Friday, January 30, 2009
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Last night, which happened to be International Holocaust Remembrance Day, I attended a lecture by Pulitzer prize winning comic book artist (or graphic novelist) Art Spiegelman. It was supposed to be a talk on tolerance and art, but he self-deprecatingly waved away these weighty subjects. “Everything I know I learned from comic books,” he said. “So I’m going to talk about comic books.”
And for the next two hours, that’s exactly what he did, talking and joking his way through a brief history of comic books, from the first old French comic strips to the now critically acclaimed “graphic novels” like The Watchmen, or his own masterpiece, Maus, which grapples in alternating humor and horror with his father’s memories of surviving Auschwitz, and his own turmoil in understanding that history.
Fortunately for the audience, the talk, like Spiegelman’s work, was not limited to words. On a giant screen Spiegelman guided us from one comic to the next–some his, many from others who he took inspiration from. And bit by bit, as he traversed the world of comics from the early days of racial caricatures to the modern world, where entire populations were subdued by the fear of Islamist reprisal over the Danish cartoons, (a subject he did a cover-story for Harper’s magazine on and which was subsequently banned in Canada) to the propaganda posters the Nazi’s used in the lead-up to the mass-execution of the Jews in Europe, Spiegelman drove home his overarching point:
These are not just lines on paper.
I never understood the old rhyme “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” It always struck me that this was quite the opposite of the truth. A more truthful cliche might be “a picture’s worth a thousand words.” Spiegelman’s talk led us to the concept of physiognomy, or the “assessment of a person’s character or personality from their outer appearance” which was once considered almost a science, but has, regardless of its lack of scientific merit, certainly been a tool used by illustrators and dictators alike to propagate stereotypes, either for humorous purposes, or for the seeding of hate within cultures.
In much the same way that Nazis exploited the tenets of Darwinism to promote their vision of the superior German race, Nazi propagandists used comics, and physiognomy, to create an impression that Jews were somehow sub-human. The image of the Jew as a rat has been ingrained into the international psyche. The Nazis used this to great effect, and as Spiegelman pointed out, we still refer to the Holocaust as the “extermination” of the Jews rather than as a mass-murder.
It could be argued that as we enter further and further into an era of mass-media and visual information, images will become even more important in how we view the world–what’s shown, as much as what isn’t. The Danish cartoons are an example of how in the name and guise of tolerance, fear can lead us to censorship. Of course, the Arab as a terrorist is almost as universal an image as the Jew as a rat. And so we come to that cross-roads: on the one hand, images were instrumental in so many horrible efforts, from segregation to the Holocaust; and on the other, that most prized freedom of speech. I suppose in the end we must take the bad with the good. There will always be hate, after all, but freedom of speech is a fragile and precarious right.
In any case, all of this leads to the question of Pope Benedict’s rehabilitation of Bishop Williamson into the fold of the Catholic Church. Williamson, as we all know by now, is an adamant Holocaust denier, who is on record stating that “the historical evidence is hugely against 6 million Jews having been deliberately gassed in gas chambers as a deliberate policy by Adolf Hitler.” Pope Benedict has been quick to decry such Holocaust denial in an attempt to quell the uproar over Williamson’s reinstatement.
Of course, there are words and then there are symbols. The symbol of Benedict welcoming Williamson back into the Church is a great deal more powerful than the words he’s used to whitewash the scandal. A picture’s worth a thousand words, remember. We refer to acts like this as symbolic gestures, and regardless of what the Pontiff says to the contrary, this new embrace of Williamson is a symbol of the very sort of thing the Catholic Church has been attempting to distance itself from–old hatreds, old divisions. The history of the Church and the Jews is not a pleasant one. John Paul II worked for years to change that, and it seems Pope Benedict is as determined to sabotage what his predecessor begun.
And yet, here we come again to that confluence of freedom and consequence. Freedom of religion, of speech, of practice, can often come into conflict with sensibility, cultural sensitivity, and so forth. After all, Holocaust denial is not forbidden by the Church even if one would hope that the basic precepts of Christianity would render it unthinkable, it should still be allowed as protected speech, however despicable. In Germany it is illegal to deny the Holocaust. In Canada, hate-speech is defined by the State, and can be banned outright. So do we give the State this power to define what is hate, what is free, which symbols and words are merely scribbles, and which are swords? Once upon a time the State in question was Nazi Germany, or Stalinist Russia. The State, after all, is changeable as are human hearts, and human words. Our best course is to keep them separate–a separation of Thought and State, no matter the drivel that can, and does, produce.
After all, none of these words, images, cartoons or symbols are mere “lines on paper.” They hold consequence; the power to destroy or heal; the power to stir a nation to war, or lull it to sleep.
Comments open at The League of Ordinary Gentlemen
Friday, January 23, 2009
Thursday, January 22, 2009
Read the whole thing.
Lord, there is no such city anywhere, but all is a vision. America’s spires and turrets are built on mountains of debt and a fairyland of trust in the faithless apostles of the unregulated Free Market. We have indulged ourselves in fantasies of national superiority and continue to do so, all the while condemning the Islamists who make no bones of their urge to subdue the world to their own vision of harsh justice and superiority. Think Obama won’t perpetuate these fantasies? He’s going to send even more troops into Afghanistan, recapitulating the failures of Bush in Iraq, in the one place in the world where every textbook of military history tells us empires go to die. Less Lincoln and more Plutarch for President Obama: let our Fearless Leader see how Alexander fared east of Persia, both in the nature of Alexander’s successes and failures.
Anon, the whole fair city had disappeared, the reckoning has come due. Yet the illusion has not been dispelled.Obama is a fine man, as good a man as the times have produced and the country is well-pleased with him, both Republicans and Democrats alike are charmed by his glamour. But of old, the word Glamour meant a spell of illusion...
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
The purpose is to get not merely a multi-author blog with disjointed posts by various authors, but to start a series of dialogues within the blog. It's going live today. Right of this moment, actually...
Check it out. Thanks!
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Monday, January 19, 2009
Then again, looks like Scooter might be in for some jail time, if this is true and not just a poor choice of words:
In his final acts of clemency, President George W. Bush on Monday commuted the prison sentences of two former U.S. Border Patrol agents whose convictions for shooting a Mexican drug dealer ignited fierce debate about illegal immigration. [emphasis mine]Final acts? Meaning, no love for Libby? Wow.
Democratization in recent years has not generally contributed to U.S. interests, and it certainly has not contributed to greater peace and security. From empowering Hamas to building up an aggressive nationalist demagogue in Georgia to boosting socialist “people power” in Bolivia and Venezuela to provoking ethnic conflict in Kenya, genuine democratic elections have produced a number of undesirable outcomes for the nations involved and for U.S. interests in their respective regions. The idea of “democratic peace” is a myth, and the politicization of ethnicity and religion that democratization has involved in many parts of Africa, Latin America and the Near East has led to terrible results. Why we should want more of this is a mystery, but like much related to the management of the empire this is something we are not supposed to challenge.
I would add that all of this is not to say that democracies aren't a good thing, or that nations around the world shouldn't move toward democracy, or some form of democracy, since I truly believe that despite all of its flaws, democracy is still the best of all possible political systems. However, what is lacking in all of the nations where the US has tried to impose it is both the rule of law, and a historical foundation of order and representative government. The United States was born out of the British history of a functional parliament, and traditions dating back to the signing of the magna carta. America was also a healthy group of colonies, with relatively high stability and rule of law.
Compare this to Iraq, a country with no history of liberty or representation of the people, founded in a region of the world that has been plagued with war, religious fueding, and totalitarianism in one form or another--or to Afghanistan which has only the tradition of tribal politics, and warlord feudalism. It's simply not good soil for democracy, and certainly not for imposed democracy.
I think a better means by which to export our ideals would be through example, through healthy trade, and through tireless diplomatic efforts. There is a time for force, for war, but it cannot be in order to instill something as fragile, and whose outcome is as unforeseeable, as democracy.
Saturday, January 17, 2009
Okay, here's the problem with this sort of equating of wrongs. First of all, the Nazis took populations in their own country and in countries they had conquered, that were peaceful, law-abiding components of those States and societies, and for no reason beyond blind, racist hatred carted them off to death camps after first subjugating them to ghettos, theft of property, etc.
In Israel the situation is bad. Very bad. The treatment of the Palestinians is often inhumane. The checkpoints make life hard on many people. The rocket strikes and incursions are devastating.
The difference, though, is that Israel was warred against numerous times by her neighbors; they suffered through terrorist intifadas that drove them to these security measures; they do their best to minimize civilian casualties and are responsible for providing the Palestinians with a great deal of humanitarian aid. They also do many things that make peace harder to come by, like the ridiculous settlements in the West Bank, the blockade in Gaza, and so forth.
But they are not Nazis, and they are not in the same category or ballpark even, and it is a cruel, awful thing to use propaganda like Finkelstein is using at his site to suggest that they are. There is a moral divide between Israel and Nazi Germany that it will take much, much more to bridge. Their hands aren't clean, to be sure, but they are nowhere near as bloody as Hitler's Germany.
This sort of fear-mongering does nothing to further the debate. It is emotive only, and dismissive of historical circumstance. I am so tired of the fringes of this debate running its course and direction. I am tired of Finkelstein and his bunch of loudmouths, and I am tired of the extremists on the Zionist side as well, who seem so blind to any fault they may actually have in this.
Israel isn't Nazi Germany, and not all Palestinians support terror. Most of the people in this mess are just normal people caught up in decades-old conflict with no end in sight...
Recently Culture11 held a mini-symposium on the drug legalization debate. (Read this, this, and this). I've got a stance that lies somewhere between the libertarian and the law & order types. I am strongly in favor of legalizing marijuana but I take a more cautious stance on the harder drugs.
For one, I've seen the effect first-hand of the terribly destructive power those drugs have on people, especially crystal meth. Heroin and cocaine, too, though. These aren't necessarily things that should be condoned as legal in our civil society. That there is a stigma attached to these drugs, that they do have some sort of legal penalty--this may be a good thing. And if we are reasonable about our other substances, perhaps there won't be much of a market for these harder drugs in the first place.
One huge benefit of legalizing pot (which is almost universally accepted as a pretty harmless substance these days) is its negative effect on revenue for the drug lords and cartels. One of the primary sources of income for these groups is marijuana, and conversely one of our primary costs in the "War on Drugs" is fighting marijuana imports, jailing pot users and petty pot dealers, and diverting law enforcement to deal with stoners when it could be fighting the real bad guys.
It’s by far the most widely used illegal substance, and once legalized would be an enormous source of tax revenue for the US Government. Taking it out of the black market would take the power away from dealers, and create jobs. It would take people out of the prisons, and free up space and money in that over-worked, over-crowded system. Anita Bartholemew writes:
Of the 872,000 arrests in 2007 for marijuana-related offenses, almost 90 percent were for simple possession of the dried vegetation in question. The typical arrestee is younger than 30. Think college-age kid caught lighting up a joint. Now, multiply that by 775,000 — that’s where a significant chunk of your drug war dollars are going.You're damn right you're talking real money.
The price of deploying an army of local, state and federal cops, prosecutors and guards to arrest, try and imprison the perpetrators of this non-scourge? Using data from 2000, Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron estimated it as $7.7 billion4 per year while a 2007 study, by public policy expert Jon Gettman, figured it closer to $10.7 billion 5 per year.
Most of that money is eaten up by law enforcement according to Miron, with $2.94 billion going to prosecution costs in 2000, and less than half a billion toward incarceration.
Add in the revenue we’d eventually gain if marijuana were regulated and taxed like alcohol and tobacco (from $6.2 billion to as much as $31.1 billion per year), and you’re talking real money.
So, add to that the tax benefits of legalization, much of which could go to paying for better border security–you find yourself with a weakened network of drug cartels, as the market for smugglers will basically dry up except for imported hard drugs, which have a much smaller market share; you have more money to combat harder drugs from all these new cost-savings and increased tax revenues--basically you get a three-in-one: economic stimulus, increased national security, and increased liberty for non-violent, normal, and suddenly law-abiding Americans.
The economic stimulus would be extremely beneficial for this country at this point in history, with the recession looming. Legalized marijuana would be good for a wide variety of businesses, from medicinal to fast food chains. It is becoming more essential than ever for national security, as Mexico is looking more and more as though it is on the verge of total collapse--right up there with our nuclear pal Pakistan.
So in sum, I think the libertarian ideal of "your body, do what you want with it" is noble in purpose, but simply not pragmatic. And I'm not sure it's morally right either, no matter how theoretically good it sounds. Some of these drugs are literally horrible, addictive poisons that should simply not be given a pass by society at large. Others, like pot, are misunderstood, have few if any side-effects save the munchies, and could act as a bridge to a better, more civilized nation.
When Radley Balko warns of the "militirization of our police" I concur, but I think legalizing pot and keeping the other drugs illegal wll so temper this whole "war" that this will become far less of an issue. Police will get to be cops, looking for real bad guys or people who are legitimitaly ruining their lives with actual drugs.
Fredoosso warns that:
"Despite the wishful thinking of its proponents, drug legalization would result in broader drug use, and for exactly the same reasons a legal narcotics market tends to reduce the size of an illegal one—lower prices, greater convenience, more reliable supply, and far more security in one’s transactions."I agree with this, too. This is one reason I think only marijuana should be legalized and not the other drugs. While I think we should lose the misnomer "War on Drugs" I think we should maintain a robust police effort to combat drug smuggling, and a larger societal effort to help addicts. Legalizing pot would also take the dealer out of the picture. The number one reason that pot is a gateway drug is because it's purchased from a dealer. So take out that middle man, and replace him with a clerk at a supermarket. Then you're much more likely to purchase Doritos with your weed as opposed to an eight-ball of Columbia's finest.
Also, the hit that drug cartels would take from the money lost over pot-sales, and the increased expense of smuggling the harder drugs, would actually drive up the cost of these drugs, making them more difficult to sell and to purchase. Supply and demand would drop significantly, and a healthier, legal alternative would be right there at your local Conoco.
So keep heroin illegal, but stop locking up our potheads. Send our police out to bring down meth labs, but let our stoners have their midnight snacks in peace. Use our border patrol agents to stop human smuggling, or to sniff out shipments of cocaine, but let the joint-smoking-hippies cross freely. This is a national security issue as well as a moral issue. And it would be good for our economy to boot.
Friday, January 16, 2009
I actually said something similar to this to a co-worker today, at least the part about a War on Birds. And you know, I thought at the time "Somebody else has already said this, I'm sure, by now. Somebody much more famous than myself..." That's the tricky thing about saying something funny or clever. It's almost never original, even if you did come up with it on your own. One more reason to embrace humility, I suppose...
While most birds probably wish to peacefully coexist with humans, it is becoming increasingly clear that a small group of radicalized avians are hell-bent on destroying our way of life. These radical birdists hate us for our freedom. This can not stand.
I, for one, look forward to President Bush's declaration of a War on Birds. Unfortunately, this will last only four days, after which President Obama will no doubt appoint this guy as special envoy to the avian community.
C'est la vie. One thing is certain: Bush won't have time to declare a War on Birds. The Bush days are over.
I'm torn on this subject--truly torn. I can't see any fault with transparency, with holding those who occupy our highest offices accountable, perhaps even more accountable than any others. But if we are to go into it with Krugman's presuppositions--basically asserting that there was abuse even before it's been proven--than aren't we waging a political vendetta more than seeking justice?
I’m sorry, but if we don’t have an inquest into what happened during the Bush years — and nearly everyone has taken Mr. Obama’s remarks to mean that we won’t — this means that those who hold power are indeed above the law because they don’t face any consequences if they abuse their power.Let’s be clear what we’re talking about here. It’s not just torture and illegal wiretapping, whose perpetrators claim, however implausibly, that they were patriots acting to defend the nation’s security. The fact is that the Bush administration’s abuses extended from environmental policy to voting rights. And most of the abuses involved using the power of government to reward political friends and punish political enemies.
Krugman declares that "the fact is" the Bush administration committed various abuses, though really, sans the inquest, how can he possibly know what any of the facts are? This isn't necessarily meant as a case against an inquest, but it certainly reveals Krugman's argument to be more emotionally based than anything. The fact is, we don't know anything. I think this is a pretty good argument in and of itself to do an inquest. But until that time we should be asking questions, not stating opinions as though they were facts.
Krugman's a smart guy. He should know better. A far better case could be made from a more nuetral standpoint. Hell, I think the case should be made that all outgoing administrations will be wihout fail investigated thoroughly by an independent inquest upon their departure from office. We should set precedent that regardless of a President's popularity or perceived honesty or dishonesty he or she, and the men and women in their cabinet, will be investigated for wrong-doing while in office.
We should keep all our elected officials honest. But honesty doesn't necessarily equate with popularity, and Bush's unpopularity should not be reason enough to investigate him, no matter how politically opposed we may be to his decisions. This should simply be status quo. Take the politics out of it, and demand the rule of law above all else.
Thursday, January 15, 2009
As Bush said, and I paraphrase: "This would be a lot easier if this were a dictatorship. As long as I was the dictator."
It's the ugly beauty of any democratic society. The masses are more easily pushed toward guns and glory. Freedom and the ability to choose our leaders gives us such a great deal of power to avoid getting anything done. Thus things are only completed to the halfway mark. Israel exits unilaterally from Gaza, yet leaves the West Bank occupied.
Half-measures are one of the curses of democracies. Then again, you run such a high risk of getting stuck with a bad leader when in any other system of governance. Watching the transition of power between Bush and Obama is testament to this. Democracy, coupled with the rule of law, is a fantastic thing. The one without the other, though.
You get Gaza.
...which I find really, really disturbing. Free market, meet the seven deadly sins...
But in all seriousness...really??? "Life is short, have an affair." Really?
I suppose, taking the two posts together, the image of the Google Ad that asks "Is your husband gay? Give him this quiz to find out..." and this billboard...I don't know what to make of it--only that maybe gay marriage really isn't the thing threatening our "sacred institution" - perhaps the free market has a hand in it, or freedom in general. Perhaps gay men marrying women creates higher levels of divorce...
Just shooting these off the top of my head, though. Maybe I'm reading too much into this.
Max writes: "The fact remains that settlers in general hold strong anti-Palestinian sentiment, and could not be a civil component of a Palestinian state. That should be argument enough for forced removal."
TNC asks: "Is this also an argument for the forced removal of anti-Zionist Arabs from Israel? If not, why not?"
My thoughts, off the top of my head--anti-Zionist Arabs do not present the same level of political inertia that the settlers in the West Bank can. In other words, the settlers represent an actual obstacle to a two-state solution, whereas the anti-Zionist Arabs present no such obstacle. They may, however, present a security threat, and once the two-state solution is realized, there may be a case for some forced-immigration to Palestine, though I would hope not.
The major difference, I suppose, is the Israelis are settling in the West Bank. I'm pretty sure the Israeli Arabs have been in Israel proper since 1948.
Just some thoughts.
Here's one more question: Can a Palestinian State ever become a reality with two disparate geographical regions (Gaza and the West Bank) separated by Israel in the center? Is this a possibility or merely a pipedream? Are we dealing with anything more than the geography of defeat, and do we need a new partition?
Then you have all these quiet voices in the "center" though I'm not so sure that's the right word anymore. All these quite, reasonable voices trying to piece things together, trying to dig up the truth, constantly thwarted by those in the wings, shouting them down--equating them with the other fringe.
There are apologists for terror, for war, for whatever that are part of this debate but they are fewer and louder than the rest of us.
Can't I be pro-Israel and still decry this invasion into Gaza? Can't I see a picture of an 80 year old Gazan woman, with no home, no family, sitting forlornly and alone on a pile of rubble and believe that this is just wrong. No matter what, this is wrong--it's not helping anything! Nobody has shown, proved, demonstrated how this military action is anything beyond political posturing, or how it will achieve anything at all, or how the blockade of Gaza is actually pro-Israel somehow. Just because it's anti-Palestinian does not make it pro-Israel. And the opposite is true, isn't it? Just because it's anti-Israel doesn't mean it's helpful to the Palestinians. If Syria and Iran were to make peace with Israel and stop funding terror, they'd likely to a great deal more to help the plight of the Palestinians than their current "aid" does.
How to combat these extremists, on both sides, is an open question. I'm not a "moderate" in that lukewarm sense of the word. I'm extremely upset by all of this, and I think some very strong measures need to be taken--but not to benefit the fringes, but to benefit the maintstream, in all its diverse, normal, unremarkable ways...
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
...a group of hardline Orthodox Jews took over control of that territory and organized a resistance movement. They also steadfastly refused to recognize the new Palestinian state, arguing that its creation was illegal and that their expulsion from Israel was unjust. Imagine that they obtained backing from sympathizers around the world and that they began to smuggle weapons into the territory. Then imagine that they started firing at Palestinian towns and villages and refused to stop despite continued reprisals and civilian casualties.To me this question doesn't even merit too serious a response, yet I will give it my best. The circumstances would be so utterly different. For one, Israel is already surrounded by Arab States, closed off, in a sense, from her neighbors. It is already (and was more so pre-1967) a sort of Gaza, albeit a rather strong and wealthy one by comparison. Nevertheless, it is a country surrounded on virtually all sides by hostile enemies and less hostile allies.
Here's the question: would the United States be denouncing those Jews in Gaza as "terrorists" and encouraging the Palestinian state to use overwhelming force against them?
Here's another: would the United States have even allowed such a situation to arise and persist in the first place?
Had the Jews been driven into some Imagined Gaza, and suffered the same constraints the Arabs suffer in the Real Gaza, obviously much of the world would take pity on them. Surely the vast majority of humanity has a tendency to root for the underdog, after all.
However, and here's the sticking-point, Palestine would never have come into being, so the presupposition that somehow the hard-liners in this Imagined Gaza would not recognize the "State of Palestine" is simply an absurdity too great even for the hypothetical.
Had Israel actually lost the Six Day War, and been driven from Israel, then the outcome would have been a divided Palestine, wherein Egypt, Syria, and Jordan all took slices. Likely enough, Jerusalem and the West Bank would have gone to Jordan (which would perhaps once again take on the mantle of Transjordan) and the Holy City, if anything, would occupy a greater global scrutiny than the questions that Walt asks.
Even likelier, the Jews would not have been plotted off in a Gaza-like region, but forced into yet another Diaspora. Many would likely have been massacred by the various Arab factions, whose leaders have never blanched at massacring their own and would likely not bat an eye at killing off the defeated Israelis.
Even were Palestine somehow to have emerged as a Sovereign Nation, certainly no Arab Government there would ever tolerate rocket-fire into its borders, or truck in aid to its citizens, and would respond without doubt more harshly than Israel has responded to the Gazans. This is not in any sense a justification for the Israeli actions, or blockade, or the policies of its Government, which have often been stubborn, intransigent, and foolish. But I see no historical evidence that would allow for any more humanitarian treatment should the tables be turned.
So back to Walt's questions:
Here's the question: would the United States be denouncing those Jews in Gaza as "terrorists" and encouraging the Palestinian state to use overwhelming force against them?Hard to answer since this situation would never have occurred under an Arab conquest of Israel. Had it, somehow defying all evidence to the contrary, I'm sure it would be denounced by much of the world. Then again, the Arabs started the 67 war, so not only would they be the victors, but also the aggressors. Digging deeper into Walt's point, I agree that the US should do more to constructively criticize Israel. After all, the one-sided outlook hasn't helped anybody, and at some point the US will have to help save Israel from itself--largely by denouncing the settlements in the West Bank. However, no excuse for Palestinian terrorism need be given. The terror, from either side--and there were, in the lead-up to Statehood, many Jewish terrorist groups as well, not to mention British officers acting as terrorists, and of course many Arabs playing that role from the earliest days.
I digress. Back to Walt:
Here's another: would the United States have even allowed such a situation to arise and persist in the first place?Did the United States intervene in '67? Likely we would have let Israel fall at that point, and would have done very little to prevent the ensuing massacre. Had the Israelis actually been cordoned off into Gaza (Arabs do live in Israel proper, by the way) then I suppose it would depend on the situation as it unfolded. Like I said above, I simply don't believe that a Palestinian State would have emerged, so the comparison is almost impossible to make. Had it happened, though, I think America would certainly denounce both sides, though quite likely the Arabs more.
Does this confirm the notion of a too-strong Israel Lobby in the United States? I don't think so, though sometimes I wonder if our politicians are too short-sided. I think the Imagined Palestinian State that would have emerged would seem as foreign to us as the other Arab States in the region, whereas Israel feels a great deal closer to home. We should never underestimate cultural affinity. It has great power to sway public opinion, to shape policy, and to inform how we view the world at large--how we interact globally and across cultures.
Besides that, Israel/Palestine is an oil-free zone. There isn't much more beyond affinity, and trade, that binds us. It is also unlikely that without that cultural affinity we would have formed a trade relationship with Palestine It's hard to imagine a similarly healthy economic or political relationship would have ever developed.
So perhaps the final answer to Walt's question is that this story would have gotten very little Press or global attention at all, and would hardly merit much attention from the US, had all the tables been turned. It would be another in a long litany of terrible world circumstances, from Africa to the Middle East to East Asia that we only spend half a second at a time on.
Little quagmires. Little ripples on the global scene. A speck of dust in our collective conscience. Just another plight to overwhelm our empathy.
First, this does say something important about the miserable state of the conservative blogosphere as a journalistic medium, and it also tells us something about the thorough Palinification of the right. Palin was praised and embraced because of her perceved ordinariness, and her lack of expertise was regarded by her admirers as an advantage and a desirable trait, and now we are treated to the journalistic equivalent of Palin’s qualifications for the position she sought. In journalism as in politics, standards, qualifications and expertise are now to be thrown out; average-ness, ordinariness and ignorance are to be prized as proof of one’s authenticity. Like Palin’s pseudo-populism, which actually helps preserve and strengthen the hold the establishment has by making populism idiotic, this sort of “amateur” journalism does more to discredit amateurs and reinforce the pretensions of professional journalists than anything else. Far from marking the beginning of a serious rivalry with such outfits as TPM, this heralds the irrelevance of the conservative blogosphere as a vehicle for journalism.This is important. Not only is the conservative movement entering a phase of "idiotic" populism, driven largely by mediocrity (there is a vast difference between "the common man" who happens to be extraordinarily qualified and "the common man" that is completely out of their league, as was Palin) but the very most populist efforts any political group can hope for these days--independent journalism and blogging--are becoming crippled in the process.
Save for a few good sites, and Larison's blog is among them, the conservative blogosphere is mainly just a lot of shouting. The tone is almost invariably angry or resentful or full of self-pity or indignant accusatory harangues.
So it comes as no surprise that Joe is on his way to becoming a sort of indie-journalist sensation, much as Palin was poised to take the second-highest seat in the Land...
Which calls to mind the final scene in Amadeus, as Salieri rolls through the insane asylum, the Patron Saint of Mediocrity:
Goodbye, Father. I'll speak for you. I speak for all mediocrities
in the world. I am their champion. I am their patron saint. On
their behalf I deny Him, your God of no mercy. Your God who
tortures men with longings they can never fulfill. He may forgive
me: I shall never forgive Him.
Mediocrities everywhere, now and to come: I absolve you all!
Amen! Amen! Amen!
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
This was an odd piece of news.
Georgia has sold a partial management stake in the hydroelectric plant that supplies almost half the country's power to a Russian state-controlled energy firm for $9 million.One might consider this a national security issue, depending on the nature of the contract and the business relationship. Then again, the devil is in the details. Russians were already using the plant for energy which they weren't paying for. It appears now they will be.
Will the wonders never cease?
From the NY Times:
From 2001 until 2004, when he received his final payments from the I.M.F., Mr. Geithner paid his state and federal income taxes but did not pay self-employment payroll taxes. The I.M.F., as an international organization, does not withhold U.S. payroll taxes for Social Security and Medicare from its American employees’ paychecks, so they are required to pay the roughly 15 percent tax on their own. The Obama transition is calling his mistake a common error for American employees of the I.M.F.What really bothers me about this is that the last thing we, as a country, need right now is a dishonest, sneaky, tax-evading Secretary of the Treasury. We've had a bad enough time with Paulson, who I personally wouldn't trust with my money (if that were an option)--we don't need Geithner embroiled in a scandal the moment he hits the ground. Beyond the scandal, though, we don't want a man who can't be trusted to pay his own taxes running the Treasury Department during this period of turmoil. It sends the wrong message. Of course, with the inauguration only days away, we're awfully late in the game finding a new Sec. of the Treasury.
After a 2006 Internal Revenue Service audit identified the lapse on his 2003 and 2004 tax returns, Mr. Geithner paid tax and interest of $17,230 and the I.R.S. waived penalties, according to the transition.That leaves for Mr. Geithner the question of why he did not correct the earlier years’ non-payment of self-employment taxes after the 2006 IRS audit identified the problem for 2003 and 2004.
But Obama vetters discovered the same lapse for 2001 and 2002 and brought it to Mr. Geithner’s attention last Nov. 21, after which he paid tax and interest of $25,970, transition officials say.
On the other hand, perhaps this is all much adieu about nothing...perhaps Geithner really is the man for the job, and he made honest mistakes, perhaps egged on by a willful subconscious.
Anything is possible.
And as I've argued in the past, I'm not in favor of disqualifying people based on suspicion alone.
From what I've seen of Joe's dispatches, I wonder how any of them can still defend the choice. PJTV should have sent Sarah Palin. At least she has a journalism degree. She could have asked some "gotcha" questions, a la Katie Couric...
An Alaska lottery held to raise money for a group that helps sexual abuse victims had a surprise winner: a convicted sex offender.No kidding? Also...
Alec Ahsoak, who according to the state sex offender registry was convicted in 1993 and 2000 for sexual abuse of a minor, came forward Saturday with the winning ticket for the $500,000 Lucky Time Pull Tabs jackpot.
Proceeds of the lottery help Standing Together Against Rape in Anchorage, a nonprofit group that offers support to sexual assault victims among other services.
"It's not how we had envisioned the story going," Nancy Haag, the group's executive director, told CNN Radio.
Alaska has the highest per capita number of rape cases in the United States, according to FBI statistics.Not quite the vision I received watching Northern Exposure...
That's right. Approximately $100,000 dollars to swim, sail and blog for six months in the Great Barrier Reef.
Wanted: one "island caretaker", must be able to swim and willing to move to Hamilton Island in Australia's tropical Whitsundays to begin 1 July. Flexible hours, six-month salary of $150,000 (£75,000), non-negotiable.Caretaking duties do not, island bosses insist, extend to litter-picking and sieving leaves and other detritus from the pool. Instead, the eventual incumbent will be paid to explore the crannies – both on land and underwater – of the Great Barrier Reef's 600 islands, reporting back through a fortnightly internet diary with photos and video.
The BBC reports:
The job is being advertised around the world. Candidates have until 22 February to submit an online video application.Sounds just awful, doesn't it? Application information can be found here.
In May, 10 shortlisted candidates and one wildcard, voted for by visitors to the Tourism Queensland website, will be invited to the islands for a four-day final interview process. The successful candidate will start the new job on 1 July.
Mr Hayes says he is expecting thousands of applications: "I'm having to beat my staff off with a stick at the moment because most of them want to apply too."
Monday, January 12, 2009
Have I missed one?'
UPDATE: Commenter Friar Zero has directed our attention to Balloon Juice. I stand corrected, mildly relieved, and waiting for more like-news. Thank you, Friar Zero and John Cole!
UPDATE II: Mark points to this item at PJM.
I have no objection to this internet sensation seeking to extend his fifteen minutes of fame. By all means, write a book, hit the Sunday morning chat circuit, or even run for Congress. These are opportunities for any American and Mr. Wurzelbacher should feel free to pursue them all. But we should probe a bit deeper into Joe’s qualifications as a war correspondent, as this is generally not the first assignment a cub reporter pulls upon joining a network. We might expect him to have a command of, or at least a passing familiarity with the languages spoken by the locals. He should be well versed in the history of the conflict, the primary participants, and the leading power figures. Lastly, as a reporter, we would expect an engaging figure on camera, exuding competence and armed with excellent communication skills in his native tongue. Have we any signs of this?Good question. I think the answer is rather obvious....
Jon and Scott Payne and Freddie deBoer have a dialogue on Same-Sex-Marriage at Scott's blog. Well worth the listen. (Freddie links there from his supposedly dormant blog...)
Tony Jones talks about gnosticism at his blog. He has a nice line: 'There's nothing secret about Christianity. There never has been. Let's make sure there never will be."
Mike Pontera thinks Obama, unlike his predecessors, has some "breathing space." We shall see...
And Max Socol has an interesting write-up on the question of cease-fire in Gaza. Jason Corley thinks we should "give war a chance" and while I think the phrasing is a little on the brash side, (though clever) the general idea that Israel ought to finish what it starts is certainly a good one. Different perspectives are always good to have...especially when it is not the ends, but the means that are in question...
Hamas may ultimately be destroyed by a Gaza takeover. But long after they're dead, it will be Israel that has to live with a new occupation.Jason:
It's therefore in our interest to make the ceasefire workable, before a messy invasion. Israel ought to concede to allowing Hamas to maintain oversight of its borders, alongside Israeli forces on their respective border, and international forces along the Egyptian border. I don't know what harm there could be in such a concession, as long as non-Hamas monitors still have access to everything coming in and out. And in exchange for this concession, Israel can demand that international forces be stationed within Gaza, rather than Egypt. Egypt, (which has nearly as much of an interest in concluding this mess, as it is nothing but a daily public relations disaster for Mubarak) for its part, should exert serious pressure on Hamas to accept this trade. And if it is unable to do so, Egypt should accept a multinational force in the Sinai, as a good faith gesture to make up for Hamas's intractability.
In exchange for the total cessation of rocket fire from Gaza, Israel should agree to a formalized schedule for lifting the blockade. This is in any case in Israeli interests, as many have pointed out that miserable conditions in Gaza have done nothing to damage Hamas, and may in fact have strengthened the organization.
It's hard to say what will actually achieve peace. I do hope Israel secures Gaza at least to the point that a lift of the blockade will become possible. I hope, also, that Egypt will find some way to clamp down on smuggling over their borders--not bread, but bombs and rockets and machine guns.
The message is a clear one. This is the price you pay when groups like Hamas are elected. This is the price terrorist organizations pay when you endanger the lives of citizens of other countries. The lessons and results may be more binding and constructive then permanent evacuations or cease fires that only secure the status quo and, ironically enough, contributes and guarantees more suffering and death in the future.
The region deserves peace and the people of Gaza and Israel deserve to live quietly and securely. I think its time we give war a chance.
The Lord of the Rings was by far the most difficult read of my childhood, and the most satisfying. I've read it many times since. If there weren't so many other books in line on my book shelf, I would probably pick it up again, but it will have to wait.
Then again, if I wanted a quick Lord of the Rings fix, I could get one just about any time these days. There are three overly-long movies available on DVD that only cut out some of the most essential parts of the story; there are at least a dozen or so video games to be found for Play Station (1, 2, and 3), Wii, Xbox, and the PC. There are strategy war games and third person hack-and-slash games, and even a World of Warcraft style Massively Multi-player Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG). I've seen action figures, costumes, party-favors...I'm not sure if one of the Fast Food Chains had Aragorn figures or little plastic orcs in their Happy Meals, but it wouldn't surprise me.
Of course, all of this "materialistic progress" that has lead to the easy availability of Tolkien's work is really just exactly what the man warned of, isn't it? Cheap commercialism and soulless industrialism. Why even bother with those long, wordy novels anymore? They are so time-consuming and slow. It took me an entire month when I was nine to read the Lord of the Rings. It only took a total of about 12 hours to get through the movies. I can play those video games without any committment whatsoever...certainly no committment to the deeper message Tolkien was attempting to convey.
I won't go into that too much now. I envision a part-two to this diatribe. But what modernity has done, it seems, is given people less of a reason to read Tolkien's work. It has sucked something vital and important from the work. The religion is gone from it, the age and the history of it are all dried up. We've replaced it with cool battle scenes and special effects. Hack-and-slash has usurped Frodo's journey. The mediocrity of the vast majority of the fantasy genre is all these mediums ever hope to attain.
We've all learned how to kill an Uruk-hai, or bring down a Nazgul with our Level 18 Elven Archer, but at the precipice, would any of us be able to throw the ring into the fire?
Friday, January 9, 2009
Besides, it was a better way to travel--by which I mean to actually experience the world around you whilst transporting yourself from one location to the next. Unless you find a way to drive the backroads of this country, you're confined to the Freeways--which are fast, barren alternatives. We don't really travel so much as transport on a Freeway. Planes are worse, but the only really fast way to cover such vast distances.
The train was a good choice for me. I didn't own a car and didn't have much money, certainly not enough to spend on a plane ticket. And besides, it sounded fun.
It was an eye-opener for a number of reasons. First, I saw a side of New Mexico I'd never seen before--the shanty-towns and dilapidation of that State were very apparent from the tracks. Second, I realized how limited the rail-network really was. In southern Colorado we disembarked and boarded a bus for Denver. The bus was much, much less comfortable, and far slower, too. Essentially, I enjoyed every moment of the trip up to the point I boarded that bus. From that point on, and to this day, I lamented the inadequacy of our country's rails.
I'll say this, if I could take the train to Phoenix instead of drive, I would. If I had the option to travel by light-rail across country instead of fly, I would. Now it takes too long, with too much out-of-route involved. It's several days from the West Coast to the East by train, partly because the tracks are not direct (we simply don't have enough rail) and partly because the trains are not as fast as we know they could be. Europe sports trains that speed across the country at 120 miles per hour--some upwards of 200 mph. This is far faster than your typical Amtrak train.
So when I stumbled across Yglesias today, basically asking the obvious question (why is there no plan to expand rail in the Obama stimulus), I had to remark on it. First of all, here is Yglesias on the potentiality of a rail stimulus:
Like Special Agent Mulder, I want to believe in this. In particular, I do believe that it would be a good idea to make these kind of investments. But I also know that many people hear about the idea of spending $40 billion in California and $32 billion in the Northeast and maybe comparable amounts to build HSR systems in Florida and the rust belt and they start to blanche. So now that all of a sudden there’s broad political consensus in favor of adding a few hundred billion dollars to the deficit, I really want to put my hand up and say “hey! look over here! some productive infrastructure investments we should make!”I want to believe, too. Read the rest of Yglesias's post, because he's absolutely right about this. Rail could do so much for this country--it's green, it's a long-term investment in infrastructure that basically is exactly the kind of thing Government should be involved in, and in creates American jobs, and lots of them.
There is huge potential not only for economic stimulus, but for a revolution in tranpsortation that may not only be good for America, but also necessary as gas prices will inevitably rise again in the near future. Also, as I've said before, I think mass-transit can actually be a positive force for community building. It's just one more way to be close to our neighbors--forced into proximity, as it were, in a world that does its best to keep us detached.
One could also argue that both World Wars had democratic elements to them. After all Germany was a democracy, if an extraordinarily imperfect one, as were the Allied nations. The First World War is a tougher sell, but even so, democratization had occurred to such a point that the war and war effort became almost populist--a dangerous development especially in regards to war and peace.
In any case, to my mind, while democracy is the worst option save for all the others, it is utterly useless without the rule of law, and similarly it is ineffectual at best, and likely temporary, without, as Havers puts it, "the triumph of western liberalism, or the reasonable toleration of minorities within a majoritarian democracy."
This is one of the huge flaws in the philosophy of democracy spreading. It's one thing to spread the ability to vote, but quite another to ensure elections are fair; quite another to ensure that a majority population doesn't just use their democratic advantage to extinguish all opposition.
Our understanding of democracy is flawed because we exist within it--not as outside observers. We exist within a functioning democratic society wherein the rule of law still, for the most part, holds fast. We have not used our powers of empathy enough when considering just how alien democracy must seem to inhabitants of the Middle East--or how opportunistic people in positions of power can be, and what a weapon anarchistic democracy can be. And that's what it is prior to the rule of law, security, etc. It is anarchistic, essentially a ballot box and a void. And as with all voids, something has to fill it--so you see this happening with fledgling democracies. They quickly become totalitarian States, or are overrun by militants or terrorists or authoritarian religious groups.
Remember, unlike our Founding Fathers, the Iraqis and the Palestinians did not have the Magna Carta in their history, nor Parliament, nor a sense even of "taxation without representation" and so had not fostered similar minds or mind-frames as our Founders were blessed with--who saw democracy as a dangerous thing that must be checked and balanced, tended to like a fire and just as deadly and intangible, with great power to do good or ill.
The fact is, democracy settled into American history organically. It was the natural conclusion to centuries of European political evolution and the geographical and technological realities of the day. Such is not the case, not even marginally, in the Middle East.
And so we see two democracies at war. One is that hollow version of democracy, that cheap generic "exported" variety that America thinks can be foisted on all the underdeveloped nations of the world, true. The other is a young, embattled democracy with great potential and great divisions. But they are both democracies, and it does appear that they are at war...
So the settlements appear less like Islands and more like cracks in a windshield, or the burrowed mines of ants. Either way, I imagine settling there is claustrophobic. This certainly illustrates just how difficult it would be for Israel to actually un-settle the West Bank, and similarly how difficult a two-state solution really is.
To catch everyone up on this, Mark has posted here and here on the subject (which has lead him to the term "talk radio dogmatism") stating that the GOP's problems
have not been caused by religious conservatives or adherence to free market beliefs, but instead by a sort of "talk radio" dogmatism in which any given issue becomes a litmus test for whether one is a "true" conservative or Republican.Which is absolutely true, and essentially what I mean when I describe mainstream conservatives as "shrill" or "brash" and similarly when I complain that conservatives are rarely "conservative in disposition" anymore, but in talking points only. Which leads to my term "talking-points-conservatism." (we might also discuss "talking-heads conservatism")
You see, the problem doesn't necessarily arise due to differences in ideology, but rather the difference in approach. I may differ with Mark on the value of free markets or public education, or with others on the merits of defense spending etc. but the real crux of the problem seems to be that if one strays outside the accepted dogma, or talking-points, one is immediately labeled a closet-liberal, a protectionist, or a heathen. At one point Mark mentioned that Culture11 is part of the de-malkinization of conservatism (or the GOP, I can't recall), and I think this is also a good observation, as Malkin is the embodiment of talking points conservatism, and joins the ranks of Hugh Hewitt and Rush Limbaugh as the vanguard of talk radio dogmatists.
So what are these talking points which make up Conservatism 2.0? From whence does this litmus test arise?
Enter Alex Massie with his "Cult of the Idea of Reagan."
In that sense, then. the troubles of Republicanism now and of the Tories in the last 15 years, were built upon their previous successes. The difficulty is that the second (or third) generation is rarely as talented or adaptable as the trailblazers who won power in the first place. Instead of finding fresh ideas and solutions, they inherit positions and prejudices that, because they worked once before, are assumed to be eternal truths rather than particular answers to particular problems at a particular time.So here we have the framework of modern conservatism, with its foundational dogma stemming from the early 80's and anyone who strays outside of its ideological borders labeled heretics. My forays into the problems I see with supply-side economics are enough to ostracize me from many circles. I stress again, though, it is not so much the difference in ideology but in disposition and approach that causes this to be a problem.
And because they're seen as eternal truths, any deviation from them is grounds for heresy.
Mark sums up the three terms we've come up with:
For what it's worth, I think of the three phrases to describe the problem, my "talk radio dogmatism" is the catchiest but probably least accurately captures the problem. Massie's "Cult of the Idea of Reagan" is probably the most accurate, but also the most verbose. E.D.'s "talking points conservatism" pretty much splits the difference.I would suggest again reading Austin Bramwell's "The Right to Remain Silent" as it touches on the value (or lack thereof) in being part of "the movement." The trouble, of course, is that the movement is so much more influential on the face of things than the few independently minded conservatives out there, who choose to evaluate the world through lenses other than Reagan conservatism.
Essentially the side-effect of all of this is not only hyper-partisanship, but also to stagnation within conservatism, and a dearth of new ideas and creative thinking. It leads to a great number of supposedly intelligent people spending a great deal of time with their heads in the proverbial sand, chanting "Drill baby drill" or other such one-dimensional, quadra-syllabic intonations. It leads to the choice of Joe the Plumber not simply as Presidential mascot, but as war-reporter.
In the end, really, it leads absolutely nowhere. We become lost in the echo chamber.
UPDATE: Now I've begun pondering Mark's summation in a different manner. I think that the three terms we're using are not so much interchangeable as they are inter-functional. "Talk radio dogmatism" describes, in a sense, the sort of belief-structure that makes up modern movement conservatism (as dogmatic and shallow); "talking-point conservatism" describes the function or modus operandi of this belief structure; and "The Cult of the Idea of Reagan" provides the framework and historical basis for the belief-structure, and helps explain how the ghost of (the idea of) Reagan still haunts us (regardless of the man's obvious contributions to American politics).
I'd add that 24-media-exposure plays its part as well, but that's another story altogether.
The American public surely gets this: A majority in a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll say Burris should be blocked from joining the Senate and Illinois should hold a special election.Yes, the reliable masses. Surely they can interpret the laws for us...
Thursday, January 8, 2009
settlers are also Israelis of no particular ideological bent, who bought homes in settlements because they worked low-paying jobs, and couldn't afford to live in a city. These people live in places like Gilo and Har Homa, well-established communities whose crimes, while still very relevant to the future of a Palestinian state, are now 30 or 40 years in the past. Enough time, in other words, so that we must now grapple with the idea of second-generation settlers, guilty of nothing more than being born in the wrong place. These people deserve to be resettled fairly, and it should be the duty of Israel and the international community to look out for them just as carefully as we will look out for Palestinian refugees who have to be resettled outside of Israel.This is a good point, and I know this has been faced on a smaller scale with the Gaza withdrawal, where certainly second (and third?) generation settlers were being removed from their homes, often to massive protests. The West Bank would surely be more difficult.
I like Max's take on the Israel question--and value it especially since he's there, in Israel, and leveling this message at Americans:
"We've been trying to tell the American electorate all along that there are better ways to be a friend to Israel than to give it a blank check and a license to kill -- but nobody listens until there's more blood in the street."In regards to the impossible contradiction of West Bank settlements and a Palestinian State, Max agrees, and also notes that:
"maintaining such a contradiction has been in the interest of Israeli politicians for many years now, in no small part because of the United States' simplistic, dumb support of this little country."I think it's good to hear this sort of thing coming out of Israel. And one wonders at the fact that if, as Max states, the Israeli moderates have been humming this tune now for years, why the American public seem so deaf to the message (and I've no doubt that's exactly what moderates have been saying for years, either...). It's possible that the so-called pro-Israel hard-liners are successful because there actually is and has been a very vocal anti-Semitic element to this debate, and they are able to crowd out honest critics of Israeli policy by playing the bigot card.
But I've seen where this sort of "blank check" leads and it tends to be in circles. Bloody circles, endless violence, and heaps and heaps of denial on both sides of the debate.
Just take a step back and read some posts from hard-liners on either side. One thing you won't find is empathy, and another is nuance. I'm afraid those qualities plus a whole lot of creative thinking are going to be necessary to solve this mess.
Oh, and another thing Max mentions in the post is that Israeli moderates are by and large realists when it comes to foreign affairs. In this age of rash neo-imperialism (global trade backed by military might and a rush to lay claim to energy resources) we need all the realists we can get.
Americans need to start supporting Israel the way they would their own country--by asking the tough questions, and demanding a higher level of accountability and common sense. It's our business because it has to be. It's been our business for decades now. Real live people on both sides of this conflict rely on a balanced broker in the US, and it's time they had one.
Oh, and further reading on the subject: Richard Spencer thinks this incursion into Gaza is A Damned Foolish Thing:
When Israel invaded Lebanon two and half years ago, the campaign was, by all conventional measures of military matters, a resounding success. The only problem was that Israel was fighting an asymmetric war—that is, an established nation-state (think F-14 firing missiles) was taking on an amorphous, state-like social charity and terrorism organization (think screaming poor person with a grenade launcher). The funny thing about this kind of conflict is that the little guy usually wins by losing, and the big guy is usually ruined by his success. On CNN International, Israel looked like a horrible monster, and on the proverbial “Arab street,” Hezbollah got cred for standing up to the “Zionist entity.” Hamas, which at the moment is much smaller and less well organized than Hezbollah, will undoubtedly benefit greatly from losing a war to Israel and will soon be rewarded with an enlarged donor base, new recruits, and a reputation for toughness. Getting attacked by the Israelis is good for organization branding.I recall Max (and others) writing on how this was a push to gain enough security capabilities to actually re-establish pre-1967 borders. Hard to say, but I suppose this is a possibility. Then again, isn't it rather like the cart before the horse?