Dec 30, 2008

Great being number two

A British writer for the LA times attempts to explain to American readers the benefits of fading power:—
The fact is that when you're No. 1, you always get blamed for everything. When you're No. 3, or No. 5 -- or No. 135 -- you can put your hands in your pockets and whistle tunelessly with a "Who, me?" look on your face, and no one ever asks any questions.... If Britain's experience is anything to go by, Americans will soon find more satisfaction by trying to break pointless world records or writing absurdist comedy, or recovering from apocalyptic, three-gin-and-tonic lunchtime hangovers.
It echoes a recurrent conversation I have with my wife, wherein I try and console her that's its okay getting knocked from the top spot. Look at the British and the Italians and the lugubrious sense of humour that comes from losing an empire, I explain, but then I dry up. I can't think of much else besides "your sense of humour gets more ironic." Public transport gets better? Not necessarily. People like you more? As she pointed out to me the other night, "if its so great being number two, why are you always on at me about how great it is."

Dec 23, 2008

She wishes she'd done more interviews

GIZZI: What was the biggest mistake made in the ’08 campaign?

PALIN: The biggest mistake made was that I could have called more shots on this: the opportunities that were not seized to speak to more Americans via media.
I wish she had called more shots on opportunities that were not seized to speak to more Americans via media, too. Her televised interviews are among my most vivid memories of 2008. That she wishes she had made more of them gets very close to the heart of her appeal. It seems a shame that only Alaskans get to see her on a regular basis. Maybe a live webcast would be a good idea — like those webcasts they have of Panda bears in China?

Cheney gets high

WALLACE: Highest moment the last eight years?

CHENEY: Hmmm. Highest moment in the last eight years? Well, I think the most important, the most compelling, was 9/11 itself — Fox News
Okay, so he adjusted "compelling" for "highest" but still: someone asked him for the highest moment of the last 8 years and 9/11 came to mind. What sort of person, asked to name a high point, a bright spot, a ray of light in the encroaching gloom, even thinks of the single bloodiest civilian slaughter the Unites States has yet endured? Answer: someone for whom that slaughter only confirms the Bosch-like onslaught going on inside his head. Asked, "If the president during war decides to do something to protect the country, is it legal?" Cheney answered, "General proposition, I'd say yes." An astonishing admision. The "war on terror", like the "war on drugs" is, of course, a war without end. Therefore anything the president decides to do is legal, "as a general proposition."

And the winner is

Dec 19, 2008

“What we got was pabulum"

According to a former senior C.I.A. official, who read all the interrogation reports on K.S.M., “90 percent of it was total fucking bullshit.” A former Pentagon analyst adds: “K.S.M. produced no actionable intelligence. He was trying to tell us how stupid we were.” Inside the C.I.A., says a retired senior officer who was privy to the agency’s internal debate, there was hardly any argument about the value of coercive methods: “Nobody in intelligence believes in the ticking bomb. It’s just a way of framing the debate for public consumption. That is not an intelligence reality."

At the F.B.I., says a seasoned counterterrorist agent, following false leads generated through torture has caused waste and exhaustion. “At least 30 percent of the F.B.I.’s time, maybe 50 percent, in counterterrorism has been spent chasing leads that were bullshit... You get burned out, you get jaded. And you think, Why am I chasing all this stuff that isn’t true? That leads to a greater problem—that you’ll miss the one that is true. The job is 24-7 anyway. It’s not like a bank job. But torture has made it harder.”

Several of those I interviewed point out the dearth of specific claims the administration has proffered. “The proponents of torture say, ‘Look at the body of information that has been obtained by these methods.’ But if K.S.M. and Abu Zubaydah did give up stuff, we would have heard the details,” says Cloonan. “What we got was pabulum.”

I ask Robert Mueller: So far as he is aware, have any attacks on America been disrupted thanks to intelligence obtained through what the administration still calls “enhanced techniques”? “I’m really reluctant to answer that,” Mueller says. He pauses, looks at an aide, and then says quietly, declining to elaborate: “I don’t believe that has been the case.” — Vanity Fair

Dec 18, 2008

A self-devouring flame

A fascinating new book, Gotz Al's Hitler's Beneficiaries: Plunder, Racial War, and the Nazi Welfare State, has a look at the Nazi system of governance. Basically, they didn't have one: they had a system of invading other countries and sucking the money out of them and then using that to balance the budget. One Reichsbank study estimated that the first year of occupation cost Holland 180 percent of its normal state revenues, Belgium 200 percent, France 211 percent, and Norway 242 percent.
After every military victory, no matter how quick and relatively painless for German forces, the same problems with finances and food supplies kept cropping up ... [this] meant that the Nazi leaders had to push ahead with further military expansionism. Any hesitancy would have led to the end of the regime.
This confirms what I have long suspected about Nazism: that it was suicidal. Not just that it ended in suicide, although it did for all those in the bunker, but that it was self-destructive in essence. War didn't interrupt their plans: they had no plans for what they might like to do when they weren't invading people. Invading people was what they did, all the time. As such, it was doomed to failure, from the word go. When people say: what might life for us have looked like under Nazi rule, they are posing a non-sensensical hypothesis. Nazism was a self-devouring flame.

I feel the same way about Al Qaeda. We are regularly told that they want a worldwide Celiphate, but if you look at their statements, they have no plans for what to do, were this unlikely event to occur. They have no minister of agriculture. No opinion on taxation. No preference for which day is best to collect the garbage. They have no system of governance. Their chances of implementing it are therefore, and perhaps unsurprisingly, zero.

Something wild

Every now and again I have a strange and unlikely thought: a black man is going to be president of the United States. Holy Shit. I used to get this thought a lot, and there was one night when I got it all at once. Since then it's lost some of its frequency, but none of its ability to inspire the purest marvel, if only because now it comes out of nowhere — watching the TV, or seeing a black kid on the street and wondering what he makes of it all. But I got it again today while looking through these new pictures of Obama in Time. Holy Shit.

The year of Button

It's going to be Benjamin Button's year at the Oscars. I saw the movie last night and don't want to ruin it for anyone, save to say that it is every bit and strange and beautiful as any David Fincher fan might have wished. It's an adult Gump. It deserves to win best film, best director and best special effects and maybe best adapted screenplay. Which leaves the actings gongs for Kate and Leo Revolutionary Road, unless Senn Penn causes any upsets. I'd hard to see what else Milk can get apart from best screenplay, but I feel that may got to Slumdog Millionaire. Hmm.

That covers it

I've finally got these two covers to choose between for my novel — a comedy about alcoholism. My editor and I like different ones. Does anyone have an opinion?

Dec 13, 2008

The line from Bush to Abu Ghraib...

... has never been clearer, according to the new Senate Armed Services Committee Inquiry Into The Treatment of Detainees in U.S. Custody:
Conclusion 1: On February 7, 2002, President George W. Bush made a written determination that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which would have afforded minimum standards for humane treatment, did not apply to al Qaeda or Taliban detainees. Following the President’s determination, techniques such as waterboarding, nudity, and stress positions, used in SERE training to simulate tactics used by enemies that refuse to follow the Geneva Conventions, were authorized for use in interrogations of detainees in U.S. custody.

Conclusion 2: Members of the President’s Cabinet and other senior officials participated in meetings inside the White House in 2002 and 2003 where specific interrogation techniques were discussed. National Security Council Principals reviewed the CIA’s interrogation program during that period.

Conclusion 13: Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques for use at Guantanamo Bay was a direct cause of detainee abuse there. Secretary Rumsfeld’s December 2, 2002 approval of Mr. Haynes’s recommendation that most of the techniques contained in GTMO’s October 11, 2002 request be authorized, influenced and contributed to the use of abusive techniques, including military working dogs, forced nudity, and stress positions, in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Conclusion 19: The abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib in late 2003 was not simply the result of a few soldiers acting on their own. Interrogation techniques such as stripping detainees of their clothes, placing them in stress positions, and using military working dogs to intimidate them appeared in Iraq only after they had been approved for use in Afghanistan and at GTMO. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s December 2, 2002 authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques and subsequent interrogation policies and plans approved by senior military and civilian officials conveyed the message that physical pressures and degradation were appropriate treatment for detainees in U.S. military custody. What followed was an erosion in standards dictating that detainees be treated humanely.

Dec 12, 2008

Golden Globe nominations

The Golden Globes positively stiffed Milk, nominating only Sean Penn. (We expect this to be rectified by Oscar Time). We feel safe in ignoring most of the nominations given to Frost / Nixon The Reader or Doubt, except for Amy Adams who we think could win Best Supporting Actress. The main awards should got to Benjamin Button and Revolutionary Road (film, director, best actor, actress respectively). Best comedy should be Happy-Go-Lucky. Screenplay could go to Slumdog Millionaire, to give it something. Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger. Best comic actor: Brendan Gleeson or James Franco. Best comic actress: Rebecca Hall.

Dec 9, 2008

Watch out Poland

Last Thursday on “The O’Reilly Factor,” comments made by Newt Gingrich fueled a battle between host Bill O’Reilly and New Yorker writer Hendrik Hertzberg. Ginfrich defended his comments thus:

If you go back and look at what I said, it was a very narrowly focused reference to people who were invading churches and in one case surrounding a 65-year-old person and harassing her about wearing a cross. Now, in my judgment, people who do that are fascists. And whether they are fascists on the right or fascists on the left, they’re fascists, because they believe in imposing their views on you.
I love that "narrowly focussed reference." I'd love to know what Gingrich thinks the central tens of fascism are and why Prop 8 demostrators strike him as embodying them. A preference for the petite-bourgois? The primacy placed on ties of blood and nation? A foreign policy based on radical belligerence? A totalitarian cult of personality surrounding their non-democratically appointed leader? Gingrich means none of these things, of course. He is simply using "fascist" to mean "argumentative". Sigh.

In Mickey Rourke's defence

It's not often that I feel like coming to Mickey Rourke's defence. But the snide account of his childhood in the New York Times offers an opportunity that is hard to pass up.

The piece disputes Rourke's mistreatment at the hands of his step father, Eugene Addis. “He never spoke the truth in his life,” Addis is quoted as saying, pointing out that he never abused him or his brothers “because they never needed manhandling. Mickey was the best kid I had. I had no reason to abuse him... Listen! Right now I’m in better shape than Mickey Rourke ever was. If I wanted to kick his ass I could. But I never did.”

To review. He never beat Mickey because Mickey was well behaved. And if he had chosen to beat him, he would have licked him, but he never did, because Mickey was 'the best kid I had.' Yikes.

Best TV shows 2008

Top Chef finally overtook Project Runway in our household. Tim Russert was sorely missed, although the rise of Rachel Maddow at MSNBC was splendid. The match-up between Jon Stewart's anguish and George Bush's blitheness continued to be one of the great comic marriages of our time. It will be mourned. The best performance of the year was Alec Baldwin in 30 Rock. Best Wire-replacement: The First 48.

Dec 8, 2008

Best Books 2008

I had a high-fibre year — not much fiction, a lot of history and politics, although Rick Perlstein's Nixonland felt like fiction, as did Nicholson Baker's pointillist-peacenik WWII history Human Smoke, both of which I loved. Thurston Clarke's The Last Campaign about Bobby Kennedy, was great election-year popcorn. I read The Dark Side, Jane Mayer's grave, humane book about Bush's torture program, in one horrified sitting, and subsequently found myself unable to recommend it to anyone. Russell Brand's My Booky Wook made me laugh and then exhausted me, much like the man. David Carr's Night of the Gun turned the addiction memoir genre on its head. The best biography I read was David Michaelis's Schulz & Peanuts closely followed by Neal Gabler's Disney. The Schulz gets my book of the year, though — a brilliant human being, brilliantly rendered. 

Waiting for the man

Between March and November, 2006, richard Howe photographed each and every one of Manhattan roughly 11,000 street corners.

The percentages of happiness

"Knowing someone who is happy makes you 15.3% more likely to be happy yourself, the study found. A happy friend of a friend increases your odds of happiness by 9.8%, and even your neighbor's sister's friend can give you a 5.6% boost... A happy friend who lives within a half-mile makes you 42% more likely to be happy yourself. If that same friend lives two miles away, his impact drops to 22%... Happy spouses provide an 8% boost -- if they live under the same roof. Next-door neighbors who are happy make you 34% more likely to be happy too, but no other neighbors have an effect, even if they live on the same block."— British Medical Journal

Dec 7, 2008

Best films of 2008

I didn't see many movies this year, but I don't think I missed any of the good ones. (There's not much randomness to my filmgoing these days, which is micro-targeted with unnerving and slightly joyless precision). My favorite shot of the year showed Keith Richards spitting out a lit cigarette in Shine A Light. Best bad guy was Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight. Best good guy was Daniel Craig in Quantum of Solace. Crunchiest blockbuster was Iron Man. My favorite performances came from Rebecca Hall in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Anna Hathaway in Rachel Getting Married, and Sean Penn in Milk. My favorite films were Milk and WALL-E. Between those two movies, you've pretty much got the main food groups covered.

Dec 6, 2008

Who's worse: Bush or Nixon?

The other night in Washington, after a screening of Frost/Nixon, there was an impassioned debate about whether George W. Bush’s presidency was on a par with or worse than Richard Nixon’s. It prompted an angry outburst from Chris Wallace of Fox News, who scolded the panellists, "I think to compare what Nixon did, and the abuses of power for pure political self-preservation, to George W. Bush trying to protect this country – even if you disagree with rendition or water-boarding – it seems to me is both a gross misreading of history."

You could argue that Wallace has actually hit on the reason Nixon's crimes are the lesser of the two men. Bugging the 1972 Democratic party convention is nowhere near as big a deal as ordering the torture of innocent men (which is what the torture of suspects must logically entail). Yes Bush thought that in so doing he was protecting America but Nixon, too, acted to stop America from falling into the hands of commie-sympathisers during a time of war — a quite noble aim, on the face of it, and no more or less deluded than Bush's notion that torture keeps America safe. How far did Nixon really believe his own internal logic? Being the smarter of the two men, he probably didn't, which means his crimes were the more cynical. Wallace is guessing that Bush bought into his own rationale with greater gusto, which renders his acts the more wretched. He tortured by mistake.

Why Dostoevsky would have loved OJ

It's hard not to feel satisfaction over the recent sentencing of O J Simpson for armed robbery. Not because it shows us the power of the law — the whole thing has the air of getting Al Caopone in income tax evasion ‚— but because it shows us the opposite: what happens when bad deeds go unpunished. You want to know what the life of someone who gets away with double homicide looks like? It looks like Simpson's, which is to say, a slow but steady descent into bad business deals thuggery, and theft. Dostoevesky would have loved OJ for the evidence he provides of a moral law at work which surpasses our man-made legal one. Torturers suffer similar fates, although not, as far as I can see, those who perform or undergo abortions — as good an argument as any that the pro-life argument is essentially man-made. I have yet to meet anyone who has had an abortion whose life has gone off the rails in similar fashion. Sadness, grief, regret maybe, but nothing of the miserable, misbegotten quality of someone who has 'gotten away with' murder.

Nerd-Elect Obama

The blogosphere is shocked by a report that the president-elect uses the least cool MP3 player on the market. "He walked majestically across the gym floor in his track pants and sweat shirt. He hopped on the machine next to me and broke a mean sweat while reading a copy of USA Today and listening to his Zune." USA Today!? A Zune!? "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO," cried one user at the popular blog Engadget. "I want my vote back!"

When are people going to wake up to the fact that Obama is not the cool kid in class. He is the nerd who has spent so long looking at the cool kids in class that he can imitate them perfectly — but never quite join in. That is the basic story behind Dreams of My Father: Taking coke but not developing a habit. Playing basketball but too tactically to be a star. Going to Chicago because he wanted to strengthen his roots, but never quite being 'black' enough. He is the only black man I have ever seen who dances with a white man's overbite. It's one of his the most appealing qualities, in my book: the sense you get of a nerdy observer, watching and absorbing, but too ambivalent to integrate, fully.

Dec 4, 2008

The pain-free comedians

“I don’t enjoy any kind of danger or volatility. I don’t have that kind of ‘I love the bad guys’ thing. No, no thank you. I like nice people.” When I ask her if she ever gets the urge to straighten out Lindsay Lohan, who starred in Fey’s movie Mean Girls, or to counsel Tracy Morgan or Alec Baldwin when they hit tempestuous passages in their personal lives, she says, “I have no enabler bone in my body—not one. I’m sort of like, ‘Oh, are you going crazy? I’ll be back in an hour.’?” — Tina Fey, interviewed in Vanity Fair
Together with Jerry Seinfeld, Fey is part of a new super-breed of American entertainer: the entirely non-destructive comedian. There's pain there, but so expertly harvested, and turned into great gags so efficiently, that it takes you a while to work out what's missing, exactly. Nancy Franklin gets close when she calls Fey's style on 30 Rock "managerial" ("Fey’s intelligence comes across, of course, but it’s a kind of managerial intelligence, a high level of competence"). She indulges her female neuroses (age, kids, food) rather like the kid in class who joins in the ritualised moaning about exams only to ace every test. A fake self-depracator! With moderate to high self-esteem! Don't get me wrong. I love Fey on the show but I love her most when she's dealing with Alec Baldwin, behind whose gimlet eyes lie fathomless pools of pain.

Quote of the day

Never forget. The press is the enemy. The press is the enemy. The press is the enemy. The Establishment is the enemy. The professors are the enemy. The professors are the enemy. Write that on the blackboard 100 times.” — Richard Nixon, in conversation with Henry Kissinger, in newly released tapes. Also gems on break-ins, blacks, Eastern elites, Ivy league presidents and jews. A perfect Christmas gift!

Dec 3, 2008

Obamafy yourself

Someone has devised some software which morphs you into the famous Shepard Fairey poster of Obama. Just what I wanted for Christmas. Unfortunately, it appears to have turned me into the Unabomber. Hope, it appears, cannot change everything.

Dec 2, 2008

In The Rooms: the CD

I'm going to be burning CDs for those that want them. Here is the track listing:—

Novel Writing
— Monty Python (Matching Tie & Handkerchief)
The Slow Descent into Alcoholism — The New Pornographers (Mass Romantic: Remastered)
Just Because I Can — Prefab Sprout (B side)
The Absence of God — Rilo Riley (More Adventurous)
Blue — Cat Power Jukebox (Deluxe Edition)
The Pills Won't Help You Now — The Chemical Brothers (We Are the Night)
Too Young — Phoenix (United)
I Don't Know What It Is — Rufus Wainwright (Want One)
Crash Into Me — Dave Matthews Band (Fatboy Slim Remix)
Love Is Blindness — Cassandra Wilson (New Moon Daughter)
Trouble Man — Marvin Gaye (Anthology Series: The Best of Marvin Gaye)
I Am The Walrus — The Beatles (Love)
Useless Desires — Patty Griffin (Impossible Dream)
I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free — Nina Simone (Nina Simone: Anthology)
The Things We Do for Love — 10cc (The Best of 10cc)
It Looks Like Love — Josh Rouse (Subtitulo)
Girls In Their Summer Clothes — Bruce Springsteen (Magic)
Signed, Sealed, Delivered (DJ Smash Essential Funk Mix) — Stevie Wonder (Motown Remixed)
Lola (Live) — The Kinks

The end of irony (again)

"Again and again, perfectly sentient adults cited the clinching arguments made on the candidate's behalf by their children. Again and again we were told that this was a generational thing, we couldn't understand. In a flash, we were back in high school, and we couldn't sit with the popular kids, we didn't get it. The Style section of The New York Times, on the Sunday after the election, mentioned the Obama T-shirt that "makes irony look old." Irony was now out. Naiveté, translated into "hope," was now in. Innocence, even when it looked like ignorance, was now prized."— Joan Didion NYRB
The last time America was supposed to have lost its sense of irony was 9/11. It's hard to know what people meant exactly. It's nor as if the nation's wits, so used to ironising mass slaughter, went: okay not this time. The same with elections. It's a pretty prosaic either-or kind of deal: you go into a booth and you pull a lever. Pretty hard to do that ironically. You could of course try and argue that your support for a candidiate was only ironic, but the joke would be on you, surely? I could be wrong. Maybe all the people who voted for Bush were being ironic about it, but if so then it didn't make the blind bit of difference. All of which is a round about way of saying that Didion sounds cranky as hell. Hope? Bah humbug.

Stuff I've learned

So I'm in the final furlong of my book. Since I've never written a novel before I thought it might be something to list the things I've learned.

1) I always know when I am wrong but it takes a while to admit it. That feeling — knowing-I'm-wrong-but-taking-my-time-to-admit-it — is suspiciously close to the feeling I get when I have a good idea.
2) I cannot write a character whom I don't, in some sense, love.
3) Making the reader fall in love with someone is impossible.
4) Problems that I am convinced are completely insolvable, without becoming someone else entirely — a much better writer, say — are invariably quite solvable, if only I do the thing I don't want to do.
5) Conversations can be about anything.
6) Themes are deadly. (Actually I already knew this, but not so well that I didn't have to find it out again).
Scenery can be a good thing but only if someone is doing something.
8) Final chapters can be a bit like parties where you drink too much and embarrass yourself.
9) Not knowing whether you've written a good book or a bad book is not just the way it works, but the way it should be.
10) Taking a walk is never a bad idea.

Nov 30, 2008

Solid gay, all the way through

"Sean Penn’s smile lines in Milk are a wonder. They’re not crinkles, they’re furrows; they seem to stretch all the way down to his soul. As the gay activist Harvey Milk, who was shot to death in 1978 along with the San Francisco mayor, George Moscone, the volatile Penn is unprecedentedly giddy. There’s anger in his Milk, but it never festers—it’s instantly channeled into political action... he shakes off Method self-attention the way Milk shook off the shame of being gay. As the personal becomes political, he opens all the windows and gets visibly high on the breeze." — David Edelstein, New York magazine
It's the happiest I've seen him. And certainly the best reason to see the movie: come see Sean Penn happy! There were moments in Sweet and Lowdown when he seemed blissfully transported by his guitar playing, but this is different. It's not solitary, its the infectious sort of happiness that calms everyone around him, leaving his political opponents with only sour the taste of their own unhappiness, and no option but to get unhappier still. I loved Philadelphia, too, and never quite got the charge of Uncle Tommery levelled at it. Watching Milk, I understood it a little better. There's no Denzel Washington character to hold the audience's hand: this movie is solid gay, all the way through. There's barely a straight character in the whole thing, except for a superbly played Dan White (Josh Brolin) who is drawn to Milk in ominously tighter circles, with an itch he can't quite scratch.

I'm not sure what this does to my Oscar Predictions. It's always easier not to have a horse in the race. I had Di Caprio and Winslett for Revolutionary Road, Benjamin Button for best film, director, and adapted screenplay, Milk for original screenplay, Australia for costumes and cinematography, Heath Ledger for supporting in Batman and Amy Adams for Doubt. I have a feeling Revolutionary Road is going to be a worthy bore (loved the book, hated American Beauty) but the reunion of Di Caprio and Winslettt, both overdue, both now sucking up in the right way, is going to be hard for Academy voters to resist.

Nov 29, 2008

Colouring in Coppola

The Virgin Suicides, Lost in Translation and Marie Antoinette as seen through their colour schemes. I'm puzzled: is there really no blue sky in Marie Antoinette? And no flesh tones in The Virgin Suicides?

Instant messaging

A gallery of messages from Americans to their new president elect.

Nov 22, 2008


"Barack Obama has a tough dilemma. If he staffs his administration with talented outsiders, he satisifies citizen demand for “change,” but the problem is that outsiders don’t have a clue about how to govern in Washington. Yet if Obama staffs his administration with insiders who do know how to govern (clearly, his chosen option), he undercuts his “change” mantra – mostly because so many of those insiders logged time with the Clintons, and, on occasion, became soiled by the association." — Dick Polman, American Debate
I've heard a lot of this over the last week, as Obama unveils his new cabinet appointments. Clinton? How is that change? Daschle? Old hat! Richardson? I've heard of him, too! It's hard to know what would satisfy the 'change' brigade. A cabinet of total strangers? Plumbers? Cable technicians? Greeks? I'm sure that when Obama used the word 'change' when speaking to millions of Americans over the course of the campaign, the thing that popped into their heads was not 'I do hope change means a cabinet position for someone untouched by Washington experience.' I'm pretty certain they were thinking of their mortgages, or gas prices, or the war in Iraq. Just a guess.

Nov 19, 2008

Michael Moore not Roger Moore

"This Bond film is explicit that the United States under Bush has become the bad guy, that US intelligence is in league with rogue mercenaries and brutal, rapist-generals who plot coups against elected governments. Bond therefore has to take on the United States government (at one point, a SWAT team from the CIA Special Activities Division tries to capture Bond in a bar in La Paz, but fails because Leiter tips Bond off to their approach. The good American in this film is the one willing to betray the US government to a more virtuous MI6 field officer). Craig's Bond is an intimation of the sort of Britain that could have been, if Tony Blair had stood up to Bush and refused to be dragged into an illegal war of choice, and into other actions and policies that profoundly contradicted the principles on which the Labour Party had been founded (and you could imagine Craig's Bond voting for Old Labour, while Flemings's was obviously a Tory). In a way, this Bond stands in for Clare Short, who resigned as a cabinet minister from Blair's government in 2003 over the illegitimacy of the Iraq War." — Juan Col, Informed Comment
I had a good time. It's a little confusing (whatever happened to the Bond villains patiently explaining their master plan for the benefit of us ignoramuses?) but the action sequences are genuienly classy as opposed to fake-rolex classy, and the women are great — particularly Fields, the prim English red head who sends men flying to their doom with a cry of "gosh, I'm sorry". There's a great detail, about 50 minutes in, when Bond takes off his shirt as we see a bunch of scars on his body: not nicks and smears from the last fight, or even the last fight but one, but slowly healing welts from some fight three weeks ago. Maybe the car chase at the beginning of the movie? Or the torture scene at the end of Casino Royale? How long does he have between missions anyway?

Foreign Policy meanwhile lists Five Real Missions for 007: infilitrate Pakistan in search of the H-bomb; check up on China's naval capabilities; investigate Russia's new energy wealth; bribe the Taliban; and establish Kim Jong Il's successor.

Nov 13, 2008

Quote of the day

"Sitting here in these chairs that I'm going to be proposing but in working with these governors who again on the front lines are forced to and it's our privileged obligation to find solutions to the challenges facing our own states every day being held accountable, not being just one of many just casting votes or voting present every once in a while, we don't get away with that." — Sarah Palin
It's rare that one comes across a Palin sentence that doesn't contain at least some clue as to what her intention was before she opened her mouth. In other words, they have intent, if not content. This one has neither. It's one of the purest instance of verbal freefall — wind-in-your-hair, 200mph ground-rushing-up-at-ya mush — I have come across in years. A person who comes up with a sentence like that is almost incapable of knowing whether they are lying, which is one of the great things about these interviews she persists in giving: in her own head she really does think she's setting the record straight. I can see why John Cleese is such a fan.

Nov 11, 2008

How it is for New Yorkers

Kurt Anderson compares the mood in the city to that following 9/11:—
"In Union Square, a friend realized that the last time he was part of such a spontaneous emotional gathering there was on 9/11. And I choked up just hearing about the very young crowds in Union Square and elsewhere breaking into “The Star-Spangled Banner... Starting now, New York City is part of America again, the happy-happy-joy-joy obverse of the way it was after 9/11, when we and the rest of the country embraced in our shared American shock and grief. This time we are not victims, but winners. Victimhood, at least, was a familiar part of New Yorkers’ repertoire. Now we have no choice but to be both cheerfully pro-American and earnestly optimistic, which are not exactly our default positions. Around 2003, most of us became highly invested in loathing a national regime that we know is wired to loathe people like us. A symbiosis was established. We’ve been shouting and pounding on a locked door with mounting fury for three, four, five, six years—and now that it’s suddenly swung wide open, all of us outsiders welcomed right inside, we’re sweaty and breathless and a little unsure exactly what to do next without someone to demonize and blame. New Yorkers enjoyed being prophets without honor in their own land. Righteous political umbrage felt good. An Obama-loving friend admits that now he actually feels slightly let down without his beleagueredness and anti-Republican rage to energize him. A majority of Americans … agrees with us?" — New York Magazine

The whole piece is worth a read.

Nov 7, 2008

Awaiting the results

Malia, in Chicago on election night: a series of behind the scenes pictures released by the Obama campaign on Flickr.

Oops, apocalypse

"Accounts suggest that Georgia’s inexperienced military attacked the isolated separatist capital of Tskhinvali on Aug. 7 with indiscriminate artillery and rocket fire, exposing civilians, Russian peacekeepers and unarmed monitors to harm.... The monitors have also said they were unable to verify that ethnic Georgian villages were under heavy bombardment that evening, calling to question one of Mr. Saakashvili’s main justifications for the attack." — New York Times
And yet Sarah Palin claimed we might have to go to war with Russia because "that is the agreement when you are a NATO ally, is if another country is attacked, you're going to be expected to be called upon and help." Not a single clause of that sentence is devoid of untruth: not only is Georgia is not a NATO ally but now it transpires it was launching rocket attacks on Russian civilians. Russia was not "unprovoked."

How agreeable it is to have avoided another unnecessary war! It really bucks you up. Puts a spring in your step. Fills your heart with gratitude this woman has been tagged and released back into the wild. Everyone's talking about the need for Obama to manage expectations so as to avoid the inevitable disappointment that will beset his first term, but really the bar is set pretty low. All he had to do is get up in the morning, not raise my taxes and fail to go to war with Russia and I will be happy as a clam.

The heart of unreal America

The East Village on Tuesday night. The East Village is not normally a star-spangled banner kind of a place. Its a great place to get a tattoos, or buy a bong, or a T-shirts that reads "Buck Fush" or "Fuck Milk: Got Pot?" But spontaneous singalongs of the national anthem are not all that frequent.

Nov 5, 2008

Tuesday 4th November 2008

Nobody likes a braggart but I got the popular vote margin — 52%/46% — dead on, and was out on the electoral college — 364/163 — by just one state (Indiana). In case anyone is wondering the music playing during Obama's victory rally was 'Titan's Spirit', by Trevor Rabin, from the Denzel Washington movie Remember The Titans. Which just goes to show that sometimes — just sometimes, under certain rare conditions — real life can turn out better than a Denzel Washington movie.

It was the crowd that commanded your attention as if it did at Invesco field, where the cheers and applause rippled around the stadium in great rolling waves. There were even more people at Grant Park, some 240,000, but it felt smaller, somehow: hushed, expectant, intent, as if taking their cue from the grave, sober man who walked out to meet them. They cheered and then quickly fell silent; and at the end, when he loosed his old "Yes We Can" call-and-response, it didn't turn into a chant, as it had in Iowa, but came back to him just the once. It didn't need reiterating. It wasn't a promise any more, just a statement of fact.

Welcome to Obamaland

From my Daily Beast blog about volunteering for the Obama campaign:—

“Do not depart from the script. Do not canvas alone. Only in pairs. And do not under any circumstances enter the house. It’s like one of those old horror movies: Do not go into the house. It’s quick and dirty. Make your pitch and get out.”

So says Tara Martin, one of the field organizers for the Obama campaign. She’s a short but energetic African-American woman whose bubbly good humor cannot quite hide her mission’s similarity to that of the Louis Gossett Jr. character in An Officer and a Gentleman: to whip the 200 or so lily-livered, latte-drinking New York liberals she sees in front of her into a crack squad of electoral marines, ready to parachute into a battleground state and go toe-to-toe with the Republican party faithful.

“I want you to look around you,” Martin says. “The people next to you: This is family. You’re not going to be talking to family. It’s been two years and these people are still undecided, you hearin’ me? Anywhere you want to go on vacation because you’ve heard it’s real nice? Those are not the places we are going be going. We’re not going to Santa Fe. We’re not going to be going to Aspen. These are not the spots we are heading....”

Nov 4, 2008

Beyond his control

Everyone seems to have agreed that the timing of Toot's death is "terrible," "awful","tragic" etc. She won't get to see what happens to her grandson today. If anything I think the opposite: on the eve of what could be his greatest triumph, with full pomp and ceremony waiting to claim him, a reminder of just how little one man can control, even if that man happens to be the next president of the United States.

Nov 2, 2008

John Cleese's ode to Bill O Reilly

Bill O'Reilly's No Spin Zone,
is rated highly by his own beloved mother,
but ... no other.
Except that Bill, for all his faults,
still has one skill, a skill of sorts.
He can amuse a true dumb ox,
the dullest crayon in the box,
the kind of ox that watches Fox.
And Bill will pander to this group,
with propaganda, right-wing poop,
knee-jerk views and censored news.
Thus Bill O'Reilly earns his crust,
behaving vilely as he must.
He will not shirk from Rupert's work.
He really is a perfect berk.

Nov 1, 2008

The bias against bias

Harold Evans finds a worrying media bias towards Obama:

"In the primaries, the press let the Obama campaign get away with continuous insinuations below the radar that the Clintons were race-baiters..... All the mainstream national outlets were extraordinarily slow to check Obama's background. And until it became inescapable because of a video rant, they wouldn't investigate the Reverend Jeremiah Wright connection for fear of being accused of racism. They wouldn't explore Obama's dealing with the corrupt, now convicted, Chicago businessman Tony Rezko. After years of inveighing against "money in politics", they've tolerated his breach of the pledge to restrict himself to public financing as McCain has done (to his cost). Now the LA Times refuses to release a possibly compromising video, which shows Obama praising Palestinian activist Rashid Khalidi at a 2003 banquet, saying its promises to its source prevent it from doing so."

Where to start. There were no "insinuations below the radar that the Clintons were race-baiters" unless by "below the radar" he means from people unconnected with the campaign, like James Clyburn. "The Wright connection" didn't need "investigating": it was public knowledge. The media didn't ignore thestoryuntil videotape made it inescapable: the videotape was the story. Nor did they refuse to explore Obama's dealings with Rezko: it is thanks to their efforts that Obama was cleared of any wrong-doing. As for the public-financing issue, my memory of it is that the media called him on it, but the general consensus was that since small-donor contributions to his campaign didn't offend the larger principle at stake (independence from big donors), it would have been suicidal of him not to opt out.

The Khalidi story is different, since the full details are not yet known. What it looks like is an to smear Obama by his association with a respected Palistinian scholar: race-baiting in other words. The LA Times appears to have decided that, with just one week to go, allowing the McCain campaign to drag this man's reputation through the mud, if only to end up 'clearing' him, long after the damage to the presidential race has been done, is not justification enough to run the story. The Washington Post:

Our sense is that Mr. Obama is a man of considerable intellectual curiosity who can hear out a smart, if militant, advocate for the Palestinians without compromising his own position. To suggest, as Mr. McCain has, that there is something reprehensible about associating with Mr. Khalidi is itself condemnable — especially during a campaign in which Arab ancestry has been the subject of insults. To further argue that the Times, which obtained the tape from a source in exchange for a promise not to publicly release it, is trying to hide something is simply ludicrous, as Mr. McCain surely knows.

One of the dumb things about the allegation of "media bias" is that since all our impressions of the campaign come through the media, the charge requires commentators to do nothing more substantial than sift through their generalised impressions of the race so far. It's atmospherics posing as argumentation. A subjective complaint about something subjective. That is not to say that the media don'tlike Obama more than they do McCain. He is the more likable candidate. If he wins the election, the media will have played their role as public weathervane with 100% accuracy. If you are not an Obama supporter, that must make you a little uncomfortable, but that discomfort you feel right now is the result of the press doing their jon, not reneging on it.

Oct 31, 2008

Reports from Wonderland

"If [the media] convince enough voters that that is negative campaigning ... then I don't know what the future of our country would be in terms of First Amendment rights" — Sarah Palin
As with a lot of her pronouncements, it hints at a broader truth, but backward: the first amendment protects the press's right to call out her negative campaigning, not her right to campaign negatively without press comment. It protects Obama's freedom to associate with whomsoever he pleases, not the person who sees guilt in those associations. It's like she went went "well I betcha the first amendment is involved in here somewhere" but before anyone could wield it against her, she flipped it inside out. You can't fake reflexes like that. From guilt to accusation in the blink of an eye; between those ears, a state of pure lawlessness. She truly is a remarkable creature.

Happy halloween!

It's getting ugly out there

Politico has a round up of some of the more scurrilous unprinted stories swirling around the campaign. Chief among the McCain rumors is the story about McCain behaving badly on a holiday to Fiji before his first run for president, insulting his fellow vacationers and insisting that they listen to him read aloud from the works of William Faulkner. According to the editor of the newsletter CounterPunch, "We posted it and then pulled it off after two hours, There seemed to be enough intimations that it's a phony. Faulkner was a huge problem. Hemingway, yes. But would he really read Faulkner?"

The reasoning seems sound to me. If McCain was going to read aloud from the work of one famous American writer drunk, it wouldn't be the one who indulged in splintered time frames and mucked around with narrative point of view. I can't wait to hear the counter-accusation about Obama on vacation in Hawaii forcing everyone to listen to him reading aloud the works of Maya Angelou.

Drunk Dialling for change

An Obama volunteer goes off-message.
Click and listen. 

Oct 30, 2008

Who I would vote for if I could vote

When I first heard Obama, on TV, giving an interview, back in 2007, I thought he sounded calm, smart, reasonable, psychologically grounded, and pretty much unelectable. People like that don't get to be president, I told myself. Don't go there. Well, we almost are there and its not just the fact that Obama is sprinkling his speeches with a little of the old glitter (hope, change, unity) that's making me step back a bit. The election is going to be over in a few days, and already I'm beginning to feel the wrench. I've been obsessing about this thing for over a year now, consuming poll and blogs like porn, watching TV around the clock, rabbiting on to my wife about what Obama did today or what he said today. "Its like living with a 17 year old girl," she told me once, as I nailed a new poster in place. "It's like Eliott and ET. When ET is happy Eliott is happy, when ET is sad, Eliott is sad."

I wish. According to aides, he has raised his voice twice in the last year. Twice. If I was enjoying a Vulcan mind-mild with the guy I would be flat-lining through the whole thing, rather than wobbling and veering and fretting and pacing. But it's true: I actually smile when he comes on TV. I can recognise his voice from two rooms away and will drop whatever I am doing to go and sit patiently in front of the TV to await instruction. Which is mortifying to me, obviously. I'm not normally in the habit of forming crushes on politicians. My phoniness-meter is as sensitive as the next man's. I think that all power corrupts, and absolute power etc etc. I believe that all politicians lie, even if they appear to be levelling with you. In fact, they lie most at exactly at the moment they tell you they're levelling with you. I think most appeals to 'integrity' and 'authenticity' are bogus.

So how did Obama get through? Why have I been trained like a gun dog on getting this man elective office? It certainly helps that I think he's right, 70% of the time. The recallibration of foreign policy. The progressive tax plan. The exhortations towards a green economy. The promise of transparency in government. But let's be honest: there are large swathes of policy on which I have little or no opinion. A federally-executed healthcare plan? From ten years living in this country, that my memories of the NHS are a rosy dream of bliss compared to the expensive monthly scam I am subjected to here. But is America simply too big a country to offer healthcare as a "right"? I have no idea.

What I do know is that Presidential campaigns are long for a reason: you get to see what a person is made of. How they conduct themselves in adversity. How they respond to triumph. Whether they have a game-plan or whether they're simply reactive creatures, pinballing off events. Over the last year, I have seen Obama resist the impulse to lie, or fight dirty, enough times to basically trust the guy. For most of the primaries and the general election campaign, he has seemed the only adult in the race — steady, calm, responsible. Sometimes, I think that in many ways he has already begun to lead this country. He has dominated the political agenda for the past year, elevated the tone of the debate, dictated much of Bush's recent foreign policy. He has had as much impact as one man can have on a country, without actually being elected president. Like iron filings milling towards a magnet, the country has already reorganised itself around him. When his opponents talk of his 'presumptuousness' they are picking up on something real, but it is not his presumption: it is the vacuum at the heart of this democracy that is already straining to fill itself. All we need to do now is vote for the guy.

Undecided about your pizza?

Still undecided? Try ordering some pizza. It's the easiest way to decided our vote according to a new poll from Domino's Pizza. It confirms exactly what we already knew: Republicans are greedy big spenders living on false credit, Democrats are experimental dilettantes, waited on by the underclass they purport to represent.


  • Spend more per order than other consumers.
  • They rely on credit cards to pay more than other consumers.
  • They tend to order two large pizzas at a time, and they're usually specialty pizzas.
  • They are more likely to order online, and more likely to pick up their orders.
  • Rely on delivery more than Republicans.
  • Pay cash more than other consumers.
  • Like more variety with their orders, opting for side items, chicken and beverages more than Republicans.

Slipping the queue

One of the more perplexing aspects of the whole Obama = Karl Marx/Bin Laden/Anti-Christ line of thinking is the poor regard it seems to exhibit for America and her democratic institutions. Put it this way: How many terrorists and/or communists have actually made it to the presidency in the past? Or even made it as far as the primaries? It's difficult enough getting through customs, let alone launching and maintaining a two-year campaign for the presidency. Something tells me most terrorists would have been found out by now. That's not the message being picked up by the lunatic fringe, though. America is ripe for the picking, according to them. Ascending to the highest office in the land is as easy as slipping the queue for the cinema. No wonder they are worried. How many times has America voted for a president only to find — doh! — that he actually turned out to be one of the country's sworn enemies? Has this ever happened, in any country, ever?

Oct 29, 2008

Down to The Wire in North Carolina

'Three cast members from The Wire next took the stage. A fiery Sonja Sohn (Detective Kima Greggs) told the large crowd, "When you look at The Wire, you see how institutions fail." Passionately, she advocated for Barack Obama because, in her view, he was the candidate who would not continue to ignore those who fall through the cracks. "He said to me, 'I am my brother's keeper,' y'all!" Sohn reminded the crowd. Seth Gilliam (Sargeant Ellis Carver) had a simple but clear message about the importance of voting and the importance of persuasion: "If you don't vote, who will? No one! Who knows your mother like you? No one! Who knows your father like you? No one!" The thoughtful and soft-spoken Gbenga Akinnagbe (Chris Partlow) went last, and had a personal observation shared with us offstage about his experience with the British health care system. He'd recently sprained an ankle, and the U.S. citizen merely waited an hour on a busy Saturday night in London. He was treated for free, "and all they wanted was my name." It was a stunningly blue, warm Sunday afternoon, and the party was on.' —

What she cost him

Talking Points Memo tracks the 'Palin Effect' in terms of lost Conservatives, including: Chuck Hagel ("I don't believe she's qualified"), Peggy Noonan ("it is a mark against John McCain"), Scott McLellan ("this was not a country first pick"), Christopher Buckley ("what on earth can he have been thinking?"), George Will ("obviously not qualified"), Colin Powell ("I don't believe shes ready"), Christopher Hitchens ("A proud boastful ignoramus"), and Ken Aldeman ("not even close to being acceptable in high office").

My electoral predictions

Politico lays down. My prediction: Obama 353 electoral votes, McCain 185. Obama gets: Virginia, Florida, Ohio, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada. McCain's fig-leaves: Indiana and Missouri. Popular vote margin: 52%-47%.

David Sedaris on those Undecided voters

'To put them in perspective, I think of being on an airplane. The flight attendant comes down the aisle with her food cart and, eventually, parks it beside my seat. “Can I interest you in the chicken?” she asks. “Or would you prefer the platter of shit with bits of broken glass in it?”' — David Sedaris, The New Yorker

The devil you know

First President Bush compared Obama's willingness to engage in diplomacy with Iran to the "appeasement" practiced by Neville Chamberlian. Now the Pennsylvania Republicans have sent out an email to Jewish voters urging them "Many of our ancestors ignored the warning signs in the 1930s and 1940s and made a tragic mistake. Let's not make a similar one this year!"

So now Obama is both Hitler and Chamberlain. At this rate, he will have to appease himself. Maybe he could give himself Czechoslovakia in order to stop himself from invading it. Or invade it, then defeat himself in battle and declare a truce.

How does this relate to his links to the communist party? A right wing blogger elucidates.

"Anyone familiar with the history of communism knows enough to be terrified by utopian visions. Not long ago, Obama told Sunday worshipers in Greenville, South Carolina that they don’t have to wait for any Second Coming: “I am confident that we can create a Kingdom right here on Earth.” Lenin, Mao, Pol Pot, et al. had ambitions on a similar scale, although I don’t recall them comparing themselves to God."

I think I am beginning to get the hang of this election. Any comparison to a historical bad guy will do, regardless of political orientation, as long as your audience have heard of them. Stalin. Genghis Khan. Freddy Krueger.

"I don't want a political label, but Obama bears traits that resemble the anti-Christ and I'm scared to death that uneducated people will ignorantly vote him into office."

It's good to avoid labels.

Robocallers walk out

"Some three dozen workers at a telemarketing call center in Indiana walked off the job rather than read an incendiary McCain campaign script attacking Barack Obama, according to two workers at the center and one of their parents. Nina Williams, a stay-at-home mom in Lake County, Indiana, tells us that her daughter recently called her from her job at the center, upset that she had been asked to read a script attacking Obama for being "dangerously weak on crime," "coddling criminals," and for voting against "protecting children from danger."

"They walked out," Williams says. "They were told [by supervisors], `If you all leave, you're not gonna get paid for the rest of the day." A second worker at the call center confirmed the episode, saying that "at least 30" workers had walked out after refusing to read the script. "We were asked to read something saying [Obama and Democrats] were against protecting children from danger," this worker said. "I wouldn't do it. A lot of people left. They thought it was disgusting."Talking Points Memo

Oct 27, 2008

If paradise were a batteground state

"What Satan wants to do is draw Jesus out, provoke him to an unwisely exasperated response, get him to claim too much for his own powers. What Jesus does is reply with an equanimity conveyed by the adjectives and adverbs that preface his words: “unaltered,” “temperately,” “patiently,” “calmly,” “unmoved,” “sagely,” “in brief.”

In response, Satan gets ever more desperate; he conjures up rain and wind storms (in the midst of which Jesus sits “unappalled in calm”); he tempts him with the riches of poetry and philosophy (which Jesus is careful neither to reject nor deify); and finally, having run out of schemes and scares and “swollen with rage,” he resorts to physical violence (McCain has not gone so far, although some of his supporters clearly want to), picking Jesus up bodily and depositing him on the spire of the temple in the hope that he will either fall to his death or turn into Superman and undermine the entire point of his 40-day trial in the wilderness. He doesn’t do either. He does nothing, and Satan, “smitten with amazement” — even this hasn’t worked — “fell.”

Toward the end, the poem describes the mighty contest in a metaphor that captures its odd and negative dynamic. Jesus is “a solid rock” continually assaulted by “surging waves”; and even though the repeated assaults result only in the waves being “all to shivers dashed,” they keep on coming until they exhaust themselves “in froth or bubbles.” The power Jesus generates is the power of not moving from the still center of his being and refusing to step into an arena of action defined by his opponent. So it is with Obama, who barely exerts himself and absorbs attack after attack, each of which, rather than wounding him, leaves him stronger. It’s rope-a-dope on a grand scale." — Stanley Fish, New York Times