If you dare, read this chilling tale from Natalie Solent.
Amusing google searches that recently brought people to this site:
Selfridge's London hours
richard nixon jew belly gram
how to discourage pigeons from coming back
porn term for vomiting
osama bin laden is blue
jan brady hair
why write about wars?
Sauron vs Ming
war party native hip hop music video feeling reserved'
difference between wood and plastic hockey sticks
sex positions photos for married couples
intelligent erotic game
Iran hostage crisis ronald reagan stupid
the us' bad job of intervention overseas
Britney Spears AND hypnotism AND control
bad writing please
USA Travel Tips
Tip #1: If you're a foreign national in the country illegally on a visa that expired eleven years ago, and you feel like looking at some "bomb-making websites" to while away the time, don't do it at a public library.
Tip #2: If you must conduct bomb-making research in public places, remember to remove all suspicious chemicals from your backpack or briefcase beforehand-- it will make any subsequent interviews with police go more smoothly.
Tip #3: Avoid giving a false name to police when they question you. They will probably notice.
The Matt Report
Okay, now it really does look like Matt Welch is "back." Hell of back, as the East Bay kids used to say-- lots of great posts on Steve Earle, Monrovia, the filthy streets of San Francisco, Iraq invasion leaks, the "dissent myth," Coulter/Krugman and much, much more. Excellent!
He sure is right about the open sewer otherwise known as downtown SF: we were there yesterday and the stench was more than we could handle. Maybe this sort of "third world charm" is why Europeans find the city so appealing; but you'd be hard-pressed to find another city in the civilized western world that is as disgusting. When I was a kid the Tenderloin was confined to a few blocks. Since then it has "spilled over" and swelled far beyond its former boundaries. Half of San Francisco is now "tenderloin." (Accordingly, the word "tenderloin" has become my wife's new preferred term for anything unpleasant or threatening, as in "hmm, I don't know-- that's a bit tenderloin if you ask me...") I'm sure Matt's right that this situation affects tourism. I doubt if they get many return customers these days. And you really have to wonder about parents who would allow their kids to walk down these streets without some kind of protective gear.
As for the Iraq leaks, I, like many others, have noticed and commented on the remarkable quantity (and dubious quality) of such leaks. I've always believed the leaks had to be deliberate. The question is, what are they trying to accomplish with them? Are they part of a coordinated plan of disinformation designed to keep the enemy guessing and to hide "the real plan" which is already in place? Maybe. When and if Bush makes the decision to act, such leaks might come in handy. But just because the leaks are deliberate doesn't necessarily mean that the decision to act has been taken and the process underway. It's entirely possible that the apparent confusion over how to handle Iraq remains a genuine reflection of the fact that the Bush administration hasn't yet figured out what it's going to do and is trying to keep as many options open as possible. In fact, I think that's the more likely possibility. That's how it has looked for the last few months, and neither the leaks, nor the fact that time is running out, nor any amount of hawkish wishful thinking necessarily mean that there has been any change.
Or perhaps, as Matt hopes, the administration is betting that repeated random acts of saber-rattling will alone suffice to scare Saddam into making enough concessions to give the US an "out." That's much less likely, if only because Bush has in effect made his political future contingent upon removing Saddam from power. No amount of saber-rattling or inspections programs, or sanctions, or what have you will induce him to step down voluntarily, as the administration is well aware. I suppose it would be theoretically possible to spin such a climb-down as something other than a craven, irresponsible, and dangerous failure of nerve, but I doubt it. Whether or not his case that Iraq poses a serious threat to the US and its allies has any merit (and I think it does) he has made it emphatically and unequivocally; if he fails to deliver on his numerous pledges to take action against Saddam, he's finished. And he will deserve to be. The wobble watch continues. Time to make some decisions, buddy.
Howard Owens takes a good long look at the "American police state" nightmare scenarios beloved by conspiracy theorists on the Left and on the Right. Regardless of which party is in control, and no matter who the president happens to be, this kind of empty talk is a continuous, irritating buzz running through what passes for political discourse in all quarters in this country. It's loudest and most enthusiastic on the fringe, but on occasion it is referred to, hinted at or even adopted outright by mainstream figures and organizations when they judge it to be advantageous. As Owens points out, the tendency to issue dire warnings of the other party's secret plans to impose a police state is a commonplace hallmark of partisanship on both sides, but only a handful of wackos actually believe it; for most, it's just a thing you say.
As an example, Owens links to Democrats.com, your one-stop source for information on "the Bush dictatorship." I've seen many links to this site, usually accompanied by withering captions, over the past few months, but I never really paid much attention to them; I have no idea who is behind it (other than "aggressive progressives"-- most amusing) or what connection they may have to the Democratic Party. But if the goal of Democrats.com were to provide a textbook illustration of the contention that "liberals" are loopy out-to-lunchers with no sense of balance and only a distant acquaintance with reality, or to cause good and decent non-extremist Democrats (me, for example) to question the wisdom of their party affiliation, they could hardly have done a more effective job. And any Democratic Party strategists who aim to persuade swing-voters and fence-sitters, or to re-affirm the faith of wavering but loyal Democratic voters, better hope that none of these people ever see Democrats.com.
The item that refuses to die
Steve Earle and his accursed John Walker song, I mean.
Eric Olsen recently noted that both the slanted New York Post story on the John Walker song and the more balanced and informative Reuters version appeared under the same byline and were apparently based on one original. The writer, a fiddle-player in Nashville named Aly Sujo, wrote to Eric explaining that the Reuters version is pretty close to what he had written and that the NY Post's editors had Murdoch-ized it. No surprises there, I suppose. But the tale of Sujo's motivation in writing the article will strike a chord, so to speak, with anyone who has ever been, or tried to become, a "recording artist":
[I] heard about the Earle song when i was doing a demo in Nashville [a] couple weeks ago, tracked down the walker song, wrote up the story for my former employers at Reuters (vaguely hoping it would get Steve's attention and he'd listen to the fucking demo... or hand it over to his label).
But noooo! Instead, I've been taken off their mailing lists and will probably have to physically defend myself if i ever bump into Earle ...
Meanwhile, Richard Bennett has an interesting post on the subject of John Walker and Steve Earle. (And thanks for the kind words, by the way.) He makes a strong case that Walker's parents are as much or more to blame than he is for the process leading to his enlistment with the Taliban. I agree with him about Walker's parents' moral culpability, though I'm not sure I agree that Walker's sentence is inappropriate: the penalty for joining up with and participating in the operations of al Qaeda and affiliated organizations which are actively engaged in a campaign to destroy America by murdering Americans has to be harsh enough to provide some degree of deterrence.
As for the relatively trivial issue of Earle's song, I think Richard has something here:
while Johnny committed a crime by going along with the Taliban, mom and dad committed a more serious crime by packing him off to Yemen. I'd like to see somebody write a song about the child abuse, his confusion, his need for black-and-white moral clarity and all the rest of it.
So if there's a problem with Steve Earle's song, it's that it doesn't dig deep enough into John Walker's heart, which totally sucks because the well is now poisoned for other songwriters who could do a better job of it.
This is a couple of days old now, but worth a look anyway: Ian Buruma tackles the claim (raised by Steven and Hilary Rose in their recent attempt to defend the anti-Israel academic boycott brought to the fore by Mona Baker) that associating with Israelis and cooperating with Israeli academic institutions is morally equivalent to "collaborating with" South Africa's apartheid regime.
In the fevered imaginations of many on the Left (and overwhelmingly, it seems, at universities) Israel has indeed become the South Africa of today. And just as with South Africa in the '80s, an ability to display convincing moral outrage when it comes to Israel has become a "litmus test of one's progressive credentials." Yet "the comparison with South Africa is intellectually lazy, morally questionable, and possibly even mendacious," he writes, and continues:
if military policies in disputed areas were a legitimate reason for such boycotts, there would be no more academic links with many places in the world - and I don't mean just dictatorships.
A more apt comparison with Israeli policies would be India's war in Kashmir. There, too, the victims are mostly Muslims. There is a long history of oppression, bad faith and stupid decisions. And the scale of the violence is much worse. Far more Muslims have been killed or tortured by the Indian army than by the Israeli defence forces. Dozens of Kashmiri victims - the number of people killed in Jenin - would not even reach the news. And if you think Kashmir is brutal, what about Chechnya?
But India and Russia are not litmus tests. Moral outrage against their governments is not a badge of being progressive. No one is proposing a boycott of universities in Delhi or St Petersburg. I can think of one or two reasons for these double standards, but whatever they are, I believe that they tell us more about the boycotters than about the subjects of their rage.
Can't wait to see the Crossfire on this one
Glenn Reynolds and Stefen Sharkansky both reproduce this letter to the SF Chronicle (scroll down to "don't count on FBI") from a language expert who was rejected by the FBI counter-terrorism people because he had smoked pot as a youth.
I know it's redundant to quote Reynolds, but his "message to the homeland security crowd" bears repeating:
If the war is important enough to justify a new cabinet-level department, sweeping powers for law enforcement, and (you know it's coming) higher taxes, then it's important enough to get rid of these pantywaist just-say-no rules. If it's not important enough to get rid of those rules, then it's not a war, and you guys need to turn in your badges.
Homeland security remains a joke, and the people in charge remain unserious.
Jim Durbin points out, in Sharkansky's comment section, that the FBI website specifically says that you are ineligible if you have smoked pot "more than seven times" or done "hard drugs" more than three times. (Jim's inner Weyrich apparently discouraged him from putting up the FBI url-- my inner Weyrich has prevailed upon me to do the same, for some reason... observe the WoT's chilling effect on fancy, comprehensive linking...)
Anyway, how did they arrive at these figures? One use of heroin is, for national security purposes, equivalent to 2.3 uses of marijuana? Take note, and calculate your buzz-per-security clearance level ratio accordingly. What kind of Taliban rinky-dink Mickey Mouse Homeland Security operation are they running here?
By the way, speaking of FBI language specialists who were squeaky clean enough to make it through the rigorous security screening process, whatever happened to the case of the FBI wiretap translator who was fingered by co-worker Sibel Edmonds as being associated with a "targeted organization?"
"It is always wonderful to watch a person raise himself beyond the level of others all around him with an air of utterly justified superiority.
Such a person always reminds one of oneself. But it is just as amusing to watch a great person humbled, brought low, confused, defeated, saddened. He thought he was better than the rest of us, but he’s just like everybody else. Such a person always reminds one of ... other people."
Unintentionally amusing quote of the day:
Paul Weyrich, quoted in this NYT article on why some conservatives are uncomfortable with Ashcroft's anti-terrorism policies:
"A lot of the social conservatives appreciate the stands he's taken on child pornography and the Second Amendment and a number of social issues.
"But there is suddenly a great concern that what was passed in the wake of 9-11 were things that had little to do with catching terrorists but a lot to do with increasing the strength of government to infiltrate and spy on conservative organizations."
The whole Steve Earle pseudo-controversy is pretty trivial in and of itself, but it has spurred some interesting blogospheric commentary on songwriting, art, politics and what have you. Eric Olsen has a pretty comprehensive survey of the spontaneous Earle-related blog-burst, along with some pointed comments of his own (there are several posts-- it's all over his current page, so keep scrolling.) Matt Welch has more; Ken Layne has a whole column (he's self-deprecating about it, but it's great); Jim Henley provides stimulating commentary as well. As far as I'm concerned, this pretty much exhausts the topic, but like I said, Earle himself isn't the only point of interest.
I've received some email questioning my "narcissistic" claim that anyone would bother to waste their time vilifying any of my inconsequential little songs: I assure you it happens. But my point in mentioning it was certainly not to complain that I'm some kind of "victim" because of it (as one scatological email implied.)
Nor do I think Steve Earle is a victim. That's ridiculous. As Layne says, "the trouble comes when you let the ruckus kill the art, when you claim oppression before the record is even released. Unless this country magically became Iran yesterday, performing a controversial song is still punished by a lot of free publicity." If he's really "claiming oppression" then he's nuts, just like those who are lining up to claim oppression on his behalf. Okay, he may be nuts anyway. My point was that there is something about the mimetic nature of first-person songwriting that seems to confuse people, even people who know a lot about music, even sometimes people who are themselves songwriters. And I was trying to suggest that the complexity and blurriness of the relationship between the songwriter and the song might be a part of why a good song can be so emotionally powerful.
In fact, a song doesn't even have to be particularly good for this phenomenon to occur around it, though it helps. Listeners bring as much to the table as the singer, and they often draw out meanings and implications that the guy who wrote the song could not possibly have intended. I could certainly illustrate this with several examples from my modest songwriting "career." Maybe I will even do this at some point, though I prefer to spend time actually writing songs than writing about them, so it may never happen.
A quick one: a few years back I wrote a song called "Deep Deep Down" about a famous Bay Area murder. It was essentially a love song from the point of view of the murderer, which the narrator delivered as he looked down for one last time over the body, like many such songs in the history of American popular music. A surprising number of listeners never even realized that it was about a murder in the first place. That's because the love song, though by no means perfect, was sincere and emotionally authentic, even though (I promise) I've never murdered anybody. People took the violent language figuratively, I guess: and it's interesting that so many ordinary kids, expecting only a love song, would find the murder-love overlap appropriate and comprehensible enough that they'd completely miss the obvious narrative content. I was initially a bit horrified by all the young couples who would approach me at a show and announce that it was "their song"-- there even were one or two of them claiming they planned to have it played at their wedding. (I'd always advise the bride not to ruin the happiest day of her life and suggest something like "More" or "The Girl From Ipanema" or the one about blossoms clinging to the vine. Really, it's amazing how young people can be so sentimental and emotionally attached to the sardonic songs of bitter old curmudgeons. I tell them to forget the songs and enjoy life. Somebody has to.)
Then there were those who realized what the song was about, held me personally responsible, asked what "I" was trying to say, talked about the "male gaze" (which sounded like a non sequitur and an oxymoron when I first misunderstood how it was spelled), accused me of "Hitchcock-like" misogyny (Alfred, not Robyn-- those from an over-"educated" rock journalist, naturally), etc. I'm not saying that they're completely wrong to believe that there's something a little "off" about the fact that a harmless dude like me finds it easy to take on the identity of a murderer for two and half minutes every now and again. But it's equally "off" that listeners relate to the character to the point where some of them don't even realize what he's talking about, though his self-justification never convinced me for a second. This "off-ness" is part of human nature (which the aforementioned rock journalist assured me did not exist-- that was a hell of an interview, eh?) Years later, it still keeps coming up. Right or wrong, the situation should be pretty familiar to everyone who has listened to any American popular music at all. But for some reason it's still powerful and disconcerting enough to throw sophisticated listeners for a loop every now and then. To my continuing surprise.
Just a bit more on Steve Earle-gate
Matt Welch has broken his vow of silence to deliver this persuasive defense of the "fat socialist hillbilly". (He also has this great post about Ari Fleischer and TV graphics reform-- is Matt "back?" Hope so...)
I have no idea what Earle's motivation was in writing "John Walker's Blues," though I could make an obvious guess or two, like anyone else. The talk-radio reaction is predictable, but writing a song about John Walker Lindh is perfectly legitimate. In fact, it's a great idea. I'm as pro-American as they come (notoriously so, in my circles-- "grossly patriotic" as one earnest young correspondent put it.) But I've had the idea of a sort of "ballad of John Walker" kicking around in my head ever since I first saw the guy on TV. If I hadn't been beaten to it by a more talented, more prominent, crazier dude, I probably would have gone through with it. Maybe I still will.
(I must pause now to drift into a reverie about what it would be like to be a famous, best-selling recording artist who could turn modest controversy into a means of support for himself and his family, instead of trying to scrape together enough pennies and nickels for another humiliating purchase of a 12-pack of Hamm's.... I know, but it relaxes me... Okay, I'm done...)
In fact, judging from the published lyrics of Earle's song, my song probably would have covered many of the same angles. You could, I suppose, read these lyrics as glorification of treason, but you could just as easily read them as emphasizing the vapidity of popular culture and the irrationality of political fervor and/or religious fervor, or pointing to the pathos of a true believer in an unjust and evil cause. There are all sorts of ways to see it. The point is, to write a good character-study or story-song, you have to approach it from the narrator's point of view. The more sincere and consistent you are about doing this, the better the song will be. If you step out of character during the writing or the performing, you've failed. If you include a line that says "hey folks, I hope you realize that a nice guy like me wouldn't really mean it," you've ruined the effect before you even record the vocal. Whatever you think of his politics (and I don't think much of 'em) Earle is really good at this songwriting racket. Would my as-yet-unwritten song, coming from a notoriously "gross" patriot like me, be vilified unheard by everyone who learned of it? I don't know the answer, though I believe every song I've written, even the most innocuous of them, has been vilified for some reason or another at some point by somebody. (That's the time-honored role of the rock and roll audience: dance, get autograph on album, vilify, ask for free stuff, excoriate, repeat...)
Anyway, this whole Steve Earle thing got me thinking about songs, the characters in them and the relationship of these characters to the songwriter or singer. A surprising number of extremely bright people seem to have a great deal of difficulty coming to terms with the idea that the singer of a song isn't always necessarily identical to the song's narrator. I'm not sure why this is, unless it's the fact that some character-study songs are so well-conceived and emotionally effective that the singer's identity is effectively dwarfed by that of the character for many listeners, even the smart ones. And an authentic, sincere performance of a good song often means that the singer has, for the duration of the song, really taken on the narrator's identity. After about three minutes are up, though, it's time to move on. The singer-songwriter steps into the shoes of a different character (though admittedly, for most of us the new character ends up being extremely similar to the previous one-- maybe that's partly a cause of the confusion.) Like I said, it's astonishing how often even the most sophisticated audience doesn't seem to be able to follow the transition. I guess they're confused by the use of the first person. And maybe some of them have had one too many at the bar as well.
Anyway, it sounds like a trivial, obvious point, but when you're a singer-songwriter it comes up all the time, often from those from whom you least expect it. They don't realize they're doing it, and they deny that they are doing it even as they continue to do it. I've done many an interview where the interviewer asks what I was "trying to say" with this or that song. My honest answer is usually along the lines of "I suppose what that guy (the character) thinks he's saying is..." To my surprise, this is treated as cop-out. "Come on, what do you really think?" Even people who write about music for a living and who have interviewed hundreds of writers can't seem to get it through their heads that what I think is at times only distantly related to what the narrator thinks: they're two separate questions. Sometimes I don't know what I think, even when the character has it all figured out. Sometimes I agree completely with the narrator, though I wouldn't put it in exactly the same terms; and even when I might put it in the same terms, the narrator's words may not accurately sum up all my thoughts on the subject. That's the way songwriting (or much of it at any rate) works. It's a joy when it's done well, even when you don't much care for the character, and even when you don't much care for the singer.
On the other hand, the relationship between singer-songwriter and character can be pretty complicated, the line between them hard to pin down. If you're making a serious attempt to tell a story from a character's point of view, you have to attempt to understand where he's coming from, to be able "try on" his outlook. That requires a degree of sympathy, by definition. Add to all of this the fact that many songwriters are themselves a little unstable to begin with, and you can get into some murky, and occasionally scary, territory. And it's true that some songs really are a direct expression of the singer's true sentiments (that is, sometimes the "I" in the song really is the singer-- though the process of casting your sentiments into a form that rhymes and has a good beat turns them into something other than the straightforward "diary entry" that some people seem to imagine they ought to be. )
So it's not entirely straightforward. Nevertheless, I still don't get why there is such a tendency to treat a song's lyrics as though they constitute official "position papers" on this or that issue. As Matt Welch says, a song isn't the same as an op-ed. But quite a number of people seem unable to tell the difference. Maybe it's just how it looks from where I sit, but novelists, playwrights, film directors, etc. aren't often held responsible for the actions of their characters: I guarantee you, though, that every guy who ever wrote a murder ballad has had at least one conversation where he had to explain that he wasn't actually a murderer. That attests to the power of the medium, I guess.
As for Earle, for all I know his song may indeed, as some have said, be an attempt to glorify treason and aid the cause of those who wish to destroy us. It's hard to tell much about it without hearing it. Fat, socialist hillbilly though he may be, I doubt it very much, but if so, I, along with most everyone, will disagree and perhaps also disapprove.
Still sounds like a hell of a song, though.
American Taliban fighter John Walker Lindh is glorified and called Jesus-like in a country-rock song to be released soon by maverick singer-songwriter Steve Earle.
The controversial ballad called "John Walker's Blues" is backed by the chanting of Arabic prayers and praises Allah.
Earle's lyrics describe the United States as "the land of the infidel." Those fighting Osama bin Laden's declared jihad against the United States and Jews are said to have hearts "pure and strong."
The song says when Lindh dies, he will "rise up to the sky like Jesus."
Steve Earle and Gore Vidal ought to team up: that'd be a hell of a band.
UPDATE: Charles Oliver points to this more balanced account of the Steve Earle Tali-boy song, including the lyrics. Looks like a solid character-study song. It's hard to say without having heard the song, but I agree with Oliver that the New York Post article seems to have misrepresented it: the "land of the infidel" rhetoric and such is clearly from the point of view of the narrator. Read the lyrics and see what you think. Here's the description of the production: "over a layered backdrop of electric guitars recorded backward, the song serves as a kind of nightmarish funhouse-mirror version of Fess Parker's classic "Ballad of Davy Crockett" of the 1950s." Sounds like a good time to me.
Of course, for all I know Earle may agree with his narrator and may have intended the song as anti-American propaganda. I'm sure there are a few sorry sods who will take it up as an anti-American anthem (like Joan Hirsch, the manager of a Revolution Bookstore quoted in the article.) That's just as silly as trying to mount a campaign to "ban" the song (which will probably happen, too: if it does, he'll probably make enough dough to fund a few more drug habits.) Whatever. Good, interesting songs are hard to come by. Enjoy 'em when you can find 'em.
We went to see Kris Kristofferson this weekend at the Presentation Theatre at USF. People tend to forget just how great a songwriter he is. My wife hadn't even been aware that he was a songwriter. "He's a film star from the '80s, right?" she said, just before being completely blown away by song after terrific song after heartbreaking song. It was a great, inspiring show.
He's definitely still a bit of a peacenik-- he's probably the only country legend you'll hear quoting Howard Zinn from the stage. (He did, I swear.) He may have been playing this stuff up for the San Francisco crowd, who went nuts for it. There was definitely something surreal about how the traditional hootenanny-ish mid-song whoopin' and hollerin' gave way to cries of "bullshit!" when he warned of America's impending action in Iraq. God love him. And them.
Unfortunately I missed the opening act, Paul Williams, but I hear he was good.
As nasty as he wants to be...
At this point, I'm officially bored by Brendan O'Neill's periodic anti-blogosphere temper tantrums, as well as by the predictable responses to them. (Warning: this one will be pretty boring, too.) He only does it for attention. The chief interest, such as it is, now lies in how he'll manage to up the nastiness ante after his extraordinarily mean-spirited parody of John Weidener's recent open letter to the people of Iran. (The ante must be upped for the Brendan O'Neill Snarkathon to retain any outraged link-generating salience: otherwise it just becomes a barely-noticeable feature of the landscape.) Pejman Yousefzadeh's response, coming as it does from an actual Persian, is worth a look, though.
I'm pretty sure, however, that Brendan's reference to the people of Iran as "Arabs" was not an error, but rather was intended as sarcasm, as a (manifestly inaccurate) lampoon of the pig ign'ant 'mer'kins who participated in Random Jottings's characteristically unassuming and tasteful "blogburst" effort. I imagine the same sort of intentional irony is at work when he publishes lengthy posts bemoaning lengthy posts, or when he blogs multiple pages of meticulously-composed text intended to demonstrate the pointlessness and irrelevance of the whole blogging idea. Most amusing. I'd say Brendan's extraordinarily bitter ridicule of the worthy sentiments of Weidener et al. did not display a genuine lack of geographical knowledge, but rather a dearth of what I believe they used to call "class." Surely Brendan O'Neill ought to be able to find a more suitable and edifying application for his considerable talents and a better use of his time.
The thing is, when he gets over himself a bit and lays off the hobbyhorses (i.e., a rather precious self-regard as an Eminent Journalist and a fervent crusade against "imperialism," by which he seems to mean just about anything and everything under the sun) he often has quite a lot of interesting things to say. Just don't get him started on "interference" or Serious Journalism.
What Spain could teach us about island grabbing is the headline of this interesting item about Parsley Island, Gibraltar and the venerable and continuing tradition of gunboat diplomacy. "Us" means, of course, Great Britain, but there may be other worthy pupils for such lessons. Here's the conclusion:
It may not always be possible for people to have an absolute right of self-determination, as perhaps it was not in the case of Hong Kong, but to the degree it is possible they should have it. Spain, upstaged by Morocco as it was not so delicately blackmailing us, will need to reflect on these matters. We too should reconsider them, in an era in which gunboat diplomacy, worrying though it is, at least has the occasional virtue of exposing hypocrisies.
Something to fill in the enormous blank space at the top this blog
This blog's first serious case of "light posting" (a vaguely rock and roll-induced condition) and a relatively long links list are the joint cause of the sudden expanse of white emptiness that mysteriously appeared at the top o' the blog yesterday. Because of my recent confession of how much time I tend to spend staring off into space, it seems like poetic justice, or perhaps just a graphic demonstration to my readers of what it's like. A glimpse into the contents of my head, I mean. As Mac Thomason points out, my options are (a) to change the alignment in the blogger template or (b) write more. I'm going to try to go with (b) though that might be "asking for it." When I drift off again, you will know. (Just pretend I wrote something brilliant....)
The two appeals court judges behind the ruling declaring the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional have been targeted by demonstrators surrounding the courthouse and a plane trailing a banner that read: "One Nation Under God."
Ken Layne says yesterday was dull, and has the links to back it up.
Meanwhile, in this little corner of dullsville, a letter came pouring in, demanding to know why I didn't post anything yesterday. Question: am I OK? Answer: uh, yeah I guess so. I've been doing some recording over the last few days. While the recording process and the blogging process, for me, both involve a great deal of staring off into space, wondering what the hell I'm going to do next, it's pretty difficult to do both types of staring off into space at the same time. The future is still unwritten, though. More later, maybe.
According to the Sunday Times, "ministers and civil servants at the Department for Transport are drawing up a new national walking strategy...Officials want to create what they call “legible cities”, so that those on foot can find their way easily and safely.
A new pavement policy will advise pedestrians in the way the Highway Code advises drivers.
David Jamieson, the transport minister, has ordered the review amid concern that people are walking a quarter less than they did in the 1970s...Jamieson said last week: "A draft national walking strategy is being prepared. We are developing a specification for research on attitudes to walking. We are reviewing and updating our technical guidance on walking."
Here's an article based on an interview with Mona Baker's husband, Ken, in which he says: "we are just ordinary people. Neither of us has any real political allegiances, we have no religion, no creed, nothing at all... We didn't intend it to happen this way. We thought we were making a token gesture. We were joining a boycott along with everyone else."
The Little Green Footballs comment section has been buzzing with talk about "good Germans," as you might imagine. And, clearly, as the Bakers ought to have been able to imagine. The astonishing thing is that the reaction and controversy really does seem to have taken these people completely by surprise. Europeans who are critical of Israel often don't realize just how bad their rhetoric can sound; but this transgression wasn't just rhetorical. The Bakers take this kind of "cluelessness" to a previously unattained level. Baker's ideology appears to have blinded her to reality, and it's certainly not the first time that such a thing has occurred. But can it really be that there was not a single soul in her professional circle with enough sense to have pointed out the folly, if not the reprehensible nature, of her "token gesture"?
According to this, Baker may lose her job if she refuses to re-instate the sacked Israeli scholars. (What you're hearing is the sound of the world's smallest violin...)
Patrick Bateson, the eminently fiskable King's College provost, has cleaned up his public relations act a bit since telling the New York Times that Mona's purge was akin to refusing to cooperate with Mengele's perverse experiments on children: "[Prof Baker] decided to take a unilateral action," he now says, "not thinking very clearly about what the original boycott was about. Her understanding of its principles is muddled." I suppose Bateson's understanding of the boycott's "principles" has deepened considerably in the last couple of days; or perhaps he realized (none too soon) that he had backed a bad pony. No indication is given of what these principles might be. What's the boycott-compliant Bateson-approved method of harrassing Israeli academics in order to send a message to the Sharon government? Perhaps, like many such "open letters" that end up being published in the Guardian, it is only legitimate and coherent to the degree that it is disregarded? This defense of the academic boycott by its original authors fails to clear it up. Any way you slice it, "muddled" is indeed the mot juste.
UPDATE: Still making friends, I see...
Howard Jacobson of the Independent lets Mona Baker have it with both barrels, pronouncing her "guilty of carrying out atrocities against language." The step-off point is her notorious employment of the phrase "some kind of Holocaust," but Jacobson combs through the entire would-be exculpation as well as her own language describing "current research interests." Conclusion: "everything Professor Baker says is worthy of our attention by virtue of its inanity." All this is no small criticism for a professor of language studies:
Academies are timid places, and because she has not behaved discourteously to a favoured group, Mona Baker won't face official censure. But if I were a school-leaver wondering where to study language in the autumn, I'd be thinking twice before going to an institution where at least one professor has a cloth ear, a closed mind, and does not grasp the meaning of simple terms in frequent use.
Oh come on, Eric:
on the topic of Ms. Coulter, I do not think it impossible — or necessarily unlikely — that were she a leftist, Mr. Ashcroft would seek to imprison her for regular endorsements of mass violence and even political assassination. (She may be joking, but I can’t tell and I doubt Ashcroft could either.) Were she an immigrant, there is no question that she would be jailed and probably held incommunicado and in solitary confinement.
Here's how Professor Bateson defends Mona Baker's purge of Israeli scholars:
"Always," he said, "science is set in social contexts." As an example he cited Josef Mengele, the Auschwitz doctor who tortured Jewish children in experiments.
"Supposing we had the possibility of collaborating with a Mengele," Professor Bateson said. "That would be a case where everybody would say politics would definitely come into science, and say we could not let that happen."
Leave aside for the moment, if you can manage it, the obvious and outrageous display of moral equivalence. These remarks were apparently made in response to questions posed by the New York Times article's writer, with the intention of defending the anti-Israel boycott and Mona Baker's application of it.
"Hmm," thinks Professor Bateson. "New York Times, is it? By Jove, this calls for a Mengele comparison! I say, that'll put the butter on the spinach!"
Not the most effective damage-control strategy, to say the least. At minimum, this guy needs a crash course in public relations.
As for the substance of these remarks and the corresponding apparent lack of sense and human decency, I'm still speechless.
In case you missed it yesterday, here's Victor Davis Hanson's latest excellent essay on "our friends the Saudis" and the questionable advisability of attempting to preserve the status quo in the Middle East for the sake of oil. Stability schmability, says Hanson. Actually, he says it quite a bit better than that:
What the United States should strive for in the Middle East is not tired normality--the sclerosis that led to September 11, the Palestinian quagmire and an Iraq full of weapons of mass destruction. Insisting on adherence to the same old relationship is akin to supporting a tottering Soviet Gorbachev instead of an emerging Russian Yeltsin, or lamenting the bold new world ushered in by the fall of the Berlin Wall--a radical upheaval that critics once said was too abrupt and perilous given the decades of dehumanizing Soviet tyranny, the inexperience of East European dissidents, and the absence of a Westernized middle class. Wiser observers have long argued that where governments hate us most, the people tend to like us more, sensing that we at least oppose those who bring them misery.
Only by seeking to spark disequilibrium, if not outright chaos, do we stand a chance of ridding the world of the likes of bin Laden, Arafat and Saddam Hussein.
Say what you mean...
Whew. We didn't know that, but we can't say we're surprised.
Indeed, we think it says a lot about what it means -- and doesn't mean -- to be an American icon.
Mark Steyn engagingly covers all the bases in this column on the seeming inability of authorities to draw the obvious conclusions about the LAX terrorism. He also makes this point:
let's take the Feds at their word when they insist there's "no connection" between the LAX killer and any terrorist organizations. In its way, that's even more disturbing. Mr. Hadayet doesn't fit the poverty-breeds-desperation-breeds-resentment routine: He lived in a prosperous L.A. suburb and ran his own business. America had been good to him, at least when compared with the economic basket-case he emigrated from. On July 4th, he had plenty of reasons to get out the bunting and firecrackers. Instead, he went Jew-killing.
Osama and al-Qaeda are a small problem, which since September 11th has been managed about as well as can be expected. But the broader culture of "intolerance" in certain unassimilated communities is a potentially much bigger problem. You win wars not just by bombing but by argument, too: Churchill understood this; he characterized the enemy as evil, because they were and because it was important for the British people to understand this if they were to muster the will to see the war through. In Vietnam, the U.S. lost the rhetorical ground to Jane Fonda and co., and wound up losing the war, too. It's critical that the same thing does not happen here. The organizations that purport to represent Muslims in North America and Europe have their own excuses for turning a blind eye to the torrent of hate from respectable sources within the Muslim world -- mosques, media, government. There's no reason why the FBI and other U.S. agencies should sign on to their fictions.
al Qaeda was part of the problem, not the whole thing. The whole problem is Islamic Fundamentalism as a political movement, because it denies the idea that it can live-and-let-live with us as non-Islamic nations. As long as it remains an active political movement with actual political power, it will keep popping up and keep attacking us in one way or another. The names may change, but the real enemy will remain. al Qaeda was like a mushroom, pushed up above the surface from a large fungal mass in the soil. Crush just the mushroom, and the fungus remains, unharmed.
The tenor of his complaint lays bare the fundamental philosophical divide between his beliefs about the proper principles of government, versus those that actually do govern the US. He advocates the centralization of authority and the incremental increase of its coercive powers over time, while the US is a republic, dedicated to decentralized government according to the will of the people. There is no way to paper over this divide, which irks Mr. Parris greatly. It would probably irk him less if the US were less powerful, but it does not seem to occur to him that the power of the US has grown to its current stature because of its governing principles, while the decline of other nations stems from those he advocates.
Aside from the US, virtually every dominant nation in history that cared about the world outside its boundaries exercised its might to take as much of the world as it could hold. Yet the US, which now has more power than any nation in history, does nothing of the sort. While it refuses to be ruled, it shows no desire to be ruler. This fact is the moose in the newsroom that Mr. Parris and his colleagues refuse to see. He ought to spend more of his attention on understanding why the US limits its own exercise of power, and less on Lilliputian fulminations over his own powerlessness.
Ghazi Algosaibi, the Saudi ambassador to Britain who published that poem gloryifying suicide bombers awhile back, is at it again, reaffirming his praise of suicide "martyrs" and claiming "this is a war of occupation, far more severe than anything the Germans did when they occupied Europe in World War Two."
The remarks were made during a speech at London's Westminster University. (No indication of whether the British academy's purge of Jews has yet been carried out at this institution.)
"Criticism of Israel isn't necessarily anti-Semitism," the British left-liberal commentariat never tire of pointing out. But what about when it is? Donald Macintyre, commenting in the Independent on the case of the British academic (Mona Baker) who fired two Israelis from a scholarly journal's board in support of an anti-Israel boycott, formulates a new corollary which goes something like this: anti-Semitism, even when well-intentioned, is not necessarily the most effective criticism of Israel. Indeed, Macintyre cautions, anti-Semitism of this type is best avoided, not only because it is inherently wrong, but also because it runs the risk of undermining the the shared goal of helping to bring down the Sharon government. "It is possible," he writes, "as these people fail to realise, to criticise the Israeli government without condemning an entire country or its people." Well, it certainly ought to be possible, even easy. How remarkable that so many seem utterly unable to manage it.
There's no indication that Macintyre himself shares Mona Baker's objectionable views. Yet his framing of the issue as primarily a matter of inadvisable tactics in service of an unquestionably worthy cause has a distinctly odd flavor. "Above all," he writes, "the academic boycotters give lethal sustenance to the lie that such criticism [of the Israeli government]... amounts to saying that the state of Israel should not exist." Since this, in fact, appears to be Mona Baker's view, it is at best an exaggeration to call this characterization a "lie" in this context. The point is that for Baker, whose opposition to the Israeli government's policies seamlessly elides into an opposition to the mere presence of Israeli individuals, "criticism of Israel" really does seem to have meant "condemning an entire country and its people." How many of the 700 other signers of the academic boycott petition share her beliefs? Macintyre claims that those who frankly admit to believing that Israel has no right to exist would "find themselves alienated from the large majority of people in this country." I'm not so sure about this: it's a common enough view in Britain, sad to say. Intentionally or not, Macintyre's column amounts to an oblique call for people with such views to disguise their true motives more effectively. It's too late for that, though: everybody else has already noticed.
Another good catch...
...by Moira Breen. Moira says everything that needs to be said about this remarkable set of consecutive paragraphs from a Reuters article on the recent study that found that "globalization has helped the poor." But here they are anyway, since I can't resist:
In a foreward that broadly endorses the report's conclusions, Commission president Romano Prodi distances the Commission from some parts of the report, saying it could not concur with all the study's analysis.
"In many respects, the findings will prove controversial, at least to those outside the circle of professional economists, contradicting as they do certain deeply held beliefs about the negative consequences of globalization," Prodi wrote.
Daniel Pipes provides a list of other incidents (besides the LAX shooting) that authorities have been reluctant to identify as terrorism. He concludes:
Work dispute, hate crime, road rage, derangement, post-traumatic stress, industrial accident . . . these expressions of denial obstruct effective counterterrorism. The time has come for governments to catch up with the rest of us and call terrorism by its rightful name.
Stephen Schwartz provides this interesting essay on the parallels between mid-century Stalinist apologists and Communist front groups and our contemporary Wahhabist ones.
I'm not sure I believe that groups like the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), American Muslim Council (AMC) and Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) are as well-organized and coordinated with each other as this article implies. But I do like the term "Wahhabi Lobby." Because it rhymes, I mean...
A few days back I quoted the entry on "atheism" from the 18th-century Encyclopedia Britannica, saying that I had nothing to add to it. Well, Steven den Beste has a great deal to add, and it's wide-ranging and stimulating as always.
Mark Steyn on the Establishment clause:
The founders were men of God: they just didn't think the government should be in the business of approving and licensing one particular denomination over all others. Their view prevailed so successfully that two centuries on the very idea seems so nutty and incredible to Americans that Establishment Clause fetishists have nothing to do but sit around plotting how to get the Third Grade Christmas concert to ban Frosty The Snowman. If the Pledge of Allegiance is unconstitutional for including the words "under God," then so is the city where the court sat in judgment -- San Francisco: How can you have a government jurisdiction named after a saint?
Columnist fails to bring down global superpower...
Matthew Parris reluctantly concedes that he was right all along. This time, though, I think he may really mean it.
UPDATE: Charles Austin comments.
We had planned to occupy Afghanistan in October, and Osama, or whoever it was who hit us in September, launched a pre-emptory strike.
They knew we were coming. And this was a warning to throw us off guard.
With that background, it now becomes explicable why the first thing Bush did after we were hit was to get Senator Daschle and beg him not to hold an investigation
[The government] plays off [Americans'] relative innocence, or ignorance to be more precise. This is probably why geography has not really been taught since World War II -- to keep people in the dark as to where we are blowing things up.
Because Enron wants to blow them up.
Or Unocal, the great pipeline company, wants a war going some place.
[Bush] does a little war dance and talks about evil axis and all the countries he's going to go after. And how long it is all going to take, he says with a happy smile, because it means billions and trillions for the Pentagon and for his oil friends.
And it means curtailing our liberties, so this is all very thrilling for him.
He's right out there reacting, bombing Afghanistan. Well, he might as well have been bombing Denmark.
Denmark had nothing to do with 9/11. And neither did Afghanistan.
But this is joy for them, for the federal government. Now they've got everybody, because everybody flies.
The second law of thermodynamics always rules: Everything is always running down. And so is our Bill of Rights.
Q: So what's the way out of this? Back in the '80s you used to call for a new sort of populist constitutional convention. Do you still believe that's the fix?
A: Well, it's the least bloody. Because there will be trouble, and big trouble. The loons got together to get a balanced-budget amendment, and they got a majority of states to agree to a constitutional convention. Senator Sam Ervin, now dead, researched what would happen in such a convention, and apparently everything would be up for grabs. Once we the people are assembled, as the Constitution requires, we can do anything, we can throw out the whole executive, the judiciary, the Congress. We can put in a Tibetan lama. Or turn the country into one big Scientological clearing center.
The liberals always say, "Oh my, if there is a constitutional convention, they will take away the Bill of Rights."
But they have already done it! It is gone. Hardly any of it is left. So if they, the famous "they," would prove to be a majority of the American people and did not want a Bill of Rights, then I say, let's just get it over with. Let's just throw it out the window. If you don't want it, you won't have it.
Happy 4th of July to everybody. God Bless America.
Daniel Pipes revisits the "simulation of Islamic culture" public school curriculum that was such a hot topic on talk radio a few months back. (It's news again because a public school in California is now being sued by parents over the issue.) Pipes:
Islam: A Simulation serves as a recruitment tool for Islam, for children adopting a Muslim persona during several weeks amounts to an invitation to them to convert to Islam. (One can't but wonder did John Walker Lindh take this course?) The educational establishment permits this infraction due to an impulse to privilege non-Western cultures over Western ones. It never, for example, would permit Christianity to be promoted in like fashion ("Become a Christian warrior during the crusades," for example.)
Militant Islamic lobbying groups want Islam taught as the true religion, not as an academic subject. They take advantage of this indulgence, exerting pressure on school systems and on textbook writers. Not surprisingly, Interaction Publishers thanks two militant Islamic organizations by name (the Islamic Education and Information Center and the Council of Islamic Education) for their "many suggestions."
Americans and other Westerners face a choice: They can insist that Islam, like other religions, be taught in schools objectively. Or, as is increasingly the case, they can permit true believers to design instruction materials about Islam that serve as a mechanism for proselytizing. The answer will substantially affect the future course of militant Islam in the West.
presents matters of Islamic faith as historical fact. The Kaaba, "originally built by Adam," it announces, "was later rebuilt by Abraham and his son Ismail." Really? That is Islamic belief, not verifiable history. In the year 610, Interaction goes on, "while Prophet Muhammad meditated in a cave ... the angel Gabriel visited him" and revealed to him God's Message" (yes, that's Message with a capital "M.") The curriculum sometimes lapses into referring to "we" Muslims and even prompts students to ask if they should "worship Prophet Muhammad, God, or both."
I agree with the overwhelming mainstream opinion in this country that the impulses of the cultural conservatives happen to be right on this one. These issues are only distantly connected to civil liberties as such: as a matter of common sense, it's clear that "under God" presents a minuscule danger to society, while teaching 7th-graders the tenets of fundamentalist Islam as inarguable fact seems like a bad idea. The fact that many of our educators and school administrators (as well as their TV cheerleaders) have failed to recognize this tells us, as Brendan O'Neill might say, more about them than it does about the Constitution or civil liberties. (Not, I might add, that there isn't a great deal of disingenuousness on both sides on this issue-- I daresay there are those who would love to institute a fundamentalist Christian version of the Interaction program in public schools.) Among multiculturalists, the vague pretense of concern for limiting public expenditure fails to disguise a distinct discomfort and outright hostility to the West and its cultural traditions. For some, this hostility looms so large that no other considerations are visible. The true objection to "under God" for such people, I suspect, is not that it's "religious" but that it's the wrong kind of religious. The classic 60s-radical impulse to attack parental authority and everything seemingly associated with it as a self-justifying matter of principle seems to have refined itself into an institutional eagerness to reject the Faith of Our Fathers specifically by embracing the faith of somebody (anybody) else's fathers. Whatever else you want to say about it, it's not neutral; nor is it especially "tolerant."
The multiculturalist ethos allows its often well-intentioned proponents to indulge in anti-Western and anti-American propaganda without admitting it and, for many, without even realizing it. Here, in the name of "tolerance" (ironically, again, a Western concept) the educational establishment seems to have adopted a program of indoctrination in the fundamentalist form of a religion associated with an infamously intolerant ideology with whose adherents we are at war. I don't think this idiotic school program presents a serious danger to the republic; but it is interesting that somehow this situation failed to set off the same Estabishment clause alarms as the conventional phrase "under God." "Irony" doesn't quite cover it.
The what the hell is the matter with these people? file is getting pretty thick:
A Pakistani tribal council ordered an 18-year-old girl to be gang-raped in order to punish her family after her brother was seen walking with a girl from a higher class tribe, police said Tuesday...
According to the victim, the Mastoi tribe demanded punishment after her 11-year-old brother was seen walking unchaperoned with a Mastoi girl in a deserted part of the village. The boy and his sister are from the lower class Gujar tribe.
The Mastoi tribe called a meeting of the tribal council, which ordered the girl to be raped to avenge their tribal honor. The teenager said she was taken to a hut and assaulted as hundreds of Mastois stood outside laughing and cheering.
PatioPundit "picks up the slack" with this condensed blogosphere.
Wow, they really are suicidal...
Groups affiliated with Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement yesterday called upon all Palestinian organizations, including the Islamic movements, to attack Zionist and American targets everywhere in response to US efforts "to remove the legitimate leadership of the Palestinian people."
Fatah's military wing, al-Aksa Martyrs Brigades, issued a statement yesterday in which it threatened "to strike at Zionist and American interests and installations" in Israel and throughout the world if the United States maintains its opposition to Arafat.
UPDATE: Laurence Simon emails the answer: "threesome."
AL-UDEID AIR BASE, Qatar (AP) - If President Bush ordered airstrikes on Iraq, this vast, remote and little-publicized base in the central Persian Gulf would be a critical hub for U.S. warplanes and their aerial pipeline of bombs and supplies.
The government of Qatar is spending millions of dollars to expand al-Udeid. Over the past months, the U.S. military quietly has moved munitions, equipment and communications gear to the base from Saudi Arabia, the control center for American air operations in the Gulf for more than a decade... Signs of an American military buildup are unmistakable.
Natives Voters are Restless
Palestinian Jobless Storm Arafat's Gaza Headquarters:
Thousands of banner-waving Palestinians marched on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Gaza offices Monday, protesting the lack of jobs or financial support for the unemployed.
About 4,000 demonstrators, many accompanied by their children, took to the streets, some with rounds of pita bread fixed to the top of their banners to symbolize their struggle for daily bread.
Arafat's security guards, unwilling to use force against the unarmed protesters, stood by as the crowd broke through the wrought-iron gates of Arafat's seafront compound chanting "We want jobs! We want food!"
As we've seen recently, big-ticket military items aren't always the ones that matter, which puts the U.S. military procurement culture at a big disadvantage. That's why the Israeli Defense Force's "we depend on these for survival, daily" attitude will be so important. To all of us. They have a renewed grasp of the issues, a nimble planning culture, and plenty of opportunities to use new developments in practice against "warrior culture" opponents. That makes Israel a tremendously valuable ally. It's also why I think they'll end up tutoring the U.S. in this area, even with our "War on Terror" in full swing.
30 Days to a Mushier Vocabulary
The word "Oriental" has been banned in the state of Washington. The state senator who sponsored the bill, one Paul Shin, provides a useful bit of semantic history:
the word "Oriental" was first used to denote everything east of London, said Shin, a Korean War orphan. It was later used to describe people with flat noses, small eyes, black hair and mysterious ways, he said.
But what's the state's position on "hunchback"?
Meanwhile, the perspicacious Moira Breen presents yet another example of how the Pledge of Allegiance, the word "God," and the promise of free publicity has the power to turn us all into irredeemable idiots. Beware. It could happen to you...
UPDATE: This version of the "Oriental" story (from the Phillipine News via New California Media via Protein Wisdom) is much better than the one linked above because it begins with this excellent sentence:
Anyone who studied Asian American history knows that the word “Oriental” conjures up images of people less than savage as the term was used in Europe and then the United States in the last three centuries.