of the Day:

Regarding the Pain of Others

Marty Peretz, 11/19/06:

I actually believe that Arabs are feigning outrage when they protest what they call American (or Israeli) "atrocities." They are not shocked at all by what in truth must seem to them not atrocious at all. It is routine in their cultures. That comparison shouldn't comfort us as Americans. We have higher standards of civilization than they do. But the mutilation of bodies and beheadings of people picked up at random in Iraq does not scandalize the people of Iraq unless victims are believers in their own sect or members of their own clan. And the truth is that we are less and less shocked by the mass death-happenings in the world of Islam. Yes, that's the bitter truth. Frankly, even I--cynic that I am--was shocked in the beginning by the sectarian bloodshed in Iraq. But I am no longer surprised. And neither are you.

Note: Peretz, or more likely one of his minders, later pulled the post off of his blog.

Posted by M. Duss

From TomDispatch:

Recently, a striking document from February 22, 2003, appeared -- a transcript, published in the Spanish newspaper El País, of a conversation at the President's "ranch" in Crawford, Texas, between Bush and then-Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar. This was less than a month before the President launched his invasion of Iraq. As recorded, his was a remarkable performance, a window into the Presidential mind -- and, as with the famed Downing Street Memo when no one else in the mainstream was willing to put it into print, the New York Review of Books is publishing this transcript, newly translated, in its upcoming issue along with an illuminating analysis by Mark Danner of what we can now see of a President, at the edge of an invasion, and eerily "at peace with himself." More than four-and-a-half years and the same President later, it remains a chilling vision of the man the Supreme Court put in charge of what his followers once loved to hail as the planet's "lone superpower," its New Rome.

Danner concludes with this passage, which might be a painful epitaph for an era:

"Prime Minister Aznar is gone now, having been fatally weakened by his support for the Iraq war and the failure to obtain United Nations support for it; almost exactly a year after the war began, jihadists targeted the Madrid train station, killing nearly two hundred Spaniards and sending the prime minister to electoral defeat. Tony Blair, the star of the Downing Street Memo, is gone as well, his popularity having never recovered from his staunch support of the war. George W. Bush, on the other hand, nearly five years after he launched the war, remains confident of victory, just as he was confident he would win that second UN resolution. There is no sign that his confidence is any more firmly rooted in reality now than it was then. Instead of reality we have faith -- in himself, in the deity, in 'the unstoppable power of human freedom.' He stands as lead actor in his own narrative of history, a story that grows steadily paler and more contested, animated solely by the authority of official power. George W. Bush remains, we are told, 'at peace with himself.' "

Alter-reviews by Eric:

New Pink Floyd and Philip Roth and Edmund Wilson from the Library of America.

The newest releases from the national treasure that is the Library of America are:

Philip Roth -- Zuckerman Bound, whose release coincides with that of the end of the Zuckerman story, Exit Ghost, but compiles the three novels and a novella about Nathan as a youngish man that constitute the Great American Jewish Novel. The Ghost Writer was the first of the novels, published in 1979. It was followed by Zuckerman Unbound in 1981, The Anatomy Lesson in 1983, and The Prague Orgy in 1985. The four works are published along with Roth's screenplay for an unproduced television version of The Prague Orgy. Ironically, though I just wrote what I did, I do not think that these constitute Roth's best Zuckerman novel. That's The Counterlife -- but you gotta read these first. The volume, edited by Ross Miller of the University of Connecticut, is a steal at $35.00. For more, go here.

Edmund Wilson -- Literary Essays and Reviews of the 1920s & 30s; Literary Essays and Reviews of the 1930s & 40s

These are also treasures in and of themselves and give us more reasons to celebrate the existence of the LOA, whose idea, by the way, was Wilson's. Volume One includes Axel's Castle, his pioneering overview of literary modernism. Also included are essays on Flaubert, Kipling, Henry James, Shaw, and Sophocles, among others. Each of the volumes is rounded out by uncollected and rare pieces on Mencken, Wharton, Hemingway, Bellow, and Dawn Powell. The essay introducing Fitzgerald is particularly engaging, as is the stuff on Hemingway, which set the tone for much of what came after it. To read these volumes is to bemoan the benighted discourse of our day. The volumes are listed at $40 each, and both are edited by Lewis M. Dabney. For more, please go here and here.

Pink Floyd -- "The Piper at the Gates of Dawn"

This year marks Pink Floyd's 40th anniversary, and to celebrate the release, EMI is re-releasing a really fancy special edition of their first album, "The Piper at the Gates of Dawn." The album, which takes its title from a chapter in the children's book, "Wind in the Willows," came out in 1967, reaching # 6 on the U.K. charts. It was recorded at Abbey Road, in the studio next door to where the Beatles were at work on the Sgt. Pepper album, and it shows. (Tom Stoppard's new play, Rock 'n' Roll, was inspired by Syd Barrett, and he's written an essay about this in Vanity Fair.) The special edition includes mono and stereo mixes of the original album, plus the band's 1967 singles and previously unreleased and rare bonus tracks. There is also an eight-page reproduction of one of Barrett's notebooks. I like post-Barrett Floyd much better if you want my view but that doesn't mean you have to. For more, please go here.

David Gilmour -- "Remember That Night: Live at the Royal Albert Hall"

Just off a terrific 2006 tour, which I caught at Radio City Music Hall, Floyd's David Gilmour is out with a double DVD set of his show at Royal Albert Hall in London. "Remember That Night: Live at the Royal Albert Hall" has five hours of material -- two and a half hours of the concert, and 2 hours and 40 minutes of extras, including a documentary about Gilmour and his group on tour.

The concert features appearances by David Bowie, Robert Wyatt, David Crosby, and Graham Nash, and the band has Richard Wright, Phil Manzanera of Roxy Music, new band member Steve DiStanislao on drums, and Pink Floyd regulars Dick Parry, Guy Pratt, and Jon Carin. It's impossible to find a perfect representation of Floyd at their peak on DVD, and this isn't it, but it is pretty great, as are the Roger Waters and "Pulse" DVDs. So pays yer money and makes yer choice ... For more, please go here.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Thomas Heiden
Hometown: Stratford, CT

Eric, According to today's Washington Post, "the Justice Department under the Bush Administration has retreated from prosecutions of mobsters, white-collar criminals, environmental crimes and traditional civil rights infractions ..."

In other words, the Bush administration will not pursue its base.

Name: Diana Moon
Hometown: New York

You ask: "Think about it. Who would you rather be? Irving Kristol or Norman Podhoretz?"

A few years ago, I was walking south on Madison Avenue. It was a cloudless, brilliant, beautiful spring day. The windows of the expensive boutiques left and right shone and the trinkets behind their windows shone with a wealth to warm the cockles of any pro-capitalist's heart.

As I walked, my attention was diverted by a tallish man of late middle age, walking north, by himself. As he passed on my left I could see that his face was clouded with distress, his features distorted with a diffuse anger. It was obvious that the unpleasant expression was habitual. I wondered how this could be, on that day, in that place. Surely, no matter what was eating this guy, our surroundings were so crystalline, so pleasant, so deluxe, so luminously vernal.

It was Norman Podhoretz.

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