...due to impending Easter festivities. Fiancee to meet weird extended family for the first time. I'm cold and frightened... but not too impolite to wish everyone in the blogosphere a Happy Easter. So, Happy Easter all.
The Alterman Universe
This article on Yasser Arafat ("the world's most exalted political prisoner") is, I suppose, the sort of op-ed Eric Alterman would like to see more of in the US media. (It's from the Guardian, naturally.)
Like many such pieces, it is more notable for what it leaves out than for what is in it. The Arafat presented here by David Hirst is a "man of peace" whose conduct earns him no stronger reproach than the bland acknowledgement that his leadership is a bit "wayward and erratic."
"Throughout the steadily escalating intifada," writes Hirst, he "has remained convincingly wedded to the historic compromise enshrined in the Oslo agreement." This mysteriously self-escalating intifada, which by this account seems to have spontaneously arisen of its own accord with no particular connection to Arafat or his policies, rages on, leaving countless dead innocents in its wake. Yet Arafat, "the heroic embodiment of his people's will," warrants extravagant praise for managing to maintain a convincing pretense of loving fidelity to the "peace process." (This is indeed amazing, though the most amazing part is primarily the fact that columnists like Hirst can be so easily convinced.)
There is no mention of the rejection of the Camp David proposals, generally regarded as a clear indication of Arafat's lack of seriousness about pursuing peace and compromise. There is no reference to the familiar pattern of egging on the Islamikaze fanatics in one breath, and calling for a "cease-fire" with the next.
In fact, throughout this long article intended to assert Arafat's bona fides, there is not a single mention of suicide bombing. To examine Arafat without taking note of suicide terror is like gazing upon the Pacific Ocean and failing to notice all the water. Terrorism is not only Arafat's preferred instrument: it is the end as well as the means, the primary aim, the substance, the essence, of his leadership and policies.
Of course, in the Alterman Universe, there is a convenient euphemism for terrorist attacks and the mass murder of innocents: "resistance." How historic. How heroic. Even in Alterman's world of "competing narratives," it is only through the use of such euphemisms and by leaving out important pieces of information that this particular "narrative" (of a gentle man of peace besieged, for no particular reason, by the evil armies of a Jewish Ming the Merciless) can even be articulated.
But even if such "narratives" are successful in creating within the ingenuous reader a warm, cuddly feeling for the grand old man of terror, it is still impossible to avoid the inarguable conclusion of the other "narrative": the tactic of suicide bombing as a means of political "activism" must not be allowed to succeed. Friedman gets it exactly right today in the New York Times:
A nonviolent Palestinian movement appealing to the conscience of the Israeli silent majority would have delivered a Palestinian state 30 years ago, but they have rejected that strategy, too.
The reason the Palestinians have not adopted these alternatives is because they actually want to win their independence in blood and fire. All they can agree on as a community is what they want to destroy, not what they want to build. Have you ever heard Mr. Arafat talk about what sort of education system or economy he would prefer, what sort of constitution he wants? No, because Mr. Arafat is not interested in the content of a Palestinian state, only the contours.
Let's be very clear: Palestinians have adopted suicide bombing as a strategic choice, not out of desperation. This threatens all civilization because if suicide bombing is allowed to work in Israel, then, like hijacking and airplane bombing, it will be copied and will eventually lead to a bomber strapped with a nuclear device threatening entire nations. That is why the whole world must see this Palestinian suicide strategy defeated.
But how? This kind of terrorism can be curbed only by self-restraint and repudiation by the community itself. No foreign army can stop small groups ready to kill themselves. How do we produce that deterrence among Palestinians? First, Israel needs to deliver a military blow that clearly shows terror will not pay. Second, America needs to make clear that suicide bombing is not Israel's problem alone. To that end, the U.S. should declare that while it respects the legitimacy of Palestinian nationalism, it will have no dealings with the Palestinian leadership as long as it tolerates suicide bombings. Further, we should make clear that Arab leaders whose media call suicide bombers "martyrs" aren't welcome in the U.S.
Thanks to Ted Barlow for the kind words in his fine, fine blog. And congratulations on breaking the 10,000 hit barrier.
...bless him. He forgot to pay his VeriSign bill. But he knows how to handle a gun.
He also understands the situation in the Middle East:
Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia's direct role in the terrorism against Israel and America is finally known by one and all (even if it's still denied by the same old Fisk-holes). With the PA demolished and the Palestinians locked behind walls to prevent them from blowing up the rest of Israel, little in the way of weapons or money will reach the Arafat terrorism mafia. Will Saddam & Co. just give up? Hardly. If they give up, their domestic power will crumble. Saddam & Co. will attempt to wage a full-scale war against Israel and the United States...
Of course, those who launch a true war against Israel will be smashed, their countries handed out like carnival prizes. The question is whether this will be done in a useful way (as it was in post-WWII Japan and Germany) or a stupid way (as happened after the fall of the Ottoman Empire). The Arab states are the fictions of cartographers, resulting in the current mess of patron states, oil colonies, phantom states like Kurdistan and only one manufactured common goal: the destruction of all Jews. Osama bin Laden and his dancing disciples of Palestine are just the ugliest, most visible manifestations.
No Fair! The Other Side has all the Good Pundits!
Eric Alterman's article on the "competing narratives" of the Israel/Palestinian conflict has generated a fair amount of comment in the blogosphere. Alterman believes that the American "punditocracy" is overwhelmingly dominated by those who "cannot imagine criticizing Israel," and he produces a list to demonstrate it. "Columnists and commentators who can be counted upon to support Israel reflexively and without qualification" outnumber “columnists likely to be reflexively anti-Israel and/or pro-Palestinian regardless of circumstance” by more than ten to one. Andrew Sullivan correctly points out the affinity between Alterman's views and those of his colleague Edward Said, but he goes too far in smearing this as a "blacklist of journalists controlled by the Jews." I don't believe Alterman has that kind of sinister agenda. It is, nonetheless, misconceived.
For one thing, the list itself is a bit slanted. The pro-Israel list is padded with the names of some who could only generously be called "journalists" (e.g. Dr. Laura and Oliver North) while the anti-Israel list of five leaves off some obvious people like Michael Moore and Noam Chomsky. If we're including Dr. Laura on a list of "columnists and commentators," why not also include Rosie O'Donnell and Alec Baldwin? Richard Gere? Phil Donahue? How about NPR? Louis Farrakhan? Al Sharpton? How about the rest of the staff of the Nation? (I'm also not convinced that the New York Times editorial board necessarily "view themselves to be critically supporters of Israel." In this "news analysis" on the Seder bloodbath, for example, Serge Schmemann writes: "there were also those who thought the bombing might just provide the vicious jolt needed finally to call a halt to the bloodshed." He doesn't identify "those" who hold this appalling-- and preposterously erroneous-- view, but, like Susanna Cornett, I wonder if Schmemann may not be referring to himself and the Times editorial staff.)
At any rate, it's not even true that the pundits on the pro-Israel list are never critical of Israel or its policies. (And I'm not just talking about cases where people like Krauthammer dare to imagine that Israel could be criticized for "wobbling" or being insufficiently hawkish in certain situations; that's not the sort Alterman likes to see, but it's "criticism" nonetheless.) I don't know how Alterman feels he knows what the 62 people on his list can or cannot "imagine," but the caricature of all of them as identical, robotic Ariel Sharon "ditto-heads" is laughable.
There is certainly a great deal to criticize about Israel, its policies, and its conduct of its war. Sharon is nearly as odious as Arafat, though there is a great deal of truth in the notion that Arafat's actions made Sharon's ascendence inevitable, and that the resulting escalation of the violence was his express intention. You don't have to be particularly "pro-Israel" to recognize this truth. Those concerned about the welfare of the Palestinians have as much reason as anyone to oppose Arafat and his policies: they have brought his people and his world nothing but misery. The futile attempt to repeal history through suicide bombings is doomed to failure, and it ought to be condemned for that alone, if for nothing else.
There is indeed a consensus in mainstream US opinion, within the punditocracy as well as outside of it, that terrorist atrocities like the suicide bombings of civilian targets are evil and must be stopped, and that there are no legitimate excuses for them. Arafat's excuses, equivocations, and disingenuous talk about "peace" convince hardly anyone who is paying attention. Alterman's premise is that such a consensus can only be explained by senseless and arbitrary "bias" on the part of opinion-shapers. He doesn't appear to consider the possibility that these people might actually be right. As Rand Simberg points out, reality is, in fact, far more than a mere "conflict of narratives," each equally valid and true. If you disagree with a prevailing "narrative," your task is to attempt to refute it. Complaining that the other side has too many pundits is rarely convincing. Alterman's list of anti-Israel pundits is 3/5 crackpots anyway. Though outnumbered, Safire alone easily beats the Alexander Cockburn-Edward Said-Pat Buchanan dream team. The answer isn't more pundits; it's better ones. If you can find 'em.
UPDATE: Bill Quick points out that Alterman lists Sid Zion twice. He also adds:
the premise behind Alterman's list is that "reflexively" supporting Israel is somehow bad, something to be ashamed of. But I suggest that in 1943 he could have made a similar list of newspapers and journalists who were "reflexively" anti-Nazi and anti-Germany, and come up with the same preponderance of "reflexively pro-Allies" opinion. Journos who find themselves on Alterman's pro-Israel list should wear their inclusion with pride. It shows they have a functioning morality, and the ability to discern between good and evil, and right and wrong. It is telling that Alterman doesn't place himself in that company.
Israel's once and future Prime Minister on the "end game."
"Have you ever noticed," my girlfriend asked as we were strolling through the streets of downtown San Francisco yesterday, "that an extraordinary number of people in this city seem to have a great deal of trouble walking?"
Well, I hadn't ever noticed it before she mentioned it. But looking around, I had to admit that an extraordinary number of people in this city do seem to have a great deal of trouble walking. It looked like a zombie movie down on Powell Street. They stumble. They sway. They shudder. They drag one lifeless foot behind while the other leg scoots the body forward by means of a series of mummy-like hops. They stop abruptly at random in the middle of the pavement, swivelling their heads slowly, apparently unable to remember the next step in the locomotion process, like Sims boxed in by invisible hedges.
"Do they put something in the water?"
Well, I'm sure they do. But why?
In London, they put acid paint on the buildings to discourage pigeons from roosting. The resulting pigeons all have corroded legs. They hobble around like San Franciscans.
Maybe it's the water. Maybe it's the paint. All I know is, someone is trying to discourage us from roosting, for some reason. More on this story as it develops.
When it comes to left-wing conspiracy theorist nut cases (agents provocateurs?) I've always found Alexander Cockburn to be a bit more palatable than, say, Oliver Stone. I suppose that's partly because the English get automatic easy extra credit points for the eccentricity which is such a crucial part of the rich tapestry of their island story. The raving old coot, banging his cane on the arms of his leather-bound chair, spouting barely intelligible harrumphs and complaints about this or that in between sips of port and fits of coughing up bits of phlegm has a kind of charm that cannot be matched by the American maniac brushing imaginary insects from his forearms while muttering obscenities about Jews and space aliens.
Despite this perverse cultural bias, however, there's precious little charm to be found in Cockburn's most recent babbling about the Jew-dominated media and other various and sundry Jewish conspiracies. (This via Gary Farber's great Amygdala blog, by the way.)
It's supposedly the third rail in journalism even to have a discussion of how much the Jews do control the media. Since three of the prime founders of Hollywood, were Polish Jews who grew up within fifty miles of each other in Galicia, it's reckoned as not so utterly beyond the bounds of propriety to talk about Jewish power in Hollywood, though people still stir uneasily. The economic and political commentator Jude Wanniski remarked last week in his web newsletter that even if the Jews don't control the media overall, it is certainly true to say that they control discussion of Israel in the media here.
Certainly, there are a number of stories sloshing around the news now that have raised discussion of Israel and of the posture of American Jews to an acrid level. The purveyor of anthrax may have been a former government scientist, Jewish, with a record of baiting a colleague of Arab origins, and with the intent to blame the anthrax on Muslim terrorists. Rocketing around the web and spilling into the press are many stories about Israeli spies in America at the time of 9/11. On various accounts, they were trailing Atta and his associates, knew what was going to happen but did nothing about it, or were simply spying on US facilities. Some, posing as art students have been expelled, according to AP. Finally, there's Sharon's bloody repression of the Palestinians, and Israel's apparently powerful role in Bush's foreign policy, urging him into action against at least two of the axes of evil, Iraq and Iran.
Or very nearly. This piece is characteristically unclear as to the point Cockburn is trying to make. As Gary Farber points out, the article ends abruptly with the paragraph quoted above, "as if he were killed in the act of typing, or the copy was sent accidentally incomplete." The article is ostensibly about unsavory anti-Semitic statements in the recently-publicized conversations between Nixon and Billy Graham. Does Cockburn approve or disapprove of the "stories sloshing around the news" about Jews poisoning the wells and so forth? He doesn't quite say. It's almost as though he tacked on these paragraphs with the express purpose of getting these unsourced conspiracy theories into google-able form. But to what end? Well, you see, harrumph, cough, snort, damn yer eyes, harrumph, *wheeze*-- waiter! more port!
What, no video?
Arabic language newspaper said today that it had received an email claiming to be from Osama bin Laden that attacked a Saudi peace for the Middle East and urged the region's Muslims to revolt against their leaders.
Abdel-Bari Atwan, editor of the London-based newspaper al-Quds al-Arabi, who met bin Laden in 1996, said he thought the e-mail was "most likely" genuine.
Atwan said the message conformed to the style and language of other statements his newspaper had received from bin Laden and his al Qaeda terrorist network.
In case anybody's interested, there's a piece in the music section of this week's East Bay Express about me 'n' my blog. (For reasons I can't quite fathom, I get letters from readers fairly regularly asking me to post a photograph-- I'm not about to do that, but for those with such morbid curiosity about what I look like, the Express article includes a photo. Have fun.)
This piece, a silly defense of Saddam Hussein and "Ba'athist governments," is the "stupidest article" Iain Murray has read in a long time. Me, too. The author, Neil Clark, laments that Iraq "struggles to get a fair hearing." He proposes that Britain change course, break with the US, and form closer ties with Baghdad. He cites a number of half-baked historical, moral, and practical reasons for such a policy, including this:
Unless Britain changes course quickly, the enormous commercial opportunities in helping to exploit the second largest oil reserves in the world will be gone for ever.
"Let us hear no more of the 'weapons of mass destruction' nonsense," he writes. "The best way to ensure peace throughout the whole region, for Arab, Christian and Jew alike, is to welcome Iraq back, unconditionally, into the international community."
Murray says, justly, that this piece of drivel should have appeared in the New Statesman rather than the Spectator. I'm assuming the author is the same Neil Clark who wrote the New Stateman's weird celebratory defense of Slobodan Milosevic that I've mentioned before (Milosevic: Prisoner of Conscience.) The two articles are in fact quite similar. As with his Milosevic hagiography, it's difficult to believe Clark is serious. Perhaps it's a parody, and I'm just not sophisticated enough to realize. If so, how embarrassing. If not, how embarrassing.
Can we please take a little break from the "pursuit of peace" in order to acknowledge what we have just learned about the Middle East? We have learned that when the United States and Israel specifically demanded just a couple of days of relative peace, Palestinian terrorists made a point of slaughtering over a dozen Jews at a Passover meal. Notice the timing. Can we also aknowledge that the Arab summit in Beirut has also collapsed into a complete mess of infighting, squabbles and incoherence? So much for the alleged concern of most Arab governments for the plight of the Palestinians. The crisis over there is not hard to discern. Arab and Islamist terrorists, fed by a diet of vicious anti-Semitic propaganda, are engaged in a war aimed at the destruction of Israel and the second holocaust of the Jews. The Arab regimes who help foment the hatred of Israel to distract from their own corruption and failure would be perfectly happy to see this war succeed, and are already supplying the arms for the war effort. Every single attempt to forge some kind of truce between Israel and the Palestinian terrorists and the population that supports them has failed. The efforts have failed because the problem cannot be solved. One side wants to live in some sort of security; the other side, whatever it says in public, is committed to the destruction of what they call the "Zionist entity." The recent pathetic meanderings of the vice-president of the United States government have had one clear effect: they have emboldened the terrorists to believe, with good reason, that the more they kill, the more leverage they will have with Washington. And the terrorists are using our imminent attack on Iraq as even more leverage to wage an uninterrupted war against Israel.
A connection failure has occurred
Believe me, I would love to check out Peter Pribik's brand new blog. He's a swell guy and a terrific host. People I trust tell me it's great. But I've never been able to load the page despite many tries. I feel like I may be missing something important. Let me know if anything happens...
Lots of folks have been posting links to this disturbing New Yorker article about Saddam Hussein's chemical weapons attacks on the Kurds, his nuclear bio-weapons programs, and his possible ties to al Qaeda.
There is some debate among arms-control experts about exactly when Saddam will have nuclear capabilities. But there is no disagreement that Iraq, if unchecked, will have them soon, and a nuclear-armed Iraq would alter forever the balance of power in the Middle East... There is little doubt what Saddam might do with an atomic bomb or with his stocks of biological and chemical weapons. When I talked about Saddam's past with the medical geneticist Christine Gosden, she said, "Please understand, the Kurds were for practice."
Mark Steyn's latest column on "the Gallic Shrug" has some great lines, including this:
"Bush is crippled," said someone else, "by his Rambo view of the world."
"I very much doubt Bush reads Rimbaud," I said.
Countries A and B may be at war, but there is no good side and no bad side, just two parties "trapped" in a "mindless" "cycle of violence" that "threatens the peace process." The "peace process" tends to be no peace and lotsa process, in which Western panjandrums have invested considerable amounts of their prestige...
Forget the "cycle of violence" and the "peace process." History teaches us that the most lasting peace is achieved when one side -- preferably the worst side -- is decisively defeated and the regime's diseased organs are comprehensively cleansed. That's why National Socialism, Fascism and Japanese militarism have not troubled us of late. One can imagine how World War Two would have ended had, say, Mary Robinson, the UN Human Rights poseur, been sitting in Downing Street instead of Winston Churchill. Her crowd should not be running World War Four.
Once again, Lileks's latest Screed (a skewering of Nick Kristoff's silly "Sue Saddam" column) has so many good lines that it's impossible decide which to quote. Here's the conclusion: noting the well-known barbarism of Saddam's regime, which includes torturing and maiming children in order to gain the cooperation of their parents, Lileks adds:
Extra credit question: the children of Iraq who have not yet had their tongues pulled out should live another year under his regime because . . .
Extra credit for those who said “because we don’t know if the next regime will be worse.” Explain, in 50 words or less, how this is possible.
When writing your answer, remember the new motto of the American Air Force: neatness counts
Tim Blair is all over John Pilger's latest, pointing out yet another case of gratuitous inflation of Marc Herold's widely-debunked study of Afghan civilian deaths. He points out another instance of Pilger's imaginative use of statistics, and writes:
Weirdly, Pilger's contradictory stories are both at his website, providing easy pickings for Pilger-debunkers like me. Does he want to be caught? What kind of self-destructive maniac are we dealing with here?
Damian Penny drags the stagnant lake of Pilger's hysterical imagination and turns up all the usual bodies, if you're interested.
I know I'm a bit late on this (band practice interfered with blog-exploration tonight): but just in case anyone reading this hasn't clicked in yet, Ken Layne's latest FoxNews.com column on Saddam Hussein's $500,000 payments in Palestinian suicide bomber subsidies is a terrific piece of media reporting. (He's got some more on his blog as well.) It's amazing that this story hasn't received more attention: I'm still not sure about North Korea, but Iran and Iraq are beginning to look more and more like they are indeed on some type of axis. And boy is it evil. (The other Dr.-- I mean Weevil-- has an interesting take on the "axis of evil" situation: it's not an axis, it's a network, and it's more complicated than you want it to be.)
Layne also links to this AP story on two Muslims whom US security allowed on to a flight bound for Israel, but who were subsequently turned away by Israeli authorities. I can do no better than to quote Layne's comment:
Two Muslim guys -- one is 24, the other's age isn't given -- go to JFK airport in December to take an El Al flight to Israel. They get the attention of "U.S. investigators" and are then allowed onto the plane. The plane lands, Israeli officials take a quick look and send the guys straight back to America. Then the FBI decides to investigate. Incredible. Absolutely incredible.
Salman Rushdie had a good piece in Saturday's Guardian:
As John Lloyd wrote in the New Statesman recently, "Much of the intellectual left in Europe cleaves to a view of America as the largest danger in the modern world." But in Afghanistan the Taliban, perhaps the cruellest regime on earth, had permitted the country to be hijacked by a parasitic terror organisation dedicated to the overthrow of western civilisation.
The cleansing of those stables by the United States deserves a far better press than it is getting. Sadly, cheap slogans and ad hominem sneers have long passed for reasoned argument in the British papers. This doesn't much matter, except in so far as it is part of a wider portrayal of the United States as a vengeful nation bent on war and hot for foreign blood.
It does matter to deconstruct that caricature, because it's important for the world outside the United States to understand with what sober gravity Americans, young and old, liberal and conservative, have been thinking and feeling their way through personal tragedy and global crisis.
In the coming confrontation with Iraq, Rushdie proclaims the desirability of maintaining the "high ground" by avoiding contact with unsavory "warlords" and dealing only with those with unsullied democratic credentials:
I can't speak for the others, but my own view is pretty straightforward. If America gets into bed with scumbags, it loses the moral high ground, and once that ground is lost, the argument is lost with it.
The most common argument in Britain against taking action in Afghanistan, hammered relentlessly in the British press, was that the Northern Alliance was "just as bad" as the Taleban. (Some columnists, like George Monbiot, ventured even further down the road of rhetorical excess, asserting that America herself was j.a.b.a.t.b.) I don't think there can be any doubt that the "cause of freedom and justice" was furthered by the Afganistan campaign, even if there were unsavory elements involved. Protecting America from attack by terrorists armed with weapons of mass destruction and denying psychotic thugs like Saddam the means to threaten our allies with nuclear annihilation are likewise crucial ingredients in any "freedom and justice" recipe. The worst-case scenario (American inaction allows Saddam to acquire a functional nuke) is not acceptable and must be prevented. I have no idea whether there is a scumbag-free solution to this problem. It would be nice. But it's a secondary consideration.
"FBI raids pro-Republicans" is, as Charles Austin points out, the amusingly off-kilter Guardian headline, but the raid on the Islamic Institute, which shares an office with Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform, is pretty big news. Awhile back, Franklin Foer of the New Republic wrote a great article on Norquist's flirtation with the unsavory Islamist "element." I didn't find Norquist's rebuttal terribly persuasive, and apparently it didn't deter the FBI either (though they took their sweet time about it.) Anyway, it's worth re-reading Foer's piece in light of this development. Maybe it happened while my attention was elsewhere (believe me, I've got better things to keep an eye on these days than Grover Norquist) but I haven't seen this story reported anywhere else.
Michael Leeden on Iran:
The mullahs want to turn Afghanistan into a second Lebanon, for they believe that if they can drive America out of Afghanistan, the Iranian people will lose hope for a democratic change within Iran. In their desperate actions, the mullahs have exposed their hand. As George Tenet accurately testified recently, Iran is in cahoots with all manner of terrorist groups, to the point where the CIA now acknowledges that Shia and Sunni radicals are quite capable of cooperating in killing Jews and Americans.
It shouldn't have taken so long to figure this out, of course. Iran and the PLO have been cooperating intimately since 1972, but the truth is always welcome, and one probably shouldn't quibble over a mere thirty years.
I'm all for this sensible "one war at a time" goal. But can the Israelis really be expected to compromise their security and offer concessions under such circumstances? It doesn't seem possible. (That's not what they're planning, according to this article in the Washington Post.) Ever since the interception of the Karin-A shipment, it has been clear that the supposed distinction between Arafat and Hamas amounts to little more than wishful thinking. A "demilitarized" Palestine is clearly not on offer. Regardless of what emerges from the Zinni talks or from the Arab summit, it is unlikely that the terrorist attacks will cease, just as it is unlikely that Iran will stop abetting them. Putting off the "Iranian Question" till after Iraq is settled is looking less and less plausible.
According to this report, US troops found an al Qaeda bio-weapons lab during Operation Anaconda.
Saddam appears to be worried about the exiled Iraqi opposition:
Saddam Hussein has started a campaign to silence members of the Iraqi opposition in exile by forcing their families to denounce them on satellite television.
The families, who appear terrified, hint that they face death or rape if their relatives abroad do not stop opposing the Iraqi government.
Just when you thought Will Warren couldn't get any cleverer, he goes ahead gets a little cleverer. Check out his Gray Davis villanelle.
We are Normal, and We want our Freedom
My girlfriend has been here for a week now, and things are just starting to get "settled," by which I mean I can envision, with a bit of squinting and liberal use of imagination, a slightly less chaotic domestic future just on the horizon. We're both relatively eccentric, used to a more or less "bohemian lifestyle." (OK, I'm probably a bit more e., used to more of a b.l. than she is...) You have to sacrifice a measure of your cherished slovenly elegance and time-honored eccentricity in order to establish a more or less functional household, even if your standards for functionality are pretty low. We've been calling this process "normal-ification." It's amazing how easy it can be.
I almost hate to admit it, but normal people have the right idea about quite a few things. For example, I have a kitchen with a table in it. For the last eight years or so, this table has functioned as a storage shelf. Like the floor, only elevated. It turns out, if you clear all the stuff off of the table, you can actually eat meals on it, just like normal people. You have to get some plates and forks, that sort of thing; you also have to get some food, which we have done-- if you look in the refrigerator, it almost looks as though someone actually lives here. (This is still enough of a novelty that I find myself looking in the fridge just for the hell of it, with the same sense of wonder I imagine people must have experienced when they saw color television for the first time.) There you have the normal-ification process. Each rediscovered secret leads to a host of pre-requisites, further requirements, and unexpected rewards. Of course, these secrets are well-known and taken for granted by normal people everywhere. But this is my first time. It's all news to me. If we can keep it up, we may be entirely normal before the year's out. Well, maybe not. But it's remotely possible.
Even ordinary things manage to become extremely complicated once you add a girl into the equation. In my disordered bachelor past, laundry was a more or less bi-annual affair. I knew that would have to change. But I wasn't quite prepared for the apartment-transformative New World Order. I thought I knew laundry, but now I realize: it's laundry's illusions I recall, and I really don't know laundry at all. It looks a bit like the set of M*A*S*H around here. I think that's normal. It is, isn't it?
Anyway, I'm having way too much fun to worry much about blogging. But to all the kind folks who noticed the recent unbearable lightness of posting on this blog and wrote to ask if I was "OK," thanks. I'm OK. Focusing on Important Matters, though, as you can see.
Nethack 3.4.0 has just been released. There goes my weekend.
Quote of the day
Krauthammer on "exit strategies:"
"Exit strategy" applies only to wars of choice. You can choose to quit Vietnam or Somalia or Kosovo. The war on radical Islam is a war of necessity. Wars of necessity have no exit. They must be won.
What possible exit strategy can you have against an enemy whose ordinary soldier signs up with the following oath (found among the documents captured from al Qaeda in Afghanistan): "I state in the presence of God that I will slaughter infidels for my entire life"? There is only one exit strategy in fighting such a man. He dies or you die. No other exit...
Calling for protest to "reclaim our own democracy," the left waits, forlorn and flailing, for the American "street" to rise. Meanwhile, the street, sporting American flags on its SUVs, carries on, inexplicably less frightened by George W. Bush than by Osama bin Laden.
Eric Alterman attacks! In this article, the Nation writer attempts to "take down" Andrew Sullivan and blogging in general. Alterman has a point that Sullivan's repeated attempts to brand mainstream Democrats as "anti-war" tend to ring hollow. But to be mistaken isn't necessarily to be "irresponsible," as Alterman implies. Nor is it "dangerous" (though I'm sure most bloggers would take that accusation as a high compliment.) Quite the contrary.
Alterman doesn't "get" blogging. What most offends him about Sullivan's blog (the stridency, the personal slant, the immediacy, the lack of editorial distance) are precisely why people read blogs. And as so often, there is a hint that it is somehow unseemly for Sullivan to propound views (or, in this case put up links) outside the bounds of the demographically-determined attitudes he ought to have as a homosexual.
You don't have to agree with the sentiments or approve of the links to appreciate a great blog. In fact, it's when you disagree that it becomes most interesting. Lots of left-leaning Nation readers are also devoted readers of Sullivan's blog. Perhaps that's what Alterman finds so "dangerous."
WSJ's TUNKU VARADARAJAN asks the question: why are American newspapers so boring? His answer is a complex of interesting observations about solipsism, fear of causing offense, and provincialism, the pretense of objectivity, among other things. I think he's on to something in singling out
the belief that a reporter's words, once printed in a serious paper, acquire a near sanctity. This view is further nourished by the sense among American journalists that they belong not to a bruising profession but to a priestly class.
I'm sure everybody has already linked to Lileks's brilliant new Screed on Michael Moore, but why should that stop me? You'll be tempted to read it with a fork, but use a spoon to get every drop:
Absolute ego corrupts, absolutely. Mr. Moore, one suspects, will spend ten minutes at the podium denouncing tax cuts, and two hours denouncing his accountant for failing to write off a bottle of Dasani he drank on the book tour as a business expense. He’s a good multimillionaire, you see, but those other guys got their money the old-fashioned way: they snuck into the homes of the Working Poor and stole the golden eggs the exhausted laborers lay during the night.The only guy who earned his millions is Our Man Mike. Perhaps to show his good will, he's instructed his accountants to pay the pre-Bush estate tax rate in the event of his demise, instead of bequeathing it all to his daughter. It's not like she earned it, anyway.
SLA Murder Trial Nostalgic Trip Back To More Innocent Time
INDEPENDENCE, MO— The murder trial of three Symbionese Liberation Army members is providing Americans with a nostalgic escape to a carefree, more innocent time. "Oh, man, Patty Hearst and the SLA. That takes me back to high school," said Ralph Henderson, 43, an Independence-area dentist. "Pet rocks, Jerry Ford jokes, small bands of kooky, disorganized terrorists shooting up local banks... Those were the days."
The Red Brigades (Italy's more effectively murderous version of our own SLA) have sprung into action once again, with one of their trademark assassinations of a public official. In a 26-page internet message, a "splinter group" claimed responsibility for the murder of government economics advisor Marco Biagi. (Still long-winded after all these years...) According to police, "the latest incarnation is a splinter group not a continuation of the original movement but it includes minor players from the old terror network." At any rate, it sounds like our boys: incoherent theory, despicable murderous practice, utter pointlessness-- or, as Empire author, New York Times darling, and convicted Red Brigade terrorist Antonio Negri likes to put it, "the joy of being communist."
By the way, thanks to Matt Welch for sending so many compliments my way recently. In one recent post, he even says I'm "unnaturally youthful looking." I can't take credit for that. While the ring was in my possession, I didn't age; I just existed. Lately, though, I've been feeling a bit stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread...
A couple of great bleats from Lileks over the last couple of days. Yesterday's was on Geraldo and the Arab media. Before it gets serious near the end, it has this perfect parody of Geraldo rhetoric:
It was here, in what is now considered hallow ground, that brave men faced unimaginable odds to win what will hereafter be known as “The Battle of the Can Openers,” when fourteen of America’s finest struggled to prepare meals using that one weird tool on a Swiss Army Knife. I am reminded of the words of the great statesman Winston Churchill, when he said “we will fight them on the beaches.” Even though this plain is hundreds of miles from the ocean, it was a beach millions of years ago, before geological events of unimaginable violence changed the world as we know it forever - leaving us these fossilized trilobites as a reminder than in war, sometimes the bones are the only living witnesses - witnesses whose demand for justice still echoes like the gunfire that would have cracked this peaceful dawn if there had, in fact, been a battle.
Is the San Francisco Chronicle the worst newspaper in the world? Everyone who lives in the Bay Area assumes so. There are lots of papers I haven't read, and I suppose I'd have to do some research to make absolutely certain, but it's difficult to imagine a worse one. Ken Layne is right. Strangers on the street, drunken bums, men carrying buckets, mall rats, even small children can often be overheard complaining about how terrible the Chronicle is. It's like talking about the weather. And as with the weather, no one ever does anything about it.
There's very little news in it. What little there is often little more than severely abridged wire service reports. Much of the editorial content (as Matt Welch points out in today's scathing post on the Chron) consists of "day-old" op-eds originally published in other newspapers the previous week. The original stuff is generally pretty awful. Rob Morse is perhaps the saving grace; Deborah Saunders is the lone voice of sanity; John Carroll is amusing, and competent as a whimsical "lifestyle" humorist, but there's not a lot of "meat" there, and anyway, it's not enough to prop up a whole newspaper. You can read the whole thing in about fifteen minutes. If your BART ride is longer than that, you can probably get about 5 additional minutes out of the Examiner, which has all the same stuff but with an even cutesier vocabulary.
For my girlfriend, just arrived from London and experiencing her first weekend in California, the Chronicle will go down in history as her first major disappointment about the USA.
"What's the best Saturday paper?" she asked innocently as we strolled down the sunny Berkeley street on Saturday afternoon.
I explained that there was only one, that it's even flimsier than the weekday ones, and that it is made redundant by the Sunday paper which comes out on Saturday anyway.
"Well," she said, "which one has the best girl section?"
She still wasn't getting it. There is only one. And it's no good. The poor little poppet is used to the Saturday Guardian, the Sunday Times and the Sunday Telegraph, all of which have at least a couple of fashion-related magazines besides a great deal of news and pages of content-laden opinion pieces. In London, you can buy the Sunday Times and spend the rest of the week reading bits and pieces of it. We purchased the Sunday Chronicle-Examiner, since it was the only option at the Walgreens, but I warned her not to expect much. Once I had convinced her that what she held in her hand was the entire newspaper and not just the advertising supplement, we settled down to read. Twenty minutes later, we had finished the Sunday paper well before Sunday had even dawned. The "girl section" (a glorified advertisement for a Raquel Welch-endorsed vitamin program) got an F. It also got thrown across the room. I expect that happens a lot in Chron country.
Ever wonder what Casanova and Osama bin Laden have in common? Did you guess, absolutely nothing? Well, you're right. But just to make sure, the geniuses at the Chronicle brought in Casanova expert Andre Codrescu. Codrescu confirms that despite what nobody is saying, Osama and Casanova are very, very different. There's just no comparison. The column is headed "Pleasure: Love-- or War?" "It's a lifestyle choice," reads the title: "bin Laden's or Casanova's?"
"Can you believe it?" Codrescu writes. "Why hasn't this fight been settled like a thousand years ago?" Um, like, that would be because neither of the gentlemen in question were even alive like a thousand years ago. What's going on in the Chronicle editor's office? "We need a bin Laden story. Get that Casanova guy on the phone!"
Here's another one, in which attorney Peter Keane compares John Walker Lindh to Tim, the son of People's Temple wacko Jim Jones, whom he represented. What do these guys have in common? Apparently both were "scapegoats" who had to be punished because we couldn't get the real bad guys. Except that Tim Jones never actually did anything wrong or received any punishment. But other than that... Well, they were both, like, totally young. Try as he might, Keane can't figure out what Walker Lindh is supposed to have done that was so wrong.
("Say boys. We need another John Walker piece." "I know, maybe we can get Keane tell his People's Temple story, and try to work in some completely irrelevant details from the story of the Walker kid." "That's gold, boss, pure gold!" "Say! This stuff is great! Let's just go ahead and put it in the paper!")
Well, you know it was a good party when you miss the whole next day. I admit, I drank too much wine at Peter Pribik's blogger party the other night. I spent yesterday in a fairly delicate state. It was a swell time, though, from what I remember-- it's just a bit fuzzy, particularly toward the end. It's strange: reading a blog regularly turns the author into a kind of celebrity, even though you often know practically nothing about them but what they write about and what they link to. I walked into the living room, and someone said "meet the Weidners." There was a brief confusing moment while my sluggish brain processed the information. Then it hit me: that's the Random Jottings guy and his wife! I wouldn't go so far as to say I was a giggling schoolgirl about the whole thing, but it was cool nonetheless. She's a lawyer. He's a woodworker. Add a robot friend and it could be a great series!
Richard Bennett was just as clever and funny as his blog. William Quick was, unfortunately, conspicuous by his absence, as they say, so I never got a look at the man who coined the terms "Matrix" and "Blogosphere," but that was the only disappointment.
Bennett's got a few pictures up, if you're interested. Not too embarrassing, and that's a mercy. Why am I grinning like an idiot? (Well, other than because I'm an idiot?) Because I'm talking to Ken Layne, who is, I've learned, one of the all-time great talkers. I had some good conversations with Layne and Matt Welch about music, blogs, hate mail, Prague, etc. And there was a pretty crackling debate with Nick Denton on the subject of warblogger conformist hawkishness. The food was fabulous and the drink was, perhaps, all too plentiful. All in all, it was a swell time, even though I was a bit sloppy by the end and had a massive headache for most of the following day.
My lovely fiancee is arriving today, which means I'll have my hands full of something way more interesting and important than blogging or current events, or taking pot shots at the Bush administration or making fun of demented leftists. I expect I'll return to a more regular blogging schedule when things settle down a bit. If I don't, then you know things are going really well.
Whoah, blogfest berkeley! Very cool. Too much wine for much comment. More later maybe. I think I'd better lie down...
Make 'em Switch Blogs
I also had a funny moment with Eddie Murphy, when we were filming a particular scene. We began ad libbing a lot of it, and every take was different. I fell into it, due to the fact that I have to ad lib a lot in my life! I'm not sure which take they used, or even if they used the scene at all, so I'm looking forward to seeing the movie. Either way, I had a great time.
But TJ Hooker is no Sulli. Where's the Clinton-bashing? The Krugman-bashing? The Tina-bashing. In fact, there appears to be no bashing of any kind on williamshatner.com. I'm sorry. That just doesn't work for me. There are no Sontag Awards, nor even a single Derbyshire Award (today's DA, by the way, from Lew Rockwell, really must be seen to be believed.) I shudder to think what kind of book club Shatner would run. And what about Sullivan's knack for finding the hagiographical content in every last quirky anecdote about GWB? Would Shatner dare to refer to the President of the United States as "Frodo"? Not bloody likely.
No, you can't have a functional blogosphere without Sullivan, Shatner notwithstanding. Perhaps, though, the blogosphere needs Sulli and TJ? Long ago, when Jello Biafra was running for mayor in San Francisco, he was asked for his solution to the problems between gays and cops in the city. His answer (presumably "ad libbed," as they say in the business) was "make 'em switch uniforms." Read Sullivan's letters section; then click on interact with this post on williamshatner.com. Imagine how cool it would be if they answered each other's mail for one weird, parallel universe week.
Here's one for Bill:
A letter-writer last week upheld Krugman's credentials, which are indeed impressive, as a bulwark against the tidal wave of ridicule rising to swamp his columnist career. Fair enough. Krugman's done the heavy lifting of study and peer-reviewed publication, so we shouldn't all blow him off, despite the burn rate he's exhibiting on his credibility right now.
Got that, Captain?
And here's a batch of Shatner's mail for Sullivan to answer:
...we're all glad to have the chance to hear your opinion and get an idea of some behind-the-scenes relations, but I hope your posts will go back to being a bit more about what goes on around here as well; beyound just what goes on around you. I'm not saying that it dosn't matter to us what goes on around you, though...
...Well, I am rambling. I am losing myself in all of these ideas., but I do feel that Star Trek hit on something in our national ethos. I am not sure what that is. Kind of hard to define...
...Bill, you're not getting older, you're getting BETTER! [posted twice--ed.]...
...Personally, when it comes down to it, I depend on my sense of humor when bad times strike. I try to see the funny side of things. Like the other day, I didn't get approved to get another car loan, so instead of sitting around dwelling on the fact, I took my wife out to the movies. On our way into the theatre, a little girl came up to me and punched me in the arm for no reason what so ever! I shook it off, my wife laughed. As we sat down in the theatre and the movie started, I realized that there was something missing. My wife! It was too dark to see where she went, eventually she and I separated, I went right and she went left. Both of us thinking that the other was right behind us. The movie started and of course, wouldn't you know it, it was ther wrong movie! They forgot to change the signs around so we and many other people got up and hurried to the other theathre before it was too late.
My wife and I laughed all night about that day and evenually, that horrible feeling of not getting the car loan faded away...
...I have always liked the original 60's Star Trek series the best. I have a very good reason too.
The Challenging and Unfamiliar Vortex of Domestic Hygiene...
...would be a kind of cool name for an album. Hmm, maybe not. Anyway, that particular vortex is where I've been for the last few days. Since I've had to focus on Other Things than blogging, I haven't had a chance to read everybody's posts on the occasion of the sixth month-iversary of 9/11, much less compose one of my own. But just in case you haven't read Jeff Jarvis's moving words on the subject, you really ought to. Moira Breen's post is well worth reading as well.
This article is proof that much more is happening in Europe than politicians and pundits complaining about the U.S.-led war. The police and intelligence services of Europe's many countries are working constantly to prevent the next attacks. Europe's leaders know Europe is next. Bin Laden's terrorism-school graduates do not care about U.S.-European political differences. They don't even care about Muslims (some 800 followers of Islam died at the World Trade Center, nearly a third of the victims). France sure won't be spared because the newspapers have been critical of the War...
The reason we had to go to Afghanistan is simply because that wrecked country was occupied by Osama bin Laden, who used it as the administrative and training center for his organization. Privately, Europe's leaders understand this. If the Eiffel Tower or the Vatican or Brussels or Oslo is next on the hit list, Europe will rush to war with near unanimous public support.
Meanwhile, from Singapore to Washington to Berlin, police and spies are desperately trying to prevent the next attack. You don't prevent it with op-ed columns or protests or policy changes. You prevent it by finding the people who are in place, awaiting orders or nervously following orders given months or years ago. You prevent it by destroying the bases, training camps and ability for the terrorists to do business. You prevent it by choking the money supply at every level. And finally, you prevent it by scaring the hell out of wannabe Qaeda boys.
Layne's comments aside, it's really worth reading the whole article, which focuses on the recruiting procedures and the emerging "structure" of the post-Afghanistan al Qaeda network.
Life is the only thing worth living for
There's no way to check, but I think I have been advised to "get a life" more frequently than anyone else on earth. My good friends say it at the beginning of practically every phone conversation, on those rare occasions when I actually pick up the phone; perfect strangers mumble it when they pass me on the street; sometimes, in quiet moments, I fancy I can hear God saying it in a tone gentle yet terrible.
I've had a couple of emails asking why the blogging has been a bit less "marathon" than usual. Actually, one of them thanked me for being less marathon than usual. That's the one that came right out and told me what to get.
Well, I do have one. A life, I mean. Sort of. My fiancee is arriving from England next week, so at this moment my alleged life is less focused on blogging than it is on trying to figure out how to fit a whole girl and all her stuff into my tiny hovel, which is far too overcrowded with nothing in particular as it is. It's way harder than a Rubik's cube. (I think we may need to rent another apartment just for the shoes.) Plus, I'm trying to get it up to "code," by which I mean clean enough for girl standards. As precious little cleaning has taken place around here for almost a decade, that's pretty tough as well.
Another factor is Emil Villa's Hickory Pit, or as it is known in my small circle, The Magic Kingdom. There are a few of them scattered around California, but the one I go to is near Pleasant Valley Road in Oakland, right across from the Safeway. It's kind of like a Denny's that serves barbecue. It's across the street from a retirement home, so your fellow customers are always colorful. I don't think I've ever gone there without someone calling me "young fella." Their slogan is "where the elite meet to eat meat," and boy is that ever true: that's who we are, and that's what we do. (Until recently, their interior decor consisted of depictions of various pigs running for dear life. Sadly, they've attempted to update their look, and the pigs are no more. Even more sadly, you can no longer take the kids to see Santa Pig around Christmas time. Memories...) I believe that it may be my favorite place in the entire world. I even wrote a jingle for them once ("let's go out to eat at the magic kingdom of meat..."-- it was pretty good, but maybe you have to hear it.) I made a tape and sent it to them, but they never wrote back. I guess they just weren't in the market for a jingle at that time. I dearly love everything about it. The point is that after an Emil Villa's Hickory Pit Multi Meat 'n' Ribs Sampler, it's all I can do to crawl home and fall down on the couch. A pleasant state of hibernation ensues. It usually takes me a couple of days to recover. Blogging, organizing, and getting a life must be put on hold. If the occasional Guardian slop-ed slips by unridiculed, I'm sorry. I'll try to get the next one.
Fortunately other bloggers (those who are unimpeded by meat overdose and impending fiancees) are on the job. Welch is back with a slew of great posts on the California Republican vortex, among other things. Bennett has his own slew of great posts on that subj., too. So does Layne. Oh, and it's Moira's birthday, and she has discovered herself through internet testing: happy birthday, Moira.
Tiptoe through the Guardian
I believe this rumination on the inevitable outcome of displaying the Ten Commandments in public wins the prize for the most fully-realized example of Guardian rhetoric and sophisticated analysis:
The logical limit of the Supreme Court's cowardly evasiveness in the face of religion's attack on the US constitution is its own eventual replacement by a kind of Christian Shari'a, in which adulteresses will be stoned to death, and swivel-eyed Pat Robertson will have his finger on the nuclear button.
Here's a less whimsical and far less amusing piece of, erm, Guardiana, from bred-in-the-bone socialist Paul Foot, who believes that the solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict is really quite simple. All you have to do is to identify who is "the oppressor" and who is "the oppressed," side with the oppressed, and it all falls into place. Of course he sees Israel as oppressor and the Palestinians as the oppressed in this "sophisticated" scheme; terrorism is simply "resistance." He dreams of a through-the-looking-glass world where the West imposes sanctions on Israel, and cheers on the "resistance" of the suicide bombers. Remember the 60s, when terrorism and "liberation" were seen as two sides of the same coin? Smash the state, and utopia blossoms: those were the days. Thankfully, people like Foot no longer have much of a say in running the world, and his plan has no chance of being put into practice, as he well knows.
He waves away "the bleating about anti-Semitism," saying of the "pathetic" supporters of Israel that "the sort of oppression they favour is the seed from which all racialism, including anti-semitism, grows." This is a variation on the idea that the Jews are to blame for their own persecution, which has a long and ignominious history. Foot's crude oppressor/oppressed dichotomy softens the rhetorical blow slightly for those inclined to think in such terms, perhaps; maybe I'm just bleating here, but championing the cause of those who wish to wipe the Jews off the face of the earth sounds like anti-Semitism to me, whether they are "the oppressed" or not. It really doesn't matter what you call it. We all know what would happen if Foot's plan of disarming Israel were implemented-- or if any of Israel's enemies were to be allowed to realize their cherished dream of an "Islamic bomb." The first is never going to happen, which is what makes Foot's fanciful, retrograde "analysis" of the "structure of the conflict" silly as only disingenuous rhetoric can be; the second is a very real danger, which is what makes his cavalier dismissal of Israel's security concerns abhorrent.
Here's Foot's "sophisticated" conclusion:
There is a solution to the Palestine conflict. It depends on the withdrawal of Israeli forces and the disbandment of the settlements. Such a solution is easily within the grasp of western diplomacy, and would stop the killing.
...on Sullivan's comments about Tom Daschle's "anti-war" statements. Diane wins this one (though I'd stop short of calling Daschle "prescient.")
Foxblogger vs. Foxblogger!
Ken Layne writes FoxNews.com column about the California gubernatorial primary and the Republican Party's quest to maintain their unchallenged irrelevance in the state; Rand Simberg disagrees with Layne; hijinks ensue.. There's a debate on Simberg's comment section, as well as on FreeRepublic.com. (For the record, my view is that, like it or not, guys like Riordan are the future of the Republican Party in California, to the extent that it has one. It now appears that Riordan has lost to Simon. I don't know if that literally fulfills a "death wish," but an anti-abortion candidate is going to have a hard time winning, even against the Dark Lord Davis. I wish Riordan had won, because Davis is a disaster; now he'll almost certainly be re-elected. Well, they made their statement and now they'll have to lie in it...)
But I want to ask a different question. Swell moderate Republican uber-mayors like Giuliani and Riordan always try to move on up to higher office after they clean up their cities, fix their broken windows, make them "livable," etc. Why can't they, as a public service, make a couple of horizontal moves before making a play for the big time? We could really use one of those guys here in Oakland. Why can't Oakland be livable, too? Riordan? Please?
The Decency Deficit
What a sick freak. Mr. Rall had better pray he never meets any of these women-- not a jury in the world would convict any one of them for beating him into a jelly. And honestly, what is the New York Times doing publishing this atrocity?
UPDATE: Thanks for all the email letting me know that the link above no longer works. Apparently the NYT got so many complaints that they pulled it off their site. Good. But even though I wish I hadn't seen it myself, I suppose people should be able to look at it, just so they'll know what we're all complaining about. One guy wondered whether "sick freak" is an exaggeration. It's not.
Marketing the Left
"Left-Wingers Fall out over Claims of Censorship." The New Statesman and the London Review of Books have been refusing to publish anything other than anti-American content, according to this article in the Telegraph. Well, we knew that already, didn't we?
The state of British left-wing journalism is pretty much summed up by this:
In the current issue, one columnist offers his New Statesman earnings to anyone who will kill President Bush though, given the notorious stinginess of the magazine's payments, that is unlikely to prove a tempting offer.
The New Statesman bills itself as "the weekly magazine for bright thinking people everywhere." And psychotic freaks, too. (No they don't say that-- it's just implied by the content.)
Anyway, "Britain's premier current affairs magazine" declined to publish a critical letter from its own former editor and contributor John Lloyd, and has offered this remarkable explanation for its anti-American editorial policy:
[current editor and marketing genius] Mr Wilby said he had taken a policy decision that the magazine would vigorously oppose the "war on terrorism", partly to make itself distinctive in a crowded media market. He said there was also a clear commercial logic to his magazine's editorial line, as circulation had surged by almost 25 per cent since September 11.
Here's a tip, if you're serious about increasing that circulation, Mr. Wilby: naked ladies. Works every time, even better than anti-Americanism. Trust me.
More from Amiel on British anti-Semitism
Barbara Amiel, in a post script to her column on the Muslim Gallup poll, writes succinctly on the question of anti-Zionism vs. anti-Semitism in Britain that I was wrestling with much more longwindedly below:
There is a school of thought in the press, exemplified by Deborah Orr at the Independent, who wrote that "according to Ms Amiel, I too have been peddling anti-Semitism. Ever since I went to Israel on holiday I've considered it to be a shitty little country too."
Actually, Miss Orr strikes me as muddled rather than anti-Semitic. However, her point, repeated elsewhere, is that I believe anyone who criticises Israel's policies or actions to be anti-Semitic.
For the record, I do not. Yes, it is possible to be anti-Israel both in general and vis-a-vis specific policies without being anti-Semitic. That is so self-evident that the number of Jews, since the days of Theodore Herzl, who were anti-Zionist not only equalled but periodically exceeded the number who were Zionists.
That said, the fact is that these days, when anti-Semitism is not socially acceptable and anti-Zionism is, a number of anti-Semites hide their true colours under this distinction.
I'm dwelling on this idiocy at length because, having worked as a journalist on both sides of the Atlantic, it is my impression that the British public is more likely to take its opinions from the media than either the Canadian or American public.
In the past number of years, the British public, while not necessarily anti-Semitic, has acquired an anti-Israeli bias based on the tendentious and inaccurate information of the British media. (One example: the BBC's decades of letting Resolution 242 pass as demanding Israel's return to the 1967 borders.)
To become anti-Israeli because of persistent misinformation may not be the same as becoming anti-Semitic, but it is still foolish and wrong.
The mother of all Guardian Posts
Where would the blogosphere be without the Guardian? Guardian fish-barreling is now a venerable tradition. Yet even within this tradition, I don't believe there has ever been a more extensive and thorough essay than this one, from Gary Farber's fine blog. Gary appears to have examined every single thing that Guardian/Observer columnist Mary Ridell has ever written. He ties it all together, reaches inevitable conclusion. An archive can be a weapon.
Monica: I had really gone to Washington as a short pit stop on my way to graduate school.
Larry: And you wanted to be a what?
Monica: Forensic psychologist.
Larry: Really? So that means examining, uh, examining...that's uh, um, examining...
Monica: Looking at the interaction between psychology and law...
Larry: Really? Is that, really?
Larry: Is that when you first met the President?
Monica: No. I met him in August of '95, at a departure ceremony. You've probably been to one of those.
Larry: Someone's leaving?
Monica: He's leaving...
Larry: So, uh, did you, hmm, say to yourself, um, this is the President?
Monica: Larry, I was a 22 year old foolish kid...
Larry: A victim, in a sense. I mean you're a figure of the 20th Century.
Monica: I don't want to use the word victim...
Larry: From flirtation to intimacy. (coughs) What was it like? The first time, for you? Everyone would have to think, I mean, anyone would think of that, as a first time, uh it's, mm, well, OK, it's one thing, to begin a relationship, um, everyone has it, we've all begun relationships. But this, this is with...
Larry: A person, someone who's larger than life?
Monica: I think the point is that people are all human beings. And that's what I came to see. And that's the person I came to know...
Larry: So, I see, so, um, it uh wasn't President Clinton? It was, I mean, um, Bill Clinton?
Monica: Yes.... it's the same excitement of when you first get together with anybody.
Larry: It was, uh, um, mm, OK, and the attraction, the attraction was first? (coughs) It was not who it was, it was it. It was what it was. Mmm?
Monica: Yes, it was that chemistry.
Larry : Oh. OK. It's got to be difficult. You're always going to be, you're always, always going to be Monica. Monica Lewinsky.
Monica: Until I get married.
Larry: That's right. (laughs) Change the name.
Monica: Or move it to my middle name.
Larry: Yes. (laughs) You've got wonderful parents.
Monica: Huh? Oh, yes.
Larry: And finally, do you ever, uh, well, do you have the thought, I am history. I'm part of history? You know, like, um, I mean, ask an astronaut when you, I mean, when you, uh, look at the moon. If you walked on the moon? What did it, um, what does that feel like?
Monica: I don't, I don't know. I don't ...
Larry: You. You're just you.
Monica: I guess so. I mean, that's -- I'm kind of just me.
Larry: OK. OK (laughs)
Andrew Sullivan is on to something when he says that Mark Steyn is onto something in his latest column. (How's that for blog-parody fodder?) I'm sure that there is not one blog-reading soul who has not read Steyn's latest column (I don't even bother to link to them anymore-- it seems redundant) but, to summarize, Steyn notes that in his latest piece on Daniel Pearl's murder, Robert Fisk can't bring himself to use the word "Jew" in the entire column. Sullivan:
When I was in England, I listened to the BBC a lot to hear how they were reporting the war. In every case I heard when the story obviously required recognition that pathological anti-Semitism was behind some action in the Muslim world – Iran’s refusal to accept a new British ambassador because he was a Jew, Daniel Pearl’s capture and murder because he was a Jew – the BBC either ignored it, or buried it. Of course well-meaning journalists did exactly the same thing in the 1930s. But we know better now, don’t we?
To American eyes, the British appear to be uncomfortable, hesitant, reluctant, reserved, and skittish about practically everything. To be a good "conversationalist" among the English is to have mastered the art of avoiding the right topic in the right way at precisely the right moment. The question arises: why is "the Jew" one of those topics? Despite Sullivan's mention of the 1930s, I don't think it reflects anything so simple or alarming as a widespread under-current of '30s-style anti-Semitism. Yet, as in the '30s, the habit of failing to mention or down-playing anti-Semitism when it comes up can amount to a de facto endorsement of it, which is what makes the well-meaning lefty's defensiveness seem pernicious. The consistent inability or refusal, a la the New Statesman, to grasp this obvious fact is yet another stupefying mystery.
It's a complicated question that encompasses many areas, and I can't answer it. I'm sure it has to do with (a) the long-standing tradition of British support for Arab nationalist causes; (b) a defensiveness on the part of the children of the socialist ideological heritage about the tradition of anti-Semitism on the Left (I believe that largely explains the New Statesman's nutty editorial stance); (c) a crude anti-Americanism-- another part of the socialist heritage-- which seeks a reflexive common cause with enemies of America's allies and interests; (d) the related contrarian spirit of the various media, who wish to appear to be bold "truth-speakers" in the face of a status quo of entrenched opinion, almost regardless of whether the position is right or wrong; (e) a well-intentioned desire to appear even-handed and neutral, coupled with the feeling that to take a position on contentious moral disputes is itself suspect; and (f) the feeling-- related to (d)-- that a "sensible balance" must be maintained by leaning toward the position that appears to be losing ground.
You could probably fill out the list well past the end of the alphabet, but I'm going to stop at (e) and (f) because I think they're the most salient and interesting. The scourge of moral relativism, the tribalism of identity politics, the elevation of lack of moral clarity to a perverse self-sustaining "virtue": these are the unfortunate intellectual hallmarks of our age. I dare say this complex is even more entrenched among America's intellectuals than it is in Britain, but British media elites, like American academics, seem to stick to it with unusual determination. Of course, maintaining a "sensible balance" between the position of those (Nazis or Islamofascists or what have you) who want to kill the Jews vs. those who wish to prevent them from killing the Jews requires "leaning" like crazy. It's a crazy endeavor that practically no one would admit to engaging in. It's just not possible without avoiding the issue. Fisk, like many of his colleagues, keeps giving it his best shot, to his considerable discredit. And it seems to be true all over Europe, unfortunately. Natalie Solent returned from her sojourn in France and had to learn from this blog that the last words of Daniel Pearl were "I am Jew and my father was a Jew." The French newspapers she read made no mention of it. That, without a doubt, is avoiding the issue. Yet it's ultimately an issue that can't be avoided, no matter how discomfiting or embarrassing it may be to a people who above all dislike discomfort and embarrassment.
I believe that such discomfort may well be what lies behind the constant defensive proclamation of an inalienable right to criticize Israel without being "labelled" anti-Semitic. Of course criticizing Israel and its policies isn't necessarily anti-Semitic. Most such criticism is not. But doing so while championing the cause of those who deny Israel's legitimacy and who would kill the Jews if they were allowed the chance; while referring to suicide bombers as "activists" as though they were doing no more than handing out leaflets or selling raffle tickets; while expressing bland equanimity about the Karin-A shipment of weapons and the danger it represents, insisting on seeing Israel's security "in context" yet straining to avoid mention of the "context" that millions of Jews were slaughtered because the great nations of the world were unwilling or unable to give them refuge when last they were threatened? There are many words for this, but surely "anti-Semitism" is at least a relevant topic. Is it unfair, impolite, impolitic to raise the issue? Many seem to believe so.
Whether or not they are anti-Semites, critics of Israel have noticed that anti-Israel sentiments tend to sound a bit less distasteful if you avoid the word "Jew," and many would prefer that it just not come up. Deborah Orr's extraordinary Independent op-ed (the one that kicked off the infamous New Statesman "Kosher Conspiracy" cover story) reflects the discomfiture as well as the denial of the anti-Israel British Left. It's not fair, she says: just because we say things that make us sound anti-Semitic doesn't mean we really are. Perhaps not. But I'm reminded of certain kids I knew in college who, when confronted with lies they approved of as well as those of which they did not, used to remark "oh, that's just what the words say." You can't really blame the listener if "what the words say" isn't what you mean. Neither can you change reality simply by choosing your words more carefully.
The word "Jew" is avoided because it, just on its own, is an argument against moral equivalence. In its single syllable is a world of meaning that calls into question an entire relativistic world-view that animates an entire intellectual culture. It summons to mind a history that is undeniable, that everybody knows, and in which right is clearly demarcated from wrong beyond all question. Regardless of intent, statements about "the Jews" unavoidably echo the rhetoric of the worst murderers the world has ever known. That doesn't mean that it's never legitimate to criticize Israel or Jews, certainly; but it does mean that one must think very carefully about what is meant when people speak this way, even, indeed, if they leave out some of the words. Unfortunately, people are speaking this way all over the middle east. It's abundantly clear that, whatever their motivations, it's not "just rhetoric." You don't need Daniel Pearl's murder to demonstrate this, but it is a demonstration of it. Some people would rather not let the truth get in the way of the theory. I think that's why Robert Fisk could not permit himself to write that they killed Daniel Pearl because he was a Jew.