Saturday, January 13, 2007

Low-Life Liars

Lately, I've been thinking about shutting down the blog. I haven't come to any 100% solid decision yet, one way or the other. But I've spent probably an hour or two per day, on average, writing for this thing and would really appreciate being able to devote that time to other, slightly more productive pursuits.

But that's only half the story. The real reason I have lost some of my initial zest for blogging has to do with what's going on in the news. I've been writing Crushed by Inertia for a bit more than 2 years now. For all that time, plus an additional year and three-quarters, America has been fighting a bloody, unwinnable war against a vaguely-identified, largely inscrutable enemy. I have voiced my opposition to this insane brutality, if not daily, than at least regularly.

I just don't know what's left to say. I suppose I could just drift over to other topics and stop repeating myself about Iraq all the time, but it wouldn't feel right not to address that big horrible thing our country keeps doing that's in the news every day.

Here's the trouble with our entire public discourse right here.

At the moment, conservatives are pretending to be shocked (shocked!) about Barbara Boxer's remarks to Condi Rice about who pays the costs of the war. Taken out of context, a bit of Boxer's rather extensive comments may sound as if the Senator is degrading Dr. Rice for not having a family. So long as you scan her comments carefully looking for something about which you might object.

Here's the non-offensive "offending" text:

“Who pays the price?” Boxer asked Rice, who is unmarried and doesn’t have children. “I’m not going to pay a personal price. My kids are too old and my grandchild is too young. You’re not going to pay a particular price, as I understand it, with immediate family. So who pays the price? The American military and their families.”

Not so outrageous, right? She's making a simple point. The Americans who suffer and will continue to suffer for Bush's War are not the politicians making the big decisions in Washington. They are the soldiers and those who love and depend upon the soldiers. I mean...yes. An important point, but not a particularly novel observation. Note, as well, that Boxer includes herself in the category of people who will not pay a personal price for the war.

Here's Tony Snowjob's response:

White House spokesman Tony Snow called Boxer’s remarks, made during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee meeting Thursday, “outrageous.”

…”Here you’ve got a professional woman, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and Barbara Boxer is sort of throwing little jabs because Condi doesn’t have children, as if that means that she doesn’t understand the concerns of parents,” Snow said. “Great leap backward for feminism,” he added.

Oh, man...Tony Snow pretending to care about great leaps backward for feminism! That is classic! Here's Tony Snow on abortion:

If South Dakota has led the way toward a democratic eruption, it also has shaken up the political marketplace by rejecting the popular rape-and-incest exception.

The loophole doesn't make moral sense. If life begins at conception, children conceived through rape and incest are human beings. They are innocent of crimes, even if they are the byproduct of horrendous violence against women. So on what basis should we permit their destruction?

If one argues that a woman would suffer trauma by bringing such babies to term, what would prevent other women from citing trauma as an equally cogent reason for their abortions? Trauma introduces an obligation to pay special heed to the victims of rape or incest.

As a hilarious sidenote, that quote comes from a Townhall column Snow wrote in March of last year. I have pulled it, however, from the blog E Pluribus Unum, because Townhall has apparently removed it and all of Snow's other writings from their website.

Hmm...Why would they delete Snow's ramblings? It's almost as if...they know it sounds backwardfuckass insane to refer to cases of rape and incest as "loopholes."

I mean, let's be honest...Who among us hasn't know at least one young girl who decided she'd really like to have a fetus aborted, but is afraid of the potential legal ramifications?

"Fear not!" says Tony Snow, champion of the Feminist Cause. "All you have to do is submit to violent sexual assault by a stranger! Or, if that doesn't pan out, probably because you are too ugly, simply fuck a close male family member! It's a total loophole!"

So, okay, Snow couldn't be more full of shit if he chased 10 Taco Bell value meals with a gallon of prune juice. Granted. Here's my favorite warmongering, nasty but still somehow adorably befuddled conservative pundit, Andrew Sullivan, on Boxer's remarks, which he deems "vile."

That's the only word to describe Senator Boxer's ad feminam attack on Condi Rice yesterday. There was a trace of homophobia to the smear as well. This kind of attack is like the "chickenhawk" smear and worthy of low-life liars like Michael Moore. We really should be able to debate national security without the politics of personal destruction. The senator should apologize. Today.

Holy fuckstick. I disagree with pretty much every single aspect of that statement. Even some of the punctuation. In fact, let's look at that again, and I'll bold everything that's clearly objectionable.

That's the only word to describe Senator Boxer's ad feminam attack on Condi Rice yesterday. There was a trace of homophobia to the smear as well. This kind of attack is like the "chickenhawk" smear and worthy of low-life liars like Michael Moore. We really should be able to debate national security without the politics of personal destruction. The senator should apologize. Today.

(1) The only word? I mean, even if you think that Boxer's comment was out of line, Andrew won't allow for any other possible interpretation. What about "inappropriate"? "Offensive?" "Hurful"? "Misguided"? No, the objective truth about Boxer's statement, printed above, is that it's vile. Why? Because it was said by Barbara Boxer, whom Andrew dislikes.

(2) Why is it necessarily anti-feminist for Boxer to point out that Rice will be personally unaffected by the costs of this war? Now, if you wanted to do some research on Barbara Boxer's history of questioning members of the Bush administration, and discovered that she had never made a similar comment to a male member, you would have the beginnings of a case. It would still be inconclusive, unfortunately, because the stakes of the war debate have never been as high as they are at this crucial turning point, so perhaps the question never seemed as pertinant to Boxer before. Also, perhaps Boxer simply does not know the family status of all the male Bush administration members, while Rice's singleton status is a well-known and frequently-discussed matter of public record. But you could at least say "here is some inconclusive evidence to suggest that Boxer meant the 'childless' remark as a feminist attack." Of course, Andrew has done none of this legwork, and makes none of these exceptions. He just assumes that Boxer's vile statement attacks Rice in an anti-feminist manner.

(3) A trace of homophobia? Guh? Here's the Boxer quote again:

“Who pays the price?” Boxer asked Rice, who is unmarried and doesn’t have children. “I’m not going to pay a personal price. My kids are too old and my grandchild is too young. You’re not going to pay a particular price, as I understand it, with immediate family. So who pays the price? The American military and their families.”

CONDI RICE HAS NO IMMEDIATE FAMILY! She is single, childless and both of her parents are dead. Is she gay? I have no idea. Who gives a fuck. She's warped and evil, that's all I care about. And Boxer's calling her out on frogmarching other people's families into a kill zone without having any personal stake in the outcome. I have no idea where Andrew sees homophobia coming into play here.

(4) I also don't see any smear. She doesn't even address an adjective at Condi. She simply uses the pronoun "you." There is nothing wrong with being an adult woman with no husband or children, therefore pointing this information out can not be considered a smear.

(5) "Chickenhawk" may be considered a smear, but it's such an accurate and succinct way to describe the critique of unenlisted war supporters, I don't think it qualifies. It upsets these people so because it's so dead-on accurate.

(6) How hilarious is it that he calls "chickenhawk" and "childless" vile smears, and then thinks nothing of referring to Michael Moore as a "lowlife" in the very next sentence. Andrew, Andrew..."Lowlife" is far more personal and vicious an attack than "chickenhawk" or "individual with no immediate family." You're implying that Michael Moore is a lesser biological form than yourself. That he is subhuman. War supporters self-identify as hawks, so the only offensive term there is "chicken," which is something elementary-school kids call one another. Grow the fuck up.

Also, though it's exceedingly common to hear right-wingers call Moore a "liar," I have only ever seen evidence that he occasionally employs questionable reasoning. No one has ever demonstrated to me any proof that there is a direct lie in one of his films.

(7) Why is Sullivan pretending that Americans have ever debated national security in a sensible, reasonable manner. Bush allows for no such thing as this "debate" which you speak of. He's the Deciderator, remember? What he says, goes. And he says, "bomb those sandy bastards"!

(8) "The politics of personal destruction," eh? You mean, like outing a covert CIA agent because she's married to a political enemy? Or like continually questioning the sanity and sincerity of a former Vice-President, one-time Presidential candidate and environmental activist over the course of multiple decades? Or, perhaps, implying that a war hero may have shot himself in order to secure medals? Or using an opponent from your own party's adoption of a non-white baby as an opportunity for cheap race-baiting? Those are all pretty personal, destructive tactics...

(9) Note to Democratic politicans: Feel free to ignore all advice from Andrew Sullivan.

Okay, so Andrew is wrong wrong wrong about this particular issue, a shocking 9 times. It has to be some kind of land speed record.

But he's been right about a far more important issue for at least a few months now. I'll probably never forgive him for calling me a traitor for opposing the Iraq War (not personally, of course) back in 2003, but few bloggers have been as on top of the Bush administration's bungling and torturing (the ol' B&T) in the past year than Sully.

And that's really the galling, infuriating thing about this entire faux-scandal that makes me want to quit blogging. It's all just a distraction from the carnage in Iraq, and when I write about its naked stupidity, I just end up catapulting the propaganda a bit for Team Bush and distracting all of you from what's important.

So here are Boxer's actual comments in context. Taken together, they are an eloquent and, in some places, heart-breaking assault on the war Rice helped to start and run. Notice that they have nothing at all to do with Condi's personal character or choice of lifestyle.

So from where I sit, Madame Secretary, you are not listening to the American people. You are not listening to the military. You are not listening to the bipartisan voices from the Senate. You are not listening to the Iraq Study Group. Only you know who you are listening to, and you wonder why there is a dark cloud of skepticism and pessimism over this nation. I think people are right to be skeptical after listening to some of the things that have been said by your administration.

For example, October 19th '05, you came before this committee to discuss, in your words, how we assure victory in Iraq, and you said the following. In answer to Senator Feingold, "I have no doubt that as the Iraqi security forces get better -- and they are getting better and are holding territory, and they are doing the things with minimal help -- we are going to be able to bring down the level of our forces. I have no doubt" -- I want to reiterate -- "I have no doubt that that's going to happen in a reasonable time frame." You had no doubt, not a doubt. And last night, the president's announcement of an escalation is a total rebuke of your confident pronouncement.

Now, the issue is who pays the price, who pays the price? I'm not going to pay a personal price. My kids are too old, and my grandchild is too young. You're not going to pay a particular price, as I understand it, within immediate family. So who pays the price? The American military and their families, and I just want to bring us back to that fact.

NPR has done a series of interviews with families who have lost kids. And the announcer said to one family in the Midwest, "What's changed in your life since your son's death?" The answer comes back, "Everything. You can't begin to imagine how even the little things change, how you go through the day, how you celebrate Christmas" --

Mr. Chairman, could I please --


SENATOR BARBARA BOXER: "You can't begin to imagine how you celebrate any holiday or birthday. There's an absence. It's not like the person has never been there. They always were there, and now they're not. And you're looking at an empty hole. He has a Purple Heart, the flag that was on his coffin, and one of the two urns that we got back." He came back in three parts: two urns and one coffin. He's buried in three places, if you count their house. He's buried in New Jersey. He's buried in Cleveland.

That's who is going to pay the price.

And then you have the most moving thing I've ever heard on a radio station, which is a visit to a burn unit and a talk with the nurse. Devon suffered burns over 93 percent of his body, three amputations: both legs, one arm. His back was broken, internal organs exposed. As the hospital staff entered the room, they would see photographs on the wall, pictures of a healthy private standing proud in his dark-green Army dress uniform.

"It's very important," says the major, "that nurses see the patient as a person, because the majority of our patients have facial burns, and they're unrecognizable, and they're extremely disfigured."

So who pays the price? Not me. Not you. These are the people who pay the price.

Friday, January 12, 2007

The Reddest Eyes You've Ever Seen...In Seattle...

And the pills the greenest green...In Seattle...

Check out Paula Abdul, appearing on a local Seattle affiliate to promote "American Idol," and thoroughly wasted off her ass. I'm no expert, but I'd guesstimate she's about 300 sheets to the wind.

It's pretty much totally awesome that the first generation of reality TV hosts are starting to self-destruct. Abdul's become the most ludicrous public drunk since Henry Earl. Donald Trump is currently losing a public war of wars to Rosie O'Donnell and Barbara Walters! P. Diddy's last album went over like Bush's Iraq speech. And Tyra Banks now weighs a good deuce, deuce and a half. (Not bad!)

You know what this means...It will only be a few more years until the first generation of reality TV stars begins to self-destruct, and that's going to be one hell of a good time. (Well, okay, except for Omarosa and Janice Dickenson. They're starting out at such an admirable level of crazy, there aren't many depths left to plunge.)

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Everybody Likes Trout

So, it looks like we won't only be shipping 20,000 more Americans into a dusty shooting range. We'll also be sending them into Iran and then possibly Syria! Great! Because, you know, we have more than enough supplies and armor for the men and women who are already there! And it has been going so well for us lately, what with all the bullet-and-drill-hole-riddled corpses turning up each day and the state-sponsored Saddam snuff film that's been making the rounds online.

I'm continually shocked and appalled by our willingness as a nation to send our fellow citizens to their deaths. Not by the gall of our leadership. I'm long past the point of being surprised by Dick Cheney's or George W. Bush's unquenchable bloodlust. They're just two sick deviants, less capable of genuine human feeling than most hand tools. Expecting them to propose rational solutions to our diplomatic or military problems is like expecting your newborn infant to compose a libretto while riding a unicycle down the Eastern slope of Mt. Haleakala. It's our press and that remaining 30-some percent of our population who clings even to this day to "war at all costs" as a personal political philosophy who continue to make me sick to my stomach. "Do whatever you like, but don't try to stop our unwinnable war!"

It's over. We lose. The confederation known as "Iraq" is gone, torn down to make way for an explosion factory. (Okay, fine, an explosion factory with a big Wal-Mart in the center.) Almost anyone sane who knows what he or she is talking about at this point has voiced this opinion or some variation on it. Freaking Henry Kissinger was saying that he didn't think we can win this thing, and that guy was still arguing for Vietnamization in, like, the late '80s.

If you still want us there, it's because you just like war, which probably means it's not costing you anything. Now, I'm not saying you should be silenced if this is genuinely your opinion. Write articles about the thrill of being a citizen of an aggressively militaristic nation, of being an enthusiastic civilian during wartime. I'm sure such a stand will earn you a lot of fans in the armed forces! (<--sarcasm)

But don't try to pretend it's just one last little "surge" and then we can win this thing. When Joe Klein says stuff like this, it embarrasses all of us collectively, as a nation:

And so a challenge to those who slagged me in their comments. Can you honestly say the following:

Even though I disagree with this escalation, I am hoping that General Petraeus succeeds in calming down Baghdad.

That's missing the point on an epic, previously unimaginable scale. Klein's lost on a Claire Littletonian scale. (Or, for fans of classic TV, a Will Robinsonian scale). It's not about whether we hope that the surge thing won't work. Planning military strategy isn't about hopes and dreams, and even so, I'm not even sure what Petraeus is actually supposed to do. (They say this operation is an effort to "resecure" Baghdad, but what does that mean? It was already secured once, and then it de-secured itself. Who's to say that won't just happen again, even if we "succeed" at first?)

It's about knowing that it's the wrong idea, just like many sensible citizens knew the war was the wrong idea in the first place. And you know how we all know it's the wrong idea now, even if some of us were wrong four years ago? Because this new idea is actually the same goddamn stupid idea BushCo has been progressing for four years!

This is not a change in strategy. It's a change in tactics, and a minor one at that. The strategy remains the same - get into potentially lethal firefights with insurgents representing a variety of different sects, organizations and interests, never able to depend on support from the fledgling and partisan government or the angry locals. I mean, yeah, it sounds good, but thus far the results have not been pretty.

And on top of this, as if it wasn't bad enough to deal with the notion of escalating this clusterfuck, which sounds to me like discovering that you have indigestion and immediately inhaling a dozen Taco Bell chalupas, it appears that Great American Warlord Bush may be spreading the fun into Iran and Syria as well! To make sure they don't feel left out, I guess...

Washington intelligence, military and foreign policy circles are abuzz today with speculation that the President, yesterday or in recent days, sent a secret Executive Order to the Secretary of Defense and to the Director of the CIA to launch military operations against Syria and Iran.

The President may have started a new secret, informal war against Syria and Iran without the consent of Congress or any broad discussion with the country.

Well, at least it's informal. It'll be like the Casual Friday War, so all the troops can wear collared shirts and jeans and take an extra half hour for lunch.

This is very real, I'm afraid. Today, American forces raided an Iranian consulate in the Iraqi city of Arbil and detained 5 Iranian employees. Now, correct me if I'm wrong (and I may be, because this is not my area of expertise), but isn't a consulate considered to be foreign soil? So, technically, did American forces just invade Iran today?

I can only think of three reasons why Bush might have decided not only to escalate the Iraq War but to destabilize the entire Middle East by engaging in several simultaneous wars.

(1) Bush saw the 2004 Election as some kind of unspoken suicide pact between himself and the voting public. Their decision, despite representing a decidedly thin majority, was to go down collectively with the ship, to take Bush's fate as our own and mutually accept the consequences.

We'll call this The Badlands Theory, in honor of Terrence Malick's oddball lovers-on-the-run crime spree classic of the '70s. In the film, Martin Sheen kills his girlfriend Sissy Spacek's father and convinces her to run off with him. They commit a series of pointless crimes while evading the police, and are eventually captured.

So, in this analogy, Bush is the Martin Sheen character; cold and indifferent to everything and everyone, concerned only with fulfilling his temporary urges and ensuring the loyalty of his cohort. America is Sissy Spacek. And with a few exceptions, you pretty much never want to be represented in any scenario by a Sissy Spacek character.

We're being pulled around the flat, desolate, hopeless badlands of Montana by a maniac in the hopes of eventually...well, it's not clear. Escaping police pursuit? Settling down somewhere to hide? Proving our manhood before going down in a blaze of glory?

(The title of this post references one of Sheen's delightfully deadpan lines from the film, in which he rejects the notion that his girlfriend might dislike a certain species of fish on the basis that he enjoys it. He betrays pretty much zero emotion or empathy for other human beings throughout the entire film, save the occasional and brief bout of anger, which is what makes him such an ideal stand-in for our petulant boy-king.)

(2) Destabilization, chaos and spreading violence was the plan from the beginning.

As he always has, Bush is operating in what is essentially a consequence-free environment. What does he, personally, have to worry about should the Iraq effort continue to go sour? Not much. There's always the remote chance he'll be impeached or brought up on war crimes once he's out of office, but that probably won't happen. At least, not until he's a really old man.

But then look at the plus side. His rich corporate pals continue making a killing on military contracts, brutally ripping off the US Government and endlessly resupplying our troops with overpriced gear, food and necessities of life. He gets to leave office without ever conceding defeat, changing course or submitting to criticism. Finally, and I still believe this, as an insane religious nut, he sees war in the Middle East and on Islam in particular as part of his sacred Godly duty. The more Muslim countries become involved in a direct clash with the West, the better.

(3) He's hoping we'll piss everyone off enough that someone will plot another sizable terrorist attack against one of our cities.

Marc Faletti of Punk Ass Blog has a theory:

Well, when did the Republicans enjoy their greatest popularity? When was this country hungry for war?

Right after 9/11.

I joked about it at the time, but Pat Robertson mysteriously predicted a 2007 terror attack. Could it be that he knows something about this new strategy that we don’t? Isn’t it _possible_ that this administration is doing everything it can to make sure we get “hit at home” again?

If we don’t get attacked again, national sentiment towards Republicans will only worsen. The current Wealthy Powers That Be will almost surely be forced out the door in 2008, right along with the gravy train they’ve made for themselves. Their current actions seem to threaten their own interests… unless they believe they’re making it more likely we get hit by another terrorist attack, at which point we go back to the good old days of nationalism and bloodthirst.

Bush and Cheney know that Americans love a war, so long as it's exciting and we still have a chance at winning it all. I think what Americans love the mostest is not just "war" but that "march of war" concept they market so successfully during the early days on the news. Battles in this city and that, big colorful maps on the nightly news showing where our troops are headed in zippy topographical detail. (That is, if Geraldo doesn't give away all our positions by doodling in the sand with a stick first.)

The best thing that could possibly happen for them would be another major terrorist attack on America, giving them an excuse to fully invade Iran and Syria. (They might do it anyway, but I'm sure they'd prefer to have rhetorical cover like this.) And what would be the best way to ensure that terrorists keep America in their crosshairs? CONTINUED AMERICAN AGGRESSION IN THE MIDDLE EAST.

I don't think the Bush administration planned or carried out 9/11. I'm willing to accept the al-Qaida explanation. However, I think it's highly possible that they knew about it in advance and purposefully did nothing in order to gin up support for their bullshit war, and I think they'd love the opportunity to do this again should it arise. So what's the harm of making everyone around the world more upset with us? If anything, such a scenario is win-win for the powers that be.

I'm inclined to go with #2. But who, save Laura and Barney, can say for certain?

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Crip Walkin' and Chicken Hawkin'

Glenn Greenwald has an interesting post up about supporters of this insane
Iraq "Surge" idea. His notes that Fred Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute, one of the architects of this surge plan, argues for a necessarily large increase in the number of American troops in Iraq. In fact, Kagan states pretty plainly that the surge won't work unless many thousand more troops than are currently available are deployed to the region.

The president must request a substantial increase in ground forces end strength. This increase is vital to sustaining the morale of the combat forces by ensuring that relief is on the way. The president must issue a personal call for young Americans to volunteer to fight in the decisive conflict of this generation.

Glenn then makes a connection that's patently obvious. If you are one such young Americans, and you support Bush's war and Kagan's plan for its escalation, you should enlist to serve your country in Iraq. And not only for the sake of rhetorical consistancy.

At this point, to continue supporting a policy that has caused such a cataclysmic loss of life, American, Iraqi and otherwise, one would have to think that "victory" in Iraq was the single most important cause of our time. After all, it would have to be worth several thousand American lives and, at best, several hundred thousand Iraqi lives.

I do not personally believe this, nor did I think that any such victory was attainable at any point during Bush's Iraqi Adventure. So I did not support the war, because why should Americans or Iraqis die for something that isn't truly essential for our survival, or that wasn't even possible?

But if I did believe this, well...I'd only have a few options:

(1) Go off to war.

(2) Admit to myself and anyone else who asked that I'm a coward, willing to send other men to die for what I think is important but unwilling to potentially sacrifice my own life or the lives of close friends and family members.

(3) Find a way to aid the war effort significant enough to substitute for my presence on a battlefield.

The so-called right-wing "chickenhaws," young men or the parents of young men who strongly support Bush's war but refuse to serve, tend to go with #3. They claim that their writing about the war and bringing issues to the public's attention compensate for their absence from the field of battle.

This is almost always bullshit. Most right-wing bloggers and pundits reach a relatively narrow audience, and it would be hard to argue that most of them are having any influence on the national dialogue one way or the other (unless you count starting arguments with left-wing blogs). I mean, Jonah Goldberg's got that cushy columnist job with the LA Times, but no one actually listens to his idiotic ramblings. High school seniors have enough knowledge of history and political science to rebuff 98% of his arguments.

Rush Limbaugh and Hugh Hewitt might be able to make this case - they probably are helping out the war effort more by bloviating about it daily on the radio to millions of listeners than they would getting their pasty asses blown away in approximately two seconds on the streets of Ramadi.

For the rest of them, they're not doing enough here at home to make up for the good they could potentially do in Iraq. (Note that I don't think more troops in Iraq is a good thing, but they do, and we're taking their arguments at face value.)

So that's the basics of the chickenhawk argument. Glenn insists that he doesn't typically subscribe to this view on the basis of all wars. If you supported, for example, American intervention in Bosnia, you were not morally compelled to go to Bosnia yourself and help out, because this was a task that the American volunteer army would have been capable of carrying out.

I disagree. I think, if you want America to fight a war, you should go fight so long as you are physically capable. My one caveat would be the definition of war. We have an active volunteer military during peacetime to carry out necessary individual operations, many of them covert, and I suppose that's relatively important in the interests of national security. But a war? Don't support it unless you want to fight it.

But Glenn does think that "surge" supporters should sign up. After all, we're now talking about sending the Army out on a task they are ill-staffed to complete. If you support the task, you are morally compelled to help carry it out. Otherwise, you're just a coward, shuttling off other, better men to their deaths for your own personal edification and protection.

Honestly, if you are young and healthy yet continue to refuse to enlist in the armed services, it proves that you don't consider the War in Iraq to be a fundamental necessity for America's continued survival. If phasing out American military involvement in Iraq were truly an existential threat, you'd do whatever needed to be done to make sure that didn't happen in the interest of your own continued personal safety and happiness.

In light of the current troop shortages impeding Kagan's plans -- to say nothing of plans for confronting other countries and Terrorists beyond Iraq -- how can those who strut around as Churchillian defenders of American greatness in the face of Evil possibly justify their ongoing refusal of this call? The World War II values they are constantly invoking in order to justify endless war weren't defined by war cheerleaders but by war fighters.

Naturally, such cowards don't like to be called out on their cowardice. Worthless-for-all-save-comic-value blog Right Wing News is staffed by one such coward, John Hawkins. Here's his response, in full, to Greenwald's thought-provoking post:

Over at Unclaimed Territory, lefty blowhard Glenn Greenwald is advancing the same old, tired chickenhawk argument libs have been using for years, but just in case, he's taking 2200 words to say the same thing most libs can do in two sentences.

Here's the short version:

"As a result, it is now morally indefensible for those who are physically able to do so to advocate a "surge," or even ongoing war in Iraq, without either volunteering to fight or offering a good reason why they are not doing so."

If he doesn't think you can back the President on a surge without participating, then the reverse should be true. Since Greenwald wants us to surrender to the insurgents in Iraq, he should be over there acting as a human shield for a member of the sectarian death squads. Heck, if you add in all his sock puppets, Greenwald could act as a human shield for 4 or 5 terrorists and neck cutters.

Other people have made similar points and Greenwald has a long, tortured explanation for why this sort of non-reasoning only applies to people who believe in winning the war, not people advocating that America surrender in Iraq, but it's such bupkis that it's not even worth addressing.

If people like Greenwald don't like the idea of a surge, there is certainly an argument that can be made against it. It's not sustainable. It encourages the Iraqis to rely on our troops instead of doing things for themselves. It will likely increase casualties and costs. If we "surge" and nothing comes of it, it could boost the morale of the enemy. Unlike Greenwald's lame "chickenhawk" argument, at least those are legitimate criticisms of a surge.

He then links to an article that refers to the term "chickenhawk" as a slur, as if it were something over which he had no control, like race or height. Clearly, the term upsets him because it is so apt.

Anyway, one aspect of Hawkins' frankly pathetic response to Greenwald struck me. He's making an ideological point about principles and semantics, not crafting a genuine response to Greenwald's actual criticism. You'd think he and Greenwald were arguing about film theory or Kant's Pleasure Principle to read his post, not discussing plans for expanding a horrifically bloody international conflict.

Hawkins starts small: He's only trying to point out that Greenwald makes an error of logic in conflating war supporters with soldiers. At best, even if his reasoning were airtight, he'd prove that Glenn Greenwald is a hypocrite. He doesn't even come close, but it's still interesting to note that he doesn't bother even taking up the question on its own terms, directly stating why he feels he should be excused from military service.

To do so would necessarily cause him to be mocked incessantly, as Ben Ferguson discovered when he made this ridiculous comparison between supporting the Iraq War and supporting the Yankees baseball club.

Hawkins may have proved himself just a bit smarter than Ferguson. He refuses to get caught trying to actually explain or confront his cowardice, so he changes the subject, employing one of the most thin, lame analogies imaginable.

According to Hawkins' reasoning, someone who supports the removal of American forces from Iraq should have to serve as a human shield to protect militant Muslim terrorists. Come again?

Since Greenwald wants us to surrender to the insurgents in Iraq, he should be over there acting as a human shield for a member of the sectarian death squads.

One would have to make any number of incorrect, somewhat ludicrous assumptions to even make this analogy remotely sensible. To wit:

(1) American forces in Iraq are actively preventing sectarian violence
(2) Glenn Greenwald opposes American military involvement in Iraq because he supports Muslim terror
(3) Muslim terrorists groups are actively recruiting sympathetic Americans to serve as human shields

Obviously, none of these are true. Most Americans who oppose a "surge" in Iraq (a group which includes...most Americans) do so because they think it won't do any good in stopping the violence, not because they lurves them some beheadings. Obviously.

Hawkins only retreats to such blather because he can't justify his failure to appear in Mesopotamia. And it demonstrates his basic naivete, his lack of understanding about what war really means. It is not a parlor trick or a conversation piece. A war is not an excuse to show off your debating skills (not that he has actually demonstrated any). Hawkins says "send more troops." Reality says "there aren't any more to send, unless all the guys like you voluntarily sign up." Then Hawkins responds "Whatever, whatever! I do what I want!"

When you advocate shipping American troops off to a war zone, you are advocating for an increase in American deaths. That's what happens when soldiers walk into a war zone. Some of them get dead. This is not theoretical, no matter how much Hawkins clearly wishes it were.

To advocate such a policy when it cannot even be carried out because of a lack of manpower, and then to refuse to help personally is any way, is to demand that more Americans who aren't you die for no good reason. That is monstrous, and it's the charge Greenwald, myself and other members of the liberal blogosphere are making against the chickenhawks.

The fact that they can only respond with bad analogies and pretzel logic ("well, why don't you go help some Muslim terr'ist death squads then!") demonstrates a kind of flagrant moral bankruptcy that I can not begin to understand.

Sunday, January 07, 2007


Rockstar Energy Drinks are plugged frequently throughout Crank, even in the credits, and it's an ideal match of film and synthetic mass-produced artificially-flavored beverage. Energy drinks are all about pumping your body full of stimulants, sugars and chemicals in order to produce a short, but pleasant, buzzy sensation. And the film Crank is designed exclusively for your slack-jawed, wide-eyed visual consumption, giving you a fleeting, but tingly, buzzy sensation.

Think of the film as a rather brief, largely uneventful mushroom trip. Provided you promise not to do any unnecessary thinking, giving yourself entirely over to the ludicrous cartoon vibe and maniacal senselessness, you will most likely have a terrific time, with only a slight headache and a desire for a long nap afterwards. Break the rules, start to actually consider the movie and how stupid it is, and you might experience irritating sensory overload. Just remember, know your DVD dealer and never rent more than you can handle.

So Rockstar Energy Drinks do quite well for themselves, branding-wise. The real loser here is Rockstar Games. They can't really do a live-action version of their best-selling "Grand Theft Auto" video game series now, because Mark Neveldene and Brian Taylor have gotten there first. Crank perfectly simulates not only the games' content - a crazed killer stalking city streets committing all manner of violent crimes in the service of a complicated and time-pressured "mission" - but their free-form, anarchistic, anything-goes spirit.

Chev Chelios (Jason Statham), in addition to possessing superhuman strength and endurance, will literally do anything to anyone in order to stay alive. You sense that, if revenge on his enemies required the liquidating of an entire university campus filled with puppies and adorable toddlers, Chev would not only pull the switch but laugh sadistically and masturbate whilst doing so. He doesn't give a fuck, and neither does the movie, and that's what makes it unpredictable and fun. Like Falling Down meets The Warriors, only without all those time-wasters like social commentary and, you know, story.

Chev wakes up feeling decidedly unwell. We get a few shots from his perspective right off the bat, and the prognosis isn't good. His vision's blurred, he's having sharp chest pains, he can't walk properly. A DVD set to play in his entertainment center explains the situation: Chev's a hitman, he recently assassinated a powerful Chinese crime lord (Keone Young) and now the cruel Verona (Jose Pablo Cantillo) has injected him with a poison called the Beijing Cocktail for revenge.

As Chev's personal physician (Dwight Yoakum) explains on the phone from Vegas, the Cocktail inhibits the body's ability to produce adrenaline. If Chev doesn't keep his adrenaline levels up, he'll die. So if Chev wants to remain alive long enough to kill Verona, he has to keep moving. The film's essentially one long chase sequence in sort-of real time, with Chev zipping around Los Angeles searching for bad guys, evading cops and devising clever ways to keep his adrenaline flowing.

Neveldine and Taylor make their writing and directing debuts with Crank, and their reliance on showy camera tricks and effects is excessive bordering on ridiculous. A few of the gimmicky shots actually work. Chev races through a mall's back corridors while talking to his doctor on a cell phone, and brief shots of Yoakum speaking on the other end of the line from the airport are projected on the walls in the background as Chev runs. It's quite effective, giving the impression of Chev trying to focus on the information he's receiving on the phone while doing three or four other, more strenuous activities at the same moment.

But just as often, the style's unnecessarily fancy and overblown, calling attention to itself instead of upping the film's intensity, energy or impact. The best moments aren't so much visual as comic. Chev's savage adventure turns out surprisingly funny, one of the few non-Guy Ritchie vehicles to give the extremely charismatic Statham a worthwhile part. Though their Tony Scott-inspired visual pyrotechnics occasionally threaten to derail the entire enterprise, Neveldine and Taylor have still managed to put together a highly watchable and gleefully over-the-top entertainment.

The casting, for example, really pays off once the initial gimmick has started to wear out its welcome. In addition to Statham and Yoakum, who gets a lot of mileage out of what's essentially a superfluous, expository role, Amy Smart does funny work as Chev's girlfriend Eve, who thought he'd been programming video games for a living rather than starring in one. In the film's most memorable scene, they come up with an inventive, if not entirely sanitary, solution to Chaz's little medical problem in the heart of LA's Chinatown.

Crank doesn't really care so much about the laws of medicine, physics or public decorum, but it does manage to keep to its own internal logic. For the most part. Occasionally, the film violates real Los Angeles geography - I doubt Chev, in his state, could navigate that quickly from Westwood to Koreatown, even with a stolen cab and motorcycle. Only once or twice does it show Chev actually slowing down, so when it happens, it's pretty noticeable.

A long scene in Eve's apartment really breaks the tone of the film. We're going, going, going, cutting quickly between different perspectives, locations and film stocks, and then all of the sudden we're having a nice, romantic dialogue in a sunny apartment. This would be the equivalent of Speed having a scene were Keanu and Sandy pull the bus over to grab a quick chili dog. I know they wanted to have some semblance of character development, but he's not allowed to stop and chit-chat with Amy Smart or he'll die, remember? Dr. Jones! Dr. Jones! No time for love!

Otherwise, I quite enjoyed Chev's goofball antics. The conclusion, in particular, hits a campy note just exactly right. It's ballsy to go for camp value in an action comedy in 2006. One false move, and you're directing The Big Hit. But Crank worked pretty well for me, blurry fast-cut nausea-inducing editing and all.

The Illusionist and Idiocracy

Two movies that begin with the letter I...Okay, that's all I've got...

The Illusionist

The other historical magician movie. Not only does Neil Burger's The Illusionist share a lot of superficial similarities with Christohper Nolan's The Prestige (authentic period detail, superior cinematography, a turn-of-the-century setting, ideas about the nature of deception and honesty), but they suffer from the exact same plight. These are elaborate puzzle movies whose solutions are far too simple. Part of the problem may be in making a film about magicians that are intended to trick us. When you tell an audience up front that they are going to be fooled, it makes fooling them that much harder. The Usual Suspects doesn't tip you off that there's some crazy mindfuck twist coming...It's just a funny, kind of confusing gangster movie for about an hour.

Prestige still manages to be a pretty solid movie, in spite of the botched third act. It looked great, features some nice perfromances and has a few really great scenes. The Illusionist ends up relying far too heavily on a blatantly obvious, unsatisfying conclusion, and never amounts to much of anything aside from some pretty pictures.

The pictures are extremely pretty. Burger and cinematographer Dick Pope have underlit everyone with a warm, golden light, giving the faces the glow of a Rembrandt painting. Some canny, subtle references to silent film techniques likewise bring the period to life. And one shot, in which Paul Giamatti's police inspector walks urgently down a hallway lined with antlers and deer heads, is truly inspired. It comes early on, and portends to greater things than Burger actually has in mind.

In adapting Steven Millhauser's short story Eisenheim the Illusionist, he shows his hand far too early, spelling out the central mystery plainly in the first 30 minutes of the movie. Mysterious illusionist Eisenheim (Edward Norton) has brought his magic show to turn-of-the-century Vienna, interspersing his impressive effects and tricks with heady monologues about the nature of time and space. One night, he manages to impress the Crown Prince (Rufus Sewell), and only then realizes that His Highness' intended is Eisenheim's childhood sweetheart, Sophie (Jessica Biel).

Most of the action concerns the Prince's puppet, Police Chief Inspector Uhl (Giamatti), and his investigation into Eisenheim's background. A trick in which the illusionist seems to bring spirits back from the dead to speak with the audience becomes something of an obsession for not onyl Uhl, but all the citizens of Vienna. Eisenheim professes to be purely an entertainer, but if a known dead person appears on stage, how can anyone say it's simply a trick?

Saying anything else would give it all away. I fear I've said too much already. I'm tempted to still give the movie a passing grade because it looks so nice, but it would have been better served with developing the relationship between Eisenheim and Uhl or Uhl and the Crown Prince rather than focusing so intently on a twist gimmick that doesn't work. There's a lot of interesting subtext in this story, about commoners who serve and please the rich but cannot join their ranks. (Interestingly, the notion that Eisenheim is a Jew who changed his name, and that Uhl may be a Jew as well, is floated but never developed. This of course would add another fascinating layer to the relationship between these two talented but peculiar men whom fate has set into conflict.)

But the film just keeps driving on toward that silly climax, which honestly is so easy to guess that it's almost insulting. Seriously. There's a scene where the characters pretty much come out and announce the scheme that will drive the entire rest of the movie. It was so blatant, I assumed Burger meant for us to know this information, and only realized towards the end of the movie that he thought he was saving it for Act the Third. Not good.


I root for Mike Judge. He's ahead of his time. You can tell because people never appreciate his work in the present. When "Beavis and Butthead" was on television, it was the shorthand phrase for the "dumbing down of America," representative of all that was wrong with media and youth culture. But of course, it was perhaps the most spot-on satire of that very culture available at the time. Ditto Office Space, Judge's live-action directorial debut, a film that made about $20 on its initial theatrical run but is now rightly hailed as a comedy classic.

So even though I knew that Idiocracy had been a troubled, endlessly postponed production and that the studio had basically refused to advertise it because of their total lack of confidence in its quality or marketability, I still held out hope that it might be funny. "Maybe no one gets it now, but in 10 years, everyone will remember it as the best comedy of 2006."

Nope. No way. Not going to happen. This thing sucks worse than that Jump to Conclusions mat. I did not laugh one single time in the entire 87 minutes.

You can tell the film has been retooled a bit since it was first shot. (It looks pretty cheap for a science-fiction comedy, too, but I wouldn't normally hold that against it if it worked otherwise.)

A narrator comes in frequently to fill in holes in the plot and provide background about the grim future in which the film is set. He tells us that, because smart people have priorities other than breeding while stupid people have dozens of offspring, in the distant future mankind has become extremely dumb.

So when Army private Joe Bowers (Luke Wilson) and prostitute Rita (Maya Rudolph) awake in the future from a scientific experiment gone haywire inour own time, they're easily the two smartest people alive. They find a chaotic world full of trash, in which everyone sits around and watches television all day and no one can speak properly.

Judge runs into many, many problems at this point. Mainly, he hasn't come up with any kind of actual narrative set in this future world. Joe and Rita wander around for a while, being chased by horribly inept police officers for no good reason. They meet an incredibly stupid lawyer named Frito (Dax Shepard). Joe wants to find a rumored time machine to get back home, but he's sidelined when tasked to save the world's crops, which will no longer grow, by the United States' loudmouth pro wrestling President (Terry Crews). But there's no real conflict. Judge has given himself total freedom from story, presumably because he wanted to focus on humorous observations and character bits. But notice that I said "presumably because," and not "because."

There aren't really any humorous observations, at least not about what it would be like to be the Smartest Person on Earth. Joe's predicament seems like pretty much what you'd expect. He's constantly frustrated because no one can keep up their end of a conversation. And almost by definition, there aren't any funny characters. How could anyone be funny? They're so dumb, they can barely speak! Frito, for example, says "fag" a lot, which I always find exponentionally more funny every time it is said in a motion picture. (For anyone reading this in the distant future, that was meant as sarcastic.)

Additionally, this future never comes alive because it's so inconsistant. What does Judge really mean by "stupid," anyway? For many characters, their retardation seems limited to poor vocabulary and an unhealthy diet. Others seem incapable of basic life functions on their own. Nevertheless, America continues to function. There is electricity and gasoline and television. There are elections and massive farms and functioning corporations. How can this be?
All this may seem like nitpicking, but it isn't. Because Judge didn't figure out what he meant by "stupid people" in the future, his movie lacks bite. Obviously, the whole thing is meant to satirize our own time. We're the stupid people of the future, watching TV all day and ignoring the consequences of our actions and hopelessly out of touch with our own history and culture. But his targets are so random and his jabs are so scattershot, it's hard to get a read on what Judge is really trying to say.

In fact, the tone started to irritate me with its lack of focus. It's like Judge is saying that we should all give up - people are dumb and they will just get moreso. Who cares?

Watching the film is sort of like having a conversation with an annoying libertarian. Not to say that there aren't principled libertarians with some amount of integrity. But a lot of the time, I get the sense that the philosophy is just an excuse for misanthropy. This person just dislikes other people and doesn't care what happens to them, so they just throw up their hands and say, "Oh well, it's a lost cause, there's nothing to be done, better to simply wash our hands of the whole thing."

That's kind of like Mike Judge's attitude coming in this movie. "Oh well, everyone's an idiot but me, humanity's fucked, might as well make a stupid comedy about it..." Right into despair, because it's so easy.

But personal philosophy aside, the movie's just kind of relentlessly pointless and obnoxious. Stale riffs on shows like "America's Funniest Home Videos" and the popularity of pro wrestling were tired when Judge was still working for Spike and Mike. And what is with any comedy spending this much time talking about growing crops? You're telling me that every single person in the future is a retard and the biggest problem they're facing is that the lettuce won't grow right? HOW DID THEY EVEN MANAGE TO PLANT CROPS IF EVERYONE'S SO STUPID?

My Morning Jacket at the Wiltern

Just returned from the sold-out My Morning Jacket show in K-Town. Fantastic. The band played a 100 minute set followed by at least a half-hour encore. And this wasn't some lazy Dismemberment Plan-style play-one-song-then-blather-for-20-minutes-about-stupid-crap-then-swap-out-every-instrument-then-perform-emergency-instrument-recalibration kind of set. We're talking over two hours of non-stop screechy guitar carnage. Lead singer/songwriter Jim James paused the show only once to compliment the Wiltern's baroque, gaudy interior design.

This was one of those shows that made me appreciate the band's recordings more. There are songs on the last 3 My Morning Jacket albums (I haven't heard their rarer early LP's), but I've never been a big fan or listened to their discs in heavy rotation. But all I could think about after this show was wanting to throw on Z and It Still Moves ASAP.

The show was exceptionally loud and intense, and the band is just fucking tight. Drummer Patrick Hallahan in particular was really kicking my ass. (The crowd loved this guy. Every time the spotlight caught him, the screaming began anew.) The live setting really showcased the band's crazy energy (particularly lead singer James, who flings himself around mid-song, seemingly at random.) The set is fairly elaborate, making it initially appear that the band is playing in the middle of the woods. A little Animal Collective for my tastes, but not too unfortunate. 2 solid hours of the strobe light effects, however, did get a bit jarring. Too much stagecraft and the whole thing gets a little "Spinal Tap."

Most of the evening's highlights came from Z, my favorite of their albums. "Gideon" ruled, ditto "Lay Low" and "Off the Record." I've never been that crazy about the sort of slow-motion jam that finishes out that song, but it made a lot more sense to me somehow in concert. As the band closed out the encore with "Anytime," it finally occured to me why I've always been partial to that song...It sounds like Guided by Voices with all the missing parts filled in, restored to anthemic luster.

The keyboards get emphasized so much on the band's albums, they end up sounding much more guitar-focused live. "Dondante," which closes the Z album, perfectly blended the piano with crunching guitar solos, and highlighted by a saxophone! Amazingly, James is able to match the recording's blistering falsetto vocal in concert.

I took some photos with my camera, but they're allf ar too blurry and embarrassing for publication. So you get no visual aids. Just let my carefully composed language paint a beautiful word picture in your mind.