Saturday, March 31, 2007

Blast from the Past

[posted by Callimachus]

The late Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.: Historian, patriotic liberal, Kennedy clan insider, and Chomsky debunker:

There are familiar forms of selfrighteousness in which people become so suffused with the virtue of their cause that they cease to care about intellectual honesty. Dr. Chomsky, I fear, has succumbed to this malady of moralism.

Read the whole thing, as they say. Historians' prose is like whiskey: It can be so harsh it makes you cringe, or it can be smooth and sweet. Schlesinger always was the latter. A Chomsky take-down requires detailed drudgery, but with Schlesinger's touch, this is likely to be one of the better ones you'll ever read, even though it's almost as old as I am.

[Hat tip: Ben Brumfield]


Friday, March 30, 2007

Hell on Earth

[posted by Callimachus]

All week long the image of Palestinian babies drowning in a foaming flood of human waste has been galling at me. Nobody should die like that. Nobody should live like that. War is hell. Merciful wars are short ones. Leaders who deliberately prolong a warfor generations, so that people are born, grow up, and die in it, build Hell on earth. While the Palestinian kleptocracy builds mansions for itself outside Jerusalem, in Gaza, babies drown in rivers of shit.

Pastor Jeff speaks for me on this one:

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians live in unrelenting misery and squalor, kept there by their "leaders" as useful symbols of Israeli injustice and oppression. Their lives are defined by poverty, corruption, hateful propaganda, and violence. And when the Palestinians have an opportunity to actually improve living conditions for their own people, they take pipes sold to them by the Israelis for a sewage system and make rockets to kill more Jews.

As a result of Palestinians firing those rockets at Israel, there's no metal to for sewage pipes, and even if there were, the fighting makes it impossible to build one. So the human waste piles up in gigantic collection pits. The poor Palestinians, driven by their need, undermine the foundations of the cesspits to sell material to construction companies and then literally drown in their own waste.

Is there any more perfect picture of the situation in the Middle East?


U.N. Decides It Doesn't Suck Enough

[posted by Callimachus]

Votes to Suck More.

GENEVA (AP) — Islamic countries pushed through a resolution at the U.N. Human Rights Council on Friday urging a global prohibition on the public defamation of religion — a response largely to the furor last year over caricatures published in a Danish newspaper of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad.

The statement proposed by the Organization of Islamic Conference addressed what it called a "campaign" against Muslim minorities and the Islamic religion around the world since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.

The resolution, which was opposed by a number of other non-Muslim countries, "expresses deep concern at attempts to identify Islam with terrorism, violence and human rights violations."

It makes no mention of any other religion besides Islam, but urges countries "to take resolute action to prohibit the dissemination of racist and xenophobic ideas and material aimed at any religion or its followers that constitute incitement and religious hatred, hostility, or violence."

(And don't miss this).

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Solid Reporting

[posted by Callimachus]

I often criticize the big media in the U.S. for all but ignoring the daily work and lives of the 140,000 or so troops serving in Iraq. In post after post, I've gone through the Associated Press photo wire or news stream and counted the number of pictures or stories about live, typical U.S. men and women in the services. Typically, they can be counted on less than one finger, while there's always a few dozen photos of insurgents celebrating, or flag-draped coffins.

So it's only right that I call attention to this excellent reportage by AP's Todd Pitman out of Ramadi.

Several sweating U.S. soldiers stopped by and reported that bullets kicked up dirt beside them as they ran. One bullet struck an American in the side, but he was uninjured -- saved by his armored vest.

Sitting on a bed with radio antennas sticking out the window, Army Capt. James Enos requested a missile strike on guerrillas holed up on a nearby rooftop. An explosion sounded. "Evidently that second-floor roof is now a first floor," Enos said.

Over the next two days, troops cleared houses as tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles guarded roads and Army civil affairs teams handed out food and water. One woman about to give birth was taken to a hospital in a Bradley.

On a wall across the street from a mosque, someone had scrawled in Arabic: "Ramadi is life for the holy warriors ... and a cemetery for Americans."

And so forth. Not good news. Not bad news. Just news -- of our people and what they're accomplishing, what their lives are devoted to right now. You can't have an intelligent thought about the war unless you know this part of it, and we've been poorly served by our media here. This is a good story. More, please.

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British Hostages

[posted by Callimachus]

Does anyone believe, prima facie, that a British woman sailor who happened to be in Iranian captivity wrote this letter? Any more than he believes she asked to wear that headscarf?

I'm still looking for someone to produce an example of her writing style from before this, or for her family or close friends to weigh in on the matter. But the letter attributed to her is stilted and in passages unidiomatic and curiously peppered with the kind of odd spellings and errors native English speakers do not often make: "... sacrificed due to the intervening policies of the Bush and Blair governments. ... distrust for the people of Iran, and the whole area of the British. ... Whereas .... It is now our time to ask our government to make a change to its oppressive behavior towards other people."

Does anyone believe, prima facie, that this is authentic?

Sadly, yes.

I don’t mean to be disdainful of either of these two, whose predicament I can only imagine, but I think their behavior says something about the tenuous hold the official ideology has over our own centurions. One has to assume that the views of this bunch are, while expressed under duress, at least to some extent, a) sincere — how else to explain Ms. Turney’s eloquence? — and, b) fairly representative. If so, one has to wonder how long before their loyalty to the War Party is exhausted. The “coalition” hasn’t even attacked Iran yet, and already the troops are rebelling. Can we look forward to a full-scale mutiny if and when it comes to war?

The post is titled "Mutiny in the Gulf?"

While we're playing "Does Anyone Really Believe," does anyone really believe none of this would be happening, or it would be happening differently, had there been no Abu Ghraib, no Guantanamo, no Baghram, no Belmarsh? Does anyone really believe Iran only is playing the tat to our tit?

Oh, probably. But I already found one pathetic, deluded enthusiast for the collapse of Western civilization. You go find the others.

So why does Abu Ghraib matter in this story? Some people who are enthusiastic about an assertive War on Terror cast it in terms of a death match against an enemy who understands only brute force and must be responded to in kind. In certain situations that will be the case.

But we -- citizens of this country -- can't allow ourselves to wage the war that way. If it is simply a matter of American self-interest versus Islamist self-interest, then we live at their level. Then we kill with precision and care only because our wealth and technology gives us the luxury to do so. Then they use terror as a tactic because their weakness and poverty makes it the most effective tactic available to them.

If the relative situations were reversed, would the behaviors reverse correspondingly? I refuse to believe that, but only because I believe we represent something more, and better, than our enemies can attain to.

Our enemies have one job: Kill us, create chaos and failure wherever we go, wear us down, drive us out. We -- the Americans and our allies, notably the British -- have many jobs in the world: Policing the seas is one of the most essential among them. The U.S. Navy inherited it from the Royal Navy. It allows international trade to flourish, it allows people to move freely. Without that role, pirates would not be a joke in Disney movies.

To be the police, to claim that authority, you have to function with a higher level of ethics and a consistent, scrupulous attention to the proper handling of suspects. You can't simply allow yourself to become a bigger version of them.

Does anyone seriously fancy the Iranian Navy patroling the high seas to keep them free for commerce? Or the United Nations doing it, for that matter?

Some people get all exercised over the slightest American abuses and pour out into the streets about them, but they can only manage a perfunctory, formulaic disapproval of the hideous crimes of our enemies.

At moments like this, when the self-proclaimed enemies of America behave most reprehensibly, the reaction of some people who live here is to ratchet up the rhetoric about America's faults and failures.

Frankly, all those people make me sick.

Let's say it plainly: It's utterly absurd for America and Britain to be punishing ourselves because we neglected to extend the most tender-hearted Geneva rights to captive terrorists who did not, technically, qualify to receive them, while our own uniformed warriors, should they fall into enemy hands, can expect only torture, humiliation, and public beheading.

In the short run, it's absurd. But in the long run, it's what makes us America, and Britain. Just as what you are seeing on your television these days is what makes Iran Iran.

Amba's posts this week include a quote from Reinhold Niebuhr, who, it seems to me more and more, was presciently addressing modern America, not the America of his own time, in so much of what he wrote. He certainly deserves to be better read among us. Here is what he said about it:

The preservation of a democratic civilization requires the wisdom of the serpent and the harmlessness of the dove. The children of light must be armed with the wisdom of the children of darkness but remain free from their malice. They must know the power of self-interest in human society without giving it moral justification. They must have this wisdom in order that they may beguile, deflect, harness and restrain self-interest, individual and collective, for the sake of the community.


Constitution Pipe Dream

[posted by Callimachus]

A couple weeks ago, Reader posted a link to someone's suggestion that it's time to sit down and re-write the U.S. constitution from scratch.

That idea comes around from time to time. Usually I want to urge the people who impulsively promote it (I don't mean my co-blogger to be in this category, by the way) to sit down in a quiet room and think about it for a minute:

I'm not a Believer, but if there's evidence that America is God's chosen nation, showered with His blessings, it's that we received our national government from the one generation in our history that had a leadership class steeped in political philosophy but also in practical action and vigorous leadership. It was the generation of Americans least beholden to the more enthusiastic, judgmental, and un-intellectual aspects of Christianity. It was the least partisan and most public-spirited we've ever been.

Look around you today for a Madison or a Hamilton. Hell, you'd be doing well to unearth a modern-day Gouverneur Morris. The only modern generation I'd trust with the task is the one that predominated in the political scene in this country from 1935-1955.

Yet undeniably our Constitution is an outworn garment, cut for another people in another time. We're no longer the scattered farming people that stood to be fitted for it. Based on their writings, the Founders would have expected us to have rewritten the thing several times by now, I suspect.

Here's my pipe dream: Beginning at some arbitrary date -- say 10 years down the road -- the nation will revert to governance by the Constitution in its original, 1787, as-passed form.

That will scare people. Good. Slavery won't be illegal? Votes for women not guaranteed? No equal protection? No direct election of senators? No First Amendment? No Fifth? No Second?

Because in the intervening 10 years, the nation will have the opportunity to craft its own set of amendments -- limit it to the current 27, if you like -- to modify this document. I'm not talking about great, big omnibus amendments. I'm talking about real, discreet changes.

Don't call the amendment-writing convention right away. Give people a couple years to study the old document, to see how it will work. Actually learn the machinery of government that was conceived in 1787. We'll have to understand it inside and out before we can begin talking about amending it.

And we'll have to think about the amendments not just in terms of remedying this immediate wrong or preventing that perceived threat. But as organic alterations to a functioning system of national life.

Do we need a bill of rights, or are such rights inherently protected? What did Madison think about that? Do you like the term "wall of separation between church and state?" Then write it in there (it's not there now).

Do we really need to limit presidents to two terms by law -- or was that a Republican rebuke of Roosevelt that intruded on the rights of the people to decide such things?

Do we want to enshrine rights to privacy, to reproductive choice, in the document? Then do so explicitly, not by discovering them in some hasty Reconstruction legal language meant to punish a particular collective behavior in the South.

But scan every proposed new amendment carefully for what could be sprung from it by future generations of courts.

Even if you limit it to the current 27, you have more to work with than is in there now: The 18th and 21st cancel each other out, for instance. Though I'd be tempted to leave them in as a standing rebuke to all attempts at legislating morality or social engineering.

It would be a national mud wrestling fest; it would consume us like a decade-long NCAA tournament; and in the end, the spirit of the two political parties probably would make a shambles of it.

Which is why I'd hope to see a well-written amendment to limit the power of political parties.

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German Update

[posted by Callimachus]

More here on that Sharia divorce case in German courts, which Reader brought to our attention a couple weeks ago. It's an extensive piece, but I haven't had time to compare it to the earlier report, which some of us questioned.

Also in Spiegel: Fifty-seven percent of young Germans (age 18 to 29) said in a recent poll they consider the United States more dangerous than Iran. Claus Christian Malzahn, Berlin bureau chief for Spiegel Online, is appalled:

For us Germans, the Americans are either too fat or too obsessed with exercise, too prudish or too pornographic, too religious or too nihilistic. In terms of history and foreign policy, the Americans have either been too isolationist or too imperialistic. They simply go ahead and invade foreign countries (something we Germans, of course, would never do) and then abandon them, the way they did in Vietnam and will soon do in Iraq.

It's an indignant editorial, but it's hardly typical for the magazine. The problem, as Ray D. also notices, is that "Neither Malzahn nor [Katja] Gloger [writing in a similar vein in Stern] address the key role German media, particularly SPIEGEL and Stern, have played in drastically raising the level of anti-Americanism in Germany over the past several years."

In that sense they and their colleagues remain - (Thomas Kleine Brockhoff comes to mind) - in a deep "state of denial." Introspection and self-criticism are painful - but to ignore the horrific malpractice and anti-Americanism in German media over the past several years is, in a sense, to play the audience for fools.

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Thursday, March 29, 2007


[posted by Callimachus]

Another example, if you needed one. Apparently Bush quoted from the Iraq the Model blog, one of the first and most consistent English-language Iraqi blogs. I've read it almost from its inception, and the brothers (originally three, now two) who run it are honest, hard-working men who risk their lives to do what they do.

But simply being quoted by Bush is enough to earn you the hatred and contempt of a great many Americans who live in comfortable ignorance.

Judith at Keshertalk has been one of ITM's staunchest supporters and defenders over the years (this has happened before, notably in a truly ugly Juan Cole moment).

If Bush advocates it, it must be tainted or false. If a person of a leftist-approved "oppressed group" (dark-skinned, poor, in a part of the world ruled at some point by Western powers) is optimistic or approves the efforts of our government (however flawed they may be), they must work for the CIA. Or be deluded, needing instruction from smug white Americans.

I'm glad people like Judith are out there running the picks. But the brothers can speak for themselves. And here they do:

Second I would like to make clear one point to bloggers like dailykos and some MSM supported blogs who seem so upset for some reason that the voice of some Iraqis is being heard.

I've seen some of them publish stories full of lies and accusations they can't support and I think it's pathetic to throw the "you're a sold-out propaganda" accusation at people just because they don't share the same point of view…This only reflects their lack of knowledge and the bankruptcy of ideas they suffer.

We speak the language of facts, supported by images and statistics and more important, we live here while they don't. We write about the good days as well as the bad days in Iraq's journey to a better future.

You don't even have to search in this blog's archives, just scroll down this page and you'll see both good and bad news—we witness an explosion and we write about it and we see progress and we write about it.

If they can't see that it's their problem, not ours.

Except it's not a problem; it's a willful choice to keep the world pathetically simple.

More things that don't get seen include the evolution of Iraqi Kurdistan. But our friend Michael J. Totten sees them and tells the story, with pictures.

Kurdistan is safe even without its anti-terrorist trench, and that’s not because it is protected by American soldiers. Only 50 or so troops remain in this part of Iraq. There is no anti-American insurgency (because there is virtually no anti-Americanism) and there is no terrorism. If the Arab Iraqis were as peaceable as the Kurds, the American military could have folded its tents a long time ago.

Iraqi Kurdistan is technically occupied by a foreign power, but this occupation surely ranks among one of the most absurd in human history. Dr. Ali Sindi, advisor to Prime Minister Nechervan Barzani, told me that South Korea is the official occupier of “Northern Iraq.” Korean soldiers are stationed just outside Erbil in a base near the airport. He laughed when he told me the Kurdish military, the Peshmerga (“those who face death”), surround the South Koreans to make sure they’re safe.

Every couple of weeks another government somewhere in the world drops their travel advisory for Iraqi Kuridstan. The regional government sends me an email every time it happens. It is always seen as yet another milestone passed on the road to independence from Baghdad. Not only is Kurdistan recognized as separate from Iraq, it is also recognized as different from Iraq. Iraq is dangerous, but the north really isn’t.

Why doesn't Kurdistan register on the anti-war left (or in the media)? I suppose because it doesn't fit the narrative, which is all failure, all the time. But it's not just the success of the U.S. invasion and occupation in that 20% of the country that is outside the lines in the anti-war coloring book. By the logic of the anti-war movement, the Kurds, who have been callously betrayed by America, and who suffered directly and horribly under Saddam during the period when he was our client in the region, are perfectly justified in their determination to destroy the United States and attack it wherever it shows its face in their corner of the world.

Except they have no such determination. Which means there must be something wrong with them. Right?

Good news seldom feels like good news nowadays. I wrote before the Iraq invation it would be 20 years before we knew if this was a good idea or not. But the howling chorus of anti-war doom pronounced it a quagmire at week one and a death total that matched a Civil War skirmish was a "grim milestone."

My newspaper was blaring headlines like "Iraqi Violence Spirals Out of Control" in the spring of 2004, when things were relatively calm there, compared to what came after. The first batch of Abu Ghraib photos (panties on the head, etc.) were described in the AP articles as "horrific." You don't have to be a seer to imagine the range of violence, or horror, possible in such circumstances, and to see that if you pull out your heavy arsenal vocabulary at this level, you've got no words left if it gets truly violent or horrible.

But sometimes there are more important things to do. Like undermine a president you loathe, even if 24 million + 140,000 inconvenient truths hang in the balance.

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Confession Depression

[posted by Callimachus]

One of the stories that swept over the newswires while I was off work was about Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the al-Qaida terrorist who's been held in captivity by the U.S. authorities. He got up in front of a tribunal and confessed to running the entire 9/11 attacks.

He also confessed to killing Danny Pearl, supervising the Bali nightclub bombing, dispatching shoe bombers, scouting bomb targets in South Korea and Thailand, setting up attacks on oil tankers on four continents, trying to assassinate Pope John Paul II. Oh, and also the World Trade Center attacks of 1993.

Oh, and engineering the 1929 stock market crash and the Coconut Grove Nightclub fire. And personally lighting the fuze on the cannon that fired on Fort Sumter.

And all this without any real remorse or change of heart, without any apparent motivation for offering such explicit information. Reading this in straight reportage, but with the rendition and torture stories fresh in mind, and a general sense of the administration's spotty moral compass, I got that sinking feeling. Nothing buoyed me in learning such an evil genius (as KSM certainly is) had been brought to justice.

It's not just me. Here's Anthony D'Amato:

Students of the Stalinist purges of the 1930s will recall the astounding confessions made in open court by the accused persons. They had been severely tortured over weeks and months. But they showed up in court without external marks of torture. With all apparent voluntariness, they admitted subverting the Five-Year Plans that would have provided the Soviet people with necessary food items. They sabotaged factories, making sure the production lines were inefficient. They managed to import inferior metals so that Soviet tanks and automobiles would fall apart after a few months’ use. They infiltrated the Soviet Army and through dint of their persuasiveness, convinced the foot soldier that it was absurd to risk his life defending a dictatorial government. In short these accused persons, briefly in court on their way to the firing squad, took responsibility for everything that had gone wrong for the past two decades in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

So why is it today that no one draws the connection between the Soviet purge trials and the confession of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed? Mohammed said that he had been tortured by his American captors. No one contradicted his assertion. Then he went on, with a straight and sincere face, to take responsibility for a long list of crimes recently perpetrated.

Courtesy of Zenpundit, who notes D'Amato, a professor at Northwestern University Law School, "is no softheaded transnationalist or dovish liberal. Quite the contrary, when Israel bombed Saddam's nuclear reactor at Osirak back in 1982, it was Professor D'Amato, virtually alone among IL experts, who went before Congress and testified in favor of the legality of Israel's attack."

D'Amato does more than just critique this situation. He puts the administration on a ban saw and cranks it up. The conclusion:

It gives me a warm feeling that these proceedings took place on board U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, with the Review Tribunal made up of a Captain from the United States Navy, Lieutenant Colonels from the United States Air Force and Marine Corps, and a Gunnery Sergeant as Reporter (all names redacted). A confession before a tribunal is the best evidence of guilt, isn’t it? Whether it’s Guantanamo Bay or the Gulag Archipelago.

Zenpundit's own conclusion:

KSM should have been tried within shouting distance of 9/11 for violating the laws of war and upon conviction, hanged. Simple enough. The standards of justice there are crystal clear.

Yes, but that's so ... 1945. We're bigger than that now. Aren't we?

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27, With An Old Soul And A Tot's Heart

[Posted by reader_iam]

What's your permanent age?

Hat tip.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The 'Sphere's Better Half, Honey Honey ...

[Posted by reader_iam]

... is replete with examples of humor*** and fine writing and subtle, wry observations there for our picking if we weren't otherwise occupied. If this example isn't your cup your tea, who cares? It's OK. There are "x-illion" others. Be ye not afraid: Go forth and scratch your own niches, wherever and whatever they are.

Hat tip.

***(I love how the words "human" and "humor" share the same first three letters, the same 3/5th. Ever noticed that? The bitch of it is the unshared 2/5th.)

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Tony Snow

[posted by Callimachus]

You know it's going to be there. You want to think better of your fellow human beings, but you know it's going to be there.

Tony Snow's cancer returns. Feel the love.

... I just read the news that Tony Snow has matastasised to his liver stage 4. If anyone should have that happened to them its that prick. I hope he suffers like a dog. He is part of the lie that is killing my brothers in arms. Screw that chicken.

For those who ghoulishly love to collect such things, here's a few you may have overlooked:

This one

This one

This one:

Between Tony Snow's Cancer, Dick Cheney's pig's heart failing and Alberto Gonzales' return to legal reality, it really feels like Karma is alive and well in the White House these days.

This one

This one

This one

This one:

Tony Snow has Cancer

Too bad so sad. No doubt all of those lies finally caught up with Tony and spilled over to infect his liver, which by the way means the man is good as dead. Unfortunately for Tony, Liver cancer is incredibly painful. Perhaps he'll get a taste of what some Iraqis, Palestinians and American soldiers have had to endure over these last several years in respect to wounds they'll never fully recover from.

Bye Tony.

For the benefit, too, of those who seem to be deaf in the left ear to such ugliness.

It proves that that guy I never heard of from Huffington Post, whose crass reaction along these lines is drawing most of the fire, was right: He was far from the only Bush-despiser who felt that way on hearing the news.

The zealous secularists of the left, so clever at roasting "Christianists," turn out to have a deep soft spot for a ham-fisted, vengeful, personal God, so long as it's their enemies He's smiting.

One Who Sees

[posted by Callimachus]

Hooray for any prominent voice on the left who can scan the globe and manage to find a nation he considers more repressive, brutal, tyrannical, and wicked than George W. Bush's America. Especially when there's one just 90 miles south of the Key West surf. And who is willing to take the time to say so in public.

David Corn of "The Nation" responds to an earlier piece in the magazine by Cuban official Ricardo Alarcon, lauding the American leftist sociologist C. Wright Mills on the 45th anniversary of Mills' death.

Mills was hounded for challenging the conventional wisdom of his day. But Alarcon's concern for the plight of this one author is comical--in a dark fashion--for he heads a government that does not allow its citizens to challenge openly the conventional wisdom of the Castro regime. There is no free press in Alarcon's country, no freedom of expression. There is no "passionate love of truth" among the rulers of Cuba. Alarcon is crying for Mills, while his government does even worse to Cuban writers than the FBI did to Mills.

"Not quite as bad as Cuba" isn't much of a patriotic statement, of course, but in the current climate around entities like "The Nation," I'll take it.

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Bird Got Pipes

[posted by Callimachus]

Shay, at Booker Rising, has a question:

[W]hy do white females from Britain (Dusty Springfield, Lisa Stansfield, Joss Stone, Amy Winehouse, etc.) do a significantly better job overall than their American counterparts - with Teena Marie being a notable exception - on the soul music front?

Any suggestions?

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Does My Pythagoras Look Fat In This?

[posted by Callimachus]

Whatever you do today, don't go off the reservation. Stay right here. I'll try to post up enough foofaraw to keep you from eating your own flesh out of boredom, but don't leave the reservation. And if you do, you've been warned: The "People Who Are Obsessed with Althouse Because of Her Self-Obsession" meter is at red hot today.

[Though in amongst it somewhere our yeoman commenter Kreiz says some kind things about us, so it can't be a total waste. In a solipsistic sort of way.]


Monday, March 26, 2007

Heisenberg at War

[posted by Callimachus]

In reference to the Michael Yon piece I cited below, there have been several lively and thoughtful discussions on his situation, which, as I understand it, goes like this:

A couple years back while Yon was embedded in Iraq, the unit he was shadowing got into a hellacious street ambush battle with insurgents. At least one American was down, others were fighting for their lives, and Yon, who has considerable military background himself, picked up a rifle and briefly joined the fight. He wrote about this in a much-read column titled, I think, "Gates of Fire."

Now, apparently, at least one U.S. general is trying to drive him out of his latest embed position, and apparently the reason, or pretext, or part of it, for that effort is that joining that battle to help his fellow Americans (and then publicizing it) violated embed rules and perhaps the rules of war generally.

Discussions of these questions on sites as varied as this and this have flowed in similar channels. You don't often see that. The core issues, however, seem to defy the usual partisan pigeonholing. Except that, of course, It's All Bush's Fault (tm).

As too often happens, these discussions take place on the vast thin ice of the eternal present tense. I used to think only journalists had that flaw. Apparently the New Media is as bad as the old. Did other reporters in other wars ever find themselves in such situations? Well, the modern war correspondent seems to have been born during the Crimean War, so that gives you more than 150 years worth of experiences to root through to tell you if Yon's situation is unusual or not, and what other people have thought about it.

Here's one. The novelist Ward Just, describing a patrol in Vietnam that ran into a similar kind of Hell:

So, in my own case, a captain said to me, "You're gonna need this," and he gave me this .45 caliber pistol. Well, I'm a hunter. I used to hunt as a child with my father. I'd known about weapons. I didn't know anything about a .45. And the idea of all of a sudden picking up this thing — it's a huge gun, you know — and lying on the floor of the forest, waiting for some helmeted head to come up five or six feet away from me — I wanted to disappear. Because I knew that in terms of the army, I was combat-ineffective. I hadn't been trained to do anything like this. But I was goddamned if I was going to get in their way, either, meaning the Americans. So, thank God, no head appeared, so I didn't have to shoot him, or try to shoot him. And in due course, we were rescued by the medivacs [evacuation helicopters].

I've thought a lot about that. It's essential for things of that kind to be described for people at home, and to be decribed as thoroughly and completely as you can do it. They have a right to know that. But if I hadn't been along, would there have been another infantryman along? And if there had been another infantryman along, maybe things wouldn't have gone quite so badly — although I doubt it, to tell you the truth. But as a supernumerary on one of these missions, you really can't help but wonder if your presence somehow changes the action, and not in a favorable way, sort of like the Heisenberg Principle. Yet it must be done. It can't not be done. So you go ahead and do it, and then sometimes you think about it a little bit afterwards.

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It's In There

[posted by Callimachus]

From one who knows:

And as long as we, as Muslims, do not acknowledge that there is a violent streak in Islam, unless we acknowledge that, then we are gonna always lose the battle to the militants, by being in complete denial about it.

It's in the holy book. Like dietary restrictions are in Judaism and ascetic otherworldly perfectionism is in Christianity. That doesn't mean it rules the faith and motivates the faithful. But it's in there. You don't start by pretending it's not or attacking those who notice.


Geneva Amnesia

[posted by Callimachus]

Andrew Sullivan, whom I still read -- obviously -- and enjoy, has taken up BDS with a zealotry only a convert can muster. I suppose it's understandable. But I really think he has better ideas than this one, regarding the current crisis between Britain and Iran:

And if these British sailors are found to have been mistreated and their "trials" tainted, who in the international community is now going to come to Britain's and America's defense?

Need we have such a low opinion of "the international community" to think that the RoW would shrug at torture if it was done to Americans or their allies?

No, scratch that. That's the response I would have liked to have been able to write. And in a perfect world, would have. The real answer is, "What makes Andrew think the activities of the Bush Administration, however execrable in places, would be to blame for this indifference? Or that it wouldn't have gone on before 2000, or be true today whether Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo never had existed?

As Belmont Club recently put it:

As currently interpreted the Geneva Conventions only apply to individuals bent on destroying America. Individuals who blow up elementary schools, kidnap children, attack churches and mosques, kill invalids in wheelchairs, plan attacks on skyscrapers in New York, behead journalists, detonate car bombs with children to camouflage their crime, or board jetliners with explosive shoes -- all while wearing mufti or even women's clothing -- these are all considered "freedom fighters" of the most principled kind. They and they alone enjoy the protections of the Geneva Convention. As to Americans like Tucker and Menchaca or Israeli Gilad Shalit -- or these fifteen British sailors for that matter, it is a case of "what Geneva Convention?"

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And He is Us

[posted by Callimachus]

One side now offered us a double-standard by which the enemy sawing off a man’s head on camera and posting the video would somehow end up being reported as evidence of OUR failure. Opposing this, we had an incredible fighting force of people I am proud and lucky to be associated with, who are essentially media-illiterate. That’s right. Some of my closest friends, people I would fight and die for, are media idiots. They know less about the power of a photo than I know about sewing. Most civilians can get away with this, but for soldiers in this new warfare, it’s bad.

Michael Yon, of course. In a big post which lays out how he got to where he is (a freelance embedded reporter and photographer in Iraq) and dissects the awful dysfunctional relationship between the military and the media.

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[posted by Callimachus]

I asked [Mayor Michael] Bloomberg whether any of the rumours that he might be standing for president were true. ‘You’re the historian, Andrew,’ he replied. ‘Remind me the last time that a 5ft 7in Jewish billionaire from New York got to the White House?’

British historian Andrew Roberts, who recently was on a book-release tour of the States.

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Just Once

[posted by Callimachus]

"Can I get a 'yeah!' "

Just because the baby and I've been listening to Aubrey Ghent's slide steel version of "Amazing Grace" this afternoon.

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Friday, March 23, 2007

O Believers

[posted by Callimachus]

Did Charlie Parker play "Loverman" that way because he was a jazz genius or because he was so blasted on heroin he could hardly stand up at the mic?

What if the answer comes back, "both"?

How can I justify my pleasure in the recording? How can I wipe the blood off the coin I pay to hear it?

Not just that song. All the times he blurted into the studios to cut enough tracks to get enough dough to buy his next fix. Playing a borrowed sax because he had pawned his to buy the last fix. And he spilled brilliant music around the place before he staggered out again into the night. And they knew it all, the bastards, and they sold his records anyway.

Say some god of reversible times visits you and makes you an offer: Rewind the tape and instead of what happened, this time old Charlie Parker leads a nice, quiet, unaddicted life as an insurance salesman and family guy, and never records a lick of music. Do you take that reality instead?

How do you divorce your pleasures from their tortures? Find the maker of great art who wasn't tortured into it. By oppressions, crippling injuries, emotional midnight, thwarted lives. Oh, they exist, the happy writers, but there's not enough of them to make a literature. How else did Dante know Hell so well? Must Wordsworth's child die so that I may admire his sonnet on the topic?



[posted by Callimachus]

When I remember my grandmother's kitchen, I still see the old refrigerator: rounded like a cream-colored cast-iron bank-safe, deep and delicious. From, what? The twenties? I sometimes forget they didn't have it till the end. It died, eventually, and they made a big production of a trip to Sears on a Saturday night to buy a new one. Probably only because the son of the man who sold them the original fridge worked there, as a department manager, but he had only the faintest idea who these three old ladies were.

The new one was sharp, chrome and plastic, but solid, expensive, and modern. It was not the old one, no, not at all. When that old reliable appliance died, it was a sign that things could live too long, and soon two sisters died and the third went into the home just when I was buying my first house, which is how the new refrigerator came to me.

That memory returns sixteen years later. I'm looking at the refrigerator in its naked and rusty age. Stripped of magnets and clippings, but stained with their outlines. Tomorrow the delivery crew will wheel the new fridge in, and cart the old one out. You can live for years with a thing and not see the thing, but I guess that's easy when it's papered over with gew-gaws and art projects and souvenier post cards. Today, there's nothing to see but the appliance, and its surface still holds enough shine to show back a faint ghost of myself.

Unloved in both its homes: In the first because it was new, in the second because it was old. I'll have to unhinge the kitchen door to fit it out, as we had to do when we moved into this house. That was with my first wife and a gang of friends I don't have anymore.


Thursday, March 22, 2007

"The right to castigate means for me: the husband can beat his wife"

[Posted by reader_iam]

A German judge cites the Koran for a decision in a divorce case.
In January, though, a letter arrived from the judge adjudicating the case. The judge rejected the application for a speedy divorce by referring to a passage in the Koran that some have controversially interpreted to mean that a husband can beat his wife. It's a supposed right which is the subject of intense debate among Muslim scholars and clerics alike."The exercise of the right to castigate does not fulfill the hardship criteria as defined by Paragraph 1565 (of German federal law)," the daily Frankfurter Rundschau quoted the judge's letter as saying. It must be taken into account, the judge argued, that both man and wife have Moroccan backgrounds.
... In the reply sent to Becker-Rojczyk, the judge expressly referred to a Koran verse -- or sura -- which indicates that a man's honor is injured when his wife behaves in an unchaste manner. "Apparently the judge deems it unchaste when my client adapts a Western lifestyle," Becker-Rojczyk said.
Talk about cultural/religious sensitivity taken to extremes. And what the heck is a judge in Germany--which, unless I've missed something, hasn't adopted sharia law as the underpinnings for its legal system--doing interpreting the Koran or taking its teachings into account either way with regard to a legal ruling of this type?

I'd like to know a little bit more about that judge, whose name the Spiegel Online piece didn't even mention. The International Herald Tribune identifies her (!) as Christa Datz-Winter, but doesn't give us anymore information about her background or history on the bench. It does, however, make Datz-Winter seem even more clueless than the Spiegel article does:
Court vice president Bernhard Olp said Thursday the judge "regrets that the impression arose that she approves of violence in marriage."

Olp said the judge had been convinced she was doing everything she could to protect the woman, who had been granted a restraining order against her husband. She had seen no reason to grant help in paying court costs for a fast-track divorce, and looked in the Quran to support her reasoning.
So, Datz-Winter doesn't "approve" of violence in marriage, but doesn't have problems citing a passage from a religious book that she sees as justifying it, or mitigating it, or rendering it understandable, or whatever, if the married people involved aren't--what? Real, native-born Germans? Christians? Atheists?

To whom or what was this judge trying to be sensitive in her assertion that cultural background must be taken into account in a case such as this one? Immigrants? Fundamentalist Muslims? Men? A touchy-feely, pie-in-the-sky, extreme form of P.C. cultural relativism? Because it sure wasn't the woman involved--you know, the victim of abuse who also had been threatened with murder.

Or maybe Datz-Winter simply is as much of an idiot as she appears.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Council Winners

Watchers Council winners for the week of March 16 have been posted.

First place within the council went to Serving While Republican by Eternity Road.

Votes also went to What Are Europe's Options? by Joshuapundit, I Disagree by Rhymes With Right, The "Burqini" -- Shaken and Stirred by Big Lizards, and Persistent Libels by Soccer Dad.

Outside the council, the winner was Tenured Deceit by Sigmund, Carl and Alfred.

Votes also went to Tips For New Teachers at Right Wing Nation; Obama: "Nobody Is Suffering More Than the Palestinian People" at Ace of Spades HQ; How the Left Gets It All Wrong at Chicago Boyz; and Sestak CAIRs by In Context.

Also, I neglected to post the winners for the week of March 9.

The winner was Between Iraq and a Hard Place -- Why We Went, How It Got So Screwed Up and Where It's Going -- Part 2 by Joshuapundit, who is doing the good work of trying to see the thing comprehensively while it is underway, and to explain that vision.

Second place went to Death of a Titan by Right Wing Nut House, an eloquent tribute to Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., whose name you might not expect to see at the head of a long and respectful post on a site that has "right wing" in its header (even if with tongue in cheek).

But the rise to importance of the mixed-heritage Neo-Cons in the American landscape has brought a great deal of good old liberal DNA over to the right, and I think Rick appreciates Schlesinger for qualities that used to characterize the old true-hearted liberals but now are as often found on the other side:

Schlesinger may have been a liberal’s liberal. But that didn’t stop him from challenging political correctness nor the dominant New Left ideas regarding foreign policy and America’s role in the world. Not only a staunch anti-Communist, Schlesinger was an internationalist in the traditional sense. He saw America’s mission as bringing freedom to the world wherever possible while working with international institutions like the United Nations to solve conflicts. While his faith in the UN may have been misplaced, he never lost sight of American interests and the need to defend them.

Where he parted company with the new left was in some of their wackier ideas regarding social policy. He was a vociferous critic of multiculturalism, specifically “Afro-centrism” that he at one time compared to the Klan ....

As for me, well, for a historian, Schlesinger was a hell of a writer.

Also getting votes were Green Thinking from the Red Planet by Soccer Dad, You Ain't Never Had a Friend Like Me by Bookworm Room, and Who Were the Etruscans?, an interesting discussion of a mystery in historical linguistics by The Glittering Eye.

Outside the Council, the top vote-getter was the parodic Uncomfortable Questions: Was the Death Star Attack an Inside Job? by Websurdity.

Also getting votes were Iraq Trip Report by Bing West at Small Wars Journal; 10 Institutions That Ruin the World -- #1 by Kerplunk; Free Speech, Political Identity, and the Post-Coulter Debate at Protein Wisdom; Swift Boating the Swift Boaters at The QandO Blog; and What Happened To Our Political Discourse? at Rants and Raves.


Free Speech Open Thread

[Challenge posed by reader_iam]

Monday, March 19, 2007


[Posted by reader_iam]

Time is running out. From Cathy Seipp's last post:
Amazing what can traumatize people these days. For me once it might have been the $7,000 plumbing bill I discovered today I need to pay. But really, all things considered, what's the point of being traumatized by something like that?
Words to live, and be remembered, by.

O Love Is The Crooked Thing

[Posted by reader_iam]

Grace under pressure,*** truth even (because?) it hurts and scares.

***Don't limit yourself to this post. It's the whole series of recent posts to which I want to point you. But if I don't pick an anchor permalink, eventually the immediate inspiration for my linking right now in my own post will be lost. That doesn't mean Melinda's blog isn't inspiring and fearless (in the face of real fear) and awesomely honest and ultimately a thing of (often painful) beauty on an ongoing basis, because it is. As is Amba's.
I whispered, 'I am too young,'
And then, 'I am old enough';
Wherefore I threw a penny
To find out if I might love.
'Go and love, go and love, young man,
If the lady be young and fair.'
Ah, penny, brown penny, brown penny,
I am looped in the loops of her hair.

O love is the crooked thing,
There is nobody wise enough
To find out all that is in it,
For he would be thinking of love
Till the stars had run away
And the shadows eaten the moon.
Ah, penny, brown penny, brown penny,
One cannot begin it too soon.
Don't know why I feel so strongly that this Yeats poem applies, but I do, I do--so much so that I'm including it even if I can't explain it, even if it seems a little odd, and even to myself.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

The Vulgarity Of Blog

[Posted by reader_iam]

The "garish" word "blog" apparently offends Anna*** Wintour's personal sense of style so much that she has banned its use from the soon-to-be expanded Vogue website and ordered her staff to come up with a more tasteful term.

Here are some synonyms for "garish" and its family and friends:
absurd, arrant, arresting, arrestive, bad, bald, barefaced, base, bizarre, blah, blaring, blatant, bogus, bold, brash, brassy, brazen, brummagem, catchpenny, celebrated, cheap, cheesy, chintzy, clear, commanding, common, commonplace, conspicuous, costly, crappy, crazy, cruddy, crying, distinguished, dud, eminent, exaggerated, excessive, extortionate, extreme, fanciful, fantastic, famed, flagrant, flamboyant, flashy, flaunting, flirtatious, foolish, forward, garbage, garish, gaudy, gewgaw, gimcrack, glaring, glittering, glitzy, grandiose, grating, gross, gussied up, hard, harsh, illustrious, immoderate, implausible, improvident, imprudent, impudent, influential, inordinate, insolent, jarring, jazzy, junky, kitschy, lavish, loud, loudmouthed, lousy, ludicrous, mangy, mean, mediocre, meretricious, naked, no bargain, no good, noisy, nonsensical, notable, notorious, obtrusive, ordinary, ornate, ostentatious, outrageous, outright, outstanding, overbold, overdone, overt, overwrought, paltry, pert, piercing, poor, plain, pointed, preposterous, pretentious, prodigal, profligate, prominent, pronounced, protrusive, raffish, rank, ratty, raunchy, reckless, remarkable, renowned, ridiculous, rinky-dink, rotten, rubbishy, rude, salient, saucy, screaming, second-rate, shameless, sheer, shoddy, showy, shrill, silly, sleazy, small-time, snazzy, splashy, strident, striking, tasteless, tawdry, terrible, tinsel, trashy, trumpery, two-bit, unabashed, unbalanced, unblushing, unconscionable, unmitigated, unreasonable, unrestrained, vulgar, and wasteful.
Sure sounds like the blogosphere to me. If the shoe fits, I say wear it proudly--and "good taste" be damned.

Update: ***Oh, for crying out loud. I do know the lady's name--I've followed her career for years because I find her compelling, even if I find myself annoyed as often as admiring. Out, out damned typos!

(And maybe I really should institute a rule that if I can't finish up a post sooner than 2 minutes before I head out the door to go someplace, I should just wait to publish it. Or, at a bare minimum, read my own post the minute I get back online, rather than going directly to others' and starting something new.

Except I'd be, more likely than not, just adding another rule to break. If I had to blog, which is a personal and informal thing to/for me, the way I work, which is a professional and formal thing, I wouldn't bother blogging at all.)

Have A Glass Of Wine And Relax

[Posted by reader_iam]

Talk about uptight.
Glenn Eurick's 1996 Mercedes has had the license plate reading "merlot" for 10 years. He says the plate never got a lot of notice until the Utah Tax Commission told him last week that he had to remove it because the state doesn't allow words of intoxicant to be used on vanity plates.

Six or seven-letter words like liquor or whiskey probably wouldn't make it through the state screening process before the plates are issued. But merlot did and Eurick was fine until an anonymous caller told the state that merlot was also an alcoholic beverage.
Oh, the intoxicating power to legislate anything--and to whine "anonymously" to the state over trivia.


[Posted by reader_iam]

What form of snake would steal more than 50 reptiles from wildlife center?
More than 50 reptiles, including a crocodile, were stolen from an Australian animal education center established to continue the work of wildlife crusader Steve Irwin.

The haul from the Wildlife Wonderland near Melbourne, included a 60-centimetre (2 feet) freshwater crocodile, two pythons and three bearded dragons, all requiring an owner's license, the centre's owner said.

Also reported stolen were the centre's entire stock of 47 blue-tongue lizards.
Hiss, hiss!

What We Need Is More Lawyers

[Posted by reader_iam]

No, I'm not setting up a joke.
What's fueling demand? The explosion of new corporate compliance regulations, spawned in large part by the Sarbanes-Oxley reform law, means businesses have a lot more legal paperwork. Merger mania is also keeping lawyers busy as companies buy and sell one another at a fast clip. Every corporate deal generates a raft of necessary legal documents. Finally, plain old economic growth is underpinning a natural expansion in the market for legal services. As a result, law firms are averaging a comfortable 10% rate of profit growth per partner per year.

The legal supply side -- that is, the number of newly minted lawyers -- isn't keeping pace with demand. Law schools have been churning out about 40,000 graduates annually for over a decade, and the number isn’t likely to increase much anytime soon.
Maybe all those people who want but can't find permanent jobs in academia should consider getting just one more degree and joining the corporate rat race... .

Why Chess Brings The Surf To My Nostrils

[Posted by reader_iam]

And why I can't resist swimming in saltwater with my mouth open, even though I know it will make me sick and then require, against my desire, downing quarts of the fresh stuff, however bloated and uneasy that will leave me.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Snappin' Synapses!

[Posted by reader_iam]

"She took the red pills."

Inquiring minds apparently still want to know whether the following fictional lines have real-life resonance, in a not-so-unrelated context:
"Oh, Helen, come on: Neely O'Hara can't hurt you."

"Hehheh. You bet your ass she can't: She's not going to get the chance."
Gotta get off, gonna get
Have to get off from this ride
Gotta get hold, gonna get
Need to get hold of my pride

When did I get, where did I
How was I caught in this game
When will I know, where will I
How will I think of my name

When did I stop feeling sure, feeling safe
And start wondering why, wondering why
Is this a dream, am I here, where are you
What's in back of the sky, why do we cry

Gotta get off, gonna get
Out of this merry-go-round
Gotta get off, gonna get
Need to get on where I'm bound

When did I get, where did I
Why am I lost as a lamb
When will I know, where will I
How will I learn who I am

Is this a dream, am I here, where are you
Tell me, when will I know, how will I know
When will I know why?

Yep, it's the song I dialed up within paragraphs of starting to read this story.

So, opine away: Was Marilyn Monroe a candle in the wind or a deliberately snuffed-out light on the altar of an American dynasty's ambition?

Hat tip.

Update: OK, now this has me going in a separate line of thought. You know, we all act as if the person, and office, of the Attorney General of the United States ought to be one of probity, of dignity, of austerity, and maybe of a noble, self-effacing, above-it-all state of neutrality. (More important, we act as if that's been the norm, with rare aberration.) But, really, has it ever been so at least within a spittin' distance of the length of my lifetime? (I just turned 46 a week ago.)

It's late, and so I have not researched this sudden notion-of-impression of mine. I admit it. Still: How far out on a limb am I in saying that more attorneys general than not have been controversial in one way or another, to put it politely -- party- and administration-affiliation notwithstanding?

Man, I'm thinking I'm in for some heavy-duty dreams tonight.

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What's Your Irish Name?

[Posted by reader_iam]

The day's not quite over yet, after all:

Your Irish Name Is...

Maura Brennan

That's using my blog handle. The one I got using my real name was much more interesting, and far more in keeping, I think, with the 1/4 Irish part of me.

No, don't bother asking. But Happy St. Pat's, anyway!

Hat tip. (Sh'vawn, by the way, comes close.)

"I have to find out what my position was"

[Posted by reader_iam]

Well, gee, Sen. McCain. Listen, when you figure out your position on birth control (how old are you, anyway?) and whether or not condom use can help prevent the spread of HIV, do get back to us, okay? If you can then figure out whether or not you think taxpayer dollars should go to condom distribution here or in Africa, so much the better.

Go read the transcript at the link--it's too amazing to excerpt and I'm not going reproduce the whole thing here. But wow, wow, wow.

McCain's either past it or has completely lost his spine. What his actual position is or was is beside the point, for me. What an embarrassing, silly display.

The sound you hear is this uncommitted, independent voter scratching McCain's name off the list... .

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Rewriting The Constitution

[Posted by reader_iam]

Can you name even five, much less 10 or 15, people you admire and trust profoundly enough to write a new constitution for the United States? I sure can't. (For starters, my instinct is to eliminate anyone who'd be willing to do it, or even thinks it's a good, safe idea to toss out the one we have and just start over.)

But I'll maintain an open mind here, for the sake of argument. Anyone want to take a stab at suggesting names for a taskforce up to the job that Ezra Klein thinks needs doing? (Ezra's nominated himself, of course.)

Beware Those Eeeevil Librarians!

[Posted by reader_iam]

Librarians have come a long way, baby. How do I know? Apparently they've been cast as the evil villains in an upcoming fantasy series.
Sanderson recently received a six-figure advance from Scholastic, the "Harry Potter"-series publisher, for a children's fantasy series about a boy named Alcatraz who does battle with a cult of evil librarians.
The first of the Alcatraz series, "Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians," will come out Oct. 1 and other books are planned for May 2008 and early 2009.
...The entire "Alcatraz" series, for example, resulted from a line that just popped into his mind one day.

"And that line was: 'So there I was, tied to an altar made from outdated encyclopedias about to be sacrificed to the dark powers by a cult of evil librarians,"' Sanderson said.
The series, Sanderson's first attempt at children's fiction, tells the story of a boy who discovers he's part of a secret group of freedom fighters who battle librarians, an evil cult that controls the world by restricting information. Each of the freedom fighters has an unusual but surprisingly powerful magical skill, such as the ability to arrive late to appointments.
Lateness cast as a magical skill? Librarians suddenly hip enough to be imagined as evil cultists, requiring a special caste of freedom fighters to combat them? Wow. I'm intrigued.

Hat tip: bookshelves of doom.


Look Into The Mirror Much, Keillor?

[Posted by reader_iam]

What is Garrison Keillor smoking these days? Whatever it is, it appears to have caused a serious case of amnesia, given that he's apparently unaware that he's on his third marriage (with at least one affair to his credit, in addition) and has had two children by different mothers. But somehow, gay people are singlehandedly bringing about a revolution in "hyphenated" families, where no such phenonenon existed before. Or is he just trying prove that those from the more liberal side of things are just as capable as "wingnuts" of using gay people as props for an insider, nudge-nudge wink-wink brand of so-called humor?

From his latest Salon column:
Under the old monogamous system, we didn't have the problem of apportioning Thanksgiving and Christmas among your mother and stepdad, your dad and his third wife, your mother-in-law and her boyfriend Hal, and your father-in-law and his boyfriend Chuck. Today, serial monogamy has stretched the extended family to the breaking point. A child can now grow up with eight or nine or 10 grandparents -- Gampa, Gammy, Goopa, Gumby, Papa, Poopsy, Goofy, Gaga and Chuck -- and need a program to keep track of the actors.

And now gay marriage will produce a whole new string of hyphenated relatives. In addition to the ex-stepson and ex-in-laws and your wife's first husband's second wife, there now will be Bruce and Kevin's in-laws and Bruce's ex, Mark, and Mark's current partner, and I suppose we'll get used to it.

The country has come to accept stereotypical gay men -- sardonic fellows with fussy hair who live in over-decorated apartments with a striped sofa and a small weird dog and who worship campy performers and go in for flamboyance now and then themselves. If they want to be accepted as couples and daddies, however, the flamboyance may have to be brought under control. Parents are supposed to stand in back and not wear chartreuse pants and black polka-dot shirts. That's for the kids. It's their show.
What the heck? Was that last paragraph supposed to be some sort of writing exercise: How many broad-brush stereotypes can YOU conjure up in three sentences flat? I mean, what was Keillor thinking? Nothing lucid, it's clear. I mean, first he bases his argument (if you can call it that) against gay marriage on the problems of "hyphenated" families, even though he's created one for himself. Then he whacks gay people on the grounds that they, apparently, stand out too much for his taste--never mind that his own ass is hanging out in the breeze, for all to see.

Definitely must be something he's smoking.


(As an aside, I don't think it's a good plan for ANYONE to talk about fashion in the context of parenting, regardless of the orientation of the parents in question. If the egregiousness of one's attire is supposed to be some sort of significant benchmark of parentworthiness, then I can think of at least a couple of decades' worth of mommies and daddies who, on a mass scale, failed the test. You Know Who You Are, Damnit.)

God Bless The Child

[Posted by reader_iam]

A confession: I don't read 95% of the "chain" e-mails I get from friends and family. There's not enough time in the day, for starters. Also,frankly, it depresses me to to be confronted with how little insight the majority of people I know have into what I will truly find interesting, funny or useful. (Yeah, yeah--I'm sure some readers feel that way about many of my posts. But I don't e-mail them to people, after all.)

However, I have to cop to a weakness for stories about funny things that kids say, and once in a while someone will send me a few gems. Here's a sample from an e-mail today:
A little boy was overheard praying: "Lord, if you can't make me a better boy, don't worry about it. I'm having a real good time like I am."
One particular four-year-old prayed: "And forgive us our trash baskets as we forgive those who put trash in our baskets."
"A mother was preparing pancakes for her sons, Kevin 5, and Ryan 3. The boys began to argue over who would get the first pancake. Their mother saw the opportunity for a moral lesson: "If Jesus were sitting here, He would say, 'Let my brother have the first pancake, I can wait.' "

Kevin turned to his younger brother and said, "Ryan, you be Jesus!"
A father was at the beach with his children when the four-year-old son ran up to him, grabbed his hand, and led him to the shore where a seagull lay dead in the sand.

"Daddy, what happened to him?" the son asked.

"He died and went to Heaven," the Dad replied.

The boy thought a moment and then said,

"Did God throw him back down?"
I wonder if that dad would've said the same thing if the kid had stumbled over a human corpse. And how he'd answer the kid's last question.

"I think it's not about being young anymore"

[Posted by reader_iam]

Man, how much does it figure that Boomers would declare that "truth" once even the youngest of them can't be described as anything other than middle-aged? (I was born in 1961, which by most accounts puts me at the ass end of that generation.)

Check out the 60 is the new sexy video over at CNN and tell me how the the word "self-serving" doesn't apply. (Sorry that I can't take you straight to the video--if anyone can tell me how to provide a direct link, I'll gratefully update.)

Oh, don't get me wrong: I think Helen Mirren is great, and beautiful, and, yes, sexy, as are most of the women highlighted in this piece. (Don't know about Cher, though: I mean, she's had so much work done over the years that I'm not sure she even looks like herself anymore, or even anything approaching real.) I say "hooray" for empowered, confident women of all ages.

But please: Do we have to redefine terms and, essentially, denigrate the benefits of youth just 'cause we don't get to claim that term for ourselves anymore?

I wouldn't have bothered blogging this if it weren't for that really irritating, patronizing woman who--while **of course** she's not putting down young women, 'cause "they're great!"--decides to characterize the younger generations as gameplayers, which activity older women are--natch!--"above."

What a load. In my experience, gameplaying is more a product of character and attitude than it is of age. If a woman is so inclined in that direction, then the only difference between her at 20 and her at 60 is 40 more years of experience. (The same exact thing can be said of gameplaying men, of course.)

Also, do not try and tell me that every one of the women highlighted in this story (including the commentators) doesn't spend considerable time and money looking as youthful as possible.

Man, I hate stupid stories like this. They bring out the kneejerk rebel in me. Maybe instead of getting my roots touched up with red next week, I'll just tell my hairdresser to go ahead and dye my long hair a nice silver gray. Then I'll subtly highlight my lines and wrinkles to demonstrate my inner wisdom (yeah, yeah--such as it is).

"46: The New Old." Kinda has a ring to it, dontcha think?

I like it.

Happy Blogiversary

[Posted by reader_iam]

To the Glittering Eye. You do read Schuler regularly, don't you?


[Posted by reader_iam]

By this blog.

She doesn't post much, but what delicious bits when she does! Check it out.

Most Annoying Commercial

[Posted by reader_iam]

That Geico TV ad featuring Little Richard. Makes me involuntarily clench my jaw so hard I swear I'm going to crack a crown one of these days.

Yeah, I know he's a seminal rock figure, hugely influenced by and an influence on several of the greats of the past 50 years. I have collections of his work, which I admire. But right now I feel like shoving them into the attic out of spite.

So unreasonable, we humans, that we can get so irritated by the trivial. But there it is.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

If You Don't Know Who Bessie Smith Is...

[Posted by reader_iam]

I pretty much don't care about your cultural pontifications. I also don't think much of your progressive (or music"al") credentials. I could identify, with regard to the former, historical figures about whom you should know a great deal, at least from the late 19th century and onward. But why bother?

You wanna think you're so cutting edge, just 'cause you're so "right now"? Have at it--yes, have at it. But the peril is as it always has been: those whose "noes" grind only in nots inevitably never come near to acknowledging that they view the here(hear)-and-now lives of real people as little more than notations on their personal politico-lyrico scales. How dulcet the tones! How shallow the score.

As for the rapier wit? The oh-so-knowing and self-satisfied irony?


Quite apart from which "party" is in power, there is absolutely nothing stopping each and every one us from feeding children, empowering adults, building communities and nurturing artists. Nothing. NOTHING!

(Except for our own weakness, disingenuousness, and dishonesty.)

Look around you. Is there any chance that you have time and resources, allocated differently, to take responsibility on a personal level for improving the lives of real people in your community?

Don't say you "shouldn't have to," because that should be "taken care of." That's exactly what I'm objecting to. Why should it be "taken care of" by anyone other than YOU? Why?

Why should you not have to connect and relate personally? Help, personally? Embrace real people, bring them into your circle? Why shouldn't you?

Why don't you?

Lost in Translation #637

[posted by Callimachus]

While looking for something else, I came across this little site from a French wine-making family.

Look at the sidebar box on the left. The English translation of the whole site is a bit spotty ("visits of Monday at Friday, weekend and groups on only go") and perhaps was done with a software program.

The winery's motto seems to be "Collecting Windfallen wood High-class wines in Burgundy."

Which hardly makes sense unless you know that "windfallen wood" is the literal meaning of the noun chablis in French. The wine Chablis -- evidently the thing the Web site meant to name -- was named for a small town near Paris which for aught I know got its name as a place where people gathered firewood.

I'm not a wine-drinker, so it amuses me to think that people who order a glass of the finest Chablis are really calling up a shot of "deadwood."


Dolls We Try Out, See If They Cry Out

[Posted by reader_iam]

Quick on the heels of (and unrelated to) a significant family death, I ended up flat-on-my back sick for more than a week and have just started coming back in the past day or two, feeling much better, relatively speaking and so far, though I have a number of tests in my future. Amazing how quickly the blogosphere can slide down several and multiple levels in importance and priority. (More amazing: how much that is turning out to suit me.)

Anyway, trying to catch up and wandering, mostly detached, around and about our fair 'sphere, specifically the partisan political parts of both flavors (my, they seem so similar if you've been away awhile!), here's the ditty that sprang unbidden to mind and kept looping relentlessly until I dug into our musical collection and staged an exorcism played it, out of season and purely in self-defense (sorry, no YouTube that I could find):
Ho ho ho.
Ho ho ho.
We are Santa's elves.

We are Santa's elves,
Filling Santa's shelves With a toy
For each girl and boy.

Oh, we are Santa's elves.
We work hard all day,
But our work is play.
Dolls we try out,
See if they cry out.

We are Santa's elves.
We've a special job each year.
We don't like to brag.
Christmas Eve we always
Fill Santa's bag.

Santa knows who's good.
Do the things you should.
And we bet you,
He won't forget you.

We are Santa's elves.
Ho ho ho. Ho ho ho.
We are Santa's elves.
Ho Ho!

Just Heard On TeeVee

[Posted by reader_iam]
"Freedom starts with a 'no'!"
Does it?

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Quiet Around Here

[posted by Callimachus]

After 20 years on the night shift, I'm still on the night shift, but now that my wife has gone back to her job after a brief maternity leave, I've added daytime Mr. Mom duties to my schedule. Which means up at 8 a.m., babycare till 4:30 p.m., then directly to work till 12:30 or 1 a.m. It's do-able, but for 20 years I've been doing my personal life after work, then going to bed around dawn and sleeping through the day (except for phone calls, deliveries, noisy motorcycles, etc., etc.).

Now I have to develop the habit of sleeping during the time of day when I've always been most active and alert. To work on that, I've taken two weeks of my vacation now to force myself into a new pattern of life. It means I have been pretty well cut off from the media stream (since I feel like I'm cheating myself when I pay attention to it when I'm not being paid to do so), and from adult thoughts and conversation.

All of which is boring and trivial, but it explains why I haven't had much to say. I could make murmuring repetetive phrases about the reflected lights on the kitchen ceiling, which is what you talk about during the day to a 3-month-old. But I doubt it would do wonders for the traffic here. Or tell stories like this, only slightly altered from the brief conversations that take place when both parents are present and awake:

DOTING PARENTS: Look at that look of concentration in her eyes! She's really developing an inner life and a personality, you can tell. What is she staring at so intently, hunched over like that? Is it the books on the shelf? She'll grow up to be a reader, for sure. She must be at the stage where she's learning object permanence; what else could account for such a hard-working stance and a fixed gaze. It's fascinating to watch her developmental ...

BABY, from the diapered end: craaaaaaaaaap

Reader, on her end, tells me she has her own (and very different) set of busy-ness going on. We're both reager to comment on some of what's happening around the world, and I'm sure it will pick up here again in time.


Saturday, March 10, 2007

Like a Chick-Fil-A Ad

Friday, March 09, 2007

Other America

[posted by Callimachus]

Here's a little story from that other America, the one that sends its sons and daughters into our military ranks; the America nearly invisible on college campuses and media newsrooms; the America that gets better lip service than health care from our political class; the America that only gets noticed at home when someone wants to turn it into a "victim," to suit some ulterior purpose, and abroad only as a vicious caricature.

Here's a glimpse. Go on, I promise: it's brief. Then you can go back to your America, if this isn't the one you're from. But maybe take away some of that other one with you.


Back in the DDR

[posted by Callimachus]

Hail, hail East Germany
Land of fruit and grape
Land where you'll regret
If you try to escape
No matter if you tunnel under or take a running jump at the wall
Forget it, the guards will kill you, if the electrified fence doesn't first.

One of my favorite Cold War stories gets a good re-telling here, and here. Dean Reed was a mediocre American musician who ended up a rock star in East Germany.

Yes, dear readers, before there was "Christian rap," in which everything is the same and nothing is the same, and the product does honor neither to religion nor rap, there was commie rock 'n' roll. Michael C. Moynihan, author of the "Reason" article, writes, "I get the impression that Reed was popular the same way grass soup is popular in North Korea ...." He's right. Take it from one who was there.

If Western military willpower contained the Soviet Union, it was Western pop culture that ate away its foundation while it was paralyzed in place, by capturing the minds and imaginations of its youth. The DDR sensedw this threat, on some level; its Ministry of Culture even established a Sektion Rockmusik to promote "youth music" without the subversion. Dean Reed, then, was a ham-handed bid at counter-cultural warfare: Hapless, but essential if the East was to stay Red.

Thank the gods it was all doomed to failure. A totalitarian rock 'n' roll may be theoretically possible, but it can't exist on a planet where the real thing is allowed to breathe, because, well, "You've gotta feel it in your blood and guts! If you wanna rock, you gotta break the rules. You gotta get mad at the man!" And "The Man" doesn't get any more The Man-ly than Erich Honecker.

The paradox of Dean Reed is that he owed his success to being an American, and at the same time to rejecting all his native American-ness except the shabby posture of a rock star. Only the Cold War's frigidity kept him from falling through the thin ice. As Moynihan writes, "For teens starved of an authentic native youth culture who were looking enviously west, that was, initially anyway, a mark of authenticity."

The Dean Reed story, as told by Moynihan (in reviewing "Comrade Rockstar," Reggie Nadelson's biography of Reed) goes like this:

In the late 1950s Reed-a moderately attractive, semi-talented guitar player and would-be actor from Colorado-set off for Hollywood with the distinctly un-Bolshevik goal of superstardom on the bubblegum pop circuit. There he met Paton Price, a Daily Worker-reading acting coach and party ideologue. Price schooled Reed in the socialist realism of Brechtian theater, left-wing politics, and, as Reed's sad filmic record suggests, little else.

After a short and largely unsuccessful stint with Capitol Records, Reed abandoned California for South America, where, inexplicably, his singles were outselling those of Elvis Presley. Possessed by his newfound ideology, he underwent a transformation among the bitterly impoverished natives: He shed his "false consciousness" and subsumed the artist's prerogatives beneath those of the Party. After a few years, Reed was expelled from Argentina for agitating against the government and moved to Italy, where he landed a string of minor film roles, including the lead in Karate Fists and Beans, billed as the world's first western/kung fu cross­over film.

Nadelson's account offers few details of what motivated Dean's political journey. Like many radicals of his generation, he claimed to have been inspired by that common inventory of 1960s grievances: Third World poverty, the Vietnam War, CIA machinations in Latin America. So when, in 1966, Reed was approached by a friendly Russian apparatchik offering a truly socialist variant of fame, he boarded a plane for the Soviet Union as an Officially Approved Rock Star -- the genuine American article, playing ersatz rock 'n' roll.

After making the rounds touring behind the Iron Curtain, Reed chose to settle in East Germany, where he became a compliant ward of the state, recording for the GDR's lone record label (Amiga) and propagandizing for the regime. As a reward for his boundless sycophancy, Reed was elevated to superstar status, afforded lavish recording and tour budgets and plum film roles (which he immediately turned to wood), and awarded the Komsomol Lenin Prize. Despite these achievements and an intense disdain for American capitalism, Reed privately craved a second shot at bourgeois success.

In 1985 Mike Wallace extended an invitation for Reed to appear on 60 Minutes. Asked to justify the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Reed happily obliged, arguing that it was merely a defensive action against American imperialism. Ditto for the Berlin Wall. By program's end Reed had successfully propelled himself from obscurity to minor fame as the Lord Haw-Haw of the Cold War.

It was all downhill for him after glasnost kicked in, but I won't spoil the ending.

Deja Vu: Don't take it so hard Nick, life is filled with it's little miseries, each of us in his own way must learn to deal with adversity in a mature and adult fashion. [Sneezes into hands, looks at it in horror, screams, and jumps out window]

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[posted by Callimachus]

(in honor of William Cobbett, born on this date in 1763, I'm reposting this)

________ is "a man as much fit to be president as I am to be an Archbishop! A man who is a deist by profession, a philosopher by trade, and a Frenchman in politics and morality."

Interesting to learn that you could score points against an American politician by calling him "French" -- 200 years ago.

The subject is Thomas Jefferson, as you might have guessed. The author of the quote is less well known by far. William Cobbett (1763-1835) was an early 19th century reformer and journalistic muck-raker. He stirred up too much trouble in Britain and had to flee to America in 1792. Though a friend of progress, he, like Edmund Burke, disapproved intensely of the French Revolutionaries' bloody way of going about it. And he began his writing career, under the pen name "Peter Porcupine," by sounding the alarm about France in America, where many people were well-disposed toward France, and toward revolutionary movements.

He began to publish a newspaper, the "Weekly Political Register." Peter Porcupine had a tendency to bristle.

"Peter Porcupine no longer limited his scope to top-level governmental decisions, but became the arbiter of both public and private virtue. As such, he periodically pointed out American shortcomings, including the 'great depravity and corruption' of their morals, the low level of their literacy, and poor quality of their officials. He ridiculed the Pennsylvania legislature's description of a new highway as an 'artificial road,' declaring that more sensible people would have called it a 'turnpike.' He criticized the composition of the Philadelphia board of health on the ground that the doctors composed nearly half of its members ... These gratuitous observations on his neighbors were used as amusing fillers to flesh out Cobbett's daily criticism of the president, his cabinet, and various members of congress." [George Spater, "William Cobbett: The Poor Man's Friend," Cambridge, 1982]

Eventually he was sued for libel and lost, and had to flee back to Brtain (where he got in trouble for criticizing corruption, was jailed and fled back to America again).

I discovered Cobbett this week while digging through my newspaper's archives, which go back a long way (the paper has been published since 1796). I found a reprint of an 1802 Cobbett warning to America about the recent French acquisition of Louisiana:

"Louisiana is ceded to France, whose well fleshed blood-hounds will be howling round the skirts of your naked plantations before you have time to collect means of resistance. Think them not ignorant of any part, foot, property, or circumstance, of the territory, which they are about to possess. There is not a river, a creek, a cove, an inlet, nor a hill, nor a dale, a rock nor a cave, of which they do not know the bearing and the dimensions as well as I know the width and the length of the paper, on which I am now writing.

They have calculated, to a pound of gun-powder and to a drop of blood, the means of levering from your authority the states of Kentucky and Tennessee; and remember, that, I, whose voice you refused to listen to in 1796, now tell you, that, unless you give up to them a great portion of your commerce with England, those states will in less than two years, be attached to the Republic of France.

You have no earthly means of defence. Not that you are destitute of money or of men; but who will you find to march five hundred miles across a wilderness, to meet at the end of their route the murderers of Alexandria and Acre, backed with the very settlers, whom you wish to preserve from their grasp?

By your treaty with Spain, you obtained the free navigation of the Mississippi. This freedom you have now to obtain from France; and be you well assured that she will not grant it without an equivalent. What this equivalent may be, it is impossible for me precisely to point out; but, be it what it may, you must yield it, or yield your hopes to retain the dominion of the western states, which would be instantly ruined by the closing of the Mississippi, and which to avoid that ruin, would transfer their allegiance to the power on whose pleasure their prosperity will solely depend.

One of the reasons long ago given by French politicians, for obtaining possession of Louisiana, was to secure a certain and never failing supply of provision and lumber for their West-India colonies; and as they will find these articles in abundance in Kentucky and Tennessee at a much cheaper rate than in the Atlantic states it is more than probably, that they will prefer the taking possession of settlements for themselves, which requires that fort of industry and perseverance, for the practice of which they are disputed neither by nature nor their habits.

He was an egotist and a pain in the ass, but he could wield the rhetorical whip. Of course, Jefferson, the infidel, did heed advice like this and buy Louisiana away from France the next year. I haven't done enough research to know whether Cobbett praised him for this, but I rather doubt it.


Thursday, March 08, 2007


[posted by Callimachus]

This is why I have no love for foreign policies shaped by "national interest." Former French Prime Minister Raymon Barre, who seems like a rather unlikable fellow overall, defends a Vichy official who collaborated in the Holocaust on the grounds that he was following orders, and legitimately, since France had no compelling national interest to justify his doing otherwise.

“Opposing the deportation of Jews had not been a matter of major national interest.”

And so, perhaps, it wasn't. Unless you build humanitarianism and virtue into the fabric of what it means to be you, national interest is amoral at best. And it seems to me France has been admirably consistent over the years in pursuing policies based principally, if not solely, on national interest. I admire the consistency; I don't typically admire the results. I think it rather betrays the French revolutionary ideal and the better nature of the French people, but that was betrayed already, and long ago, and more than once.

Is America any different? There may be a discernible direct self-interest angle in most of what we undertake. As big as the U.S. is, you don't need a lot of imagination to find it even in the most altruistic acts. We have perceived interests everywhere, in everything. If America were to give $1,000 to each and every man, woman, and child in the poorest nation on earth tomorrow, someone would quickly point out the percent of goods sold in that country made by U.S.-financed corporations and call it all a big showroom stunt.

And if you never really know anything about America or Americans, you probably will do that: Find the self-interest thread, and dismiss everything else as pious nonsense. But that seriously misreads us, and the same people who wish to see us as a selfish nation smirking behind a hypocritical creed also enjoy mocking the earnestness with which we Americans cherish outmoded ideas like spreading freedom and encouraging democracy, and the alleged naivete of our belief that we have a special national obligation to oppose tyrants and fight against what is wrong or evil.

You can have us as just Frenchmen in sheep's clothing, or as a bunch of starry-eyed do-gooder fools. But you can't have both. But they do try.

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