A lot of bands stay at the Palace Hotel in Tonelle, New Jersey, as a lot of clubs have running deals. There's not that much more to say about that, except that that's where I'm typing this now.
I think I started to write that sentence thinking, "hmm, maybe I can launch into a colorful rumination upon the Palace Hotel through the ages and its meaning in the context of rock and roll in the northeast, drawing some kind of general lesson from years of accumulated wisdom about life on the road." But now I find I can't come up with any kind of rumination. It's just an old hotel by the highway. I feel fondly towards it because I've often stayed here after playing at Maxwell's in Hoboken, which most people who have toured in the northeast will tell you is one of their favorite clubs. (Last night at Maxwell's was a lot of fun, despite the fact that a flat tire on the way almost caused us to miss the gig entirely, which was stressful. A small crowd of mostly friends and superfans, plus some puzzled onlookers, and one drunk stockbroker trying to impress everybody with critical commentary and fancy dancing: you know, the usual. They were very nice, and hardly any of them made fun of me too much when I screwed up.)
I said I was going to blog from the road, and I still intend to try. You wouldn't think it would be any harder to bash out a few posts when you're riding around in a van or bus or hanging around at the Palace Hotel than it is at home, but it is harder for some reason. I always leave on tours, long and short, with grandiose plans for productive activities to engage in during the tedious travel and hanging out times. This time, I was going to do some blogging, and I brought along two novels and that new Paul Berman book. But, even on a short stint like this, it only takes a day or two for your brain to switch to "tour mode," a state of mind where you don't feel you can manage much more than staring off into space. Once you have entered "tour mode," you don't feel all that bad about sitting in a van for ten hours at a time doing practically nothing. I guess that's point, maybe. The over-used metaphor of a little switch in your head is apt here: that's pretty much what it feels like. (And after a long tour, it can be quite difficult to switch back.) The blogging frame of mind is totally different.
I don't understand this all that well, but I've always assumed it's some sort of evolutionary psychology thing, where our remote ancestors in the Ice Age had to develop the "staring off into space" gene so that they wouldn't snap during their long, hard, critically acclaimed but commercially tenuous treks through the steppes of Asia. It's just as well, because snapping would be bad.
Fox executives Monday unveiled their latest reality-TV venture, Appointed By America, a new series in which contestants vie for the top spot in Iraq's post-war government...
At a Pentagon briefing Monday, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz gave his blessing to Appointed By America.
"It is great that Fox will play a vital role in post-war Iraq," Wolfowitz said. "Heck, we didn't really know what we were going to do."
The lyrics of that song
I've received quite a few requests for the lyrics to "democracy, whisky, sexy." If you're interested in that sort of thing, allow me to direct you to Captain Mojo, who has posted the lyrics as written, and also with interlinear chords ("tabs" as the kids call them.) Don't hurt yourself...
UPDATE: I guess posting the lyrics was a good idea. I just got an email from a young lady who said she could really relate to the line that goes "I think I understand and know while I was gettin' high..." That's not actually how it goes.
Maybe she was kidding. You never know. But people hear all sorts of things in lyrics. I have this song called "Sackcloth and Ashes." For many kids, hearing this song is the first time they have ever heard this phrase, and they sometimes have to struggle a bit to understand it. Often, they project their own, er, concerns on to the title. I remember one guy enthusiastically telling me "I really love the song that goes 'suck cock and asses.'" When I stopped giggling, I forwarded the suggestion to my friend Jon from Pansy Division, thinking they might be able to do something with it. I don't think they ever did. Do anything with the song, I mean.
I often like my own mis-heard lyrics better than the real ones. After thinking for quite awhile that Tim from Rancid had been singing "I had a dream I had a midget inside me" on that one song, I was pretty disappointed when I learned the truth. Because I often have dreams about my inner midget, so I could relate...
If you don't know the story of Havel, the Plastic People of the Universe, Charta 77, and its crucial role in freeing eastern Europe from a living totalitarian nightmare you owe it to yourself to take some time to read it. (It's uncharacteristically long for a Reason on-line article.) Even if you're familiar with the story, you won't find it summed up anywhere with greater clarity and passion. A moving essay on a moving subject.
If this normal-looking character could shake off the hangover long enough to give an eloquent finger to The Man, well, what were you doing with your time?
Great piece. One of Welch's best.
Michele has the right idea on the Dixie Chicks situation:
The Dixie Chicks are more popular now than ever. They have made a career move out of a negative situation. Number one on Billboard, prime-time television interviews, the cover of Entertainment Weekly. Yes, dissent is patriotic, because very public dissent keeps you in the public eye, which leads to that great American past time of keeping the cash registers ringing. Capitalism at its finest.
I mean, who would really know that Tim Robbins still existed (except as Mr. Sarandon) if not for his public tirades against George Bush? Would Bill Maher have a tv show or Michael Moore an Oscar or Arianna Huffington a website if not for loud, public dissent?
It's a marketing tool. The people who decry capitalism and all things America are the ones scooping up the cash by the fistful because they cry the loudest.
Don't cry for the Dixie Chicks. They have risen to the top of the pop culture ladder because they said some nasty things about the president.
Ain't that America?
Sure is, and we should all be so lucky as to have the Dixie Chicks' problems.
Saying nasty things about the president may not play all that well with country music's core audience, but in the show biz world or in places like the San Francisco bay area there's nothing remotely daring or provocative, even noticeable, about Bush-bashing. It's de rigueur, required by custom or etiquette. It's like talking about the weather. It's a feature of every conversation, so prevalent that you hardly notice it, as a fish hardly notices water. If you don't say "Bush is a moron" at least once, people start to look at you funny. Failing to do so is impolite.
In show business (and in San Francisco) it's all schtick all the time. It has always been that way, but our contemporary celeb world has developed a new, perhaps ironic, emphasis: your hair is a statement, while your politics is a style.
Not that there's anything wrong with that...
Thanks very much to everyone who posted links to "democracy, whisky, sexy", and to everyone who bothered to stop and check it out. And especially to those generous souls who found it within themselves to toss some spare change into the imaginary open guitar case over to the left. (Or maybe I should phrase it as Andrew Sullivan might: thanks to everyone who decided to become a part of the new busking revolution...)
I've been meaning to get back to "normal" blogging, but I've been getting ready to head out to the east coast and I've been trying to keep up with the massive amounts of email and other types of response to that song. It's been a bit overwhelming, far more than I expected.
The sheer mass of a sudden early Insta-lanche buried the original server and may have even done some permanent damage to the internet itself, if not the structure of reality. (The song that killed the internet... well, maybe only a little.)
Michele took over for awhile till Lookout Records finally put it on their industrial strength server. A Blair-a-thon, a Michele-a-rama, a Treacher-wave, and many other powerful manifestations of blogospheric phenomena for which suffixes have not yet been coined followed, resulting in thousands of downloads, some nice tips, about a gazillion emails, media interest, etc.
So how does cyber-busking compare to the old fashioned kind, where you stand in a public place with a guitar playing Beatles songs, hoping you look pathetic enough that a few people will be shamed into throwing some change into your guitar case? Lots of puzzled on-lookers, a few hecklers, scattered tips, polite applause from some, indifference from others. Pretty much the same kind of thing.
But there's no old-busking equivalent of a server-crushing Insta-lanche. Unless maybe it would be the unlikely scenario of the city's biggest radio station broadcasting multiple messages saying "there's guy with a guitar playing over by the Embarcadero BART station-- get over there right now!" The busker would be knocked down by the crush of legions of folk-music crazed punters, his guitar smashed into several pieces. Everyone would be looking around saying "I don't see any guy with a guitar." Eventually, though, the guy would gather the pieces of the guitar, put them back together with duct tape and stickers, stand up and start singing "Ticket to Ride." That's pretty much what I did, in fact.
Of the comments, my second favorite so far came from a regular correspondent from Canada, who warned me that it might not be such a good idea to play that song in Toronto and that things could turn ugly. What would happen if a song about democracy were to start a riot in an Ontario nightclub? That'd be a hell of a story, wouldn't it?
My favorite, though, was of course from Tim Blair who said:
If people aren't screaming along to this in bars across the planet within six weeks, the earth deserves to be killed.
Anyway, thanks to everyone for the links and the comments. I'm bringing my rickety old laptop along and I'm going to try to blog from the road if it ever decides to let itself be turned on at the precise moment when I happen to have some spare time. Watch this space.
I Hawk the Songs
The "democracy, whisky, sexy" song is now up on the Lookout Records site. (Scroll down to Cyber-Busking! for an explanation if that makes no sense.) I've updated the links below.
Here's where to download the song.
UPDATE: Just in case anyone is planning to go to any of the shows, the original list had an error which has been corrected now. Monday 4/28 is at Maxwell's in Hoboken; Wed. 4/30 is at the Quiet Storm (hah!) in Pittsburgh. Plus, I just found out I get to "open" (fifteen minutes of mic time) for a John Waters speaking engagement at the Trocadero in Philly on 4/26. How cool is that?
Sorry this blog has been so consumed with band business-- I'm intended to return to "normal" blogging as soon as I can.
Blog-a-lanche brings down server!
I'm sorry if anyone's having trouble loading the page or the mp3 for "democracy, whisky, sexy." I'm working on a solution. It works occasionally-- if you want to keep trying, you can make a game of it. Like trying to shoot the pinball in the clown's mouth. Flippers ready...
UPDATE: Michele over at A Small Victory has generously agreed to host the "democracy" mp3 temporarily while I work on getting all this stuff up on the Lookout Records site. Until this happens, you can download the mp3 here. Thanks, Michele!
Hey folks. Wanna hear my new song "democracy, whisky, sexy"? Go here.
It's a totally free mp3, though, as always, you can tip your blogger/"singer"-songwriter if you feel like it (by clicking on the Amazon tip jar or pay pal buttons to the left.) Can I get anything else for you? Sorry, we're out of that. How about a nice, creamy, after-dinner drink? I'll be here till someone calls the cops...
Hey, if Lenny Kravitz can do it, why can't I? Revolution, people!
I'm not sure how many fans of my songwriting read this blog, nor how many readers of the blog might be interested in my songs, but for what it's worth: I'm doing a short tour (nine shows) in the northeast from April 25th thru May 4th. Here are the dates and venues. Anyone in the area who's interested should stop by and say hey or something.
On this tour, I'm one of a group of west coast singer-songwriters, including Bart Davenport, formerly of the Loved Ones, Ian Brennan, Carlos Forster and a few others. I'll be playing solo, acoustic. I'm usually the punky odd man out in these situations, but genre-mixing is part of the allure. I'm planning to play some old chestnuts from "the catalog" plus some stuff, old and new, that hasn't been released. Part of the idea is to preview some of the stuff that we're considering for the new MTX album that will be recorded this summer, see how people react to the raw songs, that sort of thing.
Plus, I'll be flogging (cheap) a little home-made CD of a few not-yet-released, mostly acoustic songs I recorded in my bedroom. Some of this material may end up being recorded for the album, some may not. What does will probably end up altered beyond recognition. These songs change all the time. So it's not by any means what the album "will sound like." It's just what I feel is a pretty interesting little collection of songs.†
I never make my solo demos public as rule, though I get asked about it a lot, because a few have ended up on compilations and re-issues as bonus tracks. I make them for myself and I've hardly ever played them for others. But I wanted to do something to make this tour a bit more interesting, so...
What I'm kind of hoping is that people will come to the shows, listen to the songs I play and the ones on the CD they take home, and give me some feedback on the songs. Not the arrangements or "production" (such as it is-- it ain't too special)-- I'm more interested in hearing about the songs themselves. A good song can be its own, self-contained world, but even when you're the one who constructed it, there can still be things about this world you're not aware of. It happens fairly frequently that someone will make a perfectly cogent, valid observation about something they see going on or implied in one of my songs that I had never considered-- or maybe I did "consider" it without realizing it, if that's possible. I'm not too sure how that works.
I have this kind of conversation with other songwriters all the time, and occasionally with fans, too, (in clubs at rare lucid moments) but I thought it might be interesting to try to encourage it in a slightly more organized way. Before, rather than after, the "real" record is done. I also have this goofy idea that it could spark a more general conversation about songwriting qua songwriting among people who like the kind of songs I write as well as among those who don't. I think that could be pretty cool. If anyone feels like getting that far into it. I don't mean to make it sound like homework. Feel free to ignore this blather-- it's not gonna be on the test. It's extra credit.
At this point, the CD is only on offer at shows, though we might do more of this sort of thing if it turns up anything interesting.††††
But, because it may be of vague interest to the blogosphere, I did put up my little song about "Democracy, Whisky, Sexy." I don't know how to characterize it, except to say that someone who heard it said it was "a cross between Imagine and The Battle Hymn of the Republic." I'm not too sure about that, but that's a pretty intriguing description, so I'm sticking with it. Free, rights reserved, spare change appreciated, etc., etc. Send comments, on this song, other songs, songwriting in general, to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks. And, maybe, see you at the show.
I've got to work on some songs today, so unless something goes horribly wrong I'll be doing that instead of blogging. But it's not really needed, since John Stewart has said, succintly, perfectly, what always takes me pages and pages and pages to (sort of) get across:
No matter what side of the political spectrum you're on, if you are incapable of feeling at least a tiny amount of joy at watching ordinary Iraqis celebrate this, you are lost to the ideological left. And let me also add, if you are incapable of feeling badly that we even had to use force in the first place, you are ideologically lost to the right. And I would inform both of those groups to leave the room now and do not watch the program. It's like ice-skating: We throw out the high score and the low score. The rest of the people, you're welcome at the table.
Is there more to the Left than a dense, reflexive "anti-Imperialism"?
There has to be, though sometimes it seems hard to identify.
"The Left has lost the plot" is the title of this clear, well-stated recapitulation of the argument that, even in terms of some of their own ideals, many on the Left chose the wrong side in the debate on Iraq. For such "radical traditionalists", loyalty to the trappings of the radicalism of a world now far removed from ours, of nostalgia for a posture in an ideological struggle from days of yore, is more fascinating than engagement with the world as it is. Expressing distaste, hatred, for America and American power is more satisfying than fighting actual full-blown fascism, more important than the suffering of an oppressed people.
The article is by former New Statesman editor John Lloyd, and is apparently excerpted from a longer piece in the NS explaining why he has now resigned as a New Statesman columnist. There was a kerfuffle about this last year, when it came out that the NS had, for "marketing" reasons, declined to publish a letter to the [current] editor from Lloyd, the former editor. I wrote a bit about it at the time-- don't worry about that blank space at the top: scroll to "Marketing the Left."
The New Statesman charges for all content these days. (I guess the 25% boost in circulation attributed to "nothing but anti-American content" policy didn't last, or wasn't enough. So much for that market niche.) I have to say that that doesn't often affect me too much. But I'd really like to see the missing bits of this excellent article. Can anyone who has read it quote or summarize?
Gruesome days for the German foreign minister: Every morning at nine, his staff briefs him on the situation in Iraq in the ministry's underground situation room. His worst fears are coming true: The US military appears to be stuck in its tracks in the desert, and civilian casualties are multiplying. It has never been so painful to have been in the right, murmurs the foreign minister, with a worried look on his face.
Now they tell us
This piece by CNN news chief executive Eason Jordan about how CNN had no choice but to act as little more than a propaganda arm of the Saddam regime while the monster was in power is appalling on many levels.
Reporting news in a torture regime can be tricky. If you don't follow the rules dictated by the regime, someone is going to wind up getting tortured. And in order to make sure that someone isn't you, you have to make some, er, compromises.
I'm most struck by the weird moral calculus reflected in these anecdotes: one factor in deciding whether to run a story appears to have been a sober consideration of who would be murdered if the story ran, versus who might be murdered if the story did not run. Regardless of the "editorial" decision: someone was going to get murdered in either case.
Are you as unimpressed as I am with the argument that the noble goal of "keeping the Baghdad bureau open" justified any amount of whitewashing and suppressing of stories? If they're not reporting what's going on, what good are they? And it's not just a case of being useless. If they're only reporting and spinning stories in a way that a repressive police state can feel good about, they're complicit.
It's nice that Jordan felt bad about it while he was doing it and all. But perhaps if some of these stories had been reported, public opinion might have supported more serious intervention in Iraq at an earlier stage, more scrutiny of the execrable affronts to human rights and dignity, a quicker end to such appalling brutality and suffering.
I'm sure he's right that more stories like this will come out. Even at this early stage, it doesn't make CNN look good. Once again, I'm going to have to quote my buddy Matt Welch:
This is appalling, though no surprise. The embarrassing Peter Arnett interview on Iraq TV was just a brief public glimpse on what has been a nasty little private "secret" for years -- that "news bureaus" in Baghdad and other totalitarian capitals (Havana, to name one) are actually propaganda huts, churning out what CNN producers call "sanctions coverage" (pieces on the awful humanitarian toll of international economic sanctions), while refusing to report the awful truth. It is possible, though intensely difficult, to do honest journalism in such circumstances. But with this column, I think we have the final proof that CNN will not be the news organization to rise to that challenge. Shame.
Hey, Matt. Great idea!
On the outside chance that there's anyone who reads this blog who doesn't check Welch's blog first, there's a lot of great stuff up there now, including an absorbing, continuing tale (a couple of posts so far) of a crazy/threatening email from the wife of a guy who works for a government intelligence agency I'd never heard of. She's threatening to have her husband start investigating and harassing him. So far, the husband has remained silent. It's in "retaliation" for that piece on Patriot II that I noted before.
She sounds like a crank, and I imagine that a real sinister government agency might use less inept methods of intimidating the press. If I had received an email like that, I'd be laughing one moment, flapping around hysterically the next, wondering if all my paranoid friends might be right after all. Matt, more "together" than me in every way I can discern, sends replies, cc's them to the appropriate important people, documents it publicly-- all the things I'd never think of doing. I'm going to save his posts as a sort manual for future reference.
I don't know if this cranky lady is for real, but if so, I keep imagining it as a kind of I Love Lucy scenario.
Ricky is just trying to do his job intimidating and harassing journalists. Lucy hates being left out, keeps trying to butt in, sneaking on to the abuse of power "stage" (wearing a big mustache or something.) Agent Ricky is, well, let's just say the guys at "the club" don't like it much.
"Ai yi yi, Lucy, Lucy, Lucy... I tell you once, I tol' you a thousand times-- stop writing threatening emails to the targets!"
Lucy makes that mime-crying "waah" face, saying she was only trying to help. (Anyway, all she really wanted to do was to contrive a way to meet John Poindexter, the famous intelligence man and power abuser. He's so dreamy...)
"Don't you love me?"
Fred over at Disinformation leans over and says "you'll never get out of this one, pal."
I gotta say, this little story from Eric Alterman about his friend Mike, Vaclav Havel, and the Curse of Lou Reed is the most entertaining thing I've read in quite awhile. Politics aside, good writing and an interesting story always win with me. Great, if "horrible," stuff.
(via Ken Layne, who is totally on a roll these days-- stupid as it sounds, I'm having a bit of blog-nostalgia here. Ken has gone through some severe, sadistic periods of "light posting." Light posting can happen to everyone, or nearly everyone, but that sort of Layne rationing shouldn't happen to a dog. This is just like the good old days. You know, last year.)
Here's a detail I hadn't heard before: the US flag that briefly made an appearance on Saddam's head had been "recovered from the Pentagon during the September 11 attacks." I don't know if that's true. But, faux-pas or not, public relations error or not, reflective of an inaccurate perception of the culpability for 9/11 or not-- I have to say that I kind of like the idea.
War aims, anti-war aims
Reading through these pieces, as well as all the rest of Spiked's war output, I get the impression that for them war is not a matter of results, but more of style. And they definitely, definitely, do not like the style of this war. Too much showing of force, not enough 'projecting' of force. Too many special effects, not enough actual effects. Too much winning, not enough fighting.
Let me just shout this out loud so that it can be heard even in the cheap seats right at the back: the aim of warfare is to defeat the enemy. Yes, that's right, to defeat the enemy. Not to fight him, or kill him, or humiliate him, or dance on his grave, or laugh derisively in his face as he fumbles with the trigger of his RPG, or make rude hand-gestures at his elderly female relatives, or rout him in style, or anything else. This is an elementary fact about warfare that has not changed in 3,000 years. The means by which it is accomplished change over time and in different places, but the primary objective remains the same. Had the actions of the coalition forces suggested that they were uncertain about this objective then I'd give Hume and O'Neill's comments some credence, but as it is they come across as significantly detached from reality. What is most ironic, however, is that in focussing on the ways in which they don't like the way the war 'looks' they risk being suckered in by the very superficiality they are out to eschew.
But a highly developed skill in Image Criticism doesn't necessarily mean that you're well-equipped to analyze military tactics and strategy. And when it comes to war, substituting an aesthetic critique for a practical, strategic or political one, especially when the critic doesn't seem to realize that he is doing so, is often a quick route to inanity. "Lacking any substance," writes Mick Hume, "this war has been all about image." Well, if "image" is all you're able to recognize, that's all you'll see, I suppose. But it takes a determined, willfully dense aesthete (a Bunthorne, perhaps) to witness the dramatic events in Iraq and to write of the "hollow victory in a war that never was." Oh hollow, hollow, hollow! Hollowness is perhaps subjective. One man can describe as "hollow" something that to another may be pregnant with possibility. But as to the war: it was, and is.
Spiked's political section is certainly not the only milieu in this vapid culture of ours where aesthetics have been substituted for politics. Indeed, it's something of a mass-cultural affliction. The Peace Movement that their columnists have criticized so trenchantly and effectively has foundered because of it. (Ironically, this observation is a feature of the typical Spiked war-critic critique.) As for the Movement, the most interesting criticism always comes from within. Here's what I'd call a pretty accurate assessment, from a post by Nathan Newman on the LBO mailing list site (via Steven Rubio):
[The anti-war movement] started with two-thirds of the public polling as opposed to going to war without UN approval. That's a strong place to start and they lost 40% of the population initially opposed to unilateral war to now supporting Bush's war. So what's the achievement? Tactical successes such as a few big rallies? Rallies are means, not achievements. Why should we praise tactics that coincided with AN INCREASE in support for uniltateral war? ... The idea that the left will inevitably lose just gives license to this kind of justification for failed tactics and a refusal to do analysis on how to win. I do political work to win, not because I think it's some kind of moral witness to inevitable failure."
The real war draws to a close. But I imagine the Aesthetic War will continue for some time.
This sort of thing seems to happen on TV just about once a day:
Just before ducking into his posh doorway the Iraqi ambassador to the U.N. tells a reporter, among other things, "the game is over."
Later a reporter asks Don Rumsfeld to comment and he says something like: "Oh, my goodness gracious. This is not a 'game'. This is serious. This is real life. So let's not get all bogged down in talking about a 'game.' There's no 'game' here. Goodness me. And 'over'? Oh, my word: whoever said that? Listen: do I think we had a good day? Yes. Do I think we'll have a good day tomorrow? Yes. Will tomorrow be as good as yesterday? I don't know. But I hope so. Do I hope it's 'over'? Yes. Do I think it's over? How can anything really be 'over'? Whoever said that must, well he isn't getting any information from me, because I would never have said something like that..."
That takes care of "game" and "over." At least he's not arguing over what the meaning of "is" is.
It's like that mention of the word "regime" by John Kerry. People pretended to freak out over the implications of the literal meaning of an individual word within a figurative phrase in common use that everyone agreed he hadn't actually meant literally. This is just a guess, but I'd say that ambassador wasn't suggesting that there was something trivial or playful about the fact that his country's regime had just been toppled, or very nearly so. (Though I have to say, despite some potentially serious consequences in the future when his diplomatic immunity runs out, he didn't look all that upset about it. He was smiling. He's a regime Iraqi, but maybe he has something in common with the normal Iraqis at that. Maybe once he closed the door, he looked to his left; looked to his right; and, when he was sure no one was watching, said "Democracy! Whisky! Sexy!" and kicked a little Saddam head down the hallway.)
At any rate, "game" in this context means something like "the whole shebang," or specifically "the pretense of putting up a pathetic, ineffectual resistance to this whole invasion/liberation deal." And pardon my French, but I have to agree with him: that game does seem to be pretty over. I hope I haven't said something I oughtn't...
Maybe this kind of convoluted semantic mumbo jumbo has always gone on in the public sphere, but it seems like there's more of it about these days. And the word "game" seems to set off the flurries of phony misplaced literalism more than any other. It's not just Rumsfeld, of course. (I can see why he has got into the habit of choosing his words carefully, though it might be possible to be too careful. And it was a great, pretty entertaining, way of avoiding the question, which is something at which he excels.) But it seems to be happening more and more wherever heads are talking. I've heard it on call-ins at NPR, where the expert guest will preface a response by saying something like "now wait just a minute here. I think it's very dangerous, and we have to be very careful about thinking of this war as a game; it's not a game..." Try it yourself: call Talk of the Nation and see if you can slip a game-related metaphor by them. But they're pros. They'll probably catch it. So to speak.
Anyway, the "bottom" (snicker) "line" (sniff) "is": for Saddam, the "jig" "is" "up." At least, to the extent that anything, especially a "jig," can truly be said to be "up"... Oh, my goodness.
Jim Treacher has another batch of protest slogans.
I vote for: But Everything Isn't Instantly Perfect
Perry de Haviland on the Saddam-toppling:
I have just watched live on TV via SkyNews as US soldiers used an armoured recovery vehicle to pull down the huge statue of Saddam Hussain in the very heart of Baghdad, surrounded by a crowd of Iraqis quite literally leaping about with joy.
Thousands of jubilant Iraqis danced in the square and when the statue fell, they rushed forward, ignoring desperate attempts by the US soldiers to keep them back for fear the still unstable structure would crush them... but this was a moment they would not be denied and they quite literally danced on the huge fallen monument to one man's insane monomania.
The cost in blood and misery must never been forgotten and there will be hardships, disappointments and trying times ahead but now is the time to celebrate what has been achieved. These moments do not come often in life, so savour them whilst they last. Enjoy.
I don't know why I keep quoting-- you should really just go over to Harry's Place and eliminate the middleman.
But here's a quote anyway from my favorite pro-Liberation man of the left:
I really resisted the temptation to post a 'told you so' message to the anti-war brigade while watching the statue of Saddam being toppled as the people of Baghdad and other cities celebrate. Point scoring seems so cheap when a people are enjoying the taste of liberation.
But then the Stop the War Coalition came out with the amazing statement that they plan to demonstrate on Saturdayin London. Could the contrast not be greater? The Iraqi people demonstrate their freedom in Baghdad, while the British far-left show their opposition to it in London.
I like my nationlism a little on the blatent side
The dramatic images of the most recent toppling of a big Saddam statue are as eloquent as pictures ever are, and have evoked memories of similarly-erected and -toppled statues of Stalin, of the dismantling of the Berlin wall, of Iwo Jima. Joe Katzman quotes Shelly:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
UPDATE: Steven Chapman comments:
Already that US flag incident is making the Western media pigeons flap and squawk on TV. Expect lengthy fumes and gasps from the Alibhai-Browns, Fisks and Galloways. Who went halfway around the world to topple the cretin in the first place? Cut them some slack, for Jeebus's sake.
I managed to sneak a look at BBC news when that statue was being pulled down. The only one there who seemed to be unhappy was a British 'anti-war' protester who happened to be in the square, who was screamming hysterically at the marines: "Cowards!"
in the Baghdad suburb of Saddam City, residents took to the streets to celebrate the apparent end of the Iraqi regime. A Shiite Muslim leader told a group of 400 to 500 people, "The tyrant of the world is finished, thanks to the coalition. Thank God for Iraq the victorious."
Mary Riddell mocks "the brave 'rescue' of Private Jessica Lynch from the hospital ward where she was being treated with all available medical skill."
Of course, as Steven Den Beste points out in a characteristically sharp and prickly essay, Lynch's "treatment" appears to have involved torture. And it seems clear that, had the tip-off and rescue raid not interrupted the skillful treatment, the patient would have ended up dead.
"All available medical skill." Well, I suppose Ms. Riddell's understanding of the nature of medical treatment might conceivably have been influenced by her own experiences with the NHS...
Surely there must be a decent supply of anecdotes which actually are morally ambiguous, from which a determined Observer columnist might, with a bit less of a stretch, draw the urgently desired lesson of moral equivalence between Saddam's goons' behavior and ours? Surely there are items on show in the media which are more deserving of derision and mockery than the rescue of a brave young woman from a torture chamber? Surely Riddell could have made her case (about the Anglo-American evil underneath the feel-good propaganda) to the satisfaction of her largely already-persuaded audience without resorting to an outright, easily-spotted lie?
Allied troops liberated a children’s jail today.
I wish that sentence made no sense.
Harry saw this on Sky News:
Amazing television on Sky News for the past hour or so as David Chater wanders around the streets of central Baghdad chatting live to US marines and trying to talk to celebrating Iraqi civilians. In the background the locals are trying to topple a statue of Saddam. Then a group of four Iraqis arrived with a banner written in English - GO HOME HUMAN SHIELDS, YOU U.S WANKERS!
Freedom of expression after 25 years.
Hang on to your feck
Clarity on "moral clarity" from Ted Hinchman.
(via John Daley, who says his referral logs indicate that almost all who arrived at his site through Indymedia were from .edu locations. Interesting? Maybe not. All I know is, there's a twisted, complex web of something (nuttiness, mostly, maybe some corn) to be discovered here. Click through as many of the related links as you find amusing, if you enjoy the dour "radical announcement" aesthetic, the sententious expression of the trivial-- as I do. This one, for example, is something of a classic of its type. Somebody, please, stop the harassment. Or send these people some evidence so they can forward the proof of this COINTELPRO operation to the FBI.)
An assertion of your beliefs
Apocalypse House, from Harden Structures, Inc.:
The Apocalypse House by Harden Structures Incorporated is designed specifically for: climatic catastrophe, nuclear blast, nuclear fallout, biological agents, chemical weapons, fires, floods and conventional weapons assaults... At Harden Structures Incorporated we follow the guidelines established by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the U. S. Department of Energy Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the more rigorous standards set by the Technical Directives for Shelters by the Swiss Federal Department of Civil Defense.
However, the perceived threats relating to the Apocalypse, End Days, Armageddon or terrorist assaults are interpreted differently from Client to Client and therefore the Harden Structure APOCALYPSE HOUSE is an assertion of your beliefs.
Fug Big Media
"Blogging isn't creating a new underground movement as much as it's creating a new batch of Norman Mailers."
Well, now, that's just what we need...
The quote comes from this interesting take by Steven Rubio, from a decidedly left activism-friendly perspective, on warblogging and blogging-as-commmunity, casting a mostly-critical eye on the "second superpower" meme. Most of the recent articles trying to analyze the significance of blogging have tended to resemble one another. This one covers most of the same bases, but the different angle and personal focus is refreshing and makes this one much more interesting.
The salient point is one that is perhaps ironic: a "genre" characterized in its essence by solipsism can be a means for gaining an honest understanding of how people think outside of ones own, parochial world. The war has raised this issue in a particularly pointed way for many people, though the effect has also not been without irony: some react by re-examining and attempting to assess their own prejudices and received wisdom, while others have taken solace in a retreat into a digitally-enhanced version of the familiar.
Is there in fact anything new here? It has always been the case that drawing from diverse sources can be an effective guard against ideological paralysis; and it has always been the case that many people don't do very much of this. Yet the existence of a blogosphere, comprising an infinite amount of material, viewed from as many perspectives as there can be, filtered and commented on by countless thousands of mostly smart people all with differing perspectives and hobbyhorses of their own, allows a reader who is so inclined to engage in, to benefit from, ideological cross-pollination as never before. It can be a tool for genuinely "auto" autodidactism, as well as for amassing rhetorical and evidential ordnance for attack polemics; and as well for propagating and "organizing" support for an activist agenda. (Those who champion this last application alone, as Rubio points out, are often afflicted by a dearth of familiarity with the former ones, as they tend not to acknowledge that the "other side" can and will do it as well, and might even be doing so more effectively.)
When I was in college, I used stop in at Cody's every couple of weeks to buy the Nation, the New Republic and Commentary, which, in my circle anyway, was a pretty eccentric thing to do. Now I can do the same sort of thing, but with a far greater magnitude. That's still fairly eccentric, but encountering other such eccentrics is not as rare as I'd once thought.
The worry is, of course, that readers may not actually do this, but rather may tend, even within the greatly expanded field of possibilities, to stick to sources that confirm their prejudices and articulate the views they already hold, with special kudos to the ones who do so most eloquently or arrestingly. That would be the digital equivalent of the ideological campus coffee shop discussion, which resembles a conversation only superficially, as a posed photograph of people sitting around a table: in its extreme form the chief goal is to find the most rhetorically effective way to express agreement with everybody else on key, pre-decided points. That certainly happens in the blogosphere, and I admit even I may be more guilty of indulging in it than I like to imagine.
Nevertheless, I think that on the whole, the blogosphere is a help rather than a hindrance to those who want to avoid ideological rigidity and who would like to see this quality cultivated by others. I see this unreservedly as a good thing. Certainly, as a participant rather than only as a reader, it has been a way for me to sharpen my ideas and understand more clearly what I'm disagreeing with when I react against something. The best, most interesting writers, in the blogosphere as elsewhere, are often those who critique their own parochial ideological-political world from within, or those who document (clearly and with evidence and examples) the process of successive mini-crises of confidence which characterizes much of the experience of an honest engagement with the world. This world may not need more Norman Mailers, but it could do with a few more Steven Rubios and Matt Welches.
P.S. By the way, I should mention that a few years back Steven Rubio conducted what I still feel is the best published interview I've ever participated in. It appeared in Punk Planet in Feb. 2000, and mostly concerns punk/personal history and song-writing rather than politics. Anyone who's interested can read it here.
Preaching the 11th Commandment
Glucksmann: In these pacifist times, we have had long debates in Die Zeit. Joschka Fischer did not agree with me for a long time. In the end he conceded that after Srebrenica there is something worse than war, and that is Auschwitz. What I cannot now understand is how he has turned into a pacifist once again in the face of Saddam Hussein – who is much worse, bloodier and more dangerous than Milosevic, and who has gassed people, partly with German gas.
Q: Maybe Germany and France are so opposed to war because of the war-torn history they have shared. Can’t you accept that this is also part of the common inheritance of European humanism? The loathing of war is understandable after all, isn’t it?
Glucksmann: Of course everything can be understood. Nobody wants war, me included. The question is, is there something worse than war?
I have been answering ‘yes’ for years. One thing that is worse than war is genocide – that is, the extinction of a whole people. Many people said this before Auschwitz. In Greek tragedy, it is revealed in the destruction of Troy. This is indeed the horizon of western history.
That is why I don’t believe that the refusal to take part in a war against Saddam should be seen as an expression of humanism, but of a blindness that exists not only in Europe, but in all civilisations. We all want to live peacefully, oblivious and happy. That wish already existed in ancient Athens, and there is nothing wrong with it as such, except that it is not very realistic.
Q: Do you think France will stick to its opposition against the US?
Glucksmann: Longer than in Germany. Here in our country, the rivalry with America is more prominent. But at the moment, the people in the street are only asking themselves, how can we stand up against Bush? Saddam Hussein doesn’t come into the equation, and that is where my whole objection lies. Because the issue here is actually Saddam.
Bush is a challenge for American democracy; Aznar, the challenge for Spanish democracy. Why are there fewer protestors in France than in Spain, England or Italy? Because in Italy they fight Berlusconi, in Britain they fight Blair – and in France they fight nobody.
But the overriding question remains: what about Saddam Hussein? If I may be a little moralistic here: I could not look at myself in the mirror if Saddam Hussein were still in power because I have been to a demonstration against Bush, and as a result, the people in Iraq had to live in this totalitarian regime for another twenty years.
Do they know something I don't?
In the past couple of hours, I've received over twenty-five pieces of spam about "pattern hair loss." I'm deleting as fast I can, but each message is replaced by two more, as though to simulate the purported hair-replacement process.
Bloggery, as he might put it:
I just noticed that Daily Pundit's hit counter is getting pretty close to a million. Congrats in advance, Bill.
Patriotism is the new black?
As I said below, the British can excel in writing even where they falter in social interaction. Here's a great, uplifting sermon on patriotic pride and the martial and moral virtues by Tony Parsons, in the Mirror of all places. Too good to cut into chunks-- just read it.
Cultural Chauvinism-- Theirs, Ours
Jeff Jarvis saw the same BBC Newsnight that I did, and was not amused quite as much as I was. He has fisked the docu-clip, but didn't comment on the discussion afterward, which was where most of the laughs were to be found.
Ted Hinchman (in a swell new blog called Diachronic Agency) comments on the BBC's "absurd piece of hermeneutics," noting that evil has a "perfectly coherent secular meaning." Then he backs it up by posting a lengthy, stimulating, blessedly jargon-free treatise on the subject written in Nov. 2001. Well worth reading, and mulling over.
As to the BBC, the condescension towards America with regard to matters of morality, religion or culture is a continual feature. It only bothers you if you let it. People often refer to this as "bias," and I suppose it literally is, but it also reflects a British cultural reality that has not been entirely "constructed" by media. The British have never been a particularly religious nation. They tend to recoil from overt expressions of faith, from any indication of passion or conviction, or indeed it often seems, of sincerity, in religious contexts. (If you blink during a Church of England service, you can often miss the religious content entirely: they rush through the liturgy, and linger over the church business. It can be like watching a city council meeting on public access TV. With hymns.)
In fact, the Brits tend to recoil from overt, impassioned expressions of just about anything. In person anyway; in print or on TV they often allow themselves to go nuts, relatively speaking. But in day to day life, the chief goal of a typical Briton is to avoid being embarrassed at all costs. And as nothing is more embarrassing than to be seen as having caused the embarrassment of another, society has developed a complex system of unspoken, oblique disclaimers that is built in to every social interaction, a constant undercurrent largely imperceptible to the uninitiated, which ensures that no one ever need be the knowing focus of unwanted attention. A Brit will often inform you that he has "very strong views," but decline to state what they are. Through a series of pained expressions and vague gestures, his partner in conversation will make clear that he feels his views are rather strong as well. A raised eyebrow. A cough. An eye turned roof-ward; a sudden examination of the floor. Finally, as though following some shared yet invisible timetable, both will sigh and say the word "right" simultaneously. Next topic. To be a "good conversationalist" in Britain is to have mastered the art of changing the subject in precisely the right manner at precisely the right moment. And I'll hand it them: it can make day to day life quite a bit more pleasant, once you figure out what's going on.
Hence, perhaps, the discomfort with Good and Evil. In a sense, relativism is their quintessential habit, the credo of an embarrassment-averse people. Lord knows what they did before it was invented. British politicians who stray from it (Churchill, Blair) are hailed as heroes in America, while they tend to be vilified as unstable, dangerous lunatics at home; Americans find this astonishing, while the Brits are astonished at our astonishment, and so on, endlessly. (It is a rare week that goes by without some British newspaper columnist wondering whether Tony Blair ought to be "sectioned.") It's an over-simplification perhaps, but the Brits seem to have decided that, as a rule, things go more smoothly if everyone agrees, though tries to avoid mentioning, that everyone is a bit wrong about everything. That is unquestionably the case in most situations. But the habit seems to have made it difficult to deal with the situations where it may not be the case.
UPDATE: Pejman Yousefzadeh comments on the same program, which has got so much attention because it was re-broadcast on C-SPAN. They should really do more of this sort of thing-- rebroadcasting, I mean. Pace Sullivan, it's not just a "bias," but a window into another culture's collective soul. Both Pejman's and Jarvis's comments were linked by Instantman, though I missed it at the time. (via Biased BBC, c/o Natalie Solent.)
I think all the suitable puns on the name "Kerry" have already been used as titles at one time or another
You know, I enjoy over-reacting to politicians' rhetorical infelicities as much as the next guy, but this pundit-manufactured brouhaha over John Kerry's mention of "regime change" is a bit much even for me.
What Kerry said was "what we need now is not just a regime change in Saddam Hussein and Iraq, but we need a regime change in the United States." As this metaphorical use of "regime change," when taken literally, comes pretty close to likening Saddam Hussein's terror-police state to the Bush administration, it's a rather absurd, perhaps offensive, and almost certainly unwise piece of political attack rhetoric. Unwise, because Kerry was only asking for a similarly hyperbolic counter-attack. Christ on his throne! When you take Kerry's choice of words seriously and literally, he's not only saying that the President is just as bad as Saddam Hussein, but calling for the violent overthrow of the US government, tearing up the Constitution and destroying the world as we know it! Oh, the outrage!
Of course, no one is even claiming, except as a joke, that Kerry meant it this way. He meant, in a bumbling, roundabout sort of way, "vote for me because I think I'd be a better president than the current one." Everybody, even Andrew Sullivan, knows it.
"Regime Change Begins at Home" is a popular saying among those who don't like Bush. Every third car on the street in my neighborhood has it stuck to its bumper. (And I'm pretty sure that it would be a popular freeper bumper-sticker had Gore become President: and perhaps this is unkind, but I'm having a hard time imagining the Sullivanian outrage under those circumstances.) Rightly or wrongly, wisely or unwisely, Kerry was appealing to this sentiment. Do all of these drivers dream of the violent overthrow of the US government and its replacement with the dictatorship of Comrade Kerry? Sure they do, just like they're really worried that the US government has been drawing up plans to send an expeditionary force into their uteri. What do you mean "hands off El Salvador?" I've got my hands right here...
"Regime change" began life as a propagandistic euphemism. As with "ethnic cleansing," its consistent use and unequivocal effective meaning have brought it full-circle, rendered it wholly transparent. Still, it remains a figurative sort of construction. Whether they are used to describe policies that are just or not, such euphemisms invite subversion and ridicule from those who wish to attack those who use them. ("Choose Life" is an example of the same sort of thing; so is putting a little trademark symbol next to Bush's "religion of peace" phrase.) Bush didn't invent "regime change," but he has, for obvious reasons become associated with it as no other. Using it in sarcastic slogans and applying the "regime change" metaphor to the upcoming election seems a fairly obvious and innocuous move. Silly, but then, so many such things are. It's understandable that the Kerry campaign should want to appeal to those who are capable of being inspired or impressed by such an inverted propagandistic metaphorical use of this term. This sort of thing happens all the time. Of course, appealing to the slogan in such a direct way was a spectacularly bad idea, and Kerry should probably think long and hard about taking further advice along these lines. There's just no future in it.
And then, on the other hand, you have the counter-counter-attack from guys like Josh Marshall, who says the conservative commentariat's reaction is akin to "overwhelming displays of violence to overawe and terrorize another group into docility and obedience." The scurvy bastards! Marshall alone refuses to be silenced. Where do they find young men like this?
Running for president during a war makes ordinary attack-politics extremely tricky, but how credible or reasonable is it to blame this fact of life entirely on Republican perfidy? Not very.
Come on, guys.
(via NZ Bear.)
C. D. Prince fisks a once-popular song.
You can't say that on television!
Good and evil, I mean.
The other day I wrote a little thing about Old Europe's tendency to look to a sensationalist caricature of evangelical Christianity as way to elucidate a US foreign policy and a presidential manner that they find otherwise inexplicable. I basically concluded that it results partly from mere superciliousness and the pure enjoyment of ridiculing an "inferior" alien cultural phenomenon; but more fundamentally from a genuine discomfort with the very idea of moral absolutes like Good and Evil, a discomfort so distinct that anyone who breaks the taboo is automatically suspect as some kind of extremist weirdo. Even the clergy are extremely circumspect about treading on such treacherous ground (though it must be added this quality is shared by much of our own clergy as well.) When confronted with someone like Bush, who states plainly that he can recognize evil and "call it by its name" (and who, unlike many of their own moralists, really seems to mean it) such anxious onlookers are truly at a loss. They are only able to understand such behavior as a form of religious delusion, only able to describe it or render it intelligible in terms of a primitive, slightly ludicrous, madness. One man's sophistication is another man's intellectual corruption, I suppose.
I'm not sure where Great Britain, with its Gladstonian Prime Minister, fits into this Old Europe. I suppose the Anglosphere countries, even when quite old, are exempt by definition, though this attitude is found as often in Britain as anywhere else.
Anyway, I mention that because I just saw a special edition of the BBC's Newsnight which is a great illustration of it. The lead-in docu-clip was a snicker-inducingly somber, often ludicrous treatment of evangelical Christianity's influence in American politics, including dark hints that GWB himself might just be one of those millenarian rapture-happy fanatics whose policies are born of a desire to spark Armageddon and literally bring on the End of Days.
The panel afterwards was enlivened by history of religions professor Randall Balmer, who fell all over himself trying to agree with the premise, and redeemed by the sane voice of Christopher Hitchens (who may be the only man now living who can out-argue Jeremy Paxman-- satisfying in itself, that.) The central point of contention was whether or not inflammatory Manichean talk about good and evil is ever appropriate or defensible in this putatively post-evil day and age. (I've made my own view clear: any sense of decorum or propriety which prohibits people from applying the word "evil" to Saddam Hussein is beyond question a hindrance rather than an aid to useful discussion.)
Most humorous moment: Professor Balmer's apparently serious claim, eliciting apparently serious sage nods from Paxman, that Jimmy Carter's evangelical Christianity differed from GWB's in that it championed the liberal, transnational, pacifist views held by Jesus, while GWB's version preferred the dangerous, failed diplomacy and unilateralism of the vengeful, frightening God of the Old Testament. ("You can see this by looking at how their foreign policies have played out," he said, helpfully.) I'm not even exaggerating that much.
As always, Hitchens is astoundingly articulate, each rapid-fire extemporaneous response sounding as though it had been painstakingly composed over the course of a few days and run by multiple editors. (I know he's probably said 'em so many times he could do it in his sleep, but still it impresses the hell out of me-- I couldn't extemporize myself out of a paper bag.) No transcript yet, and too many bon mots to transcribe, but here's a good one:
No president after 9/11 was going to stand up and say to people, look, probably this was partly our fault. Maybe we deserved it, maybe we should be introspective. People didn't want to hear that and it wouldn't have been true. They were up against people who took a positive relish in murder. And I don't think "evil" is too much of an exaggeration to describe bin Ladenism. It's certainly not too rough a word for the twenty-five years of misery and fascism with which Saddam Hussein has afflicted his own people in Iraq.
Close but no bouquet?
With all the customary disclaimers about never believing what you read, this is the first report I've seen of Iraqis welcoming US soldiers that actually mentions the proverbial flowers. (And this is Reuters after all.) Or rather, it mentions one: "a girl in a blue vest held out a pink flower to a passing U.S. soldier." "Cheering Iraqis handed out soft drinks and cigarettes," too.
"It sure beats having to shoot them," said one Marine...
[One Iraqi man] pulled out a large bankroll, pointed at the picture of Saddam that graces each Iraqi banknote and drew his finger across his throat with a smile.
"People are very happy now. We couldn't speak before because the Baath Party would kill them. Now everything is OK," Ali said. He said the first thing he wanted any new government to change was the banknotes.
"Will we have new money or will we have dollars?" he asked.
Imperia are hard to do
Stephen Chapman has this comment on the latest from Paddy Ashdown's Bosnia:
Europeans are as willing to take over other people's countries and run them as protectorates as any Rumsfeld... I'll wager that the EU's very own Man With The Feathery Viceroy's Hat in Bosnia-Herzegovina will be there a lot longer than Tommy Franks in Iraq. But it's OK, because Ashdown's a Liberal Democrat and the Bosnians are mostly white people. Plus the Bosnians are not the "proud people" of an "ancient land" the way the Iraqis are.
"In a world torn apart by the monotones of bullies and buffoons..."
Howard Jacobson, on why the peace movement never quite persuaded him:
I was ripe, if anyone was, for the plucking. Any decent peace movement could have picked me up and made me theirs in seconds.
As it was, they put a wall up, forbidding if you weren't already camped on the other side of it, if you didn't take it as a given that Americans were hyenas, or that the world's stockpiles of poisons would go away by wishing them away, or if you believe that only those capable of listening are capable of answering. And thus they left me out there, where I didn't want to be.
Who cares, you might say. Why bother about me when you can bring nice ladies from Somerset and half the fourth-formers in the country out on to the streets? Well, I don't care about me in this equation, either. But if they couldn't address the concerns of a man in my condition – a nobody loitering by the banks of the River Indecision with his finger fluttering to his lips – how were they ever going to get through to the hard men, to Blair or Bush or Saddam Hussein, or to those who could get through to Blair or Bush or Saddam Hussein, or to those who could get through to those who could get through? The slow drip drip drip of mind-changing. And don't tell me that those who organised for peace never entertained such grandiose ambitions, because in that case who were they trying to reach?
I know the answer to that – one another.
What movement of good faith, knowing life and death hangs on the broadening of its appeal, would put Harold Pinter on its platforms? In a world torn apart by the monotones of bullies and buffoons, what is served by adding to our stock of both?
Was it beyond the wit of the peace movement to build into its rhetoric a proper acknowledgement of the heinousness of the Iraqi leader? I know, I know – that was taken as a given. But givens are what we sweep under the carpet. And what's left to look at then is only the heinousness of ourselves. To stop a war, must it always be our own who are the criminally insane? Must we always be more wicked than the other guy? Can we not, at the very least, be equally bad?
How many people, including those who speak to those who speak to Bush or Blair, were unpersuaded by the arguments for peace because those arguments showed not a glimmer of comprehension of the arguments for war?
I think they probably could have come up with a less ho-hum headline than "Armored Force Comes Under Fire" for this remarkable and dramatic piece of news:
An armored force of 50 American tanks and other vehicles wheeled suddenly into the center of Baghdad today, taking the city's defenders by surprise and triggering a rolling firefight along boulevards lined with some people waving and others shooting...
Johann Hari talks sense once again:
Nobody – nobody, not the anti-war movement nor Jacques Chirac nor George Galloway – was able to adopt a position towards Iraq that wouldn't result directly in the deaths of innocent people. If we had taken the route preferred by the anti-war camp, people would have carried on dying at Saddam's hands for weeks, months, years – and then died under his deranged son, Uday, and so on and on, corpse upon corpse...
So nobody who engages with the reality of Saddam's Iraq can take the moral high ground over deaths. Any which way we leaped from here, innocent Iraqis would have died. Giving the pro-war faction evidence of horrible civilian deaths is not a refutation of our case: if the war had not happened, there would be plenty of corpses whose photos we could wave at you (if anyone had cared enough to take those pictures).
Also from Diane, a prediction that the taking of Baghdad will be "seduction, not rape." She means, more subtlety than blitzkrieg. Let's hope she's right. She has a much better than average record on correct predictions, and I think she may be right about this one, too.
For some reason, sex as a metaphor for warfare tends to sound a little better coming from a woman, but I'll risk adding: if seduction it be, the post-seduction phase will be complicated, as p.-s. p.s always are.
According to Snopes, that "where do they find young men like this" story that caused many lumps to rise in many throats, is a cyb-urban legend. Apparently, Martin Savidge never filed such a report. There's no indication of how the story did originate, but it's an interesting question.
More banal evil
Every bit of news from the field is suspect, perhaps, but, for what it's worth, here's the latest sign of grim goings-on in Saddam's Iraq.
It sounds like someone converted office space into a make-shift mass grave.
Over two hundred "makeshift coffins," stacked five deep; hundreds of "human remains" ("skulls and bundles of bone in strips of military uniform") in plastic bags; "catalogues of photographs of the dead, most of whom had died from gunshot wounds to the head"; a bullet-riddled firing yard with drainage ditch; cells with "what appeared to be metal hooks on racks hanging from the ceiling."
Oh, my God. I'm speechless. Michael Kelly has been killed. I've been reading his stuff since his New Republic days. You read a person's writing over the years, you really feel like you know him. He was a decent, honest man, always a provocative and challenging writer whether you agreed with him or not. His death is a real, truly painful, loss.
He rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, and many were understandably irritated by his continual hectoring of "the Left," the antiwar movement, etc. But this is disgusting, a new low; incidentally, such grave-dancing, and the inanity of calling Kelly a "Nazi columnist," appears to bear out every derogatory, unkind thing he ever wrote about "the Left." This is appalling as well. Shame. What the hell is wrong with these people? (links via Instapundit.)
"One is tempted to say the destiny of America is in the hands of a small group of Protestant bigots."
So says an editorial quoted with apparently unintended irony from Le Monde (a daily newspaper from a nominally Catholic nation) in this Reuters article which asks the question: just how freaked out are the Europeans by GWB's evangelical Christianity? Answer: extremely freaked out.
A lot of Americans are just as disturbed by the idea of "religion in politics," of course, and the debate about Church and State is an essential, defining argument that goes back to the foundation of the republic. There's a great deal to the ironic observation, analogous to arguments about the economic power of free markets, that the prohibition against a state church in the US is the main reason that religiosity continues to thrive in America with such Eurocrat-frightening vigor.
Worries about the excesses and influence of what they call the Religious Right (or the "theocons") are not groundless, though such influence has arguably been on the wane for some time. Yet those who spin such influence as a root cause or prime explanation for the "true agenda" behind policies with which they disagree frequently veer into, and often fail to emerge from, the rockiest conspiracy-theory territory. Each Presidential mention of God or allusion to insufficiently relativistic morality is puffed up as a cryptic clue revealing a corner of a sinister plot to redraw reality in accord with a cretinously simplistic view of Biblical prophecy.
The majority of the letters I get from those who disagree with my view that deposing Saddam Hussein by force is a better policy than failing to do so inform me, to no great surprise, that it's "all about the oil." But there's a significant minority view (sometimes expressed, somewhat illogically, in the same missive) that it's "all about" the Apocalypse. Of course, it's pretty hard to sustain the argument that it's "all about" any one thing. But does anyone sincerely believe, even just a little, in this evangelical determinism, in the "analysis" that US policy can only be fully intelligible through reference to irrational religious fanaticism?
I have a hard time crediting it. It's more likely just a winking indulgence in a kind of hyperbole that plays well to a certain audience which eats it up no matter how many times they hear it: hence the regular statements by this or that Guardian columnist to the effect that "when you look beneath the surface, George Bush and Osama bin Laden might as well be identical twins." What's going on within the psyches of those who find this sort of thing persuasive, or who derive a degree of satisfaction or fulfillment from striking such an attitude or feigning agreement with it, is a fascinating question. (The caricature of evangelical spirituality is often brought up concerning Israel: some claim that American conservatives support Israel solely because they believe doing so will hasten an imminent/immanent eschaton. Maybe some ultra-weird whack-jobs do, but it seems to me that anyone who can't think of a reason other than this to explain why anyone would defend the existence of Israel ought to examine his own soul for prejudices and intellectual short-circuitry.)
Here's another, perhaps revealing, quote from the article, from a German cardinal:
"I believe George Bush's religious views are genuine," Cardinal Karl Lehmann, head of the German Bishop's Conference, told the Catholic weekly Rheinischer Merkur in an interview on Thursday. "But this careless way of using religious language is not acceptable anymore in today's world.
There are two angles to this critique. One is the familiar aesthetic distaste on the part of "the better sort" for the comportment and parole of those whom they regard as their cultural and intellectual inferiors. The Better Sort never complained about Clinton's frequent references to God, since they could sense he was one of them; coming from the mouth of the boorish GWB, however, the same rhetoric simultaneously confirms their sense of cultural superiority and their worst fears. Hence they return to it again and again. It's irresistible. (It's an interesting question whether GWB's public statements, in fact, are word for word more God-oriented than those of previous presidents. I'm sure it would be possible to quantify, though I don't know if it would mean much. Be that as it may, despite the spin of this article and the conventional wisdom among many, Bush's public religious rhetoric doesn't strike me as particularly "evangelical." Anyone who thinks so hasn't hung around too many evangelicals, it seems to me. Much of it indeed seems entirely conventional, even platitudinous; and the charge of "Protestant bigotry" is belied by a determined ecumenism which famously extended to a well-known "religion of peace." Carter was far more explicit and expansive about being "born again," if I recall correctly. So I wonder if this characterization has not, to a degree, been colored by the conclusion that it is supposed to support.)
The other angle is both more fundamental and stranger, harder to describe. What really bothers people, in this regard, about the latest in a long, unbroken line of Christian presidents is not his unexceptional belief in God, nor his "careless" language about matters of faith: it's the willingness to speak without reticence, caveats, or embarrassment in terms of absolute moral categories such as good and evil. (Leave aside, for a moment, the fact that GWB does not, in fact, always do this.) To be sure, more sophisticated, less careless rhetoricians might contrive a way to address the same matters (and even reach similar conclusions) while preserving a "way out" for those who should wish to engage in the conversation without necessarily being seen as having endorsed such a starkly absolute moral scheme in principle. But many critics who shy away from what is often described as "moral clarity," for whom one man's evil is always merely another's good, seem themselves unable to express their discomfort other than as an attack on the purported deficiencies of a "religious worldview." And you really have to wonder about someone who can understand what people are talking about when they say "evil" only through reference to what are seen as the curious, mysterious beliefs of an alien, arcane, largely unfathomable religious tradition.
Leaving religion out of it altogether, and whether or not you think the current administration's policies are wise, just, or necessary, it shouldn't be so terribly difficult to recognize the evil in Islamo-fascism, Osama bin Laden, international terrorism and the depredations of Saddam Hussein. An inability to do so is a moral and intellectual failing. And this would be the case even if the caricature of George Bush's religious beliefs, and the reductionist explanatory hypothesis which accompanies it, were to turn out to be entirely accurate.
I find I can't come up with a suitable comment on this document of a remarkable Japanese TV show intended to teach kids about the war. Japanese TV always looks a bit like this, even the programming aimed at adults. But I don't think I'll ever be able to forget the giant Saddam head.
Our long national nightmare is over
Those idiotic commercials with the "end terrorism by boycotting dope" message have finally been canned. "The campaign wasn't working." Now there's a surprise.
Come to think of it, the airwaves have also been blessedly free of that commercial which mysteriously depicted random people trying to say "I am American."
Things are looking up.
(via Oliver Willis.)
I know it's meant as devastating sarcasm, but I find this Rumsfeld "poetry" strangely charming.
Another good one from LT Smash, "heard on the street":
"Did you hear about the bus?" One of the local men is talking to me.
He's referring to an incident in Iraq, where a large van attemted to run a Coalition checkpoint. The soldiers at the checkpoint opened fire, killing several women and children aboard. It's been all over the news here.
"Yes. It is very sad."
"Do you know what happened?" He's going to tell me.
"Saddam's men kidnapped their husbands. They said they would kill them if the women did not drive through the checkpoint."
"Yes. Saddam is a very bad man. You must kill him." He is angry.
"We will get him," I promise.
"Yes, inshallah (if Allah wills it)."
I don't know if what this man told me is what really happened. Rumors about atrocities in Iraq spread like wildfire amongst the local population.
But I wouldn't be surprised if it were true.
That's the word on the street from here.
Idealists in Hawks' Clothing
Stephen Pollard, my favorite British left wing neocon (really!) and proprietor of one of the best weblogs around, has a good piece in today's Independent on what to many is a counter-intuitive squabble: that between the pro-democracy Pentagon and the pro-satrapy State Dept.:
The caricature view, peddled by many Europeans, is that the State Department, headed by Colin Powell – the man Europe can do business with – is a force for moderation and sanity against those nasty, trigger-happy neo-conservatives centred around the Pentagon. Most caricatures have a basis in fact. This fashionable European view is thus unique, since it is the Pentagon which is on the side of democracy and self-government for Iraq, and the State Department which wants to see Iraq run as something approaching a US colony...
The dispute as to the shape of post-war Iraq is, in another form, the same battle that was fought between the "realists" during the Cold War, who argued that détente and engagement was the only sensible policy towards the Soviet Union; and those who rightly believed that it was a war which could be won. This is a battle between the cynicism which so often characterises foreign and defence policy, and the idealism which is the only way the world can be changed for the better.
The omens are not good. President Bush is speaking the language of democracy, but the State Department has been making the running. Zalmay Khalilzad, President Bush's envoy to the Iraqi opposition, is reported as having decided that federalism – democracy – is too risky, and that the only realistic way forward is simply to replace the top three Baathist officials in each ministry with US officers "advised" by Iraqis.
This would be a disaster. It would give credence to all the arguments about this being an imperialist war, and would antagonise the rest of the Arab world – to put it mildly. Colin Powell is, I am told, in favour of a swift transfer to the UN. But other than for PR purposes – as a way of selling the situation to the rest of the world – whether it is the US or the UN which is in charge is almost irrelevant. The important point is not which power operates a centrally administered Iraq but whether that model is the right model for Iraq.
Removing Saddam is a good thing in itself, and had to be done. The Iraqis will certainly be better off without him. But failing to follow through by sowing the seeds for a properly democratic Iraq would not merely be a wasted opportunity; it would be a betrayal of the purpose of this war – and of the people of Iraq.
Our Wonderful Guys
I've been seeing links to this anecdote floating around for a couple of days, but I only just got around to clicking in. Go ahead, it's not too long. If you can read it without getting at least a little choked up, you've a harder soul than mine...
Of Rosbeefs, Yanquis, and Frogues
Here's the latest report, which includes a picture, of the appalling desecration, complete with swastika, of the war memorial at the British cemetery in Etaples. I'm not even going to try to gather all the links of those who have commented, but there has been a great deal of comment, unsurprisingly.
Does anyone else find it strange that, given the obvious care which the perpetrators took with this inscription, the word "Rosbifs" (a derogatory word for Brits, analogous to Frogs) should be mis-spelled (or spelled so "Anglo-orthographically") and that the swastika is backwards and is missing a "hook"? Otherwise, the "text" is obviously very carefully planned and "daubed," and is much more legible than most such graffiti. Romani ite domum...
"The Baath Party were bad people, they used to hurt people inside the police station.
"You say bad words about Saddam, they take you in there and you never come out."
Royal Marines uncover evidence of torture at an Abu al Khasib police station, including the police chief's grim collection of no-longer-needed ID cards, and this:
the last room we saw upstairs, again at the end of a corridor, initially left us totally bewildered.
Unlike every other room on the second floor, it was empty, apart from two old rubber car tyres and a long electric cable lead attached to the mains supply, and still live.
The room's likely purpose was explained later, after we had asked around the Commando for a bit, by a Royal Marine officer who had spent some time in the Balkans on UN service.
He said: "Two tyres and an electric cable is something we came across a lot in Bosnia.
"The interrogator would stand on them while prodding the captive with the live cable so his own feet were insulated from the high voltage by the rubber.
Primitive maybe, but a pretty effective and recognised form of torture in a lot of Third World countries.
We later found one man, who did not want to be identified, who gave up some of the secrets of the police station.
He said there was a tariff system, if you committed a crime, but paid enough money you wouldn't be tortured. For stealing about £1000 for murder almost twice that. He said prisoners were blindfolded, tied up, hung from the hookls in the ceiling and beaten.
Just after we left the police station some Iraqis looted the building. It was a place many feared until now.
The Revolution may not be leak-proof
Gregg Easterbrook has another interesting piece on inter-services squabbles about the future composition of US forces and Army leaks apparently intended to influence them. Easterbrook points out that the argument is really about the future rather than this war:
New weapons and tactics on display against Iraq do not have much to do with the "revolution in military affairs," which is mainly a proposal for the future. Rumsfeld has not been in office long enough to overhaul service hierarchies or alter the main currents of Pentagon spending. The first two Bush defense budgets both contained big boosts, but owing to the urgency of post-9/11 issues, serious discussion of priorities was tabled, the services each getting the traditional pie-dividing three-way split of new funds.
Moreover, since the "revolution" crowd mainly favors more technology, and no one in the Pentagon opposes technology--defense trends for decades have pointed toward increased use of electronics and precision guidance--it's not clear how different a "revolution in military affairs" would be from the current trajectory. At any rate, if such a revolution is coming, it is at least two more budget cycles away. New weapons and infantry information systems being used against Iraq represent incremental improvements that were in the works before Rumsfeld arrived at the Pentagon.
But if Rumsfeld is a long-serving secretary, the Army knows he will eventually come after its budget, since the "revolution's" most cherished principle is that land forces are growing less and less important in an era of long-range precision air weapons...
The main point of this lengthy, sophomoric, error-ridden BBC essay on whether Tony Blair is a neo-con (linked by many including OxBlog and Stephen Pollard) is to demonstrate that its author has no earthly idea of what he's talking about. And apparently, no idea of how to go about correcting the situation (keep searching out those "pamphlets," Mark.) And a desperate need for an editor.
US WAR PLANNERS LACK PROFESSIONALISM: BELGIAN FOREIGN MINISTER
(via Stephen Pollard.)
Toxic Fog Syndrome
Matt Welch rings some apt alarms regarding "Patriot II," concluding:
One does not have to believe that Ashcroft is a Constitution-shredding ghoul to find these measures alarming, improper and possibly illegal. Glancing over the list above, and at the other DSEA literature, I can see multiple ways in which a Fed with a grudge could legally ruin my life. Removing checks and balances on law enforcement assumes perfect behavior on the part of the police.
Safeguarding civil liberties is an unpopular project in the most placid of times. Since Sept. 11, the Bush Administration has shown that it will push the envelope on nearly every restriction it considers to be impeding its prosecution of the war on terrorism. This single-minded drive requires extreme vigilance, before the fog of war becomes toxic.
As long as she ate the mouse she can neither see nor hear, she's like dead, now sing.
Bill Quick comments on this post, and argues that the national sport of Clinton-bashing (erstwhile and continuing) was a valuable public service and was indeed instrumental in putting GWB in the White House. That's really incidental to the point I was making, but I don't disagree that anti-Clintonism was a factor in Gore's electoral debacle. As Bill says, it caused him to shy away from running on Clinton's record, and probably cost him his home state, which was certainly significant.
What I was getting at was that personal attacks on Clinton (the "character issue") never did Congressional Republicans much good, whereas being perceived as mean-spirited, hypocritical, petty, small-minded Gingriches did them a considerable measure of harm; and that this impulse led some of them, I'd say, to adopt ignominious positions like opposing action in Kosovo as an expression of pure partisan animosity, which didn't reflect well on them either. Bill may be right that hostility to Clinton played a larger role in the 2000 election than I was granting, and it certainly shored up distaste for Gore in the red states. But I still think there's a lesson there for the Democrats, as some of them seem poised to make the same kind of mistake. If they draw the opposite lesson, and focus on, or allow themselves to be seen as alluding to or wallowing in, the prevalent "Bush is a moron who stole the election and took us into a war we deserve to lose all because of his Daddy" meme, they'll regret it.
In fact, I think it's possible that Gore's supercilious bearing, and the undercurrent of the then slightly less ubiquitous "Bush is a Moron" theme which it seemed to reflect, was as much a factor in turning off voters who might otherwise have voted for him.
That's all by the way though. The main reason for this post (and the reason the heading is a quote from Rosemary's Baby) is to draw attention to a comment by one of Daily Pundit's frequent commenters, Tony Foresta, which is something of a tour de force: want to read about "fundamentalist Republican propaganda covens" and how to resist the "covert hypnosis" of the "brutish fundamentalist Republican Reich"? Of course you do.
"Our day," he solemnly promises, "is coming." I'm sure he's only trying to help, but I'd venture to say that the Democratic Party would be well-advised to cultivate a certain judicious distance from this "vibrant universe of intelligent and interpenetrating" um, "ideologies." Or so it seems to me.
(P.S. See ya'll at the next Sabbat.)
Amusing protest slogans by Treacher:
My fave: "BUSH STOLE THE ELECTION! That's my argument!"
let slip the...
Okay, I really didn't want to post anything on this, but I'm getting tired of the emails on the subject, so:
Of course, I am aware of blogsofwar.com. blogsofwar.com is run by a guy named John Little, who registered the name "blogs of war" when he started up, thinking that my blog was "dead." (This was during one of the two periods when I took some time off.) Some site listings have listed his url with a description of my blog, and vice versa. That's too bad; it's not my fault, but I'm sorry if it has caused confusion. I have nothing against Mr. Little, but neither do I have anything to do with, nor am I in any way responsible for, anything posted on his site. My only connection with him is that I read his blog from time to time, and that his wife apparently kind of digs me.
The phrase "the Blogs of War" was probably first used by Fred Pruitt, as a header tag in his great blog, Rantburg. As a name, like a lot of puns, it seemed like a good idea at the time, less so as time went on. It's not that great of a name, but it was November of 2001, the dawn of the warblogging era's second generation-- how was I to know I'd still be posting more than a year later? If I ever scrape together the money (unlikely) or the initiative (even less likely) to move off blogspot, I'd choose another one, even if I didn't "have to." (Hey, I just realized that andrewsullivan.tv hasn't been registered yet...)
So go on over to his site-- lots of pictures, breaking news, etc. Very different from this one. As I used to say in interviews when questioned about Green Day, Lord knows he gets more hits than me. But I'm not in it for the hits; I like the solipsism for its own sake. Enjoy, and send me email about something else.
Your big mistake, Saddam old man, was not calling yourself a Communist. You could have had exactly the same power, exactly the same control, gassed exactly as many Kurds, and the Julie Burchills of the world would've defended your regime to the end. All you had to do was fly a few red flags and put up a few posters of Lenin. Maybe salted your rhetoric with a little "glorious workers' revolution". Would that have been too high a price to pay?
It will end in disaster...
I don't think it "means" anything, but this page of "told you so"s by Guardian columnists really does look like the ones that greeted the on-line clicker during what nobody realized was the final phase of the Afghanistan campaign. The fact that they were mostly wrong then doesn't mean that they are wrong now, of course. Some conservative commentators have been showing the desperate character of their hope, perhaps, by emphasizing that predictions of doom and disaster from this lot were the harbinger of victory the last time around, crediting the usual suspects with a kind of reverse prescience. But a George Monbiot column isn't an omen. He'd have written it regardless of circumstances; he will continue to write it, a version of it, week in, week out, till he can write no more. Nobody knows what's going to happen in any detail with any certainty. The risks and perils, the challenges, are greater this time, though many had a similar assessment of the r.s, the p.s, and the c.s of Afghanistan. We're going to win, but it will be a complicated victory, however events arrange themselves.
Still, as before, maybe even more than before, this crowd really do seem to be enjoying themselves, to relish the prospect of defeat, failure, doom. I know Monbiot's grinning photo was taken long before Iraq emerged as the mouse that just might, God willing, bring down the behemoth, but I have no doubt that he was indeed thinking "it will end in disaster" as it was snapped. Last time it took them a bit longer than a week to reach such concord of defeatism, each perfectly in tune, in step, in phase with the others (Aaronovitch being, as usual, the odd man out, and Zoe Williams, who is perhaps no fool, avoiding the subject altogether.) They're getting better at this. Nice work if you can get it, I suppose, but a bit unseemly nonetheless.
"Hi. My name is Matt. I hate America but I have to live there because of my job as a foreign correspondent. And believe me, these people are quite foreign indeed. I suppose I'd rather be writing about cricket, but someone has to tell the world how stupid everyone is over here..."