Daniel Larison

Great Rodents In Film

Bird has, as Slate‘s Josh Levin makes clear, always been ambitious and willing to enter dark emotional territory. That’s very much to Bird’s credit, and that willingness to not condescend can make for great kid’s movies. ~Reihan Salam

Reihan is talking about the director of Ratatouille, the new animated feature that is apparently brilliantly made and which is also boring children from here to Miami.  My Scene colleague Alan Jacobs discusses it at some length here.  My Scene colleague Matt Frost adds his thoughts here

Rats!

My remarks are on the willingness of people making children’s movies to refuse to condescend.  Speaking of animated rodents, I have to tell you that The Secret of NIMH was one of my favourites growing up (and it was probably one of your favourites, too).  Talk about not being afraid to “enter dark emotional territory”!  It was, if the critics are to be believed today, the Ratatouille of its day, and it was also a memorable production that could enchant children without being a waste of time for parents.  NIMH would be the standard by which I would judge any animated picture, and the few more recent offerings I have had some reason to see (usually because I was visiting with some of my younger cousins) typically don’t measure up that well.

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Unserious Quasi-Candidate Continues To Campaign Unseriously

This just in: Fred Thompson is a superficial and media-driven candidate.  Who would ever have guessed?

Here was the best part from the news report:

“He looks good onstage, but I don’t know if he has the gravitas,” said Kathleen Williamson, a conservative Roman Catholic from North Weare. “It seems like he’s trying to win over conservatives, but I’m still not sure he has the credentials. I’m worried he’s trying to get by on his celebrity.”

Ms. Williamson should be worried–his non-campaign campaign to date is nothing other than getting by on his celebrity.  The scary thing is that this seems to pull 15-20% of the Republican primary vote without Fred even having to lift a finger.

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Mere Front-Porch Anarchy Is Loosed Upon The World?

Fascinating what-ifs all, but mostly irrelevant. Immigration reform was defeated by a conservative revolt that spread to the wider public. Senate opponents, gloating over their success in killing the bill, were essentially correct in insisting the American people had rejected immigration reform. ~Fred Barnes, “Things Fall Apart”

You can hear the sound of Barnes’ disappointment.  What we saw this past week was what occurs when representative government basically functions properly.  It is a strange and marvelous thing, rarely seen anymore.  We can be sure that the establishment has suffered only a temporary loss of control here.  Barnes does not quite go to Broderian or Gersonian depths in lamenting the failure of “centrism,” but he shows thinly veiled contempt for Senators who helped kill the bill because they are running for re-election or another office.  Imagine that–elected representatives responding to their constituents! 

In other words, the people have already rejected the bill now and most of the Senators in evenly divided states were afraid that they, too, would be rejected if they supported the bill.  They were all probably right.  Domenici is our senior Senator and has never had much difficulty winning re-election, and even he was evidently feeling the heat.  Bingaman, our Democratic junior Senator, isn’t even up for re-election next year and he voted nay on cloture, raising the number of Democrats who helped junk the bill to 16 (including the Independent Sanders).  People who don’t understand New Mexican politics may be confused by this, but they should remember that we have one of the poorest states that is also most adversely impacted by the ineffective security at the border and one which can hardly afford the extra strains on state services that illegal immigration already imposes.  Plus, opposition to illegal immigration in central and southern New Mexico among Republican voters is quite strong, despite the perpetual minority status of Republicans in New Mexico that would theoretically put pressure on Republicans to move towards the “center” (i.e., towards the left).  Anyone running for statewide office back home would be inciting some strong opposition if he supported this bill, and both Senators apparently got that message. 

Almost one-third of the Democratic caucus turned against the bill, and they have some common characteristics: they come entirely from purple states (Webb, McCaskill) and red states (Landrieu, Tester), which is predictable but significant.  Many were elected on economic populist platforms, and some evidently saw elements of the bill that conflicted with their populism.  The awful guest-worker provisions were likely what turned them against the bill, as well they should have.  Sherrod Brown was among those voting no.  Had the Democrats tried to whip the bill and force their members at least to vote for cloture, the tactic might not have worked, but there were enough Republicans siding with the Majority Leader that it would have passed easily had the Democrats not been so significantly divided.  For the record, 12 Republicans voted with Harry Reid on cloture, including the unexpected names of Judd Gregg and Richard Lugar.  Lugar just handily won re-election and apparently thinks he can tell his constituents to take a hike, but Gregg is up for re-election next year in 2010.  Perhaps Gregg thinks the massive blue wave swallowing New Hampshire last year was a sign that he needed to go with the majority’s leadership, but my guess is that he will eventually suffer on account of this vote.  New Hampshire voters may have thrown out the Republican bums in ’06, but that does not necessarily mean that they wanted their Senators voting in support of this bill–Sununu seems to have understood this.    

I have to say that this is a better initial outcome than I could have anticipated after the outcome of the midterms.  There had been the disturbing thought that holding Bush and the GOP accountable would simply lead to the empowerment of the worst policies and instincts of this administration in domestic policy.  Admittedly, the gain on a change in Iraq policy has been minimal, but the cost in immigration legislation has fortunately been negligible so far.  The presence of 15 Democratic Senators who opposed the progress of this bill is somewhat reassuring, in that it suggests that there may be a cloture-proof bloc in the Senate opposed to any such omnibus bills in the next Congress as well.  On immigration, there appears to be a solid group of moderate-cum-populist Democrats who were significantly opposed to so-called “comprehensive reform” (Webb, Tester, Dorgan, McCaskill, Brown).  Four of these are newly elected Senators, and it is not at all certain that all of the Republicans they defeated (Allen, Burns, Talent, and DeWine respectively) would have been as reliable in opposing the bill as they proved to be.  Some might have been, but DeWine would likely have been a yea vote.  Surprisingly, the results of the ’06 Senate elections seem to have made amnesty slightly less likely, at least for the moment.

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Other People Who Don’t Like Fred–I Salute You!

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These Are My People

Via Marc Ambinder

Nice touch with the pink.

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The Totalitarian Temptation From Ockham To Oneida

In a sense, it’s almost too easy to engage in this piling on.   Then I say to myself, “Oh, why not?”  So here it is.  Jim Henley is a very funny blogger.

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Stupid Is As Stupid Does

Equestrian portrait of the Count-Duke of Olivares by Diego Velázquez.

Success Is Never Final 

Islamists see the currents of history flowing their way. They reign in Iran, installed Hamastan in Gaza by putsch, threaten Lebanon’s government and crow that they brought down the Soviet Union. ~Steven Huntley

One might say the same thing about democratists, c. 2005.  They saw the currents of history flowing their way.  They reigned in Ukraine (and allegedly in Lebanon), installed a new oligarch in power in Bishkek by putsch, threatened Syria’s government and crowed that they brought down the Soviet Union.  Usually, people who think they see the “currents of history flowing their way” don’t know what they’re talking about and find themselves getting swept away by unexpected flash floods of contrary events.  As Olivares said, “The first rule of all is to be for ever on the lookout for the unforeseen and the accidental.”

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God Forbid We Have Nuance

Yes, the Iraq turmoil often resembles a civil war, which was of course the goal of al-Qaida’s attacks on Shiite mosques and civilians. And, yes, the Iraqi leadership has failed to make the compromises vital to hopes of political reconciliation and failed to build security forces strong and competent enough to shoulder a fair share of the burden of the fight. 

But none of these nuances, analyses and complications will matter a wit with the Islamist radicals or with the rest of the Islamic world watching this conflict between modern Western values and 7th century fundamentalism. ~Steven Huntley

In other words, Huntley concedes almost everything critics of the war have been saying about the reality of the situation and feels satisfied striking a pose all the same.  One other thing: we are pretty clearly not seeing a “conflict between Western values and 7th century fundamentalism.”  All the time war supporters talk about the 7th century.  They have never studied the 7th century.  They don’t know Constantine IV from Constantine Porphyrogennitos, but they are going to tell us about “7th century fundamentalism.”  This is ridiculous.  If the conflict were between Western values and “7th century fundamentalism,” Western values would win without a fight, because 7th century fundamentalists, if they ever existed, are all dead.  The problem, obviously, is with 21st century fundamentalists.  If war supporters cannot get even these small things right, why should we trust them to understand weightier matters?

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Front And Center

Many, maybe even most, Americans have come to believe that Iraq is a diversion from the war on terror, that the primary battlefield against Islamist radicals is in Afghanistan. But the “insurgents” — led by al-Qaida in Iraq — have been very clear that for them Iraq is the central front in the war against America. ~Steve Huntley

Three objections occur to me.  One is that “the insurgents,” broadly defined are not led by anybody.  They are a diverse and contentious bunch gathered into a number of groups, some of which actively try to kill members of the other groups.  Connected to that is the observation that many of the insurgents and even the once-and-future insurgents of Anbar are decidedly not led by Al Qaeda in Iraq.  Thus there has been much crowing about the Sunni tribes’ turn against Al Qaeda, since this has transformed the uneasy tensions between Sunni insurgents and Al Qaeda into full-blown hostility.  Another objection is that Iraqi insurgents would see their insurgency as the central front in the “war against America,” since the only war against America with which they are concerned is the one they are fighting.  A third objection requires me to ignore for the moment the rather glaring flaws pointed out by the first two objections and say this: if Al Qaeda says that such-and-such a place is their central front in the “war against America,” they could be a) wrong or b) lying for their own advantage.  Even if they are not exactly wrong, it might make more sense to choose ground more advantageous to us in any case.  Think of it this way: if an enemy chooses a place as his central front, he may have miscaculated in his estimation of the strategic importance of that place.  

Japanese high command believed that it was a good move to attack Pearl Harbor (on the assumption that it would destroy the entirety of the Pacific Fleet) and enter into a Pacific war with the United States–they were spectacuarly wrong.  German high command resumed unrestricted submarine warfare, despite the near-certainty that it would bring America into the war to their tremendous disadvantage–this was a less obviously stupid move, but still ultimately a mistake.  In Iraq, Al Qaeda has not been playing to their strengths with other Muslims.  Their reputation as a supposed scourge of infidel invaders has been significantly qualified by their attacks on other Muslims, particularly on other Sunnis.  Meanwhile, they continue to gain strength and allies in Pakistan.  Arguably, the Afghanistan-Pakistan border is even more important today to anti-jihadism than it was in 2001-02, and Iraq remains a secondary concern at best.  If Al Qaeda actually believes that Iraq is a “central front” and is not just gulling another empire into playing the game according to their rules, it seems clear to me that they have rather badly misunderstood their own position, as has the government in Washington.  It’s a bit like the Confederates thinking that sending a detachment to capture New Mexico would make it possible for them to take California; the official Washingtonian response today is a bit like thinking that the victory of the Colorado volunteers at Glorieta represented the turning point in the Civil War.  These were basically errors in judgement and a waste of resources on fruitless gambles.  Much like our own invasion of Iraq.  The thing about two sets of foreign interlopers fighting each other in someone else’s country is that, sooner or later, the locals are going to get sick of both sets of foreigners and try to force them out.  They may be unsuccessful, but they will try.  The hostility to our presence is caused by the same resentment at foreign meddling and occupation that Iraqis would have for the operatives of other outside forces.

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Nur Der Freiheit Gehoert Unser Leben–The Secret Libertarianism Of The Nazis! Or Is It The Secret Nazism Of The Libertarians?

Palmer is surely smart enough to know that fascism is a more complicated subject than he makes it sound. “I know John Mackey, John Mackey is a friend of mine, and he’s no fascist,” is a pretty vapid argument, to the extent it’s an argument at all. It’s even dumber as a retort to a book Palmer’s never read. Indeed, one gets the sense reading his post or some of my libertarian-reader email, that because Mackey is a libertarian, and perhaps because he’s a libertarian sugar daddy, anything having to do with him, Whole Foods or the organic food fetish is beyond criticism. Palmer might want to read, for starters, the writings of Ludwig Klages, Hitler’s Table Talk, The Nazi War on Cancer or How Green Were the Nazis before he flies off the handle like that. ~Jonah Goldberg 

The Goldberg syllogism: 1) Fascists were concerned about conservation; 2) modern conservationists are concerned about conservation; 3) Therefore, there is a meaningful substantive connection between fascism and modern conservationists that goes beyond this incidental agreement.  Sam Brownback is against cancer and wants to “eliminate” it in ten years–is he a liberal fascist too?  Shouldn’t it be significant that everyone who knows anything about John Mackey says that he is definitely a libertarian and not a fascist?  That doesn’t seem to be an “argument,” but a statement of easily-checked fact.  If it is not really disputable, Palmer doesn’t need an “argument” to prove that Mackey isn’t a fascist–he needs only take seriously the meaning of words and recognise that the terms libertarian and fascist are not equivalent.  Wouldn’t that settle this apparently puzzling riddle of Mackey’s potential fascism?

Of course, Goldberg is right about one thing: no one has any idea what he has written in his book.  (At the rate he’s going, no one will ever know what he has written, because people will be so annoyed by the stupid subtitle that they won’t even buy it.)  All that we do know about it is the title, the subtitle and the blurb from the publisher.  There is wisdom in the saying that we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, and likewise we shouldn’t judge it (and consequently simply dismiss it) by its title alone.  That’s a fair objection. 

When the new subtitle was proposed, didn’t someone point out that mentioning Whole Foods in the context of fascism sounded crazy?  Did Goldberg think that he had actually improved the book with such a goofy title?

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The First Term Of An Idaafa Cannot Have Tanween

What does this mean?  First, let’s consider idaafa.  Idaafa is a construction that expresses the possessive relationship between two nouns in Arabic.  The other day I likened it to the German genitive, and the more I learn about idaafa, the more I think that this is a very good analogy.  It is a very useful way to understand this idea, at least for those who have studied German.  For example, das Buch des Vaters is a genitive construction in German.  Arabic will have the exact same construction with kitab-u al-waalidi.  Like anything in a German genitive construction, the idaafa must take genitive case endings.  Tanween, meanwhile, is the concept of doubling the last vowel in a word.  To have the nominative indefinite, you double the damma, which is equivalent to our short ‘u’, but if you have the tanween al-fatha (this phrase is itself idaafa) you double the fatha (equivalent to a short ‘a’).  This has the effect of making the noun accusative, and you cannot have a random accusative floating around in a genitive construction.  At least, that’s what I’ve managed to understand so far.  Now admit it–you really wanted to know that.  

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