In The Times, Again

Two really good columns in the NY Times today.

Nicholas Kristof – not exactly at the front lines of the ‘Democracy in Iraq’ movement – speaks out with honest ambiguity about what the invasion has brought. With a photo that isn’t for the squeamish, he confronts his own opposition to the war.

Since I’ve been accusing the Bush administration of cooking the intelligence on Iraq, I should confess my intentions. Countless Iraqis warned me that they would turn to guerrilla warfare if U.S. troops overstay their welcome, so I thought I’d find an Iraqi who had had his tongue or ear amputated by Saddam’s thugs and still raged about the U.S. That would powerfully convey what a snake pit we’re in.

So I began asking for people with missing tongues or ears. I got a tip about a man in Basra who had had his tongue amputated for criticizing Saddam. He had moved away, but I found a friend of his, Abdel Karim Hassan.

“A thousand thanks to Bush!” he told me. “A thousand thanks to Bush’s mother for giving birth to him!”

Hmmm. I hadn’t expected a tribute to the Mother of all Bushes.

Then I heard about Mathem Abid Ali and tracked him down in the southern city of Nasiriya. I’ve posted a photo of him on nytimes.com.kristofresponds (parental guidance is suggested). Mr. Abid Ali deserted the Iraqi Army, was caught, taken to a hospital and given general anesthesia … and woke up with no right ear.

“Children looked at me, and turned away in horror,” Mr. Abid Ali said bitterly.

So I asked Mr. Abid Ali what he thought of the Americans.

He thought for a moment and said: “I’d like to make a statue in gold of President Bush.”

So, facts got in the way of my plans for this column. But sometimes that’s a good thing. I do think it’s important for doves like myself to encounter Saddam’s victims like Mr. Abid Ali and their joy at being freed. Iraq today is a mess, but it’s a complex, deeply nuanced mess, etched in shades of gray.

No matter what side you are on, you have to confront the complexity of this situation and be willing to look at the facts. That’s not an excuse for passivity, though…

Krugman has a slightly hysterical column about the plumbing behind modern party politics, and the unassailable fact that one side seems to have more experience with plumbers than the other.

…describing the weekly meetings in which Senator Rick Santorum vets the hiring decisions of major lobbyists. These meetings are the culmination of Grover Norquist’s “K Street Project,” which places Republican activists in high-level corporate and industry lobbyist jobs … and excludes Democrats. According to yesterday’s Washington Post, a Republican National Committee official recently boasted that “33 of 36 top-level Washington positions he is monitoring went to Republicans.”

Of course, interest groups want to curry favor with the party that controls Congress and the White House; but as The Washington Post explains, Mr. Santorum’s colleagues have also used “intimidation and private threats” to bully lobbyists who try to maintain good relations with both parties. “If you want to play in our revolution,” Tom DeLay, the House majority leader, once declared, “you have to live by our rules.”

Lobbying jobs are a major source of patronage … a reward for the loyal. More important, however, many lobbyists now owe their primary loyalty to the party, rather than to the industries they represent. So corporate cash, once split more or less evenly between the parties, increasingly flows in only one direction.

And corporations themselves are also increasingly part of the party machine. They are rewarded with policies that increase their profits: deregulation, privatization of government services, elimination of environmental rules. In return, like G.M. and Verizon, they use their influence to support the ruling party’s agenda.

Now I tend to think it’s a little more complex and deeply nuanced than that – I think the democrats can’t use this issue as effectively as they should because they have their pants just as far down around their ankles as the GOP does.

But if you want to know how we’re governed – and why government increasingly lurches from crisis to crisis, read this column and the LA Times’ great twopart series on the amazing correlation between lobbying success and hiring the children and wives of powerful legislators.

Not Gonna Take It

In my morning paper some more annoying news (note that the LA Times website requires equally annoying registration – ‘laexaminer’/’laexaminer’ works – and gives you an amazing number of popover and popunder ads. Give it a break, guys…I hardly use the site any more because of them):

Labels Will See Music File Sharers in Court

Unable to stamp out Internet music piracy through education or threats, the record labels on Wednesday said they will start suing thousands of people who share songs online.

The Recording Industry Assn. of America announced that it plans to spend the next month identifying targets among the estimated 57 million people using file-sharing networks in the United States, focusing on those offering a “significant” amount of songs for others to copy.

Then, in August, RIAA will file its first lawsuits, President Cary Sherman said.

And in July, I’ll stop buying new CD’s from the majors. I understand the cat-and-mouse they are playing with the file swapping services, and that until they figure out how to make the new models work, there is going to be a certain amount of pain. But their unbelievably heavy-handed approach – in which they use the cost of litigation itself against individuals who may or may not be knowingly violating the law – is one which I won’t support with my dollars. I just don’t want to play with people who play like this.

I own about 1,000 CD’s, and have a 3 – 4 disc a month habit. I’ll be shopping for used discs or discs sold directly by the artists for the forseeable future, and I’ll be sending Cary Sherman a message to that effect (by snail mail, since the RIAA doesn’t have any way to contact them on their website).

UPDATE: Joe shares some thoughts on the artists’ perspective.

Binary Morality

I’m not talking about a morality that appears when you mix two components; I’m talking about a morality that can only exist in one of two states: “bad” and “good”.

I’d been thinking about a kind of ‘Gresham’s Law’ of morality, in which weaker moral judgments make it increasingly impossible to make strong ones, when I read Orson Scott Card’s column referenced below.

What I’d been thinking about is a kind of moral refinement in which any bad thing is so bad that it immediately becomes the equal of the worst thing….A good example is the column on immigration referenced by Dean Esmay. His comment sums up the issue perfectly: “Apparently, bureaucratic hassles = police state.” It’s the same process that leads us to the foolish trope that “Ashcroft’s treatment of Muslim immigrants=Kristallnacht.”

No it doesn’t.

No one who knows anything about history can begin to claim that they are equivalent events. When challenged, the response is that morally, they are the equivalent – that it is just as bad to interview (and often intimidate) people, and occasionally to incarcerate them – typically with some cause, sometimes without – is the equivalent of sending the brownshirts through Dearborn, destroying, looting, and beating. I’m not a fan of most of the domestic security steps that have been taken, so don’t take this that way. But you can argue against them without this kind of nonsensical exaggeration.

It’s fundamentally a way of taking morality out of the equation; since I can find some stain on everyone, it must be true that they are all equivalent – that bombing a Passover seder full of Israelis is the same as bombing an apartment building housing a leader of Hamas. So it’s a matter of picking a team; kind of like choosing the NASCAR driver you are going to root for. You can’t judge, because you’ve given up any criteria on which to judge.

I choose this example (bombing that killed Salah Shehada) carefully, because to me it is the closest kind of call we have to make. Innocents die on both sides, and to me both are impossibly tragic. Yet to me, they are as clearly distinct – morally – as noon and midnight.

Adulthood is about being confronted with tough moral choices…between varying shades of grey. Children can throw their hands up and say “it’s all bad”; when I hear that from an adult, it makes me quite dismissive of that person’s judgments. Because yes, it is all bad, it is all good, there are no clear bright lines we can use to sort the saints from the sinners.

But if you’re willing to look hard, to get your hands dirty, to act like Hoderer and say: “Do you think one can govern innocently? Purity is a matter for monks, clerics, not for politicians. My hands are dirty to the elbows. I have shoved them in filth and blood,” (in Sartre’s ‘Dirty Hands’) you can act in the world, and in turn ultimately stand to be judged on your actions.

Morality is not a binary function, and cannot be reduced to one. People who say it can be are selling something.

— UPDATES —

Exactly Whose Side Are They On?

Over on Politech, Declan McCullagh has a press release on Big Internet’s ambivalent relationship with spam.

It appears that Microsoft, AOL, and Yahoo teamed up to block a California anti-spam law, according to a press release from the office of the bill’s author, CA Senator Debra Bowen:

Backed by Microsoft, America Online (AOL) and Yahoo!, the Assembly Business & Professions Committee today refused to permit a vote on SB 12 by California State Senator Debra Bowen (D-Redondo Beach), a bill that sought to create the country’s toughest anti-spam law by requiring advertisers to get permission from computer users before sending them unsolicited ads.

Continued…

Today in Redmond, Washington, Microsoft announced it filed 13 civil suits against U.S. spammers for sending unwanted, deceptive, commercial e-mail to Microsoft customers. Meanwhile, at that same time, Microsoft was testifying in Sacramento, California, before the Assembly Business & Professions Committee against Senator Bowen’s bill, that would have banned spam and created an “opt-in” system for sending unsolicited commercial e-mail. If enacted, it would be the strongest anti-spam bill in the country, but Microsoft opposed it because it would have required businesses to get permission before sending e-mail ads (a concept known as “opt-in”) and would have allowed individual e-mail spam victims to sue spammers for $500 per spam.

“Microsoft, AOL, and Yahoo! sit in committee with a straight face, saying they’re trying to improve the bill, while at the same time they’re back in Washington, pushing measures to wipe out this bill and every single anti-spam law that states have adopted over the past half-dozen years,” continued Bowen. “Why? Because they don’t want to ban spam, they want to license it and make money from spammers by deciding what’s ‘legitimate’ or ‘acceptable’ unsolicited commercial advertising, then charging those advertisers a fee to wheel their spam into your e-mail inbox without your permission.”

Bowen is a pretty damn trustworthy legislator, who has historically been on the right side of privacy issues.

(edited to correct missed word in Bowen’s description)

God Is In The Details

For those of you who don’t believe that – as an alternative construction – the devil is in the details:

“Buried deep within the latest news report on the deadly ambush of the 507th Transportation Maintenance Co. in Iraq on March 23, 2003, was a chilling nugget of information. It now appears that the soldiers who were killed or taken prisoner in that now-infamous firefight shared a common misfortune.

Their rifles had all jammed.”

Why did they jam?….

“The probable cause of this widespread weapons failure has been blamed on a government-issued lubricant known as “CLP” that has been provided to many … but not all … U.S. Army soldiers. A number of Army veterans and contractors have denounced CLP as totally ineffective in preventing sand and dust buildup in weapons in Iraq.”

“What is bewildering to veterans such as these is that there is a product that has proven effective in desert combat. MILITEC-1 Synthetic Metal Conditioner, manufactured by the company of the same name, has been approved for Army use and is already widely used by the U.S. Coast Guard, FBI and a host of other federal police agencies. But the Army apparently is still shipping CLP en masse to the troops and has resisted ordering the synthetic lubricant, forcing unit commanders to pay out of their own pockets to acquire it.”

“The problem, Kovacic said, is that the Defense Logistics Agency allegedly refused to ship MILITEC to a number of units heading for combat in Iraq, despite previous approval of the product for Army weapons. “So, if front-line commanders order this product,” he asked, “where does DLA have the authority to stop shipment? It is the brigade commander�s butt in battle and if he wants to use a different lubricant, because the government stuff does not work, he can.”

For want of a nail…

Actually the interesting lessons here are: a) the length of the feedback loop for procurement; and b) the importance of the smallest things.

Some of my shooting friends and I sent weapons cleaning kits as part of our contribution to the war effort; I’m happy to say that mine included no CLP…the units who we sent things to has specifically requested Militec.

What’s the French For “Surrender”?

One thing that got lost in this whole “leading a real life” thing I’ve been sucked into was a reply to Porphy concluding our discussion of the French censorship truc below.
G Gonzalez (in the comments) is definitely right, and so is Porphy. I let my distaste for media overkill (remember, we’re the house with no T.V.) tip the balance too far. Porphy’s comment nails it:

However, judging from Armed Liberal’s initial post, he didn’t know, either, that Eva Joly was involved in the case. His post seems to imply that third parties (say, journalists or others looking into the case on their own account, but not part of the trial proceedings) not only can, but should, be gagged by judicial decree.

This is not part of normal jurisprudence. I would ask if Armed Liberal thinks that third parties (reporters, bloggers, writers and the like who are otherwise involved in the proceedings but do “investigative reporting” into the matter and then write – either for publication in a newspaper, magazine, or book – on the topic, or speak on it – say, on radio or TV or even at a public forum somewhere) can and should be kept from talking about it, by court decree?

Je me rends (I surrender)…

My Own Good News

Blogging has been light lately, as work has heated up a bit at the same time that my oldest son (Biggest Guy) came home from his first year at college, and my other two sons (Middle Guy and, unsurprisingly, Littlest Guy) finished out their school years, which always seems to involve a lot of interaction for me as a parent, both in terms of one-on-one with the boys, and in terms of school activities which I just can’t bring myself to miss.

Actually, that’s a misstatement – it’s not that I can’t bring myself to miss it, in the sense that it’s a chore I endure – but that I’ve come to delight in it.

Part of the philosophical change I’m going through is an appreciation of the pleasures of this kind of everyday life; in my own life it’s a true gift to have learned that I can have as much fun sitting at Little League closing ceremonies chatting with my neighbors as I can have doing the other, higher-profile things I love.

Much of what I plan to write about in the next month or so is both critical – of the fact that we seem to have trouble with the mundane details of things, and that we look on them as obstacles to the grand Romantic gestures that too many of us convince ourselves are what matter – and hopeful, because when you get away form the Washington-New York-Los Angeles media axis, and out to the Little League fields, lots of people do center their lives around the small accomplishments that real life is made up of.

I don’t deny the attraction of Romantic acts, or of introspection, or even of snobbery and elitism – and I think that a world made entirely of dutiful suburban communities would be horribly bland.

But somehow, the pendulum has swung a little to far from those kind of virtues, and I’d like to see it swing back.

I’ve been blessed to be led there by my three wonderful sons – for those of you who don’t have children, or who have young children, I cannot tell you what quiet elation comes from sitting with your son and realizing that you like and admire the man he is becoming. The credit is his alone, but the pleasure – that’s mine.

French Repression?

Scanning Instapundit, I notice that Glenn has a blurb up that says:

STILL MORE CRUSHING OF DISSENT: This time in France, where a book on the ELF scandal is being suppressed.

Amnesty International? Reporters Without Borders? Go to it.

Clicking through to Porphy’s site, I find:

This speaks for itself:
A Paris court last night halted publication of a book by a former investigating magistrate that claims France is institutionally corrupt.

The book by Eva Joly, who uncovered political and financial corruption at the Elf oil company, is the first by a judge to have been blocked by the French courts.

The stay is only “temporary”, but the precedent it establishes is. . .telling.
Arnaud Montebourg, a Socialist MP, said she should be given the Legion d’Honneur rather than be attacked for her honesty.

Mme Joly, 57, said the French establishment was one of the most rotten in Europe. “It is a country of networks that don’t like to be challenged.”

Yes. Quite. And the EU is a rough beast being born in its image.

Clicking through to the original story, I find:

A Paris court last night halted publication of a book by a former investigating magistrate that claims France is institutionally corrupt.

The book by Eva Joly, who uncovered political and financial corruption at the Elf oil company, is the first by a judge to have been blocked by the French courts.

The court ruled that publication of Is This The World We Want To Live In? might prejudice the trial of former Elf executives, now in its third month, which has already revealed the extent of political and financial corruption in France.

The court ordered that publication, intended for today, must be postponed until the trial is over. Mme Joly said she would appeal.

(emphasis mine)

The last thing I’d do in the world is try to argue specific issues of law with a law professor (something about an ear full of apple cider…). And I’m interested in how U.S. courts would deal/have dealt with similar situations.

But on its face, the request to delay publication until the trial is complete – ostensibly to improve the chances of a fair trial – doesn’t seem outrageously repressive to me.

But what do I know, I don’t think the French are evil, either.

FOOD

Inspired by a link to Tedman’s blog I found on LA Blogs, I decided to come up with a quick list of my own favorite restaurants in L.A. and what I remember (not looking at menus, so if I’m wrong, sorry) as my favorite dish.
In alphabetical (hence no particular) order:
Chez Melange, 1716 South Pacific Coast Highway, Redondo Beach
Great, imaginative upscale food in a motel restaurant on a nondescript commercial street a mile from my house. Discovering this place made moving to the South Bay from Venice a lot easier. Come for the Sunday brunch, eggs and smoked salmon sound boring but they make kind of Platonic version of them.
Chinois on Main, 2709 Main Street, Santa Monica
Seems like it’s been here since everyone in L.A. had a BMW and a coke habit; the food is more than good enough – you won’t think it’s original, but along with the much-missed Restaurant Lyon, it defined California pan-ethnic cuisine. Catfish, duck…
Four Oaks, 2181 North Beverly Glen Boulevard, Bel-Air
Beautiful, quiet, slightly better-than-decent food, but an amazing date restaurant when you’re old enough to want a quiet, romantic evening. Salmon cakes.
Gallo’s Grill, 4533 Cesar E. Chavez Ave
Awesome Mexican grill. Get the arrechera asada. Cheap, superb, if only they had beer. Well worth the drive, even from our place..
Geoffrey’s, 27400 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu
When people visiting from out of town ask for a ‘quintessential L.A. restaurant,’ I suggest this one, secluded in a canyon above the beach in Malibu. The food and service are not quite as good as they used to be (but try the tuna tempura); but it’s such a pleasant place to eat that I still enjoy it. Plus a bunch of my friends were in a movie there…there’s a key scene in the movie ‘The Player’ that takes place there, and the cycling team from Ernie’s was in the shot.
Gutter, 5621 North Figueroa Street, Los Angeles
The anti-Geoffrey’s. A perfect restraurant for a great old punk venue located in a bowling alley (Mr. T’s). Try the hippie scramble, and the homemade ketchup.
Hal’s, 1349 Abbot Kinney Boulevard, Venice
High-end yuppie comfort food. When I lived in Venice, we used to try and walk there once a week…one advantage of being an armed liberal. Great food, comfortable atmosphere, great grown-up bar scene.
Hide Sushi, 2040 Sawtelle Boulevard, Los Angeles
No atmosphere, no rock n’ roll, no attitude, just amazingly good sushi at semi-reasonable prices.
Hu’s Schezewan, 10450 National Boulevard, West L.A.
At the corner of National and National (really!) is this great neighborhood Chinese restaurant. try the Schezewan dumplings, and save the garlic sauce to pour on your rice. Then General Tso’s chicken.
Mimosa, 8009 Beverly Boulevard, Los Angeles
I want to resent this hangout of the beautiful people, but I can’t because the food is so damn delicious. Old-school French, with the intensity of flavor that I remember from France. Cassoulet!
Ocean Seafood, 3209 North Broadway, Los Angeles
The dim-sum mother ship. Try the crunchy shrimp in salt…all feet and eyes.
Paco’s Tacos, 4141 South Centinela Avenue, Los Angeles
Homey local Mexican chain. Hand-made flour tortillas, do I need to say more?
Phillip’s BBQ, 4307 Leimert Blvd., Los Angeles
Burnt ends. Hot links. No seats, just carry-out. I never make it home, so we just eat at the side of the road.
Riviera Mexican Grill, 1615 South Pacific Coast Highway, Redondo Beach
Funky surfer reinvention of a Mexican restaurant. Nothing authentic at all, but damn good. Smoked chicken burritos…
Tacos Delta, 3806 West Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles
As authentically Mexican as it gets. Amazing carne asada gorditas.
Taylor’s Prime Steaks, 3361 West 8th Street, Los Angeles
I keep looking for Jack Vincennes. The culotte steak, slightly more than medium. Straight out of Ellroy’s L.A.
The Pit, 5309 South Vermont Avenue, Los Angeles
Brisket sandwiches, ribs. Oh…and burnt ends. You can sit and eat here, so even though I like the BBQ at Phillip’s a bit more, I can get a more immediate fix here.
The Shack, 185 Culver Blvd. Playa del Rey
Shack-burger. Polish sausage and a cheeseburger; why didn’t someone else think of this? Don’t go to the depressingly yuppified Santa Monica location; head down to the beach at Playa.
Woo Lae Oak, 623 South Western Avenue, Los Angeles
Korean BBQ. My martial-arts school used to have banquets there; whiskey and kimchi weren’t designed to be consumed together. The kinchi/scallion pancake is memorable, as are the short ribs.
Zankou Chicken (all over town)
Armenian roasted chicken…the garlic paste…the garlic paste…
That’s just off the top of my head…I’m sure you’ve got some suggestions to leave in the comments…