Bill Quick sums up the SFO shoe security situation. It's worse than you probably thought. Read it and weep....
Molly, Moira, and the San Francisco Discussion
Where I come from (the San Francisco Bay Area-- one of "the enclaves") you often find yourself in the midst of what people like to call "political discussions." These "discussions" are not conversations. There is no real exchange of ideas, no reasoned debate, no presentation or analysis of evidence. No arguments are presented for this or that proposition, because the propositions have already been agreed upon in advance. The role of the participant is to work within this framework and try to come up with the wittiest, the most articulate, the most "authentic," or (if the observer is unfortunate) the most hysterical way of agreeing with everybody else on all the major points. There is a little wiggle room around certain incidental matters, and opposing points may be offered as straw men prior to an inevitable demolition, but it is all in service of the goal of reinforcing the attitudes and cultural aesthetic shared by everyone present. The content is not, in fact, all that important; rather, these discussions are primarily a therapeutic exercise, intended to foster a sense of community and self-validation. If someone expresses a contrary opinion (that is, one that is not supportive of group solidarity) the reaction is not to refute the argument, but rather to express disappointment with the naysayer's lack of belonging: "I can't believe you're one of those people..." is the one I've often heard. That is usually enough to dispense with the objection. "One of those people" cannot possibly be a participant in a San Francisco discussion, by definition. Which is why I only listen when I stumble into one.
I overheard one of these San Francisco discussions the other day at the local Starbucks. They were talking about the Gitmo prisoners, and all found themselves in complete agreement: the government's claim that the prisoners were unlawful combatants rather than prisoners of war was automatically invalidated by the government's characterization of the Afghan campaign as a war. "Yeah," said one young woman earnestly. "One minute, it's a war, and the next minute, oh, no it's not a war, and they can do whatever they want to anyone. Either it's a war, or it isn't."
Now we've won the war. It's not clear what we've won, but we've definitely won, which is better than losing. So we take the prisoners we've captured off to our base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and suddenly announce that they are not prisoners of war after all, because this isn't really a war we've been fighting. Therefore the prisoners are "illegal combatants," and we don't have to treat them in accord with the Geneva Convention on POWs.
This rationale for why they are not being classified as prisoners of war exists only in Ms. Ivins' head. Elsewhere in the article she again displays her confusion by admitting that "[i]n fact, these prisoners are anomalous and do not meet the convention's standards for prisoners of war -- but we're the ones who keep claiming this is a war". One can only imagine how Ms. Ivins arrived at the notion that, somewhere in the text of the Geneva Convention, there is a stipulation that a designation of "war" removes all limitations on which fighters may qualify for prisoner of war status. If she'd bothered to peruse the document, she'd have noticed that the intent is to restrict the qualifications of a combatant for POW status in time of war, not extend it to anybody and everybody. Does she think the Convention rejects the idea of an "illegal combatant"? There's intelligent discussion and disagreement about the Geneva Convention going on now, but Ivins stumbles before crossing the debate's asses' bridge.
The headline in many stories including this one was “College Freshmen More Liberal, Less Apathetic, poll finds.” But the key signifiers for this were three shifts: “For instance, a record percentage -- 57.9 percent -- think gay couples should have the legal right to marry. The highest portion in two decades -- 32.2 percent -- say the death penalty should be abolished. And more than one-third -- the highest rate since 1980 -- say marijuana should be legalized.” Now those are all positions I hold. So am I a liberal? I think you can make solid conservative arguments for all three. Growing numbers of conservatives support the first, the Pope backs the second and National Review supports the third. Isn’t the real swing toward a more libertarian politics?
When the study describes these views as "liberal," it reflects the common understanding of the meaning of this term, regardless of whether a case could be made that they should be reclaimed for conservatism. "Liberal," in contemporary political language, means "holding the doctrinaire positions associated with the 'progressive' Left." This meaning is, of course, perverse, since these positions (on identity politics, protectionism, speech codes, etc.) are often decidedly illiberal. Careful writers must now always include parenthetical disclaimers when using the word "liberal" in its true sense to distinguish it from its debased common meaning as a label for the aggregate of attitudes commonly struck by self-defined "progressives." This degeneration of language is unfortunate, but a measure of the blame for it lies with the right and their determination to use the word as a slur during the culture wars of the last twenty years or so. (It's a tactic that's still very much alive-- just listen to talk radio for about five minutes.) Ironically, Sullivan is as guilty as anyone of using "liberal" as a convenient shorthand for "progressive" culture's attitudes and aesthetic, the liberal wrapped up with the illiberal. I'd say I agree with around 90% of his "liberal"-bashing; but decrying this "pesky label" strikes me as a strange complaint for the watchdog of "liberal bias" to make.
(Other interesting results of the survey: frequent religious service attendance at an all-time low, as "no religious preference" is at an all-time high; participation in organized demonstrations at an all-time high; record levels of "academic disengagement." )
Now it Can be Told...
Pilger reveals the shocking truth about who the real terrorists are.
Maybe you'd better sit down. Prepare yourself for a shock. It turns out, it's the Americans.
All the conventional bases are covered with the customary hysterical rhetoric we've all grown to know and love: the war on "terrorism" = the new Red Scare, innocent blood for oil/and or defence contracts, the world's richest country attacks the world's poorest country, haves and havenots, Mark Herold, El bloody Salvador, Pinochet, 1979, etc. He even manages to quote "1984" (on which, see the justly praised insight of Bjorn Staerk concerning the two varieties of Orwell-quoter.)
I'm sure some sharp blogger has already taken this apart piece by piece and done a much better job that I ever could. I've just got one question: how many times can this guy write this identical article and still get paid for it?
My theory is that he just changes the date header, intro, and conclusion, and hopes no one notices. This particular intro concerns the State of the Union address and the not particularly surprising announcement of new defense-spending, and it contains the following amusing line:
Of all the extraordinary news since September 11, this is the most alarming. It is time to break our silence.
Posting may be a bit light today because I'm doing some recording, and I haven't figured out a way to do that and blog at the same time. (This is not one of those familiar "I have to lay off the blogging so I can pay the bills and support my family" posts. As if.) Oops, time to go scream myself hoarse again...
Inappropriate and Stupid
They were neutral in World War II, weren't they?
The U.S. administration's hardening position towards Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is very dangerous, Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh said on Monday.
"I am very worried about this American debate," she said on Swedish public service radio news. "I think this discussion about equating Arafat with terrorists is both inappropriate and stupid. It is a very dangerous policy."
(via Rand Simberg.)
As the Europeans continue to denounce US policy toward terrorists as a draconian abuse of human rights, their governments are quietly and efficiently rounding up and expelling the terrorists within their own borders, sending them to face human rights-laden justice in Egypt's luxury-prisons. Of course, they won't do it without securing iron-clad promises from the Egyptian authorities that they don't plan on doing anything bad.
Now let me see if I've got this straight: the British media, contrary to what appear to be the sentiments of the overwhelming majority of ordinary people in Britain, have been pushing the view that the treatment of the terrorists being held at Camp X-ray is unreasonably cruel and unjustified, amounting, by some accounts, to "torture." Hysterical op-ed after hysterical op-ed has been penned about the affront to human decency caused by hoods, mittens, and other restraining devices designed to prevent the prisoners from turning on their captors (which they had a history of having done, and which some of them indeed actually threatened to do this time.) Even subjecting these men to the rigors of the harsh Carribean climate was presented as an abominable exercise in vindictive cruelty. Another instrument of torture decried by the British media and chatterati was that of subjecting these men to the indignity and humiliation of being photographed, which was seen as beyond the pale for a "civilised" society such as ours is supposed to be.
Meanwhile, the BBC was busily at work recreating the Stanford Prison Experiment as a reality-tv show.
What's that? Irony again?
Jeez, it's hard catching up, when you've missed a whole day...
It appears that Daniel Pearl, the missing American journalist, was indeed kidnapped by a Pakistani Islamist group. They call themselves the National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistani Sovereignty, and have released photos of Mr. Pearl with a gun held to his head.
An accompanying message sent to US news organisations said Mr Pearl was being held in inhuman conditions - similar, it said, to those experienced by al-Qaeda suspects being held at the US base at Guantanamo Bay. Their captive would receive better treatment only if conditions at Camp X-Ray improved and Pakistani detainees were sent home
And this doesn't sound like the authentic "voice" of the Islamist crew (in fact, it sounds more like a Guradian columnist):
WSJ quoted it as saying that Mr Pearl was being held "in very inhuman circumstances - quite similar in fact to the way Pakistanis and nationals of other sovereign countries are being kept in Cuba by the American army".
The e-mail reportedly went on to say: "If the Americans keep our countrymen in better conditions, than we will better the conditions of Mr Pearl and all other Americans that we capture."
Among the conditions are demands for the repatriation of Pakistani prisoners taken from Afghanistan to Cuba and for the release of the F-16 fighter jets that Pakistan bought from the United States in the 1980's. The fighter jets were not delivered after Congress in 1990 cut off aid and military sales to Pakistan in response to the country's moves to develop nuclear weapons.
Uh, what time is it? What day is it? Where am I? I seem to have lost track of time, maybe space as well. Looks like I kind of missed Sunday. In other words, it was a hell of a show on Saturday. Most posts to follow, as my head clears. If.
I'm going to have to lay off the posting now, as I've got a gig tonight. It's amazing how the preliminaries for 45 minutes of rock and roll stage time can take up your whole day. (And, more often than not, recovering can take up most of the following day.) So I'll see you when I see you. If I survive. Let me know if anything happens while I'm gone.
The king of the Powell Guys, Colin Powell himself, has adopted the Guardipendent line and has formally "urged" that the Camp X-Ray prisoners be granted POW status. (Link via Drudge.) What is he, running for EU president?
The memo was drafted by White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, who disagrees with Powell's position: "nevertheless," he writes, "you should be aware that the legal adviser to the secretary of state has expressed a different view." Responding to these arguments:
"It should be noted that your policy of providing humane treatment to enemy detainees gives us the credibility to insist on like treatment for our soldiers," Mr. Gonzales wrote. "Moreover, even if GPW is not applicable we can still bring war crimes charges against anyone who mistreats U.S. personnel. Finally, I note that our adversaries in several recent conflicts have not been deterred by GPW in their mistreatment of captured U.S. personnel, and terrorists will not follow GPW rules in any event...."
Noting that the president has called the war on terrorism "a new kind of war," Mr. Gonzales wrote, "In my judgment, this new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions requiring that captured enemy be afforded such things as commissary privileges, script (i.e., advances of monthly pay), athletic uniforms, and scientific instruments."
The Washington Times has, for reasons of its own, chosen not to divulge "what appear to be the State Department's arguments for reversal" of the President's policy. But reading between the lines here, it seems that they center around concerns that this policy could be used as a justification for mistreatment of US soldiers by future adversaries. As many have pointed out, US personnel are routinely maltreated by our more unscrupulous foes (and with little international outcry) Geneva Convention or not. Of course, we should treat our prisoners humanely. We should also endeavor set a good example, but by no means should we imagine that doing so will in any way restrain people like al-Qaeda in future conflicts, or indeed in this one, which is not over yet.
If I construe it correctly, Powell's other point, which has also been stressed by the Guardipendent Squad, is that, according to the GC, when in doubt, prisoners should be automatically classified as POWs until their status can be reviewed by a tribunal. This is certainly a defensible position (though I suppose those who disagree with it would say that there are no "doubts") but only insofar as it doesn't compromise security in the interim. It just doesn't seem possible. And while we're waiting, we could lose valuable information that could help in preventing future al-Qaeda atrocities. (Anyway, the Guardian would of course denounce such tribunals as well, should they ever materialize. Whatever the US policy is, they'll find a way to denounce it: that's their schtick, bless 'em or damn their eyes, depending on your point of view. The question is, should the Secretary of State be playing to this particular peanut gallery?)
It's clear that al-Qaeda is not exactly the kind of force that the POW provisions of the GC were designed to address: there may be some points in common, but it's not a perfect match. To proceed as though it were a perfect match is to throw common sense out the window. As Charles Johnson says:
If ever there were a time for hard-headed pragmatism, it's now. I really don't care much about the legalistic arguments; it's clear the Geneva Conventions were not designed to deal with aberrations like Al Qaeda. By all means, treat them humanely, but some of the rights and privileges they'd be granted as POWs are not only ridiculous but dangerous.
The most important thing is to find out everything we can from them, so we have a fighting chance, because this is not over. Al Qaeda and their many Islamo-fascist bloodbrothers are not through with us yet.
More details on John Walker Lindh's personal journey of self-discovery. According to people who knew him during a six month stint at an Islamic school in Pakistan, he was keenly interested in militant Islam, particularly the part where you get to have four wives. "He is a man and every man has desires," said the headmaster of the Madrassa-e-Arabia. That's true. This whole thing is getting easier and easier to understand.
Walker Lindh, or as he preferred to be called, Sulayman al-Faris, was also known as a splendid conversationalist:
Pharmacist Kareem Khan used to provide Lindh with medicine for stomach aches and allergies.
"I pointed to a cinema and told Sulayman 'look, it's a movie house,'" Khan said.
"His reply was: 'No, this is a house of Satan."
That Damian Penny-- he really finds the links no one else can reach (or is it the other way round?) A case in point is this article about some controversial remarks on terrorism by actor James Woods. The transcript is quite funny, especially since they've meticulously noted every "y'know." (Many an interview with yours truly has been tainted by mischievous over-accuracy in the "y'know" and "like" departments-- it's like, the Californian's worst nightmare, y'know?) But at least Woods, who describes himself as "more of a Rumsfeld guy than a Powell guy," bless him, doesn't roll out the usual touchy-feely kiss-kiss Hollywood rhetoric:
There's only one thing these people understand, one thing and one thing only: Abject, unbelievable, horrifying, terrifying fear.
And until we're ready to strike that deep in their hearts and souls we are going to be at war. And once they realize that they have to understand how powerful we are, not in our actual physical power, but in our heart and soul commitment to that power, only then will this terrorism stop.
There's only one way to stop a terrorist: cut his head off.
Jean Abinader, managing director of the Arab American Institute in Washington, said "only a lunatic would speak like this," and advised Woods to "start dealing with reality." This analysis may lack nuance and tact, but it's as close to "dealing with reality" as any Hollywood actor ever comes when discussing politics, or anything else, for that matter. I guess I'm more of a Rumsfeld guy than a Powell guy, too, maybe. But it seems like Hollywood is mostly populated by Powell guys (Richard Gere, Alec Baldwin, Robert Altman, et al.) What's wrong with a little diversity of opinion down there?
Anyway, I'm not sure what a "formal Action Alert" is, but that's what the Arab American Institute "may consider" after reviewing this transcript. If Woods really is the Rumsfeld guy he claims to be, though, it'll take more than one of those, whatever they are, to shut him up.
What we really need is for the Rumsfeld guys and the Powell guys and the Arab American guys to team up to beat hell out of the bin Laden guys. Is that too much to ask?
Matt Welch also points out Howard Zinn's latest column, which cites the extremely questionable Mark Herold study of Afghan civilian casualties. The Herold study has been as roundly debunked as anything in the blogosphere, including by me. His number of 4,000 is uncritically cited by Zinn, as it was by George Monbiot in a recent episode of BBC's NewsNight (so it's definitely making the lefty rounds.)
Herold cooked up this figure by selectively using questionable sources to support his pre-conceived conclusion that the US military, motivated by racism, intentionally developed its target set in order to cause as many civilian casualties as possible. Zinn, like most people who invoke Herold, doesn't quite follow him down this absurd road, but he does characterize the US campaign as embodying, if not deliberate, racially-motivated murder, at least a "reckless disregard for human life." He then asks:
What if all those Americans who declare their support for Bush's "war on terrorism" could see, instead of those elusive symbols--Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda--the real human beings who have died under our bombs? I do believe they would have second thoughts.
There are those on the left, normally compassionate people whose instincts go against war, who were, surprisingly, seduced by early Administration assurances and consoled themselves with words like "limited" military action and "measured" response. I think they, too, if confronted with the magnitude of the human suffering caused by the war in Afghanistan, would have second thoughts.
Perhaps Zinn isn't actually calling for inaction, but he remains silent as to what he is calling for, other than opposition for its own sake. (And perhaps it's not reasonable to expect anything else from the "people's historian.") At any rate, the human suffering reflected in Zinn's list of anecdotes is truly sobering and heart-rending. Yet, even as a normally compassionate person with a concern for all children everywhere, I honestly cannot think of an alternative non-military solution to this horrible problem.
Zinn and his "co-thinkers" seem motivated, in part, by nostalgia for a previous era when anti-war activism was more "relevant," more noble, when it had more content. The fantasy is that, as was supposed to be the case in Vietnam, frightful images of suffering and an accompanying sense of futility ought eventually to lead the public to reject the specious arguments of its purblind government and force it to withdraw from the conflict. But things have changed since the sixties. It's a different kind of conflict, as is so often said. We can't withdraw from it. We are in it whether we like it or not, and almost everyone seems to have realized it. Why hasn't Zinn?
The Narcissistic Thrill of Imagined Persecution
That's my favorite line from Matt Welch's great new column on "the censorship gravy train" for Reason on-line.
Bestselling author and long-toiling intellectual Susan Sontag also made the conceptually daring connection between criticism of her foolish reactions to September 11 and the domestic victory of the Thought Police: "It turns out," she concluded, "we have increasingly become incredibly conformist, and very afraid of debate and criticism." Too true! Pass the book deal! As Vanity Fair’s Leslie Bennetts so rightly lamented, "Some frustrated American commentators have even resorted to publishing in British and European outlets." Oh, to feel that pain!
Berkeley, California, Berkeley, California, Berkeley, California: my home sweet home
Since I returned from my recent sojourn in the Shire among its dear little hobbits (i.e., in Merrie Olde Englande) I've noticed that the City of Berkeley has added a new safety feature to a few of its crosswalk trouble spots. In addition to the usual illuminated walk/don't walk traffic signs, there are now little bins attached to the posts at either side of the intersection, which contain flags of bright community-service orange. "For added visibility" a sign informs the pedestrian, "carry a flag." What a naff idea, as the hobbits would say. You look stupid enough as a pedestrian without adding to the humiliation by carrying a "please don't run me over" sign. I really couldn't imagine anyone swallowing that much pride.
Today, however, as I approached one of these crosswalks, I noticed that some patriotic troublemaker had taken it upon himself to add a few American flags to one of these bins. There ensued a little power-struggle between my inner patriot and my inner longing for unobtrusiveness (otherwise known as the "get out of Berkeley as quickly as you can before you encounter some intolerable freak" impulse.) My inner-patriot narrowly won, and I picked up the stars and stripes for my journey across the street, proudly (though admittedly a bit sheepishly as well.) I mean, when it came right down to it, I couldn't resist.
Now, if you do much walking around in Berkeley you always run the risk of getting run down by a US Out of Everything Including My Uterus Mobile, whether or not you're carrying a flag. So I'm not sure if it was mere coincidence that the driver of a passing Volvo committed a random act of subverting the dominant paradigm by flashing me an obscene sign: and no, I'm not talking about the bumper stickers that said "Born Again Pagan," and "Wiccan Power." The Wiccans have spoken: America bad. On the other hand, I think I got about three encouraging honks of what I presume was approbation. As I said, it might be pure coincidence, but judging from this unscientific sample, even in Berkeley 75% of motorists support the good old US of A. And 25% are still, well, a little "out there."
Desperate 20-something Terrorists
bin Laden's elite troops are finding themselves in more and more desperate straits, trying to evade the US dragnet. This article quotes a "20-something" al-Qaeda fighter: "the enemies of Islam have broken our backbone; our people are abandoning us and we have dispersed like orphans in the valleys." Glad to hear it. (And you thought our 20-somethings had it rough...)
The Blog that Dare not Speak its Name
Though they have yet to come out and admit that it's a blog, NRO's The Corner is a very nice blog, patterned after other team blogs like Libertarian Samzdata and QuasiPundit. It's great. But come on, just admit it guys: you're bloggers! We accept you, one of us...
Will Warren, unremitting verse-blogger, has posted a kind of epic on Cavanaugh and the Blogosphere called "Hiawatha vs. the Bloggers."
U.S. Considers Cutting Ties With Arafat, according to the Washington Post. Well, one would imagine so. I think almost everyone knows his days are numbered. Arafat himself appears to know it. Now, even the State Department seems to have figured it out.
even State Department officials, who have long argued for U.S involvement in peacemaking, are now so skeptical about Arafat's credibility that they wonder whether to continue the mission of special American envoy Anthony C. Zinni.
Krauthammer weighs in on the Europeans and the status of the Guantanamo prisoners.
Right now, what is of supreme importance to Americans is not the moral high ground of salon opinion but the strategic high ground of military intelligence -- the advantage we gain in combating terror with the knowledge we glean from these prisoners.
The world loves us, bleeding and suffering nobly, at the moral high ground of Ground Zero. To which we say: no thank you. Our paramount national duty today is to prevent another Sept. 11, not to glory in the moral high ground -- the moral vanity -- of the victimhood we suffered last Sept. 11.
Curse Him and His Delayed Adolescence!
I've been meaning to comment on Richard Jenkyns's article on The Lord of the Rings in the New Republic (it's a review of a book on Tolkien by Tom Shippey.) But Megan McArdle has done a far better job than I could ever do (though she seems to be under the impression that this review was written by Ben Soskis-- unless I'm crazy, Soskis had nothing to do with it. Hmm, all the comments refer to Soskis as well. Are Richard Jenkyns and Ben Soskis one and the same, and everybody knows all about it but me? I'm so confused...) Anyway, like a lot of criticism of Tolkien's work, a major part of this one is the complaint that there's no sex in it. This accusation (true, but hardly damning) was common from the moment LotR was published, leading Tolkien to write in his journal the above-mentioned curse upon a critic (whose name eludes me-- I just remember reading about it.) McArdle writes:
I am struck, while reading this, by how entirely modern criticism has come to view everything through the prism of sex. We expect to find subtle and nuanced evocations of sexual themes, yet everything else is supposed to be right out there, unambiguous and unexplored in any but the most superficial way. It strikes me also that this may be why so much modern "literature" has degenerated into increasingly violent and bizarre sexual themes coupled with increasingly dull political ones, laminated together with a thin veneer of verbal scrimshaw...
...Soskis undercuts his argument thoroughly in the final paragraphs, where he tells us why he is so hard on Tolkien: because he doesn't deserve to top the list of best book of all times. My question: why on earth should Soskis care? And what hill was he standing on when God handed him the list of the best books of all times?
update: At least I'm not crazy. Megan has indicated that the whole Soskis thing was some kind of mix-up. Occasionally, one doubts that one inhabits the same reality as everyone else; and even more occasionally, one is re-assured that on at least a few points reality coincides with what one sees with ones own two eyes. Anyway, the debate on LotR over at Live from the WTC is really hotting up, and it's fascinating. Check it out.
The Free Marketplace of Ideas
More on British anti-Semitism. This Forward article (via InstaPundit) is a report on a recent New Statesman cover story called "A Kosher Conspiracy" about the influence of The Jew on the British media and government. I remember reading about this article awhile back in an op-ed by Barbara Amiel; at that time, I couldn't find it on their web site. Now, it's listed, but you have to pay for it, which I'm way too cheap to do. In this case, the Zionist conspiracy "wins" the admittedly modest contest for Blogs of War links by making their spin on the article public and free, while the original version is not. Power to the people. (The NS article's opening displayed on the click-to-pay page, is a none-too-promising reference to this silly Independent op-ed, which I've mentioned previously...)
Barbara Amiel's observations on the French ambassador's anti-Israel comments, and upon anti-Jewish sentiment in high-falutin' London society, are by now well known. As Forward points out, her piece was roundly denounced in the left-leaning British press, for reasons of propriety (publishing comments made at a private dinner party-- it just isn't the done thing...); and now, in the New Statesman, as proof of a powerful Zionist conspiracy dedicated to undermining the media and controlling the government.
I can't speak for high society, but from my own experience in "middle society" in England, I'd say that if this supposed Zionist conspiracy exists, it hasn't been all that successful in swaying public opinion. Arafat is generally accorded much more credibility and sympathy in England than he is in the US. You often hear people (left, right, and center) express the sentiment that Arafat "is doing all he can, which is more than you can say for the Israelis." England has a long history of enthusiasm for Arab nationalism, which recent events do not appear to have dampened overmuch. Anyway, it seems to me that, in this case, the more successful slant is the leftish one of fostering unthinking support for "the underdog" (i.e., whoever opposes US policy or interests) regardless of the circumstances. Can someone (like Amiel) disagree with the conclusions resulting from this overarching formula without being part of a sinister conspiracy? It's not a surprise that the Independent and the New Statesman can think of no other way to account for the fact that people disagree with them. But that doesn't make it so.
Well, at least you don't have Winter Vomiting Disease.
My last post on Camp X-ray
I have made a promise to myself and God to lay off the Camp X-ray thing for awhile. Here's the short version: Euro-press hysteria has no perceptible effect on US policy or public opinion. Let them amuse themselves.
The Mirror, which published the hysterical (in both senses) editorial on the Camp X-ray torture by jumpsuit, has conducted a telephone poll on the treatment of the Guantanamo Bay prisoners. 90% of Mirror readers "do not condemn the way the US is dealing with them." It's not "scientific" of course, but it is a striking example of how far out of step British media elites can be with respect to their own readers. Similar margins have resulted from other unscientific call-in polls: Radio 2's Jimmy Young turned up with 92% (via
Iain Murray has the right idea: "I hope Gallup or MORI are conducting a poll as we speak (heck, the American Embassy in the UK should be paying for one) on this subject so we can know the real state of public opinion, but I suspect it'd be overwhelmingly pro-US."
First, there is nothing wrong and everything right with America and other Western nations adhering to a higher standard than our adversaries. Which is why -- when it's convenient and we've learned what we can from these thugs -- we should give them their Hershey bars, two letters a week and, eventually, their French-accented "human rights lawyers" in $5,000 suits.
But even when we test the outer boundaries of our own principles, we're still light years ahead of the societies so often defended by those denouncing us. For example, in Saudi Arabia (the leading exporter of Islamic radicalism), where the Koran is their constitution, they have a much more efficient way of cutting off prisoners' beards: They remove the whole head. And that goes for non-terrorists, too.
Ideas for future Mirror editorials
We must be sweet, and tactful and discreet
And when they've suffered defeat
We mustn't let them feel upset or ever get
The feeling that we're cross with them or hate them,
Our future policy must be to re-instate them...
We must be just, and win their love and trust
And in addition we must be wise
And ask the conquered lands to join our hands to aid them.
That would be a wonderful surprise.
For many years, they've been in floods of tears
Because the poor little dears
Have been so wronged, and only longed
To cheat the world, deplete the world
And beat the world to blazes.
This is the moment when we ought to sing their praises.
Rob Morse has some sharp commentary on Sara Jane Olson and the SLA in today's column, "Dipping into modern history for bourgeois pigs." He refers several times to Olson's website, so of course I checked it out, and of course I found some Weird Stuff. You can buy "free Sara" T-shirts, bumper stickers, "fight the prison-industrial complex" posters, and a Marcia Brady-esque button depicting a butterfly with the words "free" on one wing and "Sara" on the other. Also on offer is her cookbook "Serving Time: America's Most Wanted Recipes." Here's a quote from the introduction:
In the 1970's, I learned about organic food when I moved to the Bay Area in California. I belonged to the Food Conspiracy; an umbrella group of neighborhood food-buying clubs that bought organic food from rural farms and local distributors. The Conspiracy was large enough to purchase food at wholesale prices and pass the savings on to individual members. So, I guess, I do admit to once being a member of a conspiracy
Felled once again by the relentless Aussie satire machine
Tim Blair takes a look into Robert Altman's future. Once again, unable to comment due to uncontrollable fit of choking and snorting. Tears, too. It's like being maced....
The Strategic Brilliance of George Monbiot
Here's George "anti-everything" Monbiot lecturing Richard Perle on the folly of Camp X-ray and American military strategy during an appearance on the BBC's NewsNight yesterday:
Richard, the really daft thing about this-- and we've had Donald Rumsfeld boasting about how harsh the conditions are-- is that it makes no sense not just in the moral sense but also in strategic terms. If you want people to surrender, you want to show them that they're going to be treated well, having surrendered.
So even if we were to put aside the moral argument: it's still stupid.
Such bold and forward-looking strategic planning, which the British have applied so successfully in preventing terrorist attacks from the Irish Republican Army, was clearly too sophisticated for the recalcitrant Perle, who stubbornly insisted that US policy aims would best be served by ensuring that the al Qaeda prisoners be denied opportunities to attempt to kill their American captors.
It appears that, despite this sage advice, the US is determined to persevere with its policy of (in the words of Donald Anderson, Member of Parliament and Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Comittee) "banging these people on the head and acting in a rather macho way."
(Cheers to Andrew Ian Dodge, Anglospherist, Cthuluologist, Rock Critic and Dodgeblogger for keeping me up to date on these and other BBC shenanigans now that I'm back in the US, acting in a rather macho way...)
I Wanna Be Sedated, Part II
Moira Breen provides a link to this Times article: a Florida company called International Protective Services Inc. is offering a course to ordinary citizens on how to defend oneself from airborne terrorists:
Once on board, ensure you have an airline blanket, can of Coke, pen, magazine and keys within easy reach.
If the plane is hijacked, these become instant weapons. The blanket is to smother the terrorist, the belt to garrotte him. The belt can also be swung buckle first.
Pens and keys can take out eyes and be used on pressure points.
Roll up the magazine and jab it at the hijacker’s eyes or solar plexus, or aim it at an artery.
Placing shoes on the hands offers some protection.
A can of Coke can either be thrown at the hijacker or used at close range to give force to a blow on the head or neck.
I imagine there are those who thought I was kidding when I proposed that commercial airlines take a page from the U.S. military's precautionary measures for the Guantanamo Bay Express. I am in fact quite serious. The skies will never be safe until our airlines sedate all passengers on take-off. TAQN.
The English are Wig-Happy
I like the wigs. As I-forget-who said, "are our lives so full of colour and drama that we must set out to make them greyer and more boring?" Finally the wigs and other anachronistic regalia might - and now the edge comes into my voice and it all gets a bit less jolly - they might remind some of our trendy modern judges that the law, including trial by jury, is their entailed inheritance not their bloody productivity bonus.
Our man in Australia, Tim Blair, has tracked down the emails between Richard Reid and Mullah Omar.
Megan McArdle has a great post today about European posturing about international standards of behavior. She has this exactly right:
if it were 4,000 British or French civilians dead, their response wouldn't be a detached "well there are rules that nations have to abide by" -- ...Britian and France are more than willing to throw out their own rules in order to lash back. The only thing that would keep them from unleashing a massive can of whup-ass on anyone who killed that many of their citizens is that they lack the capability to attack anything larger than the Falklands without American support. And you know what? They'd get it. We would pen very few editorials on how richly they deserved it. Their ex-pats wouldn't have citizens of the host country seeking them out in the halls to say "Well, that's good. Now you know how it feels to be [insert your favorite complaint about American foreign policy here]." My ex-pat friends tell me, and I am unsurprised, that there is a vocal minority abroad that are glad, glad this happened to the redneck nation. Well, I've lived abroad and I've lived here, and for all our faults, very, very few of us would be glad that civilians of any color, race, or creed were killed.
If We Put Hoods on the Terrorists, the Terrorists Will Have Won
Robert Fisk's latest piece of disingenuous casuistry is almost identical to all his previous p.s of d.c.: by placing hoods on al-Qaeda prisoners, we are playing into bin Laden's hands by "turning ourselves into the kind of deceitful, ruthless people whom bin Laden imagines us to be." "We are now," writes Fisk, "the very model of the enemies Mr bin Laden wants to fight. He must be a happy man."
Also in the Independent, Geoffrey Robertson has this apparently unintentionally humorous piece of legalistic claptrap about an unfortunate loophole in the Geneva Convention's definition of "mercenary:"
There are only two categories of combatants who can properly be denied POW status – spies and mercenaries. The latter category is defined (under the 1977 Geneva Protocol) as "motivated to take part in the hostilities essentially by the desire for private gain" and promised substantial "material compensation". Al-Qa'ida fighters, motivated not by money but by the prospect of a fast-track to paradise, fall outside this definition.
Cruel and Unusual Photography
According to the Red Cross, the US has indeed violated the Geneva Convention in its treatment of the al Qaeda prisoners at Camp X-ray. Was it the hoods? The mittens? The sedation? The cages? The chains? The haircuts? Nope: it's the photographs. According to the Red Cross "the conventions clearly forbade exposing prisoners of war to 'public curiosity.'"
It seems to me that "public curiosity" on this matter may be beyond the military's control. But leaving that aside, can you imagine the outcry had the US acted to institute a "blackout" banning all photographs of the detainees? Clearly, the photos were intended to show that the US believed it had nothing to hide. At any rate, it's hard to imagine would-be Geneva Convention purists having an easy time integrating this finding into their Camp X-ray critique, since so much of it was based on these very photographs, which, it now turns out, should not have existed in the first place.
Britain and US in rift over terrorist prisoners...
...says the headline of this article in the Daily Telegraph.
Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said: "prisoners, regardless of their technical status, should be treated humanely and in accordance with customary international law."
Former Foreign Secretary Robin Cook called Don Rumsfeld a "man of robust views."
Two former Labour ministers "questioned whether the treatment of the captives accorded with the Geneva convention."
Downing Street "urged critics not to 'rush to judgment.'"
I know that, being English, these gentlemen are prohibited from expressing their views except in the form of cryptic understatement, but... this is a rift?
Biff Bang POW
For some time now, Damian Penny and his readers have been engaged in a lively debate about Camp X-ray and whether the prisoners there are POWs as defined by the Geneva Convention. I've been following it, and it's certainly worth reading. Article 4 of the GC does appear to offer some basis for concluding that these al Qaeda fighters are "unlawful combatants," but this begs the question in a way, since the al Qaeda organization and its Taleban hosts were illegitimate entities from the get-go. Nonetheless they exist, and will remain a problem as long as this is the case; they present security dangers that must be addressed.
Megan McArdle gets to the heart of the matter when she writes, in her blog and in a letter which Damian quotes:
the Taliban isn't a signatory to the Geneva Convention. The Convention isn't some sort of pledge that a nation takes to behave well; it's a treaty, and is applicable only to member nations. So whether or not the Taliban is a valid national government, and whether or not the prisoners were dressed appropriately or used the correct protocol to surrender, they still aren't entitled to its protections, any more than they are entitled to sue for tariff relief under the WTO. While I personally believe that we should treat the prisoners at Guantanamo with the minimum civilities we would hope to receive if the shoe were on the other foot, they have no legal entitlement to this treatment.
(I, like Damian, find it a bit odd that there hasn't been a more forceful presentation of the case both by the US and by the critics: everything I have read has been short on specifics. And if experts on international law have formed a consensus on the question, they haven't yet made it in Google-able form, as far as I can tell. But as I understand it as a legal rather than as a publicity matter, it's really up to the Red Cross and the US government, rather than the EU or Amnesty International or the BBC, to sort these things out.)
Of course the prisoners should be treated humanely, and I'm sure the Red Cross is doing it's job to ensure that they are. If inappropriate measures are being taken, they should be exposed and halted. To focus so assiduously on the Geneva Convention, however, is to substitute legalism for rational thought. There were those who said that the US "could not" go to war against the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks: you can only declare war on a state, not an abstraction like terrorism, they said. Despite the attempt to define the war out of existence, though, the war ended up occurring anyway: an attack on the US had to be challenged, and anyone who thought that this kind of legalistic reasoning could prevent such a response was not an inhabitant of reality. (This is leaving aside the question of whether this reasoning is valid. I don't think it is, but valid or not, it is, in the event, irrelevant.)
This inevitable conflict has in turn inevitably resulted in al Qaeda prisoners in US custody. They have theoretically "surrendered," but past experience has shown what these people are capable of: commandeering and crashing planes by means of ordinary household objects, rigging themselves up as human bombs in hospital beds, turning on captors with snatched weapons, requesting that emissaries be sent to negotiate surrender and shooting them when they arrive, etc. And these particular prisoners have made specific threats to this effect since their capture. Of course they are going to subject them to the highest level of security when transporting them and housing them. Wouldn't you? I have no idea whether the GC could be read as prohibiting the hooding, chaining, sedating, caging, illuminating, etc. of such people, but it still seems like a pretty good idea. (And of course, they're being treated better than the Taleban treated homosexuals, or "suspected Christians;" they are by and large probably in better shape in Camp X-ray than they would be hiding in some bin Laden cave, eating insects instead of bagels; and they are certainly better off in Camp X-ray than they would be if they had been allowed to detonate and incinerate themselves along with any bystanders in one of their trademark suicide attacks. I know that's also beside the point, but some perspective is in order.)
International agreements have their value, but so does common sense. It's interesting that the European governments and press have made so much of the GC-angle. Such a legalistic obsession with treaties, agreements, pacts, and the like to the neglect of addressing strategic realities was arguably one of the failings of the European Powers that led to the Second World War.
If I'm not mistaken, Iraq is one of the 170-odd signatories to the Geneva Convention, which banned the development, production, and deployment of biological weapons in 1972. I don't know about you, but somehow, that doesn't make me feel any safer. The Geneva Convention afforded precious little protection to the Kurds, as I recall.
Once again, I have to ask: doesn't the EU have a regulation standards subgroup for the control of this?
"It's America's World Now," says John Humphrys in the Sunday Times, "but not necessarily forever." Actually, that's what the headline says. In the course of the meandering article, however, Humphrys, with seeming reluctance, reaches something like the opposite conclusion. (Yet another curious example of the headline-writer failing to have read the article carefully enough to know what it says-- why does this happen so frequently in British newspapers?)
America may one day be brought to her knees, but he's damned if he can figure out how. Arab terrorists couldn't do it; the Soviet Union, which once looked so promising, suffered from a pronounced Baywatchlessness. The quest continues:
I asked one of the most senior figures in the British military the other day how the world would look in 50 years. Would America still be the great superpower? Of course not, he said. It will be the European Union.
So what is the point of this windy article? Beats me, beyond a cursory denunciation (apparently required by the editorial boards of all British newspapers for every article) of Camp X-Ray and an excuse to wheel out this old instructive story:
when a conquering [Roman] general drove his chariot into a defeated city, to the roar of the crowds, he would have a slave behind him whisper into his ear: "Remember that you are mortal."
Plus, we have Baywatch.
That Goldhagen New Republic article on the Holocaust and the Catholic Church is still unavailable on-line, as I've mentioned; but, in the venerable tradition of academics and chatterati, it's still possible to comment on others' comments on Goldhagen's comments.
For example, there's this piece in Forward, entitled "Catholics, Jews unite to attack scholar's latest" (link via Andrew Sullivan.) Eugene Fisher, associate director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, had this to say about Goldhagen: "he lives in fantasy land and he is making this up. It's a sad case and he ought to see a psychiatrist."
It seems to me that, whatever the merits or faults of Goldhagen's case, his critics are going to have to do better than that.
A Flock o' Blog People...
Perry de Havilland of Libertarian Samizdata continues the ornithological theme with this interesting simile:
We blogs are not trying to replace the established media, but rather we have popped up to fill an empty but useful ecological niche, rather like the birds hitching a ride on the back of a hippopotamus and in return nibbling at unwanted parasites in the hippo's unscratchable nooks and crannies.
He also addresses the flagrant appreciative cross-linking (like, uh, what I'm doing right now) so assiduously ridiculed by that Cavanaugh fellow:
we can afford to be civil to each other because we are not all competing for a limited pool of jobs (no wonder he hates us)... we see each other as a resource rather than rivals, even more so when we disagree... Secondly, it is that 'hive mind' thing Glenn once mentioned. Someone picks up on a story and the 'hive' swarms together, dissecting it and commenting, with a slew of follow up posts as the hive's different 'takes' collide...such as the various 'interblog' gun wars or Enron debates (for that is what they are, debates).
Finally, in a move certain to infuriate Mr. C. even further, Perry has graciously cross-linked to my little blurb on Group Think (below.) He has some notes on the meaning of "libertarianism"-- a "non-statist vibe," which is an attractive formulation. Yet I wonder if there is anyone who would disagree that "at its core, society must allow individuals to make their own choices in the pursuit of self-defined ends?" I've never been able to understand how concerns--which I share, by the way-- about statist over-reach seem to lead some people who call themselves libertarians to oppose any but the most limited of military actions. How does a healthy skepticism about government motives transform itself into an unhealthy and irrelevant Raimondo-esque paranoia and dreams of isolationism? (I say "unhealthy" because isolationism in the present circumstances would be equivalent to a death-wish; I say irrelevant because it is now not even remotely possible.) Ambivalence about the exercise of power is understandable and often appropriate; but ambivalence when faced with such a clear situation as 9/11 seems very like indulgence in ambivalence for its own sake.
Apropos, perhaps, of that sort of question, Perry de H. has this comment, which I believe is right on the money:
It seems to me that September 11th was a watershed in that it resulted in an event so stark in it's moral simplicity and lacking in the ambiguity that shades Iraq, Israel, Kosovo etc. that the true nature of many was revealed in the shadowless light of the burning twin towers. Much to my astonishment some on the left, like Christopher Hitchens, turned out to be critically rational whilst many who I had thought far better of, were revealed to be crypto-subjectivists so emotionally attached to their unalterable world views as to be incapable of rational moral judgement.
Saudis tell US forces to get out
That headline ought to be "Saudis may soon tell US forces to get out," according to the article which accompanies it. I have no doubt that it may well occur, but as of now, it hasn't yet.
The article continues:
[The Saudi] kingdom is volatile with a stagnant economy, high unemployment, no democratic outlets and King Fahd unable to crack down on militant clerics. Hostility to the US is widespread but that is mirrored in the US where there is a huge well of resentment that, having fought to push back Iraq in 1991 and having protected Saudi since, Riyadh refused to provide military help during the Afghan campaign.
Let's Roll Redux
This item is primarily about the Israeli retaliatory strike, but it includes a dramatic account of the resistance to the bat mitzvah attack:
about 100 people were inside a banquet hall celebrating a bat mitzvah, or Jewish coming of age ceremony. Several beat the attacker with a chair and bottles and later dragged him outside where he was shot by police. Among the dead was the grandfather of the girl celebrating her bat mitzvah.
"The terrorist came in the main door with an M-16 (assault rifle) at the height of the event and started shooting everywhere," said Shimon Asraf, one of owners of Armon David or David's Palace hall.
Moti Hasson said he was dancing when he heard the shooting.
"When I saw the Arab I ran toward him with a chair," said Hasson, a truck driver. "I threw the chair at him."
Hasson said he hit the attacker in the face with the chair while other people threw bottles at him. Others dove under tables. Some people shouted in fright.
After Hasson hit the attacker, the man's gun jammed.
"His gun just stopped shooting," said Hasson, who was standing outside the banquet hall wearing a sweat shirt and carrying a bag of the clothes he wore during the attack, which were soaked with the gunman's blood.
Eliahu Iskov said he saw the attacker on the floor, apparently unconscious from the beating, and grabbed him by the foot to drag his body outside of the banquet hall.
"I thought that he had explosives strapped to his body and would explode," Iskov said. "I though if he exploded it would be best if he exploded outside."
Other people pulled tablecloths from the banquet tables and wrapped the wounded in them so they could quickly take them outside in case there were explosions.
Reid pleads innocent to all counts. This is gonna be one hell of a trial...
It has the head of a spider, and the body of a spider, but it's a baby...
Okay, it's not a baby. It's a goat. According to this article, a bio-tech company and the US Army have figured out a way to take the spider out of the whole spider-web process:
They spliced silk-making genes into the mammary gland cells of a cow and the kidney cells of a hamster and persuaded the cells to make spider's silk - and then ooze it out of the cells so that it could be collected. The researchers have called the product BioSteel, and plan a herd of genetically modified goats to produce it in their milk.
Use a #2 Pencil
Saddam Hussein suggests a new euphemism for being bombed into submission: "sitting an examination." Apparently, he's been studying for his midterms and he feels pretty well-prepared. "Will the performance of one who has sat an examination and passed it be higher and better, or lower and lesser?'' he asks. Good question: but the curve may be a little steeper this time around.
Frustration: Daniel Goldhagen's article on the Catholic Church and Nazism isn't available at the New Republic on-line, so you have to make do with Andrew Sullivan's response to it. Does Goldhagen really say that there was "no relevant moral difference between Nazism and Catholicism in the 1930s and 1940s?" That "the cross and the swastika are interchangeable?" That "a limited argument for the death penalty for specific crimes is equivalent to endorsing genocide?" I have a hard time believing it, but I won't comment further till I've read the article.
(On the main page of TNR, there's a link that says "how to read" Goldhagen's essay. Here's how: call and order it as "back issue!" I've been a TNR subscriber for years, and I have to say that they really need to improve their subscription service. The usual pattern is that a month or so will go by with no TNR action, after which three or four old issues will arrive all at once. I don't know how long I'll have to wait to get this one... Grrr.)
More info on John Reid and al Qaeda has been retrieved from a computer in Kabul. There appears to be pretty good evidence that Reid is the "brother Abdul Ra'uff," who went on a series of target-scouting missions that match Reid's travels. They have learned a lot of important facts about al Qaeda and its operations, such as the names of 170 operatives, a "significant portion" of whom were not previously known. But as so often, the peripheral details are just as interesting:
Many of the text documents are not only protected by passwords but also couched in elliptical, coded language. The Taliban regime, for example, is apparently referred to as Omar & Brothers Company. Bin Laden’s al-Qaida is the Abdullah Contracting Company.
The report of the target-spotting tour shows how members encoded their lives as well as their messages, wrapping even the mundane in subterfuge. It notes approvingly that “Abdul Ra’uff” took care to conceal his puritanical Islamic faith during a 10-day stay in the Netherlands. “At the hotel he would take empty alcohol bottles from the street and put them into trash containers in his room,” it says. He scavenged cigarette butts from adjacent rooms and dumped them in his own ashtray.
Bees, landmines, pizzas, guitars
According to the Financial Times, the US army is using bees equipped with data-sending microchips ("smart tags") to detect landmines:
Bees have a liking for the explosive TNT. When tagged bees are released close to areas where landmines have been planted, some of them will home in on the mines. Bees returning to the hive land on special mats that can detect TNT and identify individual bees. The direction of a bee's flight and its flight time are used to calculate the approximate position of any landmines.
Apparently John Walker was too extreme for the extremists in Yemen. The details of this case of multi-culturalism gone mad are comical in a way. Walker pretended to speak broken English with an Arab accent when he arrived in Yemen, while "other foreign students at the school mockingly nicknamed him 'Yusuf Islam,' the name pop singer Cat Stevens took when he became a Muslim." Leaving out the grim denouement, it's like a twisted kind of Jerry Lewis movie, the protagonist wearing funny costumes, speaking in a funny accent, trying and failing to fit in with the natives-- and, presumably, stumbling all over himself literally as well as figuratively. There's even a running gag where he repeatedly charges into the hills, only to be captured and returned by bemused Yemeni army officers.
Even after all this time, I still can't quite fathom the imbecility of these parents, sending their 17-year-old son to Yemen for terrorist training as other parents send their kids to Stanford. (via Rand Simberg)
The anti-warblog manifesto has arrived.
UPDATE: Most everyone has commented on this, as you might expect-- just click as many of the "good ones" to the left as you have time for. (It's hard to keep up with all the great blogs out there, isn't it?)
The general reaction among the warblog brother-and-sisterhood is wry amusement coupled with keen disappointment on the part of everyone who wasn't mentioned that they were not included. I second that emotion. Note to Ken Layne: when your critics are this hysterical, you know you're doing something right. Well done, sir. The Prof, pointing to this bizarre page from Pravda on-line, got a good slogan out of the deal at least. It's not quite as funny when you realize that Mr. Raimondo has posted his own screed on the Pravda forum/bbs; it's still pretty funny, though, because Mr. Raimondo posted his own screed on the Pravda forum/bbs. The other funny part is: Sunnyvale?
...if you want to feel ill. I mean Charles Johnson's eviscerating commentary on James Bennet's disgraceful apologia (masquerading as a straight news item) on behalf of terrorist Raed al-Karmi in today's New York Times. Un-bloody-believable. Says Johnson:
I don’t know what’s going on at the New York Times; this is a disgracefully slanted, shamefully dishonest article about a person who, if he were American, would be properly called a serial killer.
in an interview with the newspaper Azman Haifa, he boasted he was the first to shoot Tel Aviv restaurateurs Motti Dayan and Etgar Zeitouny, who were murdered outside Tulkarm last January.
"They were allowed to complete their meal, and as they left we abducted them. We drove them outside the city and ordered them out of the car and [to] empty their pockets and pray. As they emptied their pockets, we shot them. I was the first to shoot them," he said.
The Nader Factor
I caught Ralph Nader on the O'Reilly Factor last night, and so did Andrew Sullivan: his quotations and commentary are spot-on and worth reading. Favorite Nader quote:
See, what we weren't smart enough in doing is pitting the Taliban survival against the al Qaeda. You see? That's what we weren't smart enough to do, because we had a West Texas sheriff in the White House saying we're going to get them. We're going to smoke them out.
For all I know Nader actually does see himself as some sort of brilliant grandmaster of the geo-political chessboard, though most of his foreign policy ideas appear to be lifted uncritically from the Chomsky playbook. But it's probably just more disingenuousness, playing to "his base," such as it is. He knows full well that the scenario he adduces (allowing the Taleban to continue their reign of terror and oppression as long as they comply with a few limited demands) would have been a moral and strategic disaster, and that the ultimatum wouldn't have been offered if there had been any chance that it would be accepted. Even if you buy the dubious notion that the Taleban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan were separate and mutually exclusive entities, and even within the Cloudcuckoo Land of Nader's professed world-view, such a strategy of playing off one evil force against another evil force would be, under these circumstances, morally and pragmatically ludicrous. Trouncing the Taleban has sent a powerful message to other evil-doers, no doubt; but negotiating with them would have sent the opposite message. "Taleban survival"-- good idea, Ralph.
What I don't see is how this adds to Sullivan's on-going case against the claim (of Kinsley, et al.) that the notion of a dangerous, massive anti-war American Left is a figment of the "right wing imagination" and, perhaps, abiding desire. The fact that Ralph Nader has expressed anti-war sentiment is hardly an earth-shattering revelation. Crackpots like Nader and Chomsky abound, of course, and they have a degree of influence on some misguided souls, but their marginality weakens rather than strengthens Sullivan's case; ditto Rall, Kingsolver, Sontag, etc. I agree that there is a craven, soft streak of unreconstructed and ill-considered ideological idiocy running through the outlook and rhetoric of people in "the enclaves." By pointing it out and exposing it to well-deserved ridicule, Sullivan and others perform a valuable service. Yet I believe that 9/11 has probably destroyed "this Left" as a viable political force in America (though it's still alive in Europe.) It's anybody's guess what will rise from its ashes in the future, and this situation bears close watching, of course. This forced re-alignment, where the non-insane members of "the left" have been compelled by events to specify content for their attitudes and poses, is one of the most interesting peripheral phenomena of the new post-9/11 world.
I may be mistaken about this, just as Kinsley may be mistaken about his claims: but Ralph Nader doesn't prove it in either case. Everyone knows he's a nut. And if "liberal" spokesmodels like Kinsley have repudiated the traditional anti-war cliches of the loopy left, isn't that a good thing?
More detail on Arafat's Death Ship. US intelligence played an integral role in the Israeli commando raid. Colin Powell, commenting on the $10 million illegal weapons cargo, sees things clearly: "this kind of action is condemnable."
The values of democracy and inalienable rights supposedly common to Europe and America actually mean different things to Europe’s rulers. A Europe that feels strong enough to have an independent common foreign and defense policy is not necessarily something that America should welcome. It may well promote values very different from ours, and the democratic Anglo-American interpretation of those values, so attractive to the average European, will be smothered by the new continental aristocracy.
"Hoping that the Russian image of a bear, constantly drinking vodka, will dissipate..."
The weirdest part of Pravda Online is the "Russia Makes it Funny" section. It's intended as a digest of light-hearted, amusing, or bizarre stories. "On this site," write the editors, "we collected all funny stories that are possible to find in the Russian media outlets." The English translations are often charmingly fractured, as are the comments that are occasionally left by readers.
(Example: a story entitled "Unsuccessful Breeding of Ostriches in Orlov Region," describes infertile eggs laid by ostriches at a national park. The comment: "Weird stuff... still, I rather have that chasing me than the wolfman...." Indeed.)
"Funny," though, seems to have a slightly different set of connotations to these folks. In today's round-up of "funny stories:"
Another terrific Matt Welch column, on politics and the expatriate experience.
Sauce me, baby
Matt Welch has some hilarious commentary on the transcript of CNN's Reliable Sources over this last weekend. The highlights include Chicago Tribune Deputy M.E. Jim Warren's statement that "most of our people [Chicago Tribune reporters] don't even have a clue what a stock option is;" and SF Chronicle editor Phil "We're Doing the Best We Can" Bronstein blaming his own paper's poor coverage of foreign affairs on a "drop in interest in the American public in foreign international news."
The notoriously sub-standard Chronicle regularly buries its truncated "international news" section in the middle of the Classified Ads section. I've always wondered why, and now I have the answer. It's our fault! But no one reads the Chronicle for news. There's so little of it anyway.
Welch says that Reliable Sources ("the most shocking reality TV show ever") is "providing a service, I suppose, by giving us a glimpse of the very strange culture of monopolist newsrooms."
...vs. the complacency of the Media People?
Virginia Postrel tries to deflate the t. of the B. P., as Jonah Goldberg did last week. (On Goldberg's attempt, see my comments below, from Saturday's blog barrage.) She obviously knows what she's talking about, and I'm sure she's right about the economics of opinion writing; but, like many of the Media People, she's looking at it from the wrong angle.ï¿½
Of course blogging won't replace the traditional media. But the Blog People (both bloggers and readers) matter because they are as a group the most ardent consumers of news and opinion journalism. They are getting more involved in "the process" than ever before, and, I think, shaking things up a bit more than some would like to admit. But the Media People had better get used to it. Jonah Goldberg will never again be able to write a column without taking the Blog People into account; at this point, I'd say he has few readers who are not also InstaPundit readers-- and many of them are themselves bloggers. Granted, the New York Times editorial page has less of an overlap among readers. Call me a triumphalist, but I think that is bound to change as well. What is indisputable, though, is that these writers are (or ought to be) paying attention. The Media People discount the Blog People at their peril.
Professor Reynolds, once again, puts it best:
the bigger effect is below the surface. Not only are Big Media exposed to ideas from outside the all-too-hermetically-sealed world of Big Media, but they find themselves criticized, often very cogently. (Even if they don't surf, they'll find this when they Google themselves. And, you know, they do.) The criticism may or may not change their minds on particular points, but the knowledge that it takes place, and that others in their own circles are reading it, is likely to affect their thinking, or at least their writing and reporting. (In fact, I believe that it already is, but that's a topic for another post.) For while the economy of The Benjamins is important, my brother the historian notes that a major phenomenon in history is people's willingness to value status over money. And gossip (which in a way is what webloggery about mainstream journalists is) has always been a powerful determiner of status.
Is Glenn Reynolds the Ramones of op-ed journalism? Gabba gabba hey?
The New Statesman has some good news and some bad news about the war.
First, the good news: The war has been "a resounding success."
True, Osama Bin Laden himself has not been found (though the only reason may be that he is dead), but the government that protected him, and the fighters who supported him, have been utterly routed. The American performance, military and diplomatic, has been awesome. No US soldier has been lost on the battlefield. No government has dared openly to criticise the US campaign or to refuse co-operation. Arab street protests, such as they were, have faded away. The continuing US bombing raids - with the usual claims and counter-claims about civilian casualties - scarcely attract comment... And nobody seriously doubts that the US can, and probably will, overthrow Saddam Hussein whenever it wishes.
Oh, wait a minute: that is the bad news.
"11 September, which initially seemed to reveal a new American weakness and vulnerability, has actually heralded a new, and quite alarming, American strength and confidence."
Strength and confidence: the British lefty's worst nightmare. Not to worry, though. There is a reassuring light of failure at the end of the depressing tunnel of success, because "the kind of deracinated individual who becomes a terrorist must always be a characteristic figure of global capitalism."
I guess that's why the New Statesman calls this column "Focus."
Barbara Amiel has an interesting opinion piece in Monday's Telegraph. It begins as a sort of post-mortem on her now-famous Dec. column about anti-Semitism in polite society, but she goes on to make some more general observations about the war, appeasement, and "the Orient."
Noting that "the truth often needs a nudge from 16,000lb daisycutter bombs," she continues:
the daisycutter reaction was noted by Arminius Vambery, the great 19th-century orientalist and author of Travels to Transoxiana. Research for his books took him all across Central Asia, even though he was severely crippled.
Passing through Turkey as the Sultan's guest, the professor had his own carriage attached to the train, which stopped at a small station on the Asian side of the Sea of Marmara. The Turkish station master entered the carriage, sized him up and informed him that, regrettably, his carriage needed to be uncoupled from the train.
"Regulations, effendi," oiled the station master. "Though for a slight consideration, an exception can be made." He held out his hand for baksheesh.
The station master was large, his palm immense and Vambery immediately hit it with his crutch. The giant, who could have torn Vambery in two, didn't even try to ward off the blow. "Effendi, I didn't know . . ." he whimpered as he retreated, "in your exalted case, of course, regulations don't apply."
Vambery was travelling with a friend. "Didn't you see the size of that fellow?" he asked. "Weren't you afraid to hit him?"
"Of course," replied Vambery. "But this is the Orient, I would have been far more afraid not to hit him."
This assessment of what is to be feared most, firmness or appeasement, is not only true for the Orient, but it is more of a rule of thumb there. Actions such as the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon are seen as weakness.
Dropping food parcels after bombing raids can have the opposite effect to that intended, and increase resentment. Americans had difficulty grasping this until now, but they are learning fast.
The Europeans, including the British, are the only ones not genuflecting to American power because they don't expect America to bomb them. But nothing succeeds like success.
If America continues to show that it is no paper tiger, it will be increasingly less fashionable to bad-mouth either it or its allies.
The German forces bound for Kabul are having a bit of trouble getting their act together.
According to Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung:
Anybody looking for reasons why the United States prefers to rely on its own forces (and those of its model British ally) will find plenty of them in the journey that an advance unit of the German armed forces has taken to Afghanistan....Germany wants to assume responsibility in the world, but it will certainly not be taken seriously as a country by behaving like this. Instead, it will be an object of derision. It is hardly surprising if Washington generally regards European announcements of imminent plans to set up this or that military project with wry skepticism.
Doesn't the EU have some kind of "regulation committee sub-group" to deal with this sort of problem?
Political Magic Redux
I found this particularly interesting because I could criticize it quite strongly - there is nothing impossible about operations we perform on ourselves changing the world outside; it's only a posh way of saying that if you clean up your own act you will have more influence with others. Nor is "get rid of root causes" talk ridiculous of itself. (Even if I do scream, "Who attacked who here?" every time it is said. But that's just me.) Yet I, like Dr Frank, do indeed sniff a strong scent of magic in a lot of this talk of the West buying safety by self-transformation. As soon as I read the m-word, it was like finally being able to put a name to a flavour in a stew or remembering a word that had been on the tip of your tongue.
Of course, I agree that "cleaning up ones act" can be beneficial and can further ones influence and power. I'd even go as far as to say that, in certain instances, adjusting this or that sundry policy might even render us "safer," in the same way that a wino can marginally improve his health, if not his sense of well-being, if he protects his liver by allowing someone to snatch his bottle away-- though he still runs the risk of getting hit by a car if he doesn't also get out of the street, in which case his improved liver will be of little use to him. (I know that's a fractured analogy; but what I'm getting at is that there is something like a law of infinite regression when it comes to ensuring safety through a program of dealing with "root causes.")
My point was that mere righteousness rarely suffices as a defense against actual enemies: you need fortifications, armies, weapons, as well. And you need the will to use them when necessary. It's nice to occupy the moral high ground (or to be able to make a credible claim that you occupy it, at any rate.) But the idea that we can somehow render ourselves invulnerable to attack simply by maintaining a state of moral purity is flat-out delusional.
I've been trying to figure out why there has been such reluctance to acknowledge this simple truth on the part of some among us, and "magic" was the best I could come up with. No reasonable person, it might be objected, would really believe such a thing. Yes, no reasonable person would. Yet this belief does seem to animate Frater Chomsky (one of the highest-ranking hierophants of the Hermetic Order of Political Sorcery) whose grimoire maintains that our foreign policy problems will dissolve in a puff of smoke once we make the decision to refrain from engaging in foreign policy. And I sense a similar, if less "crackpot," spirit among the many well-meaning naifs whose pious dream is that we can control our attackers' activities merely by sorting out the contents of our own souls.
The problem certainly cries out for analysis from somebody with more wisdom and ability than I possess. I look forward to Natalie's promised quotes relating to the "magic" quality of some of the calls for self-transformation.
Behold, the Awesome Power of Professor Reynolds
A single mention in InstaPundit yesterday managed to sextuple the normal Blogs of War traffic. And the hits just keep on comin'. New readers: thanks for checking me out. Professor Reynolds: thanks, as Mr. Rodgers used to say, for just your being you.
I'm starting to get a little worried about Iain Murray. He hasn't posted a thing on The Edge of England's Sword since this ominous message on Thursday. Come back, Iain!
Hold it! This doesn't make any sense!
[Ted] Rall has filed some of the best war reporting from Afghanistan by an American journalist.
Joel Pett, whose editorial-page cartoons "have raised tough questions" about "the role the United States has played in spreading terror," has this to say about McGruder: "when you think about it, what he has done since September 11 has just been incredible." (He means this as a compliment, presumably.)
McGruder says "Sometimes, I do look around and say to myself, 'Gee, I'm the only one saying some of these things.'"
Maybe that should tell him something...
Attending Services at McDonald's
Not to get all "inside and egocentric" again, but I could really relate to Matt Welch's Tim Blair-spurred comments on going to McDonald's in Europe. I spend a fair amount of time in England, and I go over to Europe relatively frequently as well. Like Matt, I almost never go to McD when I'm home, but I find myself going there all the time when I'm abroad. Besides the reasons he mentions (thrift, hygiene, amusement) it's also often your only option. If you've ever tried to eat a late lunch in a medium-sized European city you know what I'm talking about: even with the best of fast-food-avoiding intentions, you'll search in vain for a restaurant that doesn't stop serving food from around 2 till 6. During these "lean hours," the gastronomic road always leads, eventually, to McD., which is fortunate in a way since the average Euro-city has far more McDs than functional telephones or toilets.
I experienced this phenomenon just last week, when my lovely health-conscious girlfriend and I found ourselves roaming the streets of Norwich looking for grub at 4pm. We must have tried around twelve establishments-- "sorry love, food is finished"-- before giving up. In some places, like Germany, it's not at all uncommon for a cranky restaurateur to tell you "we're closed for lunch," i.e., they close the restaurant to the public at lunchtime so the staff can eat in peace.
The result is that McDs in Europe are always jammed to over-flowing with burger-crazed convenience-starved Europeans. They say they don't like it, but you always have to fight your way in. So why doesn't one of the home-grown Norwich eateries wise up and try to tap in to the lucrative "after 2" market? That's just not the way things are done over there; they leave bold innovations like that to the Americans.
McD's unparalleled overseas convenience is not limited to its primary role as a happy meal distribution center; it also serves as a valuable one-stop symbol of America's over-arching vulgarity and tastelessness. (The Jerry Springer Show runs a close second in this dubious contest.) A vocal minority employ the symbol as a focus for fervent anti-Americanism and pointless mischief. For most people, however, this distaste (ironic because of how often it is expressed by people in between bites of Big Mac) is just a device for claiming a shred of cultural superiority, in the same way that a Canadian reverently opens his wallet to display his national health card as though it were the Ark of the Covenant. For the expatriate American, then, McDonald's can be a valuable resource: for food, for shelter, for comfort, for convenience, and for irritating the hell out your European hosts should such a thing become necessary.
Oh, dear God... Who's next?
An Instapundit reader reports on how Denver puts Tommy through the PC ringer:
The Boulder Daily Camera, on Friday, couldn't bring itself to say "deaf, dumb and blind." Instead, Tommy was described as a the story of an "abused, physically challenged" boy who becomes a pinball player.
Post of the day...
...so far, anyway, from Natalie Solent on this "excellent person:"
After being charged 20 pounds for a 10 pounds overdraft, 30 year old Michael Howard of Leeds changed his name by deed poll to 'Yorkshire Bank Plc are Fascist Bastards.' The Bank has now asked him to close his account, and Mr Bastards has asked them to repay the 69p balance by cheque, made out in his new name.
More great comments on "post-political correctness" from Jeff Jarvis:
I welcome the Post PC era with with trumpets. Political Correctness is essentially undemocratic; it assumes that we are all too fragile to endure the open and frank debate that democracy demands; it assumes that offense is the greatest sin; it brings us all to a lowest common denominator of gagged silence. I hate how this came to become a prerequisite to being liberal; it's not. Political correctness is a form of political fundamentalism, an attempt to impose an orthodoxy without open debate, an attempt to legislate civilized behavior according to a list of rules handed down by the political priesthood -- telling you all the things you can't say -- rather than according to intelligence and maturity just common sense of all of us. It is possible to be liberal without being politically correct and it's time for sensible liberals to stand up to this fundamentalism -- just as it's time for sensible religious believers of any brand to stand up to religious fundamentalism.
Inside and Egocentric
Jonah Goldberg has written another column about blogging ("whoring for hits again," as Bill Quick puts it.) As usual, he's got some great lines, including his parody of a self-regarding blog entry: "this morning Robert Wright responds to my criticism — first made here three months ago — that Tim Noah has it wrong about James Glassman's critique of Mickey Kaus's interpretation of my use of the phrase 'tragedy of the commons.'" And he may well be right that the blogger phenomenon is "less revolutionary than its boosters claim."
It seems to me, though, that he's looking at it from the wrong end, that is, from the point of view of the professional media. To look at a list like this and see only a "useful personal marketing tool" is to miss the point (and miss it by a mile, which is odd, since Goldberg has some credibility and background here, unlike other naysayers.) Sure, some blogs are maintained by pros, but most are not. Let me put it in simple terms that even a professional, mainstream journalist should be able to understand: these people are your readers, dude. And a lot of them, in their spare time, seem to be able to do the job as well or better than some of the pros. They're almost always funnier and more entertaining, too. (Though not in Jonah's case-- you can't fault him for lack of humor.) And I believe they are beginning to demand a bit more from the journalism and punditry they consume.
It wouldn't be much of an exaggeration to say: show me an NRO reader without his or her own blog, and I'll show you an NRO reader who just hasn't stumbled upon InstaPundit yet. It may be perfectly true, as Goldberg says, that "the good ones are good because the people behind them are good," while "the bad ones are awful and not worth the free ones and zeroes they're printed with." But this could also be said of "legitimate" mainstream journalism. There's a lot of dead wood out there, especially on editorial pages. It used to be that the only recourse in the face of this or that idiotic slop-ed was to write a strongly worded "imagine my surprise" letter to the editor, or wait till some professional writer got around to doing it (at which point you could write the editor an "I find myself in complete agreement" letter.) The whole process takes weeks-- even if you've got the time, who has that kind of patience? In the blogosphere, such editorials get picked apart instantly (often expertly) by a legion of enthusiastic vultures the second they are published. I don't know to what extent, or exactly in what way, but I do know this changes things, regardless of whether Andrew Sullivan could make more money if he got another real job.
I'm sure I'm not the only one who has tried the following experiment: read a single day's links and comments from someone like Reynolds or Welch, then sit back and watch the mainstream media catch up to the stories a couple of weeks later. It seems to me they've got all sorts of catching up to do.
The Bad Ship Arafat
This Washington Post editorial on the subject of Arafat's ship full of Iranian weapons appears to have been written in Cloudcuckoo Land (or at least in the European Union):
Like Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, [Hamas] sees this episode as a way to block what had been a slow march toward a renewal of peace talks, nudged along by U.S. envoy Anthony Zinni. If the process ever went forward, Hamas would be bottled up and critically weakened... Mr. Arafat owes the world a credible explanation. He probably won't offer one, which means that he and his government will have to begin from the beginning to separate themselves from terrorism, implement a cease-fire and offer Israel the prospect of serious negotiations.
European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana says that he hopes the weapons ship incident will not scuttle peace talks. The peace efforts, says a U.S. official, will not be derailed. "The Zinni mission will continue, ship or no ship."
This is madness. The ship is not an incident. The ship is not an accident. The ship is an announcement, inadvertent and therefore indisputable, of Arafat's duplicitous intentions: a temporary truce -- as he girds for war, a far wider, deadlier, more explosive war.
What to do? Dare to face the truth. Arafat is not a peace partner. Any truce Gen. Anthony Zinni gets him to sign will have the same durability as the dozens of truces Arafat signed while destroying Lebanon in the 1970s.
While I believe this writer's vaguely conspiracy-theory- and anti-corporate-driven unease is misplaced, this is nonetheless an interesting account of the story behind the "EU struggles to define sauce as a vegetable" story. The verdict: "such stories confirm all our worst fears about Brussels and the EU writ large;" not only that, but they have the added, and, for the article's author, the unexpected, benefit of actually being true.
Yesterday's Times describes the Euro-bureau-neuro-sis of the "nomenclature sub-group of the customs code committee" thus:
The EU’s maximum “lump limit” is currently set at 20 per cent. This was originated to stop importers avoiding high tariffs on vegetables by disguising them as sauces.
Regulation 288/97 states: “The expression ‘sauce’ does not cover a preparation of vegetables, fruit or other edible plants if the percentage of those ingredients passing through a metal wire sieve with an aperture of five millimetres is, after rinsing in water of a temperature of 20C, less than 80 per cent by weight calculated on the original preparation.” Put simply, that means that a tinned sauce does not qualify as a sauce if it is more than one-fifth lumps.
EU regulators have an able adversary in "Le Comité des Industries des Mayonnaises et Sauces Condimentaires de l’Union Européenne," who despite their Euro-ic name can score propaganda coups merely by quoting euro-jargon and letting the press do its thing.
For Britons who feel like Chicken Tonight, the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement must be looking looking just a bit tastier...
Strange things afoot...
Colin Powell defends Israel. And the BBC reports it. We're through the looking glass people...
Good news-- Matt Welch is back. Cool!
I changed the color of the Blogs of War from blue to green, because I kept getting myself mixed up with Tim Blair, QuasiPundit, and Ye Olde Blogge. (I had found myself wondering "when the hell did I write that?" a time too often...) Until someone else with this blogger template "goes green," I should be relatively sure of who I am, in the near term anyway.
UPDATE: as go the BOW, so goes the universe.
They can lie, but they won't be able to lie forever...
Here's the first installment of a two part article in the Boston Globe about the audacity of Saudi anti-American lies. It's all familiar turf for those of us who even occasionally scan the MEMRI website, of course. But I think it's safe to say that the Saudi PR campaign is failing:
The line from the Bush administration is that the Saudis are loyal allies who have been most cooperative in the war on terrorism. Diplomatic sweet-talk has its place in international affairs, but not when it becomes a substitute for clear thought. The Saudis are not loyal allies, and they have not been most cooperative. What does Washington gain by pretending otherwise?
...For too long we have pretended that Saudi Arabia is our fast friend and a key to stability in the Middle East. In truth, it is neither. It's time we left the fictions to Riyadh, and adjusted our foreign policy to the real world.
Box o' bin Laden
Saudi Arabia has remitted a sum of US$45 million to the Palestine National Authority, to help it in its budgetary expenditure, thus making the total aid given to Palestine by Saudi Arabia since 1964 around US$9,000,000,000 (nine billion). The money is to be used for educational, health and humanitarian purposes.
The Kingdom has also dispatched five large containers carrying 10 kidney dialysis machines, plus a large electricity generator, plus other medical equipment to the Shifa Hospital in Gaza.
Saudi Arabia donates ten dialysis machines, plus a generator to keep them humming. To a hospital in Gaza. Do we know anybody with kidney problems who might be looking for a congenial place to lie low for a while? A Saudi type person, perhaps? A rich Saudi?
Say. Has anybody checked inside those containers?
This reminds me of something I read in a Gregg Easterbrook article on Saddam's nuclear program a few months back:
In 1998 Iraq ordered from a German company six lithotripsy devices, extremely expensive machines that treat kidney stones without surgery. Why did Iraq require lithotripsy when millions of its citizens lack basic antibiotics? Presumably because the lithotripter employs an incredibly high-speed switch modeled on the high-speed switches in atomic warheads. Justified as a medical purchase, Iraq obtained eight of the switches, one in each machine plus two spares. Initially Iraq ordered 120 spare switches, a figure totally unrelated to the normal operation of lithotripters, and one that should have made Saddam's real purpose unmistakably clear. The German company balked at the purchase order for 120 switches, but happily sold the eight.
Hey, I'm a paranoid guy....
Kill Osama, says Reuel Marc Gerecht in the New York Times:
If we hunt for him and bomb his sanctuaries but don't find and kill him, we will only add to his appeal and set him up for the next spectacular act of terrorism. Since we cannot avoid this conundrum, we must not temper our resolve to get him with the usual concern about the sovereignty of any foreign state where he may be.
Washington needs to deal peremptorily with any warlord or government in the Middle East that impedes any American action to find Osama bin Laden. American soldiers, not Afghans, need to do the dirty work of checking all the caves of Tora Bora, plugging the escape routes toward Pakistan and Iran, and moving quickly into the mountainous area of Pakistan's Northwest Frontier if it appears he's there. If other Qaeda members have moved into Iran, then Tehran should be held accountable and threatened militarily if the terrorists are not turned over.
100 more US soldiers are being sent to the southern Phillipines, on a "training mission." I believe we've had some troops there for some time; at least since October, anyway. Islamist rebels are still holding Martin and Gracia Burnham, the American couple taken hostage in May, whom they have threatened with beheading. I think it's a bit odd that there has been so little coverage of this hostage situation. Or maybe I just missed it while I was in England?
Mark Steyn in the Spectator concedes that GWB "lacks the intelligence to hold down a really demanding job like columnist at the New York Times or Slate." Yet, he writes, "in the weeks before 11 September, having already spotted his predecessor’s neglect of the matter, his administration was working on new strategies to combat international terrorism. What a chump, eh?"
Steyn also has this interesting historical observation:
Why, after all, does Pakistan exist? It exists because of a terrible failure of will on the part of the British. Indeed, all the problems Tony Blair has been swanking about Asia anxious to mediate on are the fault of his predecessors and, come to that, his party. There wouldn’t be two nuclear powers if there weren’t two powers in the first place. If Lord Mountbatten had held out against partition for another year, Jinnah would have been dead and who knows how much steam the Muslim League could have mustered? Conversely, the only reason India and Pakistan are squabbling over Kashmir is because Britain, having decided on partition, then, typically, screwed over the maharajahs and nawabs of the Princely states, which comprised a third of the subcontinent, and told them the jig was up and they had to choose which of the two nations they wanted to belong to. In Kashmir, the ruler was Hindu and the vast majority of his subjects were Muslim, but the British let him choose to join India. However you look at it, the creation of Pakistan was a mess: even the ISI was a British invention. More importantly, in accepting Jinnah’s rejection of modern, pluralist, secular, democratic India, Mountbatten and co. implicitly sanctioned Pakistan’s development as the precise negative of its neighbour: backward, narrow, fundamentalist, dictatorial.
If that’s what centuries of expertise in the region produces, then I’ll take a know-nothing like Bush any day.
Catching up on the magazines that got crammed into the mailbox while I was away...
There's an interesting article in a (relatively recent) New Republic by Martin Peretz on Islamo-fascist rhetoric and parallels from the Spanish Civil War, particularly the twin nihilistic slogans Viva la muerte ("long live death") and Abajo la inteligencia ("down with intelligence,") the rallying cries of one of Franco's generals, Millan Astray.
one day... the Festival of the Race--a Fascist contrivance--was being celebrated at the University of Salamanca... in the presence of the bishop, the civil governor, Senora Franco, and Millan Astray. In the chair as rector of the university was one of the not inconsiderable number of intellectuals who, appalled by the Communist takeover of the Republic and by Republican atrocities, had gone over to the rebels. He was the great classicist and philosopher Miguel de Unamuno, known to us primarily as the author of The Tragic Sense of Life, the leading spirit of Spain's Generation of '98, an ornament of civilization itself. But Millan Astray shouted the usual demented words nonetheless.
"Just now," Unamuno intoned, "I have heard a necrophilious and senseless cry: `Long live death.' And I, who have spent my life shaping paradoxes ... I must tell you that this outlandish paradox is repellent." He went on a bit about the Fascist indulgence of mutilation and destruction, and then Millan Astray once again shouted, "Down with intelligence!" And Unamuno left the ceremonial hall. On the morrow he was placed under house arrest. And within a few months he was dead.
Too few--far too few--voices from the religious, political, and intellectual citadels of the Islamic world have raised such a blunt and eloquent protest today. Only days before we all saw bin Laden laughing at death, Prince Nayef--the Interior Minister of Saudi Arabia, the country whose idle rich financed September 11, and around which Colin Powell has fabricated a sham coalition--explained that "no one has found any proof" that 15 Saudis participated in the attacks. The media tell us over and over that these murderers are marginal, just Osama bin Laden and a few scattered look-alikes. But our serenity says more about America's tendency to project its liberal assumptions onto other societies than about any deep understanding of the forces at play in the Muslim world. A closer, harder look would show that the Millan Astrays are not marginal at all. "Down with intelligence" and "Long live death," I fear, are rousing the masses once more.
Also in that issue, is this editorial, which contains the following "quotable quote:"
even the secretary of state did not fall for Arafat's ploy. "It's been clear from the beginning that we have had many words pass back and forth," Colin Powell said, "and now we... have to see action." Has Yasir Arafat lost the support of the Department of State? Few stranger things could have happened, if indeed this has happened; but this is a season of strange things."
Here's some canny and apt commentary from William Quick on Libertarian Party presidential candidate Harry Browne's "What Has 'Victory' Achieved?" circular. Quick sums up:
If those of us who excoriate the imbecility of the Sontags and Salters of the world want to keep our credibility, we need to point out the equally elitists, fatheaded maunderings of those from our own part of the world. Consider it done: Harry Browne is a pernicious idiot, equally as loony as Robert Fisk or Noam Chomsky. If he's the purported leader of the Libertarian Party, they'll be holding their next nominating convention in a Des Moines telephone booth.
Tim Blair, Aussie oppressor, funniest man in the blogosphere-- I can't even comment on this post because I'm laughing too hard.
Yet another terrific piece by Franklin Foer in the New Republic on Reza Pahlavi vs. Khatami as our best hope in Iran.
From America's point of view, Pahlavi should be a deeply attractive figure. He's a liberal who, with our help, could challenge a regime in Tehran that sponsors Hezbollah, defends Hamas, and is developing weapons of mass destruction. He calls the United States a "true beacon of freedom"; he has even quietly met with Israeli officials. When I interviewed him, he took my notebook, wrote the words "secular democracy," and underlined them twice. Yet the risk-adverse diplomats in Foggy Bottom remain entranced by the prospect of détente with the Khatami regime. "We have been in discussions with the Iranians at a variety of levels and in some new ways since September 11," Colin Powell remarked last month after shaking hands with Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi.
Here's a great piece by Ron Rosenbaum on Christopher Hitchens and Andrew Sullivan, "the Men who Would be Orwell." He rightly gives Sullivan's blog a great deal of credit as a powerful force for influencing public opinion and changing the face of opinion journalism, though he seems unaware of the massive warblog phenomenon. (Honestly, how can you approach this issue without even mentioning InstaPundit?) There are also some insightful comparisons between Orwell's age and ours. It's worth reading. Question: is he right that Hitchens coined the phrase "Islamo-fascist?" I seem to recall it being part of the politicritical vocabulary even before Hitchens's important post-911 columns...
I Wanna Be Sedated
In anticipation of what I assume will be the subject of Terry Jones's next Observer op-ed, let me comment in advance on this report about the security measures being taken for the transport of Taliban and Al-Qaeda prisoners from Afghanistan to Guantanamo Bay. Not only will they be chained, possibly hooded, unable to leave their seats for the entire flight, and guarded by a ratio of 2:1, but they may also be sedated for the trip.
I know there will be complaints about the "cruelty" of this practice (though I admit I don't feel remotely sorry for these people); but to me this seems like an act of kindness as well as a security measure. Even with no hood and no chains (though movement was hampered by being seated next to a fat person) my 10 hour flight from London yesterday would have been much better if Virgin Atlantic had supplied a nice sedative in their little package of goodies. Perhaps this would be a general security solution for all flights: sedate all passengers on take-off. I'd appreciate it.
Still Harping on Herold
Yeah, I know the case on Mark Herold's ideologically driven report on Afghan civilian casualties is pretty much closed (verdict: guilty of willful distortion, using questionable sources, ideologically "shaping" his data, faulty reasoning...) Still, this comment by Daimnation! reader Tom Roberts is worth a look.
Who's Next? Iran or Iraq?
Safire on Arafat and Iran in todays New York Times:
Two terrorist-sponsoring nations are racing to acquire nuclear weapons. One is Iraq, whose scientists already have the know-how. The other is Iran, whose nuclear development is being recklessly aided by President Vladimir Putin of Russia, despite feeble American protests.
Both Iran and Iraq have restive populations longing for freedom from political and religious repression. In conversations over the years, the Israeli leaders Yitzhak Rabin and Ariel Sharon have said they thought radical Iran would be the greater danger; Americans like me consider Saddam's threat more immediate.
Iranians and Iraqis require liberation before their dictators gain nuclear superpower. Target practice against terrorists in Yemen or Somalia may buy Washington time, but George Bush's big decisions are (1) how quickly we pre-empt before being forced to retaliate, and (2) which major terrorist sponsor comes first.
Saddam is in the lead, but the militant ayatollahs are closing fast.
The Kamikaze Kid
I don't think there's all that much in the Arab father angle on the Charles Bishop story, other than the obvious psychological one. There are some odd points in this Guardian article, however:
Some East Lake students remember that, after September 11, Bishop would refer cryptically to being of Arab extraction - a detail police are still unable to confirm, since his father, Charles Bishara, appears to have vanished without trace... "Sometimes when I'd ask him where he was from, he'd make jokes about being from Afghanistan," recalled Geoffrey Mackey, who attended another Florida school, Dunedin Academy, with Bishop. "Or he'd say 'I'm a Muslim!'" But then, Mackey said, "he'd correct himself and say, 'No - I'm from Boston'."
They're also saying that this kid's suicidal urges could have been caused by the acne medication, Accutane.
Everybody agrees it doesn't sound like an Al Qaeda operation. (Sending little kids on suicide missions-- that sounds more like an Arafat mission; even so, I'm sure it wasn't.) It's a sad, weird story.
So the kid was troubled, maybe accutane-addled, and perhaps had some kind of Arab-fixation related to his absent father-- but how does that mean it's not "terrorism?" Of course it is. So much for "homeland security." As Ken Layne puts it:
Why does Do-Nothing Tom Ridge insist this has "nothing to do with terrorism"? Somebody commits a terrorist act -- a suicide crash of a hijacked plane into an American skyscraper -- in support of a terrorist war against the West. It doesn't matter if the kid acted alone (which it seems he did) or if the kid went crazy (which of the Saudi hijackers wasn't crazy?). It's a terrorist act. Deal with it, Tom. Or go back to goddamned Pennsylvania.
(1) Better late than never, the Blogs of War is now jumping on the Claire Berlinski bandwagon. You can check out the first chapter of her new novel "Loose Lips" here; you can purchase the book here; and here is a picture of her with her clothes on. Check out Dawson for more pluggin'...
(2) I've been getting quite a few referrals from Scott Puckett's Punk Rock Academy site, since he was kind enough to put a link to the Blogs of War on his front page-- thanks, dude. PRA has lots of news and views, some punk-related, some not. Check it out.
(3) Thanks to all the bloggers who put up perma-links to the Blogs of War on their front pages recently, including Ye Olde Blogge, Ben Sheriff's Layman's Logic, Jeff Jarvis, the great Charles "Little Green Footballs" Johnson, Dawson and for that matter anyone else I haven't noticed yet.
(4) My band's newest release, "The Mr. T Experience... and the women who love them-- special addition" comes out on January 17th; and there's a record release show at Slim's in San Francisco on 1/26, featuring the Mr. T Experience, the Bobby Teens, and one more band to be announced. (It's not really a "new" record, but rather a new CD compilation of eps, b-sides, demos and out-takes from 1993-1997.)
Geraldine Brooks has the right idea: We Must Attack Iraq and Free its People.
Back in the USA
Much as I hated to leave the Shire and its dear little Hobbits, early this morning I headed for the Grey Havens (which were very, very gray at the time) and embarked for home. Pure Middle Earth gave way to Virgin Atlantic (still a bit hobbit, but a high-tech sort of hobbit) which in turn gave way to San Francisco. I was pleased to find, upon landing at SFO, that home is still here. I'm not all there, though. I mean, I'm a bit "zoned."
Shoe inspection report: I have to say I expected a bit more scrutiny. After I cleared the metal detector, I was asked by the inspector to "show me the bottoms of your shoes, if you please." Satisfied that no fuses were sticking out of them, he waved me on. You'd never notice, but English people have a horror of looking ridiculous, so the procedure must have been extremely difficult for some of them. For my part, I will always cherish the following image: a line of six perturbed Britons, each standing on one foot and looking over the shoulder anxiously at the inspector as they tried to keep their balance. A bit rummy, what?
Leaving London tomorrow a.m., so this will likely be the last post till I return and recover. Don't miss me too much.
A few quick links before I go:
James Lilek's merciless take-down of Stephanie Salter. (I wonder who takes more blog-flak, SS, Ted Rall or Robert Fisk?)
An interview with Paul Wolfowitz summarized in the New York Times. This appears to make it "official," in case there was any doubt: we're tackling Somalia before we hit Saddam.
Mark Steyn on the "brutal Afghan winter."
Even without C-4, a shoe can be a weapon: here's another shoe-wielding passenger.
John Walker got his start in the Islamo-fascist game at the Mill Valley Islamic Center; Richard Reid learned the ropes through people he met at the Brixton Mosque and Islamic Community Center in South London; James McLintock, the young Scotsman who is being held in Pakistan as an al-Qaeda member, was presumably inducted at the Hilltown Mosque and Islamic Center of Dundee. There are a large number of these institutions in London alone, and thousands throughout the Western world. Of course, not everyone associated with these institutions is a budding terrorist, and there's no reason to doubt that the vast majority are good and decent people. (The Brixton Mosque chairman, Abdul Haqq Baker, seems pretty credible as a purveyor of a benign message, unless he's some kind of master-dissembler.) Still, as more instances of Westerners-turned-murderous-fanatics keep popping up, it's increasingly difficult to avoid the conclusion that these "cultural centers" are a dangerous breeding ground.
Is this an exaggeration? There's an interesting look into the ethos propagated at such institutions in this recent Scotsman article (via Andrew Sullivan.) Here's the voice of the "moderate" Scottish president of the UK Islamic mission, on the shoe bomber:
No one can condone what Richard Reid tried to do. But anyone with a brain can see what created him and drove him to it. What Richard Reid did is not an act of terrorism - it is an act of frustration. Many young and old Muslims are frustrated by the way their faith is being targeted by George Bush and Tony Blair. Unless they address the root cause of what is creating people who are willing to kill innocent civilians then more acts like this will happen.
Now, the pupil, one Ifran Rasool, the 18-year-old son of a Dundee bus driver:
Britain is an evil regime and it is corrupt. The idea of democracy goes against everything that Muslims should believe. Democracy is a man-made construct. Instead, everyone should live their life by the teachings of Allah. You ask me to follow Tony Blair, a man, or to follow Allah, our divine teacher? There is no contest. We believe that it is the obligation of every Muslim to fight to create an Islamic state that is based on the Koran... Every single Muslim should have a love of Jihad. They should want to go out on a Jihad. Every single Muslim should have these feelings. It would not bother me to shoot a British soldier in the least. Why should it?
Frodo W. Bush?
I think I understand why Andrew Sullivan feels he needs to do his part to burnish GWB's image here and there whenever the opportunity presents itself. I tend to agree with him that Bush is often misunderestimated, and that his leadership in this current crisis has been impressive, confounding the low expectations of many of his critics, who are often improperly reluctant to admit it. Sometimes, however, Sullivan allows himself to get carried away, as in this entry in his weblog, entitled "George W. Baggins." Caught up in the excitement of the Lord of the Rings, and always on the alert for edifying GWB parallels, he makes the following observations:
as a parable, I can immediately see why the first installment has struck such a nerve. In some ways, all liberal societies are like the Shire. They’re instinctively peaceful, geographically lucky, a little complacent, and always vulnerable. Every now and again, real evil threatens and we’re all asked to fight. Tolkien’s response is very English and the virtues he ascribes to Hobbits, like their idiosyncrasies, are also classically English. It has a very Second World War feel to it – the plucky little Brits fighting the evil Nazis.
Isn’t Dubya a classic Frodo? His dad, Bilbo - I mean, Herbert Walker - had his own little adventure with the dark forces, but poor Frodo is stuck with the legacy. He doesn’t change with the experience; his old and rather ordinary virtues just seem appropriate to the task. After the first installment, we have no idea when and how the real, final struggle with the global forces of evil will take place. But we know enough to believe that Frodo/Dubya will be able to cope.
Faithful friend, correspondent and Blogs of War critic Tristin writes: "I like your blog but it has gotten way British... you sound like you could use a mass dose of Temptation Island or something. You are about 26 fantasy singles short of a US passport."
She may be right. Have I, like so many before me, crossed the line between facetiousness and not being able to tell the difference? Well, it won't matter soon, since I'm due to return to the good old USA in a couple of days. (I try to keep abreast of things British wherever I am, though, because of my "special relationship" with one of them. Rather.)
Posting may be a bit light till I arrive in sunny California, by the way. Wish me luck with the shoe inspector.
Knackered and Shattered
Back in London, after a fairly strenuous trip from Hobbiton. I suppose London is still the Shire, but just a bit less so. The world of the Big Folk is both strange and familiar. More later.
Mullah Omar's Great Escape
The Blogs of War reported yesterday that Mullah Omar had been captured (based on a Guardian article about the galvanizing power of US bombs.) As it happens rumors of his collaring were greatly exaggerated: the wascally one-eyed wahabbist escaped, riding to safety on a motorbike. Foiled again.
(I heard this on the BBC news last night, and read it in theSunday Times today. Here's the link to the Sunday Times main page-- if you can find this article by Matthew Campbell on this blasted, God-forsaken web site, you're a better man than I. Grrrr....)
The Taliban's Chamber of Horrors
Even in view of the well-known shameless barbarism of the Taliban, this account of the punishment meted out to Red Cross worker Saed Abdullah for the crime of possessing a couple of Bibles still managed to shock me.
At first they would punch me and slap me.î When he insisted that he was a Muslim, they took out a whip and lashed his back. But worse was to come. "They tied an electric cable around my toes," he recalled last week. "The electric shock made me feel I was being lifted in the air and then slammed back on the ground. Words cannot describe the pain...
After seven days he was pushed into a different room. "There was a table with bloodstains on it,î he said. "There was blood on the floor. Five or six guards stood there watching me. They took off their turbans and waistcoats." They tied his feet to a long pole and lifted each end of it. ìOne of them said, 'Just give us the names of the people you worked with. We know youíve being trying to make Christian converts.'"
When he again insisted that he was not a Christian they beat the bare soles of his feet and his back until he passed out. The next day he could not walk and was urinating blood. I had to crawl on my knees like a baby," he said. A doctor arrived and gave him some pills but the guards confiscated them.
Ten days later it started again: "Beating, whipping and the electric shock. The worst thing was the shocks. They started putting the wires on my genitals instead of my toes. And they pulled out my hair. I was so dehydrated I could no longer cry...."
Some Taliban asked questions. Others spat at him. One put a knife to his throat and said: "Let me kill this infidel. God will send me to heaven." When sentence was passed, Abdullah was told that in two days he would be taken to the roof of the Ministry of Communications, the capital's highest building, where he would be doused in petrol, set ablaze and pushed over the edge "to show how we deal with converts to Christianity."
Luckily the US is not bound by any soft-centred decisions of the European Court of Human Rights. In fact the US also needn't take any notice of the United Nations Convention against Torture either, because it was one of the few countries that had the sense not to sign the agreement in 1985. Argentina, Belgium, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Finland, France, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal,Senegal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and Uruguay made the mistake of signing it, and subsequently Venezuela Luxembourg, Panama, Austria and even the UK and...
...Afghanistan joined in, but America didn't. Lucky for them. Now we can see how it's paying off. The US Army can put bags over the heads of whoever they like.
More idiocy from Terry Jones. (Warning: it's not even remotely funny...)
...or, Left-wing Columnists Say the Darnedest Things
Kinsley then makes the following point: “In a country such as Great Britain, the legal protections for free speech are weaker than ours, but the social protections are stronger. They lack a First Amendment, but they have thicker skin and a greater acceptance of eccentricity of all sorts.” But there’s an obvious reason why Brits are less exercised by speech that might weaken resolve against global terror. It barely matters what they think. Americans are in a completely different position. Whether we like it or not, America is the sole responsible power in the world. No wonder Americans worry more when far-lefties and far-righties try to undermine a vital war. These extremists might actually affect things. Americans are no more naturally earnest than Brits, in my opinion. They just temper their rhetorical excesses to reflect their responsibility. The same less care-free atmosphere of public debate existed in Britain in the nineteenth century, when what the Brits thought and believed really did matter to the world. Rambunctious irrelevance might be more entertaining; but it’s not an option Americans really have right now.
Quite so. America does have a pretty good supply of rambunctiously irrelevant bozos, though, as Sullivan well knows. As I said earlier in my comment on Terry Jones's disingenuous anti-war-mongering, I believe that a lot of these people are quite consciously exploiting their own irrelevance, playing to their audience by indulging in "entertaining" rhetoric that they know is unlikely to do any real harm.
Brits tend to raise an ironic eyebrow when Americans react to such rhetoric with outrage or even only with mild complaint, as though to say "can't you even handle the occasional left-wing columnist?" Or, to borrow Kinsley's phrase, "grow a thicker skin, Yank." The British are very used to this kind of rhetorical excess and seem to take it, like everything else, in stride. And they do have a point. Reading day after day of Guardian columnists raving on and on about "innocent blood in a coward's war" and "America's Reign of Terror" is a bit like watching a junior high school production of Death of a Salesman, or a high school debate on a subject like "man's inhumanity to man." I'm sure the best reaction to George Monbiot is a detached, indulgent condescension, of the "left wing columnists say the darnedest things" variety.
Sometimes, though, such detachment is hard to maintain. You often hear people over here explain the "over-sensitivity" of Americans with regard to the war as a result of a lack of self-confidence; the American nation is so young, and hence so fragile, that its citizens feel it cannot bear the least criticism. In a way, though, the truth is almost precisely the opposite. It is a sign of our strength as a nation that there are some things, at least, that we feel we must be serious about, and that, in these matters, we do not suffer fools gladly.
Clash of the Titans
This one is as clear and reasonable an expression of the "Anglosphere" idea as you're likely to find. (This was in response to comments on the "Anglosphere cult" posed by Emmanuel Goldstein, who has now responded himself. Murray says it's not a "warblog blogwar," but it looks like it's developing into a spirited exchange at any rate-- check it out.)
Lord of the Rings Warning
Just a reminder to any UK readers who may be out there: Radio 4 is re-broadcasting the BBC's great 1981 Lord of the Rings radio dramatization. First episode begins tomorrow (Saturday) 2:30 pm. Tape it! You'll want to hear it again...
Mullah Omar Arrested!
Details are sketchy-- I hope it's true, though we have heard this one before. "Talks with those believed to be harbouring the cleric were galvanised by threats of US bombing," says the Guardian. That's the way boys: keep on galvanizin'!
I've been meaning to mention Moira Breen's excellent little essay on the American "vice of niceness," which she casts as "the loss of the gift of contempt."
We operate not by more formal codes of manners but by a ritualized familiarity and friendliness - which is often seen as "false" and phony in the way that Americans can see traditional formal manners as "false". We think friendliness and the effort to be inoffensive should be understood everywhere... [Our] own fundamentally egalitarian view of human relations (which is a good thing, properly applied), seems to blind us to the simplest facts of human nature.
[James] Woolsey [in a previously-cited interview in the Jerusalem Post] quotes an unnamed scholar of the Middle East:
When this is over, either we are going to be held in contempt in the Mideast as we are now, or we are going to be feared and respected. There is nothing in between.
Such a statement, which I absolutely believe to be true, utterly befuddles many Americans, particularly on the left. They occupy a world of social relations not defined by the poles of respect and contempt , and it disturbs them to contemplate one that is. This niceness, this inability to judge and despise, has been condemned as moral relativism (in the case, for example, of John Walker) - and it is. But the loss of the gift for contempt defines perhaps the American form of this relativism - what you get from people who are fat and happy and friendly and... nice. Too nice to feel contempt, and therefore too nice to understand it.
It seems to me, though, that the problem goes deeper than mere discomfort. The idea that we ought to be able to triumph simply by setting a good example (the idea behind "appeasement," past and present) popped up everywhere in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. It could, of course, be seen most clearly among those justly exposed to general ridicule as "Sontag Award" nominees. If only, the theory goes, we had been wise and good enough to conduct ourselves according to the precepts of [insert personal ideological or policy obsession here,] no one would hate us and want to blow us up. The corollary: if we adjust our policies so that they are more pleasing to our enemies, these enemies will no longer pose a threat to our security and well-being and will go away.
As a solution to our practical problems, this line of thinking is dubious in the extreme. In fact, it has always struck me as a kind of magic, 1wherein operations and rituals we perform upon ourselves are supposed to have a transformative and determinative effect on the world outside. If we sacrifice Israel and maintain a state of ritual purity, our hierophants and high priestesses tell us, the dark forces of Islamist terror will be appeased, and the gods will reward us with a calming of the seas, peace, prosperity, fertility, and a bountiful harvest. (Incidentally, I wonder if a similar political magic also inheres in our domestic disputes, like abortion, where practical considerations are given a back seat to the quest for the ideal euphemism... more about that later, perhaps.) At best, it's feeble-minded wishful thinking, borne of a fervent desire to avoid the ineluctable logic of war (deemed aesthetically objectionable) that when enemies are trying to destroy you, you must beat them to it-- Gen. Patton's advice to make the other son of a bitch die for his country. Worse still, it's an excuse for evading responsibility, and, at the very worst, a self-loathing program for contriving ones own demise.
It has often been said that, perhaps because of our Puritan heritage, America is a nation of idealists. This is really another way of saying that we are a nation of frustrated idealists. There seems to be a widespread belief that idealism is only desirable in a "pure" theoretical form, and that such idealism always becomes irrevocably corrupted and morally suspect the minute it is acted upon. Orwell once wrote that "political language-- and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists-- is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind." Are we no better than our foes? Because of our deeply-held belief that this is not the case, Americans are extraordinarily sensitive to such charges, whether we admit it or not. Moral relativists, nihilists, anti-American agitators at home and abroad, taking advantage of this state of moral confusion, believe that the mere accusation of hypocrisy ought to be enough to halt all action, perhaps even to suspend or pre-empt reality. And it is a mark of the extent of this moral confusion that the utterance of this magic word can often come very close to inducing the intended paralysis. So sensitive have we become to the accusation of hypocrisy, and so eager to avoid it, so accustomed to weighing moral imperatives and courses of action against each other, that the failure to decide between them is almost felt to be a sort of self-justifying virtue in its own right.ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ ï¿½ï¿½
It's tempting (and certainly not altogether wrong) to associate this mode of thought with "the Left," but in fact it cuts widely through the collective contemporary American consciousness. It can be discerned in the Kissinger-esque "realism" of the GHW Bush administration, which sought no more than the preservation of an imperfect status quo and and the pursuit of narrow interests rather than wanton indulgence in the "fiction" of noble goals. It was perhaps part of what lay behind the dark hints of a new era of American isolationism and "humility" floated vaguely by the GWB of the electoral campaign; and though 9/11 seems to have dispensed with the isolationism problem for the foreseeable future, the culture of hesitancy and the cult of "I dare not" is still very much with us, through Colin Powell and other veterans of the premature calm after the Desert Storm. Ironically, perhaps, it was also present in some of the Clinton international interventionists, who were only comfortable with military action when they could claim that there was no self-interest involved.
Oops, I seem to have lurched into a lecture of my own when all I meant to do was draw attention to Moira's essay. Read it. It's good. ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½
Heads I win, tails you lose
Here's some useful knowledge for those in the Euro-zone.
My dear friend (and trusted Blogs of War correspondent) Tristin, driving yesterday from DC to North Carolina, listened to talk radio and NPR on the way and heard all about the Moussaoui hearing. She wrote in with the following amusing observation:
the twentieth hijacker's mother was there from France with her lawyer who made an impassioned and heavily accented comment "it iz obvious zat ze americans do NOT presume ze innosanse when you zee my clee-antz son in zee green jumpsuit zat sez "prisoner!".
She also wonders: "why, if his family has the money to fly Mrs. Moussaoui AND HER FRENCH LAWYER to Virginia for the trial, is he being defended by the US public defender instead of his own lawyer ?
I blame it all on the Washington Times, British Telecom, and the Old Speckled Hen
QuasiPundit is right. I need to be a little more skeptical about the Washington Times. (It's cold and dark here in Hobbiton-- and we gets our news where we may, don't we Precious? Our internet connections is so... slow and undependable, Precious... and no Newsweekses anywhere...)
Yesterday I reported, based on a TWT "summary" of a Howard Fineman Newsweek piece, that the Democratic Party had announced plans to commit suicide by adopting a campaign strategy of equating the Republicans with the Taleban. Now, duly chastened by QuasiPundit's scrupulous fact-checking of my ass, I have read Fineman's original piece, and I realize that this account was indeed rather slanted. "It's the last graf of eight," writes Tony Adragna, "in a column covering a range of issues, and the essential comparison need not be so... for TWT to spin Fineman's thread into something that looks like "Demonizing Christians" is objectionable."
Quite right. Despite the lack of proportion, though, for what it's worth, this paragraph isn't framed as Fineman's own prediction; he doesn't indicate a source, but he does actually say that "Democrats are planning" this new culture war. And it would be an idiotic, alienating move, except maybe in places like Berkeley where they're going to win anyway. I happen to agree, though, that even the Democrats probably wouldn't be stupid enough to try to run on an "at least we're not as bad as the Taleban" platform, much as TWT would like that to be the case. Most likely, they will focus on giving Congressional Republicans enough rope with which to hang themselves, which seems to work relatively well practically every time.
In any case, I must now amend my report as follows: Newsweek's Howard Fineman has revealed that the Democratic Party is weighing several options, including daring plans for a possible public mass suicide during the 2002 election.
Cheers to QuasiPundit for helping to keep the Blogs of War honest. Gollum.
VIII is Enough
I'm still having trouble believing that anyone bothered to read the lengthy account of my rustic Norfolk New Years Eve carefully enough to notice, but several readers wrote in to call attention to a glaring typo. The song sung with such gusto by the good local people in the George and the Dragon was not, as I inadvertently reported, "Henry VII." It was in fact "Henry VIII," the old English music hall number popularized in America by Herman's Hermits. As far as I know, there is no English music hall song on the subject of Henry VII, so I cannot provide the lyrics, despite several disingenuous requests.
The Blogs of War regrets the error.
Glenn Reynolds's latest Foxnew.com article, about how activist press releases tend get recycled and regurgitated in huge unseemly chunks by the mainstream media, is a corker. Lots of amusing anecdotal examples, including this one:
an apparent plagiarism scandal at two California newspapers was resolved when it turned out that the two columnists who published identical columns hadn't copied each other — they had both simply copied their columns word-for-word from the same press release. Oh, said the editors. That was OK.
More and more people are catching on to this sort of thing, and it may explain why the reputation of traditional media organizations continues to slide. For while they continue to claim that liberal bias is a myth, an amazing amount of what traditional media groups do comes straight from the fax machines of left-leaning advocacy groups. As long as that's the case, their claims to exercise unbiased editorial judgment are going to ring very hollow.
God Rules OK
Obviously, I'm glad he turned out to be something other than an Arab terrorist, but the Boca Raton guy who chose to spend his New Year's Day flying around in a little plane sky-writing "God is Great" and other such messages still seems to be a few beads short of a rosary.
"You can't imagine what it's like, when you're feeling low, wondering if God is listening to your prayers," he said. "And then you walk out of your house and up above in big letters right over you, there's 'God loves you.'"
Yes I can. It's like a variety of nausea, the kind you get when television personalities tell each other "I need a hug."
"God loves you" is simply cloying, but "God is Great" is, in fact, fairly worrying under the circumstances. I assume this guy just meant that God is "great" as in "whoa, you know what dude? God is really, like, totally *great*."
Good point, Cardinal Newman.
But that specific phrase is not normally used in Christian contexts. We all know the context it is normally used in. Could it really be that this guy had never heard of those Daschle/Brokaw letters or seen the bin Laden videos? Does he not realize that this phrase is the cry of the suicide bomber? It doesn't seem credible.
That said, I don't think I'd be alarmed enough to "panic," like some B. R. residents-- but you can't blame 'em for being a bit jumpy. The evil Islamist mastermind who chooses to expend his terrorism capital on sky-writing sounds like something out of the Simpsons, but absurdity abounds among these people.
Democratic Party Plans to Commit Suicide
At least, that's how I read this report on Democratic plans to base their future electoral strategy around the claim that the Republicans are just as bad as the Taleban. According to Newsweek's Howard Fineman:
This is an incendiary battle plan — essentially comparing the GOP right with the Taliban — designed to draw an outraged response from the president.Then Democrats would have Bush just where they wanted him: in a firefight at home.
If they carry through with this idiotic strategy, they deserve to lose, "bigtime," as the saying goes. And, if so, I don't think it would be premature for Republicans to start popping their Champagne corks. What a bunch of idiots.
Afghanistan: a Land of Many Contrasts. Discount rates available.
You think you have a thesis, but you don't know what it is...
...do you, Mr. Jones?
I mentioned Terry Jones's silly anti-war Observer piece in passing as an example of British "isolationist" tendencies, intending to come back to it later for more comment. Fortunately, Damian Penny and Tim Blair have saved me the trouble. Both have sliced, diced, skewered, roasted, creamed, pulverized and finally reduced Mr. Jones to a fine powder, blowing twin puffs of Python dust into the blogosphere. Tim Blair's treatment is, as usual, hilarious, especially since he includes links to illustrations of the man himself in the course of making his points. Damian Penny concludes thus:
I will, however, say that if Terry Jones can't think of a single good reason for Britain to be involved in the war on terror (the stability of the fucking world has a lot to do with it, not to mention the dozens of his countrymen who died on September 11), his involvement in the writing of Python sketches must have been minimal at best, since he's way too stupid to have had anything to do with such comic brilliance.
The truth is, guys like Jones (e.g., Ted Rall, Michael Moore) are only able to propound such views because they know quite well that there's no chance whatsoever that their silly proposals (such as they are) will ever be put into practice. They have the luxury of making their jokes, casting their aspersions, rolling their eyes and wallowing in their precious irony, safe in the knowledge that they will never have to answer for the consequences. Terry Jones suggesting that Britain pull out of the war on terror is like Ralph Nader proposing that "if" elected he would decimate the military, eliminate free trade and triple the minimum wage: everybody knows that (a) it would be a disaster that (b) will never ever befall us. So everyone who is so inclined can have a great time. Yeah, it's irresponsible. But that's entertainment.
There was an op-ed in yesterday's Washington Post on the World War II V-2 terror bombings, Churchill, and us, and it's worth reading. Faced with the demoralizing power of the silent rockets, Churchill considered using poison gas against the Germans, saying "I do not see why we should have all the disadvantages of being gentlemen while they have the advantages of being the cad."
As his rage grew, Churchill even considered biological warfare; specifically, dropping anthrax bombs on Germany. Ultimately (and fortunately), it was Churchill's good judgment that prevailed.
Here again, history's message is relevant for us today. The response to the V-2 terror attacks was not retribution, nor was it a definitive single stroke. The Allies, it was determined, would apply progressively growing pressure designed to first mitigate the threat and then eliminate it. The missile assembly sites were targeted for continuing bomber attack, as were the launch sites in Holland. This, of course, pulled strategic assets from other purposes and cost hundreds of aircraft and thousands of air crew lives. On the ground, the progress of Allied troops across the Low Countries was directed, in part, to capturing launch sites and ultimately to pushing the missiles back to a point where Britain was beyond their range.
Cheers to Tony Adragna, who included a warm holiday greeting to everyone in the New Year's Eve edition of the Quasipundit blog watch. What a class act. Mine said "don't go away, Frank." Well, I've been trying; I have to admit, though, it seemed a near thing there for awhile. But after spending today fading in and out , alternating between wishing I had never been born and half-wondering whether I had in fact actually ever been born, I have returned. I think. I mean, I'm pretty sure. As long as nobody makes any sudden movements, everything should turn out great.
I had intended to write a little description of New Year's Eve 2001/2 at the George and the Dragon, Cley-next-the-Sea, Norfolk, but it all seems a bit hazy now. I remember having some kind of conversation with somebody about something or other which eludes me at the moment. There was also some sort of amusing misunderstanding about something, I seem to recall, which resulted in a great deal of laughter at somebody's expense. I think it must have been the Old Speckled Hen. No, that wasn't what the misunderstanding was about. I mean, that's what I was drinking at the time, if I have my facts right. It all seems a bit distant, to be honest.
Mostly, my girlfriend and I just relaxed and talked amongst ourselves. I imagine we had a pretty great time, because we usually do when we're relaxing and talking amongst ourselves. It was a bit like New Year's in an American bar, in that there was a countdown (no TV though) followed by a valiant attempt to sing Auld Lang Syne in drunken unison.
But the spirited festivities didn't end there, and that's where it suddenly got very "English." Auld Lang Syne had barely dissolved into the customary confusion, when everybody returned, in an orderly fashion, to their seats and took a collective deep breath. Then, the patrons and staff of the George and the Dragon, one and all, began to sing the one that goes "my old man said follow the band, but don't dilly-dally on the way." This was followed by the "bicycle built for two" song, "Henry VII," and a series of show-tunes which included "Oh What a Beautiful Morning." There were many more, including, I believe, "the Hokey Pokey" (which they pronounce "Hokey Cokey" for some reason) but I lost the thread soon after that.
I've never thought of "Bicycle Built for Two" as particularly relevant to my life. It certainly doesn't "speak to me" as some songs do. Yet in the excitement of the moment, and through the haze of the Old Speckled Hen, I remember glancing over at my lovely young fiancee and thinking how profoundly true it all seemed: I can't afford a carriage! It won't be a stylish marriage! Forgetting for the moment that I'd be just as hard-pressed to afford a bicycle, I was possessed of a sudden sense of warmth and well-being, the sense of warmth and well-being you get from feeling you are not alone. (OK, maybe it also comes from having had one too many.) If things could work out so well for the bicycle guy, the good people at the George seemed to be saying, there's hope for us all. And she sure did look sweet-- who needs a bicycle anyway? At that point I sort of lost track of the proceedings. I'm blaming it all on the Old Speckled Hen.
Anyway, I hope Tony Adragna and everybody else had a great New Year's Eve. Mine was definitely one I'll never forget. Except for all the parts I can't seem to recall for some reason.