Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Così Fan Tutte

For the New Year, two selections from Mozart's opera. We'll start with wit and wisdom about human folly and the wounds it causes:

And we'll close (or rather, open a new year) with the hope and the potential for something beautiful nonetheless:

Eclectic Jukebox

The Best Films of the Decade

I've seen many "best films of the decade" lists along with the usual "best films of the year" compilations. If nothing else, it's a nice way to make a viewing list. Ann Hornaday at The Washington Post had a great reader chat on 12/18/09 about the best movie scenes of the decade. This helped add in many comedies, which often get overlooked otherwise (I'd add the chest-waxing scene from The 40 Year Old Virgin). It also reminded me of some well-regarded films (especially foreign) I still need to see.

I feel that, as a general rule, a film's "greatness" is better judged over time and after repeated viewings. Some of the films listed below are pretty recent, and others I haven't seen a second or third time yet. I've reviewed most of these elsewhere (or for 2009 films, will do so in my annual post-Oscar roundup), so I'm not going into great depth here, but am happy to discuss them in the comments. I'm sure I'm missing many, and feel free to move any film into a different tier – I certainly may change my mind.

The Short List

City of God
The Lord of the Rings
(the trilogy)
WALL-E (Feel free to substitute – or add - Finding Nemo, The Incredibles and Up)
Four Months, Three Weeks, Two Days
The Lives of Others


There Will Be Blood
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Children of Men
Pan's Labyrinth

The Jason Reitman catalog (Up in the Air, Thank You for Smoking, Juno)
The Christopher Nolan catalog (Memento, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Prestige)
Spirited Away
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
The Pianist
Match Point
You Can Count on Me
In the Loop
Hot Fuzz
Slumdog Millionaire
United 93
War Photographer
Grizzly Man
Fog of War

Honorable Mention

About Schmidt
Little Miss Sunshine
Path to War
The Descent
Dirty Pretty Things
The Road to Perdition
Michael Clayton
Casino Royale
The Proposition
Y Tu Mamá También
The 40 Year Old Virgin
The Aristocrats
The Class
Brokeback Mountain
The Station Agent
The Royal Tennebaums
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Gosford Park
No Country for Old Men
O Brother Where Art Thou
A Mighty Wind
Ocean's Eleven
Amores Perros
The Hurt Locker

What are your picks?

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's Messiah

This is a repeat, but it's hard to beat it for Christmas Eve. First, Cantillation with the Orchestra of the Antipodes, conducted by Antony Walker:

The Robert Shaw version is also quite nice, and then there's this one from the Roches:

Merry Christmas.

Eclectic Jukebox

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson - "Winter Song"

Eclectic Jukebox

Arts Roundup 12/17/09

It's all film today. Congratulations to Liv Ullman, who just turned 71. She's quite a good director, and an exceptional actress. Her performance in Scenes from a Marriage is one of the best I've ever seen.

Elvis Mitchell's radio show The Treatment has been especially interesting recently. Two weeks ago, he sat down with director and mad genius Werner Herzog, who offers some great (and unconventional) advice for becoming a good filmmaker. Herzog's mainly talking about his new film, The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. (The title is not his fault.) I just saw it this past weekend. It's not for people who like their main characters virtuous, because Nicholas Cage as Police Detective Terence McDonagh is more than a little "bad." But it's also hard to take your eyes off him. He's shockingly sleazy, crazy, surprisingly effective at his job at times, but always engrossing. It's Cage's best performance in a few years, Herzog shoots the film through with dark, wild humor, and the two of them make a great pairing.

The latest Treatment was with Viggo Mortensen, who's excellent in the film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's The Road. It's an extremely bleak movie (as is the book on which it is based), but if you're up for it, certain scenes are haunting. memorable and moving. Like Ullman and Herzog, Mortensen just seems like a really cool, well-rounded human being. At one point he quoted Eleanor Roosevelt, in a line that seems especially relevant given the political battles of our time: "When will our consciences grow so tender that we act to prevent misery rather than avenge it?"

(Ullman with Bergman.)

Keeping the Blog Fires Burning

("I'm coming for you, Nixon!" )

Two of my favorite blogs, Digby's Hullabaloo and Crooks and Liars, are holding their annual fundraisers. I'm sure many people are tapped out financially, especially with the holidays coming up. (I've seen - and posted on - more blogger tales of woe this year than in previous ones.) But I'm sure even small donations and kind comments go a long way. I've guest-posted both places, and for me they're welcome voices of information, sanity and insight. Happy holidays, and happy blogging.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Roland Hedley

If you're not following Gary Trudeau's Roland Hedley on Twitter yet, you should. He's got Stephen Colbert maniacal self-absorption, but without the amiable charm. (He's very serious.) Roland can deliver all the same insipid observations as his corporate media buddies, but at least you're laugh.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Not One Person Called Giuliani a Douchebag

A favorite bullshitting technique for advanced bullshitters is to use weasel words / a lawyer's lie / deceptive truth-telling. The idea is to say something that's technically true – sometimes barely so - but to mislead the average listener, often to suggest the opposite of reality. (An older post examines Karl Rove attempting this.) The trick to pulling this off is to pick an effective weasel line, and then to sell it well. Getting challenged is a danger, and most accomplished bullshitters typically try to avoid this. When challenged, most will dial up the bluster and outrage in response, or simply flatly deny the facts. If a bullshitter can reduce the issue to "he said-she said" and at least keep the audience in doubt, that's generally a tactical victory. Most bullshitters are intent on "winning the half hour" (as Dan Froomkin puts it), and scurry off before being fact-checked. News programs generally won't follow up on falsehoods later to correct them for the audience.

Rudy Giuliani often uses weasel words (and dips into McCarthyist attacks), but he's particularly fond of a specific weasel move, which follows this general pattern: "My opponent did not once say [a specific phrase of my own devising]." Giluliani follows this up by claiming his opponents have ducked some serious matter that they've actually discussed in some depth. Giuliani's varied it a bit over the years, but I find this tactic particularly glaring and annoying. I also question how effective it is to anyone who's not already in Giuliani's camp (apparently, authoritarian crusaders).

As Steve Benen and Greg Sargent note, Giuliani and other Republicans have opposed putting Khalid Sheikh Mohammed on trial, even thought they praised earlier terrorist trials under Bush. Their current broadsides smack of partisan hypocrisy, but while that's bad enough, I was more taken with Giuliani's specific attack patterns. Here's Giuliani on ABC's This Week on 11/15/09 (emphasis added):

"Our federal system has an enormously protracted process that's going to go on forever. It grants more benefits than a military tribunal will grant. There's always the possibility of acquittal, change of venue... It creates an extra risk that isn't necessary for New York. Now, New York can handle it, there is no question about it, but why add an additional risk when you don't have to do that?

"I'm troubled by the symbolism of it. It seems to me that the Obama administration is getting away from the fact that we're at war with these terrorists. They no longer use the term 'war on terror.' They have been very slow to react to the whole situation with Major Hasan, which was clearly a terrorist act in the name of Islamic terrorism. It would seem to me that this is the worst symbol to send, that this is a civilian matter."

This comes via Steve Benen, who points out that Giuliani's fear-mongering is neither realistic nor accurate. But Giuliani continued with this "war on terror" stuff on 11/18/09. Over to Greg Sargent:

On an RNC conference call with reporters just now, Rudy Giuliani called on the Obama administration to start using the words “war” and “terror” in the same sentence again.

First, he repeatedly praised Attorney General Eric Holder for his repeated use of the word “war” in his opening statement before the Senate Judiciary Committee today, where he’s being grilled over his decision to try Khalid Sheik Mohammed in a New York court.

But then he charged that Holder’s description of our standoff with global terrorism as a “war” wasn’t good enough, and claimed that the administration’s abandonment of the specific phrase “war on terror” was directly linked to the decision on where to try KSM and his co-conspirators.

“It was great to see that the Attorney General said, `I know that we are at war,’” Rudy said. But he went on to lament that under current policy, we aren’t supposed to use the phrase “war on terror” anymore.

“I do think that terminology is important,” Rudy continued. “It leads to conclusions different than trying people in civilian courts.”

In his opening statement today, Holder said that “we are at war with a vicious enemy” who targets “our civilians on the streets here at home.” He referred to “our fight against terrorism.” He said 9/11 was “an act of war.” He used the word “war” and variants on the word “terror” half a dozen times each. Not good enough for Rudy.

There’s obviously a legit debate to be had over how to view terrorism. But Rudy’s actually claiming that Holder’s unwillingness to place the two words within three words of each other, in precisely the formulation Rudy prefers — rather than merely call it a “war” or a “fight against terrorism” — is directly responsible for the mindset that produced the decision to try KSM in New York.

Follow the link to read Holder's statement for yourself, but Giuliani's objection is pretty inane. In "Semantic Silliness," Steve Benen examines why the Obama administration abandoned the phrase "war on terror," and points out that Bush administration officials rejected it back in 2006 and 2007 – without objection by Giuliani. Benen concludes that "It should be obvious, but the key here is the efficacy of the policy, not the semantics," and that apparently the Obama team has been quite effective so far. Alas, Giuliani has long preferred the simplistic to the obvious (and sensible).

I suppose these attacks are a bit less loathsome than Giuliani's normal style. Back during the first Republican primary debate, on 5/3/07 at the Reagan Library, all the candidates presented themselves as the true heir apparent to Saint Ronnie and competed to say "Reagan" the most times. Fox News moderated, and in response to the penetrating question, "Would it be good for America to have Bill Clinton back living in the White House?" Giuliani's answer was (emphasis added):

It would mean that we were back on defense against terrorism, given Senator Clinton's recent positions. And the reality is, in the 1990s, we were on defense in dealing with Islamic fundamentalist terrorism. When you had this debate last week and all the Democrats were up here, I never remember the words "Islamic fundamentalist terrorism" being spoken by any of them. And I heard it a lot tonight.

That one should set off your bullshit meter. Unsurprisingly, if one reads the transcript from the Democratic debate on 4/26/07, one discovers that the Democrats talked about terrorism and national security issues throughout the night – they just didn't use Giuliani's specific, concocted phrase.

Giuliani tried the same tactic at the Republican National Convention during his speech on 9/3/08 (emphasis added):

And [McCain] will keep us on offense against terrorism at home and abroad. For four days in Denver and for the past 18 months, Democrats have been afraid to use the words "Islamic terrorism." During their convention, the Democrats rarely mentioned the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

They are in a state of denial about the threat that faces us now and in the future.

Mitt Romney borrowed Giuliani's shtick in his own convention speech that night (emphasis added):

Last week, last week, did you hear any Democrats talk about the threat from radical, violent jihad? No. You see, Republicans believe that there is good and evil in the world. Ronald Reagan called out the evil empire. George Bush labeled the terror-sponsor states exactly what they are: the axis of evil.

As I wrote at the time in a post about the disappearing of Bush at the RNC:

Giuliani pulled a similar trick during the Republican primaries (and did again last night), suggesting that the Democrats hadn't discussed terrorism and national security when of course they had, merely because they didn't use his specific concocted phrase. In this case, to sell the same bullshit, Romney uses "radical, violent jihad." Cooler heads might point out that insinuating that Righteous America is involved in a holy war against those evil Muslims actually threatens America's national security, but Romney knows his audience – they want black and white, and they want to feel they're the good guys fighting Bush's "evildoers." Romney's sharp enough to build deniability into his language so he can claim he's not demonizing all Muslims, only the "radical, violent" set, but the RNC crowd definitely got his subtext. (Romney also avoided the word "crusade," that Bush used years ago.)

No one in the American government is trying to make friends with bin Laden. And this cartoonish world view pushed by Giuliani, Romney and others is inaccurate and dangerous, as is the saber-rattling and pandering that goes with it. Overwhelmingly, people in the Middle East (and the rest of the world) who hate the United States do so because of our foreign policy, not because they 'hate us for our freedoms.' As we've examined at some length before, invading Iraq gave bin Laden and al Qaeda a great recruitment tool, and bin Laden's stated goal has been, as Matthew Yglesias points out, to "cripple the U.S. economy by dragging us into quagmires abroad." A true fanatic will never be dissuaded, but the invasion of Iraq, and civilian deaths and prisoner abuses in Iraq and Afghanistan, have radicalized many in the Middle East and made the United States less safe. These actions, and this sort of rhetoric, have endangered American troops abroad. If politician and pundits want to argue that war and occupation are necessary, fine, but they should make the case honestly, and avoid shilling fantasies.

Giuliani was in full demagogue mode in an exchange with Ron Paul during the second GOP debate in South Carolina. Crooks and Liars has the video and some commentary (and here's the full debate transcript). Ron Paul was asked about his views on Iraq, and then Giuliani jumped in (emphasis added):

MR. GOLER: Congressman Paul, I believe you are the only man on the stage who opposes the war in Iraq, who would bring the troops home as quickly as -- almost immediately, sir. Are you out of step with your party? Is your party out of step with the rest of the world? If either of those is the case, why are you seeking its nomination?

REP. PAUL: Well, I think the party has lost its way, because the conservative wing of the Republican Party always advocated a noninterventionist foreign policy. Senator Robert Taft didn't even want to be in NATO. George Bush won the election in the year 2000 campaigning on a humble foreign policy -- no nation-building, no policing of the world. Republicans were elected to end the Korean War. The Republicans were elected to end the Vietnam War. There's a strong tradition of being anti-war in the Republican party. It is the constitutional position. It is the advice of the Founders to follow a non-interventionist foreign policy, stay out of entangling alliances, be friends with countries, negotiate and talk with them and trade with them. Just think of the tremendous improvement -- relationships with Vietnam. We lost 60,000 men. We came home in defeat. Now we go over there and invest in Vietnam. So there's a lot of merit to the advice of the Founders and following the Constitution. And my argument is that we shouldn't go to war so carelessly. (Bell rings.) When we do, the wars don't end.

MR. GOLER: Congressman, you don't think that changed with the 9/11 attacks, sir?

REP. PAUL: What changed?

MR. GOLER: The non-interventionist policies.

REP. PAUL: No. Non-intervention was a major contributing factor. Have you ever read the reasons they attacked us? They attack us because we've been over there; we've been bombing Iraq for 10 years. We've been in the Middle East -- I think Reagan was right. We don't understand the irrationality of Middle Eastern politics. So right now we're building an embassy in Iraq that's bigger than the Vatican. We're building 14 permanent bases. What would we say here if China was doing this in our country or in the Gulf of Mexico? We would be objecting. We need to look at what we do from the perspective of what would happen if somebody else did it to us. (Applause.)

MR. GOLER: Are you suggesting we invited the 9/11 attack, sir?

REP. PAUL: I'm suggesting that we listen to the people who attacked us and the reason they did it, and they are delighted that we're over there because Osama bin Laden has said, "I am glad you're over on our sand because we can target you so much easier." They have already now since that time -- (bell rings) -- have killed 3,400 of our men, and I don't think it was necessary.

MR. GIULIANI: Wendell, may I comment on that? That's really an extraordinary statement. That's an extraordinary statement, as someone who lived through the attack of September 11, that we invited the attack because we were attacking Iraq. I don't think I've heard that before, and I've heard some pretty absurd explanations for September 11th. (Applause, cheers.) And I would ask the congressman to withdraw that comment and tell us that he didn't really mean that. (Applause.)

MR. GOLER: Congressman?

REP. PAUL: I believe very sincerely that the CIA is correct when they teach and talk about blowback. When we went into Iran in 1953 and installed the shah, yes, there was blowback. A reaction to that was the taking of our hostages and that persists. And if we ignore that, we ignore that at our own risk. If we think that we can do what we want around the world and not incite hatred, then we have a problem.They don't come here to attack us because we're rich and we're free. They come and they attack us because we're over there. I mean, what would we think if we were -- if other foreign countries were doing that to us?

MR. GIULIANI: Can I have 30 seconds, please?

MR. : No, no, no, wait a second. Let's -- we'll all get 30 seconds.

(Cross talk.)

MR. GIULIANI: They are coming –

(Cross talk.)

MR. : We all want 30 seconds of time --

Everyone wanted to jump on Ron Paul to prove their bona fides with the base. While I'm not a huge fan of Ron Paul, and he could have expressed himself a bit better in places, he was basically telling the truth here. There's a huge difference between explaining the cause of the 9/11 attacks and claiming they were deserved, of course. But Giuliani saw his opportunity and jumped, wrapping himself in 9/11, linking it implicitly with Iraq (which Ron Paul unfortunately suggested somewhat as well), and basically dragging the debate away from adult discussion back to the safe environs of cartoon villains and fantasy. It was a shameless, bad faith effort, and did a disservice to the national audience (although the pander seemed to work with the local crowd).

Joe Biden delivered the best line of the primary debates when he said that there were only three things Giuliani mentioned in a sentence: a noun, a verb and 9/11 – that there was nothing else - and that Giluliani was genuinely unqualified to be president. It was a great zinger, with the added virtue of being true.

In the early going, Giuliani and the press fancied him the frontrunner for the GOP in 2008, but he didn't even make the final three. Nor was this an accident, despite Giuliani's attempted spin. As Joel Achenbach wryly put it:

Rudy may have run the most incompetent presidential campaign in history. But he had a handicap, a fundamental problem, and we should cut him some slack because of it. Basically, people liked him less the more they got to know him. That makes campaigning hard.

To return to Benen on Giuliani's harping about the "war on terror":

Keep in mind, Giuliani, who has a child-like understanding of national security, isn't making a policy argument, per se. For the former mayor, the key here is rhetoric -- unless administration officials use the precise three-word phrase that Giuliani prefers, then the White House must necessarily be wrong.

This may be. But I'm inclined to give Giuliani the benefit of the doubt, in a sense, that he's more a scoundrel than an idiot. He's an egomaniacal, authoritarian bully, but I suspect he does know better, and he's just eager to shill a simplistic and dangerously inaccurate perspective because he think fear-mongering and crusading language will play well with a certain crowd. This has never served the American people well, and there's far more at stake that scoring a few points on TV.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Great Last and First Lines

The American Book Review has a list of the "100 Best Last Lines from Novels" (PDF). Obviously, this means some spoilers, but cautious browsing can avoid that. Their list of the "100 Best First Lines from Novels" holds no such perils.

This comes via TBogg (in turn from Matthew Yglesias, whose commenters make other suggestions). TBogg has a post soliciting suggestions for the best last lines from short stories. Check the comment thread for many reader submissions.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Building Stonehenge

Via Mike Finnigan, this is pretty cool:

Moyers: LBJ's Escalation in Vietnam

One of the best pieces I've seen touching on Afghanistan is Bill Moyers' Journal from 11/20/09 on Lyndon Johnson's escalation in Vietnam. Johnson agonized about the war, and consulted many people, but they and Johnson all seemed to feel that Vietnam was a lousy situation, but withdrawal wouldn't work (for political and strategic reasons). Follow the link, and you can watch the hour-long program in two parts, or read the transcript. Moyers' final words:

Now in a different world, at a different time, and with a different president, we face the prospect of enlarging a different war. But once again we're fighting in remote provinces against an enemy who can bleed us slowly and wait us out, because he will still be there when we are gone.

Once again, we are caught between warring factions in a country where other foreign powers fail before us. Once again, every setback brings a call for more troops, although no one can say how long they will be there or what it means to win. Once again, the government we are trying to help is hopelessly corrupt and incompetent.

And once again, a President pushing for critical change at home is being pressured to stop dithering, be tough, show he's got the guts, by sending young people seven thousand miles from home to fight and die, while their own country is coming apart.

And once again, the loudest case for enlarging the war is being made by those who will not have to fight it, who will be safely in their beds while the war grinds on. And once again, a small circle of advisers debates the course of action, but one man will make the decision.

We will never know what would have happened if Lyndon Johnson had said no to more war. We know what happened because he said yes.

The similarities are striking - and dismaying.

Moyers' conversation with Oliver Stone this week also touches on Vietnam, and war in general.

Meanwhile, there's the HBO film Path to War, directed by John Frankenheimer, and starring the great Michael Gambon as LBJ, with Alec Baldwin as Robert McNamara and Donald Sutherland as Clark Clifford (plus Felicity Huffman, Bruce McGill and a fine cast all around). I've watched it a few times, but I think it's time for another viewing.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Scratch That Victory Itch

Fafblog is always worth checking out, but "Victory Science" is especially timely:

Let us never forget just what's at stake in the war in Afghanistan: nothing less than the success of the war in Afghanistan. This war may be a mistake, a blood-soaked blunder, an unholy charnel house mindlessly consuming the bodies and souls of untold thousands, an open sore on the pockmarked face of history and an abomination before the sight of God and men, but it is first and foremost a war, and wars must be won. If the United States doesn't win this war, then will it not lose it? And if the United States loses this war, then won't the Unites States have lost it? And if the United States has lost this war, will that not then make the United States a kind of thing that loses wars? And then where would we be?

And just as America can't afford to abandon this war, surely it can't afford to abandon the Afghan people, who without the American military would be left to the savage whims of their hated enemy, the Afghan people...

Go over and read the rest. I'll try to cover Afghanistan more in the weeks and months to come, although several other blogs do that very well. Still, an older post, "Iraq and Vietnam: Selling the Stab-in-the-Back Myth," comes to mind...

Sunday, November 29, 2009

American Politics Seen as a Japanese Monster Movie

(Thomas Jefferson's intended original artwork for the Declaration of Independence.)

Marx is the Godzilla of economics – heavy, but not real.
- Unknown

The State is... the coldest of cold monsters.
- Nietzsche

As a teenager, I ran across the two lines above separately, and put together, they made me think of politics as a giant monster movie. Liberty versus equality! Government versus private enterprise! The powerful versus the little guy! Dogs and cats, living together – mass hysteria!

This (mostly) tongue-in-cheek post will take this dubious premise to ludicrous extremes. We owe the Founding Fathers - and Godzilla - nothing less.

Godzilla started as a villain in the movies, but became something of a hero in later films. It's this Shakespearean moral ambiguity that makes him the best character to play the government. Take Thomas Paine's assertions that "government even in its best state is but a necessary evil," and that:

Society is produced by our wants, and government by wickedness; the former promotes our happiness positively by uniting our affections, the latter negatively by restraining our vices.

Compare this with Thomas Jefferson's contention that:

All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression."

Let's also throw in James Madison from The Federalist No. 51:

If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.

Many political thinkers have wrestled with the proper balance of individual liberty in relation to a social contract, of restraints upon and license given to the powerful, and of equality under the law and core rights versus the will of the majority. We can see these core issues play out in many works, from John Locke's Second Treatise on Government to the Collected Political Works of Godzilla. For instance, what is the right balance between civil rights and law enforcement? Godzilla occasionally flattens cities and runs amok, but in later films, he's the 'people's monster' and the only one with the might to take on other powerful creatures that make the populace flee in terror. (Eat your heart out, Jack Bauer.)

The authoritarians of movement conservatism and glibertarians claim to hate "big government" and Godzilla, and rail against him constantly. They sometimes have a point - Godzilla has an unfortunate penchant for accidentally destroying raised trains and other forms of public transportation, and can cause other havoc. However, oddly enough, movement conservatives and glibertarians don't have any problem with other monsters rampaging across the countryside and crushing the citizenry – only Godzilla. Some pretend these other monsters don't exist at all – but most of them actually cheer these monsters on. Even more bizarrely, members of this crowd cheer destruction by Godzilla, too – as long as Godzilla destroys people and things they don't like (such as the aforementioned public transportation).

Godzilla alternatively fights alongside, and against, other monsters. While powerful, Godzilla is occasionally bested by Wall Street, represented here by the mighty King Ghidorah:

(Goldman Sachs is more specifically a giant vampire squid.)

Godzilla must also contend with the Military-Industrial Complex (Mechagodzilla, who sometimes tries to fool the populace by going disguised as the actual Godzilla):

There's also the powerful energy industry (Hedorah the Smog Monster):

There's the insurance industry, able to immobile its foes its foes in red tape silk (Mothra):

For social conservatives opposing equal rights, let's go with a giant Sneetch:

(Yeah, a Sneetch ain't a Japanese monster, but it'd still be fun to see one tussle with Godzilla.)

As long as we're not strictly sticking with Japanese monsters, for the theocrats screaming fiery damnation, let's go with the ancient evil Balrog:

For neocons, Randians and anyone else who fights for ideology regardless of reality, there's Mecha-Streisand:

Legitimate citizen watchdog groups sometimes fight Godzilla and occasionally help him against more destructive monsters (as does Anguirus):

Watchdog groups can be tenacious in their fight against powerful monsters.

Reality-based bloggers using the hamster-powered internet tubes normally fight against perceived injustice, like humanoid robots Jet Jaguar, Ultraman and Spectreman:

In contrast, authoritarian bloggers are objectively pro-monster. (Evil monster, that is. For their perceived foes, it's: "Ex-ter-mi-nate!!!")

Most citizens just flee in terror, though.

While we're mainly dealing with domestic politics here, Godzilla sometimes faces foreign foes (like Space Godzilla):

Some political players, like Newt Gingrich, seek to impose a "small Godzilla," like son of Godzilla Minilla:

Or Godzilla's clownish son Godzooky (shudder):

In any case, if we're running with this (increasingly strained) analogy, anarchists and certain libertarians seek to destroy all monsters. There may be some people who want to destroy every monster save Godzilla, but they seem to be rare in America. "Classic" liberals such as liberals and rule-of-law conservatives believe that the power of all monsters must be contained, but that Godzilla can be a force for good - or at least that he is necessary for combating the destructive impulses of the many other monsters. When Wall Street (Ghidorah) or other monsters attack the screaming populace, citizen groups can only do so much, and the weight of Godzilla is the most powerful counter. However, when Godzilla is under mind-control (a frequent monster movie trope) or otherwise teams up with Ghidorah or one of the other monsters, the populace is in big trouble. Americans don't like to believe we have a class system. But when Godzilla takes a laissez-faire slumber beneath the waves, or shows monster class solidarity and lets the other monsters trample citizens – or even joins in – the devastation can be terrible. Just think back on the last, monstrous regime. The Bush administration let loose the creatures of Monster Island, torched America and the world with nuclear mutant lizard flame, and trampled on human rights like a crazed, sweaty man in a giant rubber suit on a model metropolis.

It bears repeating: the authoritarians of movement conservatism love to criticize Godzilla, but they're eager to exploit his power when they have him under control. Glibertarians are much the same, and will insist that the other monsters aren't rampaging across the countryside and crushing citizens, or that those monsters simply don't exist. (Like the aliens in some of the Godzilla flicks, they're indifferent to the destruction of others, and happy for it if it profits them.) "Classic" liberals are intent on building a system of Godzilla-management that's responsible and benefits everybody. Authoritarians are only interested in power and fortune, regardless of where or how they acquire it, and no matter who gets hurt in the process. They cannot be trusted with the power of Godzilla.

Most of American politics really comes down to competing views on Godzilla. Is Godzilla, good, evil, or a neutral force? Is a starve the beast strategy really wise, or is competence in Godzilla-management important? Should other monsters be free to eat screaming citizens - and if so, how many? A pundit's feelings on Godzilla are as a window to the soul. For instance, can Glenn Beck really be trusted? Is this crying, teabagging demagogue a Godzilla kind of guy?

And while this analogy may seem silly and strained - really, when you think about it, doesn't every Sunday morning political show pretty much sound like this?


Update: Darkblack passes on his great picture of the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man:

In comments, watchdog votes for Stay-Puft as a "good rep for the insurance agencies, he looks good, but is evil, not good for you and is sticky as hell too." John seconds the vote, and makes the case for including King Kong as "the will of the American people." As for King Caesar and some of the other monsters, I already linked this Godzilla roll call video above, but there were too many to include them all.

The Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man is an inspired choice for the insurance industry, or maybe giant food corporations loading packaged food with sugar and salt. Still, the version above, with the Cheney face and hapless Lady Liberty, makes me think a bit of the torture and warrantless surveillance crowd, promising you'll be cozy, warm and safe in child-like innocence as the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, well - tramples on human rights like a crazed, sweaty man in a giant (foam) rubber suit on a model metropolis. But hey, go with what ya like.

Meanwhile, Mike "Monster Keyboards" Finnigan (who kindly linked this post) passes on the final battle:

It's not just classic monster cinema, folks, it's Democracy in Action. (Now if only the Obama administration would do the same to Wall Street scoundrels...)

Update 2 (12/3/09): All right, I'm wary of infinite updates, but there have been some really good suggestions in comments. In accordance with general consensus, we'll stick with the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man for the insurance industry:

Mothra is now the United Nations instead, endowed with a global perspective and special powers of communication. She normally aids peace among other monsters, but sometimes her webbing powers impede good things as well. While quite powerful, Mothra doesn't always get that much respect, because as opposed to being a giant nuclear dinosaur, she's, ya know, a moth. A giant gardenia or (energy efficient) light bulb might immobilize her. Or, as Rhadamanthus puts it:

Mothra's never been able to hold opponents down for long with her silk/webs (UN pressures) or public protests in other nations (largely ineffective nips at opponents' tails in larval form). Even when killed (League of Nations?) she "returns" in the form of new progeny hatching.

The tiny singing women can represent UN diplomats, the smaller, peace-seeking nations of the world, and Bono.

I agree that "giant, flying turtle" Gamera works very well for the media. Quoth Rhadamanthus:

While we may want him to fight all evil monsters, he tends to get tired easily and goes off to rest. Bad things usually happen during this time, and everyone wonders, "What has happened to Gamera?"

The Wiki entry lists several Gamera flying methods, but like Watchdog, it's the spinning one I remember:

Gamera also has the ability to fly. Generally, Gamera pulls in his arms, legs, head, and tail into his shell, fires flames out of his arm and leg cavities and spins around like a flying saucer. This mode of flight had an added advantage in the later films, where he used the sharp edges of his shell to cut enemies while spinning, similar to a circular saw.

Spinning furiously and blindly away, occasionally cutting down evil monsters, but also smacking into good monsters and allowing public works to be destroyed; going to nap, and pulling his head inside his shell so he can't see a damn thing even when it should be obvious – yeah, that sounds like our corporate media. Plus, let's not forget the media's ability to flip suddenly on foes, Gymkata-style.

It's sorta scary that this extended silly analogy is already far more sophisticated than anything the teabaggers or glibertarians offer, huh?

(Fixed some formatting.)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

We Owe It to Americans To Re-Write History

I've been sent this by several people, including Tim of The Tim Channel:

Also, John Wilkes Booth never killed a U.S. President... after Lincoln.

On the one hand, Perino may have misspoke - since what she said is standard Fox News propaganda, but normally they add the disclaimer "after 9/11," even though that ignores the anthrax attacks. On the other, even with that standard bullshit disclaimer, pretending 9/11 wasn't a colossal indictment of the Bush administration on national security is stunningly dishonest. They abused the trust and rallying spirit of the American people. And claiming that the Bush administration's monarchial abuses of power, lies and war of choice kept us "safe" after their criminal incompetence on and leading up to 9/11 is beyond disgusting. The recent book review of The Ground Truth, "The Lies They Told," recaps some of the lies the Bush team told about 9/11 itself, while the way they exploited it has long been painfully apparent to the reality-based community.

Meanwhile, Perino was just appointed by Obama to the Broadcasting Board of Governors, at GOP request...Sigh.

I'm just a wee bit sick of monstrous lies on matters of grave importance.

Well, folks, I'm determined to have a happy Thanksgiving *dithering* over food and football. (I also donated to my local food bank.) I hope everyone has a good holiday. (I have a few music picks set to go for tomorrow.)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Franken Versus the Hudson Institute

This is an old item from late October, but it's great and I never got around to posting it. The short clip is from a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on medical debt. Senator Al Franken is questioning Diana Furchtgott-Roth of the right-wing Hudson Institute. She's claimed that (as Think Progress puts it) "moving towards a European-style system of universal health care would increase bankruptcies." Franken challenges her on this:

A partial transcript:

FRANKEN: I think we disagree on whether health care reform, the health care reform that we’re talking about in Congress now should pass. You said that the way we’re going will increase bankruptcies. I want to ask you, how many medical bankruptcies because of medical crises were there last year in Switzerland?

FURCHTGOTT-ROTT: I don’t have that number in front of me, but I can find out and get back to you.

FRANKEN: I can tell you how many it was. It’s zero. Do you know how many medical bankruptcies there were last year in France?

FURCHTGOTT-ROTT: I don’t have that number, but I can get back to you if I like.

FRANKEN: Yeah, the number is zero. Do you know how many were in Germany?

FURCHTGOTT-ROTT: From the trend of your questions, I’m assuming the number is zero. But I don’t know the precise number and would have to get back to you.

FRANKEN: Well, you’re very good. Very fast. The point is, I think we need to go in that direction, not the opposite direction. Thank you.

The partial transcript comes from , which has a number of other links on the hearings, and the staggering, crippling rate of medical bankruptcies in America:

Medical bankruptcies are an epidemic in the United States. According to a peer-reviewed study published earlier this year in the American Journal of Medicine, nearly 62 percent of all U.S. bankruptcies in 2007 were due to health care costs — and 78 percent of people who were driven into bankruptcy by their medical bills had insurance.

Franken has been doing this sort of debunking since at least 1996 in Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot. What's refreshing is that while Furchgott-Rott is an unconscionable hack, Franken's done his homework and exposes her for what she is. Health care wonks do debate on various measures for reform, but the hacks are there to deceive to impede any improvements. It's doubtful that if Furchgott-Rott had studied health care in any depth she wouldn't know the answer to Franken's questions. Nor if she actually wanted to improve the health care system would she outright lie as she does here (Think Progress links her prepared testimony, which contains much more bullshit). Furchgott-Rott may not be as successful in her hackery as the loathsome Betsy McCaughey, but her goal is the same - lying for pay, all to derail health care reform. If more people die as a result, well, too bad. She's got hers.

It'd be nice to have more honest policy debates, but hackdom is ever in fashion, and it seems hacks are rarely challenged, debunked, and exposed. It was refreshing to watch Al Franken do just that, and I hope he continues.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Delurking Week

Blue Gal is spearheading this one, and has more about its origins. The idea is just what the picture above says - bloggers should thank their readers, and readers - particularly lurkers (people who read but don't comment) - are encouraged to leave one.

So readers of this blog - thanks again! The format of sporadic, long-form posts ain't for everyone. However, I thought the latest blogiversary roundup featured some variety, and personally, I'm glad to have finally finished a set of posts for 11/11 Armistice Day I'd been kicking around in my head for 1-2 years now. It's a big blogosphere, with room for all sorts of pieces and plenty of new bloggers to discover, and I'm grateful for that.

On the gratitude front - I mentioned it last week, but with hunger on the rise in America, and Thanksgiving coming up, it's a good time to consider giving time or money to one's local food bank. Not everyone can afford to, of course, as it's been a tough year for many people. But most food banks make a little bit go a long way. Thanks.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

We're Committed to Saying No, But Let's Debate at Length First

Many hurdles still exist, but yesterday, the Senate voted to bring their health bill to the floor for debate. From what I've seen so far, the House bill is better overall (apart from the Stupak amendment), and many progressive measures have been severely watered down, most of all the public option. Still, it's a big step.

There's plenty of circus to come, though. As Ezra Klein points out, there are many other votes to come, including many other cloture votes. Then there would be committee meetings about merging the bills, and a final vote in each house. DDay outlines several of the other pitfalls, made more perilous by Harry Reid's claim not to use the budget reconciliation process.

Meanwhile, as Steve Benen writes:

On Fox News yesterday, Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) explained, in no uncertain terms, that "every single Republican" in the Senate "will oppose" health care reform. Kyl conceded that the reform bill may change before a final floor vote, but every Republican already realizes that the legislation "will only get worse."

Benen quotes a good point from Sam Stein:

...Kyl's prophecy of across-the-board opposition does seem to undercut that other GOP tactic. Why do Senate Republicans need six weeks to debate and consider the legislation if they're already determined to vote against it?

As Benen concludes:

I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that GOP demands for six weeks of debate has very little to do with genuine interest in good-faith deliberations, and everything to do with pointless delay tactics. Call it a hunch.

The need for reform is real and urgent. Benen also covers the recent free health care fair in Little Rock, Arkansas, and some of the other recent ones. There will be a bigger one on December 9th and 10th in Kansas City, Missouri. In an earlier piece I posted 60 Minutes piece on Remote Area Medical, and more recalcitrant legislators need to be forced to respond to pieces like this, and pressed on how they plan to fix it.

For most of the health care "debate," we've seen the conservative Blue Dog democrats fighting for bad (and corrupt) policies, and the Republicans offering almost nothing at all. (Benen does a great job of tracking and debunking politicians' claims if you search back through his archives, and he should be a regular read.) Back near the start of November, the Republicans finally unveiled their big plan, and... well... over to Ezra Klein (from 11/5/09):

Late last night, the Congressional Budget Office released its initial analysis of the health-care reform plan that Republican Minority Leader John Boehner offered as a substitute to the Democratic legislation. CBO begins with the baseline estimate that 17 percent of legal, non-elderly residents won't have health-care insurance in 2010. In 2019, after 10 years of the Republican plan, CBO estimates that ...17 percent of legal, non-elderly residents won't have health-care insurance. The Republican alternative will have helped 3 million people secure coverage, which is barely keeping up with population growth. Compare that to the Democratic bill, which covers 36 million more people and cuts the uninsured population to 4 percent.

But maybe, you say, the Republican bill does a really good job cutting costs. According to CBO, the GOP's alternative will shave $68 billion off the deficit in the next 10 years. The Democrats, CBO says, will slice $104 billion off the deficit.

The Democratic bill, in other words, covers 12 times as many people and saves $36 billion more than the Republican plan. And amazingly, the Democratic bill has already been through three committees and a merger process. It's already been shown to interest groups and advocacy organizations and industry stakeholders. It's already made its compromises with reality. It's already been through the legislative sausage grinder. And yet it saves more money and covers more people than the blank-slate alternative proposed by John Boehner and the House Republicans. The Democrats, constrained by reality, produced a far better plan than Boehner, who was constrained solely by his political imagination and legislative skill.

This wasn't much of a surprise. If the Republicans had ever been serious about health care reform, they could have done it while they were in power, or they could have engaged in serious debate during all of 2009. Apart from a few exceptions, that just hasn't happened.

As for the politics of reform, and the hostage-taking tactics of the Blue Dogs and their ilk, Matthew Yglesias summed up my frustrations very well back in October when he wrote "Compromise is a Two-Way Street":

Al From has one of these op-eds where you urge liberals to drop hopes for a public option in the interests of being pragmatic and passing health reform. I sort of agree with this—reform is worth doing even without a public option. But what these exhortations to practicality always miss is that this is a two-way street. If you think the public option isn’t that big a deal and it’s not worth spiking health reform over it, then you ought to think that it’s not worth spiking health reform in order to kill it either. But here’s Joe Lieberman not only expressing opposition to a public option, but saying he might filibuster any health reform package that includes a public option...

So far there’s been basically no pressure in the media on members who take this position to justify their extreme level of opposition. I get, for example, that Kent Conrad supports the Finance Committee version of health care and opposes adding a public option to it. But suppose a public option does get added. Does that suddenly take a vast package of reforms that he played a key role in crafting and turn it into a terrible bill? Why would that be? Surely Conrad is as aware as anyone else in congress that in order to pass a large, complicated health reform bill many senators are going to have to vote “yes” on a bill that contains some provisions they oppose. After all, the health reform bill contains hundreds of provisions! Are moderate members really so fanatically devoted to the interests of private health insurance companies that they would take a package they otherwise support and kill it purely in order to do the industry’s bidding on one point?

This is what drives me up the wall, in legislation and its coverage – the "debate" is so skewed, and it has everything to do with Beltway Convention Wisdom about hippie-punching, the establishment and reform, and little to do with reality. If Olympia Snowe, Max Baucus, Chuck Grassley, or Joe Lieberman has a position, fine. They get their say – that's how the process works. But they shouldn't be able to hijack the entire process, opposing both good policy and the will of the people, including their own constituents. At the very least, the obstructionists should be grilled on their positions and their reasons for them. It would great if Lieberman had to explain his massive conflicts of interest and constantly shifting, incoherent reasons for opposing reform. The media constantly trumpeted that the public option was dead, but never seemed to ask an obvious question - if four of the five initial bills on health care contained a public option, why should the one that be the one to prevail?

Why are Lieberman, the Blue Dogs and the entire Republican party treated as if they're acting in good faith, even when there's glaring evidence to the contrary? And why must the media treatment of health care reform always be so skewed when it's not outright inaccurate? For that matter, did they completely forget how disastrous the past eight years were, on almost every front? On the recent Senate vote, NBC's Chuck Todd claimed the vote wasn't "momentous" for health care reform - but also claimed it would have been news if the vote lost. As John Cole put it:

Shorter Chuck Todd: It’s only big news if the Democrats fail!...

Can anyone imagine the feeding frenzy for the next two weeks if they had failed to get 60 and advance the debate? Can you imagine the Sunday shows tomorrow? Can you imagine all the headlines speculating if Obama was a lame duck? “Senate fails to advance health care reform. Is Obama’s entire agenda at risk?” and “Obama’s signature legislation killed in Senate. Can he recover?” and “Republicans, spurred by sagging Obama poll numbers and grass roots support from tea party, stop Obama administration in their tracks.”

And Chuck Todd would be leading the goddamned charge with that crap.

Exactly. Our politicians are neither wise nor representative, and our media is in love with a conventional wisdom they manufacture without regard to (and often in contempt of) reality. Despite all this, the Senate can now debate the bill. There are many obstacles to go, but that vote was a positive step.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Rick Perlstein at The Big Think

Via Digby, who has a partial transcript, here's Rick Perlstein, who's always worth a listen.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Hunger on the Rise

It's just another day in the richest country in the world:

Just one day after a federal report revealed that 1 in 7 U.S. families struggled to get enough to eat last year, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack urged lawmakers to reauthorize school nutrition programs that help feed the nation's schoolchildren.

Appearing before the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee on Tuesday, Vilsack said the child nutrition programs provide an opportunity to fight child hunger. A USDA report released Monday said 49 million people experienced what the government calls "food insecurity" in 2008.

"Yesterday, the department released a report showing that in over 500,000 families with children in 2008, one or more children simply do not get enough to eat. They had to cut the size of their meals, skip meals or even go whole days without food at some time during the year," Vilsack said. "This is simply unacceptable in a nation as wealthy and developed as the United States."

In the 2010 budget, President Obama has proposed an additional $10 billion over 10 years for programs to provide meals and improve child nutrition.

It's good the government is doing something, but this state of affairs is shameful. Let's not forget this story from earlier in the month:

Nearly half of all U.S. children and 90 percent of black youngsters will be on food stamps at some point during childhood, and fallout from the current recession could push those numbers even higher, researchers say.

We can and should do better as a nation.

That's not going to change overnight. However, next week is Thanksgiving. If you can, consider donating some time or money to your local food bank (or doing something similar). In my area, the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank claims that they distribute $5 worth of food and product for every $1 donated. A little can go a long way. Thanks.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Our Trustworthy Media

The SNL spoof of Fox News election night coverage (from 11/7/09) was actually pretty good:

Still, no one can touch The Daily Show. They spoof pretty much every political talk show, in perpetuity, near the end of this sequence (from 11/3/09):

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Indecision 2009 - Reindecision 2008 And Beyond
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealth Care Crisis

If you want a more serious dissection, Media Matters has a rundown on the rise of conservative media from late October (it's good, I wish they'd pay closer attention to sound levels and mixing):