ashthomas//blog: June 2006


Thursday, June 29, 2006

My Spidey-sense is tingling

Which Superhero are you? Apparently I am Spider-Man: intelligent, witty, a bit geeky and have great power and responsibility. [Via Oxblog]

Monday, June 19, 2006

Danger Mouse Profile in NYT

Danger Mouse (Brian Burton), the hip-hop producer, was given a lengthy profile in the NY Times Magazine this weekend, in "The D.J. Auteur", by Chuck Klosterman. Danger Mouse is the producer behind Gnarls Barkley, DangerDoom, and the latest Gorillaz album. He rose to prominence when he mixed The Beatles' White Album with Jay-Z's Black Album to create the very popular and illegal The Grey Album.

The first striking aspect of the interview is the fact that Danger Mouse feels more closely akin to film directors than other music producers. He describes how the example of Woody Allen changed his perspective on life:

When I got to college, I saw 'Manhattan' and 'Deconstructing Harry.' I thought to myself: Why do I relate so much to this white 60-year-old Jewish guy? Why do I understand his neurosis? So I just started watching all of his movies. And what I realized is that they worked because Woody Allen was an auteur: he did his Thing, and that particular Thing was completely his own. That's what I decided to do with music. I want to create a director's role within music, which is what I tried to do on this album.

Klosterman agrees with the idea that Danger Mouse is the sole guiding figure behing Gnarls Barkley:

When Gnarls Barkley performs live, there are 14 people onstage. Technically, however, Gnarls Barkley is just two people: Danger Mouse (the aforementioned Burton) and an Atlanta-based singer-rapper named Cee-Lo (born Thomas Calloway). But in a larger sense, Gnarls Barkley is really just one person, and that person is Burton. Cee-Lo is essential, but he's essential in the same way Diane Keaton was essential to "Annie Hall": he is the voice that best incarnates Burton's vision, so he serves as the front man for this particular project. Burton will aggressively insist that Gnarls Barkley is a two-man game, but that seems more magnanimous than accurate.

Klosterman goes on to compare DM to Phil Spector and Brian Eno, other producers who often had defining influence on the sound of the music they produced for other artists. DM has a lot in common with Eno in particular, Klosterman believes, since both could be said to use artists simply as vehicles for their own sound. There is, however, a difference, Klosterman observes:

Though Eno was the intellectual force behind groups like Roxy Music and albums like "Heroes," he was never the star; the star was always someone else (like Bryan Ferry or David Bowie). What's atypical about Gnarls Barkley is that the star is Burton, even though he's barely visible onstage. Burton has the kind of paradoxical personality that's weirdly familiar among creative types: he's simultaneously confident and insecure, and he's a natural introvert who elected to become a public figure. More significant, he's a highly focused dude, and that focus is clear - Danger Mouse wants musical autonomy. He wants to be the first modern rock 'n' roll auteur, mostly because he understands a critical truth about the creative process: good art can come from the minds of many, but great art usually comes from the mind of one.

This may seem a new phenomenum to Klosterman, but to someone the same age as DM, it is not surprising. The last fifteen years have seen the rise of the superstar producers. Those who in the 70s and 80s would have stayed hidden and largely anonymous in the recording booth are now recognisable and putting out albums under their own names. This is roughly contemporaneous with the growth of the commercial appeal of hip-hop and electronic music. Rather than being obscured behind the guy with the guitar, in the 90s the person who fiddled and tweaked the knobs became the creative force. The Chemical Brothers, Fatboy Slim, Geoff Barrow of Portishead and Liam Howlett of The Prodigy all became as famous as traditional rock'n'roll stars. These days, I am as likely to look for music based on producer as the artist. Producers like The Neptunes and Kanye West go on to be more famous than the artists they produce.

The biggest asset of the article is DM's description of the story behind The Grey Album, which Klosterman calls "the most popular album in rock history that virtually no one paid for". Hearing the rationale behind and origins of the album from the man himself is the centrepiece of the profile:

'The Grey Album' is so misunderstood. I didn't even call it 'The Grey Album.' If you look at my original files for those songs, they're labeled 'The Black-White Album.' And the thing is, most people who have that record think the way it sounds is the way I wanted it to sound. And that's not the case at all.


One day I was cleaning my room and listening to the Beatles' White Album. I was kind of bored, because the other hip-hop work I was doing was really easy. Somebody had sent me an a capella version of 'The Black Album,' but I was already doing stuff with Cee-Lo and Jemini and Doom, so I didn't want to waste my beats on a remix record.


So I'm listening to the White Album and I'm putting 'The Black Album' away, and I suddenly have this idea: I decide to see if I could take those two albums and make one song, just because of the names of the two albums and because they're perceived as being so different and because I've always loved Ringo Starr's drum sound.


I sat down and tried to make one track, and it happened really fast. Then I tried to make a second song, and it took a lot longer, but it still worked. And I thought, Wow. What if I can do the whole album? It was almost this Andy Warhol moment, where I made a decision to do something artistically without a clear reason as to why, except to show people what I could do. And I could never do an album like that again. I still don't know where I found the patience to make those songs. It took me about 20 days in a row, and those were all 12- and 13-hour days. And the whole time I was doing it, I was terrified someone else would come up with the same idea, which would have ruined everything. Because really, the idea is pretty simple.


I thought it would be a weird, cultic record for techies to appreciate, because they would be the only people who would understand how much work was involved," he says. "But then it was taken into this whole different world, where a million people were downloading it at the same time. At best, that record is just quirky and odd and really illegal. I never imagined people would play those songs in clubs. I also think the people who love it tend to love it for the wrong reasons, and the people who hate it tend to hate it for the wrong reasons. I think some people love it for what it supposedly did to the music industry, which was not my intent. I did not make 'The Grey Album' for music fans. I made it to impress people who were really into sampling.

Danger Mouse's love of genre-bending seems inevitable when one considers his youth: growing up in a white neighbourhood in New Jersey he listened to Poison. When his family moved to Atlanta, he started listening to RZA and immersed himself in hip-hop. He describes how a beer in a bar caused him to look beyond the rap world:

I remember hearing Pink Floyd's 'Wish You Were Here' in a bar... This was around 1995. And I remember thinking it was so beautiful. It just put me in a daze. I asked someone what it was, and they were like: 'You don't know? This is Pink Floyd.' Now, I had heard of Pink Floyd, but I never really knew what they sounded like. I had never actually played Pink Floyd records. And I suddenly found myself wondering, Why have I spent all these years never listening to this music? And the reason was that I was afraid to do anything that would have seemed socially unacceptable. I was afraid that people wouldn't think of me as this hip-hop guy, because hip-hop was my Thing. So then I went out and bought every Pink Floyd record.

The article ends with a description of the current popularity of Danger Mouse and Cee-Lo's project Gnarls Barkley. There are plenty of interesting nuggets of info, for example, that their touring drummer used to be the drummer for Nine Inch Nails (hard to imagine that this could be a NINer in a Chewbacca costume). Or the origin of the name Gnarls Barkley:

Burton was in a cafe with several friends in Silver Lake, Calif., and everyone at the table started making up fictional celebrity names like "Prince Gnarls" and "Bob Gnarley." When someone came up with "Gnarls Barkley," Burton wrote it down. That's the whole story.

Danger Mouse has upcoming projects with members of The Roots and Damon Albarn, so it is quite possible that his best is yet to come.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Billy West interview on TVSquad

TV Squad has a very good interview on their site with Billy West, who voiced Fry, Zoidberg, the Professor and others on Futurama. West discusses his career, the behind the scenes workings of voice-recording, and reveals that Philip Fry was named in memory of Phil Hartman.

Peter Beinart's The Good Fight

Joe Klein reviewed Peter Beinart's The Good Fight: Why Liberals---and Only Liberals---Can Win the War on Terror and Make America Great Again last week in the NY Times. It provides a very good summary of Beinart's argument:

ONCE upon a time — 60 years ago, to be precise — liberals were the moderates in American politics. They were flanked on the left by so-called progressives who were either unconcerned about the threat posed by the international spread of Communism or covertly sympathetic to it, and on the right by conservatives who wanted to use anti-Communism as a rationale for domestic demagogy and unilateral military crusades. The liberal "vital center" — to use Arthur Schlesinger Jr.'s phrase — was not, however, a force for milquetoast moderation or take-half compromise. It was a tough-minded, aggressively creative political movement. It was led by courageous politicians like Harry Truman and Hubert Humphrey, who received policy support from a remarkable generation of public servants that included George Marshall, George Kennan, Paul Nitze and Dean Acheson. Intellectual ballast was provided by Schlesinger, Kennan and the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, among others. Their immediate achievement was the containment of Communism. But Peter Beinart argues that cold war liberalism has enduring value as well: he believes it is the most plausible philosophical framework for an enlightened American foreign (and domestic) policy in the 21st century. However, he writes, "before today's progressives can conquer their ideological weakness, they must first conquer their ideological amnesia."

Klein descibes Beinart's importance in the intellectual world of Washington thus:

His most important attribute as a writer and thinker, though, is what he is not: at the age of 35, he is not a member of the baby boom generation. His political sensibility was not molded by Vietnam, the civil rights movement or hallucinogens. He is not afflicted by the excesses, delusions, indulgences or grandiosity of the current leaders of the Democratic Party.

It's a very good review provinding good background to Beinart and his argument. Beinart seems to be everywhere promoting his book. Last week he debated it in Slate with Michael Tomasky, editor of the The American Prospect. Beinart, a former editor of The New Republic, and Tomasky start off on the wrong foot, owing largely to Tomasky's review of Beinart that Beinart found to be unfair:

You'd be better off just acknowledging the errors in your review—so we could move on. I made two very specific points. 1) That you dishonestly paraphrased a quote from my December 2004 essay, to make it seem that I was urging the Democratic Party to purge Iraq war opponents—when the actual quote (and the entire essay) says nothing of the sort. 2) That you claimed that my book, The Good Fight, does not "acknowledg[e] plainly" that Iraq contradicts the cold war liberal tradition—when it does exactly that.

Beinart even throws in a dig at the quality of Tomasky's magazine:

Had your review encountered a good fact-check, you wouldn't have made these claims—because they are clearly false.

Tomasky doesn't pull any punches either:

I guess I'm coming to the conclusion that you genuinely don't understand the impact your words about Iraq and the liberals who opposed it had. Your words were divisive, unleaderly, aggressively accusatory, and quite unfair (implicitly if not explicitly) to a large number of people whom you caricatured in a grossly unwarranted fashion. You are clearly aggrieved by my review, and undoubtedly by other reactions to a book that is important to you, and of course I can understand that. But you are not the only aggrieved party here. If you genuinely want more people to take seriously what you have to say about foreign policy in the future, I hope that, however mad you may be at me, you'll try to understand this.


Punditry has consequences, Peter. And the consequence of your essay among many people who opposed the war was, to put it benignly, a conclusion that you were not interested in reasonable debate.

But after putting aside the insults and complaints, the two, who are representatives of the opposing wings of the Democratic movement, do get into some substantial debate. Tomasky feels that Beinart unfairly and cartoonishly depicts the left wing of the Democratic Party as long-haired peaceniks. Tomasky declares that he, for one, is not as monolithic or uncompromising as he is made out to be:

I do not oppose humanitarian intervention, of course, and I'll even go it one further and say something that may surprise you. I do not a priori rule out possible preventive war in the future, provided certain conditions are unambiguously met (the national-security imperative is real, the mission is not built on a mansion of lies, the American people are more or less honestly prepared for the price that may have to be paid, etc.). In other words, proving our virtue requires specific acts, which require money, which requires enormous reserves of political will.

Beinart summarises his position with a few points that he believes all on the left can agree upon:

We need to do two things: First, learn from the Iraq disaster (and yes, those of us who supported it have the most learning to do—the book is an attempt to do that). And second, not acquiesce fatalistically to the current national exhaustion with the idea that American power—including military power—can improve the world. That's what the Darfur effort is all about. Another Iraq would be an enormous tragedy. But so would abandoning America's efforts to promote liberty and economic opportunity (and in the case of Darfur, sheer human survival) in the Islamic world. Americans do periodically grow disillusioned and embittered, often for understandable reasons. But the best leaders and thinkers—people like Harry Truman and Reinhold Niebuhr—are those who correctly harness America's Wilsonian streak, crafting international efforts that appeal to our sense of national mission while also recognizing our practical and moral limits.

The exchange ends, rather abruptly, on only its second day -- I may be wrong, but Slate's Book Club discussions usually go at least three, sometimes all week. I don't want to assume anything from this, but the tone of the writing makes one wonder if one or both of the participants pulled out.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

PNAC to close

Al Kamen in the Washington Post reports that the Project for a New American Century may be shutting down:

The doors may be closing shortly on the nine-year-old Project for a New American Century, the neoconservative think tank headed by William Kristol , former chief of staff to Vice President Dan Quayle and now editor of the Weekly Standard, which is must reading for neocon cogitators and agitators.

The PNAC was short on staff -- having perhaps a half-dozen employees -- but very long on heavy hitters. The founders included Richard B. Cheney , Donald H. Rumsfeld , Paul D. Wolfowitz , Jeb Bush , I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby , William J. Bennett, Zalmay Khalilzad and Quayle.

The goal was to continue the Reaganite, muscular approach to projecting American power and 'moral clarity' in a post-Cold War world, the group's manifesto said. The targets were liberal drift and conservative isolationism.

PNAC and its supporters dominated the Bush administration's foreign policy apparatus and championed a policy to get rid of Saddam Hussein long before Sept. 11, 2001.

In its famous 1998 letter to President Bill Clinton , PNAC said 'removing Saddam Hussein and his regime . . . now needs to become the aim of American foreign policy.' Clinton was urged to use all diplomatic, political and military means to topple him.

Despite the happy chatter before the Iraq invasion about cheering crowds and bouquets and cakewalks and how the war was going to pay for itself, the signatories wrote that 'we are fully aware of the dangers of implementing this policy.'

There had been debate about PNAC's future, but the feeling, a source said, was of 'goal accomplished' and it looks to be heading toward closing. Former executive director Gary J. Schmitt , who had been executive director of President Ronald Reagan 's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, left recently for a post at the American Enterprise Institute. (Not a big move. Actually, only five floors up from PNAC.) Still, seems like a short century.

Not much actual info on the shut-down except the feeling of an anonymous source and the fact that Gary Schmitt moved upstairs to AEI. PNAC seems to have been relatively quiet recently, and there are no shortages of forums for neocons to be heard, so its closing may not be very significant in terms of public debate.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Deadwood Season Three Reviews

One of the best blogs for those who take television seriously is Matt Zoller-Seitz's The House Next Door. For the last couple of weeks, in the lead up to the beginning of the third season of Deadwood on HBO, Matt has been hosting Deadweek, a forum for essays by both Matt and guests. There have been a number of great pieces, from examinations of characters (Seth Bullock, Calamity Jane, Silas Adams, Ellsworth, Merrick, a group portrait of the women) to episode recaps.

One of my favourite's so far has been an essay comparing Deadwood with the Godfather. Andrew Dignan's "From Caesar to Corleone; the dramatic evolution of "Deadwood"" is very insightful, especially in its comparisons between Seth Bullock and Michael Corleone. Dignan recognises the complexities that occasionally alienate viewers:

A densely plotted serial belonging to the least popular of genres, the western, “Deadwood” owes as large a debt to high school civics class as it does to the shoot-out at the OK Corral. With its pug-face character actors, horseshit-speckled costumes, convoluted dialogue and the foulest disposition you're likely to find outside of the local drunk tank, the show is what you’d charitably call "an acquired taste."


In expanding the conflict beyond the immediate loss of life and into the loss of a way of life, both “Deadwood” and "The Godfather" risk alienating fans that have come to expect nothing more than lurid thrills, bursts of violence and t-shirt worthy quips. Overly ambitious, unwieldy and lacking some of the more exhilarating flashes of their predecessor, both of these masterpieces faced initial criticism for diluting the strength of what came before.

Yet by delving deeper into the rot of corruption, both ultimately reveal much about the men at the center of their respective stories. While Michael’s grasp for power and inability to trust those around him dooms him to a life of solitude and misery, Al proves to be a forward-thinking pragmatist, sacrificing personal gain in the form of a spurned bribe to help insure the lasting legitimacy of a newly rectified charter. Michael is insistent on moving against those who have wronged him, but men like Bullock and Swearengen put aside their differences, placing the strength of the camp above all else.


Consider some of the conflicts and inciting incidents of “Deadwood” Season Two: Territorial disputes. Installing the electoral process. Becoming annexed by existing territories. Real estate purchases. Validating land ownership claims. Pursuing representation in local government. Government officials issuing misleading press reports. Sexy stuff, right? The thrills of "Godfather Part II" include buying out ownership of casinos, haggling over gambling licenses and bribes to politicians, aquiescing to a decrepit mobster, investing in Third World countries, working with corrupt governments and testifying before a Senate subcommittee on organized crime.

These are the things that, for me, are the draw cards; to see David Milch turn such material into the intense and riveting, rich and rewarding story that he has is an inspiration for those of us who believe that there is a place on television for intelligent and mature drama.

Now that the first episode of season three has aired in the US (we in Australia will have to wait for it to be shown on Foxtel, released on DVD, or otherwise make its way onto our harddrives), the reviews are coming in. Matt Zoller-Seitz, in his day-job as critic for the New Jersey Star-Ledger, describes the opening scenes,

The camera descends from sky to earth, first revealing aspiring kingmaker and gangster boss Al Swearengen (Ian McShane) standing on the balcony of his saloon, the Gem. He confirms an order to his henchman, Dan Dority (W. Earl Brown), down on the street, and Dan goes inside the Gem's spacious downstairs barroom, where he witnesses a confrontation between a group of Cornish mine workers and two other men, English-speakers who mock the workers' foreign tongue.

The story then cuts to a rooming house, where mining mogul George Hearst (Gerald McRaney) lies silently beneath his bed, thinking; there is something coldly sinister about this image, a touch of the sorcerer Prospero willing certain events into being. The bar confrontation escalates to gunfire, one Cornish worker is shot dead -- at Hearst's instigation -- and this season's dramatic engine has been revealed: the rivalry between Swearengen and Hearst for control of Deadwood.

Their battle occurs during the week of Deadwood's first elections, a critical period that promises to push this once primitive, still rowdy, often violent community a step closer to civilization.

Matt's observations about the structure of the show is interesting:

There's such depth and complexity to all these characters, and so much possibility for growth or backsliding, that you feel as if you've been given the keys to a human zoo, then told that you're welcome to wander around as long as you like. The result is the kind of democracy of imagination that you are more likely to experience when you listen to a certain piece of music and decide whether you want to pay special attention to the vocals, particular instruments or the song as a whole. You can fixate on particular characters or groups of characters, or you can think about how their individual stories jostle against each other like mitochondrial cells, their collective exertions pushing the whole organism in unexpected directions.

Matt's colleague at the Star-Ledger, Alan Sepinwall, comments on the same issues of plot and theme at his blog, "What's Alan Watching?":

So let me make sure I have this straight: the Cornish workers at Hearst's mining operation have been agitating for better pay and conditions, so Hearst sends a couple of his goons to kill one of the Cornish at The Gem, sending two messages in the process: 1) Organize against me and die, and 2) I can do whatever I want, wherever I want in this camp -- up to and including the place of business of Deadwood's unofficial mayor. And Swearengen, knowing that Hearst needs the elections to go forward as much as he does (elections legitimize the government, which in turn speeds up the process of annexation and helps assure a level of independence from Yankton), plays the one card he has at the moment by postponing the campaign speeches. That sound about right?

As Al put it to Dan, "Don't I yearn for the days a draw across the throat made fuckin' resolution?" Amen, brother.

In all seriousness, while Milch sometimes makes the plot and dialogue so labyrinthine that I feel the need to hire a Talmudic scholar to keep track of it all, I wouldn't want Al to still be the self-interested cutthroat from early in season one. Change is the dominant theme of "Deadwood" -- the change from lawlessness to order being the biggest, but personal change for everyone -- and no one has changed more than Albert (did we know that was the full name?) Swearengen. Anyone who watched the pilot episode -- in which Al looked like the black hat destined to go up against Wild Bill and/or Bullock -- and then jumped ahead to this one would probably be stunned at his transformation into this paragon of community.

Alan, who has seen the next five episodes as well, gives us some hints as to what to expect in the upcoming weeks, such as amazing acting by Gerald McRaney as Hearst, the introduction of Brian Cox as a theatre owner, and the possible appearance of Wyatt Earp.

I can't wait.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Should we call it football or soccer?

Every blog seems to be required to have at least one World Cup related post, so here's mine.

In our house, when we talk about "football", we mean Australian Rules, as played by our beloved Collingwood Magpies. If I talked to my cousins in England, "football" would mean something completely different, the game played by their Manchester United. To my in-laws in the United States, "football" is different again, this time the game played by their LSU Tigers.

Every code claims to the name of football -- here in Australia, football is always AFL (unless you are in New South Wales or Queensland, where it may mean Rugby League or Rugby Union, the difference between I don't really understand), English football is soccer and American football is either gridiron or, self-explanatorily, American football.

Germany's Der Spiegel has a little article this week about what is the correct name for the game being played in the World Cup at the moment, and comes down on the side of the Aussies, Yanks and Canadians who call it soccer:

The world comes from 19th-century British slang for 'Association Rules' football, a kicking and dribbling game that was distinct from 'Rugby rules' football back when both versions were played by British schoolboys. The lads who preferred the rougher game popular in schools like Rugby and Eton seceded from Britain's fledgling Football Association in 1871 to write their own rules, and soon players were calling the two sorts of football 'rugger' and 'soccer.'

'The main dispute,' writes the Australian historian Bill Murray in 'The World's Game: A History of Soccer,' 'was over handling (the ball) and hacking (or kicking)' each other. When rugby players seceded from the Football Association, one English club 'wanted to retain hacking, claiming that its abolition threatened the essential 'manliness' of football, and sneered that such sissy reforms would reduce the game to something more suited to the French.'
The grand irony is that people from the British Isles don't know what to call it. "Football" is just not as accurate a word in the English language. It's also less used. Officially or unofficially, the game is referred to as soccer in the US, Australia and Canada, a combined English-speaking population of around 350 million -- as compared with the UK and Ireland's 65 million. The word, though, is solidly associated with the United States and many Americans denigrate the game as wimpy, effeminate and European and hold up American football as the real man's game. A semantic reaction from the UK is only to be expected.

Of course, talk to an Australian and he'll point out that American football is not as manly as it thinks -- its players feel compelled to shield themselves behind helmets and layers of padding, the game stops every minute or so, and that any game that has to have a specialist player called a kicker come in has little claim to the name football. As the article points out, American football is more closely related to Rugby, the running game.

Now, Aussie Rules -- there's a man's game. It is probably the most athletically challenging of contact sports, requiring running, kicking, hand-balling, leaping, and tackling, and from all the players, not simply position players with a specialty. It did not take my wife long to realise that the American football that she had been following and loving all her life held nothing compared to good old AFL.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Deep Throat Co-Author Objects to Reviewer

This story from the New York Daily News appeared in my RSS reader via Bookslut within half an hour of my finishing watching the documentaries on the new All The President's Men Special Edition DVD:

The co-author of Deep Throat's book will lash out at The New York Times this Sunday for hiring Richard Nixon counsel John Dean to review it.

John O'Connor, who helped Mark Felt write 'A G-Man's Life: The FBI, Being 'Deep Throat,' and the Struggle for Honor in Washington,' based upon manuscripts written by Felt before he began showing signs of dementia, shot off a letter blasting Dean.

'It would be hard to imagine a reviewer more biased than Dean,' O'Connor writes. 'He was convicted of a crime and disbarred as a result of both Felt's investigation of Watergate and his role as 'Deep Throat.''

Felt was deputy director of the FBI even as he was feeding information about the infamous Watergate burglary to Bob Woodward at The Washington Post. The case led President Nixon to resign, as chronicled in Woodward's book with partner Carl Bernstein, 'All the President's Men.'

'The book ... deals sneeringly with Dean's lack of integrity,' O'Connor adds, 'and Dean himself has written two books assessing the identity and motives of Deep Throat, both of which were proven embarrassingly wrong.'

Actually, it seems to me that John Dean is one of the best people to review a book like this. As Dean's writings since he came out of prison show, he is not only a repentent participant but also a thoughtful commentator on the entire Watergate scandal. He has no delusions about the criminality of Watergate, and is a serious critic of the current Bush Administration's policies and activities, rising out of his desire to avoid another abuse of power on the Watergate scale. I am sure that the rationale for having Dean review the Felt book is that he is extremely knowledgable of Watergate and the Deep Throat mystery, especially since Dean himself was one of the people suspected as being Woodward's shadowy source.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

The Economist on Australia's peacekeeping role

The Economist has a short article this week about the role that Australia is increasingly playing in the region. Using the recent problems in East Timor as jump-off, it also describes the work that Australia has been doing in other South Pacific and South-East Asia countries such as the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu and Nauru.

Australia, despite having a population about 7% the size of the United States, has emulated that country's attitude of being an international sherrif, coming in to install order and keep things under control during periods of instability and crisis. In the region, it dons the sherrif badge almost alone (New Zealand and the occasional larger Asian nation sometimes assist); on the greater international scene, Australia is ready to take on a junior deputy role to assist the United States as one of its allie in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

The Economist suggests that Australia should not have to be the lone peacekeeper in the region:

Why should Australia assume all these burdens? The simple answer is that no one else is willing. Whenever things get tough in the South Pacific, the call goes out not to the United Nations in New York but to the prime minister's lodge in Canberra. This has been the pattern since the first big intervention in East Timor, in 1999, which Australia led and for which it provided more than half the troops.

Australia, a country of only 20m people, is already stretched by its commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan. Its often prickly relations with Indonesia and Malaysia and its strained post-colonial difficulties with PNG do not make it the ideal regional sheriff. It would be better for all if Asia could draw on something like the sort of institutional arrangements that Europe enjoys in the shape of NATO and the EU. That will not be easy. The two biggest powers of East Asia, Japan and China do not get on, and both are distrusted by smaller countries in the region. Yet a start could be made by the countries of ASEAN, a club of South-East Asian nations who have good relations and which, like the Europeans, are building a free-trade area. Even a small peacekeeping operation, or an informal agreement to work together, would be useful. Relying for ever on Australia alone is a recipe for trouble.

Much of the problem is that while the NATO countries and the EU share similar backgrounds and cultural backgrounds, there is not such a base-level consensus in Asia and Australasia. Australia and New Zealand have much more in common with the United States, Britain and Europe than they do with their closest geographical neighbours. Australia and New Zealand are western countries, part of the Western European culture, despite their being located in Asia/the South Pacific.

Beyond Australia and New Zealand, there is also little binding many Asian countries to each other. The effects of colonialism and war has meant that there is in Asia a strange mixture: Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Shinto etc religious groups, former and nominally Communist governments, nations that embrace western models and those that reject them, etc, etc.

As the Economist notes, getting some sort of agreement where all those countries can unite under one umbrella regional security organisation will be very difficult indeed.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Deadwood will return

Apparently HBO and David Milch have come to an agreement about the future of Deadwood:

HBO had offered Milch a six-episode pickup for Season 4 rather than the 12-episode norm for the show since its premiere in 2004.

Milch was said to have not been in favor of a six-episode final season because of the show's emphasis on each episode representing a day in the life of the lawless camp in late-1800s South Dakota, where the show is set. The shift of the final 'Deadwood' installments to a two-hour movie format will allow for a clean break with that day-in-the-life format and allow the rest of the story to unfold on a broader narrative canvas.

My first reaction was disbelief: since I had heard that the main reason Milch had turned down the 6 episode offer was that he didn't feel he could do justice to the story in that space, I couldn't believe that he had accepted an offer of effectively two thirds of the air-time.

His explanation does make sense, in a way. However if he could allow himself to deviate from the format of the first three seasons of one day per episode by doing two movies not limited to a day, then why not simply compromise and do 6 hour-long episodes like that instead of 4 hours worth of movies?

I guess I am just keen to maximise the Deadwood experience.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Neocon Donkeys

For someone who refers to himself as a neoconservative and wears a Democratic Party donkey pin on his lapel at the same time, Jacob Heilbrun's op-ed in the LA Times earlier this week was a welcome sign that I am not, as I have sometimes feared, a lone liberal hawk who believes that many of the ideals of the ideology that has come to be called neoconservatism truly belong within the Democratic Party.

Citing the work and ideas of writers Peter Beinart and Will Marshall and politicians such as Joseph Lieberman, Mark Warner and Tom Vilsack, Heilbrun identifies what he sees as a new phenomenon of neocon ideas being espoused by Democrats:

This new crop of liberal hawks calls for expanding the existing war against terrorism, beefing up the military and promoting democracy around the globe while avoiding the anti-civil liberties excesses of the Bush administration. They support a U.S. government that would seek multilateral consensus before acting abroad, but one that is not scared to use force when necessary.

These Democrats want to be seen as anything but the squishes who have led the party to defeat in the past. Interestingly, that's how the early neocons saw themselves too: as liberals fighting to reclaim their party's true heritage — before they decamped to the GOP in the 1980s.


They lamented the fact that their party had been taken over by the forces backing McGovern's run for the presidency in 1972 and wanted to purge the party of the McGovernites. They didn't want self-abasement about U.S. sins abroad but a vigorous fighting faith that promoted the American creed of liberty and human rights abroad and at home.


They want, in essence, to return to the beliefs that originally brought the neocons to prominence, the beliefs that motivated old-fashioned Cold War liberals such as Democratic Sen. Henry "Scoop" Jackson.

All of this is nothing new to those who follow the currents of political thought in the U.S. and the world, but it is good to see that these ideas are being expressed in a mass media forum beyond therarefiedd world of the ivory tower and think tanks.

Heilbrun goes on to note that if the centrists or neocons or conservative Democrats or DLCers or whatever one calls them want to take back control of the party, they will find themselves in a party civil war similar to the one that the GOP has been going through in the last few years. As Heilbrun says,

The new Democratic hawks, like the old neoconservatives of the 1970s, represent an insurgency, a direct challenge to the establishment. And if they are to revamp the party, they will have to do a lot more than simply evoke the ghost of Truman and Co.