Archive | June, 2008

Buy This Book

26 Jun

Mike Scalise alerts me to the fact that Other Latitudes, the first book of poetry by Brian Brodeur, is now available for you to purchase.  I haven’t read everything in the collection, but having read Brian’s stuff before (and having been in a workshop with him) I’m pretty excited about this book.  Rather than butcher a description of the work based on ill-formed notions of the manuscript, I’ll let the ever articulate Eric Pankey explain it:

Reading Brian Brodeur, I am reminded of St. Augustine’s assertion that “To blame the fault of a creature is to praise its essential nature.” In the lyric narratives of his debut collection, Other Latitudes, which is urgent, evocative, and, at times, disturbing, Brodeur shows us that the wide expanse of the heart is rife with flaw and error and in showing us its flaw, praises it. Human relationships—the tragic and the comedic—are his subject and he testifies to their essential vitality and complexity with a capacious wit, a quick intelligence, and an enduring generosity.

And if that isn’t enough to sell you on it, Mike Scalise has more pithy take:

The best way I can describe Brodeur’s work is that it’s compulsively readable.

There you go, the essential quality for any book of poetry: it’s interesting.  So put the boring stuff down and read this instead.  You didn’t really want to read that other stuff anyway.

When Worlds Collide

26 Jun

There aren’t many instances where I get to write about the meeting of the literary and political worlds, but TPM’s book discussion of Philip Gourevitch’s Standard Operating Procedure is one of them.  Gourevitch has his feet in both worlds as both the editor of The Paris Review and a journalist who wrote an excellent book on the Rwandan genocide, and makes him well suited to flesh out the varied stories and narrative strains the make up the abuses at Abu Ghraib .

What makes this book discussion more interesting than the usual fare is the inclusion of poet/memoirist Mary Karr (of The Liars Club fame) as part of the discussion and that fellow poet/memiorist Nick Flynn shows up in the comments section to chastise Gourevitch for not including more Iraqi voices in his account.  Gourevitch responds that part of the reason for not explicitly including the words of those Iraqi’s tortured at Abu Ghraib was his focus on the events as a particularly American story–that the abuses at Abu Ghraib, as Gourevitch  argues, were not inevitable, and were the result of tacit (and sometimes explicit) support of American officials. This is a story about the policy of torture.

Flynn’s concern is common one among writers: who to include and how to tell the story without distorting the truth or privileging one narrative over another.  But it is, I think, a secondary concern here, and one too focused on the (laudable) goal of including voices that were silenced or otherwise appropriated in the media swarm that followed Abu Ghraib.  SOP‘s major contribution seems to be the way it examines how the decisions and policy of the Bush administration translated to actions at Abu Ghraib, as Matt Steinglass observes :

What’s really powerful about this story is that it’s one of the best stories I’ve ever seen for examining the way that policy decisions translate into events. Think, for instance, of Jane Mayer’s amazing article for The New Yorker on Alberto Mora. The hardest thing to do in journalism is to draw connections between complex and fuzzy management and policy decisions, bureaucratic political maneuvering and the adoption of one or another document as official policy, and the consequences such documents and management tactics have for the accomplishment of an organization’s mission. The reporting that’s been done on how abuses at Abu Ghraib (and Bagram and Guantanamo) stemmed from the evolution of US torture policy has been probably the best, most gripping organizational reporting I’ve read.

I’m calling this one for Gourevitch because (as Karr also notes) a book that widens the narrative scope to all accounts is a different, though important, book.

Also in torture reporting: Spencer Ackerman goes to the Amnesty Guantanamo protest in DC and talks with former army chaplin CPT. James Lee, who was arrested, and eventually released, for suscpision of espionage.

Richard Cohen and the Amazing Disappering Bottom Line

24 Jun

Supposedly, everyone has a bottom line, an absolute limit past which we won’t go. First principles, perhaps, which can’t be compromised, or a sense of fairness that compels you to fight for certain ends. Richard Cohen has looked at both presidential candidates and finds that a bottom line is what separates them:

But here is the difference between McCain and Obama — and Obama had better pay attention. McCain is a known commodity. It’s not just that he’s been around a long time and staked out positions antithetical to those of his Republican base. It’s also — and more important — that we know his bottom line. As his North Vietnamese captors found out, there is only so far he will go, and then his pride or his sense of honor takes over. This — not just his candor and nonstop verbosity on the Straight Talk Express — is what commends him to so many journalists.

Obama might have a similar bottom line, core principles for which, in some sense, he is willing to die. If so, we don’t know what they are.

Cohen doesn’t actually say what that bottom line is, but it’s useful to know that McCain has a bottom line.  But Obama–not sure yet.  Except, wait:

McCain has a bottom line. Obama just moved his.

Obama just moved his–indeterminate–bottom line.  Oh, and Cohen admits that both candidates have changed their position on things, but this represents a bottom line change on Obama’s part, even though we don’t know if Obama has a bottom line.  Argumentative prestidigitation abounds.  Watch Cohen work but–ah!–not too closely becuase you’ll miss that the premise of Cohen’s argument–woosh!–has disappered!  Bottom lines comes and go in a puff magic smoke.  Thanks folks, Cohen will be back on the Post Op-Ed pages next week.

P.S. Publis at Obsdian Wings nominates this for Worst Op-Ed of 2008

Memo to Obama

23 Jun

In his latest article, Fareed Zakaria proposes some things Senator Obama should say about Iraq.  Key excerpts:

All today’s gains could disappear when American troops leave—and they will have to leave one day. The disagreement I have with the Bush administration is that it seems to believe that time will magically make these gains endure. It won’t. Without political progress, once the United States reduces its forces, the old mistrust and the old militias will rise up again. Only genuine political power-sharing will create a government and an Army that are seen as national and not sectarian. And that, in turn, is the only path to make Iraq viable without a large American military presence.[…]

[…]My objective remains to end American combat involvement in Iraq and to do so expeditiously. At some point we are going to have to take off the training wheels in Iraq. I believe that we must have a serious plan that defines when that point is reached. If we define success as an Iraq that looks like France or Holland, we will have to stay indefinitely, continue spending $10 billion a month and keep 140,000 troops in combat. And that is neither acceptable nor sustainable. We will have to accept as success a muddy middle ground—an Iraq that is a functioning, federal democracy with a central government and an army able to tackle the bulk of challenges they face.

Defining what victory looks like is the key policy metric here.  Any politician who won’t tell you what victory looks like (or what sort of state–roughly–Iraq should be when we leave) is asking for us to spend lives and resources based on vaguely defined goals like “security” and “stability”¹.  Loosely defined terms do not a foreign policy make.

¹ Or your personal (but not publicly defined!) concept of an ideal democratic state. Your actual Iraqi democratic results may vary.

Someone Get John Cain On the Phone…

20 Jun

Because apparently the definitive album of the 1980s is Van Halen’s 1984.  Really? As a fan of The Police and someone old enough to remember when Michael Jackson was almost bigger than Jesus, I object. I understand that the criteria isn’t the best album of the decade, but I’m thinking something a lot more New Wave as the definitive sound of the 80s.

John Cain, the internets needs your music wisdom!

Race & Media Matters

17 Jun

I kept hearing yesterday from some pundits and journalists that Obama’s Father’s Day speech was directed at “white, working class people”.  Whether or not that was true (or that white working class people were politically symapthetic to his calls for absentee African-American men to step up to their role as fathers) it struck me as both an extraordinarily dumb concern on the part of white people and an unexceptional speech to be giving in a black church.  Not surprisingly, Ta-Nehisi Coates is all over this:

But reporters need to stop acting like this dude is the only civilized black man in the world. I just came from the beautiful Real Men Cook event here in Harlem. This thing has been going for almost twenty years now, celebrating fathers who are doing right, and serving as rebuke (if I may) to the ones that are ghost. We don’t need Barack Obama to tell us to be fathers, though I’m glad he’s doing it. We need reporters to actively engage the people they claim to cover.[…]

But when this stuff is reported, it’s written as if it’s the first time anyone’s said this. The basic rule seems to be among white media–if we haven’t heard it, it didn’t happen.

Also, if white people are sitting around waiting for a series of “Sister Souljah” moments from Obama to prove his American values bona fides then I hope they’re kept waiting.  It’s a disingenuous and uniformed notion (“Oh, all those black folk who don’t have fathers! Won’t anybody do something?!”) as if, as Coates says, Obama was the first to raise the issue or white people are honestly waiting for someone to wag their finger at another racial or ethnic group so they can make up their mind on who to vote for.


13 Jun

Tim Russert Dies at 58.

There isn’t anything more to say except heartfelt condolences.