Slacker Friday


We have a new "Think Again" column here, called "Fool Me 936 Times," and a new Nation column here called "Wall Street to Daily Papers: 'Drop Dead.' "

Oscar nomination reaction:

Good movies all, but it's a shame not to include as well (and I strongly recommend renting, once available):

1) The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (which I think is easily the best movie of the year and one of the most amazing films I've ever seen)

2) Persepolis

3) 3:10 to Yuma (a near perfect "movie")

4) Gone Baby Gone

5) Before the Devil Knows You're Dead

6) Starting Out in the Evening

7) Superbad

Speaking of Hollywood, I am sick to death of Republican candidates sucking up to decadent, America-hating, elitist, pampered Hollywood movie stars. First Huckabee can't go to the men's room without being followed by Chuck Norris, and now McCain and Stallone are practically sitting in a tree. And Fred Thompson actually announced his campaign in Hollywood, on Leno, in a state where even the governor is a Republican Hollywood pampered elitist movie star. When will they realize that America hates these holier-than-thou Hollywood right-wingers?

A (rare) complaint about Atrios:

Dude, why can't you tell us who is "rocking on?" It's kind of hassle to decide whether to click on without knowing ...

From TomDispatch:

Almost 40 years ago, in the midst of the Vietnam War, the Tet Offensive burst as a televisual disaster over Americans, who had been assured that "progress" was being made, that a corner had been turned. Now, on the eve of Tet 2008, Nick Turse and photographer Tam Turse have returned to Vietnam to interview Vietnamese who ended up on the other end of American weaponry (and, in some cases, the Vietnamese versions of present-day Hadithas).

Once again, the United States is embroiled in a faraway war in another faraway land where Americans are dying and another people, another society is suffering grievous wounds, once again on an almost unimaginable scale. Once again, an administration is assuring Americans that "progress" is being made, that a corner is being turned. Once again, the planes are being brought in. And once again, the voices we seldom hear are those of the civilians who are suffering. Barely noted in our world while the war is ongoing, Iraqis and Afghans will promptly be forgotten -- if the Vietnam experience is any measure -- when it's over, while Americans focus on the "lessons" to be learned from an "American tragedy."

Turse brings two of those forgotten voices from Vietnam vividly, memorably to life -- two Vietnamese farmers from the Mekong Delta, both of whom lost legs in what they call "the American War," both of whom have moving messages -- and not of revenge or anger either -- to send to Americans.

Turse begins this remarkable account of the missing voices of a lost war this way:

Nguyen Van Tu asks if I'm serious. Am I really willing to tell his story -- to tell the story of the Vietnamese who live in this rural corner of the Mekong Delta? Almost 40 years after guerrilla fighters in his country threw the limits of U.S. military power into stark relief -- during the 1968 Tet Offensive -- we sit in his rustic home, built of wood and thatch with an earthen floor, and speak of two hallmarks of that power: ignorance and lack of accountability. As awkward chicks scurry past my feet, I have the sickening feeling that, in decades to come, far too many Iraqis and Afghans will have similar stories to tell. Similar memories of American troops. Similar accounts of air strikes and artillery bombardments. Nightmare knowledge of what "America" means to far too many outside the United States.

Slacker Friday:

Name: Charles Pierce
Hometown: Newton, MA

Hey Doc --

"Down the highway/Down the track/Down the road, to ecstasy."

Weekly WWOZ Pick To Click -- "Blues After All" (Jimmy Smith): This week, I once again failed to wander aimlessly through the distant steppes, telling passing farmers how much I love New Orleans.

Short Takes:

Part The First: Big ups to the Academy for getting most of it right. The great Cate for her spot-on Highway 61 Bob, Tommy Lee Jones for the right performance (In The Valley Of Elah is still the best movie I saw this year, Day-Lewis me no Bardems), and Saoirse Ronan, who was the only thing that kept that plodding Merchant-Ivory starter kit from laying across the screen like a dead halibut for nearly three hours. I would love to see a Ruby Dee-Hal Holbrook parlay, if only because Fred Thompson's had a pretty rough year and I think that would make him happy.

Part The Second: Want to know why our national dialogue blows goats? (That is, if you haven't already written a book about it.) Read this column very carefully. Friedman seems to be arguing here that Matthews is simply paid to spout opinions, and that whether they are wise or stupid is not relevant to the discussion. I am now very confused. If your job is to spout opinions, isn't the spouting of wise opinions a pretty good measure of whether or not you're doing your job well? In our culture, the spouting of stupid opinions generally used to be left to people on barstools, just as the spouting of crazy opinions generally used to be left to the man in the park who thought he was Napoleon. One opinion is not as good as another. "Hillary Clinton is a calculating gutfighting politician" is not of the same essential value as "Hillary Clinton is a calculating gutfighting politician from the planet Zod." I am, as I said, confused.

Part The Last: I can't tell you how happy I was to hear David Shuster and Dan Abrams go back into the Whitewater weeds the other night. Somewhere in Arkansas, old wolves howl, and Gene Lyons rises wearily to his feet and straps on some iron. Yeesh.

As I was watching the debate the other night -- the Democratic one where Anderson Cooper came on afterwards and got to pretend to be Angelo Dundee -- I was struck by Senator Obama's resolute assertion that he was the candidate that can come to Washington and work with "independents and Republicans" to get things done. (One of his new ads has him sitting next to Dick Lugar, a Republican senator only slightly more relevant today than is Arthur Vandenberg.) I was struck even harder by it as I watched the Democratic Senate go supine, selling out poor Chris Dodd and the Constitution, and concocting retroactive alibis for the Telecom giants in a week where we finally got the empirical count of prewar Iraq lies. Here's my deal with His Barackosity. Take the list of Republican congresscritters, House and Senate. Make me a list of 10 of them with whom you think you can work to achieve anything close to the progressive goals you have said you want to achieve. Give me an honest run, and I guarantee you that you can't do it. You may get "something done" but it's not going to have anything to do with anything resembling the values of the party you seek to represent. This is a party that has to be forcibly disenthralled from its lunatic base.

From: Siva Vaidhyanathan
Hometown: Charlottesville, VA

Hey Eric.

I have a couple of thoughts about the Clinton attack-dog effect. I am on record endorsing Sen. Obama for president. I think he would make the best president over the next eight years for reasons stated here. But, as Altercation readers know, I have tremendous respect for Sen. Clinton and Sen. Edwards as well. They would all be formidable candidates and decent -- if not great -- presidents.

For the past week or so I have been angry and disgusted by Clinton's cheap shots and misrepresentations of Obama's statements. Then today I thought some more about it. I think Clinton is doing us all a favor. Mostly, she is doing Obama a favor.

What Obama is dealing with this week is nothing compared to the crap that he would face in July and August, the Swift-Boat months of the campaign. Think Clinton's proxies are exploiting latent racism? Try to imagine the overt racist appeals that the right-wing hit squads are preparing for Obama. Imagine the number of times we are going to hear "Barack Hussein Obama" over the summer. Fox "News" might even make it in-house style. Every client that Obama's firm represented will be fodder for attacks. Every family Obama helped as a community activist will have their stories exposed and twisted so Obama's association with poor people becomes a liability, not an asset.

We will never hear the end of the Islamic lies. Obama's Christianity will not serve as a defense, as it will open up a different set of attacks.

All of this will be crap. But we can count on CNN and the Washington Post to echo and amplify every lie and tall tale about him. And Obama will have to stand up there with a straight face and respond to most hurtful and absurd attacks.

That's what Republicans do. They know no other way. Even John McCain, who has felt such attacks in 2000 and now, is not above looking the other way as trolls do his bidding. He was awfully equivocal in his willingness to defend his friend and fellow decorated veteran John Kerry.

So now is the time for Obama to learn how to parry and dodge these sorts of attacks. Nothing Clinton is throwing at him is anything close to what he will face. This is minor-league pitching. He has to learn to hit the high-and-inside pitches.

So far, so good. If Obama makes it through this process and wins the nomination, he should send flowers to the Clintons.

On another issue your readers brought up recently, why do we need an election day? Why not do what Texas does and let people vote any day a month before the formal election day? Election days make no sense. They are designed to exclude. Let's have election months.

Name: JenniferM
Hometown: Greenwood MO

I'm sick of people who claim to be Democrats and then email or post comments like, "I'm a Democrat and will not vote for Clinton because of the way she's campaigning against Obama." Well, I'm a Democrat and an Edwards supporter but will vote for whomever is the Dem nominee next November.

Do these people understand why the Democrats lose national elections? I think not.

Name: R.T. Tihista
Hometown: Sisters, OR

Cheryl H.: Oregon has had vote by mail elections for years and little if any fraud has been uncovered. It's easy, convenient and effectively increases voter participation. You should check on Oregon before you raise all the red (herring) flags.

Name: Marc Foster
Hometown: Indialantic, Fl


Mr. Joyce says he is particularly fond of your "Thanks, Ralph" comments and then says that he will never vote for Hillary Clinton. Well, guess what? If she is the democratic nominee, that attitude is exactly the same as the one that gave us eight years of George W. Bush including Iraq, waterboarding, illegal wiretaps, two more arch-conservatives on the Supreme Court, etc., etc. Hillary is my third choice among the candidates but if she is the nominee I will vote for her enthusiastically. If Mr. Joyce won't then to me, he just forfeited the right to complain about the next four years and the right to criticize the people who voted for Nader in 2000.

Name: Jesse Zander Corum
Hometown: Portland, OR

If everything Cheryl from NM imagines about voting by mail were actually true, why hasn't Oregon become a Republican stronghold? We've been voting by mail for years and there's no strong cases of fraud. Voting by mail also has a number of advantages. It boosts turn-out because people don't have to stand in line. And since there's no line of people behind you, you can go through the voter's pamphlet or other materials and make informed choices on the smaller races and measures. Since we fill out optical scan ballots, there's a paper record of everything, not just numbers in a machine. It's faster to count, because many ballots are mailed straight to county offices. Oh yeah, it's also cheaper for the government (us) to hold an election.

I think what makes the most sense is to adopt what Oregon did while in transition: allow voters to register as "permanent absentees". They get their ballots in the mail and vote that way, others are free to go to the polls. And while we're wishing, I like Minnesota's rule that you can register to vote on the day of the election. If you're going to allow that, you've got to have polling places open anyway (hey, I bet people could drop off ballots they filled out too late to mail) but I'll keep signing my security envelope.

Name: Marcia Steiner
Hometown: Portland, OR

Before you embrace "class-based affirmative action" as enthusiastically as Mickey Kaus (and Clarence Thomas, Charles Murray and Newt Gingrich), I urge you to read your CUNY colleague Stephen Steinberg's critical essay on the subject. You can find it here.

Also, if you are unfamiliar with the work of anti-racist educator Tim Wise, I strongly recommend his book, "Affirmative Action: Racial Preference in Black and White." Wise convinced me that defending race-based AA is as much a moral imperative as opposing the death penalty, regardless of the political calculus. Granted, it's a hard case to make at a time when most Americans, including probably most liberals, want desperately to believe that some semblance of a color-blind meritocracy has been achieved. I certainly did. More info is available at (Steinberg also apparently has a book but I haven't read it.)

Name: Morty

Heh heh. Along with my Sylvia, I happened to be making a rerun of "The Jewish Americans" last night, and saw the bit you reference. It would be hard, indeed, to find a bigger shikse than the Queen of England...

We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.