29 January 2007

Slater Gives Me Pain To Read About Paine (CS)

As a lowly grad student at NYU, perhaps I shouldn't be accusing a Harvard Ph. D. of crappy scholarship, but Philip Slater's latest blog on Thomas Paine has offended my ever so delicate Historical sensibilities.

Ignoring Slater's mistake that it's Paine's 170th birthday (it'd actually be his 270th), the most absurd posit of Slater's is that Paine was non-violent. Slater doesn't use that exact wording, but he does go out of his way to point out that Paine never killed anyone or ordered anyone to be killed. Really? Paine could be described as a professional revolutionary. He spent little time enjoying the fruits of the American Revolution and was quickly off to write more revolutionary pamphlets in support of the revolution in France. Paine fought with his words and it would be unfortunate for us to assume that he was so naive to think that his revolutionary goals could be achieved without bloodshed. In fact, straight from The Crisis we can read:
Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph

Paine was well aware of what price needed to be paid to escape from the monarchies he despised and clearly had no qualms about rhetoric that would push the populace in the direction of this eventual violence. Slater even says that Paine served with and supported Washington's army.

Slater attempts to turn this support of Washington and the country on its head, pointing out that Washington did nothing to get him out of prison in France. But Paine's unhappy turns had little do with being forsaken by American leaders, as Slater suggests. Slater conveniently ignores any possible diplomatic problems in extracting Paine, particularly in influencing a figure like Robespierre. Similarly, in regards to Paine's tribulations upon returning to America, Slater ignores that Paine returned during the Second Great Awakening, a time when his Deist beliefs would not go over well with the public and his politics (and even friendship with Jefferson) would ostracize him from Federalists. It was a highly partisan time where Paine was a pariah to most. Slater also conveniently ignores Paine's Letter to Washington, in which he harshly criticized Washington, Adams, and the structure of the American government (particularly the office of the Executive). This is only one of several angry letters Paine wrote to America that certainly would not have ingratiated him with people of influence.

Slater's biggest complaint seems to be that American Presidents are immortalized with monuments while Paine died in obscurity and is un-honored in America. I suppose Slater decided to forgo a simple Wikipedia search in order to learn that Paine has a bust in NYU's "Pantheon of Heroes" as well as a statue in Morristown, NJ and one in Bordentown, NJ.

By setting up Paine as a non-violent and under appreciated hero, without decent evidence to support his complaints, Slater does more harm than good to Paine's beloved cause. Slater falls right into the typical caricature of the liberal professor railing against money and violence from the ivory tower, actual scholarship be damned. He becomes fodder for Conservative attacks without providing any scholarly footwork for the (thinking) Left to support him.

Paine is honored by the very sustained existence of liberal governments, not only in America and France, but wherever they appear across the Globe. Though he died a pauper's death with few friends by his side, this proliferation of liberal government is a legacy I imagine Paine would prefer far more than dying fat and rich or with a massive likeness carved into a mountain.

P.S. A thousand apologies for that blog post title... but... I was helpless.

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24 January 2007

Today in the Fox Newsiverse
Sunny, 76 degrees in the shade, and ...

Republicans still hold Congress!

Today's photo on Fox's Hannity and Colmes hub uses a picture from a previous year's State of the Union address; Dennis Hastert is still in the Speaker's chair.

Hat tip to JMP on the C&L comment board.

23 January 2007

In All Fairness ... (BR)
Nothing more than a power grab by the Demoblicans

The presentation of an editorial on this site which concurs with the opinion of Frothmeister Sean Hannity is about as rare as the appearance of Kohoutek, so get out your high-powered telescopes.

The revival of the issue of the "Fairness Doctrine" -- quotes mine -- by newly-empowered congressional Democrats is a flimsy smokescreen meant to guarantee the two-party stranglehold on political broadcasting in perpetuity.

On this issue everyone in the public sphere is clueless. The Republicans who don't know better see this strictly as a liberal move to silence conservative thought on Fox News and particularly talk radio, which is seen as a bastion of grassroots populist political movement on the Right. Liberals, on the other hand, imagine reinstatement of the Doctrine, repealed during the Reagan administration, the antidote to the right-wing media apparatus increasingly, visibly playing footsie with Republican politicians. Both are wrong.

The Fairness Doctrine should not be reinstated. There is nothing fair about it. It is a naked ploy by Republicans and Democrats to hijack our public airwaves, use them to trick the American people into believing that there are only two sides to any given issue, and squelch any serious independent or third-party political movement.

Freshman Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) appeared on Fox's weeknightly car bomb called Hannity & Colmes to tout the resurrection of the Fairness Doctrine, and faced an unexpectedly uppity Alan Colmes, who prefaced his interview with the Congressman by stating his personal opposition to the Doctrine on free-speech grounds. Cohen, perhaps taken off guard by this, made an utter fool of himself in a flailing defense of his position.

When asked his view on Congress' responsibility in regulating broadcast content, Cohen responded, incredibly:
The proper role of government, I think, is to see that the media does not have too much influence, like they did, say, in Nazi Germany, when the media was used to take over peoples' minds.
The media during the Third Reich would not have wielded the power it did had it not been under the total authority of the regime. Cohen's use of Nazi Germany as an example either highlights his own ignorance of history or his assumption of similar ignorance on the part of Americans. That he was not challenged on this point by Colmes or Hannity indicates the latter.

I'm truly shocked that my fellow Democrats, who read fascist and imperialist designs into anything said or written by a Republican, don't recognize the creeping Orwellianism of something called a "Fairness Doctrine". People who rightly sneered at the ideas that a certain education bill would prevent children being "left behind" or that there could be anything "PATRIOT"-ic about empowering the government with Total Information Awareness are now falling like dominoes for the same deceitful sloganeering, now that their party is in control. Markos Moulitsas breathlessly essayed back in June about the growing contingency of "Libertarian Democrats," words which today ring hollow given Kos' silence on this matter.

It's nice to believe that an enlightened and democratically-elected government might use all the tools at its disposal, including the media, to prevent one party or school of thought from monopolizing the marketplace of ideas. Nice, but foolish, and ultimately destructive. Democrats should think long and hard about how the decisions they make today, and the power with which they endow themselves, might be used and interpreted later on, once the electorate inevitably swings back to the Republican side. If a law loosening pollution regulations can be called the "Clear Skies Act" and passed by Congress, surely the "Fairness Doctrine" can be used to kill political opposition.

The fact is, we already have a real fairness doctrine on the books, and it has worked remarkably well lo these past 231 years of American history; it goes a little something like this:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

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15 January 2007

His Obsession a.k.a. Bush's Madness Related to Radness a.k.a Animotion Ahead of Their Time (CS)

How does one describe President Bush's attitude towards Iraq? I'm going to try, but as an aid, I'm going to reach way back to the mid-80s for this gem:

Ah yes, Animotion's "Obsession."
Give it a good watch/listen.

Animotion went a bit wild with the costumes in this one. The video opens with the jester's shoe tapping to the beat. Later we see this character idiotically "drumming" around the reflecting pool. The President has been characterized as an idiot and a clown often enough that this comparison should be obvious enough, The President is The Idiot. Though later on we see the lead-man (in his cheesy Miami Vice-esque blazer and also dressed as a Roman centurion) it is the fool, the idiot (just like the President) who is setting the beat to which we must all dance (or march, as the case may be).

Of course, George W. Bush would wish himself to be associated with the Centurion. This is the figure that tries to take the lead in this video, brandishing his sword and swearing victory. He objectifies his counterpart, the Cleopatra figure. Here we see the classic set up of Occident vs. Orient. These are close to the simple terms within which Bush often phrases the war. It is always an "us" and "them" proposition. Bush's oversimplification of Iraq and the entire region of the Middle East is a modern day act of Orientalism at its worst and most destructive. His silly and uneducated view of the Middle East might even be expressed with Animotion's lyrics:
I will find a way and I will have you
Like a butterfly
A wild butterfly
I will collect you and capture you

Like the Lothario seeking his prey, or to stick to the very words, the butterfly catcher seeking the butterfly, Bush has fetishized Iraq. He sees it (and likely always has) as the quill in his cap, the essential mission he was put in this position for, the golden star in his collection of lifetime achievements. However, not all has gone according to plan for poor Bushie. As the song goes:
My fantasy has turned to madness
And all my goodness
Has turned to badness

That an occupation could ever have worked is, of course, purely Bush's delusion and the Centurion of the video mirrors this as he is also a complete sham. Notice at the 1:11 mark the huge sign "HOLLYWOOD" appearing right by the Centurion's head. For all his attempts to appear stoic and powerful, we can see right through him, right into the artifice. Try and sit through one of the President's speeches. Look at his face and listen to his words. A big "HOLLYWOOD" sign might as well be planted above his head as well. Also like our President, the Centurion of "Obsession" has not proven himself in battle. In the only scene where we see him "fighting" (2:09) he is wagging his sword about like a child, play-fighting. From his far too cavalier attitude toward using America's armed forces abroad, we can guess that Bush's conception of battle to be just as infantile.

The Arabian is another figure that pops up in "Obsession." He sits by the poolside bored and ignored. You'll notice that the Jester (our established ACTUAL Bush character) takes one look at the Arabian and decides to not deal with him at all (2:20). Likewise, the mission in Iraq was never about the people, but instead all about Bush. Had this been an actual humanitarian or democratizing mission, then how come so little attention was paid to tribal factions within Iraq or the will of the people (which would have us out of the country yesterday)? How come so little attention continues to be paid to humanitarian crises in other pars of the world such as Sudan and Zimbabwe (where there is even less of an excuse of Chinese and Russian slow-peddling on the security council as in Darfur)?

The Iraqi people are not the only group Bush has ignored. His critics and the people of various nations (including his own) tried to warn him. Even many of his generals and advisers have gone against the administration line. But despite all this, despite even saying that he wasn't "Stay the Course," Bush has stayed the course as if that were the ONLY option. Once again, I defer to Animotion (as if speaking for Bush):
You protest
You want to leave
Oh, there's no alternative

There are moments in the video which simply cannot be explained in any sort of reasonable fashion such as the stiff, writhing, ineffectual astronaut (perhaps relateable to Bush's aircraft carrier flightsuit stunt?). But even the absurd reminds one of our current predicament, for how else would one describe this madness except as absurd. Animotion's video appears, at times, to be fueled by coke and/or simply batshiat insane. Bush's history with coke aside, his policy in Iraq could be seen the same way, without direction, maddening.

Most obviously, the song is about obsession, which is the only way one could seem to describe Bush's attitude towards Iraq at this point. He seemed determined to fix the intelligence around getting into Iraq, throughout the war refused to accept any criticism or advice that strayed from his course, and now, with seemingly only Barney and the First Lady by his side, he has stubbornly chose an option few if any (including his generals) would go with. Bush is the decider. And he has decided not to give an inch... Animotion:
There's no balance
No equality
Be still I will not accept defeat

The entire video takes place at a big mansion in the hills. It comes across as a bunch of spoiled children playing roles. It is a game and in the end they will leave their costumes behind. In Bush's case, however, we must wonder what the situation will be by the time he hangs up his spurs. All his good intentions are worthless and artificial (whether he realizes it or not) for behind them all is an undeniable obsession which on the world stage can be characterized as nothing but destructive. When Bush is finally done playing his game from the fancy house up on the hill, how much damage will have been wrought by this obsession?

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11 January 2007

Movin' Unit (BR)
Yankees shed 82 inches of unsightly mass in one day!

A mid-winter discussion on America's pastime -- that would be baseball, not cooking and selling methamphetamine -- is sure to elicit a groan from the regular readers of this site, but that's alright.

See, this time of year always gets me down anyway, and with Admiral Monkeyface last night delivering what's got to be the most depressing speech I've ever watched, I'm totally unmotivated to blog politics. Here on out, I'm just counting the days until pitchers and catchers report to Florida and Arizona for Spring Training.

Thirty-five, if you were wondering.

I'm genuinely excited about what next season holds for my beloved New York Yankees, because for the first time in quite awhile, this off-season was not punctuated by the acquisition of the biggest-name free agent on the market. Until last week, New York's most notable wheel-slash-deal had been the shipment of Gary Sheffield to the Detroit Tigers for a package of three Minor League pitching prospects, including fireballer Humberto Sanchez, who is likely to see at least some Major League action in 2007.

Happily, the Bombers continued the purge of the aged and enfeebled on Tuesday by trading Methuselaian left-hander Randy Johnson and most of his bloated $16 million salary back to Arizona whence he came, in exchange for middle reliever Luis Vizcaino and three Minor Leaguers including pitchers Ross Ohlendorf and Steven Jackson, both of whom had sparkling 2006 campaigns for Double-A Tennessee.

Johnson began his tenure in pinstripes two years ago by verbally accosting and shoving a reporter on his way to the press conference to officially announce his joining the club. It was all downhill from there. Though he was credited with 17 victories in each of his two seasons with the Yankees, more credit is due to the potent offense than to Johnson himself for these numbers. Had he demonstrated even half the brilliance that distinguished his years with the Diamondbacks and Seattle Mariners, it's conceivable he might have won 25 games apiece these last two seasons.

The Yankees traded righty Javier Vazquez and catcher Dioner Navarro for Johnson, then already 41 years old, as part of a three-team deal in early 2005, and immediately locked him into a two-year contract extension. Unit had been a favorite and target of frequent overtures from New York owner George Steinbrenner for years, and as is becoming an annual ritual, the acquisition was heralded by The Boss as the final piece in the Yankees' quest for a 27th World Championship and their first since 2000.

But a balky back, about which he was less than forthcoming with the Yankees' brass and trainers, slowed Johnson's fastball considerably and robbed his slider of all its bite, and Johnson's work ethic and hunger to win seemed to have declined in proportion. Johnson remarked after several of his losing outings that he was "happy just to keep [his] team in the game," which is not what a pitcher is typically paid an eight-digit annual salary to do.

The monolithic southpaw will be remembered by Yankees fans for his embarrassing performances in the playoffs. After twice thwarting the pinstripers in post-season play -- in the 1995 American League Division Series for Seattle and in the 2001 World Series as a Diamondback -- Johnson looked lost on the mound in both of his playoff starts with the Yankees, going 0-1 with a 10.34 ERA as his heavily-favored team fell in the opening round two years in a row.

More than ridding itself of an aged, creaky, cranky, underachieving and overpaid pitcher, the Yankees' 86ing of Randy Johnson signals a sea change in the way the front office conducts business. It marks a commitment to building the team around a nexus of young talent developed at the organizational level, rather than re-arming each season with a collection of high-priced hired guns who have never played as teammates before and thus have little chemistry.

Though the ground-up strategy of team construction probably means an end to the annual inevitability of a divisional first-place berth for the Yankees, it portends the re-establishment of a more intimate connection between the team and its true-blue fans. We have cause to hope that young sparkplugs like Chien-Ming Wang, Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera, easily the three most exciting Yankees of the season past, are just the first wave of a dynamic youth movement that leads the team into a new, less evil, non-imperial era.

05 January 2007

Iran: What cartoon? huh? (CS)

As reported in The Comics Journal no. 280, there is finally a winner for that Iranian Holocaust cartoon contest. Some Americans might have a dim recollection of this contest and how it was initiated in response to Danish cartoons depicting and lampooning Mohammad. In the U.S., the story about the contest was hardly a sidebar feature as it went up against reports of protests, riots and the burning of embassies across the Islamic world. It makes sense that we would forget about it in America.

What is strange, however, is that Iranians have forgotten about the contest too. Here was an issue Muslims seemed pretty worked up over and yet the winning cartoon was not published by any Iranian newspaper. TCJ shows reluctance to accept reports that "the entire affair [was] one that drew little-to-no interest from the Iranian public." And yet the winning cartoon didn't even run in the best-selling Iranian paper, Hamshahri, which sponsored the contest.

I didn't think the contest was such a bad idea. I thought it could have been an effective way to exercise some humor (rather than violence) within the situation. The winning results were (predictably) weak, and I suppose I was hoping for something more along the lines of what The Pain had to offer. But even more upsetting to me than what was chosen as a "good entry" is this lack of interest in the contest at all. It seems to indicate a disingenuous aspect to Islamic anger with the West, that there is much less frustration than advertised and without the incitement of this anger and violence from a handful of people, there would be room for more constructive ideas and methods for dealing with frustration. Or perhaps I'm reading far too much into something no one seems concerned with reading at all.

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04 January 2007

Keith Ellison Exhibits the Wisdom of a Librarian (CS)

Lefty bloggers are pretty impressed with Keith Ellison's cheeky move in not only swearing in on the Koran, but Thomas Jefferson's very own copy of it. They figure that should stick it to complaining conservatives. Though, I don't see how it helps that Ellison is swearing in on a controversial holy book used as justification by enemies of our state worldwide and then chooses a copy once owned by a radical insurgent who fought against one of our greatest allies.

Joking aside, it's actually a more complicated matter than just saying, "Well Thomas Jefferson owned a copy, so there!" It's important to see how Thomas Jefferson read and understood the Koran. It didn't take long for for conservatives to dredge up the historical reference of Jefferson's trip to Tripoli and the Muslim al-jihad fil-bahr (holy war at sea) there, justified through the Koran, that Jefferson had to put an end to.

Those who have looked into it would say that Jefferson acquired the Koran primarily for the purposes of studying law* (There is, after all, a depiction of Mohammad on a frieze in the Supreme Court, part of a series of prominent law makers in history. What, didn't you know?). Dan Riehl calls this academic speculation, but the academic speculation makes a lot more sense than his own. Kiehl's argument (and those you'll see from most commentators on the Right) lacks any sort of extensive research. But he'll have you believe that he perfectly understands the context of a singular comment made by Jefferson (his relay to Congress of the Barbary pirates use of the Koran as justification) and that it can be applied to the man's life entirely. This is what one would call a lack of historical nuance.**

Also, as someone who works very closely with the library profession, I think there is something to be said for how Jefferson chose to catalog his books. How an academic chooses to arrange his personal library says a lot about how he categorizes the world in his own mind and Jefferson was certainly very particular about the arrangement of his books. So if one were to go back in time and visit Jefferson at Monticello, where would one look on the shelf to find the Koran? Within the works on religion, right next to the Old Testament, the Bible, and books on Roman and Greek mythologies. This would support the common argument of Jefferson's deism and implies the same sort of understanding one would find in his 1777 draft of a Bill for Religious Freedom. All of it adds up to give us an idea of Jefferson's liberal character. We know Jefferson was a smart, strong, resolved, and academic individual who understood how texts could function in different ways within society. One would think that in the case of Tripoli, Jefferson saw that he wasn't at war with Islam, but with pirates who attempted to justify themselves through a religious text.

Ellison indeed made a wise move by choosing to swear in on a Koran that was once owned by Thomas Jefferson, but I'm hoping more went into his decision than simply choosing along the lines of founding father/hero worship. If Ellison realized some of the historical, political, and cultural nuances involved in making such a decision, we would actually be well served to have more men like him in Congress.

*Those without accounts at Project Muse might not be able to access that article, but if you go searching for it, it's How Thomas Jefferson Read the Qur'an
Similarly, I wouldn't be surprised if some right wingers start referring to Jefferson's slave owning, borderline vilifying Jefferson trying to get to Ellison, completely misunderstanding the historical period Jefferson was from, the culture and part of the country in which he lived, and Jefferson's wishes for an eventual end to slavery.

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