Friday, May 30, 2008

Putting on Ayers

The writer's intent is to defend Obama, who may or may not deserve defense in this case. (In my mind, this is a milieu problem, and I wish Obama had had another four years away from Chicago to make new some friends and learn from them.) But I think there's a dollop of truth in this:

When it became clear even to them that there would not be violent revolution in America, Ayers and Dohrn shrugged and rejoined society in Chicago, where he had grown up. It wasn't difficult. While he was in hiding, his father was CEO of Commonwealth Edison, the big utility. Ayers the elder sat on every Establishment board in town -- Northwestern, the Tribune Co., the Chicago Symphony. Ayers the younger and his wife were welcomed back into the fold.

This is the second insult that emerges from the story of Bill and Bernardine. They set off bombs and talked about killing their parents, and the Chicago establishment didn't even care. The important thing is that he was Tom Ayers' boy. In a way, the joke is on Ayers and Dohrn. For heaven's sake, what does it take to upset these Brahmins? But in a bigger way, the joke is on the rest of us. We thought they meant what they said.

If Obama's relationship with Ayers, however tangential, exposes Obama as a radical himself, or at least as a man with terrible judgment, he shares that radicalism or terrible judgment with a comically respectable list of Chicagoans and others --including Republicans and conservatives -- who have embraced Ayers and Dohrn as good company, good citizens, even experts on children's issues.

It would never work in a free-form, individualistic society like ours, but the classical concept of ostracism, or the still living Amish custom of shunning, seem pertinent in some cases in modern America.

Memorial Day

"A tragic situation exists precisely when virtue does not triumph but when it is still felt that man is nobler than the forces which destroy him." [George Orwell, "Shooting an Elephant," 1950]

I still like Memorial Day on May 30. I love the last-Monday-of-May work holiday and unofficial start-of-summer cookout. But it's not Memorial Day. I prefer to keep both of them and keep them apart.

These are people to remember. They are the honorable dead of a new war. Not all of them are soldiers, but the new war sweeps up more than soldiers in its causes. And all believed in something. They believed in it enough to get up and do something about it, at peril of their lives. Whether it was themselves, their comrades, duty, their mission, their nation, the people of the world, the people of Iraq, the people of America -- or even peace. They went to the war to do something about it.

I believe none of them wanted to die. Probably until the moment the darkness whelmed them they were trying to live, to somehow make it. But all had been close enough to Fate by then to know her faceless, pitiless stare. There came a time to choose -- it came many times for some of them -- and they chose the brave thing over the easy one.

April 2, 1978–May 7, 2004

Nick Berg is the young contractor from my hometown in Pennsylvania who went to Iraq to do good and was kidnapped and beheaded by Islamist terror-thugs. His sorrowing father said Bush and Rumsfeld killed his son. Yet this father, who is of the age of the '60s youth movement, taught his son to think and to make his own choices. And the son grew up to see a world that could be made better, even by Americans. Among those who sent the family condolences when Berg died were Kenyan tribesmen young Berg had helped improve their village.

He went to Iraq with the same vision: to bring democracy and a good life to people who knew little of either. He supported the war, for humanitarian reasons. In the Vietnam War, the old held that American power was a force for good and believed in the spread of freedom as a patriotic virtue. Their children spit bile at the administration. In this war, so often, the natural order was reversed.

July 4, 1983-Jan. 15, 2007

The night before he shipped out to Iraq, Mark Daily tapped out on a laptop computer a short essay on why he had volunteered for the Army. With the touch of a button, he uploaded it to his MySpace site. Three months later, on Jan. 15, he died with three comrades when a roadside bomb demolished their vehicle near Mosul.

Volunteer armies at all times are a mix of people and motivations. But perhaps no army in modern times has had more collective ideals and ethics than the U.S. military. Daily, a cherished child from a privileged neighborhood in California, exemplified all this. He was a thoughtful, liberal (in the true, noble sense of that abused word), secular college student, a registered Democrat and a vegetarian.

Yet he grappled with his conscience and joined the U.S. Army for the sake of the humanitarian purposes it attempts to accomplish. Sept. 11 didn't change him overnight. But instead of kicking in to knee-jerk patriotism or "no blood for oil" opposition, he kept reading, and he kept thinking, and he decided ...

I joined the fight because it occurred to me that many modern day 'humanists' who claim to possess a genuine concern for human beings throughout the world are in fact quite content to allow their fellow 'global citizens' to suffer under the most hideous state apparatuses and conditions. Their excuses used to be my excuses.

... Anyone who knew me before I joined knows that I am quite aware and at times sympathetic to the arguments against the war in Iraq. If you think the only way a person could bring themselves to volunteer for this war is through sheer desperation or blind obedience then consider me the exception.

... (C)onsider what peace vigils against genocide have accomplished lately. Consider that there are 19-year-old soldiers from the Midwest who have never touched a college campus or a protest who have done more to uphold the universal legitimacy of representative government and individual rights by placing themselves between Iraqi voting lines and homicidal religious fanatics.

... Don't forget that human beings have a responsibility to one another and that Americans have a responsibility to the oppressed.

And so on. Since his death, Daily's little essay has become a well of inspiration to people who never met him. His family has been flooded with letters, mailed from the White House and from mobile home parks.

John Daily, Mark's father, praised his son at the memorial service in his honor for "choosing the difficult right over the easy wrong." He also has said, as any father would, "I'd give it all back a thousandfold just to hug him one more time."

The media followed the blogs to the story. LA Times told it, though it relegated it to the local section in print and hid it behind the subscription wall online.

Ultimately, his family says, Daily came to believe that his lifelong altruistic impulses and passions for the underdog had to extend to Iraqis crushed under decades of oppression. It was time to stop simply talking about human rights and actually do something to help secure them.

And he decided that joining the Army was the best way to do that.

... Daily had read historian Stephen Ambrose's writings on World War II and the generation of soldiers who fought for freedom from the forces of fascism. If not Iraq, Daily thought, he wanted to help save those being slaughtered in Sudan.

In the fall of 2003, he entered the UCLA ROTC program. ... Lt. Col. Shawn Buck, who headed the UCLA military science department at the time, said Daily was a deep thinker and natural leader who persuaded many cadets to stick with the program. "Once he made the decision to join, he jumped in with both feet and gave it everything he had," Buck said.

In a 2005 videotape of his officers' commissioning ceremony, Daily told the crowd that the U.S. Army is one of the few militaries in the world that teach not only tactics but also ethics. "I genuinely believe the United States Army is a force of good in this world," he said.

He was not blind to military transgressions and fumed to his father that the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. soldiers at Abu Ghraib was a failure of leadership. But that was exactly why he needed to get over there, he said. He was going to make sure that his men upheld Army values of integrity and honor.

Christopher Hitchens attended Daily's funeral and wrote a magnificent, painful piece about it.

I thought, Well, here we are to perform the last honors for a warrior and hero, and there are no hysterical ululations, no shrieks for revenge, no insults hurled at the enemy, no firing into the air or bogus hysterics. Instead, an honest, brave, modest family is doing its private best. I hope no fanatical fool could ever mistake this for weakness. It is, instead, a very particular kind of strength. If America can spontaneously produce young men like Mark, and occasions like this one, it has a real homeland security instead of a bureaucratic one. To borrow some words of George Orwell's when he first saw revolutionary Barcelona, "I recognized it immediately as a state of affairs worth fighting for."

died March 9, 2004, age 33

Here is the AP's story:

Lawyer Fern Holland went to Iraq to help the nation's women: She investigated human-rights violations, set up conferences and assisted in writing the women's rights section of the new constitution.

"If I die, know that I'm doing precisely what I want to be doing," Holland wrote in an e-mail to a friend on Jan. 21.

Holland was one of three civilians killed Tuesday after several gunmen posing as Iraqi police officers stopped her vehicle at a makeshift checkpoint near the town of Hillah, about 35 miles south of Baghdad. ...

Holland's family believes she was targeted by assassins because of her work, which included opening women's centers around Iraq.

"She believed in freedom. She believed that every man and woman born should enjoy the right of freedom," her sister Vi Holland said. ...

Holland, a 1996 graduate of the University of Tulsa College of Law, worked at two law firms in Tulsa before joining the Peace Corps and traveling to Namibia.

She returned to the United States after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, but did not stay long.

Tulsa attorney Stephen Rodolf, who kept in touch with Holland through e-mail, said she seemed to be aware of growing threats to her safety.

"We stand out, and those who dislike us know precisely when we come to town," she wrote to him.

Her job required her to travel almost every day on highways where snipers and roadside bombs lurked. And yet, she asked to travel with an unarmed escort because she felt the high security around her was a barrier to her work, he said.

"She was an extraordinary person who honestly wanted to help people," Rodolf said. "Anybody who knew her would tell you that."

That's the best of this country. No conflict whatsoever between serving in the Peace Corps and helping to rebuild Iraq. People on both sides of the U.S. political equation should wake up to that one. It's the same good work.

According to some reports, she was the first U.S. civilian working for the U.S. occupation authority to be killed in Iraq.

April 5, 1981–Sept. 29, 2006

Monsoor was born to a Christian Arab/American former Marine father and an American mother. The Wikipedia entry on him paints a picture of a typical active American boy:

Afflicted with asthma as a child, Monsoor strengthened his lungs by racing his siblings in the family's swimming pool. Monsoor attended Garden Grove High School in Garden Grove, California. He played tight-end on the school's football team and graduated in 1999. His hobbies included snowboarding, body-boarding, spearfishing, motorcycle riding, and driving his Chevrolet Corvette.

He joined the Navy and made it to be a SEAL. His platoon was sent to Ramadi in 2006 and assigned to train and mentor Iraqi troops.

As a communicator and machine-gunner on patrols, Monsoor carried 100 pounds of gear in temperatures often exceeding 100 degrees. He took a lead position to protect the platoon from frontal assault. The team was involved in frequent engagements with insurgent fighters. Over the first five months of the deployment, the team reportedly killed 84 insurgents.

During an engagement on May 9, 2006, Monsoor ran into a street while under continuous insurgent gunfire to rescue an injured comrade. Monsoor was awarded the Silver Star for this action. He was also awarded the Bronze Star for his service in Iraq.

The Medal of Honor citation tells the story of his death:

In the early morning, insurgents prepared to execute a coordinated attack by reconnoitering the area around the element’s position. Element snipers thwarted the enemy’s initial attempt by eliminating two insurgents. The enemy continued to assault the element, engaging them with a rocket-propelled grenade and small arms fire. As enemy activity increased, Petty Officer Monsoor took position with his machine gun between two teammates on an outcropping of the roof. While the SEALs vigilantly watched for enemy activity, an insurgent threw a hand grenade from an unseen location, which bounced off Petty Officer Monsoor’s chest and landed in front of him. Although only he could have escaped the blast, Petty Officer Monsoor chose instead to protect his teammates. Instantly and without regard for his own safety, he threw himself onto the grenade to absorb the force of the explosion with his body, saving the lives of his two teammates. By his undaunted courage, fighting spirit, and unwavering devotion to duty in the face of certain death, Petty Officer Monsoor gallantly gave his life for his country, thereby reflecting great credit upon himself and upholding the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

April 7, 1979–Nov. 15, 2004

KIA in the second Battle of Fallujah. Bing West tells his story in "No True Glory," his masterful account of that fight.

"He saved half my fire team," said Cpl. Brannon Dyer, 27, of Blairsville, Ga.

"It's stuff you hear about in boot camp, about World War II and Tarawa Marines who won the Medal of Honor," said Lance Cpl. Rob Rogers, 22, of Tallahassee, Fla.

Here's a newspaper account:

Peralta, 25, as platoon scout, wasn't even assigned to the assault team that entered the insurgent safe house in northern Fallujah, Marines said. Despite an assignment that would have allowed him to avoid such dangerous duty, he regularly asked squad leaders if he could join their assault teams, they said.

One of the first Marines to enter the house, Peralta was wounded in the face by rifle fire from a room near the entry door, said Lance Cpl. Adam Morrison, 20, of Tacoma, who was in the house when Peralta was first wounded.

Moments later, an insurgent rolled a fragmentation grenade into the area where a wounded Peralta and the other Marines were seeking cover.

As Morrison and another Marine scrambled to escape the blast, pounding against a locked door, Peralta grabbed the grenade and cradled it into his body, Morrison said. While one Marine was badly wounded by shrapnel from the blast, the Marines said they believe more lives would have been lost if not for Peralta's selfless act.

... Rogers and others remembered Peralta as a squared-away Marine, so meticulous about uniform standards that he sent his camouflage uniform to be pressed while training in Kuwait before entering Iraq.

But mostly they remembered acts of selflessness: offering career advice, giving a buddy a ride home from the bar, teaching salsa dance steps in the barracks.

Peralta, a native of Mexico, joined the Marine Corps the day after he got his green card. He took the oath of citizenship in his Marine Corps fatigues. On the wall of his room in his parents' house were three documents: the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights and his boot camp diploma.

Before he left for Fallujah, he wrote his 14-year-old brother, “Be proud of me bro ... and be proud of being an American.”

Dec. 31, 1976–April 16, 2005

A California hippiechick anti-war activist and human-rights crusader, she died in an insurgent attack in Iraq in 2005 while working on her campaign to help innocent victims of the war. Ruzicka had invested her adult life into coaxing people to see through the term "collateral damage." To her, it didn't so much matter who started the fight, it didn't so much matter how the hurt happened: she saw people, real people, with names and faces and families. And they've been wounded through no fault of their own, and we should help them.

Her young life took some time to reach that level of practical idealism. But that she reached it by 28 -- when many so-called progressives in their 70s still don't get it -- was a testimony to the woman and her virtues.

She was well down the Rachel Corrie path. Then, gradually, something happened. She realized she really wanted to help people. And she realized what mattered was connecting people who needed help with those who had the ability to give it. Ruzicka changed her tactics. Instead of bellyaching about the corporate media, she went to Afghanistan and befriended journalists in the foreign correspondent pool and lobbied them with a mix of charm and persistence to tell the stories of the civilians she was meeting. More importantly, she began connecting the civilian casualty survivors with U.S. military and government officials who had the cash in-country that could help.

"She had the ability to connect with the victims and to talk with the U.S. military and be acceptable and authentic to both," a co-worker said. "I think that was because she was concerned with the victims. It wasn't about the morality of the war, or the politics."

Here's how "Rolling Stone" described her awakening:

Through her experiences in Afghanistan, Ruzicka's politics, and views toward the war, had changed. Once a dedicated peace activist, she'd decided that war was terrible but in some cases inevitable, even justified. It was a conscious split between her and her mentors at Global Exchange, and her embrace of the people Medea Benjamin calls "the realists" signified a major shift not just in Ruzicka's political philosophy but in her life as well. For about the past ten years, Benjamin had been both a mentor and a mother to Ruzicka. But now, the two clashed on their views regarding the upcoming war with Iraq, something that became more apparent when Ruzicka joined Benjamin on a fact-finding tour in Baghdad just prior to the war. "She was working with people in D.C. who were saying the war is going to happen, let's help the people who will be hurt," says Benjamin. "I thought it was a mistake to think like that before civilians were even killed." Medea urged Ruzicka to return to the activist fold and come back to San Francisco to "join us with all her energy and all her incredible enthusiasm to do whatever we could to stop the war."

She had the chance to be strident. Instead, she chose to invest herself in actually helping. Her father, Clifford, a civil engineer, put it like this:

"She had some rebel in her. She didn't like the status quo and wanted to change injustices where she found them. But she learned that she could be more effective by working with the U.S. She wowed the people in Washington and spurred them to do more."

"She brought a spot of light to a very dim setting," said one friend. "She had this frenetic, youthful energy that made her just unstoppable." She came across as an innocent in some of the darkest, dirtiest places on earth.

But she strode in there deliberately, with her blonde, simple American demeanor, assured that there was no place else on earth she could do so much good and be true to herself.

'Tis the gift to be simple,
'Tis the gift to be free,
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be

"The Nation's" eulogy noted the words of one of Ruzicka's myriad friends, author Peter Bergen:

"One really interesting thing is that Marla was very opposed to the Iraq war before it began, but once the war started I never heard her express any opinion about the war itself. Once the war started she just wanted to help people who were hurt, not engage in a debate about the merits of the war. Beneath her Californian happy-go-luck demeanor Marla was a very hardheaded realist about what needed to be done. The war happened. People were hurt. She wanted to help them. And an example of her realistic approach is how she worked in Afghanistan and Iraq compensating the families who died. Marla had no patience for people who demonstrated against the war, and did nothing else."

Sept. 24, 1969–April 4, 2003

U.S. Army Sgt. First Class, posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

A few days after he died, I did a wire service search for every variation of the name "Sergeant First Class Paul Ray Smith." The search would cover everything published in the last three or four days by most of the big media services. I got only one hit. It's an incidental mention in a column of short takes that also includes news about pandas at the National Zoo. [I did get a hit on another Sgt. Smith, but it wasn't the same one. This one was a gay Marine, prominently featured in a big story about how the military is hungry for recruits but turning away homosexuals.]

Sergeant First Class Paul R. Smith was invisible in the gatekeeper media. Fortunately, the alternate media remembered him.

Sergeant First Class Paul R. Smith distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action with an armed enemy near Baghdad International Airport, Baghdad, Iraq on 4 April 2003. On that day, Sergeant First Class Smith was engaged in the construction of a prisoner of war holding area when his Task Force was violently attacked by a company-sized enemy force. Realizing the vulnerability of over 100 fellow soldiers, Sergeant First Class Smith quickly organized a hasty defense consisting of two platoons of soldiers, one Bradley Fighting Vehicle and three armored personnel carriers.

As the fight developed, Sergeant First Class Smith braved hostile enemy fire to personally engage the enemy with hand grenades and anti-tank weapons, and organized the evacuation of three wounded soldiers from an armored personnel carrier struck by a rocket propelled grenade and a 60mm mortar round. Fearing the enemy would overrun their defenses, Sergeant First Class Smith moved under withering enemy fire to man a .50 caliber machine gun mounted on a damaged armored personnel carrier. In total disregard for his own life, he maintained his exposed position in order to engage the attacking enemy force. During this action, he was mortally wounded.

His courageous actions helped defeat the enemy attack, and resulted in as many as 50 enemy soldiers killed, while allowing the safe withdrawal of numerous wounded soldiers. Sergeant First Class Smith’s extraordinary heroism and uncommon valor are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, the Third Infantry Division “Rock of the Marne,” and the United States Army.

At some point before the battle, Smith had written, but not sent, an email to his parents. In it, he wrote, "there are two ways to come home, stepping off the plane and being carried off the plane... it doesn't matter how I come home, because I am prepared to give all that I am to ensure that all my boys make it home."

Dec. 31, 1955–Aug. 2, 2005

Killed in Iraq for telling the truth.

He was one of the people who on Sept. 11 decided to change a world where that could happen into a world were it couldn't.

His Reuters obituary describes him as "an art critic inspired to write about war after watching from the roof of his New York apartment as the World Trade Center towers fell."

He did it his way. He took his skills to Iraq, and he set up base in Basra. He wrote online, at his excellent blog, In the Red Zone, he wrote a much-praised book by that name, and he freelanced his prose for big media.

It was the last that got him killed.

His death came four days after publication in the New York Times of an opinion piece he wrote critical of the rise of Shi'ite Islamist fundamentalism in the southern city of Basra, Iraq's second city and the subject of his next book.

Those closer to the story than Reuters make the connection more explicit. The Times of London tells it like this:

There is speculation that Mr Vincent, who received death threats, was murdered in an attempt to silence him. Four days before his death he had written an opinion piece in The New York Times in which he said that the police force in the British-controlled city had been infiltrated by Shia Muslim extremist militias, who were responsible for carrying out hundreds of murders of prominent Sunni Muslims.

He criticised the British, whose 8,000 troops in the area are responsible for security in Basra, for turning a blind eye to abuses of power by Shia extremists. The whole city was "increasingly coming under the control of Shia religious groups, from the relatively mainstream ... to the bellicose followers of the rebel cleric Moqtada al-Sadr".

In his final blog, he wrote: "The British stand above the growing turmoil, refusing to challenge the Islamists’ claim on the hearts and minds of police officers."

How cruel, then, that, as the Times reports, Vincent "and his female translator were kidnapped as they left a currency exchange shop, within sight of a British military checkpoint." The translator, Nour Al Khal, was shot four times but survived.

In light of what has been happenning in Basra this spring, Vincent's last full post, dated July 26, 2005, on his blog, is prophecy.

Reader_iam, while writing here, called attention to a Nick Gillespie piece in "Reason" just after Vincent's murder.

Journalism is a profession covered in self-congratulatory myths the way a barnyard is covered in stinking horseshit. It's easy to slip into routinized obituaries, especially about good people who die—are murdered—in the ugliest of circumstances by the ugliest of people. The impulse is to acknowledge the victims' sacrifices and their talents, invoke the righteousness of their lives and your anger, bow your head, wipe away the tear forming in your eye, and then get on with your day. That's a noble gesture—and a necessary one. It allows us to process grief, and if we didn't do that, we'd all be puddles of tears all the time.

But when I think about the murder of Steven Vincent—when I think about those last grim hours he spent in captivity, waiting for the inevitable bullet to his body or the blade to his throat—it's hard to wipe away the tear. His death gives us reason to linger at the gravesite and puzzle over many things. I'm glad that I had the opportunity to know Steven, however briefly and however barely—and, more important, to have published some of his material. He was that rarest of a breed in a profession that supposedly reveres shoe-leather reporting and a dogged pursuit of the truth, no matter where it leads. Unlike most of us, he used reporting to challenge his own beliefs rather than set them in concrete.

[emphasis added by R_ia]

It is worth noting that Vincent's wounded translator and companion had been trying to get to America. I'm pleased to be able to say, she made it.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Scourging

Robert Kagan -- or anyone with the name "Kagan" -- seems to be invisible to the many people disaffected with the Iraq War. You get the feeling if they saw one of his articles blowing down the sidewalk they'd cross the street with their fingers in their ears and eyes squeezed shut.

As a neo-con icon, he's on the defensive these days. But what he's defending is not just his own political philosophy. His work lately has become a futile attempt to head off a massive re-write of American history to absolve the nation from the Iraq War. Like the Lost Cause version of the Civil War, it allows almost everyone to think they were right all along, just perhaps misled by a few bad eggs.

Which is what is happening now, in a process of collective forgetting. This one will be a lot nastier than the Lost Cause, however, since it focuses not on the unity of the national experience so much as the supposed intrusion of political parasites. Or, as Kagan puts it:

To understand where the idea of promoting American principles by force comes from, it is not really necessary to parse the writings of Jewish émigrés.

Naturally, trying to stave off ostracism, he would tie his favored policies to the great American tradition. But he happens to be right. Historians, such as John Lewis Gaddis have wondered at the forgetfulness of those who consider Bush and Kagan as the kind of people America has to be "restored" away from:

So when Bush, in the aftermath of September 11, evoked the Jeffersonian idea of a world free from tyranny and the Wilsonian idea of a world safe for democracy, he was doing nothing radical or unprecedented: he was well within the tradition of American two-party politics.

As an example of that, Kagan quotes a few half-lines from Woodrow Wilson's war message to Congress in 1917, noting that the president "used language that would make George W. Bush’s speechwriters blush." Here's a fuller excerpt:

We are now about to accept gage of battle with this natural foe to liberty and shall, if necessary, spend the whole force of the nation to check and nullify its pretensions and its power. We are glad, now that we see the facts with no veil of false pretence about them, to fight thus for the ultimate peace of the world and for the liberation of its peoples, the German peoples included: for the rights of nations great and small and the privilege of men everywhere to choose their way of life and of obedience. The world must be made safe for democracy. Its peace must be planted upon the tested foundations of political liberty. We have no selfish ends to serve. We desire no conquest, no dominion. We seek no indemnities for ourselves, no material compensation for the sacrifices we shall freely make. We are but one of the champions of the rights of mankind. We shall be satisfied when those rights have been made as secure as the faith and the freedom of nations can make them."

... It is a fearful thing to lead this great peaceful people into war, into the most terrible and disastrous of all wars, civilization itself seeming to be in the balance. But the right is more precious than peace, and we shall fight for the things which we have always carried nearest our hearts -- for democracy, for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own governments, for the rights and liberties of small nations, for a universal dominion of right by such a concert of free peoples as shall bring peace and safety to all nations and make the world itself at last free. To such a task we can dedicate our lives and our fortunes, everything that we are and everything that we have, with the pride of those who know that the day has come when America is privileged to spend her blood and her might for the principles that gave her birth and happiness and the peace which she has treasured. God helping her, she can do no other.

Of course, the lessons about the dark side, and the wash of cynicism that can follow on failure, are in the history books, too. Collective righteousness, which Wilsonian war politics encouraged, can easily become ungovernable and cruel. Kagan cites the William McKinley/Mark Hanna GOP of 1900, fresh off the victory over Spain that placed the destiny of the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Cuba and other places in American hands.

It was, they declared, a war fought for “high purpose,” a “war for liberty and human rights” that had given “ten millions of the human race” a “new birth of freedom” and the American people “a new and noble responsibility ... to confer the blessings of liberty and civilization upon all the rescued peoples.”

He doesn't mention the ambivalent outcome of all that, the nasty guerrilla war in the Philippines and the serious domestic dissent it inspired. But Kagan is right in connecting the core of what passes for "neo-con" attitudes today to Lincoln, to Seward, to Henry Clay, "who sought to place the United States at the 'centre of a system which would constitute the rallying point of human freedom against all the despotism of the Old World,'” to Alexander Hamilton, to Thomas Jefferson, to John Quincy Adams, to George Washington, to the Declaration of Independence itself.

Jefferson wrote of an empire of liberty. Americans in his lifetime tried to extend it by force to Canada, before they realized the Canadians wanted none of it. The Monroe Doctrine, which tends to stand nowadays for all pan-American policy of the U.S. in the early 19th century, masks a genuine idealistic support for the Latin American nations after they broke from Spain by Adams, Clay, and many others.

The American belief in spreading liberty in the world always has been tangled up in more mundane motives and thwarted by cross-currents of more realistic and ambitious diplomacy. It has involved us in an essential split between those who wanted to concentrate national effort on perfecting the American experiment and those who sought first to expand it. It has involved furious debates over literal empire vs. an empire of influence and ideas. The man most likely to have coined the term "manifest destiny" became a bitter opponent of the war against Mexico that seems now to be its natural expression.

People steeped in Protestant Christianity will at once recognize the shape of these problems and debates. And the evangelism of early America was both the template and a motive force for all of this. Its influence on American ways of thinking and acting can not be underestimated -- with the single exception of the deistic intellectual generation of the Founders.

So when George W. Bush, in his clumsy way, says he felt the hand of divinity steering him toward a bold move to spread freedom and liberty in the Mideast, some people gasped in horror. But that is nothing more than American history. If you hate it on sight, if you proscribe something so deep in American soul as the recent and despicable innovation of a recently risen foreign-born coterie, you disown your heritage whether you know it or not.

Labels: ,

Powderpuff Bombshell

I wonder how the anti-war people who profess delight over former White House press secretary Scott McClellan's memoirs will spin this bit:

McClellan says Bush's main reason for war always was "an ambitious and idealistic post-9/11 vision of transforming the Middle East through the spread of freedom." But Bush and his advisers made "a marketing choice" to downplay this rationale in favor of one focused on increasingly trumped-up portrayals of the threat posed by the weapons of mass destruction.

During the "political propaganda campaign to sell the war to the American people," Bush and his team tried to make the "WMD threat and the Iraqi connection to terrorism appear just a little more certain, a little less questionable than they were." Something else was downplayed as well, McClellan says: any discussion of "the possible unpleasant consequences of war — casualties, economic effects, geopolitical risks, diplomatic repercussions."

Probably, if the past is any indication, by ignoring it. Every time I read a headline about some supposed bombshell in this arena, it turns out to be an account of exactly what seemed (at least to me and people I talked to at the time) to be pretty much what was going on.

The Iraq War was a direct response to 9/11; it was meant to establish a beachhead of freedom and democracy and -- that damnable word, hope! -- in the wretched region that had bred the killers. It was meant to be a positive, violent projection of American ideals through military means.

But that's a hard sell when you're sending other people's children off to war. So the administration instead focused on the WMD + terrorism threat -- which was a serious unknown in that environment, and the "how much risk are you willing to take" question. And it pushed the evidence like an aggressive DA, not an impartial judge. All of this was obvious at the time, and it was noted at the time.

You can argue vigorously that the initial neo-con vision was a bad idea, and you certainly can argue that it was terribly performed on the domestic political end and the occupation administration end.

Instead, many anti-war voices seem to prefer to shout about blood-for-oil and revenge for daddy and what have you. In those versions, the "ambitious and idealistic post-9/11 vision of transforming the Middle East through the spread of freedom" is dismissed as empty rhetorical flourishes to mask naked corporate greed or political psychopathy.

So, if McClellan is now the oracle, how do you explain that?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Auschwitz, or Someplace Like It

Prominent people who make historical gaffes actually do us all a favor without meaning to. They send a generation of bright but uninformed pundits scurrying for reference material, the better to pile on the unfortunate gaffer -- and to make sure they don't make such a mistake themselves.

And so, as in this case, they will discover that "Auschwitz" is not the only name on the horror roll, and that "Buchenwald," officially a camp for POWs, dissidents, insurgents, and people from suspected minority groups, is on the list, too.

Mr. TYLER McKENNEY PAYNE (British Soldier): I'm Tyler McKenney Payne of the ... (unintelligible). I live at Mansfield Woodhouse. I want to tell you a tale, just one tale, as there are many other horrible sights in the past days that I saw. I myself was guarding the milk store, and around this milk store was a screaming crowd of women with babies. I kept picking a few babies out and feeding them.

And one woman who was--I think she was mad, kept kissing my feet and clothing, so I took the baby from her. When I looked at the baby, his face was black and he had been dead for a few days. I couldn't come to say it was dead so I burst the milk can opened and poured milk down through its dead lips. The woman crooned and giggled with delight. I gave her the baby back and she staggered off and lay in the sun. And when I next looked, she was dead with the baby in her arms. So I put her in the stack of the dead bodies, 2 or 300 dead, and then I turned away. I was allowed to say that I'm a British soldier and it's not propaganda; it's the truth.

So, maybe people who only have known the Billy Joel version of history will get a little glimpse of something deeper. And maybe they will want to revisit afresh their assertions that Guantanamo Bay is exactly like a Nazi concentration camp.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


Throw away the dictionary definition and replace it with this:

A lawyer for the reputed mob boss known as Vinny Gorgeous asked an appeals court Tuesday to order the trial judge to step aside from the case because the judge himself is the target of an alleged murder plot hatched by the mobster.

The Eco-Puritans

A critique from the Left:

Environmentalism has replaced socialism as the leading secular religion. And the ethics of environmentalism are fundamentally sound. Scientists and economists can agree with Buddhist monks and Christian activists that ruthless destruction of natural habitats is evil and careful preservation of birds and butterflies is good. The worldwide community of environmentalists—most of whom are not scientists—holds the moral high ground, and is guiding human societies toward a hopeful future. Environmentalism, as a religion of hope and respect for nature, is here to stay. This is a religion that we can all share, whether or not we believe that global warming is harmful.

Unfortunately, some members of the environmental movement have also adopted as an article of faith the be-lief that global warming is the greatest threat to the ecology of our planet. That is one reason why the arguments about global warming have become bitter and passionate. Much of the public has come to believe that anyone who is skeptical about the dangers of global warming is an enemy of the environment. The skeptics now have the difficult task of convincing the public that the opposite is true. Many of the skeptics are passionate environmentalists. They are horrified to see the obsession with global warming distracting public attention from what they see as more serious and more immediate dangers to the planet, including problems of nuclear weaponry, environmental degradation, and social injustice. Whether they turn out to be right or wrong, their arguments on these issues deserve to be heard.

Guilt and Shame, Again

This seems like the right tone

So where race and racism are concerned, I feel much more ashamed as an American than I do as a twenty-first century conservative, because I feel a stronger loyalty to the America of the 1950s (or the 1850s) than I do to the conservative movement of the 1950s.

Sauce for the Gaffer

He should borrow a line from Mr. Koch, my 7th grade math teacher, who used to follow up some verbal slip with, "My tongue got caught in my eye teeth and I couldn't see what I was saying."

So it seems Obama is gaffe-prone. Well, anyone who talks non-stop during his waking hours and has his every word recorded, parsed, and pounced on is going to have his share of them. Like any aspirant to the White House. And any occupant thereof. Like the current one. I think this is the right take on it. But obviously some Obama-haters will make the predictable hay of it. And what's to stop them? The same sort of verbal bungling got Reagan and Bush pegged as "dunces" by their enemies. Will there be books published of "Stupid Obama Quotes"? Like the chickenhawk meme, it comes home to roost. Some people just never seem to get that.

Also, I don't know anything about Obama's forebears or when and where they served, but it's possible he's confused because the British and American armies that overran the western German concentration camps and transit points did get a full dose of Auschwitz: though none of these were death camps, the Nazis had evacuated many of the inmates from the death camps as the Soviets approached, and they ended up in their miserable emaciated state in the hands of the western Allies at Dachau and other places. That's how, for instance, Anne Frank ended up at Bergen-Belsen.

Labels: ,

Who Owns Your Comments?

When blogging gets this complicated, it's not democratic media anymore.


Monday, May 26, 2008

But They Respected Us Before 9/11, Right?

I do not know the origin of this poster. I have seen it ascribed to both a World War I and a World War II context. It is said to have been Dutch, originally, but it also is said to have been Danish. It clearly was used by the Nazis, and was printed in a propaganda magazine in 1944. The wording varies in different versions.

It's a delightful artistic capsule containing all the irrational and contradictory strains of European anti-Americanism. Absent the artistic style and period details, it would be appropriate to the 19th century, or even the 18th.

Look! The gangster's gun. The Jewish symbols. The Masonic symbols. The crass sexiness. The industrialized military might. The American Indian (playing a trumpet) is here a symbol of the United States. And the monster has the black arms of an African-American, waving a 78 rpm record (presumably jazz) and wearing a boxing glove. Message: American culture is Africanized and debased, and thus a threat to the superior race-culture of Europe.

At the same time the monster has a Klansman's hooded head, and a noose dangles, presumably a reference to lynchings. Message: America's racism renders it hypocritical and inferior to Europe's presumed enlightenment.

At the very heart of the beast is a cage, and in it are trapped two black people. But they are drawn as crude racist African caricatures, and they dance a frenzied jitterbug.

Now check this list of widely held prejudices about America in Germany today, and see how well it matches up with the Nazi propaganda.

The Real Winners

Here's something that, one way or another, will infuriate you.

Osama’s siblings repudiated his acts as early as 1994, but they left a door open to reconciliation. After 9/11, they seemed more interested in retaining legal counsel than in sharing information. Coll found allegations in a California custody case that there were scenes of celebration at the bin Laden compound in Saudi Arabia after the attacks. Coll does not believe any of the bin Ladens permitted to leave the United States on a chartered flight eight days after 9/11 had connections to radical Islam. He notes, though, that one who had possible connections — Omar Awadh — may not have been interrogated by the F.B.I.

Sept. 11 changed the family in two big ways: it made one of the sons into the hero of the Arab world, and it drove up the price of oil, igniting a construction boom. With oil topping $100 a barrel, the bin Laden group is thriving. It has 35,000 employees and expects to double in size in the coming decade. It is building airports in Egypt and elsewhere. In Mecca and Medina, it oversees vast real estate projects. “To please American audiences, the bin Ladens would have to seek forgiveness and denounce Osama,” Coll writes. “To please audiences in the Arab world, where the family’s financial interests predominantly lay, such a posture would be seen as craven.”

Seven years’ distance reveals a brutal reality. For both his family and his country [Saudi Arabia] Osama bin Laden’s attacks turned a profit.

You don't have to buy all the author's arguments and surmises, or even any of them, to step back and look at the world and see his "brutal" conclusion is right on.

Memorial Day

I've been slowly scanning in a shoebox-worth of black-and-white photos my uncle brought home from D-Day, all taken between June and November 1944. I'll probably post a few on the anniversary. Typically, on Memorial Day, I post something Civil War-related. But this year here's one of the Omaha Beach pictures:

It is one of three that shows the cemetery. Most of the pictures have very little information attached. But on the back of one of them, years ago, he wrote in ink:

"Flanders Field II"

And: "This huge cemetary is one half mile from Omaha beach. Where well over four thousand American boys lie at rest. Where five of my buddies are."

Friday, May 23, 2008

Newsroom Chit-Chat

Editor asked to write editorial for Memorial Day edition complains how hard it is to do and says he wishes he could be writing instead on "something I feel less ambivalent about."


See, This is Why

I can't ever go into politics. I can't fathom what on earth is surprising, or shocking, or exceptionable in this:

"I'll tell you my impression. We really in this last election — when I say we, the Democrats — I think pushed it as far as we can to the envelope. We didn't say it, but we implied it, that we if we won the congressional elections, we could stop the war. Now anybody who was a good student of government knew that wasn't true. But you know, the temptation to want to win back the Congress, we sort of stretched the facts."

He's not wrong. It was true then, it's true now. This might be the top news story today if Hillary Clinton also hadn't said something true but painful.

This is why. This and the arrest warrants. And those videos.

In Which It Gets Worse

I wish it wasn't so easy to bash the public school systems. Sometimes when I read stories that send me in that direction, I stop and think possibly they're reacting to the material they get from the homes and streets. Surely most teachers are doing their best.

Then I hear what's going on in my 17-year-old son's classrooms. Now, my son's school district is rural and not especially geared toward sending every kid to college. Mine was suburban, wealthy, and highly competitive. Yet where his seems to me to fail him is not institutionally, but on the level of individual teachers. His middle school education was quite good. Some of his high school teachers have been inspirational. But more of them have been flops.

He's in 11th grade. His course in American history -- or whatever name they disguise that by these days -- is coming to an end and the finale is a big project that will largely determine his grade for the quarter. In my high school, the college-tracked kids were taking electives by that time, and I remember writing two 20-page papers, on topics of the student's choice, approved by the teacher. One of mine was on the legal challenge to Reconstruction after the Civil War, the other was on the Congress of Vienna.

My son's comparable assignment: To write about the significance of the lyrics of "We Didn't Start the Fire" by Billy Joel.

And it gets worse. I might be able to grasp that assignment if this was a class of low-achievers who were hyped about nothing but pop music and this was a current hit song. It's not, they're not, and it's not. These are the the district's college-bound kids. And this is the best the school district has to offer them: Analyze the lyrics of some dimwit pop star's ripped off (from R.E.M.) oldie. A third of the references even the writer didn't fully understand (but he'd heard of them), I bet, and anything that can't be jammed into a rhyme isn't in there. This is called "studying history."

And it gets worse.

They don't even have to listen to the whole song! The teacher broke them up in groups and gave a little bit of it to each clump of kids. My son's group's verse is 1952 to 1956. "When I was a boy" comparisons are tiresome, but how else am I to judge this? My son is as smart as I was, as capable of mental work as I was. On his own, books he's read include Joyce's "Portrait of the Artist" and John Dower's book on the society and culture of post-defeat Japan. When I was a senior in high school I took an elective history course called "Crucial Years," which covered 1945 to the present, the present being 1978. We spent half a year on the Cold War, in other words. My son for the equivalent part of his public school education will spend a few days on a part of a song from the 1980s about the early 1950s.

And it gets worse.

The students don't even have to research everything in their assigned verse. They were told to each take one angle on it: one to write about the political, or social, or foreign policy, or pop culture qualities of the words. And then one of them has the job of putting it all together for a presentation.

And it gets worse.

When they got the assignment, they started researching it the way kids do nowadays: by doing Google searches. The first term they plugged in was "Brigit Bardot." The first thing they discovered, besides racy pictures, was a Web site in which someone went through the song, line by line, and wrote about the identity and significance of each thing in it.

Research done. No reading required. No learning required. The slim chance that the project would lead to something bigger than the song died aborning. But when the generation that is about to get the ability to vote makes its mark on America, it's good to know they'll have Billy Joel as their touchstone.

Does it get worse than that?

Labels: ,

Council Winners

Watchers Council winners have been posted for the week of May 23.

First place in the council went to Republicans Ponder The Abyss at Wolf Howling.

Republicans have two key national issues they can run on and win. The first, the pocket book issue, is the price at the pump. The second is national security. But they will only win on those issues if they accomplish two prerequisites. One, they need to embrace fiscal responsibility like it was just written on stone tablets by fingers of flame emanating out of a burning bush. Two, they need to adopt an effective communications strategy.

He may be writing with great subtlety here and talking about a campaign strategy, rather than a governing policy. If so, the party would be harking back to Reagan, who raised plenty of taxes, spent plenty of money, and compromised on small things for the sake of shifting the government into different channels.

But I still think he overlooks the role of the irrational in voting. I don't think it matters who Republicans run. I think the voters are simply worn out after two terms of Bush and friends, and consider the conservatives have had their chance, and it's time to let some fresh ideas in. And however ambivalent many of them are about Obama, McCain and his platform-mates is likely to say any number of intemperate things between now and November that will edge the voters -- emotionally -- closer to Obama.

Let's see if I'm wrong.

It's refreshing, at least, to see that the voters in the council, most of them I think conservative Republicans, didn't take offense at being cast as Macbeth. Now if a Democrat had done that ....

Votes also went to George Bush Isolationist at Soccer Dad; Seattle Times Writer Defends Hitler's Aggression! at Rhymes With Right; Renaming the Paradigm at Bookworm Room; No One Will Solve Our Energy Problems For Us at Hillbilly White Trash; and Would You Buy An ObamaMobile From Tom Friedman? at Joshuapundit.

Outside the council, the winner was Blog For Human Rights -- May 15th, 2008 at The Whited Sepulchre. This looks at the Four Freedoms, Roosevelt's bold proposal for a decent world, in light of some current events. It does so largely by putting up Norman Rockwell's moving illustrations of them against selected photos from current events.

Votes also went to The William Ayers Plan To Turn America's Schoolchildren Into Maoists and How Barack Obama Helped Him at Pundita. Either writing about Obama is approaching Hofstadter's notion of the paranoid style, or there is a lethal Manchurian Candidate running for president.

Other votes went to Dow Jones: Israel Means Business at The Elder of Ziyon, about 90 percent of which is quoted from two other sites, one a news story, the other a blog roundup. That can be a useful thing to do, but I tend not to vote for those.

Votes also went to The Lord of Perpetual Victimhood at Pondering Penguin and Vanderboegh: Loophole at Western Rifle Shooters Association, which is a useful entre to a topic for those unfamiliar with the cutting edge of the Second Amendment debates.

Friday Cat Blogging

I think this is a different Ansuya video than the one I posted before. No problem either way. You never can have too much Ansuya.


Thursday, May 22, 2008


See, this is what comes of me being a sad example of free thought. John Hagee never was my kind of man of God. He's one of those Christian fundamentalists with a creepy obsession with Israel that isn't necessarily for the good of Israel or Jews.

But when he says the Holocaust and Hitler were done according to God's will, isn't that the necessary consequence of having faith in the existence of an omnipotent and omnicient divine being? Isn't grappling with that situation incumbent on all Christians, all monotheists, not just a portly TV preacher from Texas?

It's a tough row to hoe and I don't envy them. I confess I find it easier to believe I live in a world without an omniscient and omnipresent god than to try to reconcile the 20th century (or the life cycle of certain wasps) with the assurance that a just and loving god is in charge everywhere and foresaw all this from the first flare of creation and not a sparrow falleth and all that.

As for the rest of it, he's trying to make sense of it using only the book he's been given. Which, again, a lot of people do about a lot of things. Creationists do it. I think they're nuts, but that's just me. The book is the central difficulty of Christianity, to an outsider like me, and it seems to be the foundation and consolation of it to many believers.

Labels: , ,

Maybe Canker Can Explain This

Spot the candidate from the Very Silly Party.

Labels: ,


Word Pairs

In reference to the discussion in the comments here.

Some more word-pairs in English that mean pretty much the same thing, and are etymologically identical in sense, but one is native and the other is in or from Latin

manslaughter - homicide
accident - befall
accuse - gainsay
omnipotent - almighty
preface - forword
annual - yearly
anonymous - nameless
apathetic - unfeeling
vocation - calling
sanctity - holiness
affair - ado
alien - other

A more obscure one is:

companion - mate

And a Latin - Greek pair:

compassion - sympathy

And some compound Latin words that have sense-pairs in common English two-word phrases:

abstain - hold off
accumulate - pile up
admire - wonder at

Anyone think of more?


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Nothing New

One classic experiment to demonstrate the influence of expectations on perception used playing cards, some of which were gimmicked so the spades were red and the hearts black. Pictures of the cards were flashed briefly on a screen and, needless to say, the test subjects identified the normal cards more quickly and accurately than the anomalous ones. After test subjects became aware of the existence of red spades and black hearts, their performance with the gimmicked cards improved but still did not approach the speed or accuracy with which normal cards could be identified.20

This experiment shows that patterns of expectation become so deeply embedded that they continue to influence perceptions even when people are alerted to and try to take account of the existence of data that do not fit their preconceptions. Trying to be objective does not ensure accurate perception.

Nothing new there, but the source is interesting.


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Ted Kennedy

I've had one in-person experience with the man, in what I suppose was the fall of 1976.* I was a junior in high school, participating in an exchange program with the John F. Kennedy School, a bilingual institution in what was then West Berlin. This was during the German students' visit over here (we went there the following summer).

During the obligatory tour of Washington, D.C., landmarks, Senator Kennedy was our host in the Capitol. We weren't his constituents, but he took a personal interest in our group. The Berlin school was said to be the first institution in the world to take his late brother's name. West Berlin and JFK had a strong emotional bond, of course. It was said that Willy Brandt, then mayor of the enclave, approached the Kennedy family at JFK's funeral and asked permission to rename the three-year-old international school in his city after the late president. What's certain is that by December 1963, the school had its new name.

Kennedy spent part of the afternoon with us on the Capitol steps, patiently answered our teenager-dense questions, and gave us the feeling he had nothing he would rather do than chat with long-haired greasy kids. He was a gracious host. I think I still have the Senate pass with his (stamped) signature, in a scrapbook somewhere.

On the Web site of the school, I see a quote from John F. Kennedy: "I look forward to a world which will be safe not only for democracy and diversity but also for personal distinction." From his speech at Amherst College, less than a month before his assassination. It reminds me of the virtue of the Kennedys -- for all their flaws they had the power to inspire people to believe in America's possibilities. You didn't have to believe it was perfect to believe it had the power to do anything, to right itself, to kick past the blocks.

It was not Reagan's optimism, but it was stronger, in a way, because it did not dwell on the cost of failure, or often even acknowledge that failure was possible.

*A sometime-commenter here was a classmate in those days and she has a much better memory than I do, even though we drank about the same amount in the interval, so I will defer to her for details of my high school life, if she corrects this.


Note to Self

Man is a lumpe, where all beasts kneaded bee,
Wisdome makes him an Arke where all agree;
The foole, in whom these beasts do live at jarre,
Is sport to others, and a Theater;
Nor scapes hee so, but is himselfe their prey:
All which was man in him, is eate away,
And now his beasts on one another feed,
Yet couple'in anger, and new monsters breed.

-John Donne, "To Sir Edward Herbert, at Julyers"


Monday, May 19, 2008

Latinate Aphorism of the Diem

Retrospect is viginti-viginti.


Sunday, May 18, 2008

Moving Pictures

Amba ponders how new technology will enter into the movies:

I was trying to think of a comparably artful use of today's technology. People obsessively staring into their laptops and checking their e-mail or Crackberrys in social settings is pretty boring and annoying, but somewhere there's a director who will make it gripping.

It must be my nature, because I've thought instead about how new technology will make old movies incomprehensible to our children. So much of the plots depended on things the characters didn't know, or couldn't do, which everyone now can know or do.

It was a dark and stormy night. The car died on a lonely road. The young woman was alone at the wheel. She had to call a tow truck, call her dad, call her husband -- call anyone. But the only sign of humanity visible for miles around was from the lonely farmhouse at the top of the hill. She turned her head slowly up to that sickly yellow rectangle of light and trembled at the thought of what she must do ....

"Duh, mom. Why doesn't she just use her cellie?"



For an informed, and alternate-media, view of what just happened in Lebanon, the must-read articles are at, or linked from, Michael J. Totten's site.


Saturday, May 17, 2008

Watchers Council Winners

The latest Watchers Council winners have been posted.

The winner within the council was "Evolution" = "Growth" by Soccer Dad, pointing out the unthinking use of "evolution" by media people to mean "other people's change of minds in a direction I approve." The opposite of "evolution" in this use, I suppose, would be "hardening."

"Evolution" is just a slippery word and would be best avoided. It is not a synonym for "change." Its etymological sense is "to unroll," which has been taken to imply expansion, increasing complexity, and "progress." Which is why Charles Darwin didn't use it for his scientific work (it appears only once, in the closing paragraph, in "The Origin of Species"). He preferred "descent with modification." But Victorian belief in progress prevailed (along with the human fondness for brevity), and Herbert Spencer and other biologists popularized "evolution."

Votes also went to Lebanon Becomes Hezbollahstan by Joshuapundit, which tracks an important story from the past week that seems to me was underplayed in the U.S. media, besotted with tragic images and stories from the China earthquake and with the U.S. electoral horserace.

And to The Audacity of Newsweek by Wolf Howling, who writes a damned thorough post.

Outside the council the winner was Numb at Kaboom: A Soldier's War Journal. This is just astonishingly good writing; streaming and unconstructed, like blogs typically are, but fully flexing the power of words and silences. It shows how blogs could become history on the fly. It deserves to be read and preserved, and it redeems thousands of bad blog posts everywhere else.

Also getting votes were POLITICS: Yes, Experience Matters by Baseball Crank; Is the Criminal-Justice System Racist? at City Journal; and Holding Things Accountable for What Men Do With Them at Classical Values.

Also, here are the winners from May 9.

First place in the council went to Who Cares About Israel, Anyway? by Joshuapundit.

Votes also went to Party Like It's 1980 All Over Again by Right Wing Nut House; and Obama As Marley by Wolf Howling (Jacob, not Bob, as originally thought).

Outside the council, the winner by a landslide was Losing Our Spines to Save Our Necks, which might seem an odd sort of winner, since it was written by atheist gadfly Sam Harris and posted at The Huffington Post. But there it is.

Votes also went to Iraqis Begin to 'Despise' the Mahdi Army in Baghdad's Rusafa District in The Long War Journal; Escape From A Brooklyn Mosque at Atlas Shrugs; and The Liberal Imagination of Frederick Douglass by Nick Bromell at The American Scholar. [My comment on that was here.]

Also we are informed that Right Wing Nut House is leaving the council. I'll miss his consistently independent passions. Any suggestions for a blogger I might nominate as his successor? The choice won't be up to me, of course.

Don't Put It Past

our leaders

The spectacle of an American president begging for oil every few months only to be rewarded with a slap in the face is getting a bit tedious. What’s next? Naming one of our aircraft carriers USS Ibn Saud?


Does Anyone Else See

"rating" stars at the end of all the posts here now? That just started happening tonight. I have no idea why. Was it something I did by mistake? I don't want them, but I can't find them in the template code.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Howdy Doodit

How did I miss this? Will Elder, the cartoon genius, has died.

[Yes, yes, I didn't know he was still alive, either.]

Here's a tribute.

He could render anything he could see with the precision of a photograph—or mimic virtually any fine-art style, including various modes of impressionism and early abstract art—yet he had no inclination to waste his time on anything other than his overriding interest, pranksterism. The sound of his name to those who knew him well, such as his former schoolmates and fellow cartoonists, Al Jaffee (who met Elder in eighth grade, when they were both being tested for admission to the High School of Music and Art), John Severin, and David Gantz, was a cue for grin and a round of 'Crazy Willy' stories: the time, when he was a kid in the Bronx, when Elder took discarded pieces of beef carcasses from a meat-processing plant, arranged them in old clothes on the railroad tracks, and started screaming that his friend Moishe had been killed; or the time, when he was in high school, that he smeared chalk dust on his face and pretended to be hanging in the coat closet; or, when went to lunch with some friends from EC [Comics] and tried to pay the cashier with leaves of lettuce that he had in his wallet. His humor was almost aggressively madcap, startling, often dark, and silly.



Some stories I found interesting enough to put on my inside pages this morning include:

This analysis of the California gay marriage ban's overturning:

Not long into the oral argument before the California Supreme Court in March over whether gay and lesbian couples have a constitutional right to marry, Chief Justice Ronald M. George showed his hand.

Three times he quoted from the court’s 1948 decision in Perez v. Sharp that struck down a state ban on interracial marriage, a high point in the history of a prestigious and influential court.

“The essence of the right to marry is freedom to join in marriage with the person of one’s choice,” Chief Justice George said, quoting Perez.

This piece on the dire need of U.S. intel agencies for help from immigrants, and the various reasons immigrants are reluctant to cooperate.

The U.S. is its own worst enemy when it comes to the desperately important task of recruiting immigrants as spies, analysts and translators in the war on terror, new Americans are telling intelligence officials. The government's policies raise suspicions and fear in the immigrants' home countries and disturb potential recruits here who might otherwise want to help.

The U.S. knows it needs the help. At the heart of a Friday summit with immigrant groups was a stark reality: The intelligence agencies lack people who can speak the languages that are needed most, such as Arabic, Farsi and Pashtu. More importantly, the agencies lack people with the cultural awareness that enables them to grasp the nuances embedded in dialect, body language and even street graffiti.

Complicated on many levels. I've already said I think our CIA is a rotten mistake. But if we've got it and we want it to have a halfway chance at competence (wouldn't that be nice?) we are going to need these people.

And if we're really serious that Islamism is a threat to our very survival as a nation, as a people, we really need them desperately. Which is why we ought to pay attention when some of the leaders among them suggest reasons more aren't enlisting in the intel forces.

What's perplexing to me is the same people in our commentariat who seem most fired up about the Islamist threat are most critical of the government when it pussyfoots around terminology like GWOT and Jihad and Islamofascism. If you read these sorts of stories, you'll see it's the intel chiefs and the military men, not the pointy heads in the State Department, who really want these sorts of changes. Sometimes pussyfooting is a policy.

But I also read the comments of the immigrant critics with some skepticism. Already, simply by being where they are, they have defined themselves as different from the mass of their fellows.

I know that America has a terrible image problem in the world right now, as they say repeatedly in this article. But is it really because of the Japanese internment camps? Is it even really because of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo -- yes, those hurt us in Europe, but Europe isn't what we're concerned about now.

When you read accounts of what is widely believed as ironclad truth about America and what it does, the things that are taken as truth in the Arab world and South Asia -- even in our putative allies like Turkey -- the facts that have come out about Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo are fairly petty by comparison. The truth of what we do when we commit crimes matters a great deal to us: Eliminating all those problems wouldn't solve our image problem among the populations where the hate and lies about us have been sown so well and so thoroughly for so long.

Finally, there's this one. My reaction to the FCLDS story has been visceral all along, and I sense most of the commenters don't agree with it. So, without comment, this:

When Texas child welfare authorities released statistics showing nearly 60 percent of the teen girls taken from a polygamist sect's ranch were pregnant or had children, they seemed to prove what was alleged all along: The sect commonly pushed girls into marriage and sex.

But in the past week, the state has twice been forced to admit "girls" who gave birth while in state custody are actually adults. One was 22 and claims she showed state officials a Utah birth certificate shortly after she and more than 400 minors were seized from the west Texas ranch in an April raid.

The state has in custody two dozen other young mothers and others whose ages are in dispute. If most of them also turn out to be adults, it would be a severe blow to the state's claim of widespread sexual abuse.

If it turns out the other 24 disputed minors are adults, the number of actual 14- to 17-year-old girls with children could drop to as low as five or six. That would amount to about one-fifth of the girls that age found at the ranch — substantially higher than the average rate of teen pregnancies in Texas but a far cry from 60 percent.

Net Loss

Two disturbing news stories about the Internet moved today. One is this account of the pending trial for the mom in Missouri who drove another mother's daughter to suicide by orchestrating a fake smear campaign against the fragile girl on MySpace.

Like a lot of people, probably, I would love to see this woman shunned by decent society for the rest of her life. I wouldn't mind if someone found a way to criminalize such things in the future.

But the tack being taken now by prosecutors is going to do a lot of hurt.

Prosecutors alleged that by helping create a MySpace account in the name of someone who didn't exist, Lori Drew, 49, violated the News Corp.-owned site's terms of service and thus illegally accessed protected computers.

In other words, they're calling her a hacker. And in the process, they're putting a lot of us in that category.

Legal experts warned Friday that such an interpretation could criminalize routine behavior on the Internet. After all, people regularly create accounts or post information under aliases for many legitimate reasons, including parody, spam avoidance and a desire to maintain their anonymity or privacy online or that of a child.

And the fact that your employer might forbid you to have an Internet presence under your real name, with a threat of firing attached.

This new interpretation also gives a business contract the force of a law: Violations of a Web site's user agreement could now lead to criminal sanction, not just civil lawsuits or ejection from a site.

Considering the woman in question has denied doing anything she is alleged to have done, it would seem there is latitude to charge her with other things, such as sworn falsification and lying to police investigating the death.

Among the acts this could define as "criminal" are signing up for Web services and boards without giving your correct age. I understand the interest of hosting services in showing they have taken care to keep people under 18 away from certain sites or images or conversations. But I also know young women who routinely put down their age as "99" to keep trolling creeps from catching them in member searches defined by gender and age. The women aren't the ones who belong in jail.

The other disturbing story is this one. Charter Communications plans to track some customers' Web use in collaboration with an online advertising firm, the better to target them with ads.

The ads "will better reflect the interests you express through your Web-surfing activity," Charter senior vice president Joe Stackhouse told the affected subscribers in a letter. "You will not see more ads — just ads that are more relevant to you."

Yeah, and that means if a couple chooses to visit adult sites on their own time at night, ads for similar sites will be popping up on the machine when they're using it along with their young children during the day. More relevant, indeed.


Thursday, May 15, 2008

I'd Like to Sell the World a Bra

Another Flower Child dream has its petals plucked.

Remember "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing"? That anthem of utopian youth? Turns out it was like that "Star Trek" episode where the space hippies commandeer the shuttle and go to the planet that is supposed to be paradise and it's full of toxic plants.

Or something.

When The New Seekers were at the height of their fame, they had five records in the American charts at the same time and played to packed stadiums across the world. Their best-known song, "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing", adopted by Coca-Cola for its famous "Hilltop" advert, sold 96,000 copies in one day and recorded a total of 12 million sales.

But due to a contract dispute about her entitlement to the proceeds of further sales, Ms Graham has not had a penny in royalties since 1973. She left the band in 1978 and after trying to forge a solo career eventually decided in 2000 to find another career.

And so that earnest alto ended up ... fitting bras on customers at a department store in Colchester.

"I started as an assistant in womenswear and moved to the lingerie department. Then I became a qualified bra-fitter; a representative of a bra company offered me training. It was great work, making women feel good about themselves and how they looked. Everybody moves on from the different phases in their life."

Labels: ,

Borah, Borah, Borah!

Big news:

"We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: 'Lord, if I could only have talked to Hitler, all this might have been avoided.' We have an obligation to call this what it is — the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history," Bush added.

Democrats are fuming. This quote set them off at least once before, in 2006, when Rumsfeld used it in a speech.

The curious thing, to me, is that neither he nor Bush named the Senator. The quote comes from a Progressive, isolationist Republican, William E. Borah of Idaho. Who may well have said it, conversationally, but not on the record. As far as I can tell it is attributed to him first in a biography published 20 years after his death.

I should add that it is curious that so many media outlets reporting the story (such as the AP, linked above, Reuters, or CNN) don't bother to track down the source of the quote. But the uncuriosity of the media is universal now and no longer seems curious to me.

Borah is an interesting fellow to look at in the light of modern red-blue America. Here, from his Wikipedia entry:

As a senator Borah was dedicated to principles rather than party loyalty, a trait which earned him the nickname "the Great Opposer." He disliked entangling alliances in foreign policy and became a prominent anti-imperialist and nationalist, favoring a continued separation of American liberal and European Great Power politics. He encouraged the formation of a series of world economic conferences and favored a low tariff.

A maverick Republican, in other words. The best quip about him comes from the underrated early 20th century humorist Calvin Coolidge. Told Borah was fond of horseback riding, Coolidge replied, "It's hard to imagine Senator Borah going in the same direction as his horse."

A "Progressive" Republican, in one of the now-unrecognizable historical meanings of that word. Isolationist, anti-imperialist -- like the paleo-cons of today. But an early champion of globalization and open markets, and a partial backer of the expanded federal powers of the New Deal. He sponsored bills that created the Department of Labor and the Children's Bureau and supported Roosevelt's efforts on old-age pensions.

And, as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from 1925 to 1933, a supporter of American engagement with the pariah regime in the Soviet Union.

As Chairman, he became known for his pro-Soviet views, favoring recognition of the Communist regime, and sometimes interceded with that government in an unofficial capacity during the period when Moscow had no official relations with the United States. Purportedly, Kremlin officials held Borah in such high esteem that American citizens could gain permission to travel throughout the Soviet Union with nothing more than a letter from the Senator.

Which might make a more interesting path than the one Bush used in invoking him as a warning against engagement with Ahmedinejad's Iran.

Labels: ,

Law and Other

Image Hosted by

John Phillip Law, R.I.P.

He had a role in one of the quintessential Cold War movies, The Russians Are Coming the Russians Are Coming, one of those films that will have to be shown to our grandchildren if they're ever to understand the times we lived in.

And he starred in some of the best/worst films of the late '60s and early '70s, such as Barbarella and my favorite, the delightfully fluffy
The Love Machine
. Based on a Jacqueline Susann novel! Also starring Dyan Cannon, David Hemmings, Shecky Green! With Eve Bruce as "Amazon Woman." Soundtrack sung by Dionne Warwick! Does it get any more "period" than this?

And of course, he also starred in the great Saturday matinee boys' adventure flick The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, which brought together two of the great accomplishments of early '70s movie-making: Ray Harryhausen special effects, and Caroline Munro.

Which is an excuse to run a picture of Caroline Munro.

Image Hosted by

As if I need one. Which makes this post a modern corollary to Lord Byron's observation that, "All tragedies are finished by a death, All comedies are ended by a marriage." All Hollywood obits are potential excuses to run pictures of hot tomatoes.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Another Galaxy

Historical squabbles in the U.S. can be plenty nasty, especially when the origins of the Civil War are on the table. Apparently, though, it's nothing compared to sorting out the history of Israel:

No history of Israel's origins, however, can achieve definitive status for now. While Israel routinely declassifies much state material after 30 years, the Arab states that attacked Israel keep their archives comparatively closed. Rogan and Shlaim, writing in 2001, saw "no immediate prospect" for declassification of their key documents because "Arab scholars would find no support for critical revisions of their historiography." While the Israeli historian Anita Shapira has pointed out that Jordan opens its archives to a limited extent, materials that might resolve factual disputes — such as the degree of sincerity or cynicism on the part of Arab leaders about Islamic jihadism — are not available. Perhaps frustration fuels the hyper-aggression among Israeli historians.

Can the rocket fire among them be squelched? In his thoughtful, just-published A History of Histories, John Burrows, a professor of European thought at the University of Oxford, praises the community spirit among Clio's devotees, first expressed by Polybius, who believed "that if he died before he completed his history, another historian would carry the subject on."

Doubtless some peer would do the same for a departed Israeli historian. It's equally clear that others would cheer the fact that the biased, manipulative so-and-so was gone. The past, historians say, is another country. Israeli history is another galaxy.

Labels: ,

Wednesday Theology Lesson

Today's topic, Higher Criticism and the Old Testament.

The longer version

The shorter version:

The Clothes Have No King

... again. Every now and then I read someone saying things I've long thought, but never had the nerve to say. Usually because I was aware I lacked the academic clout to be taken seriously in saying them, should anyone challenge me. So I wait for someone else to point it out and then jump on the bandwagon. It's petty but to be human is a petty business anyhow.

So here's such a case:

A decade and a half ago, when I reviewed the first volume of the Library of America's Steinbeck edition (the fourth and last volume has just been published), which contains the first five of his books, I was struck, upon rereading, by "the solemnity, the sentimentality, the heavy-handed irony, the humorlessness, the labored colloquialisms, the clumsiness, the political naivete" that I found in them, but I was also reminded of what had drawn me to him when I was young: "his powerfully sympathetic portraits of American farm workers and ... the vision of social justice with which his work is imbued." Now, with Second Reading well into its sixth year and with a number of readers asking whether Steinbeck would be included in the series, seems a good time to take another look.

It gets worse. Personally I prefer the Warner Bros. cartoon parody of "Mice and Men" to the original. And "The Red Pony" is just icky. "Grapes of Wrath" is meanness writ large. I get the damn point already. It's no more literature than G.B. Shaw is drama.


Monday, May 12, 2008

Fox News

This article hits an answer right on the head without realizing it. The author then moves on, still looking for it:

For Him Magazine, and the other lad mags like Maxim and Umm, occupy a strange, liminal place in the territory of contemporary male desire. They exist to allow men to look at women's bodies sexually but not pornographically. With the emphasis on suggestion rather than revelation, the women in their pages are slick materialistic ideals, as current in their smooth plastic forms as the Prius or iPhone.

OK, to really see the answer, as it struck me when reading it, you have to tweak that sentence a bit to read, "The emphasis is on suggestion rather than revelation, yet the women in their pages are slick materialistic ideals."

I've been lucky, as a man, because I've always found sensual suggestion far more arousing than explicit display. If it sounds like a brag, it's not. I had nothing to do with it. I just was put together that way. A half-concealed woman is a powerful thing, if she chooses how to display herself and does so with an eye to drawing my eye. A naked woman's body is a biological fact. A woman dressed to seduce is an inhabited beauty, a promise of pleasure, a flame from Heaven.

It's the person inside all that flesh and fabric that is the goal of sexual desire. Sex, along with love but not identical with it, bridges the awful gap of solitude that the skull binds us into.

I still much prefer looking at the photo spreads in old Playboys, pre-1974 or so, to anything since. The removal of the taboo against pubic hair and the descent into full-frontal made a difference in that publication. It's not that the thing itself offends me [and the article cited above closes with a repetition of the old Ruskin story, which many scholars now think to be wrong: it probably was menstruation, not pubic hair, that shocked him]. But the nakedness of the models simply changed the nature of what was being done. And ultimately it changed the models.

Before, you had very different young women with very different body types. If she had a full bosom, chances are she had curves everywhere. If she was long and leggy, she had small breasts. The photographers played with this, dressed the models and turned and posed them to present interesting angles. It was a flamenco; afterward, it was just a dull strip. And it's probably no coincidence that the silicon and shellac look began to dominate the centerfolds about the same time.

Allure is the woman's art of making real flesh appear divine. It is not surgical. "Explicit" and "naked" are its poisons.

And there's the reason magazines like "Maxim" fail for me. They take the methodology and visual language of allure, and they use it to describe women who have been manufactured to be seen naked, not those to whom it properly belongs. They use poetic diction to write user manuals.