Josh Marshall explains why it matters that Republicans (all the way up to the president) call the Democratic Party the "Democrat Party." Marshall doesn't quite say it, but this behavior is of a piece with Bush's habit of giving everyone a nickname, a dominance strategy practiced by playground bullies, fraternity hazers, and drill sergeants alike: I get to decide what you're called.

Addenda: Useful rundown of Bush's slurs here. Favorite comment from the WSJ blog linked above: "Let’s be fair: It is the Democratic Party. It is the Republican Party. Can’t we all get along? Must we disabuse the language?"


Frederick Kagan, the neocon who originally proposed the Iraq troop "surge," now says, "This is not our plan. The White House is not briefing our plan."


How's that 'national greatness' bit going these days, David?

Earlier this month, you might remember, I made fun of Brent Scowcroft for his easy-as-pie Iraq solution (step one: bring about a peaceful settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians). I made a big deal out of it because you don't expect someone like Scowcroft, who is by all accounts a genuinely smart person, to paper over the reality of the situation like that.

With David Brooks, on the other hand, that's exactly what you expect him to do, and I'm going to make a big deal out of it because I think it's funny that David Brooks is such a fathead. (The piece is behind the Times's stupid subscription wall, unfortunately.) This week he's become an advocate for a Bidenesque partitioning of Iraq into three regions -- everybody gets one! "Sooner or later," he writes, "everyone will settle on this sensible policy, having exhausted all the alternatives." (Perhaps the most annoying thing about Brooks -- I know, tough call -- is his habit of acting as though whatever he's saying today is exactly what he's always said, while other people were proposing whatever stupid ideas have failed already.)

So how does sensible, Brooksian partitioning work? Let's take a look:

Step one: rewrite the Iraqi constitution to allow the Sunnis a share of oil revenues.
Brooks doesn't mention that only the Iraqis can do that, or that the Shiites and Kurds were less than enthusiastic about the idea back when (a) U.S. influence amounted to something; (b) the Iraqi government wasn't overrun by well-organized Shiite militias; and (c) sectarianism was barely a shadow of what it is today. Other than that, though, no problem.

Step two: get all three sects to agree to a federalist system. Wasn't this proposed during the original constitutional negotiations in 2005? Why yes, it was. And didn't it prompt the Sunnis to walk out? Why yes, it did. But hey, this time it's bound to work.

Step three: relocate everybody in the country who doesn't live in their designated regional sector, i.e. reverse Saddam's massive, multi-year "Arabization" project in Kurdistan and uproot huge regions of Baghdad and other cities -- all with the same delicate touch and careful regard for local conditions that have characterized the U.S. effort so far.

Step four: get buy-in from Iraq's neighbors. I particularly like "The Turks would have to be reassured that this plan means no independent Kurdistan would ever come into being." A diplomatic mission so simple that even a total fathead could do it! I nominate David Brooks.

'Decasia,' Angel Orensanz Center, 1/27

Readers of this blog are acquainted with my fearlessness in commenting on topics about which I am entirely ignorant, but today's post breaks new ground: Decasia is a collaboration between the symphonic composer Michael Gordon and the avant-garde filmmaker Bill Morrison.

I was at last night's performance thanks to a recommendation from the New Yorker's Alex Ross, who calls the piece "one of the first classics of the new century." I admire Ross's writing so much that I read him even though I have no particular interest in his subject matter, and so Decasia was an experiment for me: I was afraid I'd find the music monolithically dissonant, an hour of noise. In fact, it was one of the most powerful musical experiences I've ever had, and the music was characterized by constant variety in service of a unified artistic purpose.

Gordon's interest is in effects that are essentially harmonic but that go beyond the harmonic palette of the traditional western scale. In the program notes he writes about the "fantastic sonority" of abandoned, long-untuned pianos, and describes his attempt to get the same sound from an orchestra by retuning the instruments -- for instance, one of the flutes is an eighth of a tone sharp, another an eighth of a tone flat. Some of the sonic complexity produced by this harmonic layering is mitigated by the orchestra's spatial disaggregation: at the Angel Orensanz Center, the musicians were placed on balconies all around the hall, with the audience sitting on the floor in the middle while the overtones recombined around us. The score emphasizes long, slow portamenti, in which instruments (usually the strings) slide through the intermediate pitches between two notes, generating every possible interval with the sustained or repeated tones around them. Harmony in such a piece is no longer binary (harmony/cacophony) or even multiple-but-finite (the sounds of a minor third, a sixth, a major seventh) but fully analog, infinitely variable and continuous.

I don't want to make this sound academic, because it wasn't an academic experience at all. Big, complex crescendi of amalgamated whirling movement suddenly gave way to shimmering, keening timbres or chiming minimal repetitions. Morrison's films are made from found footage in a state of decay: the people and scenes are in the process of being consumed by encroaching nitrate spots. Ross, in his 2004 review of Decasia, heard "an atmosphere of dread" and "what looks and sounds like the end of the world." What I heard was about decay not as an ending or a catastrophe but as a necessary component of the churning engines of time and life. The instruments pursue their themes, out of time and tune with one another. For a time, some of them come together in an otherworldly harmony or an insistent beat, and then, like lives, they pull apart again.


Perhaps some of you might enjoy watching a video of Matthew Yglesias talking to his computer screen about why he opposes the idea of Jim Webb as a candidate for vice president.

Others of you might not. It takes all sorts.


Newsweek book critic Malcolm Jones explains why he didn't finish Vikram Chandra's 928-page Sacred Games:

My time is precious. Your time is, too. Who has enough time in the day to do all that we want? When I go home after work, it’s triage every night. I can listen to music. Or I can play music. Or I can answer letters or write. Or I can read a book. Or watch TV. Or watch a DVD on TV. Or go out to a concert or a movie. And those would be the nights that I don’t have to clean up the kitchen, do the laundry or help with homework.
Um, yeah, except — dude? You're a book critic.


RoBros fans who missed Zack's appearance on C-SPAN's Washington Journal this morning can watch it by clicking here. (You'll need the free RealPlayer software, available here.) Hear him articulate the principled and pragmatic arguments for public financing of congressional campaigns! Watch him deftly field calls from cranky Republicans from states you've never visited! Check out his barnet!

Edit: Link fixed.


Here's a fun page of crazy quotes from fundamentalists.

"I am a bit troubled. I believe my son has a girlfriend, because she left a dirty magazine with men in it under his bed. My son is only 16 and I really don't think he's ready to date yet. What's worse is that he's sneaking some girl to his room behind my back. I need help, God! I want my son to stop being so secretive!"


Kevin nation army

My friend Kevin Shay (or, as he's known to the media, "former McSweeney's online editor Kevin Shay") has a charming and funny novel out, The End As I Know It: A Novel of Millennial Anxiety. Set just before the turn of the century, it's about a guy driving across the country trying to convince his loved ones that the Y2K bug is about to destroy civilization.

Remember when all we had to worry about was the Y2K bug? Good times ...

Anyway: you can buy the book at Amazon, or you can check out Kevin's swell website. Fun feature: "On This Day Pre-Y2K" -- a look back at some really nutty prognostications, given an innocent and nostalgic glow by subsequent events.


My slow descent into Apple fanboyism continues

In honor of the World's Most Desirable Gadget, here's a Wired interview with Steve Jobs from 1996 (the Wilderness Years, when Jobs was in exile and Apple was foundering). Lots of remarks of historical interest, such as: "The desktop computer industry is dead. Innovation has virtually ceased. Microsoft dominates with very little innovation. That's over. Apple lost." Also, an anecdote that reveals both where things like the iPhone come from and what it's like to be married to Steve Jobs:

Our family just bought a new washing machine and dryer. We didn't have a very good one so we spent a little time looking at them. It turns out that the Americans make washers and dryers all wrong. The Europeans make them much better - but they take twice as long to do clothes! It turns out that they wash them with about a quarter as much water and your clothes end up with a lot less detergent on them. Most important, they don't trash your clothes. They use a lot less soap, a lot less water, but they come out much cleaner, much softer, and they last a lot longer.

We spent some time in our family talking about what's the trade-off we want to make. We ended up talking a lot about design, but also about the values of our family. Did we care most about getting our wash done in an hour versus an hour and a half? Or did we care most about our clothes feeling really soft and lasting longer? Did we care about using a quarter of the water? We spent about two weeks talking about this every night at the dinner table. We'd get around to that old washer-dryer discussion. And the talk was about design.

We ended up opting for these Miele appliances, made in Germany. They're too expensive, but that's just because nobody buys them in this country. They are really wonderfully made and one of the few products we've bought over the last few years that we're all really happy about. These guys really thought the process through. They did such a great job designing these washers and dryers. I got more thrill out of them than I have out of any piece of high tech in years.


FYI: You can now find this blog at rothbrothers.net. Don't worry -- the old rothbrothers.blogspot.com address will work too.

While we're here: check out the tags to the right. Now you can read all the politics stuff without having to wade through my bullshit about Microsoft and superhero comics! Thanks, Google!

Fred Kaplan on why Bush's "surge" plan isn't going to work.


The left hand gives: According to this LA Times investigation, the Gates Foundation's massive investments in polluting industries are hurting the same people the foundation's philanthropy is helping. I was surprised to learn this.


The wise men cometh ...

What with James Baker's Iraq Study Group report turning out to be a total dud and Brent Scowcroft's risible op-ed in today's Times, I think we can wave goodbye to the idea that the president's dad's friends are going to step in and bail him out with their wisdom and gravitas.

Baker and Scowcroft, along with new defense secretary Robert Gates and White House adviser Henry Kissinger, are known as "realists," a term that makes them sound very appealing after six years in the Bush administration's fantasyland. But Scowcroft's essay serves as a reminder that, in the foreign-policy world, the word realist has a special meaning: it refers to someone who believes in putting U.S. interests, narrowly construed, above other goals. A foreign-policy "realist" can be just as disconnected from reality as a batshit-insane neocon.

Scowcroft's solution to the Iraq quagmire is as follows:
Step one: bring about a peaceful settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
Step two: provide training and support to the Iraqi army while it defeats the insurgents and the militias.
Step three: everyone gets a pony.

It says something about the dreadful pass we've come to that an ostensibly serious person like Scowcroft can begin his plan with three paragraphs that boil down to "solve the Palestinian conflict." He writes:

What is required is to summon the will of Arab and Israeli leaders, led by a determined American president, to forge the various elements into a conclusion that all parties have already publicly accepted in principle.
Oh, so that's all it's going to take! What a relief! I thought it might be, you know, way harder than that.

As for the Iraqi army: the last time I looked, it was decimated by desertions, lethally underequipped, and, oh yeah, in many places a front for Shiite militias. (Scowcroft explicitly rejects the "let-the-Shiites-win" strategy being mooted by Dick Cheney's office.) So, you know, good luck with that.

I don't mean to say that Scowcroft is an idiot for not having a better suggestion. The brutal truth about the state of Iraq is that we're all out of non-horrifying options. But at a certain point, offering absurd fantasies as though they were feasible strategies has got to dent your wise-man reputation. It was, after all, the confusion of wishful thinking with reality that got us into this nightmare in the first place.


Fact checking: Hey, Gawker? You know I love you, right? And you know how happy I am that you have discovered The Swimming-Pool Library, perhaps my all-time favorite novel. So you know I'm only telling you this out of love: The Line of Beauty is not Hollinghurst's second, it's his fourth.

(Regarding the other two: The Folding Star has some neat stuff in it, but it's set in Belgium; The Spell is kind of mechanical, except for the excellent bureaucrat-on-ecstasy scene. Both, though, are filled with the carefully wrought observations of social behavior, architecture, and anal sex for which Hollinghurst is justly admired.)