:: Saturday, December 28, 2002 ::
A performance for the ages
:: Friday, December 27, 2002 ::
I saw Martin Scorsese's Gangs of New York yesterday. It's great, but astonishingly bloody, sometimes disturbingly so. The story is pretty good, as are Leo DiCaprio and Cameron Diaz. But the most remarkable thing about it is Daniel Day-Lewis as the murderously brutal and occasionally sympathetic bad guy. It's one of the best performances I've ever seen in any movie. He goes through the whole thing with basically the same facial expression, never really changing the tone of his voice (raising the volume only a couple of times), and yet he projects an amazingly complex range of moods and emotions. Sarcastic, respectful, angry, avenging--you name it, Day-Lewis does it, and you can hardly tell that he's doing it. I've always been a big fan of his, especially for his versatility: naively twittish in "A Room With a View," charmingly level-headed in "The Unbearable Lightness of Being," desperately emotive in "In The Name of the Father," coolly determined in "The Boxer" (surprisingly, I've never seen "My Left Foot," which got him the Oscar). But in this role, he's on a level even higher than he was in any of those very good ones. I've never seen a performance that was so brilliant in such a unique way, totally different from anything I've seen anyone do before.
They already burned that bridge
:: Thursday, December 26, 2002 ::
I've occasionally posted here and elsewhere arguing that Israel can unilaterally dismantle some isolated settlements without harming its security. One of my main points is that it wouldn't encourage terrorism because the Palestinians are incapable of being encouraged to support terrorism more than they do now--they've already hit rock bottom. A frequent rebuttal is the example of the Lebanon withdrawal, which the Palestinians and many Arabs in general took as proof of Israel's impending collapse, believing that Hizbullah had "defeated" the mighty IDF. I think the Lebanon withdrawal was worth it for several reasons, and I don't think it tipped the scales for the Palestinians in favor of terror over negotiations--they would have made that choice anyway. But even if it did make as much of a difference as some think it did, the precedent doesn't apply to the current situation. At the time of the Lebanon withdrawal and Camp David, the Palestinians were talking instead of shooting and bombing. They figured they still had another option, that if the negotiations failed, they could go back to violence. With Arafat and his cronies, it would be more accurate to say that they figured they could have both simultaneously. But after more than two years of violence and more than a full year of all-out suicide-bomber warfare in Israeli cities, the choice has already been made. In order to believe that this or that Israeli action would encourage more Palestinian terror, one has to believe that the Palestinians have yet to commit themselves completely to terrorism. The events of the past year, and the still frequent interceptions of terror attacks, demonstrate otherwise.
Send lawyers, guns, and bloggers
:: Wednesday, December 25, 2002 ::
I wonder what Warren Zevon, paraphrased above, would have to say about the back and forth going on about this post from new right-wing blogger Bill Whittle where he glorifies the patriotic goodness of the right to bear arms. Judith W. relentlessly fisks the part about how the European Jews went to their deaths in the Holocaust because they were either naive or didn't have guns, and Lynn B. agrees with her. So do I.
I disagree with Whittle's premise that the right to bear arms forms part of the basis of American values and its free society. This goes beyond the argument, a whole separate one, about whether the Second Amendment establishes an individual right to bear arms (I don't think it does). I support the right of law-abiding individuals to own handguns and hunting rifles, but is this really something that America was built on and continues to be built on? That's Whittle's premise, and if you accept it, you'll probably love his post. But the following part of his post still makes no sense:
Gun rights supporters are frequently mocked when they say it deters foreign invasion - after all, come on, grow up, be realistic: Who's nuts enough to invade America? Exactly. It's unthinkable. Good. 2nd Amendment Mission 1 accomplished.Huh? This is the definition of circular logic. The reason that gun-freak-mockers like me ask "who's nuts enough to invade America?" is that they understand the real answer to that question: we have an extremely powerful armed forces supported by the vast majority of the population. Whittle thinks the answer is the large number of privately owned guns, which he's free to think, but obviously the ones asking him that question think otherwise. For him to say "my opinion already provides the answer to your question" fails to answer the question in any way that would convince anyone who asked it.
The whole central premise of "you can't take America's freedoms away because we've got guns" has never impressed me at all. If the President ordered the army and the National Guard to establish martial law at his whim, those orders would be disobeyed--not because the soldiers are afraid of all the gun owners out there, but because the freedoms that the President would be trying to squash are themselves valued by the people who would have to do the squashing. Their answer to such a megalomaniacal order would be to refuse it on those patriotic grounds, not on the grounds of being frightened by all the guns that are out there. And then, of course, this wretched President would be exposed as a tyrant, impeached and convicted by Congress, and shamed out of office by an angry and betrayed electorate. So again, if you think that gun ownership is itself a fundamental American value, you might be led (like Whittle) to pretend that this distinction between valuing the right to bear arms and valuing freedom doesn't exist, when in fact it obviously does.
Judith's final point is the important one: "the battle for a free tolerant society is won or lost way before the secret police show up at your front door to take away your armory." The underlying reasons behind the rise of the Nazis and the Holocaust are too complex to ever be fully understood, but it's obvious that the actual disaster happened because most Germans either actively supported the Nazi program or didn't really protest it, figuring that it wasn't their problem. It did not happen, as Whittle seems to argue, because the Germans and the Jews failed to place a high enough value on gun ownership.
:: Tuesday, December 24, 2002 ::
I might as well go ahead and mention this article about how a lot of women might be deployed in the combat zone of an Iraq war, seeing that Diane is planning to do something about women in combat. I mentioned the article to Lynn B. after seeing her post on the matter. Phillip Carter, a law student and reserve company commander, explains that:
Any effort to cross the [Euphrates] river would necessarily include bridging, chemical units, and military police units, all of which include female officers and soldiers. In river-crossing operations, those "support units" actually lead most of the action, with infantry and armored units supporting them. Female engineers would actually drive the boats and build the bridge to get our forces across the river. Similarly, female combat-support soldiers would be critical to any effort to breach Iraqi defenses. Female helicopter pilots may undertake reconnaissance ahead of any American infantry, or deposit troops to scout out strongpoints on the ground. Chemical-warfare specialists like Capt. [Jennifer] Striegel [mentioned earlier in the article] would accompany engineer units as they opened paths through Iraqi defensive positions.
Where's the beef?
:: Monday, December 23, 2002 ::
Meryl had a post last week accusing the Democrats of having a bad record on Israel, the Middle East, and terrorism, but gave no evidence. While I can't defend the Dems' incompetence on Iraq in recent months--it's not so much that they were soft on Saddam, but that they were, by and large, inexcusably spineless in failing to commit to any serious position on the matter--I take exception with the charges on Israel and terrorism. The war in Afghanistan and against al-Qaeda had total Democratic support from the beginning, and all recent Congressional resolutions supporting Israel have passed with overwhelmingly bipartisan backing. The blame-America Democratic wing of Cynthia McKinney and "Baghdad Jim" McDermott is a fringe minority, which has recently had the political idiotarian role all to itself because the corresponding conservative wing, the isolationist Hitler-wasn't-really-that-bad camp led by Pat Buchanan, already left the Republican party a few years ago.
I'm really surprised at the charge about the Democrats being less than totally supportive of Israel. For more than 50 years, Republicans (not referring to Meryl anymore) have constantly accused Democrats of being wimps and appeasers. Not infrequently, this charge has been based on half-truths or non-truths. But since the 9/11 attacks, even as the Republicans have regularly bashed the Democrats on Iraq and occasionally on terrorism (with some justification in the first case, none whatsoever in the second), they haven't done the same on Israel. I can barely recall anyone in the conservative punditry claiming that the Dems were bad on Israel, and I definitely don't recall any Republican officials saying that. If anything, the Republicans have been scrambling to overcome the previously widespread belief that they were less supportive of Israel than the Democrats, a perception that was never really true to begin with.
Are there any actual plans here?
:: Sunday, December 22, 2002 ::
You might think in reading this piece by Edward Said that he was interrupting his usual rants for just long enough to propose an alternate path for the Palestinians out of the swamp of insanity that they've sunk into. But no, not really. As is often the case with Said, he mixes refreshingly candid criticism of Arafat ("The [Palestinian] Authority is so discredited, its failure to build institutions so basic, its corrupt and cynical history so compromised in every way as to render it incapable of being entrusted with the future") with outrageously paranoid revisionist history ("the main aim of [the Oslo process] was to continue Israeli occupation under a different title.") Then he talks about what seems to be a recent grass-roots initiative for Palestinian reform:
Fortunately a political alternative already exists that is neither Hamas nor Arafat's Authority. I am speaking here of an impressive formation of Palestinians in the occupied territories who in June of this year announced a new Palestinian national initiative... unlike the Authority, it proposes liberation from, rather than cooperation with, the Israeli occupation. Second, it is representative of a broad base in civil society and therefore includes no military or security people and no hangers on of Arafat's court. Third, it argues for liberation and not a readjustment of the occupation to suit elites and VIPs.
This all sounds pretty good. But how exactly is this new movement going to accomplish anything? It may "argue for liberation from the Israeli occupation," but what actions will it take to achieve that liberation? What is it going to do about, oh, say, groups that recruit, arm, train, and send suicide bombers to murder non-combatants en masse? Pushing Arafat's mafia rule aside in favor of "a national unified authority, elected to serve the people and its need for liberation, for democratic freedoms, and for public debate and accountability" sounds great. But what exactly will the people elected to serve in this body do? How will they use their newly legitimized authority to achieve all of these laudable goals? Said has nothing to say about any of this.
Most important, the initiative -- which I am happy to endorse enthusiastically-- puts forward the idea of a national unified authority, elected to serve the people and its need for liberation, for democratic freedoms, and for public debate and accountability. These things have been put off for far too long. The old divisions between Fatah, the Popular Front, Hamas, and all the others, are meaningless today. We cannot afford such ridiculous posturing. As a people under occupation we need a leadership whose main goal is to rid us of Israeli depredations and occupations, and to provide us with an order that can fulfil our needs for honesty, national scope, transparency and direct speech.
Not ideal, but we'll take it
Kentucky beat Indiana yesterday in a super-close game that ended very strangely, with IU coach Mike Davis getting ejected in the closing seconds for charging onto the court. Both teams had stretches where they played great, but then one of them would commit some terribly stupid mistake, only to have the other team return the favor by bungling the ball away. Weird game, but a win is a win, and beating IU is always great, especially when they're in the top 10 like they were coming into this game. Then again, I've almost forgotten what it's like to watch UK lose to them, as the Cats have now won this annual matchup 8 out of the last 9 times.