Monday, May 28, 2007


The question is occasionally asked whether there are any groups in Iraq that are really on our side. The left-over Baathists, local and imported Al Quaida, and radical Shiites obviously hate us, which leaves the non-Baathist secular Sunnis, who blame us for leaving them at the mercy of the Shia but are willing to put up with us for the time being, and the bulk of the Shia who also want us gone, though they differ among themselves as to timing. The exception is the Kurds, the sole and only faction in the country that is doing pretty well and not coincidentally the only Iraqis who aren’t under foreign occupation; but even their support has a hidden reservation: they know we’re very likely to betray them to the Turks, Syrians, and Iranians in the end. Meanwhile, other ethnic and religious minorities in the country—the Christians and Turks, for example—have already learned not to put their faith in princes (or presidents). One has to look long and hard for anybody who is really on our side, and even our erstwhile allies are allies from policy and for the time being.

Our universal unpopularity in Iraq is not the most salient strategic fact, however. In principle, bribery and favoritism could win the hearts and minds of some local faction. Thing is, it’s pretty hard to figure out just what Iraqi group we would want on our side. There just aren’t any candidates for the role that was played, if only in our historical imagination, by Filipinos or Vietnamese mountain tribesmen. Groucho famously would not join any club that would be willing to have him as a member. How could we respect—or trust—any Iraqi who was so abject as to follow our lead with the dog-like loyalty demanded by the current administration? Bush demands gratitude. Oil isn’t enough. In fantasies, it may be agreeable to imagine someone who not only let’s you have your way with them but actively desires their own submission; but in the real world all that’s available are individuals who are willing to play out that script temporarily if the price is right. In Iraq, apparently, there aren’t even many of those left; and the rest of the actual Iraqis are too religious, too secular, too nationalistic, or too simply too self- respecting for the purposes of the current administration.

It isn’t just that they don’t like us. We don’t like them.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Bolton Treatment

John Bolton, Bush’s former U.N. Ambasssador, was on the Daily Show last night—apparently Jon Stewart will eventually get around to interviewing everybody. Bolton defended the firing of the federal prosectutors and several other administration moves by referring to what he called “democratic theory.” He used that phrase several times. It occurred to me that Bolton, who certainly thinks of himself as a deep thinker, was probably channeling Carl Schmitt. Schmitt’s idea of democracy is that the leader, elected by the people once and for all, is superior to law since his authority comes directly from the masses.

By Bolton’s lights, bureaucratic resistance to elected officials goes against the will of the people and is therefore illegitimate. It doesn’t seem to bother him if the Administration uses its legal arm to persecute its political enemies and protect its corrupt supporters. That’s consistent. One characteristic of Schmitt’s reactionary populism is its tendency to collapse together party and state. Political authority is unitary and vested in the party and its leader. Since He is the State, other sources of power are mere obstacles to the proper functioning of democracy. In Bolton’s view, as Stewart pointed out, it’s hard to see what would count as a proper check on the maximum leader. In this respect, though Bolton’s version of semi-fascism is rather more highfalutin, he’s very close to another Bush courtier, Albert Gonzales, who has famously asserted the priority of the Commander-in-Chief over Congress and the courts.

There’s something to be said for plain speaking. When Leopold Bloom requested a blow job by telling a whore “there are better things to wrap your lips around than a cylinder of rank weed.” The doxy replied, “You don’t have to make a stump speech out of it.” We need to make the same kind of reply when radical authoritarians like Bolton try to retail the Führerprinzip as “democratic theory.”

Sunday, March 18, 2007

300 Ironies

I specialize in arguments that don’t convince anybody. I used to encounter students who were impressed by the theories of Erich von Däniken, especially his notion that aliens from outer space taught the Egyptians about pyramids and helped build them too, which was necessary since handling big stones were hard for people who hadn’t even invented ropes yet. Since it didn’t help to show students Old Kingdom bas reliefs that depicted Egyptians using ropes, I tried another unsuccessful tact. I pointed out how strange it was that a space faring species of fantastic technical sophistication favored an architectural form that amounted pretty much to a big heap of stones. If something like Chartres Cathedral or one of those rock-cut temples from medieval India turned up in Luxor, we’d be entitled to marvel. But pyramids? Of course that consideration was pretty much a flop. Indeed, to judge by the success of the Star Gate franchise, adolescents continue to imagine that intergalactic super beings, dressed in jackal outfits no less, not only favor the design but fly around the Universe in enormous pyramid ships.

When 300, the semi-cartoon version of the Battle of Thermopylae, arrived, I had another idea that was sure to be dead on arrival. It struck me as an incredible irony that the movie cast the struggle between the Greeks and the Persians as a fight between light and darkness, good and evil. The trouble with this narrative, aside from its mind-numbing banality, is that the Greeks themselves didn’t think of the war in this way. Herodotus, who literally wrote the book on this patch of history, represented the struggle as the latest episode in a long quarrel between Europe and Asia. It was no more a showdown between the cowboys in white hats and the cowboys in black hats than the Trojan War had been a matter of good guys versus bad guys. Indeed, in his quasi-epic framing of the history, Herodotus specifically refers to the Trojan War as an earlier bout in the same ongoing contest. A century after Herodotus there were Greek writers who reinterpreted the Persian Wars as a contest of civilization versus barbarism, but the propagandistic efforts of orators like Isocrates, which were part of a public relations campaign that justified in advance Alexander’s conquest of the East, still did not represent the issues in terms of moral dualism for the very good reason that this way of thinking is about as non-Hellenic as you can get. It is, in fact, Persian. So 300, which recounts the brave stand of the Spartans against Xerxes bestial horde, a military feat that led to the invader’s eventual defeat, actually underlines how the Persians won in the long run

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Cooling Down the Heated Up

Just as Creationists and ID types reject evolution because of what they believe are its religious implications, global warming deniers reject the new consensus because of what they think are the political implications of doing something about climate change. They think that green ideas are stalking horses for one-world government and socialism. Which is why arguing about the science with them doesn't help very much. From their point of view, what's at stake isn't a scientific question at all. You might as well assume that Philip Johnson was motivated by a sincere desire to understand nature.

Since the real objection to global warming is not that it is unreal but that dealing with it will increase the power of government, it might be worthwhile to point out what kind of steps are being recommended to deal with greenhouse gases. Do they amount to "massive government intervention?"

The role of government in dealing with climate change appears to be threefold:

1. Paying for research about the issue.

2. Promoting behavioral changes through public education.

3. Altering existing regulations.

Some of these measures certainly cost public money, though not necessarily huge amounts of it. As far as I can see, however, they don't require governments to do anything qualitative different than they are doing now. The U.S. already requires electric utilities to limit the emission of certain substances. The various health-related agencies work to reduce smoking and promote exercise among the population. The Feds subsidize an enormous amount of research. So what are the conservatives so afraid of? Public service ads telling you to turn off the damned lights?

The irony is that unchecked climate change will certainly require a great increase in government investment. If you think CO2 sequestration is expensive, wait until you see the bill the Army Corps of Engineers runs up trying to save Florida.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

A Peephole

It is a common observation that Americans are proudly, even arrogantly monolingual, insisting that others learn English, even in their home countries, while finding the persistence of other languages in America offensive or politically threatening. Our cultural solipsism goes beyond that, however. To judge by what sells, even educated people tend to limit their reading to works written for them in a uniform, patronizing idiom as devoid of challenge and surprise as Adventure Land is devoid of adventure. They are also apparently reluctant to read anything that was written more than a hundred years ago, which explains the commercial rationale of P. J. O’Rourke recently published premasticated summary of the Wealth of Nations—I guess late 18th Century prose is now as linguistically challenging as Chaucer. I’ve got absolutely nothing against children’s books. It’s the ubiquity of children’s books written for adults that bothers me, if only because it is in listening to a real diversity of voices we find our own. As it is, most of us feed from a cultural buffet, which looks sumptuous enough from a distance but, like the menu at Taco Bell, actually consists of a lot of variations on greasy ground beef and processed cheese.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Lazy Reason

Defenders of civil rights, like defenders of the environment, are at a rhetorical disadvantage. So long as they succeed in preserving the guarantees of the Bill of Rights, it will be possible to assert or imply that there never had been a serious threat to anybody’s liberty, just as the fact that nothing very dire happened at the turn of the millennium is routinely used as evidence that the preparations that prevented Y2K problems had been unnecessary in the first place. In the eras of the Alien and Sedition Acts, the Red Scare, and McCarthyism, however, threats to our rights were only thwarted after a protracted struggle led by determined politicians, lawyers, and journalists who had to withstand abuse, official oppression, and sometimes violence. There was nothing preordained about who was going to win these struggles, either, as witness the fact that some of the battles went the other way as in the episode in which the South instituted the Jim Crow laws.

Whatever physics rules the history of mankind, it is rather more complicated than simple harmonic motion. Unlike a pendulum whose steady beat results from the operation of an automatic restoring force, the cycles of repression and freedom are mediated through the intelligent—or unintelligent—action of individuals. That’s a very scary fact. Blasting down Interstate 5, it’s comforting to think that the semi ahead of you stays in the lane through the operation of some sort of gyrostatic stabilizer instead of the occult operation of a human brain; but we know perfectly well that those thousands of pounds of metal would quickly veer off the road or crash into your Mustang absent the continual intervention of the driver. Of course, from a purely statistical point of view, the human nervous system is usually up to the task of steering a car. Indeed, its complexity probably makes it more rather than less reliable than a simple feedback system. Nevertheless, we prefer not to dwell on the way in which the functioning of the world depends upon the care of human beings and not some imaginary thermostat. Besides, to revert to the political sphere, the notion that excess automatically corrects itself provides an effective apology for complacency. Worse than that, it licenses those who attack civil liberties and democracy because those who indulge their sweet tooth for authoritarianism secretly believe that they’ll be restrained before they go to far.
Words at Work

Georges Bataille, the French philosopher, novelist, and pornographer, used to talk about the "job" of a word, not what it means or what it refers to but what it is used for. Like many other theological words, spirituality doesn't have very much to offer on a conceptual level--nobody is very interested in specifying what it denotes--but many people obviously find it useful.

Sometimes people appeal to spirituality as a way of complaining about the narrowness of the scientific outlook. Even the most souless secularist can certainly sympathize with that. To listen to the rhetoric of pan-scientism, you'd have to conclude that its supporters are unaware that science is a vanishingly tiny fraction of human experience. The question was asked "have you ever had an experience that you could not scientifically explain?" as if it weren't obvious that almost every experience is not reducible to some sort of scientific explanation--"spiritual" experience, which always seems to be exemplified by sighing at a beautiful vista, is nothing extraordinary in this regard. Most of what we do—hoping, enjoying, hurting, arguing, sympathizing, cursing, laughing, trying, playing—isn't captured by the sciences and can't be, not because of some defect of science but because science is about knowing about things in a particular way while living is comprised of all the ways we do and suffer. One can imagine an explanation of a joke that accurately and adequately described it in terms of atoms and void, but the explanation wouldn't be funny. Category mistake. The best screwdriver in the world is a lousy adverb.

Another job of "spirituality" is less complicated. One insists on possessing spirituality as a no-fuss, shorthand way of asserting "I am not a philistine." If most of these folks really weren't philistines, however, you'd think their spirituality would amount to more than a verbal gesture about oneness with the all. Except for the odd mystic, however, who spends appreciable time communing the cosmos anyhow? Well, experiencing the unity of all things has this much going for it: it requires no complicated or expensive equipment or time-consuming training, you can do it anywhere, and nobody can prove you're faking it.

One small cavil: it's cheating to think that the absence of spirits is an objection to spirituality since the whole point of claiming that you're a spiritual person, as opposed, for example, to a Methodist, is that vaguing things out gets around the necessity of making unlikely empirical claims about the reality of ghosts or angels. That's part of the job of "spirituality."

Monday, January 15, 2007

Supply Your Own Context

Where there isn’t really anything very important to discuss, the quest for truth tends to become a cleverness contest.

The knife is worn away to nothing in an attempt to keep it sharp.

We don’t live under the kindly gaze of an infinite God, but we are embedded in a body that will forgive us for the time being.

Epistemia gravis is like constipation. For the most part, it only afflicts those who bother to worry about it.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Second Nature

Years ago I visited a strip joint with a bunch of salesmen from my publishing company. A particularly attractive stripper propositioned one of my co-workers, who, as he explained later, refused her offer despite the reasonable price, not because he was especially scrupulous about such things—he’d just gotten a lap dance from the aforementioned girl—but because he figured that once he paid for it and had a good time, he’d soon become a regular customer of hookers. “Bad precedent.” The response to Mr. Bush’s speech reminded me of this little fragment of life wisdom because even the president’s critics obviously don’t think there was anything peculiar about imposing our will on a foreign nation, our innocence about the propriety of that sort of thing having been lost a long time ago now. While lots of commentators complain that bombing Iran or attacking Syria or murdering Sadr may be inadvisable from a cost-benefit point of view, very few, especially among the numerous tribe of the liberal hawks, evince any inhibition about the casual use of violence against non-Americans in their own countries. Of course, the novelty of this sociopathy is only relative—America has been treating the nations in its sphere of influence with contempt for well over a hundred years now—but it is new to extend the blessings of the Monroe Doctrine to any nation not strong enough to fend us off.

I’m no pacifist. If a country harbors people who have attacked the United States as Afghanistan did or if it invades a neighbor in a way that harms our interests, as Saddam did in the early 90s, I’ve got no problem with the use of military force. I also don’t endorse respect for the sovereignty of other countries on the basis of some a priori moral principle—as I once wrote, the Categorical Imperative is not a suicide pact. It is experience, not moral intuition, that teaches us why it is a dreadful idea to promote international lawlessness and how the loss of inhibitions by one great power often leads to general irresponsibility and misery. The trouble is, we’ve already traveled so far down the road, created so many dreadful precedents, that it is hard to see how we are going to recover a sense of decency in our foreign policy by simply acquiring new leaders. Our hubris has become habitual.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

The Construction of a Novel Racism

Bush is still promising victory in the Middle East, but just who it is we propose to defeat remains in doubt. To speak of Iraq alone, the enemy is sometimes the left-over Baathists, sometimes the Iranians, sometimes the radical Shia, sometimes the tribal Sunnis; and it’s a good bet that the Kurds will eventually also find themselves in the field of fire of the American blunderbuss. Small wonder, then, if the part of the public that still supports the President will be tempted to simplify things by simply hating every available raghead, including, apparently, the millions of Muslims who are neither Arab nor Persian, various Middle-Eastern groups that are completely secular, and even American converts to Islam. What’s occurring is the construction of a race, which I define as a taxon that arises from political contingencies but is retroactively understood to be a natural group unified by an unchanging essence. Traveling down the Mobius strip, the essence is then retroactively invoked to explain the political contingencies that called it into existence in the first place. No negitude without slavery. No world-wide Jihadi menace without Israel and petroleum.

In political history, age-old, intractable conflicts are often the last things to be invented. When normal institutions break down, new bases must be found for political identities, and an obvious place to look for such expedients is ancient history. We may be permitted to doubt that the Serbs were obsessing about the Field of Crows in 1950 or that Ossetian nationalism was smoldering beneath the bureaucratic crust during the Soviet era. Any stone is a weapon in a riot, including, depending on the circumstances, moldy old Eastern Orthodoxy or the long forgotten dream of the Caliphate. Which doesn’t mean, unfortunately, that a rapidly improvised Clash of Civilizations isn’t a real conflict or that it can be as easily dispelled as it was summoned into its eternal existence.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

The Dikes are Perfectly Adequate so Long as it Doesn’t Rain

Contemporary discussions of the value or irrelevance of economic equality have an 18th Century flavor. Apparently serious people speak about the issue as if it could be reasonably addressed without a dynamic historical context. Hence those who discount equality point out that poor people enjoy high levels of consumption while those who try to find a modern version of egalitarianism highlight the human costs of even relative (positional) poverty. I’m still waiting for somebody to point out that this academic debate, conducted in impeccably abstract faux-Enlightenment style, is premised on the highly dubious proposition than general wealth and, indeed, economic progress is a given. Unfortunately, real human beings are not embedded in a reliably benign eternity of peace and prosperity like cherries in a jello salad. What feels like equilibrium is more likely the motionlessness of the apogee. In bad times, the true cost of poverty will be quite apparent without complicated theoretical explications by PhD economists. What the wealthy have and the others lack is a margin of safety during emergencies. When things go wrong, it won’t be a case of having to do without plasma screen televisions or having your feelings hurt because your neighbor’s swimming pool is bigger than yours, but genuine deprivation and the stark reality of becoming déclassé. Oddly, both the rich and the poor understand this perfectly, even that part of the poor that thinks of itself as middle class. Somebody should tell the profs, though.

Friday, January 05, 2007


I had thought about writing a review of a Unmaking the West, yet another book on counterfactual history; but I find it hard to take the practice seriously enough to make the exercise worthwhile. Historians sometimes use the literary conceit of alternative histories to illustrate worthwhile ideas about what actually happened; but when they imagine that their scenarios have probative as opposed to rhetorical or illustrative value, they lose me.

Counterfactual methods are usually deployed in an attempt to underline the role of contingency in history and to discredit thereby the grand theories that claim that history has an overall logic and destiny—over the last 150 years, for example, counterfactual arguments have been a reliable bludgeon in the interminable scholarly war on Marxism. Unfortunately, counterfactual history itself depends upon the presumption of a certain level of predictability in history; for once some plausible variation is postulated—William of Orange gets shot at the Battle of the Boyne or the wind blows the wrong way in 1588—the consequences of the surprise get worked out on the assumption that nothing else surprising takes place and that the predictable consequences of events play out as scheduled. A history made out of non-stop surprises is just as useless to counterfactual history as a history that runs on rails.

In fact, if history really were an incredibly detailed geology of the surface of the earth, a natural science that treated men as mobile rock formations, I expect that we would conclude that the predictions of historical events would be no more trustworthy than weather reports, especially when the forecasts ventured to tell us what happens after next week. Which is why, by the way, the practitioners of counterfactual history routinely sneak the notion of fate back into their tales—a careful sociological analysis of the economic consequences of a lasting French superiority in Europe will not fail to include the bit about a young Corsican who becomes a successful general in Louis XVI’s triumphant armies as if Napoleon would even be born in an alternative future. They really don’t come to terms with the contingencies of the world at all as anybody who really took seriously the physics or even the biology of the issue would have to do.

If individual human beings and their particular talents and foibles are critical to the outcome of history, as many a counterfactual historian has insisted, it doesn’t much matter what historical event you imagine altering in your imaginary parallel world. The non-linearity built into human reproduction guarantees that a total different cast of characters will soon begin to appear in the sequel even if we imagine that nothing much else takes place. Natural selection has decreed that the genetic cards will be very thoroughly shuffled before and, indeed, during each deal. It may take a cannonball to take off William’s head, but it takes the distant reverberation of a gnat’s fart to result in an Albertine instead of an Albert or to turn a hero into a weakling or nothing at all. Absent some mystic law of destiny, mere mechanics pretty much guarantees that any macroscopic or even microscopic perturbation will suffice to alter the outcome of every future conception in utterly unpredictable ways and, if the premise that individuals matter is correct, result in a drastically different history. Counterfactual history proves too much.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

The Necessity of Atheism

The public debate about evolution, like every battle in a culture war, is and always will be conducted by guys in clown suits bopping each other with pig bladders. That's just the way things are. Serious science and serious philosophy are and will remain the business of a tiny and largely invisible minority. The culture wars are not politically unimportant, however, and it behooves us to don our own clown suits from time to time. Sometimes the appropriate clown suit is a village atheist outfit.

Philosophically speaking, atheism is a very uninteresting position since it amounts to making a big fuss about something obvious, i.e. that traditional religious ideas are fatuous. As Diderot pointed out long ago, "It is very important not to mistake hemlock for parsley; but to believe or not believe in God is not important at all." Atheism, at least the sort of atheism one encounters on public access television, also promotes a version of history which is factually dubious since it endlessly recycles the same banal anthology of religious excesses (Crusades, witch hunts, inquisitions) to somehow prove that organized religion is the root of all evil, a proposition that probably gives the churches too much credit. All that admitted, however, loud and obnoxious atheism is still necessary in a country like the United States, if only to assert the right of people to dissent from the totalitarian conformism to which we are so susceptible.

The argument against public assertions of anti-religious ideas is that such language is politically unwise and will only elicit more intolerance from the religious right. In fact, however, the anguish of the believers is good evidence of the effectiveness of such polemics. It makes a huge difference that skeptical ideas are in circulation. They wouldn't be so loudly denounced if they didn't resonate—there may be more Cotton Mather than Mark Twain in the American character, but there is some Mark Twain. In any case, ideas have to be publicized in order to persist since the vast majority of mankind will never find an idea in their heads that somebody didn't go to the trouble of putting there first.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Who the Heck is Jamil Hussein?

The obsessions of others are sometimes so alien to our own way of thinking that we aren’t even aware of the issues that have set their hair ablaze. Many evangelicals were less concerned about the activities of the U.S.S.R. than the formation of the E.U., for example, because they believed that the unity of Europe was one of the signs of the end of days foretold in the Book of Revelations. A more recent example is the attempt of the right-wing blogosphere to get everybody upset about the case of somebody named Jamil Hussein, who the AP apparently claimed as a source for a story about the burning alive of some Iraqis. The bloggers in question deny the existence of the aforementioned Hussein and insist that the AP story is a fraud. Fraud it may have been—who knows?—but the remarkable thing about the question is that anybody thinks it’s very interesting. Obviously most people’s personal understanding of conditions in Baghdad has nothing to do with an incident very few of them ever heard about. Of course, if the Hussein story were fraudulent and also symptomatic of coverage of Iraq, somebody could claim that it had some importance as a telling example. Unfortunately, however, what has really been typical about media behavior during this affair has been a tendency to act as the propaganda arm of the military: for example, the reporters who brought us the faux-iconic image of the toppling of Saddam’s statue were perfectly aware that the event was a staged photo-op but kept quiet about it since they apparently thought of themselves as part of the war effort. To this day, the newscasters treat official pronouncements as if there were somehow credible: I guess they don’t know the phrase from the Napoleonic Wars: to lie like a bulletin.

Since art is long and time is short, I’m reluctant to come up with new arguments to prove that evolution is a reality, Iraq is a mess, and anvils don’t float. I recognize, however, that a great many people actually think that anecdotes are better evidence than statistics. In that spirit, let me venture a rhetorical bomb of my own. Consider this: three years after the end of World War II, American service men were chatting up frauleins and quaffing beer in taverns all over Germany. In Japan, they were going on sightseeing trips to Mount Fuji. Even during the Vietnam War, marines could go out on the town in Saigon. Does anybody believe that an off-duty American soldier could wander around Ramadi without getting shot, beheaded, or kidnapped? Or is that just what the AP wants you to think?

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Federalists for Jefferson

You can always tell when a minority political position is gaining ground. The scratchy voices crying out in the wilderness are supplemented and then drowned out by far more unctuous tones as the movement begins to attract supporters who smell new opportunities. Back in the 90s, those of us who publicly attacked the emerging right-wing machine may have suffered from loneliness but the company we did enjoy was very agreeable, at least by our lights. Since we had no political prospects and weren’t operators, we had little incentive to dissemble and mostly didn’t. Perhaps because nobody was offering to buy ‘em, we weren’t much tempted to sell our souls. Anyhow, since the facts were very much on our side, integrity offered a modest but more or less automatic rhetorical advantage at a time when the other rhetorical edges belonged to our enemies. Who knows if the scrupulousness of people such as Joe Conason or Duncan Black or Kos was an expression of character or the product of a situation? Maybe we shouldn’t complain about the journalistic sins of the op/ed writers until we’ve walked a mile in their wingtips. It was easy to be honest when there wasn’t a better option. Things are different now and the newly converted and perhaps some of the old hands, too, will have many new opportunities to lie, cheat, and steal in print.

I certainly don’t expect public debate to be conducted on a very high level under any circumstances and the object of the game in any case is not to preserve a prissy purity but to promote better policies. Scrupulousness is not an art form or an end in itself. Nevertheless, as I emerge from a silence enforced by the twin evils of seasonal affective disorder and full-time employment, I find myself distinctly uncomfortable with some of the new company I’m keeping, including, especially, people like Arianna Huffington, whose Huffington Post borrows so many of the propaganda techniques of the right-wing press. Her blog assembles many news items from the AP and various newspapers but presents them under headlines that drastically spin their contents, often in astonishingly misleading directions. Huffington herself engages in the kind of personal attacks based on pop psychology that the mainstream press used to sink Al Gore—as you’ll recall, that’s how they got all that blood on their hands—but her favorite target seems to be Hillary Clinton, who she portrays as a scheming harridan as if ambition were a sin in womankind. The point isn’t that Clinton shouldn’t be criticized or even that misogynists should shut up, but that Arianna uses her tactics with such obvious cynicism. She’s not an Neanderthal like Chris Matthews whose hatred of female politicians is an authentic expression of inherited prejudice and personal stupidity. She’s just an opportunist, for whom activating poisonous stereotypes is unobjectionable as long as it happens to be useful at the moment, just as not too long ago, she had no compunction about portraying the rather conservative Diana Feinstein as a raving radical leftist in order to promote the senatorial campaign of her then husband, who was running under false colors as a right-wing Republican. Arianna surely understands the bit about strange bedfellows in politics, and I do too; but I find it difficult to feel comfortable with this particular ally even though, for the time being, her very real talents are mostly being used in favor of causes dear to me.