Friday, June 30, 2006

Catching Up

I'm in danger of falling behind on Watcher's Council winners. The new list is out, and I'll get those up soon. Here are the winners from June 23:

First-place winner in the council was The Iraqi Insurgency Has No Central Command by The Glittering Eye, which pulled together a great deal of research to make a strong case. I think Dave's right about this, but a great many people keep looking for a "turning point" in the death of this or that figure.

Also getting votes were Children in Danger From the UN by Gates of Vienna; We Have Guarded Iraq Well by The Sundries Shack; The Heartbreak of Dhimmi-itis... Work for the Cure by Joshuapundit; and The Spellings Report: An Open Invitation for the Secretary by The Education Wonks.

The non-council winner was The Jihadi Network's Fatal Flaw by The American Thinker.

Also getting votes were Srebrenica, Kosovo, Unknown by New Sisyphus; LEFTSPEAK -- Vol. I by The Dick List; Pinch v. Pinch by Big Lizards; and Bloody Day in Oaxaca by Mark in Mexico.

Democrats and God

Which American politician recently said this?

But, you know, my Bible tells me that if we train a child in the way he should go, when he is old he will not turn from it. So I think faith and guidance can help fortify a young woman's sense of self, a young man's sense of responsibility, and a sense of reverence that all young people should have for the act of sexual intimacy.

Heck, I'd be surprised if most of us cynical blog-reading types could even name the party.

It's Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill. And it's quite a speech. In part it is a political appeal to his party to simply do the electoral math: "90 percent of us believe in God, 70 percent affiliate themselves with an organized religion, 38 percent call themselves committed Christians, and substantially more people in America believe in angels than they do in evolution."

The media notice of the speech, to the degree that there was any, seemed to focus on that angle. Perhaps it's the cynicism of the press, assuming every time a politician opens his mouth he has a partisan purpose. Perhaps it's a refusal to believe that a leading Democrat is actually taking seriously religion in American public society. He can't really be saying what we think he's saying, can he?

He can:

This religious tendency is not simply the result of successful marketing by skilled preachers or the draw of popular mega-churches. In fact, it speaks to a hunger that's deeper than that - a hunger that goes beyond any particular issue or cause.

Each day, it seems, thousands of Americans are going about their daily rounds - dropping off the kids at school, driving to the office, flying to a business meeting, shopping at the mall, trying to stay on their diets - and they're coming to the realization that something is missing. They are deciding that their work, their possessions, their diversions, their sheer busyness, is not enough.

They want a sense of purpose, a narrative arc to their lives. They're looking to relieve a chronic loneliness, a feeling supported by a recent study that shows Americans have fewer close friends and confidants than ever before. And so they need an assurance that somebody out there cares about them, is listening to them - that they are not just destined to travel down that long highway towards nothingness.

And I speak with some experience on this matter. I was not raised in a particularly religious household, as undoubtedly many in the audience were. My father, who returned to Kenya when I was just two, was born Muslim but as an adult became an atheist. My mother, whose parents were non-practicing Baptists and Methodists, was probably one of the most spiritual and kindest people I've ever known, but grew up with a healthy skepticism of organized religion herself. As a consequence, so did I.

It wasn't until after college, when I went to Chicago to work as a community organizer for a group of Christian churches, that I confronted my own spiritual dilemma.

Read it; it's difficult to excerpt from; the ideas build and flow. Which, more than anything, convinces me this is not a political ploy.

E.J. Dionne, one of the few liberal newspaper columnists not allergic to religious expression, says it "what may be the most important pronouncement by a Democrat on faith and politics since John F. Kennedy's Houston speech in 1960 ...."

I'm not one of those 38 percent, or the 70 percent or even the 90 percent. As a one-time editorial writer I've had titanic battles with the narrow-minded minority among the faithful. I'll take a back seat to no one as a strict separationist, within the framework of the Constitution. But I know and respect a lot of serious Christians and devout people of other faiths. Thinking about their political participation doesn't give me hives.

Maybe it's because I know that, historically, religion, and especially Christianity, have as often been invoked in liberal and progressive causes than in reactionary ones.

And it seems nonsensical to me to insist people should make political choices with no reference to their personal convictions, whether based in religion or not. Which seems to me to be what a lot of vocal liberal or Democratic people are saying.

Or, as Dionne puts it,

[T]here is often a terrible awkwardness among Democratic politicians when their talk turns to God, partly because they also know how important secular voters are to their coalition. When it comes to God, it's hard to triangulate.

The only thing worse than "Keep your religion out of our politics" is "Keep your religion out of our politics, unless it inspires you to vote my way."

Fourth of July

Reader I Am is on the road, and so I will be, for a couple of days, after tonight, so things will be thin around here. The wife and I are headed down to Cape May for the last family fling there before my parents, who are well into their 70s, settle on their rental property there and we no longer have a free place to crash.

Have fun! Here's the picture I really wanted to find a space for in the newspaper last night, but alas there was none:

First in war, first in peace, first in wavin' yo hands in the air like u don't care.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Plinth for Sale

Remember the British sculptor who sent in a scuplture of a laughing head to a juried exhibit and discovered they had put the plain stone base in the show but not the actual sculpture?

When life gives you plinth, make bling. He's auctioning off the now-world-famous plinth.

The artist, an easy-going gent with messianic hair and roaming stubble, believes that some art critics should be “boiled down for soup for the homeless”, but has a more liberal attitude towards art itself.

He worked two months on the head, then whacked the base off a motruary slab in an afternoon.

The Times article has a picture of the sculpture as the artist intended it. this column has a picture of how it looks in the show.

Hirsi Stays, Government Goes

Ayaan Hirsi Ali,as it turns out, didn't violate Dutch law after all when she immigrated under an assumed name.

[Netherlands Immigration and Integration Minister, Rita] Verdonk has now sent a letter to parliament in which she says that it was acceptable for Ayaan Hirsi Ali to use this particular name because, according to Somali tradition, she was and is allowed to use the name Ali since, "her old grandfather, who fathered Hirsi Ali's own father when he was 90 years old, was known by the name Ali during the early part of his life."

The flap over the case has, however, brought down the Dutch government.

So, she's legal for now but as far as I can tell she still plans to immigrate to America. Our red carpet is still out.

Among the Dead Cities

I so agree with the core of the ethical case presented in A.C. Grayling's "Among the Dead Cities" that I'm surprised how unsatisfying I find the book overall and how much I want to argue with the author.

A.C. Grayling grew up in postwar England, enthralled by the war, and he dreamed of being a fighter pilot. He built models of Spitfires and Lancasters and ran around in the yard with his arms out, dogfighting imaginary Messerschmitts. Yet he grew up to be a philosopher, not a fighter, and he's written a book that argues that much of the Allied air war -- British bombing of German cities and the U.S. bombings of Japanese cities, including the A-bomb attacks -- was an unjustifiable moral crime.

Whether we like it or not, this likely will be the judgment of the future: The area bombing campaigns will be seen as a black mark on a generally just Allied war against fascism and Japanese militarism. Which is not to say I would write such a book. As long as we still greet at family gatherings the veteran pilots and bombardiers, as well as some of the hundreds of thousands of American men whose lives were spared because Japan did not have to be conquered hill by hill, we who benefit from their bravery risk showing disrespect in condemning them via an academic exercise in ethics.

Grayling treads carefully, but I believe sincerely, around this pit. I think he passes the essential test to write this book, for those who can tolerate his conclusion. He is not a neo-Nazi and he denies he is a pacifist. He takes every opportunity his text presents to declare the Allies waged a just war. He never says the moral failure of the area bombing campaigns rises to the level where it overwhelms the justness of the Allies' war.

Nor does he blame the bomber crews or doubt their bravery, though he does mention in his conclusion that, in a perfect world, they would have refused missions known to be aimed at civilians and demanded to be sent against military targets.

Grayling's central precept is that "the means used to conduct the war must be proportional to the ends sought." This notion is not entirely accepted today, he acknowledges, but he shows it to be the essential quality of a just war, as that concept has evolved since Aquinas.

He does not claim the Allied area bombings of 1942-45 were a war crime, in that they violated any international laws then binding on the combatants. But he shows that they would have been considered such if judged by provisions set out by the victorious Allies themselves at the International Military Tribunal, the overseers of the Nuremberg Trials.

He is not concerned here with law so much as morality. Grayling's non-pacifist stance allows him to invoke the doctrine of double effect: "No wrong is committed by the belligerent if the harm he does to innocents is an unaviodable ancillary to military operations -- even if such harm can be foreseen." In other words, if the primary goal is good and legitimate, the negative secondary effect, even if foreseen, is -- not good, but not wrong.

This, too, is a controversial notion and one rejected outright by strict pacifists, for it legitimatizes some collateral damage. Grayling says the proportion doctrine applies:

Take the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki: if these were claimed to be attacks on targets of military value, assuming there to have been industrial units or military barracks in these cities which 'military necessity' demanded should be destroyed, dropping an atom bomb on them is the equivalent to chopping off a man's head to cure his toothache, such is the degree of disproportion involved.

He lists the large arguments in favor of such bombing, then pushes them back. Was area bombing worse than what the Germans did to the Jews or the Japanese did in Nanking? Certainly not. But "the fact that a wrong is less than a competing wrong does not make it a right."

Did bombing civilians hasten the end of the war and thus spare the Allies greater battlefield casualties? Some say so. But saving military lives by substituting civilian ones is, Grayling says, like using civilians as human shields on the battlefield.

What's left among justifications are the lesser ones of whether the bombing did in fact have a military objective important enough to justify the civilian deaths and wanton destruction of culture and property. Grayling enlists the many historians who have argued effectively against this conclusion.

I can agree with Grayling about the moral error of the destruction of German cities and the firebombing of Toyko. But I part ways with him on his condemnation of the atomic bombs as identical to the obliteration of Dresden and Hamburg.

Yet I admit he scores points. "Bomber" Harris, who led the air destruction of Germany's cities, believed the air raids themselves would end the war in Europe, defeating the aggressors while sparing hundreds of thousands of Allied soldiers from death and wounds in an invasion.

This also is the common reason put forth in justification of the use of atomic bombs on Japan. And in the case of Japan, it's arguable (though not uniformly accepted) that it did hasten surrender. Nobody today argues this with regard to Germany. Yet as Grayling already has explained, saving military lives by substituting civilian ones is not morally acceptable, even if it works.

But if the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki really brought the war to a quick end, and spared Japan an invasion or a long starvation blockade, didn't that also save civilian lives? Perhaps ten times as many as were lost? Not just in Japan but in the wide swath of Asia it still occupied in 1945?

The need to wrap up World War II quickly and face the Cold War, which already had begun in 1945, is a grim fact of realpolitik, but not a justification for the A-bombs. There were other and more humane motives for ending the war sooner rather than later.

The option of setting off a bomb in an unpopulated area in view of Japanese leadership, which Grayling favors, seems to present the enormous risk of it not working.

The oddest section of the book is the chapter titled "Voices of Conscience," where he describes the opposition of British pacifists during the war to the bombing of German cities. He focuses on the Committee for the Abolition of Night Bombing, which formed in the summer of 1941 and in the spring of 1942 reorganized as the Bombing Restriction Committee.

He describes and quotes from its criticisms at length. Then he writes that the point of the chapter is to prove the bombing campaigns were controversial at the time and that the objections to them were spelled out and known to the organizers of the bombings. It is a point in the legalistic case he is building against the bombings.

But it feels like more; Grayling quotes extensively throughout his book from the British pacifist novelist and committee member Vera Brittain, who is an eloquent and principled figure even to a non-pacifist. In his own conclusions, he defers to her entirely in certain key matters, writing (probably correctly) that no one could say it better than she did. Yet she was a pacifist, and Grayling claims not to be; he claims to find certain cases of civilian deaths in war morally acceptable, and certain wars justified.

Which makes his choice of voices in this chapter all the more puzzling. He notes, correctly, that not all in the committees were pacifists. But with the exception of the Bishop of Chichester, those he focuses on, and quotes, tend to be absolute pacifists. Most of them would disagree vehemently with his distinguishing one type of war as good and another as bad.

He describes them as:

... people for whom it mattered that the war should be not only a justified one, but a justly fought one, and to whom therefore some of the Allies' actions were unacceptable.

Which makes them sound like a realistic lot who essentially agree with his propositions, not the kind of pacifists who wouldn't even fight Hitler.

As they are meant to be witnesses in his case, it is pertinent to question the competence of the witnesses. Grayling does not, but by consulting other sources we can. These individuals did not spring out of obscure and apolitical lives once news of the Allied bombing reached them.

Grayling quotes much from the organizer of the anti-bombing committee, Corder Catchpool, a British Quaker. Catchpool spent the years after World War I in Germany with the Friends War Victims Relief Committee, "Set up to further the task of reconciliation between the combatant nations. He remained in Germany for a time after the Nazi regime came to power, but his help for Jews attracted the attentions of the Gestapo, and he was arrested and interrogated by them. He returned to England soon afterward."

And there he carried on freely, denouncing the government, publishing, organizing, and opposing the war against the Nazis. Which speaks volumes about the nature of dissent and free societies, which you'd think a philosopher would at least notice, but Grayling seems not to.

"He had no illusions about Nazi Germany," (No? Then why did he claim in 1937 that National-Socialist philosophy "definitely repudiates" world-imperialist ambitions) "but he adhered to his Quaker pacifist principles despite that." I grew up among Quakers, and I am not aware that their principles include standing up for a cause only in a place where doing so won't get you arrested by the Gestapo.

Catchpool was an absolutist pacifist who welcomed the fall of France in 1940 as "the happiest day of my life" because one less nation was at war, and in 1944 he wrote, "I cannot pray for an Anglo-American victory, not even for a quick one." When the German concentration camps were uncovered late in the war, Catchpool did not condone them, but he seemed more concerned that their revelation was "a godsend to our authorities just at this juncture, and that the most is being made of them."

Such attitudes and such minds were what moved George Orwell to the famous conclusion that, in this war, a pacifist was objectively pro-fascist.

Another anti-bombing campaigner cited by Grayling, Stuart Morris, an Episcopal canon, was naive enough that in 1937 he had joined The Link, a British Nazi-sympathizer organization, and a year after the Munich agreement pronounced himself in favor "of giving a great deal more away [to Hitler]. I don't think Mr. Chamberlain has really started yet on any serious appeasement." Morris stood at a by-election in May 1941 on a platform calling for a negotiated peace with Hitler. Shortly before Christmas 1942 he was arrested in possession of "secret details about how Britain would respond to a serious challenge to its position in India." [Ceadel, "Semi-Detached Idealists']

If these were the most vocal opponents of the anti-bombing movement, it's no wonder even Eleanor Roosevelt dismissed their concerns as part of their airy world-view. They happened to be among those who were right about the bombing of civilian targets. But at the time their leadership of the cause rather damaged it than advanced it, by making it odious by association. It's an oft-rehearsed scene in American history -- think of the Abolitionists.

Grayling's book also has an annoying tendency to pick tangential fights and then walk away from them. He hints the defenders of Capt. Henry Wirz, of Andersonville notoriety, are merely a pack of kooky neo-Confederates (they aren't). Even more aggravating, he introduces the notion that the Allied insistence on unconditional surrender in World War II had the effect of "prolonging the war considerably, with consequent great destruction and loss of life," after having pre-emptively backed away from it by saying those were questions for "a different book." His discussion of what does, and does not, constitute just cause for starting a war reads like a line-by-line critique of the Bush Administration's handling of Iraq, but nowhere in it does Grayling step up and mention either by name.

He brings up the Morgenthau plan -- a proposal ginned up in the Treasury Department in Washington, D.C., and temporarily sanctioned by Roosevelt, to dismantle German industry after the war and turn the defeated nation into a demilitarized agrarian region. But Grayling's text nowhere notes that Harry Dexter White, who drew up the plan on Morgenthau's orders, was spying for the Soviet Union and the idea of a passive Germany fit White's vision of a post-war world in which planned economies would rule and the Soviets would dominate Europe. The plan was approved heartily by the Kremlin; it was the British and the U.S. State Department that opposed it.

White's double-dealing is borne out by the VENONA transcripts, even without reference to the Mitrokhin archive, which further bolsters it though that source is not universally accepted. But Grayling, in a footnote, dismisses all this as a whim of "revisionist and neo-Nazi historians" and makes it out to be mere McCarthyism, though he refutes it only with the unsurprising refusal of White's children to believe their father had been a traitor.

Grayling's misstep into the Morgenthau plan is part of an unconvincing section in which he attempts to prove wartime American blood-lust against Germans. In fact, most of the evidence he musters for that seems to me cases of political and publishing mavens trying to whip up anti-German sentiment in a population itself largely of German ancestry that had no particular race hatred for the Germans. Certainly the Americans' animosity toward the Germans was many levels below the mutual viciousness felt by the Americans and the Japanese (see John Dower's excellent book on this).

For the most part Grayling avoids making any explicit connection to modern events; he has drawn his case so narrowly around World War II that his conclusions hardly can be plugged into current event without burying them in a blizzard of caveats. Perhaps it's just as well; in the passage where Grayling tries to explain why all this should matter today, he cites the wording of U.S. military manuals from the 1990s suggesting civilian morale can be a factor in a military campaign.

Ah, those American barbarians! What would have been more interesting is to examine how air power in Afghanistan and Iraq is vastly more careful and conscientious than it was in World War II. But that seems not to interest Grayling. He skips over more pertinent modern examples of Russian bombing of Grozny or the Kurdish towns that were gassed by Saddam in the headlong rush for the easy American target, even if it's only a crime of word-choice.

Not only is the thinking in this book difficult to apply to current issues, it has limited relevance even to World War II. Grayling seems to regard as acceptable military strategy the Anglo-American bombing of French and Belgian cities, such as Caen (above, with Canadian troops at a religious service in 1944), which meted out firestorm destruction worse than many German cities suffered.

The goal in leveling Caen was to kill the German troops in it and allow a breakout from Normandy; the citizens of the town were warned in advance by leaflets that the bombs were coming. Nobody wanted to kill a lot of Frenchmen, as a military objective or otherwise. Yet nonetheless they died in the thousands and a medieval city was blown inside out, with tragic loss of historical and architectural treasures.

Further, because the British front was so close to the town, the bombers deliberately dropped their explosives a safe distance beyond the front, to avoid hitting their own men, which means the bombs apparently missed not only the British troops but the Germans as well and simply fell into the old city to no good purpose.

Grayling declares precision bombing aimed at specific military targets as legitimate and morally acceptable. This exempts most of the raids by the American air forces in Europe from his indictment, since they targeted German oil facilities and similar targets. The American bombing campaign "proved highly effective" and "was proportionate and pertinent; it could also legitimately claim to be a necessary part of the effort to defeat Germany. The area bombing of civilian populations was not necessary."

But this has problems, too. The Americans, in avoiding the heavy concentration of anti-aircraft fire around military targets, dropped from high altitudes and often with little ability to really aim for what they were after. The fact that such military targets as rail junctions and large-scale processing and manufacturing industries tend naturally to be surrounded by dense blocks of homes meant this tactic could be, and often was, as lethal as deliberate city-bombing.

And how do the ethics of air power apply to a ground war? The U.S. Army pushed through central Germany in the spring of 1945, with the German military before it mostly reduced to small ill-trained units, but when the Americans met any sustained resistance they pulled back, called in artillery, and blasted whatever was in front of them, whether it was a wooded ridge or a farming village.

The experience of Neuhof in the Frankenhöhe was typical of hundreds of other small German towns. The 92nd Cav. Recon Squadron reached it toward evening on April 15 and ran into a battle group of young SS soldiers north of the town. The Americans held off and pounded the town with artillery all night. In the morning, they waited for the fog to lift, then blasted Neuhof with phosphorous shells, setting everything ablaze. They attacked again at noon with infantry and tanks, but they still met resistance, so they poured more artillery and tank fire into the town. They finally took it at 5 p.m. that evening.

By that time only a few buildings still stood intact in Neuhof, most of the ancient village having been reduced to a glowing pile of ash and shattered stone. Cries from the wounded, strewn about with a dozen or so dead, intermingled with shouts for help from those still fighting fires and the occasional shots from American tanks to create a Dantesque atmosphere. [Stephen G. Fritz, "Endkampf," p.170]

In measuring the "proportion" and "double effect" rules, a philosopher can be content with images of cutting off heads to cure toothaches. A military commander in the field has to deal in more tangible material. Am I more responsible for protecting the lives of the men in my command than I am for those in the enemy's ranks? Yes. What about their civilians? If I kill 50 enemy soldiers and 1 civilian, is that proportionate? Are 10 civilians? If we have a 60 percent chance of killing Hitler if we bomb a certain city of 20,000 on a certain date without warning, is that legitimate?

These are questions more pertinent to the modern face of warfare. But Grayling's book is mute on them. In the end he's shone such a narrow shaft of illumination that "Among the Dead Cities" doesn't add much to what Billy Sherman said about war and hell.

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The Blogosphere: Paperback Or Talkie?

Even I have yet to figure out a way to pack while reading, much less read while packing, so it's all about podcasts around here today. Which is how I came across a real gem from Victor Navasky, publisher emeritus of The Nation.

"... I believe that this new media [the blogosphere] is going to be like paperback instead of hardcover; it's going to extend the audience rather than replace it the way that talkies replaced silent movies."

Navasky was speaking first as part of a WGBH Forum Network panel titled "Democracy and the Press: The Role of Journals of Opinion," and I, of course, am picking up just a snippet of what he said, which largely had nothing to do with blogging.

But what he expressed in that snippet very much resonated with me and dovetails with my own view of the reality for the foreseeable future.

Back to the rest of the podcast and packing for me. But what do you think of Navasky's analogy? Got a better one of your own?

Flooded With Wondering

How long, do you think, would the flood in Wilkes-Barre have to last in order for Fox News' Rita Cosby to figure out how to pronounce that place name?

And is there some sort of hidden message in the fact that none of the people whom she's interviewed has apparently seen fit to clue her in?

Update: DeanYoungblood does me the great favor of pointing out the obvious: Rita Cosby is of course with MSNBC. Here's my response to him in the comments section:

She absolutely is!! And I know better. See what I get for doing a drive-by post based on listening to whatever news channel happens to be playing in the background.

Question: How long do you think this post has to stay up before RIA gets clued into the obvious?


Thanks, DeanYoungblood.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

WMD Blues

I disagree with E. Thomas McClanahan of the editorial board of the Kansas City Star when he writes:

Most of the media yawned at the news last week that weapons of mass destruction had been found in Iraq.

If it was a yawn, it was a studied and deliberately offensive one, the kind a rude teenager gives to a parent's lecture. What might have looked like ignoring the story to him looked more to me like sullen silence.

Can there be a more "move-along-nothing-to-see-here" sentence than the lede of the Knight-Ridder story:

A new, partially declassified intelligence report provides no new evidence that Saddam Hussein had stockpiled weapons of mass destruction on the eve of the U.S.-led invasion, as President Bush alleged in making the case for war, U.S. intelligence officials said Thursday.

... I first heard about it on the radio while driving home. The next morning I found nothing about it in The Kansas City Star, nothing in The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal, and nothing on the Web site of The

Washington Times, a conservative paper. Using Google, I couldn't even find an Associated Press story.

If it's only partially declassified, how can you say the report does or doesn't prove anything?

And remember, this is not a second-day or sidebar story: this is the main story KR ran about the report. It's as if the main story on al-Zarqawi's killing said not "Zarqawi dead," but "Zarqawi's death unlikely to slow violence in Iraq."

I agree with Glittering Eye and others that the declassified parts of the report aren't going to make much difference in the public debate or change people's minds. Thoe of us who supported the overthrow of Saddam and the reconstruction of Iraq have known about these hundreds of old chemical and biological shells since they started turning up in 2003. Those of us who oppose the war will simply say, "but that's not an active WMD program, and 500 scattered shells do not make a 'large stockpile.' "

Which leaves open the question of what does make a large stockpile. But let it pass; the important thing in Iraq is where to go next, as Glittering Eye writes. And clearly the case that the White House put together about Saddam's active weapons development program turned out to be overstated. Most of us -- even most war opponents -- were surprised by how little he really had. He bluffed us and we bought it.

Yet exactly the one place where the revelation of the 500 WMD counts is -- journalism. I've given up counting the number of news stories and columns I've edited and proofread that said "Though Bush made Saddam's WMD a principal reason for going to war, no WMD have ever been found," or words to that effect.

I knew that was wrong. It's a simple matter of language. "Some" or "a few hundred" is not the same as "none." None means none, and when you use "none" in place of "some," you're deceiving your reader as much as if you said "no one is poor in America" when in fact some people are.

The journalists dislike this story so much because it makes them wrong. Not in their essential partisan rejection of the Bush argument for taking out Saddam, but in the plain business of telling a story in words.

Why did I participate in that? Why did I not object to the "none" every time I saw it in print, even though I knew it was wrong? Because the one time I did such a thing in my newsroom I got a shitstorm of abuse from co-workers as a "Bush apologist" It was so irrational I felt like I was talking to deranged street people. It had nothing to do with Bush being right or not; it had to do with us being right in the eyes of the readers. In doing our duty to tell the truth as well as we know it to the people who drop four bits at the newsstand to read this thing.

But the all-knowing AP said "none" And who was I, a "Bush apologist" sitting in a newsroom in Pennsylvania, to correct that?


Alarmingly Obnoxious

This situation might have tempted me to vandalism for the first time ever.

I have visited this writer's apartment a couple of times, so I can picture the scene--and the proximity to the offending vehicle--exactly, which makes her patience and charity all the more admirable. Or, alternatively, insane, given that I understand the situation persisted for 21 hours. My word, what respecters of private property the people in that neighborhood must be, what paragons of restraint and self-control!

I say: If the campaign to ban nuisance car alarms doesn't take, then start lobbying to decriminalize vandalism in this kind of situation. Sometimes street justice has its merits.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006


Sorry for that accidental fragment of a post about hybrid hamburgers if anyone saw it in the--very brief--time it was there. For anyone who did, you'll note that the date was July 3. In preparation for our trip, I was throwing something into dashboard to remind me of a link on which to work along the long-long-drive way this weekend.

No deeper meaning in this case--just a jerk of the finger over the trackpad right (from Save as Draft) to Publish.

Don't ya hate when that happens? But it's probably a good cautionary signal for me: What ELSE have you misplaced? What do you think you've put in the "don't forget to pack" pile that you've forgotten? What have you put there that should probably be in the "must do" before leaving stack?

In what other ways are you (have you been?--scarier) so dashedly distracted???

Why was this easier not so very long ago?


In The End, All Cats Are Gray At Night

If, as appears likely so far, this story about Rush Limbaugh doesn't pan out as desperately desired by leaping-on bloggers, whose posts I've indeed read, and others, all I can say is:

There but for the grace of whatever or whomever, go you and your partner.

Fantasize about that for a few, will ya?

(And no, I'm not a Limbaugh fan--nor a piler-on, since I just, in this very sentence, pointedly avoided the obvious pun.)

Monday, June 26, 2006

Founding Father

Who was the only clergyman to sign the Declaration of Independence?

Here's a hint: Among his direct descendants (allegedly) is Reese Witherspoon.

Give up? You're not alone. John Witherspoon is perhaps the most forgotten of the forgotten Founders. And it's no wonder; his views and his centrality in the cause will upset some settled notions.

Here Roger Kimball attempts a resurrection. His conclusion:

For us looking back on the generation of the Founders, it is easy to deprecate the religious inheritance that, for many of them, formed the ground of their commitment to political liberty. Theological skeptics and even atheists there were aplenty in late eighteenth-century America. But for every Jefferson who re-wrote the Bible excising every mention of miracles, there was a platoon of men like Madison who wrote commentaries on the Bible. Witherspoon believed that religion was “absolutely essential to the existence and welfare of every political combination of men in society.” Madison agreed. As did even the more skeptical Washington, who in his Farewell Address observed that “of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports… . And let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion.” For many, perhaps most, of the Founders, Morrison observes, the chain of reasoning ran thus: “no republic without liberty, no liberty without virtue, and no virtue without religion.” John Witherspoon did as much as anyone to nurture that understanding. Which is perhaps yet another reason he is less known today than other figures from the period. Whether that is a sign of our maturity and sophistication or only, as Witherspoon might put it, our pride and natural depravity is a question we might do well ponder.

The so-called Religious Right has put forth long and loud claims that America's Revolutionary roots are entirely Biblical and that the American legal system is entirely a product of its "Judeo-Christian heritage." This is demonstrably false.

Yet the push-back against that should not prevent anyone from acknowledging that the Founders' hostility to bigoted sects and authoritarian preachers was not identical to a postmodernist sneer at spirituality or morality in general. And that religion, and Christianity, as it was felt in that generation played an important role in America in 1776 and 1787. And that it shared that privilege with an Enlightenment rationalism that itself was marbled with Christian ideas and arguments.

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Things I Love about the Web

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Tempted Not

Snakes Alive! A Bride!

The guests are assembled, mini-bottles of bubbles in hand, on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in a local garden-park. The groom and judge are waiting, along with the attendants, who have already walked 'round the fountain that forms the backdrop for the ceremony.

The bride and her father are poised to walk down the straightaway path, when ...

An oblivious passerby cuts off the path, before taking in the scene and beating a quick retreat, 6-foot-5-inch boa constrictor in hand.

I have been to scores upon scores of weddings, witnessing much that was weird, wild, whimsical and wonderful. This, however, stands alone in richness of cosmic humor and only-in-fiction irony.

The radiant bride didn't miss a beat, and the ceremony was a fine thing.

There was even time afterward to search out the snake-handler and make personal acquaintance with the charming tetrapod, before proceeding to the reception.

(Which featured a kick-ass R&B band, by the way: haven't danced like that in ages--and it turns out that my son appears to be taking after me in that respect. Score one for the maternal gene pool!)

Summer Rerun

Lone Runner

[Reprinted from August 2004]

The Greeks host the Olympics again. Ancient athletes raced and fought naked; the modern ones gathered now in Athens wear clothes advertising the official sponsors. The ancient Greeks, we are told, would be scandalized.

But athletic endorsements happen when athlete and clothing maker angle for a profit off each other. Each obeys the logic of economic individualism. And individualism is a Greek legacy -- an Athenian legacy -- to Western culture.

Individualism defines the West, both to Western and non-Western eyes. In a sociological analysis from 1989, of 50 countries, the top 20 scores in the "individualism" index included all the Western states except Portugal plus Israel.

Individualism is the dynamo that drives disparate expressions of Western culture, from eco-feminist performance art to plutocratic wealth-hoarding. Separation of church and state, the rule of law, social pluralism, representative government, all these hallmarks of Western civilization either define or protect the individual's autonomy from collective power. "Equal rights" is the most advanced expression of individualism. Not only do individuals have rights, the all have them alike, regardless of personal qualities.

These are the gifts we come bearing, like a combative Santa Claus, to non-Western civilizations that have been steeped in collective folkways for millenia. Individualism ranks high on the list of what is universalism to the West and imperialism to the rest.

Islam is communal. To it, American-style individualism looks amoral and unethical. This is true in other world cultures as well (Confucianism, for instance), but Islam presents a particular challenge to America at the moment. Islam is based from beginning to end on the idea of Unity (tawhid), both of God and the Islamic community (ummah). In sermons, speeches, and publications, radical, mainstream, and even Western Muslims reject American-style individualism as extreme and dangerous, and contrast it unfavorably to Islamic communalism.

"Islam's spirit dictates Muslim life in a way that Muslims are prepared even to die for others, rather to live selfishly for oneself. Here lies the root historic reason of Islam's lightning success of winning people's heart in its hey days. Self-centred nature and the concept of 'individualism' has very little to do in a caring and compassionate society. These are departures from basic human qualities and make a society avaricious and dangerously competitive. They are the features of materialistic societies where human beings vie with each other to endure and triumph." [from a British-based site,]

There is no appropriate native word in Arabic or Persian to translate "individualism" (my Persian dictionary renders it with an awkward compound word that means literally "freedom of self").

An individualist need not be an egoist. The ancient Olympics lacked team sports. Athletes strove for personal glory, but that glory was wrapped up in communal identity. The physical prizes awarded were symbolic: the winner of each event at the Isthmian games, for instance, got a crown of dry celery. The real prize was in the adulation of his home state. During triumphant celebrations of their return home, victors at the games were showered with honors and privileges. Their cities voted them free meals for the rest of their lives, or set up statues in their honor.

The whole concept of physical fitness, today such a vanity, was then a civic duty. Sparta was the extreme example, but even in Athens young men and old men spent a good deal of their waking hours at the gyms. His strength was the state's: Every Athenian man under 60 could be called up for military service at a moment's notice, as a hoplite or a marine or an oarsman.

In ancient Greek culture the extended family was the basic unit of society and civic morality was tied to kinship. It was the genius of Athens eventually to break this in the name of individualism. "[T]he liberation of the individual from the bonds of clan and family is one of the major achievements of Greek rationalism, and one for which the credit must go to Athenian democracy." [E.R. Dodds].

Athens had its own recurring athletic festival -- the Panathenaea. No crown of celery for the winners at the Panathenaea games: lavish awards were handed out to the top five finishers in every contest. The winner of the boys' footrace, for instance, got jars containing 1,944 liters of olive oil -- a small fortune at the time. Even at the Olympics, Athenians injected an element of individualism that other Greeks found vulgar. In 416 B.C. Alcibiades, the brilliant and scheming Athenian aristocrat, personally entered seven chariots in the Olympics and took first, second and fourth prizes, "winning, as he claimed, glory for his city, but also popularity and prestige for himself." [Bernard Knox]

The tension between individualism and communalism probably is as deep as human nature. Each culture finds its balance. In some -- medieval Europe and Islam -- the collective ethos prevails. In others -- ancient Athens, modern America -- individualism rules.

The birth of modern individualism coincides almost exactly with the rediscovery of classical Greek (mainly Athenian) civilization in the Renaissance. Petrarch, in the 14th century, decided to climb a mountain for the sheer personal gratification of getting to the top --

To-day I made the ascent of the highest mountain in this region, which is not improperly called Ventosum. My only motive was the wish to see what so great an elevation had to offer

-- and some people say that "humanism" began on that day (though men had climbed mountains before and it's not at all clear Petrarch was much of a humanist). Since then, Westerners have circled the globe, scouting out the highest mountains and getting to the top of them (or dying in the attempt). Locals in the Andes or the Himalayas could have done that. Perhaps some did, but they earned no immortal glory in their cultures for it. The drive to do something like that came from the individual Western mind's yen to be the first.

Individualism is a general Western quality, but it is taken to its extreme in America. Some immigrants came over as groups, in communities, but by and large the United States is a nation of people who defined themselves as individualists by the very act of pulling up their roots and crossing the ocean to a new world.

Hamilton and other founders in the 1780s fretted over this quality in the people. To these men, ancient Athens was an anti-model: reckless, mob-ruled, excessively democratic and perpetually at the mercy of the next Alcibiades. Their models were rather Sparta and the Roman republic. They sought to tutor young America in the classical public virtues: firmness, courage, endurance, industry, frugal living, strength, and unremitting devotion to the weal of the public's corporate self.

Yet there never was a Golden Age of classical virtues in America, unpolluted by greed. A force was afoot in America -- Renaissance humanism, honed by Enlightenment rationalism -- and it steeled the new nation with naked materialism and acquisitive individualism.

If the founders had not read Adam Smith and Bernard Mandeville directly, they were familiar with their ideas, filtered through popular writers and poets like Pope ("Essay on Man"). In this model, prosperity depended on free individuals acting freely in their self-interest. Greed is good. Self-interested individuals promote the interests of the whole society more effectively than they would if they really tried to promote it.

Millions endeavouring to supply
Each other's Lust and Vanity ...
Thus every Part was full of Vice,
Yet the whole Mass a Paradise.

[Mandeville, "The Fable of the Bees," 1705]

Smith put it more scientifically, but not less clearly.

It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their own advantages.

The individualist need not be an egoist -- but the egoist always is an individualist. DeTocqueville saw individualism as a peculiar vice of democracies. "Egoism sterilizes the seeds of every virtue; individualism at first only drains the springs of public virtues, but in the long run it attacks and destroys all the others too and finally merges into egoism."

America's great wars in the past century have been against collectivist societies that formed in revulsion against Western individualism -- Prussian militarism, Nazi fascism, and Soviet communism. These were imperfect secular expressions of the socialist ideal. Now the United States faces a more permanent, functional collective power in Islam.

Even where they seem to be alike, the two cultures differ. Both the United States and the Muslim ummah were slave-owning cultures, for instance. But under Islam, those who serve the faith, by scholarship or soldiering, enjoyed greater prestige than those who merely made money. Thus in Muslim lands there was no plantation system, no masses of agricultural slaves gathered for the sake of raising cash crops. Slaves in the ummah served as cooks, porters, concubines, soldiers. This hardly means Islam was kinder, of course: a slave is a slave, and being a eunuch in a harem or a family sex toy is hardly better than being a field hand.

The tension between individual and collective priorities drives much of the debate between "conservatives" and "liberals" in modern America and spikes it with venom. The split is hardly absolute. Many liberals are solid individualists, and certain modern conservatives, notably in the Russell Kirk school, believe unbridled free market individualism can be a disaster, destructive of those institutions that must be conserved.

But the identification of America's uniqueness in the world with its individualistic qualities made it easy for the anti-communists who battled collectivism in the Cold War to slip into battle with the extremists in the Islamic ummah when they attacked the U.S. Old foes with new faces. On the other side, the Lenins and the bin Ladens marked America as their enemy for the same reason. Bad enough, in the eyes of the Islamists, that we practice this decadence. Far worse that we export it into their holy space.

The running battle over individualism allows people in the West to swallow a certain illogic in their positions. Liberals, perhaps reflexively opposing an anti-collectivist U.S., align themselves as allies or apologists for the utterly il-liberal Taliban. And social conservatives wave the flag for relentless war on Islamist clerics whose critique of America's decadence is almost identical to that of the social conservatives.

Ultimately, though Bush is right, whether he knows it or not: rights, liberties, freedoms, are the things "they hate us for," because these things spring from the supremacy of the individual, above the collective or the communal, in American culture.

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Innocents Abroad

So I just wrapped up my first week of vacation for 2006. Because we've sunk so much money in our old house this year, we won't be taking any traveling vacations. Which leaves the other two kinds of vacation: "day-trip" vacations and "handyman" vacations.

This was a bit of both. I'm glad to say that by Saturday night I had crossed off every single item on my "to-do" list. That's because I wrote the list Saturday night. I recommend this policy. It gives you a great ego-building sense of accomplishment. And helps you overlook the two burned-out lightbulbs you lived with all week and which, despite being ignored for 7 days, somehow have not healed themselves.

Wednesday we took a day trip to the historic sites in Philadelphia. I'd felt guilty because I've never taken my son, now 15, to see them. And I haven't been down there since we took our German exchange students in to see the sites when I was 15.

So, we were overdue. The first mistake was driving in. I usually take the train down. Even at 10 a.m. we had to fight stop-and-go traffic all the way down the Schuylkill Expressway.

We parked near Chinatown and walked down to 6th and Market and my son said, "Oh, I've been here before, with my [accelerated learning] class." Great. Must have made a real impression.

Our first stop was the Liberty Bell, which is in a new home since I last saw it. I remember reading some of the discussions around this. The Parks Service discovered the site of the new pavilion would be on the grounds of the slave quarters of the original presidential home, and it decided to incorporate that into the story told in the exhibit.

It seemed fair at the time; even though the idea that there were slaves in Philadelphia, or that Washington was a slaveowner, hardly seemed to me to be as earth-shattering as some people thought.

But now, in the post-9/11 world, you don't get into the exhibit without passing through "security." Which means a half-hour wait in line, then dumping your pockets into a plastic bin, and passing through a sort of Third World airport metal detector. Parents have to hoist their strollers up onto the conveyor belt.

They don't make you take your shoes off, like they do at airports, but you have to take your belt off. If you pass, you then get to hold your pants up with one hand while you try to grab your wallet, cell phone, car keys, change, and belt with the other.

Note to self: If going to the Liberty Bell again, wear tighter pants.

After that, you get the slavery. They've laid it on a little thick. It's not just about the Washington slaves (whose eventual emancipation wasn't mentioned that I saw, but there was a big bit on one who ran away), but it's about the entire Liberty Bell being a "symbol of liberties denied." And it goes on and on. This piles on to the (legitimate) account of the appropriation of the bell as a symbol by the Abolitionists.

By the time you get to the part of the exhibit that tells of the bell's cross-country tour in the '20s, when millions turned out to see it, you wonder what all the fuss was about.

And at the end, when you finally see the bell itself, it looks small, over-varnished, chipped, and you wonder if Homeland Security hasn't got the real one squirreled away somewhere for safety and this is a replica. Hell, you wonder if they scanned your cell phone while it was in that machine. You wonder what was the point. Where's the Liberty? Why did this inert hunk of broken metal once matter?

We tried Indenendence Hall next, but now it turns put you have to get tickets back at the visitor's center to even enter the building. So rather than backtrack all the way to do that, we went next door to the Second Bank of the U.S. building. I love the story of the war between Biddle and Jackson, but there's not much left of the bank other than Strickland's severely beautiful neo-classical exterior.

Inside was a gallery of paintings from Peale's museum, which was good entertainment for an hour. Then we walked down through Old City. At Christ Church we saw the most memorable sight of the trip: a tombstone dated 1714 with the first name "Jaems" clearly visible beneath the "James" that was carved overtop of it. I can just imagine the Pythonesque scene that lay behind that artifact.

By then we were ready for lunch so we circled up to Chinatown. Again, it had been years since I was there, and I recognized none of the restaurant names until I hit one that I remembered as being highly touted. When we sat down and got the menu, I saw I was right: voted Best in Philadelphia three years running -- 1977 to 1979.

No commendations after the Carter Administration except a dust-coated Mobil Travel Guide 2-star rating plaque dated 1991. The only people in there besides the owners and us were noontime winos who slipped in to buy 40-ounces of Bud.

Then we went back to get our Independence Hall tickets, but by this time they had given out their quota for the day. So, no more history for us.

And I still have two vacation weeks left!

An April Breeze, On The Wings Of Spring

What lyric grabs you and never lets you go?

Friday, June 23, 2006

Oh, Happy Day: In The Form of An Equation

Today was your happiest day of the year, right? If yes, solve for the "X". If not, check your variables.
Cliff Arnall has analysed such factors as outdoor activities, nature, social interaction, childhood memories, temperature and holidays -- data gathered over a period of 15 years in interviews with 3,000 people around the world.

His conclusion: June 23 is the happiest day of the year.

Here's Arnall's simple equation: O + (N x S) + Cpm/T + He. Solve, and check your work.

Even if your answer was "right," did you get there the correct way? Or would you be better off not showing your work, or reviewing your process?

Or does the equation not fit the applicable question, to begin with, and/or facts at hand?

Update: And, darn it: Yes, I did update this post to put the time back to the actual "when" it was posted in Midwest time, the ticking by which I live--when the "today" part still obtained!

Phm Pfm Bhm Bfm At-t-at Crsh BOOM Ahh

Just another summer weekend evening in the Quad-Cities, the "fireworksingest" place I have ever lived or visited (with the exception of Disney World--and I assume, since I haven't been there, that Disneyland would fall into the same category) in all my born days.

(Heck, here we have fireworks--plural of that plural--in December, on a regular basis: One of the cool things about the here-ness of here.)

The Other Golden Rule

Which has as part of its beauty a perfect adherence to the KISS principle:

Don't Be A Jerk.

Amen, brother.

(Now, if at all times I could just fall into perfect line with that myself, All Would Be Well.

Or would it?)

Where Do I Go Now?

I've never had this particular experience, and, in fact, am blessed with the ability to memorize hotel names, room numbers and so forth almost instantly.

No way will I make fun of this man, though, since rental cars are a different story for me. Never will I forget, back in road warrior days, coming out of huge factory complex in Colorado, walking into a humongous parking lot, and realizing that not only had I forgotten where I'd parked (a good 10-minute walk away), but that I could remember neither the make nor model of the car that I'd rented that morning for the week. Because I had stupidly removed the key and put it on my regular key ring, the car-rental key chain was in the car), along with the rental contract, which meant I didn't have the identifying information with me.

Oh, what an idiot. Oh, what a rotten evening that was. (You did assume, of course, that it started to pour during my search, right?)

Never removed the identifying tag from the key again, no matter what people said about it not being safe to carry that info around.

Live And Learn.

WiFi The World

And this sort of thing will become irrelevant. Of course, businesses won't be able to use WiFi as a draw, but you know what? I don't much care about that.

Watcher's Council Winners

I was negligent in noting the Watcher's Council winners from last week.

First place in the council went to Spinning Their Way to Defeat in November by Right Wing Nut House, which looked at the range of anti-war reactions to the death of al-Zarqawi. Those reactions certainlyincluded a few curious contradictions (this is me here, not RWNH, though I expect he'd agree), including:

1. Zarqawi was an unimportant non-threat to anyone until Bush invaded Iraq, and

2. Bush had the chance to kill him in 2002 and let it pass.

Which sounds awfully pre-emptive to me.

Second place was a tie between Outer Darkness by Gates of Vienna (a lesson in, among other things, why it's better to be the blogger than the commenter), and Hix Nix Chix, which came from right down the road here.

Also getting votes were two posts built around the Gaza beach tragedy and resulting media coverage, Skepticism and "News" by ShrinkWrapped and The Gaza Beach Killings: The Latest Production from PallyWood by Joshuapundit. I actually had half a post written on that, but then something in my head reminded me it was risky to jump on that story at the point of the first pushback. After several recantations and denials and second thoughts, a coherent story began to emerge, but it took about a week. Which was about when Reader_I_Am did the first examination of it here.

Also getting votes was Speculating on the Impact of Zarqawi’s Death by The Glittering Eye, whose observations on Iraq always have the intelligent neutrality of one of the rare few blog pundits who hasn't got some degree of ego mixed up in either the success or failure of the enterprise.

First place outside the council went to a good piece called One Liberal’s Argument for Still Staying in Iraq by A Newer World. This is one of the war opponents who really does deserve the good name of "liberal." The gist of it is best summed up in a comment in the follow-up thread, by the author of the piece (at least I think so):

I agree wholeheartedly that the disaster in Iraq is Bush Co.’s fault and not mine or yours. But, I guess, my point is that whether we like it or not, the American people have to take responsibility–not blame, but responsibility–for the decisions of the leaders it elects. As I see it, this is one of the burdens of self-government.

Also getting votes were Malloch Brown's Message to America by The Belmont Club, Top Ten (Themed!) 'Progressive' Reactions to the End of Fitzmas by Decision '08, Zarqawis Peers React to His Passing by Varifrank, and "RULES? IN A KNIFE FIGHT?": Redrafting the Rules of Engagement in the First Terrorist War by American Digest

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Two New Democratic Publications Launch

I read with interest today David Broder's column about the launching of two new publications on the (little "l") left side of the political spectrum. One, The Democratic Strategist, is an online journal, which, according to its also-new companion daily blog, The Daily Strategist, written by the zine's editor, Scott Winship, is slated for monthly production. The second, Democracy Journal will appear quarterly in print, on a subscription basis ($24/year), which I assume would allow online access to at least some of the journal's material.

The Democratic Strategist's editorial philosphy:
The Democratic Strategist will be clearly focused on developing political strategies for promoting Democratic candidates and issues. It will be proudly andavowedly partisan, aimed at achieving an enduring Democratic majority.

The Democratic Strategist will be firmly and insistently based on facts and data. It will seek strategies rooted in empirical research from the fields of public opinion research, political demography and other social sciences and will avoid empty rhetoric and abstract theorizing.

The Democratic Strategist will be emphatically open to all sectors and currents of opinion within the Democratic Party. It will actively seek to be a meeting ground for both centrists and populists, readers of The Nation and The New Republic, professional political consultants, grassroots activists and every significant candidate and perspective within the Democratic Party. The Democratic Strategist will strongly encourage discussion and dialog and will not limit itself to any specific current of thought or point of view within the Democratic community.

And an excerpt from Democracy Journal's mission page:
The mission of Democracy is to build a vibrant and vital progressivism for the twenty-first century that builds on the movement’s proud history, is true to its central values, and is relevant to present times. [Emphasis original.]
We do not seek to publish policy papers; we’ll leave the important details on budget line items and dollar figures to others. Rather, we seek breakthrough thinking on the concepts and approaches that respond to the central transformations of our time: the breakdown of the ladder of upward mobility; the promise and problems of an information-based, globalized economy; new national security threats which cross old boundaries and defy old assumptions from jihadist terrorism and nuclear proliferation to climate change, pandemics, and poverty; and a society where people work and live in new and different ways.

Progressives have been at their best when we are both rigorous in looking at the world as it is and vigorous in introducing creative approaches to remake the world as we believe it should be. Democracy is not interested in either reiterating the conventional wisdom or maintaining unity around outdated orthodoxies. We see our role as upsetting tired assumptions, moving past outdated and obsolete divisions, and stretching the envelope of what is accepted by and of progressives. ...

As Broder notes (read his column for his full critique), both publications have people of impressive credentials and experience at the helm, and it will interesting to see how well they do within their admittedly partisan realm and beyond. Note that I do not use the word "partisan" in a pejorative, or dismissive, but rather a descriptive sense. In fact, I think it's perfectly appropriate and even helpful to have a broad-range of self-identified, POV-oriented publications in the marketplace of political and policy ideas, especially in monthly and quarterly form because the greater lead times enable more measured thought and analysis, outside the pressures of daily journalism--much less minute-by-minute blogging, for that matter. That's why I regularly read a fair number of both monthly magazines and quarterly journals, from across the spectrum.

My first impulse this morning was to plunge straight in and read all of The Democratic Strategist and whatever bits of articles are available online at Democracy Journal. But, alas--here's irony for you!--I can't justify that when I have 10 quarterly journal articles in my own queue to edit (my, those deadline cycles come fast!).

We leave in a week for a month-long trip East, so most likely I will be, relatively speaking at least, scarce around here for awhile. (Which is fine, since Cal is the Real Feast here anyway, and he'll be back from vacation in a few days.) But if I find the time to look at these new publications with any thoughtfulness, I'll throw in my two cents, about their first issues, how these journals mirror the tools used by conservatives over the years to build their movement(s), and what they seem to offer (or at least promise to offer) to the fierce debates taking place in Democratic and progressive circles.

Meanwhile, I'd be interested in reactions from DWM readers of various stripes.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

In A Huff Over Fluff

Now, the beloved Fluffernutter sandwich — the irresistible combination of Marshmallow Fluff and peanut butter, preferably on white bread with a glass of milk handy — finds itself at the center of a sticky political debate.

Sen. Jarrett Barrios was outraged that his son Nathaniel, a third-grader, was given a Fluffernutter sandwich at the King Open School in Cambridge. He said he plans to file legislation that would ban schools from offering the local delicacy more than once a week as the main meal of the day.

Nuts to that, says Rep. Kathi-Anne Reinstein. Far from banning or limiting the childhood delight, produced locally for 80 years, Reinstein wants to make its iconic status official.
She responded with a proposal to designate the Fluffernutter the "official sandwich of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts."

"I'm going to fight to the death for Fluff," Reinstein said.

Ah, Fluffernutter sandwiches! When I was a kid, I envied those whose mothers who kept Fluff in the house and served it up with commercial peanut butter on Wonderbread, complemented by a side of chips and washed down with a 100% juice-free, vitamin-unenhanced beverage. I begged and begged my mom to buy some Fluff, but she was immoveable. I appreciate, now, that she was ahead of her time in insisting on whole-grain breads, home-made yogurt, fresh (preferably local) produce and so forth--but then? I thought she was weird, and I knew that's what my friends thought of my lunches (and, of course, by extension, of me).

The ironic thing is that, as a child, I didn't particularly like even whole marshmallows. So why was I so attached to the idea of Fluff?

Well, at least I got my mom to agree to buy Tang once or twice, and even Space Sticks (anyone remember those? do I even have the name right?) in the wake of all the Moon Walk excitement.

You know what? I didn't much like those either (though I never admitted that to my parents, on "principle").

As for the Massachusetts "kerfluffle," I dunno. Of course Barrios has a point: childhood nutrition is a serious thing, and we all have been made amply aware of "epidemic" obesity etc. among today's children. But I'm not so sure that legislating is the answer, nor banning or limiting marshmallow fluff or any other single item. After all, most of the generation in which I grew up were not obese as children, at least, and nor were those preceding it--despite consuming all those lunches I so envied. Then again, portions of everything were smaller, kids ran around a whole lot more, and people didn't seem to be offered snacks endlessly, in school and out, or at work and on every other occasion as well.

So, any Fluffernutter sandwich fans out there? Any formerly "deprived" kids who secretly envied their friends' lunches? And what so-called "kid" food do you still crave or even indulge in?

Update: Now, my husband had a Fluffernutter mother. He just described in detail her precise method of spreading the soft white bread with butter, then precisely lining one slice with bananas, the other with peanut butter, and then swirling the Fluff in between. She still has a jar of the goopy stuff in her pantry, or at least did as recently as last summer.

Nowadays, I can't imagine him eating such a thing. As it happens, my family's--especially my mother's--predilections prepared me most excellently for feeding a philosophically vegetarian mate, with a deep love of whole and ethnic foods and a passion for spice and heat. (Well, in the case of my own appreciation of hot peppers and sauce, that's a legacy from my dad; my mom and brother never could stand the heat.) Funny, the way life works out in the end.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

One Step Closer To Parody

A British sculptor discovers that Art is in the eye of the (Royal Academy) beholder.

Or something like that. I love this story of David Hensel's search for his sculpture at a summer exhibition--and the man's sense of humor.
At first, after wandering through the Summer Exhibition, he concluded that it was nowhere to be seen. But eventually he found it. Or rather, he didn't.

What he did find was the sculpture's empty plinth and wooden base displayed as "Exhibit 1201".

Mr Hensel had never considered the empty plinth a work of art in itself. But the exhibition selectors evidently did. So, too, did visitors, who pronounced it beautiful.

No one seemed to notice, or mind, that the sculpture itself, a laughing head entitled One Day Closer to Paradise, was missing. "What apparently happened was that they had become separated and the selectors judged the empty base a good enough sculpture in its own right to include it in the show," said Mr Hensel.

"How this happened is not yet clear. The rest of the sculpture is lurking somewhere in the basement, but rather than finding this a reason to blame the organisers, I am very amused, because it says something about the state of visual arts today."

The Royal Academy admits no error, however, and stands by both its process and sense of aesthetics.
"Given their separate submission, the two parts were judged independently. The head was rejected. The base was thought to have merit and accepted; it is currently on display. The head has been stored ready to be collected by the artist. It is accepted that works may not be displayed in the way that the artist might have intended." [Emphasis added.]

Well, that's putting it mildly, wouldn't you say? But the presentation certainly worked for visitors at the exhibition.
Visitors to the Royal Academy have praised the empty plinth for its beauty, unaware they were praising an unintentional mistake. "The sculpture is a mixture of heavy stone with a light piece of wood on top. I like the total effect. It is a really nice contrast," said one Danish visitor.

Amy Woolley, 27, from south London said: "In a context like this, it is difficult for it to work on its own. But if it was in more of a minimalist show, it would definitely seem more beautiful."

I think the best thing of all about this story is Hensel's finding a deeper meaning--one related to his original idea--in the very absence of the piece which his inspiration had birthed.

Go read the whole thing--and look at the pictures.

Update: Heh. I'm way behind checking out other blogs today. Now I see that Althouse has her own take, riffing on a different article about the incident.

Painful Tests

Even Keillor

Is Garrison Keillor the Howard Stern of NPR? Sam Anderson makes a case, based in part on that bracing rip Keillor took through Bernard Henri-Lévy's America tome (a sort of vaudeville Tocqueville) in January in the NYT book review. I had to keep flipping back to the front page to assure myself this really was that NPR house yokel writing. It was.

It may be that Keillor is so allergic to Henri-Lévy's love of paradox because, though he'd never acknowledge it, his own public image is deeply paradoxical. He's a cosmopolitan provincial (he's lived in Copenhagen and owns a multimillion-dollar apartment on Central Park West) and a sophisticated simpleton (a plainspoken yarn-spinner who just happens to write world-class prose). Once you start thinking about this—once Keillor's trademark simplicity begins to look complicated and unnatural—the paradoxes start tumbling out like herrings out of the pickle-barrel: His plainness seems pretentious, his anti-bombast bombastic, his anti-snobbery snobbish. This sense of affectation is why some people instinctively dislike such a likable entertainer.

Nothing but net.


Soccer Sociology

"A good soccer team is, in a sense, a junta," but then why don't junta-run nations win more World Cups? It's more than just government, you see:

No country has won the World Cup without having a substantial industrial base. This base supplies a vast urban proletariat, which in turn supplies players for a team. Industrial economies also produce great wealth, which funds competitive domestic leagues that improve social democratic players by subjecting them to day-to-day competition of the highest quality. And, while the junta mindset nicely transposes itself to the pitch, the social democratic ethos is a far neater match. Social democracy celebrates individualism, while relentlessly patting itself on the back for its sense of solidarity -- a coherent team with room for stars.

Chomsky Epiphany

For the average American (based on the outcome of the last few elections) the British "Guardian" newspaper is a brazen left-wing, U.S.-bashing, sack of socialist apologetics and moral equivalence. It's also lively and often thoughtful in a way few American papers can match.

So, considering how much the "Guardian" and Noam Chomsky have in common in their views of the world, it's surprising to me how poorly they get along. I suspect Chomsky, in his purity, regards the "Guardian" as part of what he calls "the so-called left."

Last year, the paper sent a reporter, Emma Brockes, to do an interview with The Great Man, and even amid her generally sympathetic presentation of his ideas, Chomsky claimed he'd been grossly misrepresented and demanded a retraction and an apology. He got it, but it was widely perceived that the paper had allowed itself to be bullied.

So I wonder what he'll make of this?

The "Guardian" didn't send some softball-pitch reporter out this time. It turned loose a heavy-hitter, in Peter Beaumont, on Chomsky's new book. If this was a belated push-back for the Brockes affair, it's probably too late to redeem anyone's honor. But it's a fun read nonetheless.

Beaumont hits on one of the essential things about Chomsky: the critique he makes of various media powerhouses is a rigorous and workable one that can be applied to any media force -- including Chomsky:

Reading Failed States, I had an epiphany: that by applying a Chomskian analysis to his own writing, you discover exactly the same subtle textual biases, evasions and elisions of meaning as used by those he calls 'the doctrinal managers' of the 'powerful elites'. The mighty Chomsky, the world's greatest public intellectual, is prone to playing fast and loose.

Mr. Beaumont, welcome to the club. After writing this, I see longtime Chomsky-watcher Oliver Kamm also picked this out as the key quote.

Speaking of speaking truth to power, Beaumont in his conclusion delivers the kind of dressing down The Great Man deserves. Even though I'm sure it won't stick (the pure don't have epiphanies), it's a pleasure to read:

Which leads to a question: is that really what you see, Mr Chomsky, from the window of your library at MIT? Is it the stench of the gulag wafting over the Charles River? Do you walk in fear of persecution and murder for expressing your dissident views? Or do you make a damn good living out of it? The faults of the Bush administration will not be changed by books such as Failed States. They will be swept away by ordinary, decent Americans in the world's greatest - if flawed and selfish - democracy going to the polls.

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Haste Makes Waste (Or, Of Time & Bullshit)

Human Rights Watch (HRW) concedes that it can't contradict the account of the Iraeli Defense Force (IDF) of how a group of Palestinians were killed on a Gaza beach.

What it hasn't said, so far, is that it jumped the gun in the first place. And who can blame HRW? We're all about jumping to conclusions these days, aren't we?--rather than embracing the idea that fact-finding, objective analysis and, ultimately, assigning accountability, much less judgment and blame, might take a bit o' time and (heaven forefend!) humility in putting aside both institutional and personal assumptions.

None of us know the entire story, yet, of what happened on that beach--though you'd think so, on both sides, for the most part, reading far and wide.

None of us, including myself.

What I do know is that, while I appreciate that HRW is backtracking a bit, as it should, I am mindful of the new benchmark set by that so-called international watchdog group when caught out:

Conceding that it can't contradict.

That's not good enough, HRW, not if you care about your credibility among a broader pool of people. How about "conceding" that you didn't wait until you "knew" before pronouncing a judgment that--based on your status on the world stage--you had to have known would be picked up far and wide as having so-called "independent" weight? How about admitting that you jumped to conclusions too soon, and then blithely watched them get distributed far and wide?

How about simply saying: "To further our noble mission, we must always fully investigate before coming to conclusions and passing judgment, lest we betray and set back the very integrity that we claim as the standing to take on any transgressors far and wide, no matter who they are. In this case, we failed in the predicate and thus risked the latter. That has taught us something for the future. And one more thing--we are embarrassed and ashamed that our response to the current situation can be summarized thusly:

HRW concedes that it can't contradict ... ."

The plain fact is that if even if HRW turns out to be right in the end--which it seems it won't be, as it initially presented things--it needlessly soiled itself by rushing to judgment. And why? And for what?

Watchdog groups and entities of all stripes, take note.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Dam[n] Those Oceans Of Thought

Note [added material]. See comments.

Of course, we cherish the ideal of freedom of speech above almost all other values. Except, of course, for when we don't.
Robert Smith, Roman Catholic and now-former Metro board member, believes homosexuality is a form of “deviancy.” Jim Graham, District of Columbia Council member, believes Smith’s beliefs are “ancient and archaic.” Graham’s views cost him nothing. Smith’s cost him his job.

Graham and Smith’s now-former boss, Maryland Gov. Bob Erhlich, should have said something like this: “I repudiate Smith’s views and find them disgusting, but it’s a free country and he can say whatever he thinks about any issue.” In a culture increasingly dominated by political correctness, however, such remarks would be derided.

So we have a fundamental issue: freedom of speech for Jim, but not for Bob. Thus the state of health of the First Amendment: You can say anything you want so long as it is politically correct. That’s the definition of “tolerance” practiced by officials like Graham, Erhlich and by many among America’s official and elite opinion-makers.

This editorial comes in response to Erlich's firing of Smith following Graham's public rebuke (at a meeting of the Metro board) of Smith's comments on a cable television show.

Do I disagree with Graham's beliefs? You bet. Would I be willing to stand up and challenge him in person if he said something in my presence that I found to be offensive or damaging? Yep. Do I have a problem with Graham calling out Smith publicly? No. Free speech works both ways, and, in fact, is its own antidote against excess.

But should Smith be fired for remarks he made in a different context from his job on the Metro board? If Graham had said, for example, that Catholics are sexual bigots and theirs is a religion of prejudice and ignorance, should he likewise have been fired? (Read carefully here: I'm NOT saying he stated any such thing anywhere, at any time: I'm merely offering a hypothetical.) If your answers aren't the same to both questions, why not?

For more background, follow this link.
Smith acknowledged after the meeting that he had referred to homosexuals as "persons of sexual deviancy" during a political round-table discussion on a Montgomery County cable show that was shown on Sunday.

"Homosexual behavior, in my view, is deviant," he said. "I'm a Roman Catholic." Smith said his comments had been part of a discussion about a proposed ban on same-sex marriage. "The comments I make in public outside of my [Metro board job] I'm entitled to make," he said. His personal beliefs, he said, have "absolutely nothing to do with running trains and buses and have not affected my actions or decisions on this board."

Erlich's reason for firing Smith is that his words go against "my administration's commitment to inclusiveness, tolerance and opportunity."

But Smith's words, as the Examiner editorial points out, are, when it comes down to it, simply the public expression of Smith's thoughts and beliefs. So what Erlich is really saying is that there's no place for someone who thinks or believes as Smith does (not a small group, by the way) if that someone insists on speaking his or her mind, even on his own time.

I can hear some of you thinking, "Exactly! That's how it should be. People should keep their thoughts to themselves if they might offend someone else. Especially if they're wrong to begin with."

But I find that scary. In the first place, who decides? Ask yourself: Would you want the same standard applied to you by someone who disagrees with you? In the second place, I'd much rather know where people stand on the major issues of the day. Otherwise, how can you ever really know what's informing their decisions and actions? Finally, while I'm generally skeptical of slippery-slope arguments,freedom of speech (and expression, which the concept of "free speech" right now includes, practically speaking) is one area in which that phenomenon has clearly been unfolding, and rather inexorably, for decades now. [Specifically, it is being steadily circumscribed in the service of currently ascendent "right thinking," as it has in the past to truly horrid consequence. You can tell me that "oh, no, can't happen this time," but, well, I don't and won't buy it.] For someone like me, who's probably most libertarian, perhaps even radical, in the area of unfettered free-speech rights, this is a very alarming trend to have watched gain momentum over time.

To be clear: Had Smith, during a Metro board meeting, proposed regulations that would discriminate against gays, or called Graham a fag, for example, in the context of his official duties, that would be a different situation. That's not what happened here, however. What happened is that he was officially sanctioned for expressing personal beliefs and thoughts, on his own time and unrelated to his official duties.

Is that really the path we want to follow?

Your Past is Your Future

Linguists are all a-chatter over the published reports about a language called Aymara, spoken in the high Andes, in which "metaphors about the future relate to the concept of being behind, and metaphors about the past relate to being in front of you where you can see."

This is interesting, but as LanguageLog points out, it's not quite unique. Some other languages do this, and even English has an instance of it, in the phrase push back meaning "postpone, put off until a future time."

It also reminds me of the odd invented "past-future" tense of baseball announcers. After a player swings at a pitch and misses it, the play-by-play announcer says, "and that will be strike three."

* * *

Thanks to Reader_I-Am for keeping the place going while I make lazy here and spend some time getting to know my kid again now that his school is out. When you work nights, it doesn't matter if you're divorced or not, you see your kids only in passing once they hit school age, unless you really make an effort. I'm also trying to get caught up on a Herculean backlog of e-mail.

Robert Zoellick Resigns from State Dept.

Secretary of State Rice loses her talented deputy to Goldman Sachs.

It's a loss for us, as well. A very sharp man and a moderating force, Zoellick's background is marked by an impressive breadth and depth.

Zoellick's interest in leaving his high-profile post had been long rumored but it leaves a large hole in Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's foreign policy team. Zoellick spearheaded efforts to end the violence in Sudan's Darfur region and was the administration's main interlocutor in the delicate relationship between the United States and China.
Zoellick said he approached Rice early this year and told her that he was ready to move on. He had planned to stay until after Chinese president Hu Jintao visited Washington in April but then his departure was delayed because he became involved in rescuing faltering Darfur peace talks being held in Nigeria.

Zoellick also felt that with Rice's key initiatives launched -- and Rice now such a high profile figure around the globe -- that he would be left with increasingly lower-priority issues. Some State Department officials believe Zoellick was surprised at how rapidly Rice became global celebrity.

"We are at a point where with the major initiatives, they really have got to be driven by the Secretary, in terms of the conduct of it. It's the way foreign policy works," Zoellick said. "The nature of the deputy job is you get a smorgasbord of what I'll call the second and third and fourth order issues."

Over time, Zoellick had been considered for a number of top-dog positions, including head of the World Bank (a position that went to Paul Wolfowitz) and cabinet level posts, most recently Treasury, which, of course, went to Goldman Sachs chief Hank Paulson. It's not surprising to me that he would want to ply his many talents in a broader arena, where he can be more at the forefront and pursue different career ambitions. (At 52, Zoellick is still a relatively young man.) At Goldman Sachs, he will be "concentrat[ing] trying to develop investment markets around the world.

Zoellick's shoes will be hard to fill, especially in the current political and foreign policy climate. It will be interesting to see who finally gets the nod.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Surely No One's Surprised By This One

Joe Biden's candidacy is a go for 2008.

I can't help thinking of Joe's last run for presidency, back in the '80s, when I was still in my 20s, living in Delaware and still following politics there closely. (As I had, by the way, since the very early '70s, initially by deliberate parental design, one offshoot of which meant I first shook hands with Joe Biden during one of his retail-politics appearances in his very first Congressional campaign.) Despite my familiarity, by the late '80s, with Biden's propensity for pontification over pointedness, I thought it was rather cool to have someone from the tiny First State vying for the Big Brass Ring, and had his candidacy not fallen prey to the ruthless political edit-delete button due to a controversy over his misbegotten choice of (Neil Kinnock's)**** words--natch!--I might very well have voted for him, then.

I got a kick out of this quote, from the News Journal article:

"I'm running for president -- flat out," he said, adding his party should learn to be more blunt.

Blunt? Um, O.K. Regardless of whether that prescription is true or not, it sounds wrong, somehow, coming from Sen. Biden, who is still stuck back on the concept of "brief," the perfect example of which was his substitution of bloviation for serious questions back in the Alito hearings. It's hard to hear "blunt" in the whirlpool of words that seems to be Joe's first instincts.

(By the way, Lord knows I can relate and understand to that human weakness; brevity sure as hell is not the soul of my, um, er, wit, especially verbally and in person, and never has been--more's the pity. But then, I'm not planning on running for local dogcatcher, much less a party leader of any sort, much less the office of POTUS.)

As another trivial aside, I know that Cal posted the results of a weighted quiz he'd taken, a few weeks back (the details aren't important enough for me to go back), relating to how one would rank a dozen-ish potential Dem candidates. Once the rating was plugged in, and based on what other people had done, as I understood it (or at least remember understanding it, without checking), you got back the result of The Potential Democratic Candidate For You.

Well! I nearly laughed myself silly--as I discussed with Cal offline--when my result ironically came back as, of course, Sen. Joe, and this despite the fact that 1) he wasn't anywhere in the top half of my ranking, and 2) I've been over him for ye, ye, these many years, though, I'll admit, without any particularly passionate rancor.

Yet, here's the thing: We could do far worse. Because the Democrats can, and might, in terms of putting forth a candidate, and so, by golly, can, and might, the Republicans.

Helluva thing, ain't it?

****Though I can't find it online (but maybe can hunt it down on microfiche, back East this summer, if I'm so inclined--a questionable proposition), I seem to remember there being some real questions about perspective over the charge of plagiarism on Biden's part, at least with regard to speechifying issues, most specifically having to do with whether Kinnock himself hadn't taken license with the words of bygone literary figures, a rather time-honored tradition. Does anyone else remember this? You can consider this a bleg, if you like.


Naive Or Nuanced?

Here's the interview that led me to order Paul Berman's book. (See post just below this one.)

An excerpt:

A Political naivety?

Alan Johnson: The first criticism indicts you as politically naïve. Danny Postel in The Washington Post, and Ellen Willis in Salon, thought Terror and Liberalism was vitiated by a faith in the Bush administration as a force for freedom that was just naïve. Edward S. Herman in Z Magazine (July-August 2003) called you a 'very model of a Cruise Missile Leftist' because you ignored the fact that 'U.S. liberalism is attached to an advanced, globalised, militarised, capitalist political economy whose material interests might be a more important force shaping its external policies than liberal principles'. 'Berman deals with this', he said, 'by complete evasion'. Similarly, Kurt Jacobsen, in Logos, suggested that 'the dark but distinct possibility that overtly noble wars …would be conducted according to realpolitik tenets and exploitative aims seems lost on Berman'. 'Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, Berman admonishes, watch the impressive fireworks and shut up…'. Writing in The Nation, George Scialabba listed some US imperialist interventions and commented that 'Not one of these episodes is mentioned in Terror and Liberalism'. How do you respond?

Paul Berman: First, on the topic of naiveté and the imperialist nature of the west or the USA. One of the arguments I make in the book is that the totalitarian movements represent something that was originally tried out by western imperialists in the colonised world and which then swept back over Europe: the Belgian atrocities in the Congo, the German colonisers who set out to exterminate the Herrero tribe, and so on. These were first steps in what became the totalitarianism of Europe. The USA was not exempt from this sort of thing itself, in the Philippines and elsewhere. But US imperialism—if we are to use the word in any kind of reasonably defined sense—has mostly been a story of East Asia and Latin America, not of the Arab world.

In regard to the US I think the naiveté is the other way. It takes two forms. There is an idea which comes out of Lenin's book Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism, which argues that the western countries are in effect operating as a bloc in oppressing the rest of the world. It's possible to draw an analysis out of that book according to which western imperialists as a whole are enriching themselves by impoverishing the countries in the rest of the world. In this analysis one views the US as very nearly a single unit (this is Lenin's argument) and everything that the US does must have very nearly a single quality – imperialist and oppressive. And this is hard to accept. The United States, like any society, consists of thousands of different currents which go this way and that way, and the actions of the US—both of private individuals and the state—can likewise go this way or that, with many different effects. The same United States which acted so catastrophically and irresponsibly in Guatemala in the 1950s managed to liberate France and give it back to the French a few years earlier, and defeated the Nazis in order to give Germany back to the Germans. The US is a country which can act this way or that way according to decisions that are made – decisions which can be influenced by the citizens. It's naïve to assume that what the US does is always, simply, by definition, imperialist.

And there is an American version of this idea which is not Leninist at all. Rather it's a kind of Protestant idea. In this case what matters is our inner soul. If our inner soul is good our outer actions must, by definition, be good. This is a naïve idea in the extreme and the source of a certain kind of American nationalism. The person who expresses this idea with intuitive ease is George W. Bush. He said after the 7/7 bombings, while he was in Britain: 'If they could only see into our hearts they would know how good we are', and he honestly believes that. He looks into his own heart and believes he is a good man and therefore his policies must be good, and everything the US does must be good. But there is a flip side of that. Other people say, 'Well, my own heart is not so good. I see envy, rapacity, greed, lust, therefore I know I am not a good person, therefore nothing the United States does can be good. Everything must be bad.' It's George W. Bushism flipped on its head. There is a great deal of this. People say, 'what are we doing trying to fight bad guys in other parts of the world? We should look in our own hearts and see that we are bad'. Instead of trying to rescue oppressed people in other parts of the world, let us try vigorously to improve our own characters.

Will I read all of the referenced critiques? You bet (assuming that they're accessible on line). But first I want to read Berman's book itself.

Meanwhile, this interview is fascinating, touching as it does upon Big Ideas and Unpalatable Realities and being rather unsparing of thoughtful criticism of both Left and Right assumptions and tendencies. Most remarkable--because I find the quality so often lacking in much of what passes for criticism, analysis and debate these days--is a sense of the larger picture, of "today" as a bigger concept than this week, month, year or presidential term when it comes to tackling the challenges of our modern age.

I suspect--and I choose that word carefully, having already said that I need to read the book itself and then the critiques, firsthand--that Berman's book has come under fire, from different quarters along the political spectrum, due to the presentation of ideas that he's also expressed in this excerpt of the linked interview:

In our version of the Third Force we recognised that the Bush administration was not going about things correctly, and so we called for an alternative. Totalitarian movements are fundamentally ideological movements – they are driven by ideas. The ideas they are driven by are modern ideas, even if they are presented as exotic and are clothed in seventh century Muslim robes. If the ideas are modern we can argue against them, just as we could argue against fascists and communists. Winning the argument is actually the only victory that can be obtained. We are facing a mass movement with a huge number of adherents. There is no way we can defeat such a movement with Police or Military force. The only way to defeat such a movement is to convince its adherents and sympathisers, and potential sympathisers, that the ideas of that movement are wrong and ought to be abandoned in favour of better ideas. Now this sounds preposterous to some people who can't imagine that anything can be won by force of persuasion. But what finally caused Communism to collapse was that the Communists themselves recognised that they were wrong and that their own ideas were not worth defending.
In the present case it's more difficult still because these movements are not dependent on states, and the ideas can be held by people in civil society. The possibility of crushing these movements by force does not exist. We have to win by persuasion. That means the central thing that should be going on is a war of ideas - even if, at times, there is also a need for a war of weapons.

The left and the intellectuals in the Western countries ought to throw themselves into these debates and criticisms. But look what has happened. The left, in its great majority, has remained unengaged. It conducts itself as if the only struggle is between Bush and his enemies. You can see this in the last couple of months in the rise of tensions over the Iranian nuclear programme. The more Ahmadinejad threatened to obliterate Israel and build nuclear weapons the more people around the world wrote about…Bush! 'Oh, no! What is Bush going to do?' As if the problem here was Bush! Bush may well be a problem, but the first problem has surely got to be Ahmadinejad. A great campaign should arise to persuade the Iranians and their supporters not to think along these lines. And this is what should have been done with the Islamists and the Ba'athists. But it has not been done.

The crucial place for this war of ideas, by the way, is Europe. In so much of the Arab world, and Iran, it is very difficult to have a serious debate because the conditions don't exist. In Europe they do. And in Europe there is a vast Arab and Muslim population. In fact many of the deep underlying ideas of radical Islamism, Ba'athism, and radical Pan-Arabism were European ideas to begin with. Not all of the ideas, but some of the crucial ones. So the debate should be taking place in London and Paris and Berlin and Madrid. It should be a very forceful debate. We see a right-wing version of it in which there is prejudice and racism against Muslims and against an ancient and noble religion, Islam - which only bolsters the Ba'athist and Islamist arguments. But the left-wing antitotalitarian contribution to this debate we hardly see. It's like a unilateral disarmament on the part of the liberal left and the intellectuals has taken place.

Bush isn't going to do it. He does not want to do it and even if he did, he does not have the talent. It should be done on the left. It should be done by us engaging our fellow thinkers in the Arab and Muslim world (who are becoming ever more visible) and by arguing against the various champions of what I call the Muslim totalitarian idea in its different forms. A Third Force should put its greatest emphasis on that. Military actions and police actions may well be necessary. But they should be put in their place. They are ultimately less important than this battle if ideas.

Totalitarian movements have regularly been greeted by the blindness to which liberalism is prone, and even by apologetics. Hitler, and not just Stalin, had his apologists. Without these apologists neither one of those dictators would have been able to get as far as he did. And what we are seeing now is something exactly parallel. There are only a few screwballs defending Al Qaeda, or Zarqawi in Iraq, or applauding Saddam. But the people who really matter are those (many more numerous) who find some way to say either that these totalitarian movements are normal, natural, rational, or, in any case, that they should be ignored because we should focus our attention on defeating Bush. In these ways, the adherents of the totalitarian movements are not given much opposition and sometimes are even given a back-handed support. So, naturally, the movements prosper.

Read the whole thing. I'd be interested in what you think.

Hat tip, though I'd take a bit of issue with how the link to this interview was presented, since I'd say Berman is criticizing more than "liberalism," and not confining even that term to one definition.