5/27/09

Sotomayor's "Racism"


Matthew Yglesias nails the problem the GOP and the Right has with its misguided proclamations of "reverse racism":
You never hear Rush Limbaugh decrying everyday racism against non-whites in the United States. You never hear him recounting an anecdote about an African-American man having trouble hailing a cab or being followed by a shopkeeper. He doesn’t do stories about how people with stereotypically “black” names suffer job discrimination. He doesn’t bemoan the fact that the United States has an aircraft carrier named after a fanatical segregationist. Which is fine. Everyone’s interested in some things and not in others. Rush isn’t interested in racism. Except that like most conservatives, he’s actually very interested in allegations of racial discrimination against white people. He sees the defense of white interests as integral to his political mission. And he hates identity politics.

Indeed, it'd be highly beneficial to the Right if there was any consistency in their racism claims, but I'm hard pressed to find a recent or even moderately dated example of them jumping to the aid of non-white claims of racism. Incredibly telling and unfortunate.

"The Only Thing Worse... "

In an intelligent dispatch, Robert D. Kaplan calls for a cautious response to North Korean nuclear tests and details why this is such a delicate issue for the Korean peninsula, Asia and the world.

5/22/09

What's Old Is News

It strikes me as odd that former Vice President Dick Cheney enjoys continuously reigniting debates President Obama himself has deemed "in the past." If I were Dick Cheney, I would very much want to encourage the President to look "forward and not backwards," but instead, Cheney has chosen to become something of a media fixture, if not exactly a darling. I wasn't chomping at the bit to discuss the speech he delivered to the American Enterprise Institute yesterday, but, listening to him this morning and hearing myself described and dismissed as part of the "left wing" of the Democratic Party, I thought it might be wise to reiterate a few, tired but nonetheless important points.

First, Cheney asserts that criminal investigations of the Bush Administration would amount to a dangerous politicization of the Judicial branch. Is he being ironic? It is nearly taken for granted that no government since the Federalists has politicized judicial proceedings more than the Bush Administration. In fact, as I recall, some people were forced to resign over it.

In fact, perhaps the most harmful way to politicize the proceedings is for Democrats to not conduct inquiries fearing that they may pull Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and others into the maelstrom. As I've written on this blog before, any kind of witch hunt must be avoided at all costs, but simply dismissing the possibility of an inquiry because it might affect members of your own party would be a terrible mistake for the Democrats, all but confirming the cynicism Cheney accuses them of.

Second, Cheney asserts that the Obama Administration is not playing fairly, revealing only the "enhanced interrogation techniques" themselves and not the information that they yielded. Again and again Cheney asserts that these were vital intelligence gathering tools, made palatable by the exigencies of 9/11, whose success helped to prevent another attack of equal magnitude. This narrative is counter to reality. The techniques used in these "interrogations" were designed--during the Cold War, by the Communists--to elicit confessions, not information. The value of the information gathered through "enhanced interrogation" is dubious at best. At worst, it led to the invasion of Iraq based on erroneous evidence.

In a move so brazen it is hard to describe accurately, Cheney cited in his speech Khaleid Sheikh Mohammed's "bragging" about beheading journalist Daniel Pearle as evidence of his repugnant moral character, using this boast as proof that Mohammed got the treatment he deserved. Since there are so many clear examples of Khaleid Sheikh Mohammed's repugnant moral character, why choose the one that is possibly untrue, wrung out of the man through the use of hundreds of controlled drownings?

Again, is he being ironic? It's the fucking lede in the New Yorker story that broke open the CIA black sites. Jane Mayer wrote that "Mohammed claimed responsibility for so many crimes that his testimony became to seem inherently dubious. In addition to confessing to the Pearl murder, he said that he had hatched plans to assassinate President Clinton, President Carter, and Pope John Paul II."

And, of course, just for old times' sake, Cheney all but accused the New York Times of treason for reporting on the NSA's illegal, warrantless wiretapping program.

Which leads me to the thing that I actually wanted to blog about today: the Frontline documentary, "News War." Part One is an incredible, and incredibly depressing, look into the often contentious relationship between government and the media that became increasingly antagonistic under the Bush Administration. Part Two begins with the legal battle over the New York Times' and Washington Post's warrantless wiretapping stories. And Part Three looks closely at how new media--internet news, online video and, yes, blogs--drain revenue and eyeballs from traditional print media (who still bear the burden of actually reporting on things). Then, it turns its attention to the tragic downfall of the Los Angeles Times.

When I arrived in Los Angeles a few years ago, the Times was a rival to any news organization in the world. Now it is essentially a local paper with a vestigial, three-person Baghdad bureau. For me, the greatest shock of the whole documentary was that the Los Angeles Times is far from unprofitable. At the time the documentary was made, February 2007, it had a very healthy profit margin of 20%. The evisceration of the Times' newsroom was due to the fact that it was not growing its profit margin every year.

Better news next time. For now, look back in anger.

5/12/09

Bigger Than Life


For some strange, beautiful reason, Nicholas Ray's Bigger Than Life, his Eisenhower-era masterpiece of domestic life turned inside-out by an overworked, medicated determinism, is available from Hulu, free of charge.

5/11/09

Chuck Berry

5/7/09

What City Shall We Build?

A very interesting post by Rob Holmes of Mammoth about the proper place of urbanism:
The master planner — whether a new urbanist, a landscape urbanist, or modernist — refuses to confront the exigencies of the city, both good and bad, preferring to imagine an idealized condition (which, when constructed, is much more likely to trend towards dystopia than utopia).
Although he doesn't use the words exactly, Holmes is calling for a kind of humility in urban planning that is as yet lacking, even (or especially) in the utopian aspirations of our new urbanist saviors.

Take, for example, the glut of mixed retail/residential complexes just west of downtown Los Angeles. The idea is noble but most of the buildings are far from inspired. And 1100 Wilshire, perhaps the most interesting looking of all the new construction in that area, is the least urbanist--the building literally sits upon a pedastal (the parking garage) surveying the city, at once a sculpture and an observation tower. The tag line for their new-age-easy-listening-electronica-soaked website is "Live Above LA."

It's true that we need to rethink the city--a Los Angeles full of 1100 Wilshires divorced from the world but dependent upon its resources is not a pretty vision of the future--but this does not mean that in order to save Los Angeles we must destroy it. Too often, what is considered to be "wrong" with Los Angeles is also what is wonderful about it. For instance, low density creates pockets of affordability unthinkable in Amsterdam or Manhattan. This affordability, in turn, creates the cheap rents, large spaces and large amounts of free time that lets artists take risks. At the same time, if the megalopolis continues to widen its gyre at this rate, the center cannot hold.

Again I am reminded of MOS' plans for turning strip malls into renewable energy cells. Likewise, Holmes' entreaty to use "tactical insertions aimed at altering the city through the modification of flows of capital, people, goods, services, water, etc." seems like an inspired idea. For in the end, cities are invited, not invented.

5/6/09

Bo Diddley

1955:

5/5/09

John Ford Matters (Apparently)


In his New York Times Op-Ed piece today, David Brooks chides the Republican Party for not seeing the forest for the trees when it comes to their cinematic influences:
Republicans generally like Westerns. They generally admire John Wayne-style heroes who are rugged, individualistic and brave. They like leaders — from Goldwater to Reagan to Bush to Palin — who play up their Western heritage. Republicans like the way Westerns seem to celebrate their core themes — freedom, individualism, opportunity and moral clarity.

But the greatest of all Western directors, John Ford, actually used Westerns to tell a different story. Ford’s movies didn’t really celebrate the rugged individual. They celebrated civic order.
...

Today, if Republicans had learned the right lessons from the Westerns, or at least John Ford Westerns, they would not be the party of untrammeled freedom and maximum individual choice. They would once again be the party of community and civic order.

While Brooks is correct in his assessment of the misreading of Ford (and Hawks, Boetticher, and Mann), the ideas of community are welcome ones. Politically Ford was more or less a moderate Republican who suggested, through his best work, the need for compassion and dignity in his frontiersman voice. One wonders if the politicization of Ford, long deceased but whose work is among the greatest any American artist ever created, is an apt metaphor for a political party that is timid on torture and socially conservative. An interesting read, nonetheless.