Friday, August 31, 2007

Google Maps

Is an amazing thing. The resolution in many places has been gradually improving, and now has reached the point where I can spot my sister's car parked on her street. Nothing to download. You just start out with a Martian's view of the planet and zoom right in till you can see individual cows on a farm on a Danish island, cargo containers on a dock in Singapore, a baseball game underway in Philadelphia (they're shading the batter toward left field).

Lazy Reporters

[posted by Callimachus]

From a not-yet-online New York Times profile of Condi Rice:

There was a time when, perhaps more than Hillary Rodham Clinton or Barack Obama, Condoleezza Rice seemed to have the best shot at becoming the first woman or the first African-American to be president. But that was before she sounded public alarms based on faulty intelligence to justify the Iraq war, telling CNN, "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud." It was before a former top Bush administration colleague, David Kay, charged with finding unconventional weapons after the Iraq invasion, referred to Rice in Bob Woodward's "State of Denial" as "probably the worst national security adviser since the office was created."

And it was before furious Lebanese hung a huge banner depicting Rice's face, with blood dripping from her lips, from a bridge in central Beirut.

Take the last one first. Even AFP, no apologists for the United States, identifies the Lebanese who made and hung that banner as "Hezbollah supporters"; Lebanese, assuredly, but a particular subset of them, and a detail worth noting. Doesn't mean other Lebanese aren't mad at Rice, too, but the point introduced as evidence of that turns out to be extremely weak.

Go up a few lines. Same thing. David Kay is an honorable man who knows a great deal about certain things, but his qualifications to judge the historical record of national security advisers doesn't seem to be borne out by his resume. (He's also an odd entry here, since much of his work and many of his pronouncements buttressed the administration's WMD case against Saddam). Again, it doesn't mean Rice isn't objectively the worst in that job. But the Times hardly has proved it with a Kay quip cribbed from a best-selling book by a journalist.

Go up again. Same thing. Rice may or may not have "sounded public alarms based on faulty intelligence to justify the Iraq war," but saying "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud" is not an example of that. It's an example of her proposing a hypothetical situation to be avoided. It introduces no intelligence, faulty or otherwise. It could be read as saying, and many of us do read it as saying, "until we eliminate Saddam as dictator of Iraq, we never will know whether he has the capability and intent to use his military programs to help launch a devastating attack on America." If anything, it's an admission of imperfect evidence, not an assertion of proof.

What's going on here? Laziness. The Times wants to skip through this framing job by saying, "Rice sucks and is a great big screw-up; everyone knows that" and get on with the article. But that nagging tug of professionalism says that has to be demonstrated, not simply presumed. So the reporter does a quick Google or goes and looks up things remembered, and pastes them into the story after each assertion, as though simply being in the same sentence makes them supporting evidence.

It's why people stopped reading newspapers and never went back.



[posted by Callimachus]

Brian De Palma, propagandist for jihad.

VENICE (Reuters) - A new film about the real-life rape and killing of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl by U.S. soldiers who also murdered her family stunned the Venice festival, with shocking images that left some viewers in tears.

"Redacted", by U.S. director Brian De Palma, is one of at least eight American films on the war in Iraq due for release in the next few months and the first of two movies on the conflict screening in Venice's main competition.

Inspired by one of the most serious crimes committed by American soldiers in Iraq since the 2003 invasion, it is a harrowing indictment of the conflict and spares the audience no brutality to get its message across.

De Palma, 66, whose "Casualties of War" in 1989 told a similar tale of abuse by American soldiers in Vietnam, makes no secret of the goal he is hoping to achieve with the film's images, all based on real material he found on the Internet.

"The movie is an attempt to bring the reality of what is happening in Iraq to the American people," he told reporters after a press screening.

"The pictures are what will stop the war. One only hopes that these images will get the public incensed enough to motivate their Congressmen to vote against this war," he said.

"Stop the war." Meaning remove the Americans from the immediate experience of the battlefield. Is there a more infantile formation in modern discourse? The firefighter walks away from the burning building to stop the fire. The coach walks out at halftime to stop the game.

It's almost as oxymoronic as "real material ... found on the Internet." As commenter srlucado puts it at Roger L. Simon's site, "If DePalma really wants to stop the war, why not create a film that might help America *win* it?"

Could Frank Capra have made a movie about the rape of civilians by American GIs in occupied Europe and the Pacific after the fall of the Axis? Sure, he could; you could make such a movie for every day of the year for a decade. Why would you? Whose purpose would it have served? What good would it have done?

Capra's propaganda films were meant to rally Americans to uphold the torch of freedom and overcome latent isolationism in the name of civilization. At Roosevelt's urging, they were released in public theaters. Capra's bright idea was to damn the enemy with his own work. Instead of shooting new film, he picked out snippets of existing footage and pasted them together in a way that presented a grotesque vision of the peoples of the Axis nations. De Palma is doing the same thing, in photo-negative.

Capra didn't want to be a propagandist at first. When Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall approached him with the idea, he demurred, saying he'd never made a documentary before. Marshall told him, "Capra, I have never been Chief of Staff before. Thousands of young Americans have never had their legs shot off before. Boys are commanding ships today who a year ago had never seen the ocean before." Capra apologized and signed on to make "the best damned documentary films ever made."

De Palma needs no convincing.

[Venice, by the way, is one of the most America-hostile cities in Europe; due to its status and limited real estate it is largely occupied nowadays by wealthy and privileged citizens from many European nations, especially Germany. When I was there in 2003, a major thoroughfare sported a huge graffiti slogan: "Americans are murderers."]

Confederate Yankee is excoriating:

De Palma and like-minded souls in Venice, Cannes, and Santa Barbara, of course, feel brave for making a film that portrays the young Midwestern privates and southern specialists and street-smart second lieutenants from Jersey on the frontlines as savages, capable and yearning to unleash unbearable cruelty.

As sweat drips in the eyes of soldiers and Marines as they attempt to bring peace to a land that has rarely known it, their enemies will be watching pirated and crudely-dubbed bootlegs of Redacted in training camps in Syria, in mosques in Saudi Arabia, and in homes throughout the Arab world, who already take a suspicious view of the American soldier in Iraq.

We will not see the pictures that would actually win the war, of an Iraqi father wrapping his arms around a suicide bomber to keep him from entering a mosque, or of the Iraqi interpreter who proudly dreams of becoming an American Marine. We won't see Americans saving Iraqi lives, or Iraqis saving American lives, or the brutality of those we fight.

Those, you see, are the pictures that Brian de Palma has redacted.

How ironic is it that the most significant piece of Hollywood propaganda this year will be lauded by the people who would burn Hollywood to ash and sow its soil with salt if they had the chance? CY certainly is right about showings in Syria -- and Tehran. The religious authorities in Iran scrapped the scheduled program at the Farabi Cinema complex in Tehran to put Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" on display. "This film unmasks the Great Satan America," a spokesman said. "It tells Muslim people why they are right in hating America. It is the duty of every believer to see [this film] and learn the truth."

I watched the "no nukes" peace movement of the 1970s and '80s in Europe and America from close range, from the Berrigan brothers' protests at GE in King of Prussia to the crude anti-cruise missile protests in West Berlin.

These were well-meaning, passionate, idealistic people who followed the dictum, "think globally, act locally." Which unfortunately has a dark undercurrent of "think globally, act stupidly." Yes, of course they were as concerned about Soviet nukes as American ones. Or so they said. But the Western ones were closer to home, so they felt more responsible for stopping them, by any means necessary.

Does it surprise anyone today to learn that the Soviets welcomed (and funneled support to) the nuclear freeze movement in the West? They rhetorically co-opted most of the simple-minded pacifist idealists within their own boundaries through strict control of the media, making America appear the imperialist aggressor and the U.S.S.R. the peace-loving reluctant defender of innocents. At the same time, they exploited the open media of the West to plant articles and information undermining the West's opposition to Soviet hegemony.

Does it mean idealism is fatally flawed? Or free societies? Or contrarian media? No, but it means these faults are built into these systems, and people with bad intentions are willing to exploit them when people with good intentions use them stupidly. You ought to have some mental maturity and some global street smarts before you try propaganda at home. De Palma evidently lacks both.

Jeff Goldstein made a rational statement several days ago that will enflame a lot of people:

I’ve been excoriated on a number of occasions by anti-war types for pointing out what, to me, at least, is simply an empirical truism: that oftentimes the rhetorical aims of the anti-war camp reveal themselves in such a way that they overlap, intentionally or not, with the rhetorical strategies used by al Qaeda in its propaganda war against western hawks.

... But the fact remains that there have been overlaps, and that the phenomenon has become so pronounced that it has actually, at times, become a meta-phenomenon — with al Qaeda parroting back new formulations of their own propaganda as it has emerged, independently or not, from the anti-war west (leaving us with the surreal experience of al Qaeda leaders prattling on about “My Pet Goat,” or the failure of President Bush to sign on to Kyoto).

All of which I bring up by way of introduction to a rather long piece on tribal revolt in Iraq — one that I’ll quote from generously before leaving you with the following question to consider: at what point, precisely, does it become appropriate to call professional incompetence on the part of our press something a bit more than damning than mere ideological confirmation bias?

You can resent that, but it seems to me hard to argue that it is the case. Heck, even Michael Moore has bragged about it:

There he was, OBL, all tan and rested and on videotape (hey, did you get the feeling that he had a bootleg of my movie? Are there DVD players in those caves in Afghanistan?)

It doesn't imply motivation on the part of the "anti-war camp," but instead points out an unintended (giving the benefit of the doubt) consequence.

George Orwell pointed out the same thing about British pacifists as World War II loomed. The retort "George W. Bush is no Churchill" misses the point entirely.


All You '80s Kiddie Types

I'm assuming you've seen this by now. Me, I'm older and still waiting for a Simon Bar Sinister parody.

Song of Myself

[posted by Callimachus]

Labor Day weekend comes. I read guys who write about being a stay-at-home dad married to a working wife. And about guys with jobs. And they debate who is the more manly. I own you bitchez. I'm John Wayne Sergeant York Shaft. I stay at home and get pissed on and screamed at by an infant for eight hours straight while the wife works. Then I go into my newspaper job and get pissed on and screamed at by my boss and the public for the next nine hours. Double espressos are my rocket fuel. When the wellness coach walks past my desk at work, I tell him to keep walking, unless he's bringing donuts this time.

With the seven hours left, I sleep, and burn the stubs of what used to be my driving obsessions in life.

Which explains why my blog has become a stumbling mess of incoherence, a bag of shattered mirrors.

Photographic evidence of what's going on when I think of things to write here.

If You Read No Other Blogpost This Week...

[Posted by reader_iam]

...month or season ...

read this one.

That is, if wisdom even remotely matters to you.

Friday Cat Blogging

Indigo. Tribal style. See if you recognize anyone.


Thursday, August 30, 2007

Dollops of Hypocrisy

[posted by Callimachus]

There's enough to go around twice, in the Larry Craig story. Ignoring the glaringly obvious political hypocrisy of the man himself, we have this point from one of Kevin Drum's readers:

Here's what set me off: Craig's actions have been considered ample grounds for arrest for decades. Tens of thousands of gay men have gotten permanent records (quite often a fourth or fifth-degree felony), frequently losing jobs and going onto "sex offender" lists. Gay rights advocates have been furious about this for a long time.

If lefty bloggers feel the Minnesota police behaved outrageously, why haven't they said anything before? If Craig's arrest marks their introduction to this heinous practice, where's the outrage for all the victims? Writing "I don't see how he broke any laws," without understanding that society criminalized those actions long ago sounds naive. Do they really think no one has ever come to that conclusion before — or tried to change the practice and failed?

And this point from a woman blogger:

What I find more astonishing is the definition of "disorderly conduct." By this reckoning, ten years and thirty pounds ago, I had disorderly conduct foisted upon me approximately...let's see...15,923 times.

Per week.
Give or take.

But, even if they're unwanted advances, that's the natural order of things, right? Whereas men have to be protected from the unwanted advances of men at all costs (why? because they're worried they just might succumb to a particularly persuasive piece of foot telegraphy?).

Given the constant, daily harassment women endure (come on now, don't tune out; stay with me, here) -- harassment that makes us compress our daily activities into daylight hours, that circumscribes where we go, who we go with, and even what we wear; intrusive harassment, ruin-your-day, make-you-feel-powerless/angry/depressed harassment -- the overzealous prosecution of the toe-tapper really pisses me off.

Quote of the Day

"[A] nation that habitually drugs its children to make them ruly, encourages its women to mutilate themselves in search of youth and whose men extend their sexual lives by chemical means, should not condemn the use of performance-enhancing drugs by athletes.

"Personally, if someone offered me a drug that would make me write like Mark Twain, I’d take it."

[Don Kaul]

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Lies, Damned Lies, and

Huffington Post.

Michael Fumento de-crunches the numbers.

Do as We Say

[posted by Callimachus]

Sometimes the view of history that is unfriendly to America is essentially correct. Like here:

As with China and Harry Potter, America was a hotbed of literary piracy; like China's poisonous pet-food makers, American factories turned out adulterated foods and willfully mislabeled products. Indeed, to see China today is to glimpse, in a distant mirror, the 19th-century American economy in all its corner-cutting, fraudulent glory.

The story is aptly illustrated with a daguerrotype of Dickens, who suffered grievous losses of royalties to American publishing pirates. The venom with which early 19th century British authors wrote of America and Americans is partly traceable to this.

So, read in that narrow shaft of light, the point of the Boston Globe article, "China may be a very different country, but in many ways it is a younger version of us," is not wrong. Politically, however, there is a vastly different path for each country. It might be possible for China to bring its business practices into conformity with international standards more rapidly, given the country's degree of centralized control. Which is a perplexing paradox for lovers of liberal democracy.

But the article is a timely reminder to know your history before you point your fingers.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Most Underrated

Among the pack that's already been written off by the pundits. Dissatisfied with the leaders, I'm giving the pack a second look. Who I missed first time: Huckabee. An interesting mix. Not that this is everything, by any means, but the fact of having been fat, and gone through the severe weight loss -- and succeeded -- damn, but that ought to resonate with a lot of us as a character quality.

Little Feat

"All That You Dream." The thing you don't feel astonished by now; white guys playing guitar over a black rhythym section. In 1977, though, 'nother story. Of course it came from Atlanta. Yes, Scarlett's city, and if that surprises you you don't know nothin' 'bout nothin'. When rock started to be what it always was supposed to be. What wizened Miles Davis saw long before anyone who thought he was on the scene.

Cyndi Lauper

... the female Meat Loaf.


[could have said "Meat Loaf with tits," but, well ...]

Monday, August 27, 2007

Alberto Gonzales

Sunday, August 26, 2007

God Bless

[posted by Callimachus]

"God Bless America" stickers bleach on the bumpers of some cars and pick-up in my town. Usually with a dramatic drawing of an eagle or the Statue of Liberty. On others, a plain blue and white bumper sticker reads, "God bless the whole world. No exceptions."

"God Bless America." Very well. It may be knee-jerk patriotism, but I have no problem with it as theology. God bless us doesn't mean God, don't bless anything else. I don't believe in that god, but I don't object to being blessed by Christians, or to them appealing for blessings from someone I don't think is there. I know some people see that slogan, and the song that embodies it, as creeping Christianism. Which is amusing, since it was written by an Ashkenazi Jew, albeit a Republican.

Too old for military service when his country entered World War II in 1941, he devoted his time and energy to writing new patriotic songs, such as "Any Bonds Today?", donating the proceeds from This Is the Army to the army itself, and entertaining the troops with a road company of that show, in which he was a member of the cast. After performances in the United States, the show played in London in 1943, at a time when the city was still under air attack from Germany. After a tour of the British Isles, the show went on to North Africa and then Italy, playing in Rome only weeks after that city was liberated. Next came the Middle East and the Pacific, where performances often took place in close proximity to battle zones. In recognition of this important and courageous contribution to troop morale, at war's end Berlin was awarded the Medal of Merit by President Truman.

And sung most famously by a hefty never-married songbird ("I'm big, and I sing, and boy, when I sing, I sing all over!") named Kate Smith. To me, a native Philadelphian, and many others, the song forever will be associated with the Flyers' Stanley Cup years -- a pack of flamboyant, hard-cussing, hyperviolent Canadians. Besides, it inspired "This Land is Your Land."

So I have to dig through a lot of smiles to be spooked by the Christianism in it.

But what about the other? "God bless the whole world. No exceptions." Really? God bless Osama Bin Laden? God bless pedophiles? God bless Halliburton? Interesting. But they don't mean that, really, do they? I don't think many of the people who put those stickers on their car believe in that god any more than I do. It's just a reaction. To the other sticker. It doesn't mean anything, and it's not meant to support or promote anything. Just irritate the other side.

Which is why I don't take them seriously. Because it seems they don't take themselves seriously.

Labels: ,

Friday, August 24, 2007

Council Winners

[posted by Callimachus]

Winners have been posted for the week of August 24.

First place in the council went to Is the United States an Imperialist Power and Does It Matter? by Right Wing Nut House, which mirrors a discussion we've been having here lately -- and is a riff on the same Glenn Greenwald post that started ours. Except Rick thinks the debate is hardly worth having:

Are we an imperialist power? The only people who seem to care are those who wish to call us “imperialists.” For the rest of the world, the US is a fact of life, a force of nature. And, I might add, a welcome sight when the boogyman is knocking at the door or Mother nature goes on a bender.

Can we do it while acting more humbly? Must we be so “arrogant?” Next tyrant we overthrow, we should be sure to apologize before having our military rip his regime a new one. Maybe that will satisfy those who see anything relevant at all in this stupid argument.

Votes also went to St. Nietzsche from right here and Horrific Nineveh Bombing Shows Counterinsurgency Working at Big Lizards.

Outside the council, first place went to How The New Republic Got Suckered by Pajamas Media, which I thought failed to live up to its title. It contained little new information, asked a lot of questions it never answered, interviewed some peripheral characters, and never really got to be the "inside baseball"story its title seemed to promise.

Votes also went to The Peace Racket by Bruce Bawer in City Journal, who continues to shine light into the grimmest corners of the unreconstructed left wing of Western Europe, which seems willing to swing any which way in the wind and take any side, so long as the United States remains the great satan.

Votes also went to Israel and the Double Standard at; and UK Civics Class Asks: What Would Muhammad Do? at Sweetness & Light, both powerful posts.

And to The Technology of Our Dissent at Beijing Wide Open, which is a timely reminder that while we pose and bloviate here to get things off our chest and cheer one another in whatever causes we share, some people use the same medium at tremendous personal risk, in the longshot hope that they can genuinely change the world for the better, or at least their corner of it.

Bad News

Rick Moran, author of the superb blog Right Wing Nut House, is about to get flooded out in the Midwest.

The flood authorities reckon that 4 feet of water will be in my little one story house by breakfast time. The house will be a total loss – not even worth rebuilding. At any rate, it will be uninhabitable for weeks.

Lots of people will be hurting out there. Perhaps something can be done to help, via this anonymous, intimate media.

To Get You in a Weekend Mood

From the Land of the Rising Ska


I'll give credit to the Associated Press for this story

An extensive survey by The Associated Press and MTV found that people aged 13 to 24 who describe themselves as very spiritual or religious tend to be happier than those who don't.

Why? Because high up in the body -- within a few graphs of the top and high enough to get on the good side of the jump -- it includes the necessary "causation or correlation" disclaimer:

Sociologists have long drawn a connection between happiness and the sense of community inherent to most religious practice. Lisa Pearce, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina, said religion could indeed contribute to happiness, but she cautioned that the converse also could hold true.

"It's easier for kids who are happy and have things going well in their life to find the time and energy to participate in religion," said Pearce, co-principal investigator for the National Study of Youth and Religion. "It could be kids who have bad experiences in church end up leaving and being unhappy with religion."

Maybe the gods bring happiness to those who see them. Maybe seeing a god makes you happier than seeing no god. Maybe people happy in their circumstances are more inclined to perceive a Just and Loving Hand guiding the universe than those with bad digestion and too many bills to pay.

Of course, a great many copy editors don't bother to read that far into a story before putting a headline on it. Like one, apparently, who works for the newspaper linked above, who titled it "Religion contributes to youths' happiness."

Friday Cat Blogging

The drum puts Ansuya through her paces.


The Coming Force

[posted by Callimachus]

What happens when the Third Way is like the other two, only worse?

Now the rapidly growing [Hizb ut-Tahrir] movement has been emerging from the shadows in the Palestinian territories as well, capitalizing on public unhappiness with the recent bloodshed between the mainstream Hamas and Fatah movements that has split the Palestinian cause in two. A recent rally in the West Bank drew a crowd estimated in the tens of thousands. Days later, the centre of Ramallah is still covered in dark red posters praising "The Caliphate: The Coming Force," and Palestinians are flocking to mosques to hear preachers with an angry message.

"Why are we watching infidels prosper in this world and not stopping them?" Sheik Abu Abdullah, a young-looking man sporting a black turban and a neat black beard, asked a silent crowd of 50 people gathered at the al-Faruq mosque in Kfar Aqab last night. The audience, all men, most middle-class professionals, sat in silence as a battery of ceiling fans sliced through the humid night air.

Nice little ominous touch in the observed scene in that last line there.

[Hat tip: Big Pharaoh]

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Southern Populists

[posted by Callimachus]

John Edwards speaks:

This election is unlike any we have faced before. The stakes are higher. And the challenges we face as a nation are greater than at any time in memory.

We as a nation must choose whether to do what America has always done in times like these -- change direction and move boldly into the future for the sake of our children, if not for ourselves, or wander in the same stale direction we have traveled in our recent past.

The choice we must make is as important as it is clear.

It is a choice between looking back and looking forward.

A choice between the way we've always done it and the way we could do it if we dared.

A choice between corporate power and the power of democracy.

Between a corrupt and corroded system and a government that works for us again.

It is caution versus courage. Old versus new. Calculation versus principle.

It is the establishment elites versus the American people.

It is a choice between the failed compromises of the past and the bright possibilities of our future. Between resigning ourselves to Two Americas or fighting for the One America we all believe in.

As always, at these moments, the choice we make is not for us, but for our children and our great country. And this time, like no other time, the consequences for our children are truly profound.

Will we halt global warming, protect our environment and humanity from the cataclysmic consequences of inaction and leave our children a livable world rich in the resources that were left to us?

Sigh. I suppose there's been a greater hubris somewhere in American political history than "elect me and I'll change the climate!" Somewhere. If we give him a second term, can he halt continental drift as well?

And I suppose it's a cheap shot to wonder why a modern presidential wanna-be constructs his arguments in shattered sound-bytes like that and not in reasoned arguments like, say, this:

And now, if they would listen - as I suppose they will not - I would address a few words to the Southern people.

I would say to them: - You consider yourselves a reasonable and a just people; and I consider that in the general qualities of reason and justice you are not inferior to any other people. Still, when you speak of us Republicans, you do so only to denounce us a reptiles, or, at the best, as no better than outlaws. You will grant a hearing to pirates or murderers, but nothing like it to "Black Republicans." In all your contentions with one another, each of you deems an unconditional condemnation of "Black Republicanism" as the first thing to be attended to. Indeed, such condemnation of us seems to be an indispensable prerequisite - license, so to speak - among you to be admitted or permitted to speak at all. Now, can you, or not, be prevailed upon to pause and to consider whether this is quite just to us, or even to yourselves? Bring forward your charges and specifications, and then be patient long enough to hear us deny or justify.

Which might be what Lincoln would have said to YearlyKos. But, speaking of Southerners, and thinking of populists like Edwards, what really strikes me about Edwards' rhetoric -- the glare of good and evil, the insistence on radical solutions, the lunar promises -- is how much it resembles this:

I cannot deliver that promise to the youth of this land tonight, but I am doing my part. I am standing the blows; I am hearing the charges hurled at me from the four quarters of the country. It is the same fight which was made against me in Louisiana when I was undertaking to provide the free school books, free buses, university facilities, and things of that kind to educate the youth of that State as best I could. It is the same blare which I heard when I was undertaking to provide for the sick and the afflicted. When the youth of this land realizes what is meant and what is contemplated the billingsgate and the profanity of all the Farleys and Johnsons in America can't prevent the light of truth from hurling itself in understandable letters against the dark canopy of the sky.

Now, when we have landed at the place where homes and comforts are provided for all families and complete education and training for all young men and women, the next problem is what about our income to sustain our people thereafter. How shall that be arranged to guarantee all the fair share of what soul and body need to sustain them conveniently?

And so forth.

Shout It Out

[Posted by reader_iam]

C'mon, 'fess up: How many of you have actually read (explicitly excluding those who've skimmed over the past day) Graham Greene's The Quiet American? And I mean "read": seeing one of the movie versions is a different answer, and non-responsive to my question.

Moving to the speculative realm: Express, as a percentage of each category, how many a) journalists, b) bloggers, c) people in general and d)[you supply a category) you're thinking have read the book in question.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Maybe It's For 'Avenue'

[posted by Callimachus]

Here, we collectively lamented the demise of the old custom of naming public schools after great Americans of the past.

But after reading this, maybe it's just as well. If you can't do it right ...

OGDEN, Utah - The Ogden School District needs a big eraser. After naming a new school "James A. Madison Elementary School" in May, a history teacher pointed out this month that the fourth president of the United States didn't have a middle initial.

"I'm blindsided," school board member John Gullo said. "I hate being embarrassed."

This also is telling:

The board voted May 23 to approve the school name as "James A. Madison." The majority of board members chose Madison because the school borders Madison Avenue. Several board members also said they feel James Madison was a great president.

[hat tip]

I have no idea in hell where they got the "A" from, unless they somehow stumbled onto a reference to Dr. James A. Madison, a relatively obscure great-nephew of President Madison.


Wednesday, August 22, 2007

What, Do You Think?

[posted by Callimachus]

Glenn Greenwald is miffed because Daniel Drezner called him a pacifist. As if there could be any such coherent ideology behind his outpourings. A whole sack-full of pundits in what is mis-called the liberal wing of American politics can be described most accurately not by what they are, but by what they are against: people from Greenwald to Michael Moore to Cindy Sheehan to Maureen Dowd.

This is more, I think, than simply happening to stand in opposition to the ruling party. Which is why I usually think of them collectively as "antis."

The state of the world makes it easy for them. Default single-superpower American hegemony allows a mere attitude toward the United States and its defining institutions to pass for a world-view that's been thought about for more than 60 consecutive seconds.

The old pacifists of the 19th and early 20th centuries at least had to face a multi-polar militarized world, where disarmament could proceed sanely only through international agreement and institutions. That still didn't stop a dedicated minority of idealists from advocating unilateral disarmament of Britain or America, of course, in the firm faith France, Germany, Russia, and Italy would then see the light and follow. But the complex realities of the case kept most pacifists from going down that path (the saner ones sometimes are called pacificists) and it kept the general public from buying into the argument at all in any large numbers except, tragically, in the 1930s.

Their modern descendants, however, can say, and believe, "the sole cause of problem X in country Y is the United States and its policies. Change the policies, remove the United States from the situation, and the problem naturally will resolve itself." Or not, but in any case the interposition of the United States in country Y is, in their formulation, a greater evil than any which could result from problem X.

So what is Greenwald? He recently wrote, "the U.S. should not attack another country unless that country has attacked or directly threatens our national security ...." Which (leaving aside the Gordian knot of marking the bounds of "national interests") would seem to define him as a "defensist" in the old view. Their motto was Vegetius' Igitur qui desiderat pacem, praeparet bellum. Seventy years ago, that meant supporting the maintenance of a military so strong it not only could repel an invasion, it would discourage another power from even attempting one. In the current framing, it would involve an active and vigorous policing of the borders and immigration, and enhanced surveillance and espionage.

None of which sounds like Glenn Greenwald's position (or Molly Ivins' when she lived, or Paul Krugman's, etc.).

Greenwald himself almost makes it explicit: I suspect, if he thought about it, he'd say the playing field is so tilted, so lopsided, there's no point in having a set of rules for everyone. Just enough ropes to tie down Gulliver.

Put simply, there is no reasonable way to compare the use of military force by the U.S. to any other country on the planet. We spend more on our military than every other country combined. We spend six times more on our military than China, the next largest military spender.

It has been difficult for me to find any passage in the vast corpus of Glenn Greenwald that addresses military policies or global politics generally that isn't a sentence complaining of America and its imperialism. This approach to the world goes down a path that ends in saying Iran and North Korea should not be sanctioned for pursuing nuclear weapons because they do so in justified fear of America. Or that terrorism against civilians is explicable, if not justified, because it is the only effective tactical weapon against so mighty a military power as America.

Even if it never goes that far, the attitude fails to take the simple step of turning the thing on its head and asks who but us will keep pirates from the international waters or deliver mass amounts of humanitarian relief in natural disasters, given the unwillingness or inability of most of the rest of the world to field a muscular military. If not this, then what? And is "what" better? And for whom?

But that would be thinking, and thinking takes time away from automatic writing.

His insistence is that America is an "empire" or pursues "imperialist" policies. It is interesting to me how eager he is to apply that word to America but he studiedly avoids it with reference to the historical USSR, writing instead of "Soviet influence." He asks what defining behaviors of past empires we have not shown: How about the core one: "the possession of final authority by one entity over the vital political decisions of another. This need not mean direct rule exercised by formal occupation and administration; most empires involve informal, indirect rule. But real empire requires that effective final authority, and states can enjoy various forms of superiority or even domination over others without being empires."

In fact, he's pretty confused about who his enemies are and what they think.

Ruling the world that way through superior military force -- starting wars even when our national security is not directly at risk -- is the definitional behavior of an empire.

No, it isn't. Those sorts of behaviors are characteristic of two different philosophies: militarism, which sees wars of conquest as means to advance civilization, and what might be called "crusading," which allows that, in some cases, military action against a nation even in the absence of a direct threat can open a path to greater overall freedom and justice and stability in a region or the world.

What he's really "anti" is those two things: militarism and the crusading spirit. For some reason he tangles it all up in imperialism. They are not the same. A distaste for militarism can go hand in hand with, for instance, a fondness for diplomacy, which would be laughable in someone who claims to be exercised primarily over imperialism. If there was a greater aid to imperialism than militarism, it was diplomacy, which allowed the great powers (almost by definition European Christian nations) to carve up the world bloodlessly amid the musical ring of champagne toasts.

Labels: ,

Leaving Iraq

[posted by Callimachus]

Here's a remarkable op-ed by some of our soldiers working in Iraq. In summing up the experience they hit on something that always was going to be true of this adventure, whether it went perfectly or poorly:

In the end, we need to recognize that our presence may have released Iraqis from the grip of a tyrant, but that it has also robbed them of their self-respect. They will soon realize that the best way to regain dignity is to call us what we are — an army of occupation — and force our withdrawal.

Any occupation will leech a nation's self-respect, unless you're a nation like, say, certain Western European lands under the Nazis in the '40s where people mostly didn't seem to mind. America "occupies" Iraq, as someone wisely put it years ago, "like a cast 'occupies' a broken leg." But a cast is still a severe irritant and you come to hate it and the way it limits you.

We went there, in my original neo-con vision, to be evicted -- to be told to go home. Not to walk away from it when we chose to, but to be told by the Iraqis, "we don't need you here; you should leave." The question was going to be whether they spoke as an elected entity expressing the will of a people seeking peace and prosperity, or whether they spoke as a galvanized and radicalized guerrilla movement.

We don't "need to recognize" that so much as we need to remember it. And stay focused on steering toward the one outcome at the expense of the other.

Worst Spam E-Mail Heading Evah!

"Barbra Streisand Goes Braless!"

Is there a desktop folder deeper and more permanent than "Delete"

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Want to See Something REALLY Scary?

Want to read something chilling, aggravating, and depressing all at once? Yeah, you know you do. Here it is.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Happy (Belated) Bloggiversary

Sunday, August 19, 2007

OK, I'm Open To Arguments...

[Posted by reader_iam]

... that the juxtaposition of the first two items in this is purely accidental.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Back To School

[Posted by reader_iam]

Wait--isn't it still July?


Saturday, August 18, 2007

Heed The Unsexy ...

Wisdom's Like A Fine Wine

[Posted by reader_iam]


Labels: , , , , ,

Yo! Anyone Want To Say Something?

[Posted by reader_iam]

Just curious.

Labels: , , , ,

Friday, August 17, 2007

Speaking Of Wanting To Party All The Time

[Posted by reader_iam]

What's gonna happen when the White House changes hands in 2008 and members of the press (literally and figuratively) still have a job to do?

And what about that (this) blogosphere, folks?

Labels: ,

'Cause It Was

[Posted by reader_iam]

Labels: , , ,

Who Knew?

Council Winners

[posted by Callimachus]

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

First place in the council went to The "Don't Make Waves!" Theory of Iraqi Politics at Big Lizards. Dafydd takes the view that the insistence on "political progress" in Iraq is a red herring, as is the insistence no military or local progress made in that country is valid unless the parliament passes a set of U.S.-approved laws.

Demanding that the current crop of dunderheads in the Iraq parliament cobble together a grand unified theory of Iraqi constitutional law is at best shortsighted, at worst feeding the "fatal conceit" that in a tribal country like Iraq, decisions should nevertheless be made from the top down. Rather, democracy and freedom should begin from tribe to tribe, then spread to village, town, and city. It cannot be imposed from above when the only experience Iraqis have with top-down government is the crushing Baathist and Saddamite repression.

There's a lot of sensein that.

Trailing by a vote was Political Fairy Tales at Bookworm Room. File this under yet another warning of how dangerous political life becomes when truth becomes relative and narrative trumps fact. It reminds me, in a roundabout way, of another piece I read recently, on the topic of Holocaust denial and the attempt to criminalize it in many European lands.

Also getting votes were Globalization Killed the Bison?! at Cheat Seeking Missiles; Re-Crafting U.S. Foreign Policy at The Glittering Eye; and An Interesting Morning at Rhymes With Right.

Outside the council the winner was General James Mattis -- Attacking the al Qaeda "Narrative", an article in Small Wars Journal.

Also getting votes were Progressive For Racist Smears? at Captain's Quarters, which I thought was a bang-up job of online research; The Difference Between Reward and Punishment by Yehuda; Are You Black Enough? at Logosphilia; In Memory of Kimberly at Aaron's Rod; and Fathers, The Third Victim of the Abortion Industry, a fearless transgression where angels fear to tread at Intellectual Conservative.

Also, here are the winners from the week of August 9:

First place in the council went to My Excellent Adventure At Yearlykos by Right Wing Nut House.

Votes also went to Tancredo and Tonic from right here; Newsweek Attacks Global Warming Deniers from ‘Okie’ on the Lam; Always Look on the Bright Side of Life at Bookworm Room; and Gonzales, Intelligence, and Perjury: The Penultimate Word by Big Lizards.

Outside the council the winner was Bread and a Circus, Part II of II by Michael Yon.

Votes also went to My View of Islam by Ayaan Hirsi Ali in The Washington Post; A Bridge Too Far at Lone Star Times; the grimly amusing "Grim Milestone" Reached: 500 Palestinian Arabs Killed By Each Other This Year at Elder of Ziyon; The Crystal Ball at Belmont Club; Propaganda Redux by Ion Mihai Pacepa in OpinionJournal; and "Diversity" and the Rhetorical Dodge at Protein Wisdom.

Speaking Of Heds

[Posted by reader_iam]

nTodd's exactly right here, and that's emphatically so even if the pedophile in question offers an attractive hook for headline-writers because he was a blogger who blogged on his execrable (ex-)blog. Way to imply correlation/causation (and don't even pretend that the, probably, slot editor in question is too thick to realize what he/she did, at least in retrospect--unless you're also saying he/she is too incompetent for the job at hand to begin with).

Labels: , , ,

"So he’s accused of screwing the brothel"

[Posted by reader_iam]

Me, I would have used that as the hed for a blogpost about a news story like this.

Heck, I just did. Joe Gandelman, on the other hand, went with an actual straight news headline on his blogpost--in other words, he took the high road, in a time when even official, traditional news outlets don't always bother to observe the discipline in question on actual news articles--which pretty much explains why I still read his blog/mag regularly, even amidst the drastic falling off of my online engagement, especially blogs, more generally.

Just wanted to recognize and acknowledge all o' that, aloud.

Labels: , , , ,

Friday Cat Blogging

Malia, working the veil like a toreadora.


Thursday, August 16, 2007

Not Too Late For 1 More 8/16 Elvis Post

[Posted by reader_iam]

This one.
'Are you lonesome tonight?'

That question is never as lovely as when it's half-whispered, half-sung into your ear by the man you know you're falling in love with. A crisp uniform and the scent of clean manliness are all that separates you. And who knew Elvis sang gospel? It's even possible that our son's first name stuck in my husband's head from hearing "Swing Down Sweet Chariot" innumerable times.
Love the final sentence of RAA's post; really, folks: Isn't that the point, after all is said and done?

Labels: , , ,

When Henry Met Jenna

[Posted by reader_iam]

Shallow alert: This is a completely trivial post.

Isn't it too perfect that a Jenna's gonna marry a Henry? (Especially when it's that Jenna.) The names, people, the names!!! Say 'em aloud: Jenna. Henry. Henry. Jenna. Jenna 'nd Henry. Henry 'n' Jenny. Lord, it's perfect. "Copacetic," even, in a certain twee way. It's the '80s, all grown up and ready to propagate!

And with a fine nod to times past: Please, please please tell me they'll end up with a summer cottage (but not a permanent home, mind you) affectionately nicknamed within the family as Howard's End. Or something like that.

Oh, of course I wish them well. And I think it's cynical nonsense to say that the timing of their marriage will have mostly to do with casting a theatrical scrim of sentiment over the waning days of the G W Bush presidency.

Still ... those names. Those names!

Anyone want to start a pool on likely names for the offspring?


P.S. I love weddings, of all types. I look forward to another (rare) one at the White House. I'm old enough, even, to remember in one/some way/ways and/or another all those that have taken place there within my lifetime.

Go, Jenna and Henry, go!!!

Update: Really, it absolutely MUST, MUST be Henry and Jenna, and not the reverse (better yet, the "and" in that construction should, at strategic times, be 'n'). I won't edit my last line, but I implore you to read it as if I had. Falling trippingly on the ear is of importance in certain contexts; one ordering of the names of this couple does that, and the other doesn't.

Only sayin'.

Labels: , , , ,

To the Netrooters

[posted by Callimachus]

Auteurs of outrage, howling at everything from hangnails to warfare. I'm afraid you've become an echo chamber of boys who cried wolf. Go ahead and crank up the machine over this one:

The Bush administration has approved a plan to expand domestic access to some of the most powerful tools of 21st-century spycraft, giving law enforcement officials and others the ability to view data obtained from satellite and aircraft sensors that can see through cloud cover and even penetrate buildings and underground bunkers.

But I'm afraid it will have to be sane conservatives who sound the alarm that's going to be heard. Let's hope they're up to the task. Someone had better be.

Down Syndrome

[posted by Callimachus]

You don't expect a great writer to be anything but flawed, and this revelation about Arthur Miller is more sad than shocking:

Only a handful of people in the theater knew that Miller had a fourth child. Those who did said nothing, out of respect for his wishes, because, for nearly four decades, Miller had never publicly acknowledged the existence of Daniel.

He did not mention him once in the scores of speeches and press interviews he gave over the years. He also never referred to him in his 1987 memoir, Timebends. In 2002, Daniel was left out of the New York Times obituary for Miller's wife, the photographer Inge Morath, who was Daniel's mother. A brief account of his birth appeared in a 2003 biography of Miller by the theater critic Martin Gottfried. But even then Miller maintained his silence. At his death, the only major American newspaper to mention Daniel in its obituary was the Los Angeles Times, which said, "Miller had another son, Daniel, who was diagnosed with Down syndrome shortly after his birth in 1962. It is not known whether he survives his father." Citing the Gottfried biography, the paper reported that Daniel had been put in an institution, where Miller "apparently never visited him."

It also reminds me of something I meant to look up. Are there fewer and fewer Down Syndrome people around, or is it just my imagination? They were part of life when I was growing up: The big kid Robbie who uses to sit on his front porch on my walk to school, smiling and waving at everyone who passed as he rocked vigorously back and forth in his rocking chair; a whole classroom full of them in my high school, where the rest of us could hang out on free periods if we chose. A district-wide Special Olympics with dozens of participants.

Now? I don't know if my son has ever seen a Down Syndrome kid. I am sure there are none in the halls of his high school.

So I looked it up: Sure enough, it was predicted in 1982 that the number of Down Syndrome births would rise rapidly "principally as a result of the large increase in the number of women moving into the older age categories," but in fact, such births actually declined. "In 1989, the rate of Down syndrome cases was 15% lower than expected, decreasing to 51% by 1998. Women 15 to 34 had 45% fewer affected pregnancies in 2001, while women 35 to 49 had 53% fewer in 2001."

The reasons are complex, but certainly what looms largely in them are dramatic advances in prenatal detection testing, and access to legal abortion. The New York Times took up the ethical problems of that here and recently revisited them here. "About 90 percent of pregnant women who are given a Down syndrome diagnosis have chosen to have an abortion."

Needless to say, this creates painful contradictions for the part of the body politic that is nominally pro-choice on abortion, yet anti-eugenics and supportive of people with disabilities.

Don't expect any Gordian-knot-cutting insights here. All I can add is, as a parent, I would not wish that situation on anyone. Yet I can't help feeling the world is diminished without Robbie in it.

Questions Unasked

[posted by Callimachus]

"But even now it's difficult. Even in the six years from 1997 in which I was doing my research, I'd often hold back from asking questions. I'd play back the tapes and know that I ought to have asked a certain question, but sometimes I just couldn't: it would have been too cruel. I'd have a kind of a block."

The burden of being a Himmler.


[Posted by reader_iam]

It's amazing to me how unbloggable I've found even major news stories, recently. Perhaps I'm suffering from some sort of hype-fatigue. Who knows? In any case, here's a partial list of my reactions to some stuff, big and small, that's been in the headlines:

1) Rove's departure. "Anti-climactic."

2) Chavez's move to consolidate power over the longer term. "Satisfyingly, though distressingly, predictable. People who didn't think this would happen right on schedule are the same sort who think George Bush won't leave office as scheduled--in short, fools."

3) Petraeus' report to be written by White House! "What's shocking or even surprising about this? Among other things, the Commander in Chief lives and works there, for good or for ill. In any case, I don't remember certain members of our Congress being so all-fire eager to get information from the horse's mouth when they boycotted a briefing with Petraeus a few months back. Political hay, plain and simple. The report is and was going to be criticized--or embraced, depending--regardless of its technical author."

4) AT&T issues book-length iPhone bills. "It figures, knowing what I know about that culture (based on some consulting experience years ago). And isn't it a charming touch to have text messages compiled and printed out? I've come to the conclusion that Icepick is right, and these "bills" are a good and healthy reminder: Any privacy we think we have is an illusion; corporate America has pretty much our entire lives in databases and, our protests to the contrary notwithstanding, most of us do and will continue to willingly and eagerly enable that, mostly for convenience."

5) Scott Thomas Beachamp: "The triumph of truthiness. And where did anybody get the idea that major fact-checking takes place anywhere in newspapers and magazines anymore? The very idea that departments of fact-checking still meaningfully exist is a quaint anachronism. I mean, what the heck--are we confusing TNR with the New Yorker circa 1955, or what? Make no mistake, I believe fervently in the importance of fact-checking. I just don't believe it takes place particularly rigorously anywhere anymore, for most part."

6) Campaign 2008: "Nails, meet chalkboard. Does anyone truly like picturing any of the candidates as president, much less find them inspiring? And whose idea was it to turn our traditionally already too-long campaign season into a freakin' marathon? I can't decide whether they're trying to irritate or numb us into submission, but in either case, it's darn near a criminal offense, and I resent it. So there."

Enough for now.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Sometimes "Flame Wars" Spark Memories

[Posted by reader_iam]

Thank you, Althouse and TRex.

At Althouse, I had this to say:
To be upfront and honest, I thought TRex's "vlog" was very funny. Also, I hadn't thought of Buster Poindexter in quite a long, long while.

If I didn't know better, I might think that skeins of performance art were being cooperatively interwoven into entertainment for us all (and, of course, for the benefit of the bloggers involved).

Perish the thought (yet fancy that!)!!
But then, I also thought the hed on Althouse's post was one of her best ever. When it comes right down to it, what the hell do I know? No matter: Sometimes it's fun as all get out just to sit back and watch the show(s) from the peanut gallery.

Somehow, I think that everyone referenced in this post gets that, exactly.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

I Remember Dancing Dirty To This Song

[Posted by reader_iam]

When I was falling in love.

30th anniversary of Elvis Presley's death.

(The referenced dancing, however, took place only 15 years ago.)

Labels: ,

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Good News is the Bad News

[posted by Callimachus]

Sometimes you can be a liberator, greeted with roses ...

Private Goings, the gunner in the Humvee I rode in, threw one box of cookies after another. Kids and their parents received them ecstatically. We did this all morning, for four hours. Aside from a 20 minute dismounted patrol near a palm grove, all we did was drive around and throw cookies.

... and it's not necessarily good news:

American soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division shared the small outpost with Iraqi Army soldiers who lived, worked, and slept in the building next door.

“You mean the Iraqi Army unit here has been infiltrated?” I said.

He nodded grimly and took a pull from his cigarette.

"That's a bad reason for us not to be mortared," I said.

"Yeah," he said and laughed. It was obvious, though, that he did not think it was funny.

“How do you know this?” I said.

“Heard it from intel,” he said. “Getting information out of them is like pulling teeth, but sometimes they say stuff.”

Michael J. Totten -- who depends on your contributions to do this -- has put up one of his best pieces yet. Baghdad is -- this will surprise you if you only read the newspapers -- a wickedly complicated society.

Making the Rounds

[posted by Callimachus]

Confederate Yankee (with some help from commenters) does a bang-up job dismantling a leading print media photograph from Iraq today which purports to show a woman holding up "two bullets" which "hit her house" during a "coalition forces raid." I've never fired a gun in my life. But even I could tell at first sight that bullets that had hit a house would not be shiny, perfectly symmetrical, and still have their cartridge casings attached.

Believe it or not, though, I think some of the gatekeeper media is actually that ignorant of military matters. So much so that they passed along this little "shame on you, America" vignette, attributing it solely to her as a way of acknowledging they were too lazy to check it out, without knowing that all the evidence of a fraud was right there in the picture.

All the more amazing because -- like the Scott Beauchamp fiasco -- the vignette for the anti-war message they were seeking could be legitimately found in Iraq (or any war) if they just took the trouble to actually go and get it. It's the laziness, as much as anything, that's killing people's confidence in the big media.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

St. Nietzsche

[posted by Callimachus]

Roger Scruton, philosopher, points to a pair of unlikely archangels -- Nietzsche and Wagner.

Were they heroes of religion in the late 19th century? That struck me at first as odd, since they perhaps are better known as icons of the brutal Germanic secular religion of the 20th century. But you can't always blame a saint for how people behave later in the shade of his stained glass.

Odd, too, though, because Western faith seemed to be in full retreat through the whole 19th century, a tide ebbing under the sun of the Enlightenment and everything from Darwin and Lyell to Marx and Margaret Sanger. Titans of religion seemed to shrink as the century wore on -- from a Wilberforce to a Henry Ward Beecher: "The rattle of pebbles on the shore under the receding wave."

But that confuses "religion" with "conventional Christianity." And Scruton is seeing a bigger picture than that. To twist the Yeats image a bit, the receding tide exposed the primeval rock Christianity was built upon, and stripped off centuries of sand to show us not our specific Western religions, but the furious human urges that they were created to control. That was the eruption of the century between Wagner's and ours. If Scruton is right, there were warnings.

"[T]he intellectual enterprise" of Nietzsche and Wagner, he writes, "is that of showing the place of the sacred in human life, and the kind of knowledge and understanding that comes to us through the experience of sacred things."

He rightly notes that most of the leading lights of the Enlightenment, though they stripped the cloak of reason from belief, generally didn't try to flay the naked skin of it. Today, in media-molded America, we tend to experience only thuggish religion -- in which category I include secular fundamentalism and evangelical atheism. Such an approach blinds us to the Enlightenment, and to the American Founders who were its students. The notion and necessity of "civil religion" (Rousseau's term) is as central to them as is their loathing of pious superstitions and holy bigotry.

You cannot enlist a genuine Jefferson or a Rousseau in a modern U.S. political dispute between fundamentalist Christianity and aggressive secularism. You will never understand the role of a John Witherspoon in the Declaration of Independence. People who memorize the Voltaire quip about God often don't know the context of it: "I want my lawyer, my tailor, my servants, even my wife to believe in God, because it means that I shall be cheated and robbed and cuckolded less often. ... If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him."

George Washington, the practical plantation-manager among the learned Founders, often spoke about the political importance of religion. He did so in his "Farewell Address" (based on a draft by Hamilton), where he named it along with education and public credit as things productive of "public felicity." He was not talking about government-sponsored religion or the Pledge of Allegiance. He was talking about the people and their faiths.

Jefferson, the deist/Unitarian who so riled the pious Christians of his day, understood this, too. One Sunday morning, as president, he was walking to church service, prayer book in hand, when a friend accosted him and said, "You going to church Mr. J. You do not believe a word in it." [Americans were more familiar with their presidents then]. Jefferson replied, "no nation has ever yet existed or been governed without religion. Nor can be. The Christian religion is the best religion that has been given to man and I as chief Magistrate of this nation am bound to give it the sanction of my example. Good morning Sir."

(Of course, he never denied that he didn't believe a word of it.)

Jefferson, Rousseau, Voltaire, even Washington saw the situation more plainly than we do. We tend to try either to reassert the full societal grip of traditional Western religions or else sweep them away as the root of all modern evils. As though religion was the apple in the Garden instead of a set of imperfect channels for deep, dark human urges.

Religions are structures which draw destructive internal poisons and cure them, mostly, into constructive and calming rituals. Only a fool would think we can dispense with any such structure when Cambodia still reeks of corpses and we are only a few geological ticks out of the Ice Age.

The American Founders had the confidence of believing Western religion generally was on a firm foundation and sustained by the evidence of nature. Nietzsche and Wagner, by contrast, lived on the other side of that confidence, when the receding tide had eroded the Bible as science and perhaps even as history. They looked down instead on the bare foundation under the cathedral: the chthonic rituals of the ancients. Scruton writes:

The lesson that both thinkers took from the Greeks was that you could subtract the gods and their stories from Greek religion without taking away the most important thing. This thing had its primary reality not in myths or theology or doctrine, but in rituals, in moments that stand outside time, in which the loneliness and anxiety of the human individual is confronted and overcome, through immersion in the group—an idea that was later to be made foundational to the sociology of religion by Durkheim.

And so, though the fact is not much promoted, Scruton writes there are alternative to repressive Christians and politicized fundamentalists who are not relentless God-bashers like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. There is, for instance, René Girard.

Thinkers like Dawkins and Hitchens conclude that religion is the cause of this violence and sexual obsession, and that the crimes committed in the name of religion can be seen as the definitive disproof of it. Not so, argues Girard. Religion is not the cause of violence but the solution to it. The violence comes from another source, and there is no society without it since it comes from the very attempt of human beings to live together. The same can be said of the religious obsession with sexuality: religion is not its cause, but an attempt to resolve it.



[posted by Callimachus]

The Yezidi, smashed by terrorists, were an especially vicious choice of a target. Recall Michael J. Totten's visit among them:

Night was coming soon and it was getting colder outside. Birzo and I started to get shifty. We needed to get moving.

“Thank you so much for meeting with me,” I said and firmly shook Baba Sheikh’s hand.

“All people in the world should be brothers,” he said. “You are always welcome here for the rest of your life.”

Monday, August 13, 2007

Vanishing Erik

[posted by Callimachus]

Robert Fulford is right, if I'm any indication. Twenty years ago I used to have a couple of Erik Erikson books on my shelf. Now I had completely forgotten he existed till I read this article. I think Fulford's post mortem is mostly correct, too:

But by the time Erikson died (at 92, in 1994), his reputation had all but evaporated. What happened? His theories were often analyzed critically but it wasn't his critics who did him in. He was betrayed by history. For one thing, psychoanalysis went into decline everywhere, partly because of its dubious success record, partly because analysis cost so much and took so long, and partly because Freud and his followers presented themselves originally as scientists but never developed a scientific method to judge their work.

More important, as Burston says, the world changed, radically. Youth, Erikson's great subject, was transformed by the media, by new attitudes to sex, by changed views of authority -- and by prescription drugs. To Erikson's generation of therapists, an adolescent crisis offered a way to explore family history and social context, then carefully ease the patient back to health. "In that dimly remembered long-ago time," Burston writes, "psychotropic drugs were viewed as a treatment of last resort." Nowadays they are every MD's panacea. The chance to grasp what a disturbed adolescent is communicating can be drowned in pharmaceuticals.

When Hari Met Surly

Normally I'm not a fan of reading the past while wearing the spectacles of modern sensibilities about such matters as race, class, and gender. However, in some cases, I think it's justified. This is one.

Femme Fatale's central contention is that "it is difficult to imagine a woman less likely . . . to be able to engage in clandestine activities than Mata Hari." She was a star, and "while she was certainly seductive, which might be viewed as useful for a spy, she was never on any occasion invisible"; in fact, she was "a ridiculous candidate for a job that required clandestine behavior." Yet her persecutors "believed firmly that Mata Hari was guilty because she slept with many men and traveled widely in wartime. Such a woman must be a spy." A kangaroo court agreed, and on Oct. 15, 1917, at the age of 41, she was executed. Shipman reports that many years later, the prosecutor, André Mornet, talked to a writer about the case and said "with a supreme indifference, 'Between you and me, there wasn't enough [evidence] to flog a cat.' "

Friday, August 10, 2007

Friday Cat Blogging

Petite Jamilla, in front of a hometown crowd in Birmingham, Alabama.


Phone Tags

[posted by Callimachus]

Those of you born after say 1970 probably will want to skip on to the next piece.

Do you remember the telephone numbers of your childhood? Probably, because in those days that was one of the bits of information branded into your brain by parents in case you got lost. The stamp of it is probably still on your gray matter, like the date on a worn silver quarter.

Most of mine began with two letters. Out in Chester County when I was little, sometimes we said "696-" but most people knew it was really "OW6-" and that stood for "Owen 6." When we moved to the Main Line, everyone used them: Ours began "MI9-" for "MIdway 9." My girlfriend's was "MOhawk 7."

They're gone now, and a lot of the old America of the mid-20th century is gone with them. Like pumping your own gas and three-network television and savings accounts. Already they were archaic when I learned them; the automatic dialing system was operating everywhere I lived. Today, kids probably think the phone buttons have letters on them just so advertisers can work the company name into the phone number. But the original notion was to use words that could be easily and distinctly pronounced to an operator.

One of my favorite uses of Internet technology is to build shrines to earlier technologies, and sure enough the exchange names have a memorial page.

Telephone numbers used to begin with two letters, which were an abbreviation for a word. For example, there was a Glenn Miller song called PEnnsylvania 6-5000, and Liz Taylor made a movie called BUtterfield-8. I'm just barely old enough to remember that my phone number at home when I was 5 or so started with SYcamore 4, or SY4. These were telephone exchanges, and had exchange names -- PEnnsylvania, SYcamore, KLondike, etc.

But the surprising thing is, there doesn't seem to be a surviving master list of them. Undaunted, the Web site and its fans set out to compile their own, based on partial lists from the 1950s and recollections of older readers.

Check the database and see if yours are on it.

Not content with merely memorializing the custom, however, they are encouraging a revival. "If someone asks for your phone number ... tell them 'MUrray 5-3247' " You can incorporate it into your phone message: "You've reached KLondike 5-3247 ..." or put it on your "business cards, advertisements, invitations, web pages" for that perfect retro look.

There's One in Every Crowd

[posted by Callimachus]

A hero, that is:

A 47-year-old man who apparently tried to rescue people nearby after his van plunged into the Mississippi River when the Interstate 35W bridge collapsed was among three victims pulled from the wreckage Thursday.

Peter Hausmann, a father of four from Rosemount, survived the collapse and escaped from his van into the murky, turbulent waters, according to a source involved with the investigation. In the resulting chaos, he apparently swam toward victims in another vehicle in an attempt to render assistance, the source said.

Hausmann’s body was recovered late on Thursday morning, according to the Hennepin County medical examiner.


Religious Repression

[posted by Callimachus]

Who is it this time? Bush? Haggard? Coulter? Guess again:

HYDERABAD, India - Dozens of Muslim protesters led by three lawmakers attacked an exiled Bangladeshi writer at the release of her book in southern India on Thursday, calling her “anti-Islam,” and telling her to go back to her country.

About 100 people burst into the Press Club in Hyderabad, shouting insults at Taslima Nasrin and ransacking the place, throwing chairs in the air and overturning tables.

... Nasrin fled Bangladesh in 1994 when Islamic extremists threatened to kill her after an Indian newspaper quoted her as saying changes must be made to the Islamic holy book, the Quran, to give women more rights.

She has vehemently denied making the comments but still faces death threats from Islamic hard-liners in Bangladesh, where one of her books is banned.


Vive la Différence

[posted by Callimachus]

François Clemenceau reviews De la Culture en Amérique by Frederic Martel, a book making some waves in France these days. "In France," Clemenceau writes, "Martel has pitched the equivalent of a bombshell into the cultural fishbowl ..." That "bombshell" probably is a scatological euphemism.

Essentially, the book shatters a taboo in up-ending the widespread French assumption that in America “culture” is reserved for a happy few (generally rich) cultivated people while the rest of the country has a steady diet of no culture or cartoonish low-brow pop culture. Martel contests this picture of what happens in America, painstakingly documenting a situation in which key living cultural experiences and values are fostered in the U.S. system to reach a vast public throughout a very culturally diverse nation. In cataloguing the myriad of ways that culture reaches audiences and rewards creators in the United States, Frédéric Martel, 40, a former French cultural attaché in Boston, carefully demonstrates how this American approach brings “culture” to a wide public, including marginal groups of the population who are often excluded from mainstream experience. And Martel constantly underscores how American culture flourishes without ever having to depend on government help and without ever becoming vulnerable to the vagaries and bureaucratic distortions of a state-administered system.

It's amazing what you European types can notice about us when you actually spend some time in the United States -- and I don't mean "New York City."

An unspoken message has been carefully planted by Martel in his work: that key features of the American approach would be easy for France to adopt in a way that made the French system more adaptable and perhaps more sustainable.

Working with an eye to the idea of transplanting American techniques to France, Martel describes in detail – thanks to hundreds of interviews – the mainstays of the institutional landscape in the United States. Starting with the history of private patronage and endowments, Martel carefully catalogues public-private partnerships between museums and corporate sponsors. He describes how cultural policies in the United States are totally decentralized thanks to local cooperation between cities and private foundations. He dwells on the theme of how Americans learn about the arts, as performers and as public, from early childhood right through university, from institutions of learning that function on their own without any direction, from a single cultural arbiter laying down a monolithic vision from the top.

Which explains the de Tocqueville echo in the title. I'm not sure it would work, though. I don't want France to imitate America. I live among the Amish, and I rather like the idea of having parallel active responses to contemporary realities.



[posted by Callimachus]

Neil Clark in the Guardian has your hardcore anti-Iraq War reaction to this story about Britain abandoning the Iraqi interpreters who helped its soldiers during the occupation.

Omitting the predictable smug reactions, like, "Oh, so if we 'liberated' them how come they're so afraid," I'll cut to the chase. And it's ugly:

The most nauseating aspect of the campaign is the way we are repeatedly told that the Iraqi interpreters worked for "us".

Who exactly is meant by "us"? In common with millions of other Britons, I did not want the Iraq war, an illegal invasion of a sovereign state engineered and egged on by a tiny minority of fanatical neoconservatives whose first loyalty was not to Britain but to the cause of Pax Americana.

... The interpreters did not work for "us", the British people, but for themselves - they are paid around £16 a day, an excellent wage in Iraq - and for an illegal occupying force. Let's not cast them as heroes. The true heroes in Iraq are those who have resisted the invasion of their country.

As Seumas Milne wrote in yesterday's Guardian: "More than any other single factor, it has been the war of attrition waged by Iraq's armed resistance that has successfully challenged the world's most powerful army and driven the demand for withdrawal to the top of the political agenda in Washington."

If more Iraqis had followed the example of the interpreters and collaborated with British and American forces, it is likely that the cities of Iran and Syria would now be lying in rubble.

... There is a simple answer to that "practical military issue": let's do all we can to keep the British army out of war zones. And in the meantime, let's do all we can to keep self-centred mercenaries who betrayed their fellow countrymen and women for financial gain out of Britain.

If that means some of them may lose their lives, then the responsibility lies with those who planned and supported this wicked, deceitful and catastrophic war, and not those of us who tried all we could to stop it.

At least in Britain they keep the title of "leftist." Over here, they soil the good name of "liberal."

Labels: , , , ,

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Put Up Your Dukes

Seems likely to be the latest thing Bush will be mocked for saying:

Look, generally the way these things work is you try to be cordial to the person you're with, and so you don't want the picture to be kind of, you know, ducking it out. Okay, put up your dukes. That's an old boxing expression.

Referring to grip-and-grin photo ops between feuding world leaders.

It is an old boxing expression (traced to at least 1859), but it's an odd one. About the only thing that seems sure about it is it is not directly connected to the royalty title duke. One version of its origins (reprinted in "Dictionary of American Slang") traces it to a gypsy word, Romany dook "the hand as read in palmistry, one's fate." Another (printed by slang-meister Eric Partridge) sees it as a contraction of Duke of Yorks, rhyming slang for forks, a Cockney term for "fingers," thus "hands."

The Brown Irish

[posted by Callimachus]

A white American anti-immigrant movement (directed at a specific ethnicity) so powerful it becomes a balance-tilter in national politics -- even as the ethnicity in question consolidates local power in the urban centers where its people live and work. A flood of new arrivals who pry from the black population -- which has been in place for a century -- the bulk of the jobs "Americans don't want to do." A set of fresh arrivals barely able to speak the language who within a generation have sent sons and daughters up into the middle class and beyond, mingling into the mainstream even as their cousins fight bitter turf wars with black Americans in the worst ghettos in the nation.

It's hard for a student of the early 19th century not to sense something drearily familiar in the current immigration troubles.

Last year Pew, a pollster, found that one-third of blacks believe immigrants take jobs from Americans—more than any other group. ... One survey of Durham, in North Carolina, found that 59% of Latinos believed few or almost no blacks were hard-working, and a similar proportion reckoned few or almost none could be trusted. Fewer than one in ten whites felt the same way.

Fifteen years ago such prejudices hardly existed in Durham, for the simple reason that there were hardly any Latinos. Like much of the South, the city was biracial, with roughly equal numbers of blacks and whites. Then came a building boom that drew workers from Mexico, many of them illegal. By 2000 one in 12 residents of Durham was Latino—up from one in 80 a decade earlier. By 2005, one in eight was. ...

That storm has broken most heavily on the poorest parts of Durham, which happen to be black. It is in largely black neighbourhoods that wooden shacks have been converted into call centres and carnicerias (and it is, inevitably, often blacks who have robbed new arrivals of their weekly wages). In this, Durham is typical. By 2000 blacks in all ten of America's biggest metropolitan areas were more mixed in with Hispanics than with whites. In Los Angeles, former ghettos such as Watts are now biracial.

Change some names and dates and that passage could have described a Mid-Atlantic American city of the 1850s.

Council Winners

[posted by Callimachus]

Council Winners have been posted for the week of Aug. 3.

First place in the council went to NEA Also Confused About SCOTUS Decision Regarding Race & Schooling by The Colossus of Rhodey, in which he dissects the teachers' union's confusion about the recent Supreme Court ruling on segregation.

Votes also went to Whose Freedom? What Is Speech? by Right Wing Nut House, which looks at a recent blasphemy incident in light of larger free speech issues; "He's Not My President" by Bookworm Room, in which she recalls her Berkeley days; Some More Thoughts On Chief Justice Roberts' Health by Rhymes With Right; Miracle On Sand by Big Lizards, an excellent piece that connects the Iraqi soccer victory in the Asia games to the U.S. ice hockey victory in 1980 -- and I sure can tell you were I was for both key games that year (USSR, then Finland), though I still can't describe quite how it felt. Maybe someday I'll try; though having followed the Flyers-Soviet series a few years before set up me and other Philadelphia fans of the sport with a perspective not everyone had. A vote also went to More Disturbing Questions by Done With Mirrors.

Outside the council, the winner was Baghdad Raid Night, Michael J. Totten's heart-pounding account of his ride-along with U.S. troops during a night raid in Baghdad. An awful lot of words are spilled in blogs every day. Few are more compelling than this, and more necessary. Remember him when you're dispensing your spare change.

Votes also went to Build a Better World By Destroying Wealth! by Classical Values (speaking of Philadelphians), who writes, "It's all too easy to generalize and say that all lawyers make the world a worse place economically. They don't. But a lot of them do. And there but for the grace of God went I." In addition, votes went to Is the War Lost? Three Inconvenient Truths About Iraq Right Now by Peter J. Wallison at TCS Daily, which seems to miss a few points; for one, the "Tet moment" in this war isn't looming, it has long passed. Votes also went to Nail Job Down First, Then "Go Sharia" by Gerry Charlotte Phelps, which I thought would have been stronger if it had been able to connect the specific incident and the bigger picture painted, rather than merely juxtaposing them, which was somewhat Michael Moore-ish; and to The Perils of Hate Crime Laws, an excellent dissection of one of the great bad ideas of our generation at The Volokh Conspiracy.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007


Look for a big AP piece tomorrow based on census data breaking down the racial composition of America, county by county. Among the rich coincidences: The whites county in America has a name that also is a crude slur on Asians (Slope County, N.D., 99.3% white). And one of the five least white counties in America is named for Wade Hampton, who at one time was the largest slaveowner in the South. It is in, of all places, Alaska.