Wednesday, February 28, 2007

It Jihad to be You(tube)

[posted by Callimachus]

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Noticed (And Noted)

[Posted by reader_iam]

With regard to this article: a word choice in the headline and a skipped hyphen in the lead.

Not the first time recently that my head has jerked back a bit, and that my eyes have squinted, and that I've found myself thinking: "Hmmm--is this a foreshadowing? And with what meaning? And who what where when how and--sometimes--why?"

Quick Course in Moral Fiber

[posted by Callimachus]

You're allowed to defend Al Gore from those who say a gong-beater for environmentalism is a hypocrite if he also lives in a big, energy-gupling mansion.

But not if you've ever used the "chickenhawk meme" against anyone else.

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I Write the Songs

[posted by Callimachus]

Interesting AP piece about the backlash against rap and hip-hop from the genres' fan base:

[A]fter 30 years of growing popularity, rap music is now struggling with an alarming sales decline and growing criticism from within about the culture's negative effect on society.

... Though music sales are down overall, rap sales slid a whopping 21 percent from 2005 to 2006, and for the first time in 12 years no rap album was among the top 10 sellers of the year. A recent study by the Black Youth Project showed a majority of youth think rap has too many violent images. In a poll of black Americans by The Associated Press and AOL-Black Voices last year, 50 percent of respondents said hip-hop was a negative force in American society.

I'm in the wrong age category anyhow, but I never got the appeal here -- beyond the wordplay, which at its best is wicked clever and the closest thing going to Old Norse poetry.

None of this is really new, of course. Remember C. Dolores Tucker? Until her death, the black activist waged a lonely one-woman protest against hip-hop and its images of black women.

Her crusade was all the lonelier because her few allies were people like Bill Bennett, the "virtues" Republican. People who normally would listen to Tucker ran from her like a live hand grenade when they saw who was with her.

Now, of course, there's a change of heart:

In retrospect, "many of us weren't listening," says Tracy Denean Sharpley-Whiting, a professor at Vanderbilt University and author of the new book "Pimps Up, Ho's Down: Hip-Hop's Hold On Young Black Women."

"She was onto something, but most of us said, 'They're not calling me a bitch, they're not talking about me, they're talking about THOSE women.' But then it became clear that, you know what? Those women can be any women."

But that reversal of the usual flow of reality is what makes this an interesting social issue -- in addition to being perhaps a terrible self-inflicted social injustice. White conservatives attack popular consumerized entertainment; black activists defend minstrel show antics as authentic street culture.

The article interviews a rapper who goes by the name David Banner (like the Hulk's alter-ego), who makes a lot of sense defending rap from its swelling army of critics. His defense, though he doesn't say this in so many words to the AP: It's a free market, and that's the kind of music you want to hear.

"Look at the music that gets us popular — 'Like a Pimp,'," says Banner, naming his hit.

"What makes it so difficult is to know that we need to be doing other things. But the truth is at least us talking about what we're talking about, we can bring certain things to the light," he says. "They want (black artists) to shuck and jive, but they don't want us to tell the real story because they're connected to it."

... Banner says there's a reason why acts like KRS-One and Public Enemy don't sell anymore. He recalled that even his own fans rebuffed positive songs he made — like "Cadillac on 22s," about staying way from street life — in favor of songs like "Like a Pimp."

"The American public had an opportunity to pick what they wanted from David Banner," he says. "I wish America would just be honest. America is sick. ... America loves violence and sex."

Different strains of "conservative" can live peaceably in the same body for years, then suddenly react against one another and send the patient into a fever. How do you conserve the social norms in a free market society where what is most appealing to the libido is most likely to sell?

It's why true social conservatives like Russell Kirk were no fans of untrammeled free markets. Kirk believed that an objective universal moral order exists and that it ought to be defended from ideologues of the left and right. He disliked unbridled free-market capitalism, which fuels "the dream of avarice."

The weakness in "David Banner's" argument is that the market driving the success of one rap number or another is not equivalent to the segment of the population suffering from the alleged ill effects of the music style.

While the AP blandly characterizes rap's fans as "the youthful audience ... which was enraptured with genre that defined them as none [sic] other could," it elsewhere lets the reality slip into print:

While rap has been in essence pop music for years, and most rap consumers are white, some worry that the black community is suffering from hip-hop — from the way America perceives blacks to the attitudes and images being adopted by black youth.

Which seems to me as much a problem for all of us as the direct effect on black youth of being aswim in such dreadful role models.

Ezra Klein catches the Catch-22:

There's a frustrating correlation/causation issue with gangster rap sales. Studios have decided gunplay sells, so they put money, promotion, and killer beats behind rappers like 50-cent or Young Jeezy, and then we're all shocked when those albums sell and younger rhymers emulate their most obvious characteristics. But as the solo success of beat-smith Kanye West shows, you can rhyme about blood diamonds, dress preppy, and still go platinum. The music matters, much more so than the lyrics. It's just that we've senselessly wrapped up a certain street aesthetic with a particularly bumping bass line, a gruff, masculine delivery style, and the money to make the whole package work.

Reminds me of the '80s in Chester County, where the loveliest landscape in the East was being plowed under for tens of thousands of McMansions and plywood palaces. The developers all insisted "this is what people want," but since all the materials came pre-cut and colored to that style, so that building anything else would have been inordinately expensive, what alternative was there?

And is it "classism" or a fetish for social engineering to even yearn for something better?

One of the out-of-the-mainstream rappers mentioned, but not quoted, in the article was Talib Kweli. Sounds like he would have made an interesting interview:

Of course, BET – the people running things over there are very limited in what they feel appeals to black youth. They’re like, “The gangster stuff was popular, so anything that deviates from that must be unpopular and must not be worth giving a shot.” As far as mine, the particular song in question was a song I did with Mary J. Blige and Kanye West, called “I Try.” What I was told by my inside person was that it was just “too conscious." I couldn’t really care less whether BET plays my videos or not. I was more upset for people like Little Brother and De La Soul and any of those that have been told their stuff is too intelligent for BET. And the kids don’t even have a choice.

And yes, I wrote this whole piece for the sheer pleasure of putting pictures of David Banner and Russell Kirk in the same post under a title from Barry Manilow.

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The Difference

[posted by Callimachus]

A good question:

I wonder how many of the silly American students participating in the recent “Israeli Apartheid week” can even name a single apartheid law passed by the old South Africa.

From a post by someone who knows about apartheid South Africa and who knows about Israel and who can calmly explain the difference.


Inside Blogging

[posted by Callimachus]

This isn't irony, but it's a supreme example of One of Those Things, Which Aren't Irony, But Which Everyone Calls Irony Anyhow. Which turns out, in this case, to be hypocrisy.

You knew it was coming. But so as not to disappoint, here is Glenn Greenwald(s)—the SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT POLITICAL VOICE(S) IN THE COUNTRY, AND ONE SEVERAL OF THE ONLY TRUE CONSERVATIVE LIBERTARIANS LEFT IN THIS WRETCHED FASCIST SHELL OF A ONCE-GREAT DEMOCRACY—lecturing the wingnuts on the dangers of cherrypicking comments.


Let that sink in a bit.

Protein Wisdom, at it again.

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Today's Birthdays

[posted by Callimachus]

Michel de Montaigne (1533)

Si on me presse de dire pourquoi je l’aimais, je sens que cela ne se peut exprimer qu’en répondant: parce que c’était lui; parce que c’était moi. ["If you press me to say why I loved him, I can say no more than it was because he was he; because I was I."]

Ali Larter (1976)

What, you were expecting a quote?

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Take It Back, Callimachus...At Least Partly

[Posted by reader_iam]

Or else.

Why, for example:

(It should be obvious that I have limited options on YouTube with regard to Brubeck pieces and performances, among others; so it goes, as they say.)

We Must All Of Us "Police Each Other,"**** By Golly, So Here It Goes: What's it gonna be, boy: Yes ... or ... No?
By the way, I'm dedicating this post to our friend M. Takhallus, just 'cause I can, and 'cause I think he'll appreciate the carrot/stick aspect.

While I'm on the subject of "by the ways," whatever happened to the idea that blogging can just be about having fun? You know: the kind that resembles something other than feeding one's favorite outie(s) to one's favorite beastie(s).
****See this post and its comments.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Because You Need It

A list of popular songs not in 4/4 time.

"Money," which always baffled me, is 7/4 time. I used to love to play the guitar lick from "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" over and over -- in part for the 6/8, in part for the juicy dissonance. If you do 5/4, however, you're just insufferably smug (Jethro Tull ... Sting ... Rush ... Radiohead).


Dord Day

[posted by Callimachus]

Tomorrow -- February 28th, is Dord day. Says me. Feb. 28, 1939, is the day the word "dord" was discovered in Webster's New International Dictionary by someone who recognized it wasn't a word at all.

And it had been there for five years.

"Dord" was defined as a noun used by physicists and chemists, meaning "density."

Dictionary publishers have been known to slip fake entry ghost words into their texts -- also known delightfully as "Mountweazels" (available-band-name of the day) -- to snare plagiarists.

The neologism Mountweazel was coined by the magazine New Yorker, based on a false entry for Lillian Virginia Mountweazel in the 1975 edition of the New Columbia Encyclopedia.

That according to Wikipedia. Deliciously, the Wikipedia entry on "fictitious entry" notes that, "The term Nihilartikel for a fictitious entry originated at the German Wikipedia but was later identified as a hoax."

Dord, however, was an honest boo-boo. Snopes explains:

In the first edition of Webster's, entries for abbreviations and words had been intermingled -- the abbreviation lb (for "pound"), for example, would be found immediately after the entry for the word lazy. In the second edition, however, abbreviations were supposed to be collected in a separate section at the back of the dictionary. In 1931, a card had been prepared bearing the notation "D or d, cont/ density" to indicate that the next edition of the dictionary should include additional definitions for D and d as abbreviations of the word density. Somehow the card became misdirected during the editorial process and landed in the "words" pile rather than the "abbreviations" pile. The "D or d" notation ended up being set as the single word dord, a synonym for density. As Philip Babcock Gove, editor-in-chief of the third edition of Webster's New International Dictionary wrote in a 1954 article:

As soon as someone else entered the pronunciation, dord was given the slap on the back that sent breath into its being. Whether the etymologist ever got a chance to stifle it, there is no evidence. It simply has no etymology. Thereafter, only a proofreader had final opportunity at the word, but as the proof passed under his scrutiny he was at the moment not so alert and suspicious as usual.

So let tomorrow be the day you remind yourself there are no absolute authorities. Double-check everything.

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Speaking of Manifestos

[posted by Callimachus]

Daniel Drezner notes a James Galbraith essay in The Nation urging progressives to "move on" on the issue of globalization and fight the good fight on the new field, rather than trying to turn back clocks (that probably were manufactured in Malaysia).

Galbraith writes:

The facts are clear: NAFTA is a done deal, and China is a success story we have to live with. Progressives need a trade narrative that moves past these two issues. Broadly, this means accepting manufactured imports and dropping the idea that we can control--or that it matters much--who assembles television sets or stitches shirts. Standards to guard against flagrant abuses such as child and prison labor are fine, but it's an illusion to think they will, or should, dent the flow of goods from China. A progressive trade agenda should focus, instead, on building stronger world markets for our exports, and in ways that do not trample on the needs and rights of poor people in poor countries. That should provide plenty of room for future fights with free-trade absolutists.

Drezner finds Galbraith's last line a little too rosy.

The problem is that there is plenty of room for division within Galbraith's forumlation of the progressive trade agenda: "building stronger world markets for our exports, and in ways that do not trample on the needs and rights of poor people in poor countries." The former requires enforcing intellectual property rights, because they are at the root of much of what the United States currently exports. Progressives, however, would no doubt argue that the latter requires dropping IPR enforcement altogether.

Still, though, he (and I) think this would be a wise change of tactics. "Given the current standards of trade discourse," he adds, "...I should shut up and just encourage all progressives to read Galbraith." It will be difficult for national-level Democratic politicians to follow, however, because of the party's ties to what's left of the labor unions. Which traditionally have been deeply conservative forces in America.


All Liberals Now

[posted by Callimachus]

Dennis Sanders wonders why there is no collective statement from the principled right comparable to what certain leading liberal humanitarians have attempted on the left.

I've been wondering why there is no Euston Manifesto for the Right and Center Right. The Manifesto is signed by left-liberals who believe in defending democratic values and human rights. They were concerned in seeing so much of the Left that seemed more interested in Anti-Americanism and excusing terrorism, than they are in supporting democracy.

He asks, "why haven't conservatives come up with something like this"?

Well, you'd have to find a conservative, first. Are there really any left? The mis-called "social conservatives" are often reactionaries, but they can as easily flip into aggressive activism for social transformation. Neither position is essentially conservative.

Philosophical conservatives remain in certain universities (damned few of them, though) and on the mastheads of certain magazines. Their numbers are so small, it's not a question of writing them a manifesto. A group e-mail probably would suffice.

The neo-cons, or whatever you want to call people like me, don't generally qualify as conservatives, either, though we have some affinity and affection for them. We're descendants of the John F. Kennedy kind of Cold Warrior -- visionary, believing in the power of America as a force of good in the world (and, in practical terms, being not very effective). Reagan was of that class -- challenging the Soviet Union to an economic death race hardly was a "conservative" position.

That is the face of old-school romantic liberalism in the modern world, if anything is. The Euston Manifesto is persuasive because it attempts to pull sensible people on the left back to their philosophical roots, with reference to modern issues, even at the cost of agreement with their political foes of the moment -- who are, after all, often purist apostates from leftist churches, e.g. Hitchens.

What would a conservative manifesto call people back to? Standing astride the path of history and shouting "stop!" appeals to everyone on one issue or another. But very few want to take it as an overarching philosophy of politics or life.

The problem, as I see it, is that, whatever labels we choose to use for ourselves and one another, we're all liberals now, in one or another of the the philosophical senses of liberalism -- and we all believe in changing the world for the better -- as we define "better."

Which would explain the nastiness of contemporary politics: When one half of the dichotomy collapses, the game turns from grass court tennis lobs to rule-less mud wrestling. The vicious 1820s -- the mis-called "Era of Good Feeling" -- happened for the same reason. If you live in one of those local municipalities where the voters of one party outnumber the voters of the other by about 3 to 1, you know what I mean.

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The Next Election

[posted by Callimachus]

One of Andrew Sullivan's remaining GOP readers lays out the next election as he sees it:

Democrats have made an enormously stupid bet about the Republican Party: you can see it in their blogs. They have told each other that we were sure to nominate Elmer Gantry and go to the country with a Bush Clone like George Allen. They have sworn, up and down, that Rudy could not get the nomination. Someone like Kos or Josh Marshall will never, ever get this about us - we are an extremely pragmatic group of people who like to win and aren't willing to lose just because liberal bloggers and the Media say we should lose.

Authenticity vs. inauthenticity. That's the story of 2008. Rudy is real. You can touch and feel the Catholic kid from the Neighborhood. You know that some of his friends died in the Towers. Rudy is real. McCain has sometimes tossed away his authenticity he earned the hard way, and let's face it, he's not in the best of health. Romney is not quite authentic but Lord how he tries.

Hillary is not real. She's inauthentic. There's your story, Andrew. An entire army of front men and pet chihuhuas like Begala or Wolfson cannot alter her inauthenticity one whit: she's poison and there's not a damn thing she can do about it. Your liberal writers are killing her slowly, starting with Dowd, because liberals know their own kind. They are just slow in getting around to pulling the maskie off the droog. More and more liberals, the ones with money and influence and power, are refusing to be conned, or intimidated, by the Clintons one last time.

What no one has the answer to yet is Obama. He's the Mystery Date. The girls all love him; but is he Authentic or is he made up, or is he Condi Lite? So far, count me unimpressed: too many platitudes in the books. We'll find out.

Bush tried to be real. He did. But he blew it with the people and with the center of the country. Rumsfeld killed him. You can only lose that bond once and you never get it back. Rudy is something we haven't had in some time, a chance to return to the promise of Reagan and Goldwater, and a shot at authenticity.

Interesting. More than a year ago, Kevin Drum said it was a dead certainty that the next president would be a Democrat. At the time, I thought that audacious. Now, I tend to think it's a safe bet. So is Sullivan's friend here just dizzy from the Kool-Aid, or is he on to something.

[While I understand the importance of coat-tails and Congresses, I still tend to vote personalities and personal ethics, not parties. But I'm receptive to the argument that a Democrat ought to take the helm, just so 1. the Republicans can have some down time to check themselves into collective rehab, and 2. the Democrats as a whole can get serious about the real challenges and opportunities and dangers in the world and stop seeing everything in terms of That Man in the White House.]

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Monday, February 26, 2007

And the Oscar for Hyperbole Goes to ...

[posted by Callimachus]

Here's an oddity off the AP wire on Oscar night. At 12:12 a.m. this morning "BC-Oscars-Scorsese Win" moves across the wire. The top looks like this:

Martin Scorsese finally wins Academy Award for "The Departed' after 5 previous losses
AP Photo CAEB212
AP Entertainment Writer
It took 26 years, six directing nominations and two screenplay nominations, but Martin Scorsese finally has his Oscar.

Righting an injustice that had seemingly swelled to the ranks of poverty in Africa, on Sunday night the Academy Awards bestowed a best-directing Oscar on Scorsese for "The Departed"

Even with the "seemingly" thrown in, that was an ... unfortunate comparison.

Twelve minutes later, a write-thru runs of "BC-Oscars-Scorsese Win," with a different top:

It took 26 years, six directing nominations and two screenplay nominations, but Martin Scorsese finally has his Oscar.

Righting one of Hollywood's biggest oversights, the Academy Awards bestowed Martin Scorsese with a best-directing Oscar on Sunday night for "The Departed."

Which is a bit more like it.


Germany and Iraq, Part 4

[posted by Callimachus]

"No country can regain its self-respect nor progress to maturity in democratic processes in the presence of large occupying forces. ... Allied control over Germany should be exercised through leadership and not through command." [Lucius D. Clay, July 19, 1946]

"In the long run, the American people will never tolerate an area under American control in which there is chaos and hunger." [Clay, paraphrasing, and agreeing with, U.S. Secretary of State Henry L. Stimson]


Lucius D. Clay, to me, is a key to why the U.S. occupation of Germany worked. But that may be because I find it easier to latch on to human personalities than historical abstractions.

Clay's great historical moment came during the Berlin airlift, but what he did as U.S. military proconsul in Germany during the two years before that may have been more important. He was the right man for the job -- and a lot of that was pure luck. But what mattered most was that he worked in a matrix -- not of a "well-planned" or "organized" occupation regime, but rather one that had the full support and engagement of the political and civilian leaders of America.

Clay had to deal with an occupied nation partitioned between four powers and armies with different agendas. His own bosses, as he said, didn't know what they wanted. In the reverse of the situation in modern Iraq, the people of the occupied country stood firmly for their unity, while the occupiers -- especially France -- favored of permanent partition, and all were in some degree committed to a weak Germany. Clay inherited a job with no blueprint for success and impossible, conflicting expectations of what it would look like. The press, as always, made things more difficult than they needed to be. That kicked up popular objections at home, and some politicians tried to capitalize.

Son of a U.S. senator and descendant of Henry Clay and himself, Lucius Clay was a West Pointer, a career military man, but one with a solid understanding of politics. That in itself is harder to find in America today than it once was. West Point may be more open to Americans of all backgrounds today, but when it stopped being, among other things, a career path for sons of the political elite, a certain cross-pollination stopped happening.

Clay was brusque, arbitrary, and every bit as independent as MacArthur was in Japan, but with two fewer stars than MacArthur he had to fight harder for his autonomy, and he had to exploit the bureaucracy rather than brushing it aside as his colleague in Japan did. Consequently he makes for a less stellar biography.

Another quality that set him apart from anyone now available for the job in Iraq was that, thanks to the New Deal and the war, Clay's generation had grown up managing things on a national scale. In 1940, he became head of the emergency Defence Airport Program and organized the building or expanding of more than 250 airports, anticipating America's entry into World War II. When the war began, Clay became Director of War Department Material. He also served on the Munitions Assignment Board and the War Production Board.

But until he was appointed military governor in Germany, Clay had no intention of going there and had done no research on the place. "I truly wasn't the least bit interested at that time," he said later. "I didn't care what they did in Germany. I hadn't thought about it. It wasn't going to be my responsibility, and I was still hoping that one of these days I'd be back in the combat Army."

He never saw JCS 1067, the crucial document outlining U.S. policies and goals in occupied Germany, till he got on the plane to cross the Atlantic and assume his job.

He came to Germany knowing next to nothing about what he would face when he got there. As far as I can tell, he never learned to speak German. And he never considered that a handicap. "You don't think about handicaps when you're given a job in the Army. You go do it. Period."

It was a job for a man with civilian sensibilities but with military authority and discipline. Clay had all that. Many of the civilian candidates mentioned for the post before it was offered to him had inevitable deep ties to the big U.S. banking and industrial firms that would necessarily be involved in the occupation. Clay did not.

From the start, he insisted the military government in Germany be removed from the control of the General Staff, the better to create a civilian-heavy corps not serving purely U.S. military purposes and tangled in Army red tape. In part this was to have more of a free hand in making decisions. In part, too, he wanted to lure the kind of minds who would not happily work for a G5 within a military system.

This, and his realization that the German people needed a hand up, not further punishment, swung him into alignment with the State Department. Clay was a New Deal Democrat, but in the Roosevelt administration, State was the bastion of conservatism. It was dominated by blue-blood New Englanders, Skull and Bones alumni, and headed by conservative Republican Henry L. Stimson. The suspicion in the more left-leaning branches of Roosevelt's government was that State secretly prefered Hitler to Stalin. In some cases it may have been true. The New Dealers, Roosevelt and Clay among them, believed for too long Stalin was someone you could do business with and that the Soviet Union was just another country, playing by the same rules.

Together, Stimson and Clay steered German occupation away from the original draconian plan that technically governed it. Clay also spent much of his time fighting off Army chiefs of staff, ignoring protocols and the tactical command structure.

Clay had the power to order fundamental changes in the German social fabric. Clay used this power selectively. When it came to the German media, he kept a close eye on it, but to nurture it, not quash it. It was not censored, but protected.

Party-owned newspapers had been the norm in pre-war Germany. Clay banned them outright (by refusing the licenses without which a newspaper could not publish). Not just for the anti-democratic parties, but for all of them.

During a key phase at the start of the occupation, a U.S. military-run newspaper was the main media outlet in the American zone. But it was a freewheeling and independent minded operation, as conflicted in its mission as the U.S. itself, and eventually it caught on with the Germans and gave them an example of a free press at work, yet one not determined to destroy the occupation authorities.

Later, Clay made a point of inviting reporters from the fledgling German papers to his press conferences. At first they stood agog as the American newsmen peppered the man in uniform with prying questions. Later, they joined in.

Clay was a native of Marietta, Georgia, then still a pretty little town in the red hills of Georgia and not a bedroom enclave for Atlanta. It still had much old architecture, only because Sherman's armies passed through it during a wet spell, which prevented them from burning it down entirely.

Clay was shaped by his unique American experience, and the nightmare memory of an old war. He inherited the Southerner's contempt for scalawags and carpetbaggers. Thus he sought to keep his distance from the Germans he placed in local control, and to keep German operations segregated from U.S. ones, because he wanted these men to be leaders of a future independent Germany, and he feared too close association with the Americans would taint them as collaborators in the eyes of the Germans.

He need not have worried. The Germans just weren't like that. It was one case where C. Vann Woodward's "burden of Southern history" really did play a role in current events. But it turned out to be beside the point.

I think many of the points ticked off against the Bush Administration are not the reasons historians will find for faulting him: Lack of a firm plan, and uncertain expectations for what you want from an occupation, are not on their own a recipe for failure. Nor are they a guarantee of success. In a situation so large and shifting and malleable, no amount of preparation guarantees anything.

Without any deep background understanding of the nation or the situation, with a set of instructions devised more out of domestic political needs than German realities, with a sensitivity attuned to a different occupation in a different time and place, Clay yet succeeded in his job.

Clay was able to rely on a government and a nation that, no matter how confused it was about what it wanted, was in the habit of throwing its best resources into a job. Important positions and advisorships in Clay's office were filled by university presidents, leading professors, and former governors. Among those who had a hand in reconstruction of Germany was the poet Archibald MacLeish.

It never would have occurred to the Bush administration to approach leading major university presidents and poets to work in rebuilding Iraq. It never would have occurred to presidents or poets to offer. We have been at war for 5 years now. Unless you're tied by love to one of the fraction of a percent of Americans who serve in uniform, what material difference has this fact made in your life?

It was left to John McCain, the president's old enemy, to say the thing that needed to be said about Iraq, the thing Clay's generation would have understood implicitly:

In Iraq our national security interests and our national values converge. Iraq is truly the test of a generation, for America and for our role in the world. Faced with similar challenges, previous generations of Americans have passed such tests with honor. It is now our turn to demonstrate that our power, ennobled by our principles, is the greatest force for good on earth today. Iraq's transformation into a secure democracy and a force for freedom in the greater Middle East is the calling of our age. We can succeed. We must succeed.

[Part 1, part 2, part 3]

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Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Academy Awards [Update Still Ongoing]

[Posted by reader_iam]

Anyone planning on following the show tonight? (Amba is. [Added: Specifically, here, and she calls it simulsnarking].) I'm still wavering about simulblogging this year's "do," though I did so enthusiastically last year.

If you're planning on simulblogging, feel free to put a (legitimate) link in comments after you've put up your first post, or subpost. Maybe I'll check in and update!

First question: Are you a fan or not a fan of the choice of Ellen DeGeneres? I like her, so I'm looking forward to seeing her--though with trepidation, because more often than not, these gigs are disappointing. Hmm. I'm trying to remember what I thought of the host last year--guess I'll have to check the old blog.
Update: 7:31 Central (all times will be Central within the body of the post, and I probably won't keep saying "Update" but will just go with the ---):

"I believe in hope, but not hula hula hope." Words to live by!

"Music isn't cheating, except for sometimes." My favorite line in that little piece that opened the show.

Well, except for this one: "I'd like to thank ME ... but I wouldn't dare."
I didn't realize until this instant that I'd been wondering, somewhere in my unconcious mind, whether Ellen would shock us all by dressing up in some sort of glam dress. Can't decide if I'm consciously disappointed or not. Well, not too much in any case. I'd like her persona no matter what she was wearing. Though I do sort of think the current riff on not being nervious and winning is going on a bit too long. A switch in emphasis would be good.

UM, but not to Al Gore, please!
Much better, this line in a riff about diversity, given the past year:

"Let me just put this out there: If there weren't blacks, gays and Jews, there would be no Oscars. Or anyone named Oscar, when you think about that."
Wow, we're at the first award, and we've already gotten a dedication to the memory of someone's mother!

Also, am I the only one who , in looking at this year's set, is reminded of upscale bathroom-tile options which most of us can't afford, but sort of salivate over in design mags as a young male teen-ager would porn?
7:59 p.m.--The kids were cute, because, well, kids are cute. I'm not going to get cute commenting about them. Not every thought demands expression.

Oh, and I love animated shorts!!!
"Sound editing is like sex." Oh, crap. That's one of those odd/odd phrases which is going to stick in my head, probably for years, and not necessarily in the way intended. The word "is" probably can't be thought of in more than one fashion (oh, wait--um, nevermind), but as for all the others... .
Alan Arkin, 73. 73. Sigh.
I really wouldn't want to have been voting in the Best Supporting Actor cateogry.

Those weeks in the van paid off for Arkin...the V.O. announcer says Arkin almost didn't get the part because he was "too virile," which would have been the most flattering rejection Arkin ever got, had he got it, [according to Arkin]. I'm trying to think of what rejection would be the analogy for a woman, and if it would be too fraught with whatever to use.
I'm disappointed to find myself disappointed with Ellen. "Annoyed" is the word I'd use to find myself watching a Coca Cola commercial rather than the entire Pilobolus performance. Yeah, yeah--I know what underwrites this show. Still.
Man, everybody's bald. Or graying. Don't get me wrong--I find bald and graying men sexy. Not so sure about my own corresponding tell-tale hair (darn! forgot to call my hairdresser again this weekend).

I've never thought of seguing from James Taylor to Melissa Etheridge in my personal little playlists. Sure going to give it a try now.

Melissa is sounding especially Indigo Girls tonight. Fine by me, 'cause I like both; just noting.
Al Gore: "I'm just here for the movies." Makes perfect sense: He still sounds like a walking script. Or like that application I have on my computer which reads text for me.

OK...that was funny, having the cut-off music well up as Al Gore whipped out a piece of paper as if he were going to announce his candidacy for president. Predictable, but funny anyway.

For the record, I liked Al Gore, a lot, back in the '80s or so, and he would have been a shoe-in for my vote at one particular time period. Just so you know.
I love Cameron Diaz, and she is a beautiful woman. But her hair color, hair style and dress is reviving bad memories of bridesmaid experiences past. A pity.
Over at Althouse, whose proprietor was flying back from Ithaca tonight, some commenters are simulcommenting. I like this one, in particular, from Tiggeril:
To: Al & Leo
From: Me
Re: Going Green

It'd be a lot easier to offset carbon emissions if the Oscars went back to being a simple banquet ceremony instead of the massive (conflict-free) diamond-encrusted bukakke fest it is now, don't you think?



8:42 PM
And, like Ruth Anne, I'm a big fan of Cars, though, truth be told, since I didn't see all its competition, I don't personally know whether it was robbed or not.
An insight into myself I could have done without: Ellen (the ever shrinking, more irrelevant?) comes out with a Baby Bjorn in which an Oscar is rattling around, and for the first time I find myself focussing on the tits of presenters (specifically, the ones who immediately followed). Is this some sort of weird analogy to when, as a breastfeeding mama, I'd leak when someone else's baby would cry? Or maybe, with my 46th birthday looming, I'm thinking...are you sure it's too late? Are you sure?

Meryl: Lose the damn sunglasses! I hate that. (Wow. Best stinkeye--staged, of course--that I've ever seen without benefit of actually being able to see an eye.)
9:05--Ooops, meant to mark at the least the half-hours with a time. I see I dropped that ball, among others.
I liked the MySpace riff, especially the bit about Spielberg needing to center the picture. I also liked the the intro into Gwyneth Paltrow, who I think needed to either put her hair up or pick a different dress. As it is, the word "incoherence" comes to mind.

Lord, I'm just like my mother. Hate a repeated musical reference that never gets resolved... . Tease without release ain't for me.
9:28 (there! I remembered!): TOTALLY into the montage of Best Foreign Language Film winners. Some of my favorite films, and/or actors, and/or memories were encapsulated therein. Ahhhhh... .
It's nice to be able believe it when someone says she didn't think she'd win, which I did believe in the case of Jennifer Hudson.
Did Jerry Seinfeld just steal the comedy part of the show from Ellen?

Yes, oh yes, that's exactly what I just witnessed.
There was zero chance that "An Inconvenient Truth" wouldn't win. Zero. So no nears [what the? The essence: "outrage, or shock, faux or otherwise"] here.

But that reference to New Orleans was cynical and distorting, a misstatement and utterly exploitive. I don't begrudge the awarding of the Oscar; that is what it is. I do, very much, condemn the self-serving dishonesty of that reference.

For shame. How convenient of and for you.
FWIW it's worth, I think movie soundtracks are highly underrated these days. Interesting stuff, quite often, which--and this is highly subjective--doesn't get much attention anymore, at least not in the way I used to perceive them as getting.

I should consciously look more into what people write about soundtracks these days.
As much as I like Ellen, I have to say--in retrospect--that there are worse things than having one's performance described as painful, or infuriating. At least those things imply that some sort of strong impression was made.
OK, I'm going to stop resisting (what the heck? not sure anyone's looking, anyway)--it's rather unfortunate that someone accepting an award for something called "Little Miss Sunshine" has such a flare of light bouncing off his head. Sometimes coherence is overrated.
Think I'm just going to soak up the end of this show offline ...

G'night all.

Breakdown in Thailand

[posted by Callimachus]

This New York Times story on the Muslim insurgency in Thailand is as tragic as it is grim.

PATTANI, Thailand — Some are already calling it war, a brutal Muslim separatist insurgency in southern Thailand that has taken as many as 2,000 lives in three years with almost daily bombings, drive-by shootings, arson and beheadings.

It is a conflict the government admits it is losing. A harsh crackdown and martial law in recent years seem only to have fueled the insurgency by generating fear and anger and undermining moderate Muslim voices.

A new policy of conciliation in the past four months has been met by increased violence, including a barrage of 28 coordinated bombings in the south that killed or wounded about 60 people on Feb. 18.

"The momentum of violence is now beyond the control of government policy," said Srisompob Jitpiromsri, a political scientist at Prince of Songkhla University here.
"The separatists can pick and choose the time and place of the violence without any effective resistance from the government," he said. "They have the upper hand."

Now the insurgents seem to be taking their war to a new stage, pitting local Buddhists against Muslims by attacking symbols of Buddhism with flamboyant brutality.
The two religions had coexisted through the years here, often in separate villages. This mutual tolerance is breaking down now, and there are fears of a sectarian conflict that could flare out of control.

"Buddhist monks, temples, novices," said Sunai Phasuk, a political analyst with the monitoring group Human Rights Watch. "Buddhist monks have been hacked to death, clubbed to death, bombed and burned to death. This has never happened before. This is a new aspect of violence in the south."

In another new development, said Francesca Lawe-Davies, an analyst with the International Crisis Group, some remote areas had become, in effect, off limits for the police or military, at least temporarily and perhaps permanently.

"It appears in the last year or so that insurgent groups are actually starting to control territory in a more conventional sense," she said.

Tragic that yet another community where diverse religions have shared the space for generations is being methodically, deliberately stripped apart alive. The grim news is that al Qaida soon will have another province-wide "safe haven" at this rate. And that nothing -- neither aggressive action or appeasement -- seems to be able to turn that around.

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Council Winners

[posted by Callimachus]

The most recent round of Watchers Council winners has been posted.

First place within the council went to A Rock, a Hard Place, and the Deep Blue Sea by Right Wing Nut House, which was an excellent look at the bewildering problem of America's relationship to Pakistan in the war against al Qaida.

Unfortunately, there are no easy answers to that one. This is an odd kind of war where peoples and national governments that as easily could be counted our enemies are held up as our strongest allies -- the Saudis and the Pakistanis are two examples.

Pakistan is a failed state; like Iraq, it is a legacy of the British pell mell retreat from colonial control. The division of the Raj was made for reasons of short-term political expedience, with the result that millions have died, once-viable regions were rendered economically incoherent, and a new nation was formed that was unable to exert its authority over a third of its land area. The whole story is a sad example of the consequences of taking up an authority over another land -- rightfully or not -- and then running off when you get tired of doing the job.

Rick's post started me down another train of thought, unrelated to Pakistan per se. At the end of his post, Rick goes off to find the predictable left-side blogger who has written recently about the Pakistan problem as something entirely Bush's fault. It's not necessarily germane to his better points about Pakistan to do this, but it's useful once in a while to remind people who think this way that, however bad George W. Bush is, there's a world full of ugly problems he didn't create, and they still will be here even after he's gone. And would be here even if he never had existed.

As an example of this, he happened to light on a post at The Impolitic, which is one of the Democratic/left-ward sites we added to the blogroll here recently during the Great Diversification Movement. Libby -- the Impolitic is female -- puts up her response here.

The Impolitic and DWM ended up on one another's blogrolls through a courteous willingness to acknowledge one another as people worth listening to, even in strenuous disagreement -- at least this is what I take blogrolling to mean. I sometimes wonder why she would choose us, since Reader and I seem to often fit into her lowest circle of Hell:

What I'd like to see is some serious secret rendition on every mealy mouthed stay at home war supporter and see them all wake up on the front lines of the conflict they so blithely support.

But there it is; we're one of a handful of not-overtly-left sites on her roll, and she's one of a small number of aggressively and selfe-definingly left sites on ours. And I find you feel a certain responsibility to or for people when you've put them up on your list. Like, I want to say here that Libby's response, in part (if I read it right), is that the post Rick jumped on is one she doesn't necessarily want to be measured by or go down in history for. And to point out to both that there's a lot of habitable ground between "Terrorism, shmerrorism; it's all Bush's fault" (a reaction of a fellow newspaper editor to 9/11) and "Bush is immaterial."

I wouldn't feel that way without the minimal brush of contact and connection involved in a mutual blogroll. But maybe there's something to this, if we really want to cut into the nastiness of the blog world (that's a big if ... "snark" seems to be a highly valued commodity in one half of it). What if every serious conservative or Republican or pro-Iraq War or pro-administration took into its blogroll a handful of reasonable, but strongly opposed blogs from across the aisle? And vice versa. Not a Malkin or a Kos, but something your own size.

That way, when these periodic stupid blow-ups come along, where one of us little folk gets singled out and hoisted high for a quote out of context or a poorly worded passage, someone within the pack would have the ability to stand up and say, "No, it's not like that at all," and maybe stop the gank in process. Not that that's what I think happened in the specific case above, but it set me thinking down that path.

At any rate, back to the winners. Also getting votes was I'm Tired of ‘Supporting the Troops’ by Joshuapundit; a great and balanced attack on the way the current war has unraveled in the public mind, by "Freedom Fighter" who has been visiting this theme frequently.

To me, supporting the troops is neither saluting a bunch of graves, or using it as a catchphrase to camouflage genuinely anti-military feelings. In a very real sense, it means supporting the country and ourselves as a free people.

It means supporting victory, and giving our troops the tools and the leadership to achieve it. It means putting our nation first, and supporting the men who defend it in prosecuting this war until we face a defeated, humiliated enemy, with the creed of jihad and Islamic fascism totally discredited so that its resurgence is as unlikely as the resurgence of fascism in Germany or Japan.

That's what this war is really about, and that's what victory in this war is going to look like. I and many of my fellow Americans realized it a long time ago, even if our commander in chief doesn't seem to like the idea.

The `Decider' and his advisers might want to take a look at that when they're trying to figure out why the president's poll numbers are plummeting south.

Votes also went to The Impossibility of Victory by The Glittering Eye, which looked at the recent much-touted Washington Post op-ed by retired Lt. Gen. William Odom on the Iraq situation.

My own position on the invasion of Iraq isn’t terribly far from Gen. Odom’s: I believed then and believe now that establishing a stable, democratic Iraq friendly to the U. S. is unachievable using means and within a timeframe that’s politically acceptable in the U. S. As to the other objectives for invading Iraq (eliminating Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction and removing Saddam Hussein) I believed that containing Saddam was working and maintaining that containment was politically more possible in the United States than establishing a stable democratic Iraq friendly to the U. S. would be.

In spite of the agreement, however, Dave finds Odom's arguments lacking in substance and realistic expectations.

Also getting votes were Best (And Worst) TV Show "Replacements" by The Colossus of Rhodey; Fallen Angels by Eternity Road; and Global Warming -- What Can We Do? (Part I) an interesting offering from The Sundries Shack.

Outside the council, the winner was Islamist Historiography at Cross-Currents, an account of a speech by Bernard Lewis.

Lewis noted, for instance, that classical anti-Semitism, in the sense of attributing cosmic evil to Jews, has no historical antecedents in the Muslim world. The Ottoman sultans were adamant in rejecting the blood libel. European anti-Semitism is a late import into Islam, fostered by the close association of the Nazis with the Mufti of Jerusalem and Ba’athist groups in Iraq and Syria.

ONE OF the most important points made by Lewis concerned the historiography of the Islamists. Most in the West view the fall of the Soviet Union as a consequence of the Reagan administration’s decision to confront it and engage it in an arms race that proved ruinous to the Soviet economy, but that is not how the Islamists see things. In their view, the Soviet Union was destroyed by mujahideen in Afghanistan, who drove the mighty Soviet army from the country. And that view, says Lewis, is not entirely implausible.

Osama bin Laden wrote at the time that Muslims had defeated the more dangerous of their two main enemies, and that defeating the effeminate Americans would prove easier.

One of the essential tasks, if you're going to fight an enemy, is to be able to see the world as he sees it, and to look at history through the version of it he tells himself.

“Iran is a mortal threat,” says Lewis. And he does not believe Ahmadinejad will be deterred from using nuclear weapons by the fear of retaliation. Mutual assured destruction does not work – indeed it may even be an incentive – to those who view a nuclear conflagration as hastening the advent of the hidden 12th imam. If they martyr their own people in the process, Lewis commented, they have only done them a favor by providing them a quick pass to the great brothel in the sky.

The irony is, the whole idea of "mutually assured destruction" was a classic example of American leadership failing to do just this thing -- see world history through the eyes of their adversaries. M.A.D. only existed on this side of the Atlantic. The Soviet generals and political leaders felt no fear of it: they were determined to fight -- and win -- in a nuclear war. The threshhold of "destruction" they found perfectly acceptable was astronomical, but understandable in a government that began its career with the deliberate death by starvation of tens of millions of its own citizens, then saw tens of millions more consumed in a war.

Also getting votes were No Blogger Is an Island, a timeless defense of principled political ethics by Wizbang; Convergence at Harry's Place; Five Years Went By Fast by Captain's Quarters; Why Global Warming Is a Crock by Alpha Patriot; and On Assumptions by Andrew Olmsted.

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Inbox Poetry

[Posted by reader_iam]

Three e-mail subject lines that turned up in my inbox this afternoon and begged to be strung together:
In nubile be none
and the Woman of fine flour, a few words. And grisled:
SmileDemi Mother
Who knew that spam could be so deep?

Added: Ought I to have strung them together this way?
SmileDemi Mother
and the Woman of fine flour, a few words. And grisled:
In nubile be none

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Words and All

[posted by Callimachus]

Terry Eagleton doesn't wonder why non-literary types often are repulsed by the personalities and politics of many of the geniuses of poetry. He wonders why the guardians of the canon are so defensive about it.

Why do critics feel a need to defend the authors they write on, like doting parents deaf to all criticism of their obnoxious children? Eliot's well-earned reputation is established beyond all doubt, and making him out to be as unflawed as the Archangel Gabriel does him no favours. It is true that the poet was a sourly elitist reactionary who fellow-travelled with some unsavoury political types in the 1930s, and as a Christian knew much of faith and hope but little of charity. Yet the politics of many distinguished modernist artists were just as squalid, and some—Pound and Junger, for example—were quite a lot worse. There is no need to pretend that all great writers have to be uxorious, liberal-minded, philosemitic heterosexuals. Why does Raine write as though discovering that Eliot was a paedophile would change our view of Four Quartets?

Neither is it just a question of "fine poetry, pity about the politics." The fact that apart from Joyce and Woolf, almost all of the major "English" modernists were radical reactionaries, askew to the orthodox liberal consensus of their age, is a condition of their achievement, not a regrettable corollary.

Right. When it comes to personality, it's hard to think of any of the great ones who wasn't a bastard or a bitch on some important level -- though Whitman probably is the exception. As for politics, poets are notoriously bad about that. Yeats probably got closest to the truth, upon being asked for a war poem in 1915:

I think it better that in times like these
A poet's mouth be silent, for in truth
We have no gift to set a statesman right;
He has had enough of meddling who can please
A young girl in the indolence of her youth,
Or an old man upon a winter's night.

Note it's not "upon being asked for a pro-war poem." Needless to say, his STFU advice has been roundly ignored since then; poets just don't work that way.

An executioner might write a beautiful poem. But not even an angel could write a beautiful poem in praise of a concentration camp.

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Friday, February 23, 2007

Germany and Iraq, Part 3

[posted by Callimachus]

Is it necessary to lay out the evidence that the Americans entered Germany in 1945 with no solid plan for occupation, unrealistic expectations of what they would find, and conflicting goals for their mission? I'm not aware of any modern history of the period that says otherwise.

Here's a standard summary, from a book published in 1982:

Scholarship in recent years has pointed to a general muddle on the part of U.S. agencies involved in planning the German occupation. The problem started at the highest level with President Roosevelt's reluctance to prepare for an occupation during wartime, a reluctance that increased as his health declined. Lacking presidential leadership, several government agencies adopted widely differing positions, ranging from openly reconstructionist policy at the State Department to a punitive, destabilizing scheme at Henry Morgenthau's Treasury Department. Given the failure to reconcile these differences, America's forces entered Germany without a coherent national policy, a situation that reduced the chances for cooperation among the victor nations. [James F. Tent, "Mission on the Rhine"]

The president "failed to establish clear guidelines for his policymakers. The War Department supported neither side consistently, seeking above all to minimize its role in the future occupation." The writings of some of the people highly placed in the occupation project are flush with moral idealism and transformational progressive thinking would be worthy of any modern neo-con. JCS 1067, the eventual declaration of U.S. purpose and tactics in occupied Germany, was "ambiguous."
Secretary Morgenthau was convinced that it embodied his approach. State and War Department officials had inserted certain loopholes, which they expected would allow a positive approach. Thus VE Day -- May 8, 1945 -- found Americans still lacking a consensus on postwar plans for Germany.

Osmer White, the Australian journalist who covered the fall of Hitler from inside the U.S. military, essentially disliked Americans and American ways. He seems to have found himself instinctively sympathetic to the Soviet economic system, though not to Stalin's totalitarian ways. But there is the ring of hard truth in his description of the American occupation, and it is borne out by other testimonies, including some from the men actually in charge.

Of all the occupying Powers, the Americans showed themselves the most inept at the business of governing a conquered country. They maintained little or no continuity of policy. They never succeeded in making up their minds whether they wanted to administer stern justice or indulge Christ-like charity. They did not, indeed, make up their minds about anything except the 'superiority' of their own intentions. Germans must be ruthlessly disciplined into loving and respecting liberty. They must be punished for their crimes as a nation, but innocent women and children must on no account suffer. German industrialists who were guilty of warmongering and supporting Hitler must be dispossessed, but on no account should collective ownership -- Communism -- be the result of that dispossession. The American Military Government must not involve the United States in the messy byways of European politics, but Europe must, of course, be prevented at all costs from going Red!

Desperate to feed civilians in a region swollen by refugees from the East, the Americans turned to men who had held senior positions in the Nazi food distribution office. Seeking indigenous leadership to manage the local affairs of the German states that fell under their control, the Americans turned to members of pre-1933 conservative Catholic parties. But, while not National Socialist, many of them had formed alliances with them in a shared fear and loathing of the communists, and some had voted for the act enabling Hitler to take complete control of Germany.

In each case the home front press howled. But in each case it's hard to see a cleaner path through the conflicting goals and tactics of such an occupation. Certaibnluy anyone who tried to think through a better plan for Iraq in our times will recognize the conundrum:

  • Rebuild the physical infrastructure of the country -- but don't give too many contracts to the few multinational corporations who are capable of doing the job, and which have extensive political connections;

  • Put an "Iraqi face" on the reconstruction -- but only hire the most competent people to do the work to avoid waste and minimize boondoggles;

  • Remove all Saddam's toadies from their jobs -- but don't alienate the Sunni minority from which they largely were drawn;

  • Get the job done as fast as possible, the sooner to end the occupation -- but don't waste a penny of the taxpayers' money;

  • Crack down on lawlessness and disorder and sabotage -- but don't do anything that could be seen as cruel or overzealous by our friends or look bad on Al-Jazeera.

As White wrote:

The unhappy executives of this American 'policy' in Germany were set to work for the achievement of all these inimical aims, vigorously and simultaneously; but as soon as they made progress in one direction, they were instantly restrained by torrents of criticism that they were making no progress in the other direction.

As Lucius D. Clay, U.S. military proconsul in Germany after the surrender, later put it: "Even Washington didn't really know what it wanted."

[to be continued]

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First Law[s], Sometimes Eat[en]

[Posted by reader_iam]

Snacks for thought:
Burke said there were Three Estates in Parliament; but, in the Reporters' gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth Estate more important far than they all.
--Thomas Carlyle, Heroes and Hero-Worship

Newspapers are unable, seemingly, to discriminate between a bicycle accident and the collapse of civilisation.
--George Bernard Shaw, 1931

Literature is the art of writing something that will be read twice; journalism what will be grasped at once.
--Cyril Connolly

You can crush a man with journalism.
--William Randolph Hearst

If you're not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.
--Malcolm X

Journalism constructs momentarily arrested equilibriums and gives disorder an implied order. That is already two steps from reality.
--Thomas Griffith

Junk journalism is the evidence of a society that has got at least one thing right, that there should be nobody with the power to dictate where responsible journalism begins.
--Tom Stoppard

A newspaper consists of just the same number of words, whether there be any news in it or not.
--Henry Fielding
And, finally:
The bigger the information media, the less courage and freedom they allow. Bigness means weakness.
--Eric Sevareid, "The Press and the People," television program, 1959
Let that last one sink in, will you--and notice how it differs from all the others.

Shocking Question

[Posted by reader_iam]

Could this Egyptian blogger's jail sentence been avoided had his government had the foresight to put him into an Internet addiction clinic as a teen-ager, or even earlier?

Such nipping in the bud would have been "for [his] own good," after all.


Filmed through a Rifle Scope

[posted by Callimachus]

Might as well have been. Michael Fumento passes along a couple of videos shot in Iraq, by and about the U.S. soldiers working there.

According to Michael, this video "features Capt. Joe "Crazy Joe" Claburn, commander of C Co., 1/506th, 101st Airborne and SEAL Team Three."

Posthumous Congressional Medal of Honor nominee and SEAL Michael Monsoor makes his first appearance at the 36-second mark. His machine gun is readily identifiable by the bipod. (All the SEALs are easily recognized by their sand-colored camo uniforms with no helmet covers.)

The fight the next day in the Industrial Area, including OP Hotel, involved A Co., 1/506th and what I dubbed "the Ramadi Run" through a hail of bullets as we departed relatively safe rooftops and sprinted to our rendezvous point. Yours truly makes cameo appearances (khaki uniform and black camera bag) at the 6:20 and 7:40 points.

He also calls attention to this gem:

Spc. Andy Johnson from A. Co., 1/506th, 101st Airborne sent me this video montage he put together from his vacation at Camp Corregidor this past year. It includes a couple of video clips of mine and some other good action shots - though I think he should have included this great clip of an F-18 ground attack. Among the most interesting is footage of a Humvee he and two others from his platoon were in when the back end was hit by an RPG-7. It knocked the whole back off and nobody inside suffered more than a bad case of nerves. Best of all, it's not set to heavy metal music - which I cannot stand - but rather a nice tune from The Man in Black.

In the age of the Internet, every soldier is his own Ernie Pyle. Which is lucky, because they aren't getting any more Ernie Pyles from the newspapers.

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Trabi Chic

[posted by Callimachus]

This is really arcane, but if you are one of the small pool of people who ever spent any amount of time in the old DDR, go read this list of Trabi jokes. It will give you a smile or two:

Q: Why do some Trabants have heated rear windows?

A: To keep your hands warm when pushing.

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Obscene Amenities Alert

[posted by Callimachus]

The folks at Castle Argghhh!!! have begun to chronicle some of those "obscene amenities" that MSM columnist William M. Arkin alleges our ungrateful military goldbricks are wallowing in. Send in your own!


Council Winners

[posted by Callimachus]

Catching up on Watchers Council busines, here are the winners from the week of February 16.

First place within the council went to San Francisco Has Bigger Scandals Than a Debauched Mayor by Bookworm Room.

Votes also went to my What a Tangled Web, Squeeze Play: How the Palestinian Summit in Mecca Overturned Bush's Middle East Policy by Joshuapundit, On the Abuse of Religion in Politics by Eternity Road, and At Least He Speaks the Truth by The Sundries Shack.

Outside the council, the winner was Flagrant Evil by Gates of Vienna.

Votes also went to Iran's Obsession with the Jews by The Weekly Standard, Retrospective by The Possum Bistro, First Things First by Villainous Company, and Does Barnard Need Junk Academics? by The Muqata.


Never on a Sontag

[posted by Callimachus]

Susan Sontag's post-9/11 essay in the New Yorker sparked a lot of outrage. It appeared less than two weeks after the attacks, with this tone:

Where is the acknowledgement that this was not a "cowardly" attack on "civilization" or "liberty" or "humanity" or "the free world" but an attack on the world's self-proclaimed super-power, undertaken as a consequence of specific American alliances and actions? How many citizens are aware of the ongoing American bombing of Iraq? And if the word "cowardly" is to be used, it might be more aptly applied to those who kill from beyond the range of retaliation, high in the sky, than to those willing to die themselves in order to kill others.

Already it becomes difficult to remember how much that felt like a twist of the knife. Truth is not the point. There are times when you tell the truth to a friend, and times when you hold it back for another day. Like when he's cradling his dying child in his arms might not be the right time to say, "You know, you really deserved that."

Now, it turns out, we never saw the full essay:

Sontag’s diatribe against the instant public-relations spin in America was published by The New Yorker immediately after the attacks, drastically edited; it appears here [ed: in a new collection containing her last works] for the first time in its intended form. “The unanimity of the sanctimonious, reality-concealing rhetoric spouted by nearly all American officials and media commentators in these last days seems, well, unworthy of a mature democracy,” she wrote. “Our leaders have let us know that they consider their task to be a manipulative one: confidence-building and grief management.”

Also included is a later change of heart about the tone.

Two essays that follow demonstrate Sontag’s evolving response to the catastrophe. She had been in Berlin on 9/11, glued for 48 hours to her hotel television. “In those first days after my return to New York,” she explains in “A Few Weeks After,” “the reality of the devastation, and the immensity of the loss of life, made my initial focus on the rhetoric surrounding the event seem to me less relevant.”

That explains a lot. Look at America from Europe and you write about it with a European's cold-hearted contempt. Get close to us and you wish you hadn't.

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Our George

[re-posted by Callimachus]

It is substantially true that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government. The rule, indeed, extends with more or less force to every species of free government. Who that is a sincere friend to it can look with indifference upon attempts to shake the foundation of the fabric?

Promote then, as an object of primary importance, institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge. In proportion as the structure of a government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened.

From Washington's Farewell Address. Go and read the whole thing on the man's birthday.

And remember, when the Founders start to talk about "virtue" and "morality," don't turn away with visions of James Dobson in your head. They meant something closer to self-sacrifice, compassion, public service, and high-minded patriotism -- good, sound human virtues that ought to resonate with any gender, sexuality, party, class, race, or creed. Gertrude Himmelfarb has ably defined the classical idea of "virtue" as "the will and capacity to put the public interest over the private."

Washington is beginning to recover his reputation; he deserves it. He was the steady hand on the tiller when we set sail as a nation. Steadiness, not reckless innovation, was the thing America needed at the time. It's to his credit that we forget the serpents of tyranny and mob rule that slithered about the American cradle. To remember, read the history of the French Revolution.

The painter Benjamin West wrote that when he talked to King George III during the Revolutionary War, the monarch asked him what he thought George Washington would do if he prevailed.

Return to his farm, West predicted -- accurately, as it turned out.

"If he does that," King George remarked, "he will be the greatest man in the world."

I've said this before. George Washington's birthday should recover its original place in our national calendar. In the early 19th century, it was one of the two great national holidays -- along with the 4th of July. Memorial Day began with the Civil War, Veteran's Day and Labor Day are 20th century creations. Thanksgiving was a local New England custom and the German immigrants brought us Christmas. No right-thinking Enlightenment republican would have made a national holiday of Easter.

But Washington's day was a great feast in the civic calendar.

Parson Weems and his biography of Washington loom large in the "Lies My Teacher Told Me" industry. Wretched literalists love to remind everyone that George Washington never chopped down a tree, never said "I cannot tell a lie," and never skipped a silver dollar across the Potomac. They claim these things are, or recently were, taught in schools as facts. They chew endlessly on the juiciness of a pious writer inventing a story -- a lie -- to illustrate the badness of lying.

Why did Parson Weems lie? I say he wasn't lying. I say he was inventing mythology.

We easily forget how new representative government was in Washington's day. What the United States became in 1787 was something that had not existed since before Christ, and the Founders harked back to ancient blueprints when they set up the American system.

They knew, for instance, that the ancient mixed government demi-democracies of Greece and Rome all had hero-founder stories to bind them together. Myth mattered; fact was irrelevant. Theseus's deeds in Athens were a pure fiction, and even an astute Athenian who had read Homer certainly knew this.

Centuries later, Plutarch (himself something of a "parson:" he served as one of the two priests at the temple of Apollo at Delphi) looked out on the Roman Empire wracked by the tyranny of Nero and the bloodbath of civil war, and he sat down and wrote the "Parallel Lives." He knew his biographical information was unreliable. He had no intention of deciding what was true or of telling histories: he was setting up characters as lessons (or anti-models), to teach his readers about being citizens, being virtuous -- being human. Emerson called the "Lives" "a bible for heroes."

Parson Weems knew this new country of America also needed myths and glorified founders to bind it together in its diversity. His biographies of the founders are the American equivalent of Shakespeare's English history plays. Like Athens, we were a nation born myth-less. We were absent from the catalogue of ships, so Weems gave us a Mount Vernon Theseus to fill the bill. Like Rome, the United States (which still took a plural pronoun in those days) could not survive without common civic virtues. He gave us Washington as their exemplar.

Washington, the walking collection of biographical details, hardly mattered to that purpose. And I believe Washington would have endorsed that view entirely. Which is why George Washington ought to be put back on his birthday pedestal.

To me, Washington is American history's grand exemplar of the virtue of civic duty. Say "actor-president" and people think Reagan, but Washington played a role so thoroughly, and so perfectly, that people still think he was that regal, noble Roman hero. When you read the accounts of him written by his intimate circle during the Revolution, you see the American man -- vain, hard-driving, hard-cussing, clever in a farmer's ways. And you appreciate what he did to get America launched on an even keel: passing up a life he could have spent happily among his horses, transforming himself into a living virtue as a gift to the new nation.

As the Revolution drew to a close, Washington deliberately reached back to yet another historical myth to ease the delicate transition from military revolution to civilian administration: Cincinnatus, the Roman hero who, during a crisis, reluctantly accepted the dictatorship for six months, defeated Rome's enemies in six weeks, then resigned and went back to his plow.

Now regarded as almost surely mythical, Cincinnatus was a real hero to the Founders. And when Washington resigned from public life in 1783 after the great victory and returned to Mount Vernon rather than mounting the throne of the new nation, he was the marvel of the world, and he was behaving quite deliberately on the classical model. His peers recognized it. Washington became head of an association of Revolutionary War veterans -- the equivalent of today's American Legion or VFW -- called the Society of the Cincinnati.

As America's first president, Washington literally had to invent the job of being an elected leader of a nation, because there was no model for it in modern times. He had to parse out decisions about what title people should use when addressing the president, how a president should interact with Congress, how he should receive dinner invitations.

In some small details of protocol, Washington erred on the side of royalty. No harm done; Adams and Jefferson tilted the balance carefully back. The danger of having no dignity at the top, no noblesse oblige, was the greater danger, and Washington made sure we had enough noblesse to realize the oblige.

Do modern Americans still need national myths like Washington's cherry tree? Well, I doubt the old myths are literally recoverable, but we continually spin new ones, so we must crave them yet. To insist we the people be content with the dry facts of our history is as impractical as it is for secular people to expect the rest of Americans to simply get over this religion thing.

Myths are made on all sides, in all quarters. Look at the hagiography of some of the Sept. 11 victims. Michael Moore's stock-in-trade is the manufactured myth, fed to a yearning-to-believe audience. For a while, supporters of president Bush had a habit of comparing him to Shakespeare's Prince Hal/Henry V.

Not all myths are productive. But myths like those woven in 1800 by Parson Weems tell us who we are and what we stand for, and that tempers a great power by giving it a virtuous purpose. "Morality" has become a dirty word to a lot of people, because they concede morals to the prudes. So I'll go back to the word the Founders used: virtues. When Europeans carp about our patriotic religion and fixation with morality, I say, "you really don't want to have to deal with what we'd be without it." A great power without virtues is more deadly to itself and its neighbors than a great power that believes it has to live up to some high standard ordained by God, the gods, human experience or history.

That's why we need to bring back George Washington.

Some further ruminations on our George here.

And finally, though I would separate Washington's Birthday from Lincoln's, here's one of the many stories Lincoln famously told to entertain his fellow lawyers on the long nights riding the circuit on the Illinois frontier:

One of the leaders of the American Revolution -- I forget now who it was, Ethan Allen, perhaps -- visited England after the war. His host entertained him comfortably, but was the sort of fellow who constantly disparaged America and Americans generally (no, it didn't start with Bush), and never could get over the fact we had beaten them in the war. To amuse himself and to twit his American guest, the host hung a print of George Washington on the wall of his outhouse. It had been there for a few days, and the host knew the American must have seen it, but he had said nothing. Finally overcome by curiosity, the host asked his guest what he thought of the picture of Washington.

"It is most appropriately hung," the American replied. "Nothing ever made the British shit like the sight of George Washington."

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The People You Meet

[posted by Callimachus]

Describing one acquaintance to another tonight turned out like this: "Just your basic dope-smoking, Bluegrass-listening, bar-brawling, transient Japanese-American hippie chick fetish model ...."

When my son was little he used to ask me, "If you could be any animal, what would you be?" Human being, of course. What could be better?



[posted by Callimachus]

It's been a while since I introduced you all to a new milblogger. Meet Teflon Don whose blog is called "Acute Politics." You'd have to really know your Robert Frost to get where his title comes from. This kid can flat-out write. Here are some recent samples:

There was the young Iraqi girl in an orange headdress that blew a kiss at me as we passed her at a checkpoint. She got embarrassed and hid her face when I smiled back.

Once, as we returned to Ramadi from Falluja, I saw an Iraqi man driving his truck through the rain. There were four women in traditional garb in the back of the truck, huddled together for warmth. On the front seat next to the man was his dog.

In one small village near the canals in Falluja was one of the cutest kids I've ever seen. She was only four or five, and looked like my sister did at that age- curly dark hair around her round, dimpled face. She smiled big and waved, asking for candy- I spread my hands and told her I didn't have any. She covered her eyes and started pouting, and then turned again to smiles within seconds. As we drove out of sight I could see she was still waving.

There was the old man out working his field- I saw him leaning up against his shovel watching us leave underneath the setting sun. He was old enough to have known life before Saddam as well as after. I can't help but wonder what he thinks of us.

Everywhere, there are children. If the streets are free of children, we start to look for the imminent attack. They love to have their picture taken, and all of them know that American troops are endless wells of candy. These kids are the future of Iraq. If they grow up to hate, I have little hope that there will ever be peace on this place.


One of the dead men had been a friend of mine as long as I'd been in the unit. We'd laughed together, drank together, and talked about the future. He'd got me started smoking at NTC at the same time that he was trying to quit. Tonight, I'm helping organize the things he left behind. His girlfriend of a year meets me at his room to give me another box. She's from another company; they met just prior to our deployment alert, and have struggled to build their relationship through the midst of war. She looks smaller than I've ever seen her, as if she's lost a physical part of herself.

Under a sky streaked blood-red and angry with sunset, I carry my friends belongings from his room. In my head I can already see another sun setting over the memorial to come; the breeze twisting dogtags around a rifle like a devils windchime, and carrying once again the plaintive notes of the bagpipe playing Amazing Grace.


Tonight we're going back up into the general area where we lost three of ours so shortly ago. And this is the first time we've been back that way. I look around at my friends and try to read their faces. They could be scared, and most of us are, a little. They could be numb; just doing their job. Again, most of us are, a little. However, I think that most of us are out for blood. It might sound horrible, inhuman, even medieval, but the fact of the matter is that someone out there killed friends of ours, and we're going back into a place where we just might get the guy that did it. We'll never know if it was him, of course, but there's always the chance that we'll even the scales unknowingly.

Killing is not natural to sane people, no matter how often it has happened over eons. There are many ways that you can reconcile yourself in some way to the idea of killing another human. You can think of it as duty -- you have a job, and that job requires violence. You can hate -- the easiest of all excuses, and the most exhausting. You can look at it as simple survival -- if you don't kill him, then he'll kill you. However you justify it, you are still in a war, and people will still die. It wears on everyone -- the American deaths, the "collateral damage" we inflict on people in the wrong place at the wrong time, the innocents killed when some faceless murderer blows himself up in a crowd. Yes, even the enemy dead take their toll.

Now wipe that tear from your eye and get back to whatever it is you're doing. But pray to whatever you pray to and thank it for folks like this who are doing the hard stuff. That's his picture up there at the top, too.

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Iraq and Iran

[posted by Callimachus]

As if I needed further evidence that I'm perverse. I was against the invasion of Iraq before I was for it -- and I'm still for it, in theory. But I'm against an attack on Iran. If we have any real left-anti-war readers here, their pupils just turned into flashing red "TILT" signs. "But of course every neo-con wants to boogie on into Iran right now, because they're all just a pack of militaristic, Islamophobic ... Christianism ... y'know ... blood-for-oil ... Shrubbie McChimpler ... corporations ....

Yet somehow my perversity seems consistent to me. I came around on Iraq based on:

  • the humanitarian justification (get rid of a tyrant who was crushing and abusing his nation -- all the more our job because we had helped enable him)

  • the progressive realist quantity (upset the business-as-usual situation in the Muslim-Arab world and hopefully turn Saddam's swamp into a beacon of hope, so young men in that wider society have better things to do than cut up our stewardesses and fly our airplanes into our skyscrapers, and less inclination to believe God wants them to treat us that way)

  • the calculation that Saddam had, or was close to getting, serious chemical, biological, or even nuclear weapons, and that he would use them as blackmail leverage, or make common cause with Islamist terrorists bent on causing mayhem in the West.

That was a risk. I was willing to take it. The choice to dive into that war never was a "slam dunk;" it was the least-shitty alternative, or the likely best gamble. But always you think, this could be wrong.

Believe it or not, friends on the left, I wasn't too stupid or naive to realize that sometimes when you go to war on a nation's leaders, its people like you less afterward than before.

And that a stalled invasion or a botched occupation can be as deadly to innocent people as a totalitarian regime.

And that nobody knew for sure what Saddam had or didn't have, or what he might choose to do with it. Which, as is often forgotten, was Saddam's choice, not Bush's. Was there a 1 percent chance he had a nuclear bomb up his sleeve? A 10 percent chance? You can't duck the decision: You have to decide to act, or not.

So, now we consider Iran. And right now, based on what I've managed to learn about the situation, I say hold off. Use the cold war strategy. Contain Iran. Build up an international consensus for sanctions and pressure. Quietly and from a distance funnel money and aid to opposition groups. Be patient.

What's that based on? The same sort of calculations I used in thinking about Iraq. In each case, as I think about it, I'm bearing the same things in mind: the good of America and the American people, the good of people of the other nation under consideration, the good of the whole world.

[Certainly what I know now after watching the feckless Bush gang bungle Iraq colors my idea of what ought to be done about Iran. But I believe I'd reach the same conclusion even without it.]

But I don't think in terms of "what will produce" these goods, rather "what is most likely to advance" them, or what will produce more good than evil, on balance. You can employ terms like "good" and "evil" in your thinking without being bound by manichaean dualism. Good and evil exist, but they're liquid substances, not rocks.

Is doing nothing about Iran more likely to lead to good outcomes than doing something militarily? -- for the U.S., for the Iranians, for the world? It's all guesswork. Just like it was in Iraq.

How far along is the Iranian nuclear program? I'm willing to bet it's not as close to weapons production as Ahmadinejad wants us to think it is. But that's a gamble. How sure am I? What are the odds I'm wrong? One percent chance? Ten percent?

How much do I trust the rest of the world -- including China and Russia -- to keep a tight ring around Iran? Not fucking much, especially because of what I learned about Oil-for-Food after the fall of Saddam. About as much as I trusted the Bush Administration and the CIA to come up with good data on Saddam's weapons programs in 2002. It's a gamble.

But I think Iran, unlike Iraq, has potent indigenous forces for change and transformation that can overturn Ahmadinejad and bring something better. And I think Iran is economically unstable enough that it may slide into crisis on its own, if we can contain it, before the nuclear weapons program has a chance to bear fruit. (Marc lays out some of the evidence for that here).

The government of Iran does rotten things to its people. But the historical trend there has been toward slow relaxation of repression. Much of what I despise now about Iran (hanging teenage girls for loose morals, etc.) is done under legal cover of Shari'a justice, which seems a more deeply rooted problem, and a harder one to extirpate, than Saddam's arbitrary and personal brutality.

This is a risk. I'm willing to take it. The choice to step back from open war is not a "slam dunk;" it is the least-shitty alternative, or the likely best gamble. I might be wrong.

What I don't feel is some sort of juvenile moral superiority for being on the "no attack" side at this time. I know that, because of the path I advocate, certain Iranians I would embrace as friends will suffer repression and torture. Just as Eastern Europeans did in the 1970s and '80s.

If we throw up the ring of international containment around the Iranians and wait for the economy to rust out under them, that certainly condemns Iranian babies to die of curable conditions in wretched, under-supplied hospitals. Just as Iraqis did in the 1990s.

Chances are, no matter what happens, what we do or don't do, the media and shady governments around the world will pick up whatever is happening and wave it like a red flag to convince more people to hate America and Americans.

I admit, I'm not a great gambler. I can't even keep the winning hands in order. Why does three of a kind beat two pair? Does a straight top a flush? Why is babies dying from stray munitions more evil than babies dying from our deliberate economic strangulation? Are those who have the power to help a drowning man but do nothing sent to heaven, while those who wade in after him and try to pull him out, risking two lives instead of one, damned to hell?

All we're left with are shitty choices among cruel options, and cocktails of good and evil, self-interest and altruism. You may choose war. Or you may choose no war. The people of Iraq were in a war before 2003; it was a war against them waged by their own leader and his deranged sons. Peace, I'm afraid, is not typically an option. Despite what the plaster saints of the anti-war movement would have you believe.

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