The Jack Bauer Rules?

I must say, the return of 24 (awesome) in tandem with some using 24-esque scenarios to absolve Alberto Gonzales of his torture-friendly legal opinions (awesomely scary) is a little surreal. It gives one a little window into just how deep the fictionalization of reality is for the armchair terror warriors--their appeal bears little resemblance to the complicated, nuanced and often mundane thing we call reality. Instead, they truly believe that global terrorism somehow rockets 'reality' off its moorings and makes the action movie, and the action movie's morals, come ass-kickingly alive.

That said, the distinction between the hypothetical "terrorist in NYC who knows where the nuke is" and liberalizing U.S. code to allow or at least weasel around torture needs to be addressed head on. Dry proof about the low efficacy of torture in obtaining reliable information, the mushy question of proportional losses in our soft power from torture scandals, and predictions of retaliation against American troops all seem to fade away in the face of the "Jack Bauer" hypothesis. In the end we have to be realistic about what "laws" and "standards" really are. They don't represent our ultimate moral choice in every instance. Life is messy. Some considerations trump others that did not trump the last time. That is ok. Jack Bauer doesn't need to be thrown in jail cuz he tortured away the imminent nuclear holocaust.

Laws on the other hand? They're not really for the Jack Bauers and historical singularities. They are for Joe Schmo who doesn't have any better ideas than torture. For states that have something to prove even if they have no idea how to go about proving it. That is who you want anti-torture laws for. Our laws don't provide for every possibility--that's why we insist on a subjective human element mediating between the law and punishments. But laws do set standards, and they make clear which principles are not to be trifled with lightly.


That's what we call math

Gregg Easterbrook's stupidity is on the radar today with his NYT review of the Jared Diamond book and bewilderment from Brad Delong and Crooked Timber. One of these strings ended in an old post from Easterblogg in which he goes on an incredulous tirade about how scientists can go on about "mushy" alternate dimensions but not allow for the "spiritual plane". If I'm not mistaken, it has something to do with "math." If these people are just sitting around making shit up and leaving out God, then I will be the first to cry foul. But I have a feeling that's not the case. My god, that man is such an idiot.


(Dead) weight

I don't want to seem overly enthusiastic about this, but El Bush's Social Security thing is having trouble, no? Botttom Line: old people vote. They like Social Security cuz' it means they won't be completely broke. Just cuz Bush's communications team decided to leak some stories about how the third rail is dead doesn't mean it is.

The administration has decided to be very sneakretive about the details of the PLAN, yes, because there's an inauguration on, but also cuz they don't want to say, and frankly, they run their ship on brute loyalty not "convincing." as the pansies say.


Coronation indeed

Wonkette has all you need to weather the madness. Watching this stuff really makes you step back and marvel at the fact that this man will be president for EIGHT YEARS.

Also, that sucks they hijacked Susan Graham. Opera singers should not abet Republicanism. And when did our country get sooooo lame? The pre-ceremony muzak was excruciating.


Inconsequential thoughts about DNC chair

Not that it matters, but my money would be on Dean for DNC chair. My reasons are several-fold:

1. Dean is never going to run for national office again, unfortunately, but he has a valuable varsity-level perspective on Demcoratic politics that A) should not be wasted and B) didn't really get to shine during the primaries. He really has a very centrist message, but its a centrist message that's about being a really centrist, not a compromising wuss. Look--there's no viable Democratic party existing halfway between the mush we have now and the GOP so get over it. We need to build something new here that has nothing to do with the splitting the difference. That's not something you "figger out one election season", its something that appears after years of work.

2. Democrats did good things in the last election, and it will be a mighty shame to let them slip into oblivion. All of the talk since the election, if not explicitly backbiting, has nonetheless been an exercise in willful memory loss, and an attempt to pretend none of the last year, or any of the people connected with it, ever happened. Why? Because isolating and ostracizing the losers is a natural reaction. But this is the fundamental flaw of Democratic politics: thinking that your bet on the wrong horse means its all the horses fault, and has nothing to do with the 200 pound jockey or the foot deep mud. There's no reason to throw Dean overboard. I'm glad he wasn't the nominee, probably, but he represented many of the lasting lessons of this campaign season, and selectively forgetting those lessons will only end in more treading of water. Let's praise what works for us, what gets us a following and what gets us excited. There can be some middle ground between throwing all our chips in one basket and denying the basket every existed.

3. The rest of these people are same old, same old. Probably a part b to the last reason, but can anyone tell me why we should stand behind a no-name insider when everyone is complaining the Democratic party sucks because it is a cabal of no-name insiders with no connection to the human beings they are trying to mobilize? Let's remember that the vast, vast, majority of the country will never know who the chairman of the Democratic National Committee is, so why worry if your choice has some "baggage" attached? We have to stop making these decisions with the Republican attack machine in mind (don't you remember what they wrote about the screaming thing? we can't give them more bait!!!) and start thinking about what the people who are really interested in the party want to see. Hint: it's not Tim Roemer.

This whole business about handicapping the race is kind of silly of course, as the job is really a glorified schmoozer and sometime cable TV head, but its what we've got right now, so why shouldn't we make a choice that has some excitement and continuity attached to it? Dean is a great speaker, a man with some heft and power attached to him, and is good talking to people. He shows that the Democratic party is serious about leadership and wants to make popular choices. I'm glad Tim Roemer, Simon Rosenberg, and the rest are providing the behind the scenes backbone for the party, and nothing could be more important. But the Dems need to prove they can make leaders right now, and you don't do that by electing a smarter Terry McAuliffe. When people see that, they see some guy in a suit doing his job, but mostly responsible for people much richer than you whom you will never meet. Dean will simply not come off like that because he already has a public persona to draw on. That's the singular face of the Democratic party for the next four years. Let's make it a memorable one.


Kos 'scandal'

I don't usually discuss Hugh Hewitt here, partly because reading him takes me to a dark place that I should probably keep to myself, partly because its just too exhausting. But his petty hackery trying to make an equivalency out of the Armstrong Williams really deserves a nod for sheer hutzpah. As the Republican party's least personality-saddled online water-carrier, he knows that any negative story about his people need not be disproven, but only neutralized by any shred of trumped up equivalent story for liberals. What an asshole.

Frankly, I think the whole debate over disclosure and ethics rules for bloggers is being way overblown. Look--responsible bloggers who respect their readers and whatever tiny place they occupy in public discourse will find it in their interest to disclose whatever conflicts of interest they have. But these are still private enterprises and they don't have anywhere near the same limitations that media institutions have. As anyone who reads the site knows, Markos Zuniga is a paid political consultant. He is a severely partisan Democrat who makes no secret that his professional and non-professional time is devoted to electing Democrats. A journalist could never maintain that lifestyle, and that's why, hello, he isn't a journalist. He runs a damn Web site for political insiders and hangers on. He has no public education mission, and he controls no media real estate larger than the amount of bandwidth he is willing to personally purchase. It works out because his readers understand he's a pro (and it's a big reason why they read) but they keep coming back because there's a certain amount of trust that he's a pro with his own nuanced ideas. I mean, what's the danger here? That he's going to start hyping a Democratic candidate for pay when he somehow doesn't mean it?

Personally, I don't really have much of a problem with the whole Thune/Daschle thing either. Sure it comes off as a bit sleazier since it is a smaller operation, but again, these are private enterprises, and they are allowed to get paid to say stuff and not disclose who is paying them. The consequences are brutal, of course, but that's the only insurance you can ask for. A) Political campaigns will always try to find ways to shape media coverage outside of direct journalist contact, and B) what are you doing to do about it? It's the internet for christ's sakes. He says politics is his job...if you think he starts sounding like a hack, or want a disinterested perspective on the news, then go read the New York Times.

Armostrong Williams, on the other hand, is A) vouched for by a number of major corporate news institutions with a reputation, billion dollar operations, and huge distribution networks to protect. He makes his living as a disinterested 'journalist' who is paid solely for the distribution of his opinions. He has an integrity to look after that truly is harmed by improrieties. If Kos announces he is getting out of the consultant business to be a full time journlist pundit and keeps the web site, then we'll have valid conflict of interest questions. As long as he is an admitted pro, then you read at your own risk and have only him to complain to.

PS to Hewitt. This, my friend, is why the media is important despite your inane crowing about old media and its downfall. To protect us from your precious blogs.


Post's folly

I think Josh Marshall has the best take down of the Post's real stupid Social Security editorial yesterday, which has some theoretical value: what does an editorial about Social Security look like that feigns complete ignorance of the actual choices being presented in the debate it presumes to write about? A year of reading this crap is going to get old real fast.



Margaret Juntwait is kind of annoying on the Saturday Met broadcasts. But, obviously, she is a lot better than nothing.


Ray of hope

Kilgore soothes my troubles and calmly takes apart David Brooks' dumbass column from this morning. Gracias.

Sometimes I get kind of down thinking that Brooks gets to write this crap with impunity for the next four years, and I question if there's a point to even reading it, much less arguing with it. But things like this remind me that discussing in detail why he is a blot on our national debate can be a worthwhile even gratifying exercise.

It's a plan

The major newspaper coverage of the Social Security debate has really been quite good, I think, despite some abiding misconceptions. Plus, editorial pages are almost unanimously opposed. If the Social Security battle is the second coming of the Iraq war propaganda machine, it certainly is off to a much shakier start. The truth is that A) the absurdity of focusing on the Social Security question now is pretty obvious if you stop to think about it out for a few minutes, as these reporters now have, and B) the Bush administration has no credibility whatsoever to try to take on such a harebrained scheme as mass liquidation of the system.

But ultimately that may not really matter. Reading columns like this piece of idiocy demonstrate that the Social Security reform campaign will be mostly waged by preying on the ignorance of the American people. Straight to the source.


More like this

Here's hoping Brad DeLong braves David Brooks columns more often, i.e., this fine takedown of the bizarro tsunami column the other day. As far as I'm concerned, this is one of those columns where Brooks started out knowing exactly the pathetic little hit he wanted to score on behalf of the administration, but for the life of him couldn't figure out how to pad it with 740 words. So he just wrote some shit that doesn't make sense and tagged it on at the end:
It's certainly wrong to turn this into yet another petty political spat, as many tried, disgustingly, to do...


There must be fire code violations in having this many assholes in a room at once.


The last wave

If you have any desire to learn about the life of Brahms, let me highly recommend Jan Swafford's recent bio. This is a fascinating and extremely well-written piece of history...Swafford combines detailed storytelling with accessible musical analysis and a unique and compelling perspective on the context of Brahms life...in art, history, politics and the mechanics of culture. It is remarkable to think about how much the world changed in Brahms lifetime--at his birth, the 'rediscovery' of Bach was still in its infancy. At his death in 1896, Mahler had already penned his second symphony and Schoenberg was already writing. As Swafford eloquently describes, Brahms at this point was not so much a 'throwback' (his voice and genius were too distinct for that) but representative of a sort of historical road not taken--what history and art might have been had the passions and upheavals of the 20th century not broken so violently with the past.

Brahms, like most great artists, was a master of synthesis, of creating new meaning and unique beauty by pulling together disparate strains of thought, technique and history. That quality in his art perhaps explains his popularity during his own lifetime, when liberal 19th century Europe in a sense embodied this outlook on life. Unfortunately for Brahms' immediate legacy, and perhaps the Western world at large, this sort of hero was not what the 20th century had in mind. Instead of the synthesizer, the mediator, the modest individual, the 20th century would praise the artistic hero which Wagner championed during Brahms' own lifetime: the 'absolute' artist, uncompromising, transformative, contemptuous of all pre-existing codes and morality--a religion unto himself.

The tragedy of the book is that Brahms later years bore witness to the crumbling of his social and artistic world. Swafford records Brahms' response to the proto-fascism and virulent antisemitism which was beginning to flower in his last years as dumbfounded. While Brahms could not have known the depths to which Europe would ultimately sink, Swafford suggests he dreaded the future for the sort of art and culture he championed and exemplified.