Freedom from Blog

Don't call it a comeback . . . .

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Dixie Chickens Come Home to Roost

Despite country music radio's refusal to play their confrontation but indelible single, "Not Ready to Make Nice," the Dixie Chicks' new record, Take the Long Way, has landed at #1 in both Billboard's pop and country charts, selling a robust 526,000 copies in its first week. This represents their second best debut, and also this year's second best debut for a country record. They've gotten a lot of publicity, which helps. But for every positive story (60 Minutes), there's a negative one, like Paula Zahn's seething contempt for the Chicks on CNN.

Mrs. TMcD is a big fan of the Dixies, so I can report that the album is quite good--a guilty pleasure for me, not for the politics, but for the country "chick pop" factor. Still, Natalie Maines is a country rebel bad ass in my book. As they used to say on Hee Haw, "Saaaaal-uuute!"

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Bravo's 100 Funniest Movies

I'm back from my annual Memorial Day pilgrimage to the NC mountains for the college fraternity get together that one of the wives has now dubbed "Brokeback Weekend." Thanks Ang Lee. Semi-rugged, high-altitude, alcohol-fueled male bonding will never be the same again. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Some of these lads needed the ego tweak. Not the Tenacious one, of course. But maybe my friend who greeted every new arrival with a barrage of semi-automatic bb gun fire (not in the air either--last year he almost put out an eye (not mine), evoking memories of A Christmas Story, so we're at least making progress on the safety front). Or the one teaching his five year old to shoot a '22. We'll be ready if Osama sends his kinderbombers on a suicide mission to Eric Robert Rudolph country. As always, the stories, the hiking, and the food were excellent. Good times, fellahs!

So until last night, I'd been in a media blackout all weekend. But I did get to catch a little of Bravo's "100 Funniest Movies." Being the list junkie that I am, I had to look up the entire thing. A couple of obvious comments. First, this list is clearly skewed toward the recent. It is really the historical memory of the twenty-, thirty-, and forty-somethings who are Bravo's likely audience. No surprise then that Animal House finished first and Caddyshack second. Some of the picks, however, were bizarre. #3 was Shrek. Shrek!!! OK, I haven't actually seen it, but I guarantee you it is not the third funniest movie of all time. Is it the favorite movie of anyone older than 12? I think not. Now, any list will have some element of the arbitrary and stupid. Acknowledging that, here are my votes for most overrated and underrated on their list:

Acks!: Shrek (3), Ace Ventura (7), Wedding Singer (8), Arthur (10), Meet the Fockers (25!?), Dodgeball (37), Mrs. Doubtfire (39), Police Academy series (59), Three Amigos (79), Zoolander (86), and Happy Gilmore (97).

Underrateds: MP's Holy Grail (40), Raising Arizona (45), Princess Bride (50), Meet the Parents (52), Bull Durham (55), Young Frankenstein (56), This is Spinal Tap (64), and Trading Places (74). Four movies that didn't even make the list: Austin Powers: the Spy Who Shagged Me (the best of the three AP movies); Waking Ned Devine; Happy, Texas; and MP's Life of Brian.

Take a look and judge for yourselves.

Postscript: Some good suggestions about what got left of that list in comments. Aside from A Christmas Story, which should have gotten good ranking, I now think the biggest omission may be O Brother, Where Art Thou? That movie gets funnier every time I see it. Now, I guess, I'll r-u-n-n-o-f-t.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Bella Italia

Well we survived popping the pond. We flew US Airways from Philly to Frankfurt and then picked up a Lufthansa flight to Venice. I must say the US companies are getting more annoying everyday. First of all the weight limit is now 50 lbs rather than 70, they charge you 5 bucks for a little bottle of wine at dinner now and not just vodka…, and they also charge 5 bucks for the headset to watch movies (which they graciously offer you to keep and reuse on your next flight). I hope our flight on the way back is operated by Lufthansa. Of course, I shouldn't complain too much. It would be worth reaching Italy in a makeshift raft.

The dollar is pretty weak right now, so I was surprised to find the Venice airport crawling with that “clangy” American accent, but it was everywhere. It always feels a bit strange to land in another country and find that just as many people are speaking your own language as the local language – another sure sign of empire/hegemony.

O by the way, one cool thing about posting in another country is that all the blog commands are translated into another language automatically. Kind of cool to see "Visualizza blog" or "Pubblica post".

Well I must run. I see TMcD’s parental units are trekking around Greece in the footsteps of the Apostle Paul. I imagine they will at least see Phillipi, Thessaloniki, Corinth and Athens. My best advice to them would be to break away from Thessaloniki and see Meteora no matter the cost. Also after seeing the Acropolis, Agora, Areopagus and National Museum in Athens, I would follow the good apostle’s advice and shake the dust off my feet and retrace that part of the journey where his boat capsized and he washed up on some island – I don’t remember which island it was, but he could have done no better than to land on Santorini. Skip the part about building a fire on the beach, well, because you know what happened next.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Enron: Bush's Biggest Success

The coverage over the last two days of the Enron verdicts has seemed like a story in a time capsule. How long ago was that? Seems like ages. What's most interesting about the media coverage is how devoid of political context it is. The New York Times alludes to the atmosphere of the late 1990s, but that really misses the point. (It even makes the implicit suggestion that this scandal was really "Clinton" era.) True, the GOP Congress's reckless deregulation, following upon two decades of escalating obliviousness by the federal government, played a significant role. But nowhere is it noted that Ken Lay and George Bush were best friends and that Enron was Bush's primary political benefactor prior to its fall. Ken Lay came within a hair of being Bush's first Treasury secretary.

When the Enron story originally broke, the big media debate was this: would the press report this as a story of the corrupt interaction of corporate and political elites, or just as a business story, i.e., one company gone uniquely wrong? Bush was so obsessed with getting this story off the front pages that he ratcheted up a previously nonexistent conflict with Iraq. He knew that if Enron dominated the headlines, he'd likely lose Congress in 2002 and face endless investigations of his own role in giving Enron cover for its crimes. Hence the political backdrop for the start of this war. Remember that Bush made his famous "Axis of Evil" state of the union speech in January 2002, just weeks after the Enron story broke. A few months later we got the official Bush doctrine of "preemption," and by October Congress was voting on authorizing the use of military force in Iraq. The news cycle that dominated the year became Iraq, rather than corporate corruption. In the long run, of course, this became a trap for Bush. But it's easy to forget that, first, Iraq saved Bush's presidency.

Absolutely no mention of that today in the press, of course. One day this should be recorded as Bush's biggest success: he won the media debate over Enron without anyone managing to notice.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Constitutional Crisis? Or Yet More Proof of a Corrupt Political System?

The congressional outrage at the FBI's search ("raid" is such an overblown term--am I to take it that jackbooted, M-16 toting shock troops kicked in the door?) of crooked Congressman Wm. Jefferson's House office appears to be the only thing that can unite the GOP and Democrats in the House. And, why, exactly? Because there's a deep, overriding constitutional issue at stake here? Like the separation of powers? Executive overreach?

I'll pause while you regain your composure.

OK. Most cynically, we might speculate that other members of Congress, including GOPpers, don't want their offices searched. But maybe this one just hits close to home. I mean, it's one thing when the executive branch runs roughshod over foreign nationals, Arab Americans, disabled veterans, Americans who use telephones, journalists, and so on. Let's face it, those people are scum! But investigate a member of Congress, and you're attacking THE CLUB. And no one, and that means NO ONE, gets to subject the Club to that kind of scrutiny.

Maybe I'm alone here in not seeing a constitutional problem with law enforcement executing a valid search warrant, backed by more than probable cause, on a congressional office? I'd like to hear some thoughts on this.

Plus, watch the Cafferty video. Hilarious. Give 'em hell, JackCaff.

If You Want Medical Stories

Then why not some stories about Iraq war double or triple amputees? TMcD responded to my previous post, in comments, thus: you are way off on this one. I'm not a big horseracing guy, but Barbaro was a hell of a horse, winning the Derby by the largest margin in 60 years. His Preakness stumble was excruciating. I had nothing invested, and I found it really wrenching anyway.

Barbaro was (is?) a hell of a horse. But some really great men and women are suffering, greatly, because of grevious wounds suffered in Bush's war . . . and most of them haven't received one second of network television coverage. But I've seen Barbaro's x-rays, heard interiews with his surgeon and with veterinary experts, listened in amazement as even more "serious" programs, like the NewsHour, provide updates on . . . a horse's medical condition. Something is wrong here, very wrong. A horse is a horse, of course, unless . . . no, a horse is a horse.

For all the talk we will hear this Memorial Day weekend of sacrifice and bravery, our society apparently likes the results of sacrifice to be out of sight, out of mind. But a horse coming up lame in a horse race? Can't get enough of that. Maybe it's that we can find a horse's travails wrenching, without putting ourselves or our loved ones in the place of the horse. That's harder when it's a human being. But it's more important when it's a human being, and the official policy of our government to create more disabled veterans.

This is not to say that this aspect of the Iraq war hasn't received any attention from the networks. I haven't seen "Baghdad ER" yet, but I hear that it's great (that's HBO, though). And Tammy Duckworth, double amputee and congressional candidate, gets some press. But my point is that there is one Barbaro, and he is, again, a race horse. At teh same time, there are literally thousands of disabled Iraq war veterans. If you want "human interest," that's the place to look.

But, then, that would take networks that were willing to stand up to the administration. I suspect that we'll see those stories this weekend. It is Memorial Day. But these things are happening every day.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Broken Leg, Broken Media--It's No Competition

Can it really be that Barbaro's broken leg in the Preakness is one of the most important stories of the week? And that the "American Idol" finale is the second-leading story of the week?

Not to minimize Barabro's injury, but . . . he's a friggin' horse. A horse. And "American Idol" is . . . a television show. I will note that the show "24" also gets a ridiculous amount of coverage, especially on the Internets.

Meanwhile, there is news out there. If the media would look for it.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

It's All Greek

Greetings to my folks, who have decided to take their summer vacation in Greece, following the journeys of the Apostle Paul. What's the agenda? My old man will get the chance for more authentic pontification and my mom gets some necessary relief from the ongoing hassle of completing the "teacher's edition." Make sure you get at least a dozen articles, out of this, Dad. I'll be scandalized if you haven't already written the first few--on the back of the airplane napkins that came with your peanuts.

In stateside news, everything rolls along normally back in TN. Mrs. TMcD dragged me out to yard sales over the weekend so that we could start stocking up for the "November surprise." And tonight we're heading up to Nash-Vegas to see the US soccer team take on Morocco in a World Cup warm-up match.

Drop a line if you can figure out how to get a user name and password on Blogger. Until then, enjoy the seas! I'm quite jealous.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Architecture of Our Times

As many of you know, I do a fair amount of running/jogging in our Nation's capital. In the last few years, there's been a whole lot of construction. Much of it has been related to "revitalization" and gentrification. But much of it has been 9-11 inspired.

If you haven't been here in awhile, I think you'd be surprised that the national government seems particularly concerned about truck bombs. Most public buildings now are surrounded by "Jersey barriers," those ugly concrete walls you know from interstate construction, or enormous planter boxes, which serve the same purpose (with a slightly improved aesthetic effect. Drives, parking garages, and even some streets are blocked by these rising barriers that have to be lowered by a guard before a car can enter; much more serious than just a gate. The buildings are Capitol Hill are now being surrounded by truck-bomb proof posts, which are designed to fool one into thinking that they have a purpose other than stopping rental trucks full of explosives . . . .

I've been thinking about this on recent jogs--these things are literally one of the dominant architectural features of the time. I know that there was a truck bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City, back in 1995. But the real impetus for much of this was 9-11.

It's clear from the outset that . . . none of these barricades would have stopped a jet from crashing into any of these buildings. So I guess the argument is that these barricades would prevent truck bomb attacks, were these attacks to be attempted. But is there reason to think that al-Qaeda or other terrorist groups will attempt such attacks? It's always hard to balance aesthetic values--these things are typically very ugly--with security concerns. But it seems to me that we haven't got the right balance yet. I think that we've greatly overestimated our security concerns, and made our fair city much uglier, as a result.

Take Him Out of the Lockbox

Could Al Gore mount a serious presidential run in 2008?

There has been a lot of speculation lately, partly because the Gore of the last five years has been so much more appealing than the Gore of 2000. He's far less "safe," and he's had a moral clarity few other major politicians can claim on the major events of the last few years. His opening bit on Saturday Night Live last week, in which he gave a faux presidential address to the nation from an alternative universe, was both funny and sad, neither at Gore's expense. I'd certainly prefer him to HRC, or to most of the other expected candidates. But I expect the media would once again try to crucify him for whatever it was that he supposedly did that we didn't like.

Any thoughts?

Peter Viereck, a Prophet Dies in the Wilderness

Word today at TNR's the Plank that Peter Viereck (1916-2006) has died. Viereck was a Pulitzer Prize winning poet and a history professor at Mt. Holyoke College, an institution that educated a couple of generations in my mother's family and once expelled my grandmother for excessive partying during Prohibition. But he is best known for having revived the name "conservatism" in 1949, thus giving a name to the budding movement. Although Viereck initially associated himself with that label--indeed, the eminent Clinton Rossiter hails Viereck in Conservatism in America (1955/1962) as second only to Russell Kirk in importance--he quickly became disaffected from the drift of the movement, especially under the leadership of William F. Buckley and Joe McCarthy.

I have been cautiously impressed by Viereck ever since I read E.J. Dionne's account of his role in the conservative movement in Why Americans Hate Politics. Speaking of Kirk, who gave conservatism whatever intellectual heft it had during the 1950s and 60s, Viereck bemoaned his "traditionless worship of tradition," and "ahistorical appeal to history." More than fifty years ago, long before conservatism came to power, Viereck recognized that while American conservatives might claim the traditionalist mantle of Edmund Burke, they had abandoned his pragmatism and historical sense, substituting instead a mythologized past and an insanely ideological conception of political action, one more reminiscent of Stalinism than its professed anti-Stalinism. He also worried that, in radically renouncing the progressive aspects of American tradition, conservatives risked becoming not just "reactionary" but positively "anti-American," a concern echoed by Rossiter in his otherwise sympathetic account of the movement.

John Miller wrote a column for National Review Online last year contending that Viereck was a disloyal sack of crap, not entitled to a prominent place in the history of modern conservatism. But contrary to his intent, Miller actually makes the case that Viereck may have been one of the movement's few true prophets. Two passages from Miller's critique stand out. First:

Although Viereck was a strong critic of Communism, he personally preferred a mixed economy to free markets. He once equated "anti-statism" with "plutocracy," and believed the New Deal was worth preserving. Although the early conservatives were an eclectic bunch, their views on capitalism were broadly libertarian and specifically opposed to the New Deal.

Viereck's instincts certainly seem to have borne out. If repeal of the New Deal is essential to conservative bona fides, it surely renders that movement both radical and un-American. Additionally, in both the Reagan and Bush (II) eras, government expanded more than under Clinton or Carter, but with the caveat that it has expanded to the sole benefit of America's wealthy and corporate interests. Not much real "libertarianism" there, but plenty of plutocracy. Second, after blasting Viereck for his contempt for McCarthyism, Miller offers this (referring to Tom Reiss's piece on Viereck in the New Yorker):

By this, Reiss means that Viereck (in 1962) depicted conservatism as "a movement infiltrated by religious fundamentalists, paranoid patriotic groups, and big business leaders, united in their loathing of the cosmopolitan elites on the nation's coasts." From Manhattan, of course, that's who populates the red states right now: snake-handling evangelists, gun-toting militias, and Halliburton executives.

Well, I ain't in Manhattan, but that's sure as hell what the contemporary GOP leadership looks like out here in Red America. Bizarrely, Miller seems to think that Buckley purged all the crazies from the conservative movement back in the mid-1950s. Excuse me? Has he turned on FOX News, listened to a Dick Cheney speech, or read an Ann Coulter book lately? The inmates are running the asylum. Maybe if Miller stopped romanticizing a conservatism that never existed he'd see what Viereck saw 50 years ago and what the overwhelming majority of Americans see today. Broadening out, the flaw of the "conservative movement" should be pretty obvious. The very idea was a paradox. Intellectually, what distinguished the true "conservatives" (Burke, John Adams, Santayana, Viereck) was that they rejected all modern "movements," precisely because of the radicalism inherent in such an enterprise.

I don't embrace Viereck in his entirety: although I respect his moralist criticisms of liberalism and its relativistic tendencies, he's far too aristocratic and suspicious of democracy for my taste. Still, having given "conservatism" its name, he understood its proclivities better than any of its current defenders. He may have died in the wilderness, but he also didn't get suckered into a phony promised land.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Wildflower, Shenandoah National Park

This photo is more an experiment than anything else. The funny thing was that the flower was so small, and it was so breezy, that it was hard to get a close-up, non-blurry image.

View from Old Rag, Shenandoah National Park

So I spent my Saturday hiking in Shenandoah National Park. It beats most ways of spending a Saturday. The Old Rag trail (and I'm the first to note that "Old Rag" is a strange name for a mountain) is pretty strenuous, with a little impromptu rock climbing/bouldering needed to make it to the top.

Friday, May 19, 2006

LeBron or Michael?

The folks over at ESPN have been debating whether Michael "Air" Jordan or LeBron "King" James is a better player at this (or that) point in their respective careers. This is a pretty silly question, as are all sports-radio questions. But the reason this one is particularly silly is this: There is no comparable point in these two respective careers. Because LeBron is now 21, and in his third NBA season. When Michael was in his third season, he was three years older, because he played three years at North Carolina. So is the comparison point Michael as 21 years old and a rookie, or Michael as 24 years old, with three years experience?

Anyone who watches the King for even a few minutes has to see it. He's not Jordan, but he's a player of Jordan-historical significance. It's scary that he's so young. Baseball players, they say, don't hit their physical prime until 27 or 28. If the same is true for basketball players, and for LeBron, well, in seven years he will eclipse the other greats.

And I love seeing the aerial shots of Cleveland on tv. That's the extra bonus.

Things That I Unintentionally Taught My Students

Every teacher has this experience. Reading the final exams, I discovered that I had taught my students, unintentionally, some things that are, um, untrue. And when I say unintentionally, what I mean is . . . my students this semester learned things that I didn't teach them at all. Plus, those things weren't in the readings, either. So, the question is, where did they learn these . . . untrue things?

Give Me Liberty . . . or the American Taliban

Most of you probably missed this fascinating article about academic freedom, er, or the lack thereof, at small, evangelical-Christian Patrick Henry College in suburban northern Virginia. My favorite part: the profs in question got in trouble for a 900-word piece in the campus newspaper "arguing that the Bible is not the only source of truth and that students can learn valuable lessons from non-Christian writings." The administration seemed to think that the piece "'diminished the importance of' Scripture."

Really? I hate the term American Taliban, because it is often applied unfairly. But this actually starts to sound like American mullahs. Read the whole thing.

My question: Why would you take a job at such a place . . . if you're not a Talib yourself, that is?

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Flowers for Algernon

Does increasing executive power contribute to imperialism? Or does domestic absolutism undermine a nation's imperial ambitions?

On this question, the Bush administration and its liberal critics have agreed, if to opposite effect. Recall the "senior [Bush] adviser" who told Ron Suskind, writing for the NY Times, that "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality." Democrats, wary of both the Bush administration's power grabs (torture, wiretapping, military tribunals, etc.) and the excesses of its military adventurism in Iraq, tend intuitively to associate the two evils. Such logic traces at least to the Vietnam era and can be seen in its defining scholarly work, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.'s The Imperial Presidency: "By the early 1970s the American President had become on issues of war and peace the most absolute monarch (with the possible exception of Mao Tse-tung of China) among the great powers of the world. The Indochina War placed this problem high on the national consciousness" (1973, ix).

Looking back at the 20th century, it is hard to ignore the coincidence of escalating power in the executive branch and the rising international fortunes of the American republic, particularly under TR, Wilson, FDR, Truman, and JFK. Going back much farther, to the beginnings of modern thought, Thomas More contended in Utopia that a good man couldn't advise a king, because the king would always want war to increase his power, whereas the adviser should counsel peace to the benefit of the people. But this connection is far from absolute. On the opposite side, we might note that America grew to prominence with a presidency that by most accounts was constitutionally weak and that the "imperial presidencies" of LBJ, Nixon, and Bush (II) have coincided with declining American strength and influence, at least in the short term.

I've been thinking about this issue this week as I've been reading a once-famous book that few living Americans (save, I expect, Emery) have dared: Algernon Sidney's Discourses Concerning Government (1996 [1698]). For the American founders, Sidney was one of the great heroes of English liberty, although his most enduring legacy may be as the forgotten coiner of the phrase, "God helps those who help themselves" (II.23, 210). A contemporary of John Locke, Sidney was elected to parliament, fought for it against the king during the English Civil War, went into hunted exile for two decades after the Restoration, and eventually returned to join with the Whig opposition and fight for political and religious freedom. By 1683 Sidney was fingered for involvement (never proved) in a regicidal plot, put on trial, and executed. The prime evidence against him was a few recovered pages of the unpublished Discourses.

Many of the themes in Sidney echo those of Locke, who at that time was writing his Two Treatises of Government. Contending against Robert Filmer's defense of absolutism, both men argue for the natural freedom and equality of man, the distinction between paternal and political power, the importance of limited executives and balanced governmental powers, and the right of the people to revolt if government betrays its trust. But whereas Locke seems concerned primarily with the natural rights of "life, liberty, and estate," rights primarily affecting man's private existence, Sidney was far more concerned with questions of public virtue and national strength; where Locke attacked tyranny from the standpoint of "liberalism," Sidney assailed it from the standpoint of what we now call "republican" (Pocock) or "neo-Roman" (Skinner) theory. Like James Harrington a generation before, Sidney was a devotee of Machiavelli's Discourses on Livy (not, however, of the Prince), in particular, the notion that Rome's glory could be found in the liberty and rule of law of her republican era.

Sidney is far less innovative a theorist than Locke--i.e., less attuned to the decay of feudal politics--and the Discourses are long (~600 pages), repetitive, and often tedious. Yet there are intriguing pearls buried in his pages. When he argues that "God helps those who help themselves," he's refuting the notion that nations rise and fall by chance or "fortune." Filmer, whom Sidney labelled a "corrupted Christian" (II.10, 134), held that the Bible demanded the quiescence of subjects to our earthly masters, and that their unquestioned power would bring us strength and safety. Instead, Sidney claims that nations become powerful precisely because they are "free," with freedom meaning constitutional self-government, balanced power, and the rule of law. Virtue--which is not to be confused with wealth or material prosperity--finds an earthly reward:

The secret counsels of God are impenetrable; but the ways by which he accomplishes his designs are often evident: When he intends to exalt a people, he fills both them and their leaders with the virtues suitable to the accomplishment of his end; and takes away all wisdom and virtue from those he resolves to destroy. . . . Histories furnish us with innumerable examples of this kind: But I think none can be found of a cowardly, weak, effeminate, foolish, undisciplined people, that have ever subdued such as were eminent in strength, wisdom, valor, and good discipline (II.12, 145-6).

Over and over, Sidney hammers the point that executive absolutism, rather than promoting strength, actually creates national weakness. One reason is that free republics reward merit, while tyrants prefer to surround themselves with incompetents and flatterers. Sound familiar? Plus, the less politically involved the people are, the less capable they become of judging their leaders, and the more prone they become to the decadent and feminizing vices of self-interest. Damned Frenchies, with their flamboyant courtier culture! As Bush told us in the aftermath of 9/11, there's no need for personal sacrifice, just go shopping. Yes, conservatism, at least as understood in the FOX News era--the celebration of material striving and conspicuous luxury, coupled with deference to untrammeled and pampered executive power--will (a) crush your imperial ambitions, and (b) make you gay.

There's a funny post yet to be written about the social and, indeed, political construction of sexuality, for which I hope Sam will offer some insight, this being his bailiwick. But Sidney's equation of executive absolutism with both political and sexual weakness certainly offers an entertaining alternative to the standard GOP narrative, the one concerning Bush manliness, etc., that dominates contemporary discourse. Sidney's more important insight, however, must be that civic equality, engaged citizenship, personal liberty, and vigorous dissent from executive power are the real foundations of national greatness. Indeed, they are the virtues for which God will inevitably reward us with empire. Maybe the Project for a New American Century should offer a fellowship to Cindy Sheehan.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The Plame Game

As you probably all know, the picture to the left is Exhibit A of Fitzgerald’s latest filing on April 12th in the Libby case. If you follow the link you’ll see that the rest of the exhibits, B-F, are the articles involved in leaking the identity of Valerie Plame. Exhibit A is billed as The Dick’s own scholia on his personal copy of the NYT article written by Joe Wilson on July 6, 2003 that set the entire Plame Game into motion. Rarely do historians (or prosecutors) get to look at such a personal handwritten document. As you can see, The Dick underlined certain passages in the article and also asked some pretty interesting questions at the top of the page. Obviously the big one that’s catching everyone’s eye is the fact that The Dick refers to Wilson’s wife, thus proving he had direct knowledge of her existence and possibly providing a motive for her outing by Novak 8 days later on July 14. Of course if there’s still anyone left on the planet who doesn’t believe that Libby and Rove were given orders by Cheney and probably Bush to leak her identity in retribution and then afterwards lied to cover their and their bosses’ tracks, well they’re wearing rose-lawn colored glasses. In that sense the document only adds further support to what should have already been obvious.

What I find more interesting here is the glimmer of light it sheds upon the mind of the Prince of Darkness while he was sipping his decaf and eating a crumpet on the morning of July 6, 2003. It looks to me as if his royal Dickiness read through the article and while doing so he began underlining passages before he asked his questions at the top. So he starts reading and underlining. The underlined passages read:


I have little choice but to conclude that some of the intelligence related to Iraq’s nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat.


I was told that it referred to a memorandum of agreement that documented the sale of uranium Niger to Iraq in the late 1990s.


While the C.I.A. paid my expenses (my time was offered pro bono).


...ambassador told me that she knew about the allegations of uranium sales to Iraq – and that she felt she had already debunked them in her reports to Washington.


It did not take long to conclude that it was highly doubtful that any such transaction had ever taken place.

VI would be exceedingly difficult for Niger to transfer uranium to Iraq.


...there’s simply too much oversight over too small an industry for a sale to have transpired (As for the actual memorandum, I never saw it. But news accounts pointed out...


Though I did not file a written report...


...and a specific answer from the agency to the office of the vice president (this may have been delivered orally). While I have not seen any of these reports...


The vice president’s office asked a serious question. I was asked to help formulate the answer. I did so and I have every confidence that the answer I provided was circulated to the appropriate officials within our government.

So those are the underlined portions of the article. The Dick then surveys the article and begins to scrawl a series of questions:

1. Have they done this sort of thing before?
2. Send an Amb. to answer a question?
3. Do we ordinarily send people out pro bono to work for us?
4. Or did his wife send him on a junket?

What I find most fascinating are the portions underlined (in respect to other passages that were not underlined) and also the questions. I would say he got to the end of the article and then he just asked Question 1 – a sort of general question. Note the pronoun they, as if the CIA were just incompetent boobs and had screwed up. Next he went back and looked at the portions he had underlined. Right beneath Underlined Passage I there is the sentence where Wilson says “For 23 years, from 1976 to 1998, I was a career foreign service officer and ambassador.” After re-reading that, The Dick then asked Question 2, picking up on the word ambassador as if were saying: “What? They sent an ambassador!” Now at first glance this may imply that he did not know who was sent and he is reacting with surprise, but of course this is impossible. Otherwise he would not have been able to ask Question 4 – that is to say he already knew who Joe Wilson was and he already knew who his wife was. So why did he ask this question. I don’t think he’s saying “Christ’s sake, an ambassador. They could have a least sent someone from my office.” I think we have to go on to the next questions to maybe get an answer. He then scanned along and came to Underlined Passage III, and he scribbled Question 3 in response to it, which obviously isn’t as important as Question 4 for the case against Libby, but I find Question 3 the most intriguing of all. The Dick asks, “Do we ordinarily send people out pro bono to work for us?” The pro bono comment is clearly lifted directly from III and it is just hilarious, almost as if The Dick were thinking, “That’s fishy -- a man going on a CIA mission without pay! There must be something corrupt going on. I never do anything without being paid!” But even more interesting are the italicized words, “we” and “us”. To whom do these words refer? Unless in his mind he had conflated III with lingering thoughts over Passage X, then most logically all of these words were prompted by passage III. Passage III makes clear Wilson was sent by the CIA, so The Dick in his own mind is in effect conflating his royal self or his own office with the CIA! Of course that was the problem to the run up to the war – he and those in his office acted as if CIA agents were their underlings who were expected to do as bid. Finally, after concluding that he himself would never do anything for free, he then suggests a motive: “Aha! His wife sent him on a junket!” This one is pretty funny too. O yeah, I take junkets to Niger all the time. It’s such a hotspot, the uranium mines and all.

Just as interesting as the questions asked, are the questions not asked. Say, for instance if I had underlined Passage II about some “memorandum that documented the sale of uranium yellowcake”. If I had never heard of that memorandum, wouldn’t I ask, “What memorandum? What’s he talking about?” Or take Passage X. If I had read that my office had sent Wilson on the mission, but I had never really received his report saying the uranium story was bunk, verbally or otherwise, wouldn’t I ask “Why didn’t I ever get this report?” Passages IV, V, VI and VII seem to me to be an effort at probing for a weakness in Wilson’s reporting: “Well, here in his own article he’s showing how he was already biased before he left.” VIII and IX seem also to be potential weaknesses in Wilson’s story: “See, he didn’t file a written report, and he assumes I heard an oral one, but no one will be able to prove that! Ha!” In light of this, I believe the wheels of finding weaknesses about Joe Wilson personally already began in Question 1: “See, he was an ambassador – not an expert in WMDs.” In the end it is quite clear that The Dick was not even interested in combating the substance of Wilson’s claims, so he just went into bunker mode and sent his minions to make a ridiculous ad hominem attack on Wilson; Valerie Plame was just collateral damage.

Between Scooter and Rove, who one day will play the part of a repentant Chuck Coulson and who will be the defiant G. Gordon Libby? I suspect Rove will never repent – he knows Bush would pardon him for matricide. A guy nick-named Scooter might still possess a pang of conscience.

Crunch Time

Well, consider this a light posting alert for me for the next few days. It's a very busy time at work, plus the final exam in the night class I'm teaching is tonight, and I'm grading half the final exam.

Monday, May 15, 2006

He was The Fury That Would Be

My friends call me Lenny. . . only I ain't got no friends.

A story in the Lifestyle section of the Tennessean yesterday caught up with the recent activities of Randall "Tex" Cobb, the former heavyweight fighter and longtime Nashville resident. Cobb was a lousy boxer. I have vivid memories from when I was a kid of his getting absolutely pummelled in a title fight by Larry Holmes. The remarkable thing is that Cobb never went down--he just kept coming back for more punishment round after round. Cobb's real fame, however, comes from the movies, most notably in his career-making role as bounty-hunter Leonard Smalls, "the lone biker of the apocalypse" who roared out of Hi McDunnough's nightmares in Raising Arizona (1987).

He was especially hard on the little things, the helpless and the gentle creatures.

I once had a brief encounter with Cobb. While living in Nashville, I got my hair cut in the chair next to Cobb, and we chatted for a minute about some of the Vandy theme t-shirts currently in circulation. (This represents by far my most meaningful "celebrity" sighting, edging out the time Reba MacIntyre shot a TV movie rape scene in the apartment upstairs from mine, and the time I saw Tom Cruise ordering a Hoagie.) He seemed like a pretty normal guy, as normal as you can expect a "warthog from hell" to be. So now comes news from the Tennessean that Cobb is currently on full scholarship to Temple University in Philadelphia, where he's completing a degree in comparative religions. How'd you like to be in that class? How'd you like to be teaching that class? Could you give the lone biker of the apocalypse a bad grade? He may not still sport that "Mama Didn't Love Me" tattoo, but come on. I wonder where he's going with this. College professor? Buddhist monk? Evangelical preacher? Preacher-slash-politician? Somebody get that man on the stump. He'd be an apt symbol for our era.

He was the Fury That Would Be.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

"The McLaughlin Group" Wins Again

I didn't watch "Face the Nation" or "Late Edition," but of the shows I watched, all or in-part, once again "The Group" crushed its opposition. First, the panel. Today it included an Arab journalist . . . which is a brilliant idea, one that the network shows, to my knowledge, have never tried. (Maybe once on "Meet the Press"?) Second, Pat Buchanan is a brilliant mo-fo. He's also bat-shit crazy, but that actually makes him a great panelist (brilliant and crazy). Blankley is a shill, but Eleanor Clift is a genuine liberal. So, good mix. Let's hope that they never let John "the Wanker" Meacham on this show. He polluted "Meet the Press" today with some irrelevant quote from John Adams. Yeah, that's insightful, thoughtful analysis. If we're talking the Napoleonic era.

Second, the topics: Russia (Putin apparently made some interesting comments in his "State of the Union" address, but none of the other shows discussed this), the NSA scandal, and Iranian letter. For purposes of comparison, "Meet the Press" featured a half-hour with Newt Gingrich (a complete waste of time, let me assure you), and both "Faux News Sunday" and "This Week" featured interviews with Laura Bush. Huh? Oh, see, it's Mother's Day, and she's the Nation's number one mother. Jenna and Barbara are such perfect children . . . .

Third, lapsed Jesuit McLaughlin made several great points today, including that the Government has a contract with Choice Point and so it has access to extensive records on Americans, which are easily cross-referenced with . . . wait for it . . . one more beat . . . phone numbers. So, all those assurances that this is just phone numbers? It's everything, including medical records. Now maybe you're confident that the Government won't abuse this kind of access to personal information. But that would make you . . . wait for it . . . un-American.

Don't. Tread. On. Me. Beeyatch.


In response to Emery's request for A-Team members here and here,

Melanthippos, who always wanted to wear gold chains, volunteers for the role of Sergeant Bosco "B.A." Baracus.

Kalliope asks for the part of Amy Allen.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Empire Straits

Just a quick note on TMcD's latest post in the Great Empire Debate. Not only does the tenacious one quote (!) from Orwell's Lion and the Unicorn, despite my belief that I was the only living person to have actually read this book, but he gets the matter pretty much right. I would just say, again, that the problem here is really an ambivalence about POWER.

But this really is an ambivalence. Consider that during the 2004 campaign, when Howard Dean (oh, how I love that little Scrappy Doo) said that "the United States would not always be the most powerful nation in the world," or something like that, he was excoriated by the rightwing and others. It would seem that many, many people in this country would like to remain, forever, the most powerful nation in the world, but would hope that no one would have the, um, indelicacy of pointing out that (obvious) fact in public.

Btw, if you didn't read Paul's must-read comment to the TMcD post, you're some weird freak who doesn't read comments.

BBtw, not nearly enough comments on the A-Team question below. My A-Team still needs a Face Man, a B.A., and a Howling Mad Murdock. And no, Paul, pardoning the A-Team would not be an abuse of power, because as the prologue of the show always made clear, the A-Team was accused and convicted of a crime they didn't commit. They were acting under orders when they staged their daring daytime robbery of the Bank of Hanoi. Now, those orders have always struck me as, perhaps, an abuse of power . . . .

The Illusion of Continuity

Over at The Odds Are One, the Transient Gadfly (has there ever been a better bloggernym than that?) has a post about posts that he started but didn't, well, you know. And one of the Posts of the Damned (or damned posts) is in response to this post that I wrote in response to a TMcD comment back in December. Here's the gist (and by gist, I mean, of course, the whole thing, with a few additions, which is decidedly not, um, the gist):

Emery says this:

The eternal return thing is just strange [this is in response to TMcD comment attached to this post]. Clearly, the repetition of my consciousness is an impossibility, because if it happened again, it wouldn't be mine. Part of individual identity is the continuity of existence. I am me because I was me yesterday, and the day before, and back in 1985, and back in first grade, in 1975, and so on. If there was some physically identical-to-me person in three trillion years, that would be a physically identical-to-me person, not me.

[This is TG:]I made this same statement, although in a totally different context. Suffice to say I agree with the conclusion of the argument. I don't, however, agree with the a priori (that it's because of some sort of bodily or existential continuity). Most all of the cells that made up Emery in 1975 have died and been replaced, the osteoclasts and osteoblasts have torn down and rebuilt the matrix of his bones several times over, and that person was four years old or so and Emery is in his mid-30s (I have met Emery only once, and I didn't know Emery the person I met and Emery the blogger were the same person (and I will happily accept arguments that they still aren't) until last week). But this isn't why I reject the idea of continuity as being the key to our sense of identity. In fact I think that continuity is a complete illusion....

What I'm curious about here is the use of the word "illusion." I agree 100% with TG that the physical Emery is in a constant flux, that old cells die, new cells replace them. The continuity of the physical human being is an illusion, in the sense that it is a misperception of an underlying reality. But the mental me subjectively experiences a keen sense of continuity. I have a whole pile of photo albums, and I can remember the events surrounding almost all the photos in them. Indeed, I took most of those photos, and I can remember doing so. I can still become emotionally upset about events that I remember from 10, 20 years ago, and I can remember certain emotional highs, as well, even from childhood. I am the "I" in those memories, the first-person in a first-person narrative.

To describe that subjective experience as an illusion is, it seems to me, to posit that there's a deeper truth. In one sense, that deeper truth would be (?) that there are discontinuities, personality singularities, so that my memories of Little League, for example, aren't actually my memories.

But that can't be true, can it? I mean, this is one place where subjectivity trumps objectivity, right? The fact that I experience the continuity means that it can't be an illusion. Those are my memories.

Now, from a different perspective, my sense of continuity is clearly a construct, and I would agree that it is a constantly evolving construct. The story that I tell about my life changes as new chapters are written (actually, the stories that I tell about my life change). Old events take on new meanings, and certain memories become more (or less) important. I'm not arguing with that, that the continuity is, to a great extent, a construct. But it's a construct made from materials (if that is the right word) that have continuity. Again, these memories are my memories. They reside, somehow, in my consciousness, and that without those memories, I would not be me.

I should conclude this post before it gets into Philip K. Dick territory. (E.g., what if the physically identical Emery in three trillion years had my memories, and this subjective sense that he, and not me, is the "I" in the story of Emery's life? Would he then be me, too (or me-2)?)

But I want to append, here, a short thought on a common experience that I have (common may be the wrong word, but bear with me). Sometimes we lose contact with a friend for a long time; sometimes we re-encounter someone we knew a long time ago, often in a completely different context. Let's say that this is a person we knew relatively well; not necessarily, in all cases, a friend, but certainly an acquaintance. The common experience is to think, "Well, that's the same old John that I knew back in college." This is a strange experience, because we all think that people change over the years. But, for most people, I think, there's a basic personality template, a basic outlook, that is pretty constant.

That, at least, is my subjective experience of this, even with other people.

I Think I See a Pattern

The news that the president and other members of his administration have been less than honest about government spying on the citizenry since 9-11 is hardly suprising. Nor is it surprising that any number of admnistration backers are willing to go on television and defend the government's newly revealed data-mining fishing expedition (excuse the mixed metaphors).

But what is surprising, at least to me, is that no one is really discussing that program, as it has been covered to date, really makes no sense.

Take the following hypothetical: Let's say that there are 100 al-Qaeda operatives in the U.S., and that they make 10 phone calls a day, on average. Now, if they call Pakistan, or the Sudan, then the previously revealed, non-judicially authorized wiretapping program comes into play. But let's say they make calls to Dearborn, Michigan, Miami, New York City, and so on. Out of the millions of phone calls made in the U.S. every day, it's impossible for me to believe that any mathematical model is going to identify these 1000 phone calls made by al-Qaeda operatives. That would be like hearing a whisper in the middle of a tornado.

Data analysis of that many phone calls is going to reveal that there's a spike in phone traffic at certain times (e.g., 9 pm, when cell phone peak times end for most contracts, after an episode of "American Idol"), and a very sophisticated model might show the interconnectedness of different parts of the country. But . . . unless the program focuses in on particular callers, I can't see how any of these "macro" patterns could possibly lead to intelligence about the activties of a small number of operatives. (And I can't believe that there are enough al-Qaeda operatives in the U.S. to account for more than a miniscule fraction of U.S. domestic phone calls. We're talking noise here, not a pattern.)

Of course, if we could identify these callers, the suspected al-Qaeda terrorists, then we should be able to get FISA authorization for a wiretap (let's pretend that the officials in question are going to follow the law--it's a hypothetical). Here, I guess, the argument would be that we might be interested in people connected to suspected terrorists, and that the evidence with respect to them wouldn't meet the level necessary for the warrant. But this isn't a question of wiretaps, we are told by the defenders of the program. The program, as I understand it, doesn't involve any listening-in--it's merely about patterns of calls. But if identifying the patterns doesn't lead to further investigation, including wiretapping, then what good is it? We will never prevent an attack based on lists of phone numbers suspects (and thousands, hundreds of thousands, of Americans) are calling. So saying that we are monitoring the telephone activities of a few hundred people, and that that is making us safer, in itself, seems pretty absurd to me.

In short, I don't believe that we have heard all that there is to know about this program. My guess is that there's a pretty extensive domestic wiretapping operation backing this up, despite the president's assurances awhile ago that the government is only listening in to international calls.

The pattern that I see is that the administration has consistently lied about these intelligence-gathering activities. (I think that, even if you support these programs, you have to agree with this statement. After all, we can't tell the terrorists what we're doing to catch them, now, can we?) They are still lying, and they will continue to lie. You can count on that.

Friday, May 12, 2006

What's So Funny 'Bout Peace, Love, and Imperialism?

Paul's previous post evokes a question: why are we so hesitant to simply call America what it is--an "empire"? We bandy about terms that are more or less equivalent, such as "superpower" or "hegemony." What is it that frightens us so much about the possibility that we might, in fact, be an imperialist power?

You might respond to my query, as Stephanie does below, with denial. Either (a) we don't have comparable power to the ancient Athenians, Romans, or early modern British, or (b) we don't behave as badly with world power as they did, so we can't really be an empire. I don't find this very convincing: (a) strikes me as clearly wrong--has any nation ever had more power and influence over world affairs than we have had over the last 60 years?--and (b) seems largely irrelevant. After all, an empire isn't an "empire" because it's eeevil; the value judgment must come after the classification and independent of it, and as I indicated below, there's a lot to be said for at least certain eras of imperial hegemony, this despite the hubris that seemed almost inevitably to follow.

In my response to some of Stephanie's comments, I suggested that part of the answer to this question may be the desire to maintain the myth of American innocence. We like to think of ourselves as the little guy, the colonial David who slew the Brit goliath, the "natural man" born into freedom and equality, neither master nor slave (to draw on Locke and Rousseau). As Tocqueville, Huntington, and others have argued, the American creed is to a large extent an anti-power ethic, an ideal that exists uncomfortably with our practical reality. So the idea that we might, in fact, be a sort of empire, would create a cognitive dissonance. I'm reminded here of some reflections by George Orwell in The Lion and the Unicorn (1941), his great rhetorical celebration of the British spirit in the face of Nazi menace. What distinguished the Brits from the Nazis? Both sought world power. Orwell writes:

The reason why the English anti-militarism disgusts foreign observers is that it ignores the existence of the British Empire. It looks like sheer hypocrisy. After all, the English have absorbed a quarter of the earth and held onto it by means of a huge navy. How dare they turn around and say that war is wicked? It is quite true that the English are hypocritical about their Empire. In the working class this hypocrisy takes the form of not knowing that the Empire exists.

Orwell was a persistent critic of imperialism, but he recognized that not all imperialism was the same or equally bad, and the Brit hypocrisy at least served as a partial cultural check on the excesses of militarism. I suspect that American culture, which has always been closely related to the Brit, has the same tendencies. But this doesn't mean we're not an empire. It just means that we have trouble grappling with the meaning of our being an empire, and as a result often become oblivious to its consequences and dangers.

Iraq is a good case in point. To me, it is a classic example of hubristic imperialism. Was there another country on the entire planet that wanted us to invade? I don't think so, although you could make a good case that Osama did. Take the Brits as the best proof. They've been our closest friend throughout, and yet not even they thought this was a good idea. Tony Blair just made a deal with Bush he didn't think he could back away from. After 9/11, Bush wanted to invade Iraq immediately, but Blair told him no: if you invade Afghanistan first and go after al Qaeda, we'll stick by you later if you want to go to Iraq. Bush, pampered princess that he is, threw a hissy, but Blair played the good big brother (this had been Clinton's exiting advice to Blair). Once Afghanistan was done, Blair felt obliged to back up his little sis, but it's clear that they never really embraced the idea on its own terms. Similarly, many countries around the world backed our play, not because they thought it needed doing, but because we "asked." That's how imperial power works.

To bring this all together, I'd say that we're definitely an empire, but that we a strikingly un-self-conscious one. In some ways this has advantages, insofar as it makes us uncomfortable with brute displays of unilateral force. But the downside is that it also makes us deny to ourselves that we're doing what it is obvious to the entire world that we're doing: bullying smaller countries, violating international norms, and engaging in systematic abuses of human rights (torture, surveillance, etc.). A final thought: wheraeas "nations" may seem eternal (e.g., Albion), empires always seem mortal. They have lifespans and deaths. To think about America as an "empire" is to contemplate our eventual decay. In a society built upon the myth of unending progress, this is a deeply disquieting notion. Will George W one day be looked at as the pivotal figure of our fall? It pains me to think about it.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Colbert Report: Pardon the A-Team

Colbert, in noting the end of "The West Wing," argues that faux President Josiah Bartlett should pardon the most famous TV fugitives, the A-Team. He even recited the prologue to the show. Oh yeah. Pardon the A-Team. This is a bipartisan, all Gen-X winner of an issue.

In comments, discuss which member of the A-Team you would be.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Atrios contra Cohen

The WaPost's Richard Cohen is taking a lot of deserved heat in Left Blogistan ever since he wrote a couple of dimwitted columns, first attacking Stephen Colbert as a "bully," and then whining when he got thousands of critical responses. Cohen's argument was lame: it is Orwellian to suggest that the "bully" is the guy who stands up alone in a hostile room full of incredibly powerful people and mocks their hypocrisy and deceit. Real bullies puff out their chests and talk big when, surrounded by like-minded friends, they confront a weak and lonely dissenter. George Bush and Bill O'Reilly fit that bill; Colbert does not.

Still, Atrios goes overboard with his expose of Cohen's past sins against liberal good sense ("Richard Cohen's Greatest Hits"). The old columns he cites today, one about how liberals often improperly attribute white apprehension of blacks to "racism," rather than a justifiable fear of prevalent black crime, and a second where Cohen raises doubts about the universal innocence of women in sexual harassment situations, strike me as pretty reasonable. Racism and sexism certainly exist, but let's not pretend that these things are all, forgive the phrase, "black and white." Being oppressed does not make one, ipso facto, morally superior. Victim chic may be particularly prominent on the right wing these days, but it has also had its heyday on the left, one that I might add was deadly for liberal politics. Cohen may be an ass, but he wasn't wrong on this one.

An Imperial Rant

In response to the recent thread on Empire, and because I’m done grading papers, I just want to rant on say a few words on the term “empire” and why it is historically appropriate to apply the term to modern America. From Merriam-Webster we find the definition:

1 a (1) : a major political unit having a territory of great extent or a number of territories or peoples under a single sovereign authority; especially : one having an emperor as chief of state (2) : the territory of such a political unit b : something resembling a political empire; especially : an extensive territory or enterprise under single domination or control
2 : imperial sovereignty, rule, or dominion

While the English usage of empire today often especially implies rule by an “emperor as chief of state”, as the Merriam-Webster definition relates, historically the usage of the word by historians has had no so limitation. The word empire comes from the Latin root imperium, which at Rome referred to the supreme administrative power exercised by the kings under the monarchy, then certain magistrates and provincial governors during the Republic, and finally by the principate during what historians refer to as the “Roman Empire.” It this last usage that has particularly colored English usage. But the word imperium could also refer to dominion in general or the supreme power in any sphere, say that exercised by a military commander or even the head of a household.

The Latin term imperium was often the preferred word by Romans to translate the Greek word arche, which, when it refers to a ruling power, is translated into English as empire. So Herodotus talks about the Persian arche, Thucydides talks about the Athenian arche and Polybios about the Roman arche. These last two examples are particularly important, for the Athenians never had an emperor, and at the time Polybios wrote, Rome was still a Republic and had no emperor either. To back up this claim that the term empire is applied to a democratic state without an emperor, and not just some modern liberal conceit, I will only note one famous book on the Athenian arche, appropriately enough entitled, The Athenian Empire. Another common synonym for empire in the English language is “hegemony”. This comes from the Greek word hegemon, meaning general or leader. In history it was first applied to the various Greek city-states, such as Sparta, Athens or Thebes, that sought to extend their influence over other Greek city-states, as in “The Theban hegemony was led by Epaminondas.” Niall Ferguson uses “hegemony” as a synonym for empire in this article here, where he argues that having a world hegemon (America) isn’t such a bad thing. Another code phrase for a positive view of empire is a play on the Roman Empire’s Pax Romana -- the so-called “Roman Peace.” So we now often hear of the Pax Americana, most notably in the Project for the New American Century’s famous document of September of 2000, Rebuilding America’s Defenses. Funny thing about this term is, however, is that Rome never really had a period of peace. And who could forget what Tacitus wrote about those who enjoyed the Roman peace– “They create a desert and call it peace.” I suppose we could say that after WWII the world has enjoyed quite a bit of peace, except for the Cold War. And Korea. And Vietnam. And Grenada. And Panama. And Nicaragua. And the 1st Gulf War. And Afghanistan. And the 2nd Gulf War. But other than those, it’s been pretty peaceful.

All this is a long way of saying that the historic terms for empire (arche, imperium, hegemon, pax Romana...) traditionally have not been limited by historians to just states ruled by emperors. The Persians set up a military-administrative satrapy system to exert control over a wide area of diverse peoples and cultures, the Athenians used their navy to hold together her arche, Alexander the great used his phalanx, and Rome used her legions during both the Republic and the Principate. The important thing here is not so much whether a king is asserting authority, or a democracy, or a senate, or a principate, what counts is that power or the threat of force is exerted by some military. So to quote Michael Doyle in Empires

"Empire is a relationship, formal or informal, in which one state controls the effective political sovereignty of another political society. It can be achieved by force, by political collaboration, by economic, social, or cultural dependence. Imperialism is simply the process or policy of establishing or maintaining an empire."

Of this definition I would only say that under normal circumstances empires need only exert a modicum of overt control. Usually the threat of force and the implicit, often unstated, understanding of the relationship is enough for the weaker partner to act in the interests of the stronger partner as if those interests were their own, because of course the threat of force makes them their own.

Here are the territories of some Empires throughout history:

The Persian “Empire” here:

The Athenian “Empire” at it’s height:

Alexander The Great’s “Empire”:

The Empires of Alexander’s Successors:

The Roman Empire at its height:

The Ottomans:

The British:

Now all these maps are a bit misleading if one imagines that all were centrally run from Persepolis, or Athens, or Pella or Rome... In each of these cases, the particular rulers usually did not govern their territories directly. They had surrogates or puppet governments propped up by military bases. Thus, the Romans had a series of military camps along rivers such as the Danube whose very presence kept the locals nearby in line. One of the more common terms for such a situation is “client state”.

Owing to the constraints of technology, all these empires in general required several boots on the ground in the inland places, so that when we hear the word empire today, we tend to imagine Roman soldiers with their plumes in far off places or perhaps British soldiers with their pointed caps. For some reason, we don’t imagine soldiers who wear camouflage in the desert, but never mind that.

Be that as it may, let’s see where American bases are:

Hmm. By any historical criteria, this in and of itself would be called an empire. But of course, it does not reflect the number of nuclear subs lurking under the surface of the ocean or even the ships roving the seas. For some reason some like to call this current world order neocolonialism, but I have to wonder what they think all those traditional military bases are really doing? I mean, does the US have over 730 military bases around the globe and they’re just window dressing, not really influencing or controlling other country’s policies?

Now, with all this in mind, I’d like to return to the great stink septic think tank website of William Kristol and his neocon manifesto of 1997, which was signed by many notable current members of the Bush administration:

As the 20th century draws to a close, the United States stands as the world's preeminent power. Having led the West to victory in the Cold War, America faces an opportunity and a challenge: Does the United States have the vision to build upon the achievements of past decades? Does the United States have the resolve to shape a new century favorable to American principles and interests?


Our aim is to remind Americans of these lessons and to draw their consequences for today. Here are four consequences:
• we need to increase defense spending significantly if we are to carry out our global 
responsibilities today and modernize our armed forces for the future;
• we need to strengthen our ties to democratic allies and to challenge regimes hostile to our interests and values;
• we need to promote the cause of political and economic freedom abroad;
• we need to accept responsibility for America's unique role in preserving and extending an international order friendly to our security, our prosperity, and our principles.

The list of signatories here is quite impressive – a who’s who of the Bush administration including Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Salmay Khalilizad, Paul Wolfowitz, Lewis Libby, and Elliot Abrams. In case you missed it, what each of these men signed on to was a policy of spending a ton of money on the military and then using said military to “promote” our interests and “challenge regimes hostile our interests and values.” What exactly do the words “promote” and “challenge” mean in this context other than to put that military to work for the supposed good of our national interest? What does it really mean to put the military to work other than to launch cruise missiles, drop bombs from planes and run tanks over anyone who gets in our way? Perhaps it can also mean that after the bombs drop, you interfere and stack the deck in the constitution in such a way so that your interests are protected, all the while hiding it from average people in your own country because it’s really in the interests of a few big companies.

Interestingly enough, in a roundtable discussion in 1996 on Israel’s economy, and thus 5 years before 9-11, two other denizens of the neoconservative movement and the Bush Administration, Douglas Feith and Richard Perle, famously called for the removal of Saddam Hussein. Is this just a coincidence? William Kristol also called for Saddam’s removal prior to 9-11. Why is that Americans are so ignorant of this? Why is it that only “pseudo” news shows, such as Colbert’s, are the only ones interviewing these guys and asking them how their Project is going?

One of the chief characteristics of an empire is the belief that the military is the best means to solve one’s international problems. Such a philosophy even has a name. It’s called militarism. One of the best barometers of whether a county is militaristic is, quite naturally, the priority it gives to military spending. In fact, those who endorse militaristic ideology often scorn other kinds of public expense. Theoretically then, one could measure the militaristic and imperial tendencies of the world’s countries by comparing how much they each spend on their military.

As we can see from this chart, America spends about as much money on her military as the rest of the countries in the world combined. What does that say about our priorities? A wise man once said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart also lies.”

While many militaristic societies in the past have persuaded themselves of the their cause, the world has yet to produce one that was not hated, opposed, and defeated. Sometimes it takes some decades or centuries, but at other times the defeats come stunningly fast. Who would have thought the Soviet Empire would have imploded so quickly? This often happens when a country has a poor leader or a series of poor leaders who open up wars on several fronts thus overstretching the military, or alienating allies by hubristic and self-interested behavior, or relying too much on a military economy, or not really having the resources to pay for all the campaigning and going into debt, or not planning for the inevitable plague or natural disaster. Does any of this sound familiar?

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Political Theater

Richard Cohen cannot understand why his “Colbert isn’t funny” op-ed instantly got him thousands of angry e-mails in response. The left must have lost its mind. These people are completely unreasonable, and they are a threat to decent discourse and to the Democratic party.

What Cohen doesn’t understand is that his response to Colbert re-enacts the whole disgrace of the mainstream media’s failure to question the rationale for the Iraq war before it was launched. Those of us who opposed the war from the start saw our viewpoints systematically marginalized, dismissed out of hand—along with Al Gore’s—as “beyond the pale” by opinion leaders like Cohen, not just by conservative but by all moderate and many liberal commentators. No matter how awful the disaster, these liberal hawks still regard themselves as morally superior for having supported the war at the start.

The fact that the assembled arbiters of our discourse didn’t find Colbert’s routine funny means that they still don’t understand what they did when they refused to have the debate about the war, when they, like stenographers, took down the administration’s weak case for war, when they pronounced themselves “convinced” by Colin Powell’s deeply flawed UN presentation, when they endlessly parroted the narrative of President Bush’s “resolve” and “boldness.”

That Cohen has the nerve to come back and say “it’s not funny” just shows that they’d make the same mistake all over again. Colbert’s act was a better impersonation of our elite media discourse than Steve Bridges’ celebrated impersonation of the president. The reason why the audience in attendance didn’t find it funny is because the joke was on them.

It’s a silly controversy on the surface, but like all good political theater it exposes a deeper truth. Cohen’s effort to marginalize Colbert is just a mirror image of his marginalization of the whole opposition to the war. It induces anger because it enacts the same drama we all know so well: Our elites naked in the public square tell us that we don’t see what we see with our own eyes. Colbert was deeply, profoundly funny. Who is Cohen to say otherwise? He’s walking around naked.

Handicapping the Trend

Josh Marshall thinks that Bush's approval ratings may sink into the high 20's soon, but chiefly because the high 20's are already within the statistical margin of error:

Mind you, I'm not saying that the president's popularity will continue to fall into the 20s. The continuing descent is something like a mathematical limit. Each point lower digs deeper into the base of truly committed partisans and unquestioning hacks. So knocking off each new point on the way down requires ever greater displays of incompetence, failure and general infamy. And even for President Bush that's a challenge. So, as I say, I'm not saying he'll really get down into the 20s. I'm saying that if the president is consistently scoring like 32% or 33%, the margin of error built into the polls themselves should eventually spit out an outlier under 30%.

I'm not so sure that Bush's actual numbers might not drop, eventually, into the high 20's. Not right away, perhaps. Not next week. But even committed partisans have come to disapprove of Bush's performance, and it's actually pretty easy to understand why. Bush hasn't only been a terrible president--he's been a terrible conservative president, too, if you get my drift. And it's possible to imagine some really bad news in the next few weeks. A Rove indictment, for example, would be a political disaster for the administration. (I'm not saying that it will happen, but it could.) Then, we're into summer, and gas prices could go higher. Plus, summer is hurricane season. Now, maybe some of you think that FEMA is ready for a major hurricane. I would like to believe that that is true, too. But I've seen enough incompetence from these guys to know better than that.

It looks like the administration is hoping for a political fight over the Hayden nomination to head the CIA to pull their numbers up and help solidify their base. That might work, but if I were running the show, I would be reluctant to highlight the NSA program, the Pentagon's takeover of U.S. policy, and the failures of the administration to implement intelligence reform in the past two years. The best analysis I have seen, so far, was on MSNBC, I think, last night: Hayden is the man because, frankly, there's no one else that is qualified (Hayden is clearly qualified) and would take the job. In other words, the "political strategery" argument is just spin, because once Goss resigned/was forced to resign/fired for mysterious reasons . . . there was no one else . . . .

Monday, May 08, 2006

Read it and Weep

Courtesy of a post from Bob Somerby.

Here's what Al Gore had to say about the Iraq War back in September 2002 before the war was launched:

"I am deeply concerned that the course of action that we are presently embarking upon with respect to Iraq has the potential to seriously damage our ability to win the war against terrorism and to weaken our ability to lead the world in this new century.

I believe we should focus our efforts first and foremost against those who attacked us on September 11th and who have thus far gotten away with it. The vast majority of those who sponsored, planned and implemented the cold-blooded murder of more than 3,000 Americans are still at large."

Gore's speech was carefully reasoned, point by point, with no rhetorical excesses, no cheap shots. He raised questions about the lack of plans for a postwar Iraq, about the cost of the war for taxpayers, the difficulties it would cause for diplomatic relations around the world. It's worth re-reading.

Gore's speech was regarded as utterly outside the bounds of respectable elite opinion, both on the op-ed pages and by the political class generally. Take Michael Kelly, for example, arbiter of centrist (even center-left) opinion. Here's what Kelly, editor of the Atlantic Monthly, former editor of the New Republic, Washington Post columnist, had to say about Gore's speech in a Washington Post op-ed:

"It distinguished Gore, now and forever, as someone who cannot be considered a responsible aspirant to power. Politics are allowed in politics, but there are limits, and there is a pale, and Gore has now shown himself to be ignorant of those limits, and he has now placed himself beyond that pale.

Gore's speech was one no decent politician could have delivered. It was dishonest, cheap, low. It was hollow. It was bereft of policy, of solutions, of constructive ideas, very nearly of facts -- bereft of anything other than taunts and jibes and embarrassingly obvious lies. It was breathtakingly hypocritical, a naked political assault delivered in tones of moral condescension from a man pretending to be superior to mere politics. It was wretched. It was vile. It was contemptible. But I understate."

Ironically enough, Kelly himself would be an early casualty of the Iraqi insurgency. While covering the war in Iraq in April 2003, his Humvee was fired upon by guerillas and it overturned. He drowned in a canal.

Come to think of it, Michael Kelly offers a (partial) metaphor for the way in which the Iraq War has discredited our whole political class, political and media elites alike. They all rushed us into this war, and they all (or nearly all) bear responsibility for it. And their credibility is just as dead as Kelly is. Unfortunately--and here is where the metaphor goes awry--most of the other war-boosters have managed to find other people to die for their mistakes.

Lead Story, on Insanity and Colmes, Is . . . ?

Tonight, the lead story on Fox News' Insanity and Colmes is . . . the Duke rape case. Not turmoil at the CIA. Not violence in Iraq. Not the president's 31% approval rating. Not Darfur. Not high gas prices. Not even Patrick Kennedy's substance abuse problems.

No, the hard-hitting headline: "accuser first claimed 20 players raped her." Well, that manages to be titillating and sinister at the same time. Perfect Fox. Sean Insanity just asked one "expert" guest: "How do you go from 20 to three?" Now that's reporting. Now I'm deciding. To shut this bullshit off.

New Fox slogan: "We Report. But Bush is the Decider."

Thoughts on Empire

Stephanie raises a point in comments below: If our government's impulses [in Iraq] were truly imperialist, we would already have installed a constitutional government of our own design. Instead, we are letting the Iraqis flounder more or less on their own. This is, of course, in response to this post.

I'm not so sure that this is a convincing argument. Does it really follow that, if our goals were truly imperialist, that we would "have installed a constitutional government of our own design" by now? The pattern of imperialism seems to be, rather, that one governs the territories one dominates through whatever means are at hand: local rulers or elites, including "protectorates"; [civilian] colonial governors; military despotism. I'm not persuaded that there's one kind of rule that equals colonialism. There's nothing special about installing a favored form of government. The U.S. may have "installed" (maybe not the right word) a U.S.-style government in the Philippines in 1946 (Filipino Independence Day is the same as ours, July 4), but our presence there was "imperialistic" from the Battle of Manila Bay, even when the islands were ruled by the "Philippines Commission."

The real questions here are (1) whether the "sovereign" "permanent" Iraqi government (remove the quotation marks--I dare you) has the power to demand that the hundred-thousand-plus U.S. troops currently occupying/liberating the country leave Iraq ASAP; and (2) whether the current administration has, as one of its goals, a permanent presence in Iraq with an eye toward dominating political and military events in the Middle East for the foreseeable future. If the answer to (1) is "no," and to (2) is "yes," then I think it's hard to refute the imperialism charge.

The "floundering" then is not a concession to Iraqi self-rule, but a concession to facts on the ground--the U.S. clearly cannot hope to govern Iraq without the support of local elites, and the whole Chalabi thing didn't pan out--and to world opinion.

Didn't Pheidippides Die?

Paul has posted a great post on The Persians. (It always pays to have a classicist on-board.) I have to admit that I was also unaware that Herodotus reported that Pheidippides ran 150 miles in one day. My memory was that he had run only 20 miles in that day, and that then he died. (After, of course, delivering his world-historical message: "The Persians are coming." Or something similar.) Paul's version makes more sense: If Pheidippides had run only 20 miles, and then died, then that would be curious. If he ran 150 miles, in one day, and then died . . . well, I can see that. Oh, yeah.

So, sorry, no Spartathalon in my future. Btw, isn't it weird that one event in the "ironman" is swimming? I mean, a real ironman would sink, clearly.

Confederate Kitsch '08

In a post below, I marvelled at David Brooks's odd column about how the high school lunchroom (geeks and jocks) explained the cultural differences between Democrats and Republicans. While struggling vainly to vindicate the GOP as the party of "cool," Brooks showed his obliviousness to the impact of race on political affiliation. But his more glaring flaw actually involved class. The purpose of his exercise seemed to be a rebuttal of the charge that today's politics flowed from class distinctions: the GOP isn't the party of wealth, it is the party of "athletes," those superior natural specimens who succeed by their own talents but often breed irrational resentment as a consequence. I.e., Rousseau's Second Discourse, in reverse.

Problem? As anyone who has attended high school (or seen at least one teen movie) knows, the "cool" clique in most lunchrooms is determined more by social class than by athletic prowess. The rich kids rule. And as anybody who has seen today's GOP knows, its leaders are less the fruits of American meritocracy than of enduring privilege, as our "Cheerleader-in-Chief" helps personify. So why would Brooks devote time to a swiss cheese argument? I'd been wondering, but I think I discovered an answer on the cover of the New Republic: this is all about George Allen's presidential run in 2008.

If you haven't read it, I strongly recommend taking a look at Ryan Lizza's cover story on the Virginia Senator ("Pin Prick"), especially since he's the GOP establishment's current "It Boy." Be prepared. It almost makes you wish that George W. would just cancel the election (again!? better get Nino on this quick!) and graciously serve a third term. In short, Lizza presents Allen as a grade-A jackass, almost the stereotype of the unbearable high school jock: a football-playing bully who talks constantly about the game, drives around in a red mustang, beats his siblings silly, and, most notably, flies the confederate flag. And boy does he fly it. He puts it on his license plate, he wears it on a pin for the yearbook picture, and he even gets suspended for an incident in which he rallies school spirit for a game against a rival black high school by covertly spray painting "DIE WHITEY" and "BURN BABY BURN" on his own school and blaming it on the black kids. Oh yeah, in case you're wondering, this was in the late 1960s. Years later, Allen displayed a confederate flag in his home and a lynching tree complete with noose in his law office.

Now all this would be bad enough if Allen were, in fact, a southerner. As it turns out, he just a frickin' poser. Or maybe I should say "poseur," since, while his dad was a famous football coach in Chicago and LA, his mom was French. Not just genealogically, like say, Tom DeLay--she's a bona fide Frenchie who hated America, did her housework in frilly lingerie, and competed in belly button contests (she apparently won). Young George grew up rich and urban, mostly in southern California, so his confederacy chic was pure fiction. He was just a deeply confused, Frenchified, racist meat head in the throes of an identity crisis (with possible Oedipal issues) from which he never recovered. Apparently, Virginians didn't notice when they voted him first governor and then senator. Heck, all that tobacco he spits at campaign events is just a sign of "authenticity."

On its own, this story would just be pathetic. Yet this is not an isolated incident. It has to be understood as part of the GOP's celebration of the southern poseur as the pinnacle of heartland authenticity. George W fits this bill too: preppy, old money New Englander who drills some dry oil wells, fakes a southern accent, buys a ranch, and cuts brush (in his pennyloafers) so that he can run for president. Allen kicks that up a full notch. There's an obvious point here about the GOP: corporate America gussied up for the tent revival. But I'm actually more interested about what this says about today's South. Because we're the ones who, overwhelmingly, buy this shlock. Call it "confederate kitsch" and notice that it is now virtually everywhere. Just have some breakfast at Cracker Barrel, walk into your neighborhood mega-church, or turn on country radio to hear slick studio sounds that are almost indistinguishable from LA pop music.

Much like the Arab world, where wealthy, westernized Muslims like Osama seek authenticity by hurling themselves into radical fundamentalism, the South is caught in a crisis of hyphenated identity. Ironically enough, the south as "South" is disappearing, by precisely those forces that now revel in southern nostalgia. The old, slow agrarian life, celebrated by writers like William Faulkner, Robert Penn Warren, and Richard Weaver, is fading away, replaced by unrelenting corporate drive. We're becoming much more similar to the rest of the US, with the same chain stores, the same SUVs, and the same soulless suburban architecture. Few of us who live here are pure southerners, either (for the record, I'm southern on only one side, and I was born in Baltimore.) And the best way to reconcile this change is to become oblivious to it, so oblivious that we can righteously elevate kitsch as authenticity and cool.

Luckily for us, the national news media goes along for the ride, egging on Congress as it stages a "Come to Jesus" impeachment spectacle for Clinton, the real southerner gone astray, while flattering Bush's every pose: "He's a cowboy!" Well, maybe at a drag show. (My apologies to our transgendered readers; the comparison is unfair to you.) Of course, David Brooks doesn't see any of this. Like many wealthy, northeastern conservatives (Ann Coulter, anyone?), he's too enthralled with the fake masculinity of this charade to question it. Like Rousseau, he's looking for his "golden age." Let's set all the fact aside, said the great Frenchman (OK, Genevan, so French-speaking Swissman), and imagine a bygone era, one where men were men, and where no government interfered with their natural goodness and freedom. A final irony: the conservative movement that began with Edmund Burke's anti-utopian and anti-(French) revolutionary pragmatism has ended with a Rouseauean dream. The revolution has now officially devoured its children. Mon Dieu!

Hubris Breeds a Tyrant

The guy who sounds like an old lady on the phone Emery invited a few comments on Aeschylus’ Persai. I’ll indulge him with some comments on the historical background of the play before turning to the relevance today of its major theme, hubris. It is indeed the oldest extant play in the western canon and was produced in 472 BC, only 7 years after the Persian defeat at Salamis. It is also the only surviving Greek tragedy based (loosely) on historical events – in this case the Persians Wars.

The roots of those began with the Ionian Revolt in 499, which was basically an insurgency against Persian rule among Greek city-states on the coast of modern-day Turkey. The Athenians and Eretrians were the only two Greek mainland city-states to send some help to support the revolt. In 498 the insurgents managed to fire Sardis, the capital of a the Persian satrapy. Eventually Darius put down the revolt in 494 at Lade.

In 492 Darius then sent his general Mardonius into north of Greece (Thrace, Macedonia) to reduce the towns there in preparation for a punitive expedition against Athens and Eretria. Mardonius was successful on land, but Poseidon wrecked the Persian fleet at Mt. Athos, and that delayed his revenge by a couple years.

But Darius was plucky, and readied another fleet by 490, this time island-hopping across the Aegean rather than getting caught on the rocks at Mt. Athos.

This culminated in the famous Battle of Marathon in 490. The Persian fleet landed on the coast there, Pheidippides/Pheilippides ran 150 miles to Sparta to get their help (note, he did not run 26.2 miles to Athens; later historians didn’t think someone could run 150 miles in a day, as Herodotus reported, so they changed the story, but the Spartathlon is now run today, usually between 22 and 26 hours; Emery, if you want to really be an iron man, you’ve got to be like Yannis Kouros and run the Spartathlon). The Athenians, however, charged down the hill and surprised the Persians as they were disembarking from the ships, and they defeated them. So the Darius and the Persians went back home, with their tails between their legs.

Darius then died in 486 and was succeeded by Xerxes.

After consolidating his power for a few years, Xerxes then set about reversing the ignomious stain of his father’s defeat. [Just a side note: as Emery well knows, I have long thought that W’s entire political career was built around the Oedipal urge to outwit his father’s ghost. So, if George 41 raised taxes once, George 43 lowered them 5 times; George 41 tried to balance the budget, George 43 let it balloon; George 41 didn’t finish off Sadam, George 43 would; George 41 was cool towards the evangelicals, George 43 embraced them; even George 43’s nickname “W” is reflective of this urge to distinguish himself from his father].

Xerxes led another land/sea attack on Greece. In doing so, he spared no expense, building a bridge across the Hellespont for his army and digging a canal at Mt. Athos for his navy to pass safely through. He also forced most the Greek city-states to “Medize”. But a loosely-knit rag-tag group of 33 resisted, led by Athens and Sparta. They were able to defeat the Persian fleet at the Battle of Salamis in 480, and then 1 year later they defeated the Persian army at the Battle of Plataia. Xerxes and his army eventually returned home, completely humiliated. Local insurgencies always have the upper hand, a lesson our own American Revolution should have taught us.

So that’s the historical backdrop of the play. Obviously there are a many differences about the Persian Wars that one could point to when comparing them to the American invasion of Iraq. Nevertheless Greek tragedy is timeless, and the Persai in particular, precisely because of its (how better to say it?) “tragic” vision of life, which did not remain confined to the stage, but it spread from there to other media, most notably underwriting the histories of Herodotus and Thucydides. One of the well known lessons of Greek tragedy and history that we all learn in high school is that hubris causes a downfall. Hackneyed though that lesson now be, it may be worthwhile to pause over the word hubris for a moment to understand the context of this conceit. Hubris is usually translated into English simply as “pride”, but that just doesn’t do it justice. Greek hubris is not merely an attitude, it is specifically an attitude of disdain that leads to a wanton act of violence. The Greeks, being practical above all else, focused more on the action than the attitude, so hubris for them was not divorced from the violent act that grew out of the attitude. They were part and parcel. It was also a technical legal term, the usage of which can shed light on its meaning. So, for instance, if a man raped a girl, he was prosecuted for hubris (that which he committed against the girl’s father). We get a better handle on the word with its Latin counterpart superbia – again a haughtiness and disdain that lead to an arrogant act of violence. Thus Tarquin is forever known as Superbus, because he raped the virtuous Lucretia.

The mention of Tarquin brings in another famous aspect of hubris – it’s associated especially with tyrants. That, of course, is the association Aeschylus makes use of in his Persai. Xerxes had hubris because he thought so little of using violence to subdue Greece. Sophocles perhaps said it best in the Oedipus: “Hubris breeds a tyrant” or some manuscripts have the reverse, “A tyrant breeds hubris.” Either way, tyranny and hubris go hand in hand. And who could forget that hubris was later dubbed the worst of the 7 deadly sins in Christian thought? Well, unfortunately the evangelical community in the US. For what else other than hubris could one fairly call the Project for the New American Century and its first substantiation in the preemptive war in Iraq? What else could one call but tyrannical hubris than little George setting aside the constitution and laws to do as he pleases? Those of us who oppose these hubristic imperial policies do so, not because we want to see America fail, but because we know that America will fail if she follows such ideology. It will fail because people do not like or trust anyone who uses violence preemptively; they instinctively run from it and resist it. The opposition to US imperial dreams has long since begun and created a strong headwind. Jose Maria Anzar was defeated in the Spanish elections because he joined the coalition of the willing. After his defeat Spanish troops were withdrawn from Iraq, leaving the coalition smaller. Berlusconi has now been defeated, in no small part because he was close to Bush. Watch for Italian troops to be withdrawn from Nasyria by the end of the year and the Italians moving closer to the EU, leaving the US further isolated. Tony Blair is suffering open rebellion from his own party and his role as PM is in its last, bitter throes because of Iraq. British troops will be out soon too, maybe within a year, maybe longer, but when it happens it will leave us virtually isolated in Iraq. Condi Rice visited Greece last week and there were massive riots in the streets, not unlike when Powell tried to visit the Olympics there in 2004. The American World Cup squad is the only one that must travel with no flag on their bus in Germany, due to security reasons. Meanwhile, there is a growing group of Latin American countries that are openly fighting back against American imperialism right in our own back yard. And in the midst of all this, W and his neocon friends are kicking around the idea of preemptively nuking Iranian nuke sites. If they do, as I said before, they will take us down through every spiral of the Aeschylean fall. Wouldn't Barbara Bush be a great Atossa?