PM Pick

Hamdan and the Night of the Long Knives

The Supreme Court ruled in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld against President Bush's notion that the commander in chief's wartime powers allow him to rule the country like a dictator without Congressional oversight. (See this Glenn Greenwald post for a good explication of the decision's significance.) But Bush doesn't think much of the Rule of Law (caps. per Hayek's usage). He said in response, "At any rate, we will seriously look at the findings, obviously. And one thing I'm not going to do, though, is I'm not going to jeopardize the safety of the American people. People have got to understand that."

That sounds very reminiscent of something another leader who was very concerned about his people's destiny once said: ""If anyone reproaches me and asks why I did not resort to the regular courts of justice, then all I can say is this: In this hour I was responsible for the fate of the German people, and thereby I became the supreme judge of the German people." That, of course, was Hitler speaking after the Night of the Long Knives, where he authorized the execution of Himmler's rival, Ernest Röhm, and hundreds of others deemed state enemies. That decree effictively meant the end of the Rule of Law in Germany, and replaced it with rule by the dictator's whim.

As far as we know, "Edgar" Cheney and his dummy have not assassinated anyone -- they have just detained people without trial and without accusing them of anything specific, done away with the Geneva conventions, and monitored people's communications and financial activities without court approval or congressional supervision. And they have routinely asserted the principle of the "unitary executive" and issued signing statements explaining that they intend to disregard laws they don't care for. We can hope that this court decision is the first step back toward democracy in a country now held to be in a state of perpetual war against terror, global extremism, Islam, Oceania, drug users, immigrants and any other unpleasant emotions or people out there. But there's not much reason to believe that the ruling Republicans will put any limits on the president in his effort to "protect" America for "real" Americans. And fear, nationalism and demogoguery (consider the recent right-wing offensive on perceptions of Iraq and depictions of reporters as treasonous) seems likely to keep enough of those Republicans in power. Liberal blogger Digby is probably right when he argues that the Hamdan decision will just help motivate the conservative base while Democrats remain apathetic and/or defeated: "This decision will ultimately feed into conservative boogeyman number 438: judicial activism. Look for Justice Sunday IV: Vengeance is Mine Sayeth Delay. And expect many more calls to spike John Paul Stevens's pudding with arsenic. This is the beauty of the conservo-machine. When your primary political tools are both intimidation and victimization, you can spin anything to your advantage. "

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

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The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

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Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

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There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

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