As you may have noticed, I am now attempting to let slip the Blogs of War from the new HQ at Cley-next-the-Sea, on the north Norfolk coast. It won't be easy. As anyone who has done much travelling through Europe knows, good scenery = bad phones. And Cley-next-the-Sea has just about the best scenery on offer. (It's not only the phones, either: if you're not quick, you're liable to miss one of the five copies of the Times deposited every day at the little house which doubles as the Post Office. If you're really late on Sunday, you could end up with no other option than the Sunday Sport, a tabloid where every page seems to be numbered "three"-- which is not without its charm, certainly, but the fact remains that its coverage of the news is as limited as its "coverage" of everything else: just imagine a soft-core porn San Francisco Chronicle. OK, you can stop imagining it now...)
Despite the name, it's not actually all that "next" to the sea-- it's a good two mile walk to the rocky shore by the quickest route. As a matter of fact, it's not really "next" to anything at all. The coastline used to be quite different, and Elizabethan ships once sailed in and out of what is now a vast empty marshland. Cley (which rhymes with "sigh" for some reason) was once a thriving sea port, they say; now it's just a tiny village in the middle of nowhere. People always laugh when I say it, but to me, this "nowhere," Norfolk's great emptiness, is beautiful beyond description. The sky looks different here than anywhere else I have been, and, because of the "flat" quality famously derided by Noel Coward, there's a great deal of it. To walk out the front door is to walk into a gigantic watercolor painting. I imagine there are other places on earth where you can do that, but this is the one I know firsthand.
All of England has a certain "hobbit" quality (not surprisingly), but Cley comes closer than anywhere to the Hobbiton of my imagination. Everybody lives in little houses made of stones gathered from the shore. I'm pretty sure that every time my girlfriend and I leave the pub, they turn to each other and mutter "there's queer folk about, and no mistake." In fact, tonight they're going to have that opportunity once again, as we're spending New Year's Eve among the hobbits at the George and the Dragon down the road.
Happy new year, everybody.
"Teenager Forced Bystanders to Kiss Severed Human Head," is probably the weirdest headline of a weird week.
But there must be something in the air. Have you seen al Qaeda's latest hit video?
THE video begins innocently enough: a wildlife documentary presented by Sir David Attenborough shows him raving about rare insects and exotic plants against the backdrop of an active volcano. There is no sign of Al-Qaeda’s evil here, nor at the end of the tape, which features Princess Diana and Prince Charles at the start of a visit to Kuwait more than a decade ago...
Sandwiched incongruously between them, however, is a macabre insight into the gruesome world of Osama Bin Laden’s disciples: a group of Arab soldiers, somewhere in the mountains of Afghanistan, are tossing a severed head around for the camera. They taunt the bloody skull, shaking it by the hair, lift an eyelid to simulate blinking, and throw stones at it, while chanting a chorus in praise of Allah.
Another British John Walker: this one's name is James Alexander McLintock, he's a white kid and he comes from Dundee. He is described as a "suspected" al-Qaeda member, which actually takes him a step further than Walker, by some accounts. (Though I'm more inclined to think that, in Afghanistan, Taleban = al-Qaeda any way you slice it.)
I believe I've already noted the fact that British reaction their own John Walkers has been surprisingly mild. Is it because the British don't see this as "their" war? (Terry Jones doesn't, at any rate. Splonge!) Is the charge of "treason" simply too embarrassingly old-fashioned for forward-thinking British chatterati to want to bring it up? I've had my suspicions that part of it may be that non-white or poly-ethnic native Britons are not thought of as "really" British, citizens or not. This opinion appears to be held, if not always expressed, even by left-leaning bleeding hearts, though their motive is presumably a variety of multicultural exoneration, rather than condemnation. Well, here's a test case, at any rate. I'm still waiting for the national soul-searching, the intense discussion on treason, values, child-rearing, and on what it means to be British. So far, everybody seems to take it in stride, which is the British way, of course.
Andrew Sullivan may think the introduction of the euro is no big deal and nothing to worry about (in his Sunday Times column-- no link because my on-line time is limited and the Times on-line is bloody impossible to navigate*) but the Observer informs us otherwise:
After years of anticipation, the coins and notes will be launched in 12 countries on Tuesday. But millions of people who eagerly grab their new coins could see their hands turn into a scaly, diseased mass after minutes.
(*Note to Times: we know what you're up to, and cut it out. Making your website as inconvenient as possible won't sell any more papers. And how much more of the UK Sunday paper market share do you feel you deserve, anyway?)
A while back I mentioned that they had burned a giant Osama bin Laden effigy in Suffolk for this past Guy Fawkes Day. Ben Sheriff provides a time-line of other popular villains burned in effigy in place of "the Guy." "Somewhat disturbingly," he writes, "they have a tendency to keep to tradition by using Catholic effigies relatively frequently. Though the Starr inquiry got one famous Baptist into the parade in 1998." That would be one Bill Clinton, or as he is known locally, "Viagra Man." It's a diverse list, with some usual suspects (Thatcher, Reagan, Saddam), and some curious choices. What the good people of Suffolk had against the Statue of Liberty in 1992 remains a mystery. The crusade against "motorway builders" seems a similarly lost cause. Once again, file under Their Island Story: Rich Tapestry of...
Just in case there's anyone out there who has yet to read Mark Steyn's excellent Spectator piece on European anti-Semitism and the on-going US-Israel vs. Europe-Arab alignment, here it is. He manages to pack a great deal of trenchant observation and insight into this single column, and I think he really hits the nail on the head here:
American sympathy for Israel and European support for the Arabs are essentially cultural statements, unrelated to the finer points of the ‘Palestinian question’. America supports Israel not because it’s Jewish but because it’s democratic. In fact, Republicans support Israel despite the Jews. American Jews are urban liberals and one of the Democratic party’s most reliable core demographics. There is no political benefit whatsoever to Bush in taking a ‘hard pro-Israel line’. Au contraire, Arab-Americans are just about the only immigrant group other than the Cubans that votes Republican. Yet that will never translate into GOP support for Arab states as presently constituted. My northern, rural, conservative neighbours are, when you prod ’em a little, mildly xenophobic and share a reflexive distaste for overt Jewishness. But they’ll always back Israel over Syria or Egypt because to them liberty trumps everything else. They are also under no illusions as to the kind of state an Arafat-led Palestine would be: if you gave him Switzerland to run, he’d turn it into a sewer. So Republicans look at Israel and see not Jews but a liberal democracy.
If America recognises a kindred spirit in Israel, then so does Europe in the Arab autocracies. After all, when King Fahd, President Mubarak, et al. sell themselves to the West as anti-democratic brakes on the baser urges of their people, they sound a lot like the European Union. As we’ve seen yet again, the principle underpinning the new Europe is not ‘We, the people’ but ‘We know better than the people’ — not just on capital punishment and the Treaty of Nice and the single currency, but on pretty much anything that comes up, including national elections. When 29 per cent of Austrian voters were impertinent enough to plump for Jörg Haider’s Freedom party, the EU punished them with sanctions and boycotts. As the Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson put it, ‘The programme that is developing in Austria is not in line with EU values.’ In the new Europe, the will of the people is subordinate to the will of the Perssons. Understandably, to such an elite the Oslo ‘peace process’ ought to be as remorseless and undeviating as the path to European unity: how preposterous to let something as footling as the wishes of the Israeli electorate disrupt it.
To invoke the ideals of liberal democracy when discussing contemporary politics with a European is often to invite instant derision. To them, such ideals tend to be seen as a mere pretense, a pious smokescreen behind which we ruthlessly pursue our own narrow interests. They bring up this or that instance of questionable adventurism, this or that dubious CIA operation, and, always, the alliance with Israel, as proof of America's moral bankruptcy and hypocrisy. Certainly, strategic interests, well- or ill-conceived, do not always coincide with high-minded ideals. But in America in the aftermath of 9/11, practically everyone outside of the marginal "loony left" agreed that here at least was a case where ideals and interests were one and the same. It is self-evident that America must be defended against those who seek its destruction, and that, at the very least, our victory is preferable to our defeat. It is still shocking to Americans to confront European ambivalence on these questions. And it is certainly possible to discern something like a consistent thread running through this shocking ambivalence on the one hand, and the hostility to Israel on the other.
Cheers to Iain Murray for putting up a Dr. Frank link on his excellent blog, The Edge of England's Sword.
Regarding my description of the English Christmas, he observes that he "never really felt that Christmas in the US was a holiday at all." I know what he means. The English Christmas experience is so much more extreme, which is why it's a much better "ride" for the holiday thrill-seeker. Part of it may be that the English keep their festive powder dry for the entire year, blowing it all on Christmas rather than depleting the reserves for minor holidays along the way. Even Guy Fawkes Day (a sort of Fifth of November to our Fourth of July) doesn't seem to waste very much of the British stockpile of festive energy. (Though they did burn a giant papier mache Osama bin Laden in Suffolk this year-- which is pretty festive in my book.) The British are puzzled by Thanksgiving ("why do you have to have two Christmas dinners?" is the unanswerable question you often get); they hardly notice Hallowe'en. In England, it's all about the Yuletide. (We call it the Toys R Us Time of Year.) An American experiences this sudden explosion of festive ordnance as a kind of unrelenting Dickens-a-ton, which is to say: it rules. Jolly hockey sticks.
One Ring to Rule them All
And, speaking of hobbits ("real" hobbits, not just the good people of rural England) I finally saw the Lord of the Rings. This is a movie I have been waiting for for practically my whole life, since the age of 7 anyway. High expectations usually spell doom for the enjoyment of anything; indeed, the key to happiness in this disappointing life might just be a harsh regimen of mandatory low expectations, with draconian penalties for any and all wanton optimism and hope. This movie carried as heavy a burden of optimism and high expectations as anything that has yet entered my little life. I'm pleased to report that , against all odds, viewing it was just about the least disappointing experience I have ever had. In other words, it's bleeding brilliant. It has restored my faith in movies, "art," maybe even in humanity itself.
OK, maybe I'm laying it on too thickly here. But I just can't get over how great this movie is. Here's my "review," sub-assessments, and over-all grade.
Story, screenplay and dialogue: surprisingly good, considering all that could have gone wrong. Events in the early episodes are collapsed a bit, but the condensed version remains true to the spirit of the book at all times. I wish they hadn't trimmed the Prancing Pony scene so severely, since it's one of the most memorable and dramatic ones. The Shadow of the Past is likewise truncated. And unfortunately, as in the BBC radio production, they completely left out the Barrow Downs and Tom Bombadil. (This is a shame, but I suppose it's difficult to imagine how to put Tom Bombadil on the screen without seeming cutesy; and doing the barrow wight episode would involve hobbits running naked through the grass, which might not have been advisable.) No wargs, either, which is a pity.
The dialogue is uniformly excellent (as is, incidentally, the acting.) I was a bit disappointed that they left out some of my favorite crucial lines: "I cannot read the fiery letters." "Come back, come back, to Mordor we will take you!" "He who breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom." They even excluded all but the coda of the"One Ring to Rule them All" poem, which was used so effectively as a Nazgul chant ("ash nazg...") in the radio version.
These are minor quibbles, however. Grade: 95/100
Art direction and special effects: once again, fantastic. This is the least "computer-y"-looking major film in a long, long, time. Major action sequences are also fabulous, especially Boromir and Aragorn vs. the orcs, Gandalf vs. Saruman, and Gandalf vs. Balrog.
All locales except the Elvish ones (about which see below) are terrific. Hobbiton and Bag End 20/20; Bree/Prancing Pony 20/20; Moria 20/20; the bridge of Khazad Dum 20/20; Orthanc 20/20. All armor, weapons, props of every kind, are perfect (especially the blue-glowing orc-indicating Sting.)
Hobbits : fabulous. They used clever camera angles rather than cheesy special effects in order to make the hobbits appear "the right size" in relation to the other characters. Frodo, Pippin, Merry, and especially Bilbo are all cast and played perfectly. The one failing (and to me it's the film's only serious one) is that Sam, who is in many ways the most fully-formed character in the book (and whose devotion to Frodo is so crucial to the story's moral weight) is barely present in the film.
5/20 for neglecting Sam, plus 20/20 points for each of the other hobbits. Grade: 85/100
Gandalf: perfect. 100/100
Gimli: another easy 100/100.
Men: both Aragorn and Boromir get easy scores of 100/100 as well. The film even manages to uncover hidden depths in the character of Boromir, one of the least sympathetic characters in the book, whose moral failing, Roland-esque hornblowing and pre-death confession after the final battle scene is surprisingly moving.
Elves: even in Tolkien's book, the Elves are generally pretty dippy and hard to take. I have to say, though, that the film takes this inherent dippiness to an entirely new level. The Elves at the Council of Elrond are all wearing dresses. When the Fellowship sets out, Legolas is at least wearing a "normal" Robin Hood costume, but he still could have done without the Jan Brady hair-do (for which I believe there is no textual authority.) Galadriel has some cool, hobbit-frightening moments as she contemplates the ring's power, but her wispy, doily-clad presence makes all of the other scenes she is in look like a series of margarine commercials. Elrond, though, wins the prize for worst hair of the Third Age. Rivendell looks like a picture on a Swiss Miss packet; Lothlorien isn't much better. It's all very "wet," as the English say.
Legolas (7/20); Galadriel (8/20); Elrond (5/20);Rivendell/Lothlorien (10/20); hair (0/20). Grade: 30/100.
Baddies: great overall.
Sauron: the decision to depict Sauron in full view is a curious one-- he's a dark, mysterious, terrifying figure, who is only recognized through his searching eye. I don't think this depiction is entirely successful. Though the smoldering ring-wearing severed finger is pretty great, Sauron himself seems a bit too much like a Power Ranger. (Cool nuke-type effect of the ring during the battle, though.) (10/20)
Saruman was the biggest risk, since Christopher Lee tends to be more humorous than menacing these days, but he really has risen to the occasion. (17/20)
Fantastic Balrog! (20/20)
Orcs: once again fabulous. The regular orcs are pretty much perfect. The Uruk-Hai, on the other hand, are a bit over-the-top, even for me (a little too much oozing slime to be "convincing.") (15/20).
Terrific Nazgul (20/20.)
MusicThis is one area where fantasy films tend to go horribly wrong. We avoid the worst-case scenario (rock/techno/hip hop) which is a great relief. Most of the incidental music is not particularly distinguished, but at least it doesn't get in the way. I'd say there's a bit too much Omen-style chanting in some scenes. The main disappointment is that they used hardly any of the songs and poems that are such a major part of the book. In addition to the neglect of the "one ring" poem mentioned above, they leave out Frodo's song at the Prancing Pony as well as the Ballad of Gil-Galad and "the sword that was broken..." one. "The Road Goes Ever On and On" is sung by Bilbo as he trots off after the party, but you only hear the first few words of it. The BBC radio production handled the poems and songs very well, and it's too bad the film doesn't include just a bit of them. In fact the radio drama's music overall is far, far superior.
Total grade: 657/800 or 82/100, but it gets a 50 point bonus for a general, unprecented lack of lameness. A+++
Wow, that was too long for a review I guess. It's a great movie of a great book. And I don't believe I've seen a movie of a book I have read that is as true to original's spirit. I want to see it again.
Family responsibilities, Blogger and other technical difficulties, and a bit of holiday laziness have all contributed to a slower pace in re: unleashing the blogs of war. Apologies for that. I suspect the pace may slow a bit more when we arrive at the new HQ in deepest, darkest, Norfolk in a few days. You can't always get a television signal, and the phone situation is a bit erratic; newspapers can even be a bit scarce. I'm planning to do my best (which is not as trivial a plan as it may seem) to keep up with the world outside, but just in case I fail, and anything big happens and you don't see it posted here, it's probably because I remain blissfully unaware of it in my rustic cocoon. In such an event, I'd appreciate someone dropping me a line to let me know about it.
For instance, it appears that we now have a plan to topple Saddam, Taleban-style. There are those who argue that it will be too difficult, though it seems to me probable that the Iraqi regime is considerably weaker than how professional worst-case scenario-spinners tend to portray it. Anyway, it seems like a good idea, and pretty swell plan, as outlined in the Guardian:
a force of about 5,000 INC fighters wouldcross into Iraq from Kuwait and seize a deserted airbase near Basra, tempting Saddam to send his crack Hammurabi tank division to the south, where it would be a sitting duck for US bombers.
See what I mean? While I'm communing with the hobbits, the birds and other wildlife of the rural wonderland, chopping wood, foraging for this and that, building snow monkeys and all that, I could completely miss Desert Storm II. That may be the price you have to pay for the simple country life.
NEWS FROM THE FRONT in the Geraldo Wars continue continues to trickle in. Fox News has issued its official statement on the well-respected journalist: "based on Geraldo Rivera's 30-year track record, Fox News has full confidence in his... journalistic integrity."
"This is not the first, nor," the statement went on to promise, "will it be the last, mistake made in a war zone."
With clergymen like this,who needs atheists?
THE NEW BIN LADEN VIDEO isn't even all that "new." It was recorded in early December, apparently. He seems a bit more wild-eyed, a bit more scattered, solitary rather than flanked by lieutenants, but there's really nothing new in the way of content either. Why "release" it now? Perhaps he's dead, and this "release" is an attempt to leave the impression that he's alive, but it's a pretty feeble one, since the tape was clearly recorded weeks ago. Even compared to the other OBL videos, it's pretty poor propaganda: he comes off as weak, pathetic, crazy. With the possible exception of the crazy part, I can't imagine anyone thinking this would play well in the "Arab street."
MORE ON REID
According to this MSNBC report, an Afghan prisoner has identified Richard Reid, as someone who went through an Al Qaeda terrorism training camp, just like John Walker.
THE PINK PANTHER STRIKES AGAIN
Here's an interesting look into French law enforcement techniques. Inspector Clouseau, you are eh, how you say, vanted at ze flont desk...
RICHARD REID VS. JOHN WALKER
As more information comes in about the Man with the Exploding Shoes, he is starting to seem a bit like our own John Walker. According to this report in the Times, Richard Reid (apparently his true name) was a "small-time British criminal who converted to Islam behind bars." He is a native, none-too-brilliant Briton who fell in with the Islamo-fascist crowd through frequenting the Brixton Mosque and Islamic Community Center in South London (where he may have met Zacarias Moussaoui, the "twentieth hijacker," who also worshipped there.) The facility is described as "moderate," but it was used by Islamist extremists as a recruiting ground. How does this mosque compare to John Walker's Mill Valley Islamic Center?
Here's how Mr Abdulhaq Baker, the "chairman" of Brixton Mosque describes Reid:
“He was an amiable, happy-go-lucky individual, always wanting to get involved in things and helping. He was very keen to learn the basics of Islam... He was a regular south-east London youngster. He was very streetwise. He used street slang,”
At first Mr Reid used to come for prayer wearing fashionable Western street clothes. He had just started a beard when he first arrived at the mosque, then let it grow to full-length.
He also began to wear a traditional Muslim thobe. He originally wore this beneath fashionable jackets, but eventually replaced these with military tops.
Mr Baker said that Mr Reid would have been incapable of devising the plot to blow up the aircraft over the Atlantic without help from fellow conspirators.
“No way could he do this on his own,” Mr Baker said. “He doesn’t have the capacity to think: ‘I’m going to get these explosives, I know where to get these explosives from, I’ll put them in my shoe’.
“He was a testing ground. If he had succeeded they would know this is a mechanism that works. If the plane had exploded there would have been very little trace of how that happened.”
I hope everybody had a good Christmas. I sure did. England seems to have invented much of what we think of as Christmas tradition (apart from all the religious stuff-- the year one and all that) and they tend to do it extremely well. A lifetime's viewing of Masterpiece Theatre adaptations of Dickens still doesn't prepare you for seeing it all unfold before your eyes. In a way, it just makes it weirder. (This is true even in non-Christmas contexts, e.g., the toothless drunken slattern sitting in the alley cackling madly and calling you "luv" is one hallmark of TV period drama that is still very present in the streets of modern London.)
The village church is situated next to my girlfriends' parents house. This is not quite as unusual as it sounds. In fact, it would not be much of an exaggeration to say that most people in Norfolk have a medieval church next door. Outside of Norwich itself (which famously has a church for every day of the year-- each with a corresponding pub, as the saying goes) there are nearly seven hundred in the Norfolk countryside. Nonetheless, I'm particularly fond of "our" St. Andrew's Church, with its round Saxon tower and the jagged, pebbly silhouette which looks spectacular from any distance against the enormous Norfolk sky.
I've been spending Christmas here for the last five years or so, but this is the first time since I started invading their space that the family has managed to rouse itself in time to stumble through the unkempt graveyard and attend the morning Christmas service. I'm Catholic, so the Church of England ceremony was itself a novelty. The similarities to the American Catholic mass I'm used to were, as it happened, far more striking than the differences. The liturgy was almost identical, with slightly different translations from the Latin, and the (to me) whimsical difference that the priest is referred to as "the president." Memories of countless childhood Sundays were also evoked by the organist's hit-or-miss technique, in which haphazard stray notes created inadvertently "modern"-sounding chords, bringing new life to old hymns.
Yet in spite of the familiarity, I have to say that it was the least "religious" religious ceremony I've ever attended. There was tremendous warmth and goodwill in the congregation, and everyone seemed to enjoy the singing, diminished 6ths and all. But the atmosphere of the brightly-lit church and the prosaic tone of the proceedings seemed designed to de-emphasize the drama, the dark and solemn mystery, the Romanticism, if you like, of Christianity, in favor of bland, good-natured, cheer. Even the sermon, notwithstanding a superficial tie-in to the Gospel story of the nativity, was primarily about the Queen and her new, controversial portrait. The "president" even went so far as to hold up a copy of the Times which depicted this portrait in order to illustrate the fact that some have said it made Her Majesty look as though she had a beard. Yes, it is mysterious in a way, but that's not the sort of mystery I mean.
I suppose the English are as "reserved" about their faith as they are about everything else. And as with everything else, perhaps, it's necessary to read "between the lines" a bit. Entire conversations and even bitter arguments between Englishmen can sometimes consist entirely of a provocative raised eyebrow (thesis); a defensive furrowed brow (anti-thesis); and finally a fatalistic resolution, wherein both parties sigh and say "oh, right." Americans are used to verbalizing everything that pops into our heads (which is unfortunate in a sense, since as well as being the among the most demonstrative of all nations we're also the least articulate); we find it easier to read an authentic, emotive grunt cum confessional than to discern the subtle, abstruse meaning behind a well-timed ironic cough. In other words, an American in England usually has no earthly idea what's going on. It's okay. You just have to get used to it.
I was thinking about this as I listened to the organist-lector (I'm not sure if he's the 'vice-president") calling with bland solicitude on the congregation to pray for the Queen ("our gracious Monarch") and for the army in Afghanistan. Similar, if not identical, prayers were called for, and answered, a little more than a century ago, I'm sure. And similar, if less identical, calls and responses had echoed through this little stone building for close to a thousand years. Even if this century is not a great age of faith for Britons, the very fact of standing in reverence amid the ruins of an earlier age of faith has its measure of spiritual weight. "Stone has a turn for speech," as the poet F.A. Fanshaw observed. As with so many things British, you can miss the meaning if you don't know how to listen for it.
But if religiosity was a bit thin on the ground on Christmas, 2001, there was no shortage of quaint custom and tradition, ancient and modern: flaming Christmas pudding, funny hats, boughs-of-holly-decked halls evoking yesteryear, along with the Trivial Pursuit and television togetherness of the modern age. (The new Only Fools and Horses reunion had everybody in stitches.) Lots of food, unapologetic drinking (one of Britain's great humanistic traditions), presents, and a good deal of humor. Another good one.
No posting tomorrow (or today if you live on this side of the world,) in honor of the nativity of the Lord, our Savior. Merry Christmas, all.
A CURE FOR THE NEW STATESMAN BLUES
A good piece by Henry Porter in Sunday's Observer on Doves and Hawks and who owes what sort of apology to whom.
But it was not just the hawks who made a choice. The doves did, too, and although at the time it seemed a safe bet that to opt for peaceful means in Afghanistan was to claim a kind of de facto high ground, it turned out to be the less courageous choice and now demonstrably the wrong one...
It may have been that the doves had the world's best interests at heart, but there was an anti-American agenda in the peace party which was abhorrent if only because these people would never talk about any other nation in the they did about the US. The US is, after all, a democracy and its citizens were, after all, victims of a bewilderingly violent attack...
To my mind the most serious mistake of the peace party was its failure to stand up for the democratic achievements of the last 100 years and for the reign of liberal values in which we all thrive and indeed possess the freedom to debate the enormous issues that now face the world. That is still something worth fighting for and I am unembarrassed by saying it.
"The time has come to stop Geraldo-bashing," says Geraldo Rivera, chief proponent of the pro-Geraldo point of view.
Rivera also accuses CNN of "malignant hypocrisy" for covering the dispute, saying that anchor Aaron Brown's report "made me want to puke."
Brown says he is "comfortable" with "a fair airing of what I believe is a legitimate controversy. There is no doubt in my mind, zero doubt, that if the shoe were on the other foot . . . Fox would be all over me like a rash."
THOSE FUN-LOVIN' BRITISH LEFTIES:
From the New Statesman:
Last week we asked the question on-line:
Should Israel topple Yasser Arafat?
7% said yes
89% said no
4% were not sure
This week, we ask:
Should Christmas be abolished?
Though Jews comprise no more than 2 per cent of the US population... Hanukkah is now seen as an event that the US president must officially recognize and celebrate. His spokesman, Ari Fleischer, is Jewish and a couple of weeks ago put his spin on how the White House expected Yasser Arafat to behave... The deputy defence secretary is also Jewish and vociferously argues for war on Iraq. But I have never seen these facts mentioned in the media here.(Andrew Stephen of the New Statesman, grappling with the media's conspiracy of silence regarding the influence of The Jew on the US government.)
Just getting around to reading the Ken Layne stuff I've missed over the last couple of days-- lots of good stuff as always, including this gem about the Sacramento Bee publisher whose commencement speech got booed by the graduating class.
But this professor in California has a different idea. He thinks getting booed is the same thing as being locked up in government camps:"It was scary," said Bob Buckley, a computer sciences professor and president of the faculty senate. "For the first time in my life, I can see how something like the Japanese internment camps could happen in our country."Memo to Prof. Buckley: Never, ever play in a rock band, or try stand-up comedy. In the magic world, all viewpoints are welcomed with tenure and money and applause. The dumb and boring are never accused of being dumb and boring. What a happy rainbow. Jesus ....
Also worth a look: Layne's compendium of Ted Rallisms.
Still in a weird state of psychological transition from shiny metropolis (London) to rustic hamlet (Colney, near Norwich.) While I was standing in line at Liverpool Street station, my "chosen" (as she was described later by one of the Norfolk neighbors) trotted off to get a magazine for the train ride. I asked her to get one for me as well, "some kind of English news magazine." She returned with a Cosmopolitan (for her) and the New Statesman (for me.) The poor girl then had to endure two hours of boyfriendly harrumphing. It's slightly less than decent to hit a guy with a John Pilger whammy just like that with no warning. "By any measure," he writes, stripping away the lies to reveal our true evil intentions, "this is a war of the rich against the poor..." "In America," Andrew Stephen observes, in a helpful effort to smack down "America's monumental self-righteousness and hubris," "even the clergy want to kill."
But even a typical bloodthirsty American like me couldn't stay disgruntled for long on that train. Norfolk has been famously derided for being so "flat," but to me it's a beautiful kind of flatness, especially when covered with snow on a clear crisp day. As the landscape rushed by, the train window framed the most spectacular sunset I have ever seen: an enormous sky of layers of scalloped red gold, veined with blue, obstructed only by an occasional skeletal tree.
"It's like a picture of God," remarked my "chosen." It was.
Today is a travel day, so there probably won't be a whole lotta bloggin' goin' on. We're going from London to Norwich, to be with the family for Christmas. Everybody in England snickers when you say the word "Norwich"-- try it some time. It's kind of like saying "Concord" in the Bay Area. Maybe it's owing to the lingering provincialism still flowing through these American veins, but I love Norfolk and its dear little hobbits. Norfolk update coming soon.
DUMB AS A ROCK
Owing to the time difference, I didn't hear about the man with the exploding shoes till this morning. I was, however, able to experience some of the excitement of the breaking news by reading Ken Layne's series of by-the-minute updates.
Once again, Glenn Reynolds puts it best: "the hi-jacker appears to have been dumb as a rock." I don't think there is a verdict on whether this was official Al Qaeda operation, but if this is the best they can do, I'd say they're going to fall fairly short of the goal of the "total destruction of America" promised by Mullah Omar. We've still got Osama's Twenty Ships of Terror to reckon with though.
It's not the main point of his argument, but I was struck by this passage:
Many western liberals chided America for withdrawing from the Durban conference on racism last August. But that conference was the latest high-water mark for Jew-hating. The infamous, fabricated tract, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, was widely distributed at the meeting. Questioners were shouted down with cries of "Jew! Jew! Jew!"
STROLLING DOWN MEMRI LANE
Little Green Footballs points out the latest report from the Middle East Media Research Institute. This transcript of an Al-Jazeera TV talk show on bin Laden from 10 July reads like an Arab extremist McLaughlin Group:
Host Al-Qassem addressed 'Adlan: "...From the beginning of the program, you've been saying that the Islamic movements, headed by the Jihad movement in Afghanistan, are regressive, and things like that. Okay, why not be realistic? I want to give you an example: Who hurt Israel and achieved the first victory in modern Arab history, if not the Islamic Jihad movement? The heroic Hizbullah in southern Lebanon is a popular movement. 'Hizbullah' [Party of Allah] is a beautiful, mighty name, and as many have said, it succeeded in expelling the Zionists from southern [Lebanon] like dogs – my apologies to the dogs..."
WHO WAS THAT MASKED MAN?
Apparently some kind soul has taken the professor's advice and paid the $12 "make the banner ad go away" fee for this blog. Many thanks, whoever you may be.
The Taleban: Safe Roads and Everything Else
Robert Fisk continues his perverse drive to propound his deeply "alternative" point of view in this Independent article, evincing nostalgia for the Taleban's comforting law and order policy:
If nothing else, the Taliban made the roads and villages of Afghanistan safe for Afghans and foreigners alike. Now, you can scarcely drive from Kabul to Jalalabad.
If nothing else? Perhaps I'm paranoid (strike that-- I know I'm paranoid) but I can't help feeling he writes this way with the express purpose of driving me to newer and ever more dangerous levels of apoplexy. Has he, in fact, if nothing else in the way of common decency, no concern for the welfare of his unfortunate readers?
I'm not even going to bother to list "everything else" included (at no extra charge) in the Taleban's gift to the world. But how about this one, from today's Times? Yep, the Taleban's swell transportation system and the efficiency of their Religous Police almost makes you miss 'em-- except for that little matter of operating a brisk business selling the orphaned children of their victims as sex slaves. How does this man sleep at night?
PLEASE DO NOT TOUCH THE CHOCOLATE HAND GRENADE! IT IS VERY DELICATE
So reads a hand-printed sign on a display of Christmas gift ideas at Selfridge's department store in London. This "department" specializes in the ironic, the absurd, the whimsical: a desktop placard reading "Diamond Geezer;" a bar of soap containing a map of the state of Nebraska; a Pope bottle opener (the Popener!); various "naughty nuns;" a clock that runs backwards; many unusually-shaped items of indeterminate function; pieces of chocolate cast into unexpected shapes, like artillery shells, and the aforementioned hand grenade; etc. I suppose it's what we would call "kitsch," but its kitschy qualities are quite deliberate. And they don't come cheap. (The biggest irony of all may be the fact that you could feed a small family for a week for the price of a couple of white chocolate hypodermic syringes.)
The display attracts a lot of attention, but people didn't appear to be buying anything. Rather, they walk around picking up this or that object and expressing shock at the outrageous prices. "Can you imagine forty-five quid for that?" "Yes, but look at this thirty-eight pound plastic thing-- what do you suppose it does?"
After overhearing several of these bemused conversations, I realized that I had stumbled into the retail manifestation of the Tate Modern. Just like Selfridge shoppers, spectators at the Tate Modern (those who are not members of the "arty tosser elite") stroll through the galleries, mouths agape in stunned silence, unable to bring themselves to believe that this or that bit of rubbish has been put on Art's publicly-funded pedestal. Occasionally, you'll hear one of them break the sullen silence: "look at that fire extinguisher-- or is that an exhibit?" or "how much do you think he got for that?" (pointing to the Small Pile of Rocks) or "janitorial staff on holiday again?" (in reference to The Room full of Trash.)
On leaving Selfridge's, I found myself at a typically American loss for words.
"What do you call that, um, genre of stuff?" I asked.
And once again, my lovely, brilliant English rose was ready with her customary incisive analysis, suitable for filing under the heading: wisdom, words of.
"I believe," she said, "the word you are searching for, darling, is 'crap.'"
Out of the mouths of babes. English ones, that is. And she can cook, too.
I like Andrew Hofer's cocky letter of humorless odiousness to the Evening Standard. You will, too, unless your humorless odiousness exceeds mine...
Deborah Orr of the Independent defends (sort of) the French Ambassador, who is in big trouble for his foul-mouthed dinner-party comments about Israel. Israel and its defenders, she opines, are so annoying that even good and decent people find it difficult to avoid "falling into the trap" of making statements "that sound anti-Semitic." And she issues a warning that isn't as anti-Semitic as it sounds: when you accuse people of anti-Semitism, it just makes them hate Jews even more.
Pure class, all the way.
MICHAEL KELLY, MOTIVATIONAL COUNSELOR
The first moral judgement is always the hardest, says Kelly, but it only gets easier; and Alison Hornstein of Yale University has made real progress during this session.
It might not be the funniest joke in the world, but it's not bad. Citing that Robert Kagan "Postcard from Belgium" column (about which I'm still too thick to decide: satire or real?) Iain Murray's wide- and long-ranging memory comes up with an "old Soviet joke":
There's an old Soviet joke about Lenin, Stalin and Brezhnev taking the train across Siberia, when the train suddenly stops. After a while, the Guard comes and asks them what to do. "Do not worry," says Lenin, "It is inevitable that the train will move." But nothing happens. Stalin orders the engine driver to be shot, but still nothing happens. Then Brezhnev pulls down the blinds and says, "The train is moving."
THE LABOUR PM IS A LEFTY-BAITER
Tony Blair doing a Matt Welch. Check it out.
UNLEASHING THE BLOGS OF WAR has been hampered a bit by massive hard drive problems. I have a feeling it's only a matter of time before something explodes. Apologies in advance if I disappear.
NOAM CHOMSKY DECAPITATED...
...by an enraged David Horowitz. Well, not literally... Here's the latest in the now venerable genre of Chomsky-debunking, a joint effort by the genre's co-founders David Horowitz and Ron Radosh. This mother of all bashings is richly deserved as always, but I have to confess I have a hard time sustaining a high degree of worry and outrage about a guy whose arguments are so easily punctured (though I enjoy the puncturing-- I'm only human.)
Chomsky's train-wrecked syllogisms (in Christopher Hitchens's memorable phrase) indeed seem to have a certain mysterious power over considerable herds of university students, but the spell is usually broken just as mysteriously when they reach age 24. Such flirtation with the Demagogue Scholar is like flirtation with Charles/Marilyn Manson, or Aleister Crowley, or Communism, or Ming the Merciless, or the Dark Lord Sauron, or any other "counter-culture" figure or phenomenon whose appeal is primarily shock value. And doesn't harping so sententiously and stridently on The Evil only encourage them to postpone their growing out of it? Maybe we need some reverse psychology here...
30 SECONDS TO A MORE POWERFUL VOCABULARY
Reader and fellow blogger Lawrence Garvin, in reference to the anti-Monbiot screed below, writes in to provide his latest neologism:
"Talibashing" - the all too common tendency to banish
all norms of perspective when describing oppressive measures by the *STATE*
LOW-FAT SPREAD: THE ENGLISHWOMAN'S VIEW OF AMERICAN PORN AND THE BEAUTY MYTH
I've been meaning to mention Victoria Coren's column in Wednesday's Evening Standard, "Everything's Bigger in America." Noting that Nigella Lawson's cooking show has been described in the New York Times as looking like "a prelude to an orgy," she writes:
Actually, it doesn't. I've had lunch on a porn film set in California [indeed? ed.], and even their X-rated stars are self-denying. What the prelude to an orgy really looks like is carrot sticks, wheat free bagels and low-fat spread. "Low-fat spread," in fact, describes the American porn industry in a nutshell. Female porn stars make Calista Flockhart look like Roseanne: if you're size 12 or over, you have to work in "fat fetishist" movies.
Ouch, that's mean. Criticizing Americans for being fat is a faithful standby of the British case for their own cultural superiority-- it's one of the last ones they've still got, to be honest. You hear it all the time, and you sometimes have the feeling they're scrutinizing your midsection a little too closely for comfort, particularly given their traditional (occasionally merciful) "reserve."
But I mention this mainly because the conventional wisdom is that the word "porn" gets you more hits than anything other than "Britney," and I wanted to test the theory. Now that I've used them both in one post: hit me, baby.
Damian Penny and Charles "Little Green Footballs" Johnson and have already gone to the trouble of dissecting the study behind the latest Guardian editorial on Afghan casualties. (See also Bruce Rolston's more detailed examination of the data.) Here's my reaction.
Seumas Milne's Guardian piece simply reports that a study by University of New Hampshire economics and women's studies professor Marc Herold demonstrates that the number of Afghan civilian casualties is far higher than is generally believed. The characteristic hysterical Guardian rhetoric notwithstanding (title: "the Innocent Dead in a Coward's War") this is certainly possible, even probable. A systematic, objective study of Afghan casualties would be worthy and of general interest. Unfortunately, the study itself is hardly that. Despite Milne's wide-eyed wonder at the integrity and conservatism of Herold's estimates, many of the sources used in place of the official reports are extremely questionable: among others, Robert "hit me baby, one more time" Fisk, Al-Jazeera, and the Afghan Islamic Press, along with an unspecified "variety of other reputable sources."
A major source, however, seems to be Herold's own disorganized, anti-American imagination. Even the Guardian apparently couldn't bring itself to trumpet Herold's main finding: that the US intentionally developed its target set in order to kill the greatest number of civilians possible. The reason: racism. Here Herold slips into faux-analytical incoherence:
the Afghanis [sic] are not "white," whereas the overwhelming majority of pilots and elite ground troops are. This "fact" serves to amplify the positive benefit-cost ratio of sacrificing the darker-skinned Afghanis today (like the Indochinese and Iraqis of former wars) so that "white" American soldiers may be saved tomorrow.
One may point out that the mass bombing of Serbia just a couple of years ago, contradicts this view. But the Serbs, it should be noted, were tainted (read "darkened") by their Communist past--at least, in the views of U.S. policymakers and the corporate media--hence were fair game. Otherwise, there is no instance (except during World War II) of a foreign Caucasian state being targeted by the U.S. government.
Finally, Herold's analysis leads him to the inevitable conclusion (inevitable because it was pre-determined) that the conflict is comprehensible only in terms of the fashionable theory of the "cycle of violence," a cycle that cannot but lead to a "flowering" of further US injustice. Perhaps so. Yet such a conclusion, or more accurately, such an attitude, is more a matter of faith than of data, whether it is made up of facts, "facts," or "'facts.'"
I can hardly do better than to quote Charles Johnson's succinct summary:
This is an anti-American tract masquerading as an academic study; it’s obvious Herold came to his conclusion first (US = evil) and then looked for evidence to back it up. It’s a sad indictment of our educational system that shoddy, biased work like this is given any credibility at all.
THE WILDERNESS FAMILY
Here's a bizarre little story about dates imported illegally to Britain from Iraq. The importers are Voices in the Wilderness, a "non-violence group" opposed to the sanctions against Iraq. VitW activists spent yesterday distributing the dates, in packages that sell for four pounds apiece, to stores in 30 cities in Britain. Each package has a sticker on it reading "sanctions-breaking Iraqi dates." That'll teach 'em. And it makes a great gift...
Voices in the Wilderness spokesman: "Everyone who buys this will be engaged in civil disobedience."
Foreign Office spokesman: "We hope that these imports are not depriving the Iraqi people of food supplies."
ANGLO-AMERICAN: TWO POWERS SEPARATED BY A COMMON HYPHEN
We had a great time at the Skinner's Arms last night. My lovely little sister Christine is visiting London on Christmas break from Japan, where she is teaching English. Among other things, we compared notes on the attitudes of "the locals" towards Americans and the war. My general impression: citizens of the former enemy Imperium, which we once attacked with atomic bombs, are more favorably disposed towards America than those of the former Imperium with which we have an alliance, and which we helped rescue from Nazi domination. I'm not sure if it's "ironic," exactly, but it's interesting.
Damian Penny, the good Canadian (of the top-notch Daimnation! blog) writes with a helpful suggestion for Americans in England: why not just tell them you're Canadian? It's true that there's not much anti-Canadian fervor out here. But I don't think I could "pass." My girlfriend claims she can spot an American guy from blocks away, just by how he walks. Anyway, you're okay as long as you keep your mouth shut, whether or not you're Canadian. Until you speak, they just assume you're as anti-American as they are, if you appear to be from their own social class (middle-class, educated, for me.) One does often have the sensation of being "baited," presented with near-inflammatory statements as an experiment to gauge the reaction. (It's less extreme, but similar to my experience, long ago, of visiting an ex-girlfriend's back-woods, deep-south family, who kept testing me by telling racist jokes...)
It's my impression that British children are taught to be generally suspicious, even ashamed, of the very idea of patriotism; they get freaked out by it when they observe it in others. They are certainly taught to be ashamed of Britain's imperial past. (In America, you have to wait till your first Chomsky-encounter, usually in your freshman year of college, to encounter this sort of attitude.) Perhaps this ethos requires a suspicion and hostility to the world's current hegemon, whoever that might be, as a matter of course-- see the Madeleine Allbright survey below. It's probably more complicated than that, I know. More later, as always.
Great stuff on Tim Blair's blog today, as usual.
First, there's a letter from Glenn Sacks (who wrote one of those moronic SF Chronicle columns defending John Walker as a courageous free-thinker,) to his "critics," which I imagine would probably include just about everyone who had the misfortune to read the blasted thing. The response is in many ways even sillier than the original column, but Blair has included parenthetical commentary that almost makes it worth reading. (That guy is a riot!)
Lots and lots of blog-space has been devoted to trashing Sacks since the original article came out, but I think Blair has finally come up with the most apt and succinct critique yet: "[vomiting]"
Second, is this report on a survey of 275 "political, media, cultural, business, and government leaders" for a project run by former Secretary of State Madeleine Allbright:
Opinion leaders from around the world believe American policies caused the September 11 attacks and are pleased that the United States now feels a sense of vulnerability, according to a new survey of "elite" opinion in 24 countries.
Here's the Jerusalem Post's surprisingly temperate report on that French ambassador story below.
FRENCH IN ACTION: LESSON 1-- DIPLOMACY
A diplomatic tempest has been brewing ever since the French ambassador to Great Britain was over-heard at a dinner party saying that all the problems in the world were caused by "that shitty little country, Israel." Yves Charpentier, "Press Counsellor" of the French embassy wrote letters to various newspapers, "clarifying" the ambassador's statement (though stopping short of disavowing it):
The ambassador was expressing... the view that we were facing a geographically limited problem, which is proving extremely difficult to resolve and whose consequences are having repercussions all over the world.
At any rate, it's not very "diplomatic," nor is it the most solid example of geopolitical analysis you're likely to find, even in France. But then, the French have always had a problem with the Jews. Matthew Norman has the delicacy to regret mentioning the fact that "if France had one iota of the fighting spirit of 'that shitty little country Israel' it might have lasted more than a fortnight in the last war;" or bringing up "Drancy, the concentration camp run by the Parisian police in the name of Vichy, in which conditions were so unspeakable that the Germans themselves were shocked into closing it." I have no such delicacy, I'm afraid. Sacre bleach!
THE MORAL EQUIVALENCE GAME, PART II
The odious George Monbiot was at it again yesterday, with a Guardian "comment and analysis" piece called "The Taliban of the West." (This link is to Monbiot's own site's posting of the article under the similarly hyperbolic title "The End of Enlightenment"-- I can't find the article on the Guardian on-line site, though it definitely was in the print edition. Censorship!)
No prizes for correctly identifying this Western Taliban: it's the United States of America, by gosh! When you strip away the lies, the underlying structures are revealed, and it turns out that, just as you suspected all along, America turns out to be the cause of all the trouble!
The comment: "nothing has threatened the survival of 'western values' as much as the triumph of the west."
The "analysis:" "this is an inevitable product of the fusion of state and corporate power."
There certainly is reason for concern about suspension of civil liberties and stepped-up government surveillance that could be applied in a general way against ordinary citizens. (If I were British, I'd be more worried about the general elimination of the right to a trial by jury than about Bush's military tribunals-- maybe it's the British who are the true "hidden Taleban.") It should be examined, discussed, and if necessary, resisted, and this will require ceaseless vigilance, as the saying goes. But until the FBI starts beating women with steel cables, pushing homosexuals off of tall buildings, that sort of thing, I'd say we still fall short of the Taleban standard of excellence as paragons of repression.
Monbiot's other examples of the true "Taleban nature" behind our blue eyes are deliberately misleading. The Nancy Oden Bangor Maine Airport Security Incident is a well-documented hoax; the Katie Sierra case (in which a student was suspended for, among other things wearing a home-made anti-war T-shirt) was deemed a school discipline issue rather than a free speech case by the state Supreme Court, since she was allowed to wear the shirt off school premises. (By the way, Monbiot's "analysis" of the "true meaning" of the T-shirt incident is unintentionally (?) hilarious: the government-corporate leviathan has an interest maintaining its death-grip on the T-shirt design market, and therefore "those who, in defiance of this dispensation, write their own logos on T-shirts are now being persecuted by the state." Quite Pythonesque.) Anyway, I think the various cases of school limits on kids' free expression often go too far. Yet, in my view it doesn't rise to the Taleban standard.
Once again: does George Monbiot really believe that a high school punishing the violation of a school dress code with a temporary suspension is even remotely equivalent to the Religious Police beating a woman with a steel cable for uncovering her ankle? Of course not. So how can he use such obviously and undeniably phoney "data" to further his "analysis?" Answer: in the real world, he oughtn't to, but it's a perfectly legal move in the rule-book of the Game of Moral Equivalence.
THE GERALDO WARS CONTINUE
Hey, if I were in Tora Bora, I'd be carrying a gun...
Got some Christmas duties to attend to today, which will curtail excessive newshogging and blogging. Plus, I don't want to provoke the "you love the computer more than me" conversation that I suspect might be in the offing. (It's similar to the "you love the guitar more than me" conversation.) Anyway, more later. Maybe.
I found Richard Cohen's article on anger very apt and powerful. It points to an important truth about our contemporary culture. We are not very comfortable with anger, and we often try to reason our way around it; anger embarrasses us, and to "give in to it" is seen as a profound personal failure. This is assuredly a Good Thing most of the time. But has the habit of equivocating, of suppressing anger, of sublimating and channelling it into "more constructive" avenues than violence become so deeply ingrained that it impedes decisive action when it may be necessary? Does our quest to understand our base instincts and motivations and our consciousness of moral complexity deter us from perceiving stark moral simplicity when it arises? Is there, in fact, a "culture of inaction" rather than a "culture of violence?" I don't know, but there's a lot of evidence for it.
Cohen's point is that there is something exhilarating about being faced, for once, with a clearly unequivocal situation. He cites this LA Times article which describes anger as a "sensation of power and clarity that gives us the will and energy to fight for our lives," and writes:
Clarity is precisely what I feel. In a complicated, on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand world, in an era when science and common sense have robbed us of the absolutes of religious dogma, it is downright invigorating to feel an anger so pure and so justified that time itself has diluted it not one bit. I hate bin Laden so much that when some people said they hated him even more after seeing him on the latest videotape, I wondered how they could. My anger is pressed to the floor already. So I applaud whenever George Bush utters one of his dead-or-alive pronouncements.
Cohen's piece is a kind of paean to anger. It's view you don't hear too often.
The LA Times article he cites, by the way, is worth a look in its own right. The title ("Letting Anger Seep Out") and the source (the paper's health writer) might deter but it's actually quite good.
In a way it's a different angle on the phenomenon Lefty confusion, break-down, and re-alignment that I keep harping on, depicting various mushy, touchy-feely, NPR-types getting in touch with their inner bellicosity.
For Glenn, the Catholic peace activist in Nebraska, the turmoil of recent months has prompted a rethinking of the principles that have defined her life.
"When it's a matter of self-preservation, I think we need to ask ourselves when it's OK to harm others," she said. While Glenn has not abandoned her commitment to peace, she says she won't march in local demonstrations against the operation in Afghanistan.
"If I'm going to stand somewhere with a sign that says, 'peace now,' I want it to say: 'stop using planes as weapons; stop using anthrax--peace now.' If there's a madman shooting people in McDonald's, do we have a rally outside saying, 'peace now'?"
I'M NOT LET THING GO, I BELIEVE
My girlfriend just received a greeting card from a friend who is travelling in Korea. It reads:
Now and Forever
I realize the best part of love is the thinnest slice and it don't count for much but I'm not let thing go I believe.
Speaking of the joys of Kore-anglo printed matter, I feel compelled to mention my favorite brand of cigarettes (from Korea-- that's the connection, see?)
Omar Sharif cigarettes. Their motto:
The taste of my cigarettes is soft and sensual, just like my romantic life.
SHAW'S STALIN, OUR BIN LADEN
This editorial by the Telegraph's Robert Harris is one of the best so far on the Left's crisis of content when it comes to Afghanistan and bin Laden. On George Bernard Shaw's willful credulity about Stalin and Soviet communism despite all evidence to the contrary, he writes:
But Shaw, a brilliant man, did believe it. Or, at any rate, he brushed away the arguments of those who didn't. He wanted to be convinced. And this syndrome - this stubborn refusal to accept what is plainly obvious - has, it strikes me, been the hallmark of many Left-wing intellectuals over the past three months.
Anyone who ever wondered about the extraordinary blindness of clever people towards the Soviet Union 70 years ago - all those Shaws, and Wellses, and Webbs, and G D H Coleses; all those subscribers to the Left Book Club - anyone, indeed, who thought we would never see such naivety again, has been able to enjoy a little trip down memory lane since September 11.
The Left made fools of themselves in the 1930s precisely because... they reasoned on the basis of their emotions: they wanted to believe in Stalin, therefore they convinced themselves that Stalin was worth believing in.
What we have seen this autumn has been a variant on the same theme: a desire that a villainous America should come a cropper in Afghanistan has led to a series of false predictions that a villainous America would indeed come a cropper. It has been founded on wishful thinking.
ALL THE RAGE IN EGYPT
Here's a fascinating run-down of Egyptian pop culture's love-hate relationship with America, Western values, and good old fashioned common decency. It seems like it's mostly "hate" in all three categories: the mini-series based on the Protocols of the Elders of Zion ("Horseman without a Horse") is a dead giveaway, as is the hit song "I Love Amr Moussa, I hate Israel." Not to mention this:
A hit comedy made in Egypt last year, "Saidi at the American University," is about an ignorant peasant coming to the big city. Featuring the comic star Mohamed Heneidi, the film pits simple, honest, Egyptian values against the arrogant, decadent values of the West, represented by the American University in Cairo. In the film, the peasant's values prevail after being tempted by Western style clothes and the free market claptrap of a U.S.-passport-carrying professor. In the culminating scene, there is a moment, always cheered by audiences, when Heneidi's character rebels and burns an Israeli flag, jumping on it and giving a Nazi-style salute.
Like I said, mostly hate. But there is also the occasional voice of reason, even when Egyptian pride is at stake. The article reports on an official debate over whether the government should censor the film "The Mummy Returns:"
There were serious objections, and the film was nearly rejected because of a scene in which Brendan Fraser flees an Egyptian bathroom because it is so dirty.
Archaeologist Hawass was there and defended freedom of expression. "First," he recalls arguing, "our bathrooms are dirty, and we should clean them."
A good first step...
"And second, if the world thinks Egyptian bathrooms are dirty, we should know this."
Forwarned is forearmed...
The conclusion: "if we don't like it, we should make a better film ourselves." Hear hear. A film about how clean middle eastern bathrooms can be would be vastly preferable to that Protocols thing. And it shouldn't be too hard to make a better film than "The Mummy Returns."
THE HARRUMPHING CURMUDGEON
Am I at war with the Guardian? That's what a reader charges. My indulgent, long-suffering girlfriend, who has had to learn to live with the fact that the sound of my rustling Guardian usually heralds a string of inarticulate harrumphs and grumbles, has raised the same question: "if you don't like it, darling, why do you read it?" The fact is, I do like it. Perhaps I even enjoy the harrumphing. The Guardian is, in fact, a very entertaining paper, and, like other British newspapers, it provides more actual information on international matters than any US daily that I know of. (Readers of the San Francisco Chronicle may be puzzled at the notion of turning to a newspaper for "information," but that is nonetheless a clear advantage; the disadvantage is that in order to read it cover to cover you need to allot more than fifteen minutes.) Of course, it has a pretty severe anti-American slant, particularly on the editorial page, and that's what causes the all the harrumphing. I think they see themselves as fulfilling their traditional role as the "voice of the opposition," and that they must play devil's advocate and run against what they see as the prevailing current, whatever that may be. (They hate Tony Blair, too; they hate just about everyone who isn't losing.)
Anyway, in happier, easier times, I always preferred reading the Guardian because of its relentless snide, withering tone, which is tremendously entertaining. (And the English do snide cum withering better than anyone-- and better than anything else they try to do, for that matter.) When it comes to less frivolous matters, however, the constant drumbeat of anti-American sarcasm and dry ridicule gets a bit wearing.
This is true even outside the quirky pages of the Guardian. It's strange being an American in England during this war, as Chelsea Clinton discovered. The British public as a whole supports the war in Afghanistan, and indeed seems to feel a degree of warmth and an affinity for America and Americans. However, you can hang around in London for quite awhile and never meet any of these people. Anti-Americanism hangs heavily in the air, and, among the "educated classes," expressing anti-American sentiment is a mark of hip sophistication. It can range from relatively benign college-campus fluff like "killing is bad-Bush is an idiot-war never solves anything" to the more extreme "you're just as bad as the terrorists-now you know what it feels like to be the victims of your own tactics." It's similar to home-grown college campus anti-Americanism in some ways; in other ways, it has a slightly different flavor (more later on this, I promise, Moira.) The notion that this war might be a just and honorable cause against an evil enemy that threatens Western civilization itself, that America had no choice but to pursue the perpetrators, even that our victory would be preferable to our defeat-- this notion is not allowed even the ghost of legitimacy.
The success of the Afghanistan campaign has dampened, though not eliminated, the once-ubiquitous predictions of military disaster and impending doom; but the suspicion of American motives, the pessimism about the chances of success, the distaste for American patriotism itself, remains. The Guardian reacted to the fall of Kandahar with one astonishing pro-war editorial (almost Churchillian, as such things go) before returning to what they do best the very next day. The audience demands it, you see. And so it goes. More harrumphing to follow.
SPREADING CULTURE TO THE MASSES
"I'm down with Biggie, but Mozart is my dog." --Alica Keys on Top of the Pops.
Anthony Lewis, in his farewell column, seals his legacy as a master of moral equivalence, managing to get in one last re-iteration of his trademark "Christian Fundamentalists are as bad as Islamists" theme:
Islamic fundamentalism, rejecting the rational processes of modernity, menaces the peace and security of many societies. But the phenomenon of religious fundamentalism is not to be found in Islam alone. Fundamentalist Christians in America, believing that the Bible's story of creation is the literal truth, question not only Darwin but the scientific method that has made contemporary civilization possible.
I'm not a fan of Christian Fundamentalism, but the Amish, in my view, are a bit less dangerous than Al Qaeda, as is Jerry Falwell, idiotic post-9/11 analysis notwithstanding. Is it possible that Lewis really thinks that those naive souls who put fish-stickers on their bumpers and prefer a literal interpretation of the Book of Genesis are in the same ball-park as the Islamo-fascist thugs who planned and executed the WTC attacks? Of course not. But is his implication to that effect nonetheless intentional? Of course it is. That's how the game of moral equivalence is played.
A SPOONFUL OF GUARDIAN
The war will be over by Christmas. (Winner: us.) It didn't go as badly as expected and "hasn't caused the kind of havoc feared (such as a protracted guerilla war.)" And this is bad because...
...the media coverage hasn't been sufficiently negative to provide enough fodder for effective anti-war propaganda, if I understand Madeliene Bunting of the Guardian. OK, Guardian, that's your whole trip, I know. Fight the power. Subvert the dominant paradigm.
There haven't been enough horrific pictures of the fruits of American evil and this has been "feeding a new US doctrine of terror." A brand new US doctrine of terror, of course-- bigger and better than ever. You really have to examine the underlying structures to uncover the process of power.
A bit more media exposure to US atrocities would have helped The Cause, but, sadly, the Taleban were too inept at the propaganda game:
They always buried the bodies too quickly for western cameras. Just compare them to the Kosovo Liberation Army, which ensured a storm of western moral outrage at Serbian ethnic cleansing by taking the cameras to remote villages to show them the dead bodies.
Now I see. The United States = Serbia without cameras. Who knows, maybe we're ethnic cleansing, too. If only there had been a Taleban Rodney King, it all might have been different.
And these guys wonder why Americans are skeptical about European international court proposals.
HOW IT LOOKS FROM THE LONDON EYE: Matt Welch withdrawal, Fox News withdrawal, mixed drink withdrawal, Taco Bell withdrawal, Seinfeld re-run withdrawal. Otherwise, swell. There is at least one McDonald's on every block, sometimes two or even three. There is a sign on a wall near the British Museum that says "Bill Posters will be Prosecuted." There is an anonymous hand which tirelessly writes "Bill Posters is Innocent" underneath it each time it is replaced.
I could really use some of those military night-vision goggles since there are only about two and half hours of daylight and I've been sleeping through most of those.
The Quaintness Level in England is extraordinarily high. It usually clocks in at around 7 for London, 8 for most of the rest of the country (cf. San Francisco 5; Cleveland 2; Hoboken 4; Oakland, my home town, is somewhere around -37, even though we have Earl's Unique Cleaner's-- the Bowler's Friend.) At Christmas time, however, whoever is in charge of things turns the Quaintness knob to full capacity. Which is a pretty good policy in a country with nation-wide year-round seasonal affective disorder. You couldn't escape the Christmas Cheer even if you tried. It's best to give in. It's the Toys R Us time of year.
The Reynolds Ted Rall Theory:
Rall is a CIA mole designed to bring out the best in the anti-anti-war movement and produce a new renaissance of American letters that will crush our enemies in a blinding wave of cultural imperialism.
Let the renaissance begin.
BAD NEWS: I just learned (from Eric Alterman's article in the Guardian's Weekend Magazine) that America has been taken over by a tiny cabal of right wing fanatics who control the government and through it the entire populace. Even though the President is an idiot who gets consistently dismal numbers in European public opinion polls, he has had remarkable success pushing through their depraved agenda of environmental devastation, pointless war-mongering, erosion of public safety, suppression of free speech, and economic ruin. Even worse, it appears they will also get their way on a costly plan to destroy us all with a missile defense system. Disturbingly, despite the fact that the 9/11 attacks ought to have turned Americans against "atrocities committed in the name of God," there is even now an "American Taliban" of conservative Christians who refuse to release their death grip on the government. Scary stuff. Sounds like I got out of there just in time.
WORSE NEWS: we have lost the war, it turns out, to my surprise. Damn, I was pretty sure we were going to win this one. Well, we'll get 'em next year...
(Link to Ted Rall's "How We Lost Afghanistan" via just about everyone; most effectively trashed by James Lileks; best caption by Ken Layne: "'We've never been to the moon, the Earth is flat, and the holocaust never happened' by Ted Rall.")
SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH OSAMA
Not really. That is, I don't think the actual Loony bin Laden was in Hyde Park today, though there were several guys with similar sartorial ideas. But after the news agent's hint about a dark presence haunting Golders Green, and since the Distinctive Voice on the Tora Bora walkie-talkie is still at large and has lived to talk another day, I've been keeping my eyes open...
Great Britain doesn't have a formal bill of rights like we do. The closest thing they have to our first amendment's guarantee of freedom of speech is Speaker's Corner, in Hyde Park. Every Sunday, for all those standing on a little piece of pavement on the edge of the park, the ambiguity surrounding the Englishman's general free speech situation is temporarily suspended. Anybody who wants to can climb up on a step-ladder and say (or, more accurately, shout) anything he or she (or, let's be honest, it) wants.
It's a peculiar system, since the practicality of exercising this right varies according to the clemency of the weather. Attendance, both of speakers and of spectators, was definitely down today owing to the cold temperature. My estimate is six speakers with clusters of listeners varying from three to twenty-five apiece, not counting the couple of speakers with no audience at all. The fact that they continue to holler into the void under such inhospitable conditions is a testament to the sturdiness of the English spirit. It may also, perhaps, be a testament to the lack of imagination of the English nutter. One of the audience-deprived speakers was actually holding a sign that said "repent"-- solid advice, no doubt, and a trusty film and television standby, but clearly a message that no longer cuts it with today's sophisticated free speech crowd.
The most popular speaker by far, today as on practically every other day I've been there, is a man known as the "sex speaker." (He's been at it for years-- I first saw him about five years ago.) He does indeed talk about sex, with a bit of topical commentary thrown in here and there. But the focus of his "act" is primarily on snappy comebacks in response to a steady flow of heckling.
The Heckler: Mr. Speaker, Mr. Speaker! I must have the answer! Is it true you like the little boys? I hear you like the little boys!
The Sex Speaker: No, not at all, not at all. I used to be gay. But then I saw you and changed my mind.
It goes on like that for hours, and he's often genuinely funny, certainly a lot more fun than the "Christian Atheists" guy (who is also always there and whom I have yet to see attract a single listener.)
It's all part of the rich tapestry of their island story. Yet, in fact, very few actual Britons are moved to participate. Over half of the spectators appear to have been American tourists, perhaps drawn there (as I was) by an inborn desire to breathe the air of freedom, particularly when it involves sex in some way.
One final point on Speaker's Corner: the atmosphere, as well as a great deal of the content, evokes the prophet scene in Monty Python's Life of Brian, which I'm sure is intentional (and perhaps even intentional on both sides...) Most Americans assume that Monty Python's Flying Circus is satire; it takes a couple of visits before you realize it's a documentary.
SATURDAY NIGHT PARTING COMMENTS
Bin Laden's "distinctive voice" heard on walkie-talkie. OBL's getting more and more "ghetto" all the time. Come on guys, just get him, OK?
AND THE WORD OF THE DAY is "massacre," at the Guardian and Independent. Repeat after me: dispatching armed combattants who are trying to kill you does not fit the definition of this word. Oh, never mind... try this one instead:
AMUSING BRIT TRICKS: try to get one to say the following words or phrases: "chillin'," "yo baby, yo baby, yo," "foxy lady," "will you take me to funky town?" "I ain't like it," and, last but not least, "they treated me like a monkey." Observe ensuing hijinks.
THE RELENTLESS AUSSIE SATIRE MACHINE
Also from Tim Blair, a conversation between Osama bin Laden and "an unidentified, pony-tailed American," which opens with this line from OBL:
So that's my take after percentages, or before? I don't want to get screwed on the points here, Allah be praised.
Heh heh heh.
Trust me, Winona, the "research" excuse never, ever works.
(This link via Tim Blair.)
THE BRITISH GIFT FOR UNDERSTATEMENT
From yesterday's Times:
The simple hand gesture Osama bin Laden used to illustrate how he had envisaged his diabolical assault on the World Trade Center was chilling in its utter inappropriateness.
I say. Rather.
THE IDEAL BLOG RATIO...
...I believe, is 2 funny posts to one tedious one. So, to balance things out, here's an addendum to my earlier thing about "Taleban-ification" and "cultural liberalism."
The more I think about it, the more I'm certain that "cultural liberalism" isn't adequate as a term for the complex of social, political, moral and intellectual pathologies that has been brought to the fore in a new way by 911, and more recently by the related "John Walker situation" (by which I mean not only the kinder-traitor himself, but also the purported "culture which produced him," and the reaction of everybody else who is trying to figure out a way understand what's going on.)
It's clear that we are dealing in some broad way with the well-rehearsed litany of the failings of the "world-view of the loony Left," the moral relativism, the speech codes, the identity politics, the ironically illiberal social ideas, the reflexive anti-Americanism, etc.; it's also evident that these affectations thrive in cultural environments (San Francisco, Seattle, Manhattan, university towns everywhere) where people venerate them all the more as their deficiencies are the more clearly exposed (though there are lot fewer worshippers in the temple in post-911 America, in my opinion.) There is a cultural divide in America (the blue and red on Andrew Sullivan's map.) But I can't help thinking that the most troubling aspect of the statements of Walker's apologists (as well as those of the "Sontagistas") doesn't really have to do with cultural sensibilities, or permissive habits, or any of the superficial characteristics of the "divide:" rather, they are failings of intellect, of moral sense. They reflect a refusal to acknowledge reality and a disinclination to take sides even when the choice is a clear one between good and evil and even when the alternative is their own destruction. (It still surprises me to hear people speak of our enemies with such equanimity, though you tend to hear a lot of that kind of thing in Berkeley: has it ever occurred to these people that, in fact, someone is trying to kill them? And can there really be a "cultural" explanation for this kind of pychotic, Fisk-like ambivalence?)
I'm going to go out on a limb here (which I readily admit I'm not qualified to occupy) and risk the suggestion that this is really a spiritual problem, and that it reaches further than the misguided child-rearing ideas of some hippies in Marin County, also further than the pathetic relativistic syllogisms of decadent academics. And it would be a mistake, unfortunately, to think we can "solve" such a spiritual problem simply by exposing its proponents and casualties to ridicule (though don't get me wrong: I'm not knocking ridicule, which is fun as well as instructive and will always have a special place in my heart.)
Like I said, I admit I'm not qualified to expound on such matters with any special knowledge or authority. But never let lack of authority get in the way of a good time, or rather, never let it get in the way of sticking to the ideal 2 funny: 1 tedious blog ratio.
THE TURNER PRIZE, OSAMA, THE USUAL SUSPECTS
Mark Steyn brings it all together.
Simon Wilson, communications director, the Tate Gallery, live from London: Well, it was a late entry, but the Turner judges were particularly taken by Osama's almost playful approach to contemporary notions of slaughter and horror.
Although he's previously worked with rubble, in his first home video the gleeful attitude to mass murder poses a profound challenge to fundamental societal attitudes about what's funny.
Okay, I know you Telegraph types will say it's just ugly and destructive, but he's actually immensely spiritual when you talk to him about it. He's worked in construction, he's worked in deconstruction, he's edgy, dangerous, explosive, but rarely so in your face.
And there's more where that came from, including "Mullah Omar, Interior Decorator," and "the Guardian Tabernacle Choir, accompanied by the New Statesman Sympathy Orchestra, with George Monbiot on snare drum," featuring Noam Chomsky's rendition of "ac-cen-tchu-ate the negative."
KNIGHTS IN SERVICE OF THE STATE DEPT
You wanted the best, you got the best! I keep forgetting to mention that just before I left I caught KISS bassist Gene Simmons on Fox News. (Link-retard alert: I can't find a link for it on the FOX site. I seem to recall a mention of this on InstaPundit, and I'm sure there was one since nothing gets by the uber-blogger. I can't find it in his archives though. Did I dream it? Anyway, apologies if I'm not remembering it accurately, but:)
The God of Thunder and Rock and Roll was interviewed by Bill O'Reilly (did you know that he's "the toughest SOB on TV"?-- I'll say it again: I love Fox.) His idea on Israel/Palestine, if I have this right, was to give the Palestinian Authority a state, wait till it commits its first official act of murderous treachery, and then declare war on it and obliterate it. No call for "restraint." No call for "an acceptable level of terror on both sides." It now appears that such a strategy won't be necessary, but I did have the following epiphany: Gene, the Demon, is the much-sought-after anti-Colin. Perhaps Dr. Love should be given a job at the Foggy Bottom mail room and be allowed to work his way up.
My beautiful, very significant, other and I were discussing the Tate Modern and the new Turner Prize winner (The Room with the Flickering Light, as seen on TV, brought to you by Madonna.)
The naive query of the brash American:
"Does anybody, besides the ones laughing all the way to the bank, really like this stuff?"
The inarguable answer from the young British woman of today:
"Well, the arty tosser elite must do."
I just wanted to get the useful phrase "arty tosser elite" out there.
The Tate Modern, London, SE1
Approach from Blackfriars; observe the single, ugly tower, a Dachau on the Thames.
Enter; savor the eastern bloc charm of the Central Hall, an oppressive Cathedral of Darkness and Steel.
Proceed to the Art:
The Slide Projector
The Sideways Urinal
The Large Ventilation Duct
The Room Full of Trash
The Other Room Full of Trash
The Room Full of Trash with the Trash Taken Out of It
The Pile of Rocks
The Big Pile of Rocks
The Great Big Pile of Rocks
Walk away from the Art.
Enter Coal Hole. Get smashed.
THE TALEBAN-IFICATION OF JOHN WALKER:
I notice that Andrew Sullivan has now conceded a defeat of a sort, issuing a gracious (really!) partial retraction of his version of the "cultural liberalism created John Walker" theory. The letters he received on the subject (a good read in their own right, by the way) have persuaded him that the situation is too complex to fit into his original "blue/red," "left/right" scheme. My take: I acknowledge this complexity (and I think the "blue/red" angle is hard to sustain) but I think he should partially retract the partial retraction.
The main point which seems to have given him pause is the observation that Walker is more like a right-wing religious nut than he is like his permissive "progressive" parents. The tempting conclusion most amusingly expounded by the inimitable Tim Blair, is that Walker is an Alex Keaton; that he is, as Katha Pollitt's alarmingly patriotic daughter was described on the old email list, a Meathead in Reverse. "My son the right-wing fundamentalist nut," a liberal parent's worst nightmare. So the principles of teenaged rebellion, encouraged by multiculturalism and unhindered by even minimal adult supervision, demanded that Walker figure out his parents' greatest fear and try to put it into practice. (In that regard, he managed to hit that ball further out of the park than any teenager in the history of the American family; most just wear enormous trousers and get a tongue-stud.) The problem is, the Walker parents don't seem all that upset about the Islamo-fascist part, and shockingly perhaps, are not much more disturbed by the treason part. In fact, his father has expressed a qualified admiration that he "followed his own way" regardless of where it might lead, casting treason as a form of self-actualization.
It seems to me that this is one of those cases where the left/right scheme obscures more than it elucidates. It's not possible to place this complex of multiculturalism, moral neutrality, self-help, "free to be you and me" cartoon relativism, laissez-faire pedagogy, totalitarianism, fundamentalism, treason, etc. anywhere on the spectrum by determining whether it's more opposite or apposite to the sensibilities of Marin County.
Glenn Reynolds is right to point out the hypocrisy embodied in Richard Cohen's feeble attempt to refute Shelby Steele. (What's more, the Cohen piece is entirely misconceived: you can't call it "the conservative take" when there isn't any other "take" to compare it to, unless you count the brainless musings of a few dullards on "San Francisco's Fine Tradition of Critical Thinking" as the counterpoint.) Still, it's hard to disagree with Cohen on this at least: you can't draw much of a generalization about the "children of left-liberal culture" from the single, uniquely depraved case of John Walker, especially since 100% of all of Bay Area kids besides him somehow managed to avoid growing up to be Islamo-fascist traitors.
But if John Walker is, for now at least, unexplainable, Steele's and Sullivan's point becomes hard to avoid when we turn to his elders. From what I've heard them say, I get the impression that Walker's parents were unable or disinclined to take any position whatsoever on his activities, beyond a bland, contentless "do what thou wilt" and "to thine own self be true." They seemed unable to recognize the danger that the budding totalitarian in their midst could cause to himself and to others. His father didn't feel he could take a position one way or another (the indecision thus becoming the decision) on whether his son ought to drop out of high school in order to devote himself more completely to the cause of Islamo-fascism. When John made his choice, his father bankrolled it, sending him to Yemen to study terrorism just as a normal dad would send his son to Stanford to study political science. Astoundingly, they do not seem to have learned the error of any of these ways, and still parrot the cliches of moral relativism with urbane indulgence. But most astounding of all, even now that these errors have been made plain as the blue day, other "grown-ups," the sort of people who write articles for major newspapers and the editors who decide to publish them, have responded by extolling the virtues of moral blindness, presenting the inability to tell right from wrong as the embodiment of "critical thinking."
I don't see how you can avoid the conclusion that "cultural liberalism" is a factor in these failings, both pre- and post- John Walker. And Andrew Sullivan is more right than wrong, unlike Cohen and the San Francisco Chronicle.
Note to Moira Breen: I absolutely forbid you to refrain from Guardipendent hatchet-jobs, as you threaten. Said hatchet-jobs make the world a better place. As I think I read somewhere, it is important for artists to blog the truth to power.
LONDON CALLING... I answering. No matter how late I manage to stay up on the first night after the SFO-LHR flight, I always jolt into irrevocable consciousness at around 5 am. Three hours later, I can't handle any more pretending still to be asleep, so I get up as quietly as possible (so as not to disturb the sleeping beauty) and head into the city-- just around the block. This is the usual "first day in London" pattern. It wasn't too long ago that the fantasy of drinking a latte in London at 8 am was not even dream-able, but the page has turned on London's famous Days of Bad Coffee (though the Days of Exhorbitantly-Priced Coffee are still with us.) The Blogs of War HQ, London, is now caffeine-ified at the Cafe Patisserie, located in the strangely socialist-realist Brunswick Center, near Russell Square.
I'm a California boy, and it always takes some time to come to terms with the freezing temperature. It's also hard coming to terms with the Guardian. Today's headline: "The Bin Laden video-- is this the clinching evidence?" (Grumble, harrumph, sarcasm, bravado, the "evidence" isn't what needs "clinching" my fine, pink, friends...) Regain composure. Start again. Sub-head: "US Leaders revolted by laughs and boasts." (Harrumph, grumble, damn-someone's-eyes, sarcasm once more, erupting into internal monologue in form of parody editorial: yes, curse those disreputable "US leaders" and their mawkish emotional reaction to boasting and laughing about mass murder, not like the glorious ambivalence of the Euro-intellectuals we are so desperate to emulate... Yankee sentimentality has now taken us one step further towards its inevitable goal of the total destruction of the universe through a combination of missile defense, nuclear holocaust, global warming, and free trade... thanks to you, Reverend Tony, the blood of the new American century is now on our hands as well, though not in our name...) Regain composure. Start again. No, I can't right now-- this is a two-Latte Guardian day, I'm just beginning to realize. Anyway, Moira Breen will no doubt take care of the details more effectively and much sooner than I ever could anyway.
The nice Pakistani news agent who sold it to me noticed my accent and asked me why "we" were looking for bin Laden in Kandahar when everybody knows he's alive and well in Golders Green. I think it was a joke. Or should I phone in a tip to the proper authorities? (Nope-- I'm pretty sure the timing of the tape's release means they've got him already.) I admit I'm a little jumpy. I've learned, though, that it's best to gird yourself with as much outrage and patriotic puffery as you can, preferably in advance of the first time you hear someone mention what a shame it is that the repressive US government won't allow Richard Gere to have more of a voice in American foreign policy...
SLEEPY LONDON TOWN: oh wait, it's me. I'm the sleepy one. Long journeys wear me out but there ain't nothing I can do about it. Jet lag + nightfall at 3pm = weirdness. God bless America.
I just have one thing more to say. Tim Blair is a bleeding genius. Laughing... choking.. wheezing... gurgle...
MERRIE OLDE ENGLAND, the quaintest country in the world. That's where I'm headed today. I'm hoping to be able to unleash the blogs of war from the UK HQ, though I'm not certain how much blogging-space there will be in my immediate future. It kind of depends on how debilitating my pre-connubial benefits and responsibilities turn out to be, and also to a degree on the connectivity situation over there. (England's not quite the pre-modular backwater that you find in much of Europe, but they do seem occasionally to have chosen quaintness and charm over efficiency when faced with infrastructure-related decisions.) Best of luck on Sunday. Pace.
You've probably seen the report that John Walker Lindh has revealed that the next Al Qaeda strike will come on Sunday and will involve a biological attack on the US. (Followed by "phase III," which will "result in the destruction of the entire country.") Intelligence officials have "questioned the credibility of Mr. Lindh's claim because of his relatively low-level position." I'd say that's not his only credibility problem. I don't buy it. Still, someone should remind Gray Davis to issue one of his "be careful" warnings.
Jeez, how'd Moira Breen get to be so brilliant? Her latest on that Said PEN lecture Q & A is a masterpiece of sharp analysis and dry humor. I can't improve on the substantive commentary, but I'd just like to point out that his first answer (in response to a question about about how his opinions might have changed over the years) is a serviceable epitaph for his entire career:
Feeling some disbelief that I could have written such gibberish. Disagreeing and wondering how I came to be interested in that particular subject, and then wishing that I could take it back and change it. It's a grim moment.
It is indeed.
RACIAL PROFILING NOT WIRED INTO BRAIN! That's the headline of this piece on a study appearing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. I don't pretend to know everything about this study from the summary of it in the SF Chronicle, nor would I have any credentials for criticizing it even if I did. Perhaps there is some burning question about neurology and psychology that is addressed by it. I don't know. But the point of the article, as far as I can see, is to emphasize that we now have proof that, in the words of the study's authors, "our brains are not designed to make us racists," and that "we're not an inherently racist species."
Thank God this has finally been demonstrated. The next time I meet someone who insists that racism is all part of God's plan for humanity, I'll be able to adduce a clinical study to refute him. Is there, in fact, anyone who holds this opinion about the make-up of the human brain, that it is inherently, genetically, irrevocably racist? I very much doubt it, but then again, there are some weirdoes out there, I guess.
Again, I don't know about the study itself, but the article at least rests on the notion that the terms "racism" and "racial profiling" mean exactly the same thing. They don't. Sure, the practice of racial profiling (which in common parlance would include "profiling" ethnic groups as well) can stem from racism, and it can result in racist actions. But, to quote the study, "categorizing" people by race is a "reversible byproduct of cognitive machinery." In other words, to take a topical example, our "cognitive machinery," rather than our inherent racism, allows us to arrive at the conclusion that 100% of the 911 suicide bombers were Arab muslims who made frequent trips back and forth between countries associated with Al Qaeda and received wire transfers of money from these places. If "racism" simply means the cognitive capability of making this observation, then the term has very little meaning. But it doesn't mean that, and I think that most people realize it, clinical study or no.
The point has been made, from both the left and from the right, that "affirmative action" and "racial profiling" are essentially two sides of the same coin. On one side, the result is beneficial to members of the profiled group, while on the other side it is not. As a matter of logic, it doesn't make much sense to be categorically opposed to one while being categorically in favor of the other, though that seems to be a view that many people firmly believe they hold. With different, data, our cognitive machinery might spit out a different profile. But facts are stupid things, to coin a phrase, and we can't decree that they be changed in order to fit our ideological fantasies. As Michael Kinsley says, in reference to Mohammad Atta and his murderous crew, "are we really supposed to ignore the one identifiable fact we know about them?" The question answers itself.
Now there is another article in SF Gate, which says that the case of John Walker has "broadened our horizons," "making racial profiling a bit passe." The argument is that because an idiotic white kid fell in with this worst of all "bad crowds," our cognitive machinery can no longer process data about "Arab terrorism" and come up with "Arabs" or "Muslims" as likely suspects.
The next Al-Qaeda cretin may not be the Mohammad you had in mind, but a guy named John. Or Bob. Or Tom. That's what we can learn from John Walker... They're the ones of whom to be wary, not the many innocent Arabs and Muslims of America.
It's an obvious exaggeration, but to the extent that it is true, my cognitive machinery tells me that the appropriate response is precisely the opposite of that wished for by the opponents of "profiling" as an element in terrorism prevention. We need to redouble our efforts to investigate and scrutinize organizations like the Mill Valley Islamic Center (where John Walker got his start as a rookie for the Islamist cause.) Sure, if your son Bob or Tom starts visiting the local mosque, wearing flowing robes, and saying "from now on I want everyone to call me Suleyman," your cognitive machinery should tell you to discourage him from continuing his "journey of self-discovery" in a terrorist training school in Yemen, even if he's not ethnically Arab. But it's probably still safe to let Harry and Edna Henderson from Ohio keep their nail-clippers when they fly to visit their kids in Denver for Christmas.
DON'T SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF is always good advice, and if the Berkeley Daily Planet ("covering the world of Berkeley") isn't "small stuff" I don't know what is. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if their readership for today will top the chart at "1" (i.e., me.) Still, I couldn't help noticing their coverage of a "stop the war" protest on the UC campus yesterday.
With brilliant timing, around a dozen activists decided to "converge" on the campus and hold their protest (a) during finals week and (b) *after* the war has pretty much already been won. Earth to Planet: you're too late for a "Stop the War" protest. I guess a "Stop the Mopping Up Operations" protest or a "Leave Osama Alone" demonstration, or a "Down with the Fledgling Broad-based Multiethnic UN-sponsored Afghan Coalition Government" movement wouldn't have the same ring. Or how about a "Bring Back the Religious Police" or "More Daily Beatings of Women with Lengths of Steel Cable Now" protest?
Anyway it's hard to imagine a less successful demonstration. There is a photo of some "guerilla theater" being performed in front of Moffitt Undergraduate Library: four kids, looking like they're in a high school production of M*A*S*H. "The sheer intimidation and use of police powers" is how one of these activists describes his negotiations with the campus police, who insisted on having some input on whether the entrance and exit doors of the library should be blocked by the demonstration. (They needn't have even bothered with this shocking police brutality; as it turns out, those wishing to exit the library through the demonstration could easily have done so by taking a couple of steps to the right walking around it.)
Another photo with the caption "Activists want US troops out of Afghanistan" depicts 7 people standing around at the Berkeley BART station, barely even enough to hold up their enormous hand-printed banner (apparently some kind of Time-line of US Evil.) OK, I'm being mean. Those kids are just so darn cute.
I REALLY ADMIRE Natalie Solent for her magnanimous gesture of goodwill and indulgence toward Edward Said. And I also admire, even more, her inability to sustain it for more than a couple of tentative sentences, since "the guy is just such a swamp-thing of moral relativism that any part of him you want to grab on to liquefies as soon as you reach out." Both the bold attempt and its failure stand as an inspiring lesson for all.
Matt Welch and Ken Layne have both posted gripping and at times hilarious accounts of their own experiences being beaten up by mobs in foreign lands, and they're decidedly un-Fisk-like about the whole thing.
I don't see how anyone will ever be able to top this (from Layne, duh):
The lesson here is, a) getting stomped by some creeps means nothing; b) it hurts less when you're drunk; and c) always carry a gun.
I think I'll write it on the bathroom wall.
That's in one of the letters in response to that Salon McGruder interview. It continues: "McGruder's statements may make you feel bad, but where are they inaccurate? Truth seekers can be so pesky." Yes, curse those truth seekers! If only they would allow us to remain in blissful ignorance...
Below that, a much less dippy letter: "his political views are repackaged liberal/left boilerplate with no evidence of anything new or critical, expressed with all the eloquence of another Saturday night TV comedy sketch character, this time a Frankenstein monster cartoonist who can stammer only the words, "'Publican steal election war bad!""
(I feel so "ghetto" getting all my info about this interview from a blog summary and a "letters" section, but there's no way I'm paying a "premium," even for "in-depth investigations and fearless commentary." So maybe I missed all the terrific "truth-speaking" parts, but I'm willing to take that risk...)
I just read Tim Blair's skewering of Boondocks cartoonist Aaron McGruder's Salon interview and I still can't stop laughing. No link to the interview because it's "premium" content-- cue laugh-track, maestro. But that's not the funny part: it's a classic string of quotes with amusing "captions."
Here are a couple of my favorites:
On understanding the subtle complexities of the current conflict: "This is war. It's serious. People are dying on both sides."
On McGruder's vast military scholarship: "You know what? World War II was fucked up. How many millions of people died good and bad? Could World War II have been fought differently? I don't know. There are few wars where innocent people don't die."
Hey, I just got some email from Moira Breen, whose Inappropriate blog is one of the best ones out there. It's weird to admit, and maybe a little silly, but it was a surreal experience, kind of like bumping into a celebrity on the subway. I'd been reading her writing for some time. Then I kind of sheepishly started a little warblog of my own and boom! there she was in my inbox. Plus she and Matt Welch (a guy I've also been reading for some time) quoted and linked to me in their blogs-- I feel like some kind of big shot.
I'm reminded of the first time my little punk rock band ventured out of town to play a show in Seattle, long, long ago. To my amazement, three members of the Young Fresh Fellows, and Kurt Bloch from the Fastbacks (two of my favorite bands, and indeed my "idols") were there-- practically the only people in the room, it must be admitted. I couldn't believe that they knew about my little group (we had put out just one self-released record at the time.) But that was really how easy it was-- and still is. You just take the plunge and "get out there," and there you are-- that's what they had done a few years earlier, and that's what zillions of others did after that and will keep doing. (Trying to make a living from it, though, is another story... but that's another story.)
Matt Welch mentioned the fact that around half the bloggers he liked have all put out records of some kind. I also remember reading something from master-blogger Glenn Reynolds about a weblogger being like a kid watching a rock band and saying "hey, I can do that." (I can't locate the specific post right now, but I know it's in there somewhere...)
In many ways the weblog phenomenon is a lot like the often unrealized ideal of punk rock, which is that everyone has a band, and all the members of all the bands are in the audience when they don't happen to be on the stage. There is an absolute equality of opportunity, yet it's also a true meritocracy since the ones with the most appealing or interesting content get the most attention; and there's very little subversion of this meritocracy, very little incentive for people to pander to the lowest common denominator to increase "market share", since the financial angle, if it's there at all, is minimal at best. At least, that's the theory.
And I do think that the quality of the writing in the various warblogs is astonishingly high. It's kind of hard to be satisfied with the old kind of formally published opinion journalism (print- or web-) once you've realized that there is so much else out there that is as good or better. I've been a politi-critical junkie for years, but, like a lot of others I'm sure, I find it hard to believe I ever managed to get along for all those years without Ken Layne.
This WSJ op-ed on Geraldo Rivera on Fox hits the heads of many nails.
I watch Fox all the time, like, I guess, the majority of American cable news junkies, and I love it. One of the things I like so much about it is the preposterous lengths they go to to put their "editorial policies" (if that's what you call them) into practice. The process is in plain view: you can spot it a mile away, and it has a definite gormless charm, because of its clumsiness rather than in spite of it. First there's the bonehead slogan, "fair and balanced." (Please note: it's not only fair. It's balanced as well! Yes, say the viewers, that's the show I want to watch- I'm tired of all the unbalanced fairness that plagues the media these days.)
Then there was the "talking heads proudly wearing the American Flag policy," which gradually escalated to sort of contest where the anchors and pundits seemed to be competing for who could display the most ostentatious and ornate cluster of red, white, and blue ribbons on his or her lapel. (Winner: Fred Barnes, who I once saw sporting a Liberace-esque ribbon bouquet that would not have been out of place in the court of the Sun King-- the Fourth Estate: c'est lui!)
As for Geraldo, Fox News management have obviously issued some kind of memo to all of their television personalities that they must talk up how great Geraldo is. They're clearly worried about his questionable journalistic reputation, so the memo (I'm guessing) also directed them specifically to stress what a swell, "well-respected" journalist he is. And they're *all* really going to town on it. Geraldo is standing in front of a tank. Alan Combes (sp?): "wow, Geraldo, I've just got to say, that is some of the best, most spectacular, most legitimate journalism in the form of live video that I have seen in my entire career as a well-respected journalist. But that's no surprise because you're such a well-respected journalist yourself. For so many years, you've been one of the most well-respected journalists around, but now, if possible, you're even *more* well-respected than you were before..."
I just love when real life is so much like the Simpsons.
John Walker appears to have done quite a fair amount of posting on usenet groups under the name "doodoo." The posts can still accessed by means of a google search.
It's pretty interesting to scan through them and observe the process described by the Newsweek article. They start with an early interest in hip hop and black culture, and the purchase and trading of hip hop records. He then starts selling his comics and trading cards, and starts searching for electronic musical equipment, especially drum machines.
Then there's a posted question (the first, if I'm not mistaken) on alt.religion.islam specifically about which sorts of instruments are forbidden or allowed in Islam, the twofold answer to which has a strict "drums only" part, and a more lenient one of any instrument as long as it "does not include any kind of sexual behavior or loose our minds" (though drums here are still emphasized-- is he wondering whether Allah is okay with electronic drums?)
A month later, he's still hanging on to the hip hop interest, but he criticizes another poster for liking music about sex and dope, i.e. music that "includes" sexual behavior and, perhaps "loose minds." His Malcolm X turning point is then documented by a post requesting Malcom X speeches (on vinyl-- you think he's using them to mix?) He keeps buying electronic equipment and drum machines.
This is when he starts to get more Islamic, signing his name as "Br. Mujahedin," at which point he starts selling all his records and equipment.
BEATLES FANS are sensitive! I didn't even write the blessed thing, yet my admiration for Matt Welch's column on George Harrison has earned me the enmity of at least one zealous guardian of the sanctity of the Quiet Beatle's memory. At least, that's my best guess as to the explanation for an email from one "A. Naughtie" to the effect that I have less talent in my whole body than George had in "a single one of his under arm hairs."
I'm not going to argue with that. For one thing-- ew! For another thing, I think the point of the GH portion of the dreaded column was not to attack a defenseless Beatle, but rather to suggest that not all those who mourned his passing necessarily subscribed to each and every element of his "legend." In other words, to say "I like George" is not necessarily to say that you firmly believe that "you can't find Lord Krishna in a bottle." (Aside on the Lord Krishna/bottle controversy: I'm pretty sure you can...)
Similarly, supporting the war does not automatically make you the bloodthirsty, right-wing psycho that the SF Bay Guardian would like to think you are. Nor, I suppose, does reading the Nation, or knowing what ZNet is, necessarily mean that you lack moral sense or cognitive functionality (though in the latter case, it might be arguable...)
That's all. For the record, I love the Beatles, in the usual order of preference. Favorite album: Revolver.
According to the Mirror one of bin Laden's estranged wives has revealed bin Laden's elaborate plan for a televised suicide that will then trigger attacks on the Capitol, Big Ben, and the Eiffel Tower.
check out this unbelievably stupid article from Friday's SF Chronicle on his "journey of self-discovery."
And what a long, strange trip it has been. From the warm, nurturing, tolerant bosom of an open-minded hippie family; to the vibrant, rough-and-tumble of "the Bay Area's bustling religious bazaar" (which "arguably encourages more religious exploration and innovation than any other region in the United States"-- yep. We're number one!); to the stately gates of the Mill Valley Islamic Center; then on to a parent-funded "international odyssey" and enrollment in one of Yemen's finest Islamo-fascist training facilities; next stop: the killing fields of Afghanistan, to serve as an apprentice terrorist and do his part to further the admittedly controversial dream of causing the total destruction of the United States of America. (But the journey of self-discovery doesn't end there-- stay tuned for our next exciting episode, where our hero "discovers himself" in the dock, charged with treason...)
As the article says, these exciting adventures are not "that different from those of many other young people in the Bay Area." All in all, a Very, Very Bay Area story.
in Viennese dialect, apparently means "I'm loaded," according to Petronella Wyatt of the Spectator.
(This via Tim Blair, who adds: "if only the Walker kid had followed this translation instead of following bin Laden himself.")
not surprisingly, most everyone has had their whack at the Robert Fisk Story (sub-heading: "left-wing journalist suffers for the sins of his Imperialist fathers-- and is glad to do it.") Ken Layne is the funniest so far.
There's a serious point, however, and Andrew Sullivan, I think, has managed to get closest to the heart of the matter, with a sharp exegesis of Fisk's own account of the story, clearly and eloquently expressing what I think I was fumbling for in my previous post. He quotes Fisks's statement that, were he an Afghan, he "would have done just the same to Robert Fisk. Or any other Westerner I could find." Then he asks:
What does this mean? What it means is that someone - anyone - is guilty by racial or cultural association. An average Westerner is to be taken as an emblem of an entire culture and treated as such. Individual notions of responsibility or morality are banished. There's a word for this: it's racism. And like many other members of the left, Fisk is himself a racist, someone who believes that the color of a person's skin condemns him automatically and justifies violence against him.
I'm not asking you, I'm telling you...
Just before I left last night I noticed, but did not click on, a Drudge link called something like "journalist beaten by crazed Pakistani mob." Who was this mystery journalist? To my surprise, it turned out to be Robert Fisk! I'm sorry he got hurt, but I have to confess to a kind of guilty, uh, "appreciation," of the remarkable coincidence that of all possible people to beat up, this particular mob just happened to select one of the most prominent proponents of the "America is to blame for 9/11" argument.
Fisk remains true to his "principles," at any rate, with the same consistent, pathological reaction no matter whether the target is the World Trade Center or his own head:
I later found out that the village housed lots of Afghan refugees, whose relatives had been killed just last week in the American bombing of Kandahar. It doesn't excuse them for beating me up, but there was a real reason why they should hate Westerners... If I had been them, I would have attacked me.
Yes, some sort of attack on Mr. Fisk, was, alas, inevitable, the logical and predictable result of hundreds of years of Western malfeasance. (Goak here.)
"If I had been them, I would have attacked me." Would he really? Can it really be that Fisk's vision of the proper rules of moral conduct is to give anyone who feels aggrieved free rein to attack and try to kill any random person who resembles the people they feel have done them harm? I've never seen a clearer example of the affinity between the theory of the leftist apologist and the practice of the suicide bomber.
in San Jose last night, so I'm a little slow today-- I'm really just emerging into consciousness now. I was away from the "data center" (i.e., laptop plus tv) for only around 24 hours, but I missed out on way too much news'n'views to try catch up on in my "delicate" state. (Also, maybe I should start trying to get my life together a bit-- hey, how much of an excuse does one get from ones rock and roll induced delicate state these days anyway?) In the meantime, many thanks to Matt Welch for linking to and quoting from the Blogs of War in his venerable warblog, which incidentally has all sorts of great new stuff today that I'm in no condition to list. Just go there and read it for yourself...
"Only Canadians and Frenchmen hate cultural imperialism"
to the Attorney General, he is functioning as the fall guy on the tribunals. (Don't feel sorry for him though-- it is his job.) The Bush administration has tried to keep GWB above the fray as much as possible, as the bearer of an irresistible positive, patriotic message, while the dirty details are left to the lieutenants-- it's not quite good cop/bad cop, but it's close. And this works both ways, since Democrats who would shrink from attacking the President directly feel no compunction about letting the Pentecostal have it.
And it's a pretty good system, as a matter of fact, provided that the Congress do its job properly. They haven't "lived up their full potential" in that regard. I'm not at all certain that Senate Democrats' ideal version of "what to do with the 9/11 suspects" would be any better than what GWB has proposed. There has to be some solution, and somewhere the line must be drawn, the balance struck between security needs and individual liberty; there has to be some provision for the protection of private citizens against potential government over-reach. (Isn't that part of what "movement conservatism" is all about?)
I'm not against the idea of tribunals as a matter of principle, but at least I'd like to see the objections credibly addressed, especially with regard to judicial review. I didn't see the entire hearing, but I have the impression that the whole debate got diverted (if not derailed) from the main issue of civil liberties (addressed rhetorically rather than substantively-- thus Ashcroft's unanswered charge of disloyalty) to the relatively peripheral gun issue. I know a lot of people care deeply about the inviolability of gun records, pro and con, but it's clearly secondary.
I imagine the Democrats believe that this gun thing provides them with a winning "issue" (read "smear") for the future. It seems to me that it's a miscalculation, that there is a lot less anti-gun sentiment than there was pre-911, but leaving that aside: when are they going to stop risking the long-term welfare of the polity for the sake of winning short-term, tactical political points, real or imagined? Of course, the answer is probably "never," but a guy can dream, can't he? I know the Republicans are just as bad, but that doesn't let the Democrats off the hook.
OK, I'm really about to let go of this Ashcroft-Senate-News Hour thing, except to add one last comment. On the PBS News Hour's "Political Wrap" discussion of the controversy about whether Ashcroft's denunciations of his critics went too far, Mark Shields's current conservative foil (David Brooks of the Weekly Standard) had this to say:
There's something that conservatives understand-- it's hard for a lot of other people to understand. You come to Washington as a conservative, you feel a little alienated. You come as a Christian conservative, you feel moreso because somehow you feel your values are under assault every day. And what happens is you only deal with your intimates, you only deal with conservatives, and you feel like the whole town is out to get you. And so you get this phenomenon... of developing this psychology that every thing I do that liberals like is somehow a failure of my character.
I have nothing against conservatives (sometimes I even suspect that I might actually be one) but pardon me for not feeling especially sorry for the Attorney General of the United States of America. This touchy-feely psychological profile of what is now revealed as the government's victim in chief isn't any kind of excuse. If it were true that Ashcroft's traumatic experiences as a member of an oppressed minority trying to survive in a hostile world rendered him incapable of cooperation with anyone but his "intimates," then he really would be unfit for his office. (And, to play the Weekly Standard's own game of turning the rhetorical tables, just re-read that quotation substituting the word "women" for "conservatives," "feminist" for "Christian," and "men" for "liberals" and imagine what kind of piece they would write about it.)
Brooks seems like a decent guy, and he did say that the statement and attitude, if not the position, were "regrettable." But why can't Ashcroft, his spokesmen, and his few remaining defenders simply admit that he was wrong? "Reverse identity politics" is neither here nor there and in fact gets us precisely nowhere.
Here's that statement by Ashcroft spokesperson Mindy Tucker (as quoted by Jim Lehrer) referred to below: "anyone who reported this morning that he [Ashcroft] criticized anyone who opposed him was absolutely wrong, and in doing so became a part of the exact problem he was describing." In other words, Ashcroft says, in effect, "I never implied that critics of my policies are traitors, and as for any critics who say I did: you're all a bunch of traitors!"
(It's hard to resist pointing out that this reasoning evokes the rhetoric of the videotaped denial by bin Laden's henchman: "we didn't crash those planes, and if you're not careful we'll do it again." (Or words to that effect.) Of course I'm not implying that there's any affinity between Ashcroft and bin Laden other than faulty logic. I would never make such a reckless and intemperate comparison, and if he ever claims that I ever would, well, he's just as bad as bin Laden.)
I think I overdid it in describing his statement as "chilling." It's not so much chilling as it is stupid. At any rate, someone should send him and his entire staff to spin school.
One particular sentence caught my eye: "Mullah Omar's apparent captivity will boost Western morale at a time when many thought that the goals of the US-led military campaign in Afghanistan were not being met."
What is this guy talking about? I'd say "Western morale" doesn't really need much boosting at the current time. Who are these "many" whose hoplessness requires that their morale be boosted, and what are these unmet goals? The toppling of the Taleban has been accomplished (when just a month ago conventional wisdom was that it would take well into the next year at least); Afghanistan is no longer a safe haven for planning and training for attacks on America and the West; the dire predictions about the destabilizing fury of the "Arab street" have fizzled in the face of the campaign's success. bin Laden is still out there, but it seems pretty clear that they'll get him, one way or another (to paraphrase the commander-in-chief.)
It's possible to quibble about the details, to worry about future problems and complications, even to wonder whether there may not be some imminent, unforeseen disaster waiting in the wings as an unintended consequence of the campaign. Perhaps bin Laden will escape to bomb another day. Perhaps a future war won't go so well. Most likely, it must be admitted, we will fall somewhat short of fulfilling Bush's hyperbolic pledge to "rid the world of all evil doers." Yet notwithstanding the fact that winning the Afghanistan campaign fails to solve all of America's problems in one fell swoop, the Times reporter's characterization simply doesn't correspond to reality.
Maybe it's a lot to read into a single sentence, but it reflects a curious phenomenon that I still don't quite understand. A couple of weeks ago, as the evidence began mounting that the US campaign was succeeding; as the grim predictions of quagmires and self-repeating history cracked under the pressure of unrelenting reality and fell quietly away; as, in fact, the news got better and better, the press and other news media both at home an abroad seemed to get gloomier and gloomier. Unable to find a message of hopelessness and doom in the fall of Kabul, its cheering citizens, its kite-flying children and burka-shedding women listening to music legally for the first time in five years, newspapers focused instead on dark hints of the perils of winning, the predations of our proxies, the looming catastrophe of starvation caused by the American campaign (the "silent genocide" of Chomsky's perverse fantasies, duly dished up by the New York Times.)
The predations of the Northern Alliance were apparently genuine, though sometimes exaggerated and even distorted (not every dead soldier is a "massacre" after all.) But as for the "silent genocide," by all accounts the bombing actually increased the amount of food aid delivered. As Christopher Hitchens put it more recently, "the United States of America has just succeeded in bombing a country back out of the stone age." (Not to mention the astonishing news that, on the same day as the fall of Kabul, the President of the United States announced a *unilateral* disarmament of 2/3 of America's nuclear arsenal, which would have been far beyond the wildest dreams of the anti-nuke movement in the '80s when I was paying attention to it. Some journalists even managed to put a negative spin on this one, believe it or not...)
In any case, the patented "all is lost" news-avoidance system did eventually collapse under its own internal contradications in the US. But (and this really is the point of this *long* trip down memory lane) it is still alive and well in Britain, as the above quotation indicates and as I've often observed during my many visits there. It's not so much a matter of "left" and "right" (the Times of London, after all, is supposedly the voice of the "establishment," the Wall Street Journal to the left-leaning Guardian's New York Times-- sort of.) It does, no doubt, have to do with a form of reflexive anti-Americanism on the part of Britain's cultural elite, with both similarities to and differences from our own home-grown elite anti-Americanism. This will have to be the subject of a future lecture, children.
according to this story from the Times of London. I've been scanning the web for other mentions of it, but I haven't seen anything. I've also been switching between the cable news stations to see something about this since I got back tonight, but there is no mention of it.
(Incidentally, what exactly is the point of 24 hour news stations when they just repeat the same "breaking news" reports over and over again? The "very latest" breaking news on FOX right now is the same footage of Geraldo Rivera I saw around 4 pm earlier today. It appears they don't really understand the meaning of the terms "breaking," "latest," nor indeed even "news." Note to FOX: change the caption to "old, out of date, archival footage from some time yesterday"-- and you might also want to add a general "Geraldo warning" while you're at it. Why do I watch this taleban station anyway? OK, I've now switched to KTVU's 11 pm Seinfeld re-run-- the rickshaw/book-in-the-bathroom episode. Much better.)
Anyway, according to the Times article, Mullah Omar is being held captive by a Kandahar warlord "sympathetic to the Taleban regime," who plans to turn him over to the new Afghan government at some point.
I can't find a link for it, but on tonight's "News Hour" Jim Lehrer quoted an Ashcroft spokesperson's official statement to the effect that: "those who criticize Mr. Ashcroft's statement as an attempt to silence discussion are precisely the kind of people he was talking about." (That's from memory, so it's not verbatim, but that was the gist.)
My, that's helpful.
(i.e., "situation normal, all talebaned-up")
Here's another 911 song. This one's by the Gorillaz, but I can't comment because I can't get the taleban thing to play on my taleban equipment. It's not an mp3, but rather a "wma," which I assume is some kind of taleban windows-file?
(BTW, a couple of people have mentioned that my spelling of "taleban" is all talebaned-up as well. Since it's a transliteration, I'm pretty sure you can use either "Taleban" or "Taliban." Most of the British newpapers I read tend to use "Taleban," so I do too, since, being British, it's automatically sophisticated and witty. Isn't it? Not that I feel it's important to worry about talebanning orthography at a time like this...)
Scary SEA-TAC story: a plane from Taipei is being detained at the Seattle International Airport because of an anonymous tip about a smallpox threat on board. It's not clear whether it was supposed to be a person infected with smallpox (i.e., a suicide bio-bomber) or someone carrying it. At any rate, FOX has been broadcasting live footage of the plane, which is still being quarantined.
Check out Matt Welch's latest column, ostensibly on George Harrison. He uses reflections about the tenor of the media coverage of Harrison's death (which he finds hypocritical and cloying, despite being a fan himself) as a springboard to an insightful observation about the war and the complaints on the part of the anti-war crowd about the perceived lack of "dissent" in the current climate. "The dissent lament," he writes, "is an aesthetic response, not a reasoned analysis of the facts." He continues:
If you are against the war, and you see flags all over the place, you get creeped out, and conclude reflexively that most every person who supports the war shares the exact same sentiment as the cretins who, say, make those dreadful patriotic United Airlines commercials. Much as I might conclude that all of George Harrison's fans have been hoodwinked by his mystic Maharishi act... It is easy, when faced with a seemingly monolithic and crass culture you disagree with, to underestimate the intelligence and diversity percolating vigorously behind the unified front. And it is also a mistake. Luckily, it is one of the easiest mistakes to fix.(For obvious reasons, I was also struck by this incidental passage:
...rebellion against the conformist urge is one of the things that makes American art so dependably vibrant -- I have a rock-critic friend who once said that most every good songwriter she knew was still trying to get their revenge on those damned girls from 8th grade. The country's mobility, prosperity and diversity is such that the sensitive crowd who take these kinds of insults personally can eventually find enclaves where their eccentricities are welcomed.OK, I'm going to stop myself before I end up quoting the entire column; it's quirky and good.)
Many have cautioned against the cavalier use of "the Taleban" as a metaphor for things you don't like (e.g. "Pat Robertson/NOW/Microsoft/CNN/Fat Wreck Chords is the Taleban of Christianity/feminism/computer operating systems/news organisations/record labels.")
I agree, of course, but I'd like to defend the use of the word in a more general sense, as a sort of generic curse word. It's pretty damn satisfying-- or, I should say, it's pretty *taleban* satisfying to let loose a volley of invective invoking the name of the taleban Taleban, the current focus of taleban evil in this bleeding, taleban conflict with the taleban Taleban and their taleban allies and partners in crime, the taleban al Qaeda and its taleban leader, Osama taleban bin taleban Laden. It feels pretty taleban good. As a generic curse-word, small-T "taleban" falls somewhere between "darned" and "fuckin'," (and it's pretty taleban useful when you're in the presence of certain taleban prudes who don't have anything better to do with their taleban time than complain about your taleban language-- pardon my French. ) In its more specific sense, I believe, it is used to refer to things or people that are primitive or backward, that don't function properly, that are outdated, and which, to add insult to taleban injury, seem to regard themselves as the taleban be-all and end-all of taleban existence, God's taleban gift to the planet. (Thus it edges out "European," which used to be the proper word for such things.)
It's probably best to avoid it when referring to people involved in the current conflict (e.g. "Colin Powell's taleban coalition," or "John Ashcroft, Bush's taleban Attorney General") since it could lead to embarrassing misunderstandings. Also, since the actual taleban Taleban are clearly on their last legs, it may have a limited shelf-life like its taleban Taleban namesakes. On the other hand, as a wise man once said, taleban 'em if they can't take a joke. And taleban you, too... OK, that was uncalled for, and I apologize. I just got a bit carried away...
(I was thinking about this taleban situation recently because a couple of days ago my good friend Tristin had her taleban A T and taleban T digital cable tragically cut off. Apparently this grave situation was caused by the bankruptcy of Excite, though AT&T never thought to inform its customers in advance that what I like to refer to as "the tragedy" might happen. She was informed that they were searching for solutions, but that the restoration of her God-given right to television could take as long as three taleban weeks. And if that's not a classic taleban situation, I don't know what is.)
so why are the Taleban trying to negotiate an order of protection for Mullah Omar? Wasn't the Taleban's overwhelming "secret weapon" supposed to be that they are "as eager for death as we are for life?" Apparently, the People's Front of Afghanistan's Crack Suicide squad can't even martyr themselves properly...
Today's Wall Street Journal is giving its characteristic pro-government spin to the Ashcroft Senate hearing. "Ashcroft wins the civil liberties debate, " they bluntly proclaim, by facing down "the liberals." I hope (and I'm pretty certain) that this will not be the end of the national debate on civil liberties. The military tribunals issue has been miscast as an either/or proposition. In fact, most of its opponents haven't rejected the idea outright, but rather have demanded a discussion about the details, and expressed reservations about the far-reaching original proposal. Even Lawrence Tribe has, in The New Republic, supported the general idea of such emergency measures, while arguing that the current proposal is flawed and needs to be "mended." Sure, some of the criticism has had an element of hysteria, and some of those offering it may indeed have less-than-honorable ulterior motives. But Ashcroft's blanket denunciation of any and all criticism is absurd.
There is much to be concerned about, even for non-terrorists. I think there should be some formal guarantee that such measures could not be used to crack down on ordinary people in circumstances that have nothing to do with the specific threat they are designed to address. It's not enough for the government to say "oh, don't worry about it, we won't do that." (According to the Washington Post, the Bush administration has, in the face of such criticism, "clarified" that it is planning a more limited process than the original order calls for-- *now* I feel better...) Is it too much to ask that the details of this process be spelled out? To say this is not to express solidarity with our enemies, as the WSJ and Ashcroft imply.
So did we get the vigorous debate and oversight that Tribe and others have called for? Not really, or rather, not yet, and not enough of one. But the WSJ's celebration of "Leahy's Rout" is uncalled for and premature. Here is Ashcroft's often-quoted homily on the perfidious civil libertarians among us:
To those who pit Americans against immigrants, citizens against non-citizens, to those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve. They give ammunition to America's enemies and pause to America's friends. They encourage people of good will to remain silent in the face of evil.
It is not disloyal -- in fact, it is a form of patriotism -- to ask whether government is getting the powers most appropriate to the task, whether it is using them wisely, whether it may be missing important potential strategies, or even whether it is going off half-cocked against the wrong people... Mr. Ashcroft may not like the criticism. But his job is to defend dissent, not to use the moral authority of his office to discourage people from participating in one of the most fundamental obligations of citizenship.
Or, as Matt Welch has put it, more trenchantly with regard to Ashcroft's job-security, "where's Rudy Giuliani when you need him?"
According to the Mirror, a man was fined 150 pounds for insisting on identifying himself as "English" on the British census form. Glenn Reynolds/Insta-Pundit (like the man in question) says that this demonstrates that "it's a crime to be English in England nowadays." OK. But even funnier is just the fact that you can be fined that much money (more than $200) for failing to fill out a census form; and the man's explanation for his bold stab at civil disobedience: "he refused to tick the box for 'British,' claiming that Britain no longer existed." (I hope that's not true, since I'm supposed to be going there next week.) Also puzzling is why the writer of the article feels it is important to describe this guy as "divorced Mr. Molyneaux, from Poynten, Cheshire"-- fortunately, there's no fine for being divorced, nor for being from Cheshire (though maybe there should be...)
I'm not sure, but I suppose this has to do with Britain's uneasy position straddling the fence between its own sovereignty and membership in the European "nation." I remember a case when I was there last year, where a man was fined for selling bananas by the pound, rather than by the kilogram; European trading regulations demand that everything be measured in the metric system, even bananas. I imagine the British census, like everything else, is laden with Euro-requirements. The whole point of the European superstate project, it seems to me, is to make being English (and "being British" as well) less relevant to "existence." It's not exactly against the law, but it does seem to be frowned upon.
While Arab anti-semitism is no secret and comes as no real surprise, yet it still manages to express itself in astonishing forms. Earlier this year the Middle East Media Research Institute identified a widespread belief in the Arab world in age-old "blood libel" stories about ritual cannibalism by bloodthirsty Jews, quoting the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram:
The bestial drive to knead Passover matzah with the blood of non-Jews is [confirmed] in the records of the Palestinian police where there are many recorded cases of the bodies of Arab children who had disappeared being found, torn to pieces without a single drop of blood. The most reasonable explanation is that the blood was taken to be kneaded into the dough of extremist Jews to be used in matzahs to be devoured during Passover.
Now, today's "best of the web" provides another link to MEMRI, which is reporting on the imminent broadcast of a 30-part mini-series based on the Protocols of the Elders of Zion (!) The series appears to be a historical costume drama which, it is claimed, "courageously tackles the 24 Protocols of the Elders of Zion, revealing them and clarifying that they are the central line that still... dominates Israel's policy, political aspirations, and racism..."
I finally downloaded Neil Young's web-released song, "Let's Roll." As a professional songwriter (I am, technically!) I can say this with some authority and/or bravado: it's not that bad! I've had the inclination to try to write 911-related stuff, but I always chicken out. Anyway, it's hard to do such a thing with the right tone, and I'm impressed when someone succeeds. Keep on rockin' in the free world (and Canada.)
No surprises here, but Canada (as well as Europe) are quietly letting Kyoto slide into oblivion. All in all, the Kyoto treaty was a smashing success at its true objective, which was to provide European governments with an easy, no-obligation opportunity for bashing America. This bashing has affected me personally, since no one in Europe (not even my sweet, vaguely pink, girlfriend) realizes that the European governments have not, in fact, implemented Kyoto's requirements-- a fact which led to an unfortunate argument when we could have been enjoying our dinner. If she were not a computer-less lass as well as the most adorable Bolshevik you're ever likely to meet, I could forward this link to her; but something tells me that wouldn't be such a hot idea anyway.
Not surprisingly the tireless lefty-baiters among us have responded to Weisberg's Slate article, with more to come I'm sure. I am a bit surprised at the near-hysterical tone of some of them. Matt Welch gives it his famous "straw man" treatment , as have the most of the weblog elite (Ken Layne, Steven den Beste, et al.) A. Sullivan appears to have retracted a bit of his initial fury, conceding that Weisberg has a point about the impotence of the Awards' recipients:
In retrospect, with regard to this war, these people turned out to be pretty irrelevant. But there was no way we could have predicted that at the time, and under the circumstances, I think we were right to take no chances.
The charge of "irrelevance" is more or less accurate, and has the bonus of being, I imagine, the description least coveted by such people. Still, as is well known by those of us who walk among them, there are some people who are not on the New Yorker's payroll who are susceptible to these attitudes, irrelevant or not. I think it's great to be able to sic Christopher Hitchens on them when necessary. And, as I said, the time may come when we may need to refute them with more urgency.
My favorite Weisberg-response so far is from Ron Radosh, who points to the Nation's coverage of the "peace movement:"
[Liza Featherstone] notes that for a short while, the peace movement could avoid attacking a popular war at home by concentrating on what she calls "the humanitarian focus;" and like Noam Chomsky, make the argument that the bombing was going to produce starvation and prevent humanitarian aid and food from getting into Afghanistan. But now, she writes, the argument that the bombing "made the situation even worse" is falling apart, since now there are "reports that more food aid was entering Afghanistan." The poor left-wing peace movement; just when they thought they got an argument, reality interfered with it and they are left back at the beginning. Indeed, she quotes one activist who tells her "now the United States is helping, and the situation is dramatically improving." It is hard, one can see from her writing, to continue to attack the United States and to resist being in its corner this time around. No wonder their new tactic is now to "turn their attention to the 'war' at home;" to avoid the actual fighting and to attack the administration for "racist scapegoating and the frightening assaults on civil liberties." The Left, as usual, is not concerned with the issue of the necessity of fighting the war against terrorism; its real goal is to oppose the United States, and to use any and all arguments to create an antiwar movement that will interfere with our necessary and just war.I have no idea whether this attempted interference will prove to be "irrelevant" or not, but it's best to be prepared. (And, if the brief snatches of NPR that I have recently heard are representative, the anti-Israel subtext, at least, of Sontag's remarks on 9/11 have not been repudiated as effectively as one might hope.)
Here's Jacob Weisberg on the "Sontag Awards" phenomenon (i.e., pundits, webloggers, and commentators who have been having a grand old time challenging the sillier statements about the war by "the Left.") I agree that the anti-American nihilism represented by Chomksy, Sontag, Moore, et al., does not reflect any significant sentiment among the American public (though maybe it does in Europe, Berkeley, and in our little punk rock world.) In fact, one of the most interesting aspects of this strange period in media-political history is the fact that "the Left" has been largely abandoned by most of its non-insane leading lights.
Weisberg is missing the point, however, which is that the bankruptcy of these views seems to have shone a piercing light on the bankruptcy of this particular political culture as a whole. It raises the question: what is the Left in America, once purged of anti-American nihilists? Weisberg's piece, like Sontag's backtracking in her subsequent interview in Salon.com, is an attempt to redeem the label "left-liberal," without specifying what the post-9/11 content of this left-liberalism might be.
For me, the significant thing about the various "Sontag Awards" is that they document an amazing moment in our cultural history, where the manifest idiocies of our "cultural elite," generally ignored by most people with better things to do, have been suddenly and publicly exposed in the context of an issue that people actually care about; in a situation that demands moral clarity, some deliver (Hitchens) and some do not (Sontag.) Secondarily, it is interesting to observe the aftermath of this exposure, where people who have spent entire careers preaching foolishness to a self-satisfied choir have been put in the unfamiliar position of having to justify themselves. Weisberg isn't in fact one of those people, but for some reason he has designated himself as their spokesman and apologist.
So if these people (Sontagistas?) are so insignificant, what's the harm? Why spend so much energy documenting their feeble intellectual paroxisms? I'd say there's an inherent value in exposing and challenging wrong-headed ideas. But, more practically, we need to build a case against such ideas in the event that it should be needed in the future. So far, the widespread defeatism about the Afghanistan campaign has fizzled, in part because of sharp criticism, but primarily because it has been proven wrong by the campaign's overall success. But as things become more difficult and complicated (as they will) we can expect the voices against American action to amplify and gain traction. American anti-Americanism may get a second wind. And to the extent that American action is necessary it will be just as necessary when the public's support slips from 90%.
I'm pretty sure the last thing the world needs is another damn warblog. Some people are born to warblogging, others have warblogging thrust upon them-- I'm in the second category. Ever since the war began I've been irritating my friends, clogging their mailboxes with my half-assed pseudo-punditry. Now I'm slated to spend the next month in England, where my email may be pretty sketchy, so I'm resorting to this in hopes that it will make my ranting both more accessible and easier to ignore if necessary. (Of course, I could just decide to keep my bloody mouth shut, but that would be way too sensible.) Pardon me while I, uh, let slip the blogs of war.