Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Say goodbye to a city's essence

Of interest to the nostalgic:

Chalk another one up for the computer war against city character traits. On Monday The New York Times ran an excellent story on the probable dissipation of the trading floor at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. Chicago's Mercantile Exchange and also the former Chicago Board of Trade were landmarks of the city. Indeed, they were distinctive positive aspects of Chicago's renown. But with the merger of the Merc and Board of Trade and relocation
in May to a new trading floor at the board’s Art Deco headquarters. With the consolidation of the two exchanges, the pork belly pit, formerly emblematic of Chicago’s open-outcry commodity trading, will close and begin operating only by computer.

It's better for business, that's for sure; and crucial for the Merc to survive. Still, a major historical locale of the Windy City is being gobbled up by technological efficiency. Chicago is a city in transition. A lot is going on, being built, moved, changed, renewed, remodeled. Now there's Millennium Park with its gaudy Bean, both of which will probably become famous as a symbol of Chicago, unfortunately.
Everywhere the technological computer juggernaut is improving operations. In the journalism world not only have computers and the internet helped minimize spelling errors but also hasten the exchange of information for literal up-to-the-minute and up-to-the-second reporting. Updates are faster than they ever could be by phone. The other day a Michigan student explained how although there is a pleasure in reading newspapers, "I want to know that what I'm reading is the latest news." That limits the appeal of newspapers though and exposes where its capabilities fall short. Like so many other areas of society, newspapers and the traditional trading floor just can't keep the pace with faster computers.
The offices of these institutions are converging in similarity as well: the same desks, same computers, same white collar workers staring at them. That's the trade off, an infamous economic scene of Chicago for a set of computers.
It's more efficient.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Save This Movie

Of Interest to the Movie-Goer:

I title this entry "Save This Movie" because I'm really afraid that "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" will fall into the dustbin of movie history; perhaps it'll be picked up and replayed by a desultory college student or two, but that's it. I want to say that the film has so much to recommend it that it would be a travesty for it to fade into obscurity. Yes, it sports Fellini-sized self-indulgence, not terribly kosher for a sophomore director. Yes, it unashamedly exhibits time-lapse multiple points in the film's 2 hour and 40 minute duration. But this isn't a Malickian fancy, though there is something that conjures that eccentric cousin of American cinema in the juxtaposition of brutality and natural beauty. "Assassination" features one strong (Pitt) and one brilliant (Affleck) performance. As a psychological study it is incredibly sharp and revealing. Its portrayal of the American West is unique and strange. And while it doesn't ultimately develop its main theme--the interaction between myth and reality, or language and its object ("You can hide things in vocabulary," one character says early in the story)--to any sort of satisfactory conclusion, it's a rare sort of movie these days that tries to fit its head around these ideas at all.

I am a massive cockblock


I was walking through my dorm on a 4 a.m. ramble when I decided to take a look-see down in the basement. I had never actually visited our kitchen, for the use of which I had to contribute a hefty sum (a double sawbuck, or twenty dollars for you people who don't use Civil War slang in a pompous and self-conscious manner), so I decided now was as good a time as ever. I walked downstairs into the basement, through the hall and past the entranceway adorned with a sign pronouncing the kitchen's impending cameo in the sordid farce of my existence. The corridor between the entranceway and the kitchen was long, and the cooking area was darkened. I could barely make out the huge stainless steel refrigerator and island. I had just entered the kitchen proper when I simultaneously wheeled and heard from the direction to which I was turning a boy's voice say quickly and brusquely, "Hey dude." He walked past me and through the corridor; I noticed only his yellow tee shirt and the fact that he was holding his arm above his head, as if it were a periscope. To tell you the truth, I was pretty startled to see him there, and could barely manage a hello. For some reason, the image came into my head of some grizzled hillbilly reaching his hand out to a cornered, cowering wolf-cub as his (the hillbilly's) dirt-smeared little children watch in ecstatic terror. "Hell, he's scareder of us than we are 'a' him," the wise old Alvah Dunning says. But back to the story. As the international dude was walking by me, my sensitive eye caught something behind him, a flash, a flutter, a flit, no more than a brush stroke at the corner of the canvas, which disappeared behind the other doorway to the kitchen. It took me a second to figure out what was going on, and then I bounded after it like a happy hound. Of course, the female, for that was what the darting blot of brown ink was, had disappeared. I was a cockblock! Now I knew the shame. The shame and ignominy of the cockblocker.

"Kafka on the Shore": A Surrealist Fairy Tale

An old man talks to cats and makes fish fall from the sky, Johnnie Walker kills cats and eats their hearts, Colonel Sanders is a back-alley pimp with a knack for the supernatural, and a 15-year-old runaway finds shelter from a cross-gender hemophiliac while fulfilling an Oedipus prophecy. No, this isn’t a bad joke, and you’re not having the weirdest trip ever. You’re reading the latest Haruki Murakami novel, Kafka on the Shore.

Murakami’s “insistently metaphysical mind-bender” (John Updike’s observation) follows two distantly interwoven plotlines. In the first, 15-year-old “Kafka” Tamura (he has taken this pseudonym to avoid detection by the police) flees his sinister sculptor father in Tokyo and travels by bus to the relatively provincial Takamatsu. He wanders to the Komura Memorial Library, where he meets Oshima, a hyper-educated woman who identifies as a homosexual man, and Miss Saeki, an enigmatic older woman who hasn’t truly lived since her lover died when she was twenty. This bizarre cast of characters gives Kafka room and board at the library, ostensibly for his help as an assistant but mostly because they are interested in his spiritual journey.

Meanwhile, Satoru Nakata, an old man whose childhood trauma deprived him of his memory and conventional intelligence but allows him to talk to cats, follows a trail of clues in a metaphysical scavenger’s hunt that leads him ever closer to Kafka, Oshima, and Miss Saeki. Along the way he picks up Hoshino, a truck driver and ex-soldier, who is sufficiently intrigued by Nakata that he ditches his job and his truck and becomes the old man’s disciple and sidekick (and a devotee of Beethoven’s Archduke Trio).

But for all Murakami’s postmodern surrealism, his narrative structure hearkens back to traditional themes. Besides the overt references to Greek drama (bits and pieces of an Oedipus retelling, and a near fatal backwards-glance into the spirit world), Murakami plays off the most fundamental aspect of Greek tragedy: fate. None of the characters in Kafka on the Shore is as powerful as the forces of fate that drive them, and none even try to resist. They accept the bizarre developments of their world with the resignation of a Greek chorus.

But unlike a Greek chorus, characters in Kafka react to the supernatural events that direct their lives with stoicism and some good humor. And that’s where Murakami’s wit really comes to light: by blending the inevitability of a Greek tragedy with a healthy dose of lighthearted surrealism, he balances the monotony of both genres. The fate that dogs his characters is neither moralistic nor predictable, yet its fantastic manifestations never fade into the languid dreaminess that plagues some surrealist literature. In short: fate provides the momentum and surrealism gives us something to look at along the way.

However, Murakami’s elaborate juxtaposition comes at a price. Like in Greek drama, none of the characters are quite flesh-and-blood—I wouldn’t fancy driving across the country with any of them (except maybe Hoshino the truck driver, who despite a supporting role enjoys the most compelling character development in the book). And the plot drags at times, taking us down false leads or going nowhere at all. Nakata and Hoshino spend the second half of the book trying to speak to a stone, while Kafka Tamura is falling in love with a painting. Something tells me Murakami won’t be getting many movie deals.

But that’s okay, because he probably didn’t want them anyway. He wanted to create a fairy tale steeped in our profoundest narrative and philosophical traditions, and in that he succeeded charmingly. The characters don’t trouble themselves with expectations or analysis, and neither should we. Just take it in and accept it for what it is—always weird and introspective, sometimes funny, and occasionally moving—and you may enjoy this metaphysical romp.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Curiosity killed the chat

Of interest to the online talker:

AOL Instant Messager is dead, long live Google Chat. This didn't happen out of technological natural selection. There was nothing Darwinian here. It's just as more people use Gmail, more people use the instant messager that comes with it. That's not to say that there's nothing appealing about chatting on your email account. In line with everything else that is Google, Gchat archives every conversation so at any time you can look back and see how pompous you sound, furthering self consciousness and paranoia. It also emails messages if one of the talkers signs off.
Remember the days though? Remember the days when we all signed onto AIM. The days when people creatively -or crudely- thought of screen names, and then thought of new ones and then newer ones. Yeah, those days are over.
Then they "improved" AIM by adding the feature that tells you that the other person is typing. Today AIM has evolved to AIM Titan which seems to just be a smooth looking (but not actually) version of the instant messaging program. There's also no more uniqueness to choosing a screenname. Your identity is your email address, which these days tends to be incredibly boring (example: There was something wonderfully expressive about coming up with a nom de guerre with little aspects of your interests or personality. I can remember being Astralmage, silvertiger317, Odysseus03, ATimeforwolves, BeyondtheOceans and many more. There are also people I know with dozens of different names. It was just this fun way of choosing a persona.
But no more. Internet talk has "matured" to this ultra-casual medium where any slight silliness is immature and awkward. Then again, now there's a record of what's said, and that's kind of fun.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Chicago has everything!

Of interest to the Chicago farmer:

Did you know Chicago had a pumpkin patch? I sure didn't. Above is a picture of the beautiful and talented Terra in Chicago at one such jack-o-lantern garden. I've lived in that city for 19 years and I still don't know...most of it.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

UChicago Conversation

Listen to this:

Start of Ancient Philosophy Class, Thursday, 1:27 p.m.
A student is doodling in his notebook. Another student, dressed in the "international dude" style, approaches him and speaks.
Student 1: What up, bro? What's happening? It's fuckin' hot out!
Student 2: Please do not call me 'bro'.

[End of Conversation]

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Stranger

Of Interest to the Hidden Maniacs Among Us:

I was walking home, carrying a plastic bag that contained a can of soup, a tub of yogurt, and juice, and, as is my wont, I began to talk to myself. The night was my confidant; it seduced me into believing no one was there. I was tired and trusting. Events of the day had angered me, and so my murmurs and hushed exclamations were vitriolic. Perhaps my face was a little contorted. In short, I was a night-walking, self-talking lunatic with a shopping bag.

I was walking through an alley separated from a playground by a chain-link fence. It's the same old alley I've walked down since I was a child. I began to rehearse an apology I was to deliver to a friend. I had quietly resolved the angry dispute in my mind. Here, in the dark, I could do such things in peace and freedom. But just as I had reached some sort of tranquility of mind in the anonymity of the darkened street, I heard a voice come from the night. "Ben." I looked around. No one. I scanned the obscure playground through the fence. Nothing. The wooshing trees could imitate a voice. The rain-soaked streets echoed every sound. But I looked back, and saw, on top of the monkey bars, two people. I didn't recognize them, but one of them lifted its (her?) arm and waved widely. I stumbled for a greeting, but managed only, "Shit." Then another nail: "I didn't...uh...yeah." I walked away. Night had betrayed me. I had been found out, caught looking like a maniac, and I felt everything close in on me a little bit more. The name I heard in the street, my own, was a prison. I wondered if I looked the same to whomever those people were, whether my clothes fit the same. I was reminded of an Edward Hopper painting called "New York Office" that shows a woman frozen behind a huge window in an office building. The illusion of privacy, the illusion of a separation between private and public beings.

iPods and optimism

On a personal note:

I had what anyone would call a shitty day. I lost my iPod. That was one of the "high" (read low) points of the day. Besides the aggravating fact that I remember putting it in a safe place and thinking how wonderfully safe that place is, I realized it was lost in one of the most populated parts of Michigan's campus. Additionally, I'm a little stunned that I didn't notice this two-pound bar missing from my pocket.
My friends and acquaintances all have comforted me with "maybe it will turn up." If you found an iPod lying around would you spend an afternoon working to return it?

Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Sam Zell prescription

Of interest to the curious media freak:

Sam Zell, native Chicagoan, Real Estate god, philanthropist, may be exactly what Chicago media and media in general need, or he may be Rupert Murdoch for the Windy City.
Even in Chicago people are unfamiliar with the wealthy founder of Equity Group Investments. Indeed, unlike the ostentatious Murdoch, Zell's takeover of one of the largest newspaper companies in the United States has been relatively quiet. He's really only a tiny blip on the radar for anyone outside the real estate business (of which he is a major player) but he does have a record of generous donations to the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School and Michigan's Ross School of Business. Make no mistake though, he's serious, and determined. About six months ago I heard him speak at the University of Missouri. Once Zell got the stage he scooped up all the attention in the room, going right into his theories, and opinions on the Real Estate market and the state of Real Estate. I didn't understand all of it but I could see that when cut-throat tactics were necessary, Zell didn't flinch. This is unremarkable for successful businessmen today. The unusual part of Zell is his purchase of Tribune Company in a time when the newspaper business isn't exactly a gold mine. Especially because he has no newspaper or media experience.
Zell's initial approach to Tribune Co., the owner of the L.A. Times and the Chicago Tribune, among others, was met with the usual hostility and hesitant attention. The Chandler family, the owners of Tribune, and one of the four great newspaper steward families would really only give Zell their time if he offered something good, but they were receptive. After a great deal of negotiating, Zell won the family over and completed a buyout deal of Tribune Co. for $8.2 billion (Murdoch's takeover of Dow Jones was $6 billion). Despite a considerable drop in Tribune Company's stock value, Zell hasn't paused once in his decision to buy Tribune.
"I believe Tribune Company is reasserting itself as a national leader in news generation and distribution," Zell said in a statement.
To journalists and journalism critics (including Write No Evil) Zell's sudden media interest has been met with rolled eyes. Another bored billionaire who thinks it might be fun to own a newspaper? This won't end well.
Well, maybe. Actually, the Tribune and the Times haven't exactly been in excellent hands pre-Zell. Tribune and all its newspaper and media holdings have been governed by the Chandler family, which has been itching to escape difficult times in the journalism world and highly business oriented governing shareholders. Ken Auletta's article on the L.A. Times largely revealed the paper's problems coming from demands from Tribune Co. to turn a profit, whatever the cost. The costs have been pretty high, including a considerable portion of the Times' excellent newsroom -including magnificent editor Dean Baquet's- jobs. The paper has also reduced its foreign bureaus and minimized its distribution of the California area. All this thinning is partially from Tribune's demand to turn a profit, and a higher one than the last year. It's also a pride thing though. Corporate leadership at Tribune also feels that anything the Times can do, the Tribune should be able to do, and better. Thus the stripping of the Times' resources.
Zell's coming is actually reminiscent of another time of journalism. A time when the wealthy felt a calling to give back and serve the public. Katharine Graham, of the Graham family which owns The Washington Post Company wrote in her book Personal History about her father's calling to give back to the public:
In line with my father's "map of life," the time was right for him to turn his attention to public service...Even in the announcement about his ownership, there were several key statements that proved to be the underpinnings of Eugene Meyer's Post. It was his aim to improve the paper, and he would do so by making it an independent voice.

This is just one example of the good old days when not only was there a great profit in newspapers but also a greater respect of the role they played among the public. The same kind of calling that "Pinch" Sulzberger's ancestors and the Bancroft family's progenitors felt in owning the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. Today newspapers aren't as profitable, some say they aren't at all -actually they are but shareholders demand a higher profit every year. So Zell's interest may not be in making money here. It may be a wonderful desire to support a historical newspaper in his native city.
Don't get too excited though. Word on the street is that when he visited the Times office he berated the paper for too much attention on foreign news. Zell is either no journalism saint or still new to the craft. Zell reportedly plans to sell the Chicago Cubs and a quarter of Tribune's ownership of Comcast SportsNet. He hasn't mentioned any plans to cut jobs. Zell's deal doesn't go into effect until later this year so it's yet to be seen what he does with the newspaper giant. It could be worse actually. Zell is a Chicagoan with no good fiscal reason for buying Tribune Co. He has a history of giving to excellent academic institutions and both the Republican and Democratic parties, which although it doesn't show strict objectivity, demonstrates a level of bipartisanship. He also hasn't mentioned any plans of putting pictures of naked women in the news section -a step above Murdoch.

What Generation Y does on the weekend

Of interest to the weekender:

Schedule for your average college student at a big, state university:


-Get out of class
-play whichever videogame platform has the best sports games
-pre-game, aka drink hard liqour until you can't your insecurities and actually like to stand around and play beer pong
-go to a party -preferably frat but house party will do, as long as there's plenty of booze and bad, loud rap music
-stumble home with your buddies, don't talk about that feel you took of your friend's package

-Get up with a hangover
-Put on every piece of college football gear you have
-heal your hangover with more booze
-go to the game and root for the team
-frat house/house party again. More booze, beer pong, and general debauchery

-wake up with a hangover
-go back to sleep
-wake up again
-go back to sleep
-crawl to the nearest dining hall with your friends
-do about 20 min. of homework while studying your facebook
-go to bed and right before sleeping, reflect how awesome the weekend was

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Will Obama and Edwards ever learn? Doesn't look like it

Of interest to the observant voter:

The New York Times, The Detroit Free Press, Reuters...ah hell, everyone, reported that four major democrats have decided not to campaign in Michigan. This does not include Clinton! Obama and Edwards and the rest (but who cares really about the others) better have a good reason other than principles. Principles and honor don't win elections these days, as Clinton has demonstrated repeatedly. It's conceivable that Obama and Edwards feel it's a lost cause and that Hillary has won Michigan or that winning Michigan really won't make a difference over all but if this ethical choice to boycott a state full of dissent and hunger for change is based on Michigan jumping over the February 5 voting day, then it's literally their loss.
Look, it's not really the time to demonstrate moral character, it's the time to win. Of course Hillary is going to take every opportunity she can to win. That's what she's been doing all along. There is no surprise on that end. The surprise is that Obama and Edwards may not have considered this. They may have thought that Hillary was above pettiness and greed. If that's the case, Hillary deserves to campaign in Michigan, rally unemployed workers in Detroit and college students to her side, and go on to win the Midwestern state's vote.
There is no more appropriate situation for the saying, "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." We were all fooled into thinking that Hillary had a higher level of decency than she's shown. That was the first time. This is the second time.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

The Playboy Beat

On a personal note:

In today's Michigan Daily, there's a story about Playboy Magazine scouts coming to campus. Originally, I was assigned to write the story. I was more than a little willing to bear such a grim burden but the editors decided that a male reporter covering the event would probably bias him. On top of that I'm single, so arguably that would further work against my objectivity. In the end a female writer got the story. Was this sexist? Yes. Was this the correct journalistic call? I think so. Still though, it sounded like fun...

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Hired Gun

Of interest to the excessively aspiring privatizer:

As a former Navy SEAL, Erik Prince should know the difference between the U.S. military and the U.S. postal system. But apparently he doesn't.

"We're trying to do for the national security apparatus what Fed Ex did for the postal service," explained Prince, founder and CEO of the private military contractor Blackwater USA, in a congressional hearing Tuesday. "They did many of the same services that the postal service did--better, cheaper, smarter, and faster."

Prince was trying to justify his company's involvement in Iraq, which according to the International Herald Tribune now consists of about 850 security workers (also known as mercenaries) on the ground and over $1 billion in State Department contracts. Prince and his company have been under a steady stream of media fire since the September 16th incident in which eleven Iraqis were killed, and their record of aggressive incidents in Iraq dates back to 2004.

Such were the accusations (including the drunken murder of an Iraqi security guard Christmas Eve) against which Erik Prince defended himself for three hours on Tuesday. His consistent theme was Blackwater's status as a private company, and its excellent record of achieving objectives with maximum speed and minimum price.

But it's not Blackwater's efficiency that's on trial, it's their collateral damage. Prince's defense betrays his deepest misunderstanding: a complex military campaign can't run on privatized contracts, because its objectives do not exist in isolation. In the postal service, when the package is delivered the job is done, and no one worries what other effects have been set in motion in the course of delivery. But in the military--especially in a volatile and complex occupation like Iraq--immediate objectives are means to ultimate mission objectives. When short-term objectives are met at the expense of long-term ones, the military is failing.

That's why privatization has worked for the postal system but not for the military. In Prince's self-acclaimed "corporate mantra," you hire a contractor to do a specific job, and when the job is done he gets paid. It's not his business or his problem how that job fits into your ultimate goals. Thus Erik Prince can boast that no official under Blackwater protection has ever been killed, without considering the damage his mercenaries have done to the ultimate mission in Iraq--a mission stated very clearly in COBRA II (the original U.S. war plan) as "regime change."

It is true, as Prince asserts, that his company has met all the obligations of a private contractor--but Machiavelli didn't call mercenaries "useless and dangerous" because they're fast or cheap; he called them "disunited" and "without discipline." The money the State Department saves in short-term objectives by employing Blackwater is paid back in American lives when our failure to achieve long-term objectives--like a functioning, Western-friendly regime in Iraq--comes home to roost.

2500 years ago the great Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu instructed generals to "induce the people to have the same aim as the leadership, so that they will share death and share life." Do Blackwater mercenaries share life and death with the US. army? Probably not unless it's specified in their contract.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Bellowing in Chicago

Of Interest to Activists Looking for a Nice Little Civic Cause:

Yesterday an article in the Chicago Tribune reported on the rejection of a request by former U of C english prof Richard Stern to the city of Chicago to name a street, a school, or a statue in honor of Saul Bellow. Stern and Bellow were friends when Bellow headed the Committee on Social Thought. Stern claims he received a letter from 4th Ward Alderman Toni Preckwinckle (requisitions of this kind must be made through the alderman in which the supplicant lives) that denied the request on the grounds that Saul Bellow had made some unseemly remarks about race in his works, particularly about the changing racial composition of Hyde Park and the Northwest side community he grew up in. This despite the fact that Balbo Drive is named after an Italian fascist.

"Who is the Proust of the Zulus? The Tolstoy of the Papuans? I'd be glad to read them."
-Saul Bellow, New York Times Magazine Interview

"I had read widely in the field, and immediately after the telephone interview I remembered that there was a Zulu novel after all: "Chaka" by Thomas Mofolo, published in the early 30's"
-Saul Bellow, in a New York Times Op-Ed apologia of the above comment. He works himself into a nice lather about the "Stalinist" "thought-police" and how "Righteousness and rage threaten the independence of our souls." Left: Italo Balbo.

Machiavelli on the Volga

Of Interest to the Kremlin's Censor:

One of the issues on the table of tonight's "McLaughlin Group" was Putin's recent move to consolidate power by announcing that he will run for--let's face it, he will be--prime minister. Putin will probably have his faceless crony Zubkov have the presidency, then appropriate his powers, or, maybe, have him meet with a "little accident". The prime minister is next in line should the president be incapacitated.

McLaughlin framed the debate on Putin thus: "Is Putin good for Russia?" Chrystia Freedland put up a bit of defense for the negative position, but everyone else, even the supposedly liberal Eleanor Clift, sang the praises of proto-czar. Pat Buchanan and Tom Blankley spoke like good Kremlin officials, lauding Putin for preserving stability and fostering prosperity. An especially effective piece of rhetoric was the constant repetition of Putin's high approval ratings-"In the 70s!" McLaughlin intoned like Homer giving an encomium for Achilles. If the people support him, he must have democratic credibility. Putin's authoritarianism was brushed aside with sophistic moral equivalences: how can we censure him for setting up a one-man dynasty when Hillary might be our next president? This dubious statement was made by Eleanor Clift, who was so adamant a supporter of the Clintons in the 90s she was referred to as "Eleanor Rodham Clifton" by the other panelists. Buchanan followed his typical paleo-conservative line, questioning why we should have a hand in others' affairs, particularly as Russia could be a valuable ally in the war on Islamic fundamentalism.

Putin is held in favor by the Russian people, by and large. But you can understand that if you look at Russians. The country has the lowest male life expectancy in Europe, crushing poverty (usually exacerbated by poor infrastructure) and poverty-related disease, a secret but growing AIDS epidemic, alcoholism, depression, and rabid ethnic nationalism. You also have to understand the chaos and uncertainty that accompanied the breakup of the Soviet Union, the humiliation felt by Russians as a consequence of that event, and the incredible mismanagement of the transition from Communist rule to democracy.

In this context, even modest gains in prosperity and security are like manna from heaven for most Russians. And it's true that Putin has provided these. Putin has also, to some extent, made being Russian a source of pride again. Although we don't have a reliable membership count, it seems the state-sponsored nationalist youth groups that have emerged in the past few years are quite popular.

It's standard to rattle off the litany of anti-democratic measures for which Putin is responsible, so I won't. They are already well known. But will the relative prosperity Russia is enjoying now last? The key to Russia's growth has been its oil and gas industries, but with the energy supply now in the hands of party insiders, it's doubtful it will be competently managed. These men aren't businessmen, they're intelligence officers. The result of poor management in a resource-rich country can be seen in Myanmar.

Putin may have invoked the "war on terrorism" to legitimize Chechnya, but no one should be fooled. Chechnya is a festering sore of Russia's own creation. As Matthew Evangelista points out, the international media has reframed the conflict in terms of religious terrorism, but that is hardly all that is going on there. Islam was on no one's mind when Russia invaded in 1994. Pat Buchanan and George Bush are wrong to think Russia is really an ally in the war against Islamic terrorism.

America now has so little credibility as the embodiment of liberal values that even Putin can call us a "wolf" in foreign affairs. Conservatives rightly point out that there are few acceptable alternatives to Putin at this point. There's little we can do to promote democracy in Russia itself. Yet if we do not condemn Putin and support the fledgling democracies Putin seems to want to strong-arm back in line, Ukraine and Georgia, we are not only hypocrites but have simply given up on trying to be a principled country. We don't need to be Bushean conquistadors, holding out freedom at the end of a sword. Nor do we have to be indifferent isolationists. At some point Russia will become dissatisfied with Putin and his kleptocracy.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Journalists of note

Of interest to the media hungry cynic lover:

Last night Jack Cafferty was the guest on Jon Stewart. To those who don't know, Cafferty is a crabby old man with a small window of time on CNN. He's a controversial figure, but allowed great leeway. Despite a long-living (and still alive) career of insolent and partisan remarks, Cafferty has only had to go back on the air and retract one statement.
He is everything a good columnist should be: Controversial, witty, cynical, energetic, and born in Chicago!

Jack Cafferty, Write No Evil salutes you!