Monday, August 27, 2007

A Better Offer

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, the principle architect of the Bush administration's torture policy, resigned just as Charles Taylor dismissed the lawyer appointed to defend the former Liberian dictator in his upcoming trial for war crimes.

Gonzales has denied any interest in defending Taylor, but sources close to the Attorney General claim that in recent weeks he has bemoaned the "relentless persecution" of "strong-willed, patriotic leaders" both "domestically and abroad; like in western Africa, for example."

Sunday, August 26, 2007

2007 Travers Stakes, Saratoga, 8/25

This race was supposed to be a cakewalk for Street Sense, since his three main rivals in the three-year-old division (Rags to Riches, Curlin, and Hard Spun) didn't run. But a complete upstart named Grasshopper really tested him in the stretch. Grasshopper is pretty high up on my list of horses to watch for the rest of '07 and into '08.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Max Roach, 1924-2007

I'm of the mind that America's greatest contributions to the history of art came in the years following WWII; in painting and in jazz.

Max Roach is on the very short list of musicians who not only played jazz at the highest level, but also originated and developed the vocabulary associated with be-bop. We lost a real giant today, one of the greatest American artists of the last century.

Here's his obit in the Times.

A Quagmire, You Say?

Last night John Stewart played this interview with Cheney from way back in 1994, talking about the reasons that the first Bush administration decided not to invade and occupy Baghdad. I know this has been making the rounds on the internet since the run-up to the war, but it still amazes me to read it - most of what he predicted came true or is in the process of coming true. The really ironic part is that the kind of destabilization caused by toppling Saddam is the reason that the U.S. government has supported and maintained so many hideous dictators in the past - stability was always preferred to democracy. Anyway, here it is straight from the horse's mouth:

"[...]if we'd gone to Baghdad we would have been all alone. There wouldn't have been anybody else with us. There would have been a U.S. occupation of Iraq. None of the Arab forces that were willing to fight with us in Kuwait were willing to invade Iraq.

Once you got to Iraq and took it over, took down Saddam Hussein's government, then what are you going to put in its place? That's a very volatile part of the world, and if you take down the central government of Iraq, you could very easily end up seeing pieces of Iraq fly off: part of it, the Syrians would like to have to the west, part of it -- eastern Iraq -- the Iranians would like to claim, they fought over it for eight years. In the north you've got the Kurds, and if the Kurds spin loose and join with the Kurds in Turkey, then you threaten the territorial integrity of Turkey.

It's a quagmire if you go that far and try to take over Iraq.

The other thing was casualties. Everyone was impressed with the fact we were able to do our job with as few casualties as we had. But for the 146 Americans killed in action, and for their families -- it wasn't a cheap war. And the question for the president, in terms of whether or not we went on to Baghdad, took additional casualties in an effort to get Saddam Hussein, was how many additional dead Americans is Saddam worth?

Our judgment was, not very many, and I think we got it right."

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Paintings I Like, pt. 12

Barnett Newman, Vir Heroicus Sublimus, 1950-51. Oil on canvas, 7' 11" x 17' 9."

Those Ab Ex rooms at MoMA still knock me out, and I know this makes me a fuddy-duddy (at least in some circles). The variety that Newman gets out of his stripped-down vocabulary is really something; that white stripe stands way out front and moves as fast as a bolt of lightning, and the darker ones lurk around in an indeterminate relation to the picture plane, turning the whole red ground into a kind of semi-transparent haze.

As with most Ab Ex pictures, the scale really provides the grandeur. The best pictures of the genre have the same kind of presence as big natural things, like mountains or rainstorms, without having to depict those kinds of things at all. This painting is, for me, a kind of heroic landscape, analogous to the best Hudson Rivers paintings and certain Turners.

Newman was a lover of the dramatic (the title is Latin for "Man, Heroic and Sublime"), and bristled at any formal readings of his pictures; he insisted they were about life, death, creation, agony, and the end of capitalism. Maybe this stuff is all in there, but when viewed in a formal way, the best ones are nearly perfect.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Big Brother is Definitely Watching

Jack Balkin is a law professor at Yale, and there's a nice piece on his Balkinization Blog about how the Democrats showed absolutely no backbone in trying to resist the Bush administration's desire to spy on Americans. Here's a link to the complete article, and here's a small bit worth quoting:

"The passage of the new FISA bill by the Senate and now the House demonstrates that the Democrats stand neither for defending civil liberties nor for checking executive power.

They stand for nothing at all.

Conversely, the new bill shows that the Republican Party can get the Democrats to surrender almost any civil liberty– indeed, to give the President just as much unchecked power as he might obtain under a Republican controlled Congress– simply by playing the fear card repeatedly and without shame […]"

Today, Balkin posted a follow-up piece about a letter Bush wrote to Congress requesting "comprehensive reforms" to the new law. In a bizarrely worded passage, Bush asks for "meaningful liability protection to those who are alleged to have assisted our Nation following the attacks of September 11, 2001." I guess assisting our Nation is a risky enterprise, especially if the president himself has to shield you from such allegations. What he's talking about is protecting telecom companies who can and should be prosecuted for participating in a wiretapping operation which was fully illegal until this past weekend.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

The Unbearable Rightness of Being

There's an awful lot of things I don't like about the political right, but something that's always driven me to distraction is the way that right wing pundits, politicians, and talk-show hosts have managed to sell themselves as the vox populi. It seems like no amount of corporate welfare, war-mongering, public land-levelling, or bribery can dislodge this mythology. The left, who want universal health-care, stronger labor and consumer protections, and a progressive tax policy, are presented and percieved as a group of effete elitists. If there is any possibility of something good coming from the Bush administration, it might be a change in this perception.

The political face of the mega-corporation, of insurance and banking, of the oil industry has actually managed to successfully fob itself off as the friend of plain folks. How did this happen? I ask this question a lot, and have gotten a few decent answers, and I have a few ideas of my own. But none seem to cut to the heart of the essential Orwellian paradox of the whole matter.

Stephen Metcalf chimes in with his thoughts on the subject in an elite, effete Times review of a new anthology entitled “Why I Turned Right: Leading Baby Boom Conservatives Chronicle Their Political Journeys.” If there is a required reading list in hell, I'm sure this particular title immediately found its way on to the roster.