Mangan Goes Fishing For Good Websites: Tom Mangan, the terminally curious copy editor/Web pioneer, has rounded up a bunch of good websites with information about the Middle East, and done some thinking out loud about how Iran just might be the key. (Which reminds me of a couple days after my wedding in 1997, when my wife’s Iranian-scholar uncle, Yann Richard, author of “Shi’ite Islam,” took us aside just before going back to Paris and said “Remember! Iran will be the key to the 21st century!”) Anyways, further down on his site, Tom reprints an e-mail he sent to a Left-debunking blogger … which turns out to be me, but I have been too scatterbrained and busy to do simple things like post the kind and thoughtful e-mails of smart readers. Soon, I hope to start a letters page, list all the best warblogs in the nav-bar, and finally lop off all those month-old posts that are making the site load so slowly.
10/27/2001 08:59:05 PM
The Bungled Death of Abdul Haq: Ken Layne sees ominous signs of U.S. bungling in the Taliban’s capture and execution of this leading opposition figure.
It is time to deal with how this war is being fought. After a good, restrained and thoughtful start, the Bush administration is fucking up. I want more Wolfowitz and less Powell. I want that twerp Ari Fleischer removed; he's an idiot and a liar. I want to see and hear Cheney -- before Sept. 11, I couldn't imagine typing those words, but this is exactly his kind of gig. He's smart and he knows that part of the world, and he projects this very well on the teevee, unlike Fleischer and Dubya, who are turning into cheerleaders for the deeply evil Saudi leadership.
It is time to quit kissing the fat, stupid, racist and pampered asses of the House of Saud. These people are swine, and they live in hateful wealth and security because of one nation's charity, and that nation is the United States.
10/27/2001 08:43:10 PM
‘The enemy isn't liberalism, the enemy isn't conservatism, the enemy is bullshit.’ That’s a quote by the late New York columnist Lars-Erik Nelson, repeated recently by Pete Hamill, as quoted by Amy Langfield (dizzy yet?). Anyways, it’s one of those pithy phrases that centrist-leaning columnists like me just love, and it also (I believe) describes a bit of the debate being slung back and forth on warblogs around the globe. People who don’t immediately fit into tidy political boxes are picking away, bit by bit, at the fuzzy logic of politically-minded writers and newspapers. I’m obviously partial to such exercises; but I think the recipients should be, too: it puts you on your intellectual toes, and encourages specificity over vagueness. My old editor Henry Copeland loved forcing writers to “replace every adjective with a number.” It’s annoying, but soon enough, you shed the habit of using words like “large” or “major.” I think the quality of debate has improved noticeably since Sept. 12.
Anyways, here’s Steven Den Beste running a Guardian leader through the ringer. I hope those on either side of the main issue can find value in his parsing. At the end, he adds this comment:
I'm just a civilian; I read the news and I read books and I can answer all of The Guardian's questions. In some cases the answers are ones they don't like, but I think they know the answers, too. Their article is an exercise in rhetoric; I don't consider it a strong argument for their position, which quite frankly is unrealistic.
10/27/2001 03:39:55 PM
So Much for That ‘Second Wave of Terror’: Here’s a cheerful assessment of the U.S. mood by the optimist-realists at The Economist:
Rather than railing against the Islamic world, most Americans are desperate to understand it. The best-seller lists are full of books on Islam, the Taliban and the Middle East. University students are crowding into courses that touch on the current crisis. Washington's Middle East Institute reports that applications for Arabic courses have doubled. Most surprising of all, Muslim clerics say that the number of conversions to their faith has quadrupled since September 11th. Almost half the population tells pollsters that it has a “generally favourable” opinion of Islam, and almost 90% say that the terrorists are part of a radical fringe that has nothing to do with mainstream Islam.
And, praise be to tolerance, there has been no serious backlash against Arab-Americans. To be sure, there have been a few horrific murders and a certain amount of harassment. But most people, from George Bush down, have gone out of their way to recognise that the behaviour of a few nut-cases proves nothing about an entire ethnic group. One Moroccan immigrant has told Lexington that he feels “blown away” by the way America has treated him. He had feared the worst after September 11th; he got the best, with people solicitous about his well-being and curious about his faith. He feels “grateful” and “amazed”.
10/27/2001 03:03:37 PM
Does the House of Saud Consider Giuliani a 'Jewish Homosexual'? I have been stewing about that atrocious Saudi columnist mentioned below (you know, the one who calls Rudy Giuliani the Fag Jew Governor). To what extent does such evil bullshit reflect the views and opinions of the House of Saud, given that the corrupt royal family has strong influence on the media? I went poking around this morning for any comparative studies about Saudi Arabia and press freedom. The Freedom House, which has been compiling worldwide freedom indices for three decades, judged that in 2000-01, Saudi Arabia has the least free press of every country on the planet, except for Iraq, North Korea, Burma, Afghanistan and Cuba (in descending order of nastiness). Our ally scored a perfect 15 out of 15 when it comes to “laws and restrictions on media content,” and “political influence on media content.” Here’s Freedom House’s country comment:
Criticism of the government, Islam, and the ruling family is prohibited. The government owns all domestic broadcast media and closely monitors privately owned but publicly subsidized print media. The information minister must approve and may remove all editors in chief. The entry of foreign journalists into the kingdom is tightly restricted, and foreign media are heavily censored where possible. The government outlawed the private ownership of satellite dishes in 1994. Internet access was made available in 1999 with filters to block information deemed pornographic, offensive to Islam, or a threat to state security. According to Human Rights Watch, there are currently about 30 Internet service providers in Saudi Arabia, with some 100,000 subscribers. Authorities shut down a women-only Internet café in April for reasons of “public morality.” In August, police blocked access to clubs hosted by the search engine Yahoo! because of pornographic and political content. It’s reasonable to conclude that the House of Saud figures it’s OK to slander the heroic mayor and city of New York, lie to its people about “the collapse of American democratic theory,” and complain about our sinful “dance clubs, prostitution, homosexuality, and stripping” that the Saudi princes enjoy so much. This is not acceptable. We need to make a daily list of Saudi hatred and lies, force all Saudi Embassy personnel to either apologize or face angry daily protests (hopefully headed up by Jewish lesbian strippers), the Administration had better be planning a regime-change, and the White House/Pentagon/State Department press corps better be asking the following questions every day: What, specifically, has Saudi Arabia done to help in the war on terror? And what, specifically, is the U.S. doing to introduce democracy and decency to Saudi Arabia? You could rephrase both questions to cover the last 12 years, as well.
Want more evidence of the House of Saud’s intolerable corruption? Freedom House also ranks countries by how “free” they are in terms of general political rights and civil liberties. Where does Saudi Arabia rank? Tied for dead last, with Afghanistan, Burma, Cuba, Equatorial Guinea, Iraq, North Korea, Libya, Sudan, Syria, Turkmenistan and South Yemen. Finally, here’s a random tidbit from the latest Thomas Friedman column:
The Saudi Embassy in Washington rushed all of Osama bin Laden's relatives out of America after Sept. 11 on a private Saudi jet, before they could be properly questioned by the F.B.I. Good night, sour princes.
10/27/2001 02:18:50 PM
Backlash Batters Berkeley: I meant to link to this astonishing L.A. Times story yesterday. Shawn Hubler, one of that paper’s better reporters, gives a thorough round-up of the damage inflicted on Berkeley businesses since the city council passed a resolution urging the U.S. to stop the bombing in Afghanistan. Here’s just a hint of it:
This week, the general manager of Ashby Lumber Co. said an unnamed customer pulled out of a $60,000 purchase the day after the vote because "he didn't feel comfortable paying sales taxes to support the city of Berkeley." The general manager of the Radisson Hotel Berkeley Marina said a local ROTC group canceled a dinner for 250.
A clerk at the Gardener, a small furniture and gift shop, called the mayor and council -- and, according to store managers, without their permission -- to report that a local customer had canceled an order for a $1,500 table because she preferred to pay for shipping from Michigan rather than buy at home in Berkeley.
10/27/2001 12:09:59 PM
Beware Internationalized Americans: There have been a whole lot of translations of foreign-language newspapers recently, especially from the Muslim world. Finally, it would seem, the “provincial” Americans whom pundits love to mock are catching up on their international affairs. And reading hateful nonesense such as this bilge from columnist Mahmoud bin Abd Al-Ghani Sabbagh of the Saudi newspaper Al-Riyadh, about Mayor Guiliani rejecting Prince Al-Walid’s $10 million insult (as translated by the Middle East Media and Research Institute, brought to my attention by OpinionJournal:
The words of [Prince Al-Walid] did not, of course, please the Jewish lobby in the home of the largest Jewish community in the world. Because the governor of the Big Apple is a Jew, he refused and caused a storm. I predict much disappointment on the part of putative world-expert columnists when a newly informed populace asks not “Why do they hate us?” but rather “What the hell’s wrong with these people?” One last point, before I go get drunk with my L.A. Press Club comrades: I wrote a column during the Kosovo war about how coverage suffered from the pitiful lack of experienced foreign correspondents, due to the slashing of international bureaus. This remains true; what’s interesting is that more than half the number I quoted then belonged to one paper: The Wall Street Journal. Not to be a meanie about it, but haven’t those alt weekly chains been making double-digit profits for a decade? What about using that potent combination of cash and haughty World Expertise to actually send a reporter somewhere more exotic than the local Thai restaurant?
Giuliani said: "The Prince's declarations are grievous and irresponsible; these Arabs have lost the right to dictate [to us what to do]. What we must do is kill 6,000 innocent people."
By Allah, I am amazed at your act, you Jew; everything Prince Al-Walid said was true…
What happened proves beyond any doubt the public insolence, the open hatred, and the collapse of American democratic theory. If democracy means a governor who is a homosexual in a city in which dance clubs, prostitution, homosexuality, and stripping proliferate – the U.S. can keep its democracy.
10/26/2001 06:38:05 PM
Wisdom From My Favorite Weekly: If the L.A. Weekly is looking for a “history lesson,” allow me to suggest this story from the latest Economist, which gives a clear-headed and beefy sum-up of how Sept. 11 has and will continue to change the world. Worth a bathtub read, if you subscribe (I’m speaking from very recent experience).
10/26/2001 05:14:22 PM
Quick Thought About Bush & the Saudis: Compared to the clampdown on info everywhere else within the government these last six weeks, there has been an awful lot of unnamed intelligence officers, congressional staffers and other rabble who’ve been bashing away at the obstructionist House of Saud, even while Dubya & the gang lavish praise on our undemocratic friends. Could it be strategic dissonance? Loosen some of those lips, to make the corrupt ruling family deathly nervous about being discarded … all in an effort to receive the cooperation we so desperately require? This is what I’m currently hoping for … meanwhile the rest of us (and Congress) can get started thinking about democratization and a regime-change, in case there should come a time when the Administration’s knees wobble.
10/26/2001 04:55:28 PM
Tony Blair, on Censoring Dissenters vs. Criticizing Bad Arguments: I’m working on a column about this topic (in addition to finally dealing with the Iraqi sanctions stuff), so I found our favorite prime minister’s comments today especially apt (via OpinionJournal):
As far as I am aware nobody has been disciplined for speaking their mind on the war. If they have, it has been singularly ineffective since they carry on speaking their mind, and so they should. We are a democracy, they can say whatever they like. I just happen to disagree with them. … I get this argument periodically that anyone who dares to dissent is beaten around the head, I don't think anyone has ever been disciplined for speaking their mind on an issue. They are perfectly entitled to. And that is the difference between us and the Taliban. What on the other hand I am entitled to do is say why I believe they are wrong. […]
I think that sometimes in these situations people are desperate to get into the situation of saying we've been gagged because they find that in fact when their arguments about the issue are put under scrutiny, they don't quite stack up.
10/26/2001 04:44:17 PM
‘Former Pacifist’ T-shirts for Charity: Jeff Jarvis, president of editorial content for Advance Internet, survived the black cloud of the World Trade Center Sept. 11. Soon after, he launched his WarLog, to which he’s now added the suffix “World War III.” On Tuesday, he wrote a neat little mini-essay that concluded: “I realize that I am a former pacifist.” Today, citing a need to “improve the level of T-shirt discourse,” he launched an online store where you can buy hats, tote bags and T-shirts with the “Former Pacifist” logo. Other products include a T-shirt with the message “Osama Kiss My” (arrow pointing south). Proceeds go to the surviving families of 9/11.
10/25/2001 08:58:25 PM
Straw Man of the Day: It’s Charles Rappleye of the LA Weekly! Rappleye is the earnest LAPD-tracking workhorse of our venerable alt weekly here, but sometimes his thinking gets muddy. So when I saw this link on the Weekly’s website – “Charles Rappleye challenges the pro-war left to a history lesson” – I was ready to rumble. The subhed even promised a “painful examination of foreign-policy mistakes.” Bring on the pain!
But Rappleye doesn’t. Here’s the closest he gets:
Already, some of the more inflammatory elements of U.S. foreign policy are under review or have been radically transformed. What? What “new interest in building alliances”? Sure, there’s an expedience-driven rush to build a new coalition (singular, and much different than an “alliance”), and that’s interesting, but Dubya’s gang has always struck me as perfectly happy to expand NATO (an “alliance”), perhaps even entertain including Russia in some new security arrangement, and to make bold new noises about a “strategic partnership” with Mexico. Sure, the unilateralists have more say vis-à-vis the multilateralists in the Bush Administration than in Clinton’s, but less than has been advertised (Clinton never signed on to the Kyoto treaty, the landmine deal, or the International Tribunal, either). To keep on nitpicking, what does “entertaining the trade and diplomatic concerns of nations around the globe” mean, exactly? Bush, like Clinton, wants fast-track authority to negotiate trade deals, and unlike Clinton he’ll probably get it. Most nations around the globe (especially in the Third World) want him to have it, want the U.S. to keep liberalizing trade, and want to sign up to those agreements (loud anti-trade noises from alt weeklies notwithstanding). How about “diplomatic concerns,” then? Well, it was clear before Sept. 11 that Bush had reversed a previous aim to stay fairly distant from the Israel-Palestine conflict; and it’s clear now that we’ll be butting into Kashmir and other hotspots a lot more directly. I’m still not sure what those "inflammatory elements" were.
Most obvious is the new interest in building alliances by entertaining the trade and diplomatic concerns of nations around the globe, issues the administration previously ignored.
More telling is the official talk of nation-building — tacit acknowledgment that we need to invest in the world around us, rather than simply profit from it. This is actually funny. If Rappleye knows a path to “profit” that doesn’t include “investment,” I wonder what he’s doing writing so many stories. Look, the U.S. is the world’s biggest aid donor by a large margin, so this incessant yik-yak about profit-driven exploitation really doesn’t wash. Obviously, Rappleye’s right in pointing out that Bush has switched from being a critic of nation-building to a shaky proponent of it, which makes Wilsonian meddlers like me happy, but should make those who fear arrogant U.S. exercise of power shiver with dread. Nation-building is by definition intrusive and arrogant – we wrote Japan’s constitution, swore them to pacifism and built all kinds of military bases there, for example. Many of the foreign policy moves criticized by the Left as "supporting dictatorships" could easily be filed under the category of "nation-building." That is what happens when you choose to engage in the world, and the world has the bad manners to be less democratic than you.
The only other policy item Rappleye mentions is how Bush now openly advocates a Palestinian state. After this brief and hopelessly vague “history lesson,” he gets on to the business of whining about the rude treatment the Sontag crowd has received (italics mine):
Of course, it’s not just the media that are closing ranks against the infidels within. They’ve joined a mighty chorus in proclaiming that the sheer enormity of the assault leaves no room for dispute. Sigh. If readers and writers all wanted to hear and sing the exact same note, they wouldn’t be visiting sites like this, arguing with their friends, or reading papers like the LA Weekly – they’d simply print out Ari Fleischer’s comments every day and act accordingly. Everyone’s trying to figure this out in their own way; there is ample “room for dispute” even within the Bush Administration, and these kind of hyperbolic persecution fantasies are becoming unseemly.
10/25/2001 08:18:07 PM
What the Hell’s up With Bush & the Saudis? They haven’t arrested a single terrorist, they haven’t frozen any assets of suspected terrorist organizations, they’ve insulted the World Trade Center dead, and they haven’t remotely expressed the kind of public contrition you’d expect from a country whose subjects committed the worst terrorist attack in history. And yet I watched Ari Fleischer this morning make a point of relating Bush’s opinion that the U.S. press has ganged up unfairly on the House of Saud. Whaaaaat?! He better be getting some mad cooperation behind the scenes, or engineering the world’s most quiet & complicated regime-transfer, because these people are whack, they don’t seem to be helping in any obvious way, and they run a bad country that nurtures terrorists who want to kill every last one of us. This is no longer tolerable.
10/25/2001 01:39:53 PM
Bjørn Blasts ‘Bet You Didn’t Know’ Argument: Our favorite 22-year-old Scandinavian takes on Norway’s “most outspoken anti-war politician,” Olav Gunnar Ballo, and in the process makes a series of typically shrewd points (and not just because I agree with him!):
Saudi-Arabia is part of the problem, but what is Ballo going to do about it? The bet you didn't know argument relies on your opponent to be dumbfounded by the revelation that our side has done evil and has evil allies, and, unable to answer, won't force you to make your point. Well, I know our side has done evil. I read Noam Chomsky a few years ago, more than is healthy, and what's worse, I think he's probably right about many things. Some countries might be better off today without american intervention in the Cold War. Wars never treat the battlefield well, and not all soldiers fight for the same ideals. But on the whole, the Cold War was fought for the right reasons, and it was good that our side won.
For the likes of Ballo, the argument ends with "bet you didn't know Saudi Arabia is evil too!" That obvious statement should be where the argument begins.
10/25/2001 01:22:35 PM
Proper Response to the Anthrax Letters: Warblogger Andrew Hofer of More Than Zero posts an appropriate comeback to the cowards’ “YOU DIE NOW” notes. Go read it. I’ll give away just one line:
Are you afraid of secretaries in tall buildings?
10/25/2001 12:44:31 PM
Whoops! Alert readers Eric Mauro and Brian Hoffman point out that in my column today I misattrituted the “all power corrupts, etc.” quote to George Orwell. As Hoffman says, “Dude, it was Acton.” F***ing sloppy journalists….
10/25/2001 12:18:17 PM
That’s Right, the Readers Are Smarter: A few nicks below, I praised a column by John Balzar about the military and the press. Soon after, reader Pat Phillips – who agrees that the media should have more access to military operations – wrote this extraordinary e-mail taking Balzar's arguments apart:
At your recommendation, I read Mr. John Balzar's column, "When the Press Is in the Dark, So Is Everyone". I agree with you that it is an interesting column, well worth the attention of everyone who is concerned about the ongoing rift between the news media and the military.
However, it is obvious that Mr. Balzar wrote his column while in the midst of what a lady friend of mine likes to call a "snit fit". In doing so, he makes a few comments that require an answer. So please allow me an opportunity to respond.
Mr. Balzar starts his column with a completely ridiculous "quiz" that suggests that the Vietnam war was lost because the nasty generals and politicians lied to us. That's bullshit. We lost because of bad strategy, poor political leadership, and the simple fact that cost of winning was more than we were willing pay. In fact, given the context of the Cold War, the cost of winning was quite possibly more than we should have payed. Vietnam was not worth World War III.
In the same vein, Mr. Balzar then repeats the common complaint of journalists that the military is absolutely convinced that America lost the Vietnam war because of the news media. Again, that is bullshit. During the eighties, I served at a Ranger training unit that consisted of about a hundred men. The vast majority of those soldiers had served in Vietnam. I spent many an hour in the NCO club or out in the field, listening to conversations about Vietnam by men who had been there. I never, repeat never, heard anyone blame the loss of the war on the news media. At best, they were mentioned as a factor in the ongoing loss of confidence in the war by the American populace. Mind you, I'm not telling you that news media was liked, or even respected, by those veterans. In fact, I heard more than a few, "the dumb thing I saw a reporter do/say in 'Nam" stories. But that is a far cry from an accusation of sabotage and treason.
Likewise, the articles in professional military journals that I have read that deal with Vietnam do not blame the media for the loss of the war. Instead, they discuss a wide variety of factors, most of which revolve around such minor factors as the Viet-Cong, North Vietnam, China, and the Soviet Union. The media is at best a very small part of that analysis. If you don't believe me, do the research.
In fact, in my experience, the most common comment I have ever heard from soldiers or veterans about military-media relations is not that the media is treasonous -- or even biased. But rather, that they're ignorant. You would never be allowed to report on a football game without knowing something about football, but the news media seems to have a fetish about refusing to develop or train journalists who know what the hell they are talking about whenever a war breaks out. Instead, they hire retired colonels and generals to provide expertise -- and then don't quite trust. How bad can the consequences of that get? Can you say "Tailwind"?
Want to know how bad it can get in terms of the viewing public? Back during the Gulf War, my room-mate and I were both veterans. We had gotten out of the service as the lowest ranking non-commissioned officers you could possibly be. We used to laugh ourselves sick at the lack of the most basic knowledge of military operations or even simple history that the news media showed in their coverage of the war. We both agreed that we were better off watching the official briefings and making our own analysis than listening to the "informed commentary" of the media talking heads. Think about that -- we were trusting the military more than the journalists.
I absolutely agree that the public needs good information about what's going on. A part of that must be a more open Pentagon. But when do journalists plan on holding up their end by providing a better range of military-affairs reporters? For God's sake, we've been at war or near-war since 1939!
And as for the question of security, Mr. Balzar makes the statement, "I was on the front lines in the Gulf War, and I knew in advance when the ground assault was to begin. Lots of reporters did. Did we alert Iraq? Of course not."
Again, the issue is not that the media is treasonous. The simple fact of the matter is that the more people know about a secret, the less of a secret it is. Even the best intentioned people can make mistakes and spill a vital secret -- it's happened more than once in history. If you are concerned about operational security, doesn't it make sense that you'll try to cut down on the risk?
Let me put it another way. Has a media organization ever kept a secret because it might cost them a scoop? I would say it's happened once or twice. Now add the additional pressure caused by the fact that not keeping a secret might lose lives, or a battle, or even a war. Do you still think it's so dumb that a military commander might want to keep secrets? No!
It's completely understandable and a hell of a lot less sinister. Do we somehow have to balance the public's right to know and operational security? Absolutely. But let me tell you, nothing Mr. Balzar had to say in his column convinced anyone in the Pentagon to think it over. If anything, they muttered, "Screw you, buddy," and stamped "Top Secret" on a few more operations.
Another comment: Mr. Balzar seemed to create in his column what I will call the "Balzar doctrine". It pretty much boils down to, "the generals and the suits lied to us in Viet Nam, so we can never trust them again". O.K., fair enough. Now let me propose the "Phillips doctrine", it goes something like this: "New York Times foreign correspondent Walter Duranty covered up the massive famine in the Soviet Union that was caused by his hero Joseph Stalin. He won a Pulitzer Prize for being an accessory to mass murder. Nobody in the media establishment has ever dealt with that awkward fact. Therefore, we can never trust journalism again." Makes about as much sense doesn't it?
Final note: a common criticism of soldiers is that they are always fighting the last war. As near as I can tell, a lot of journalists are still fighting a conflict four wars back.
10/25/2001 10:36:36 AM
New Column From Me: Optimists and Pessimists – Switch Sides! You might have guessed by now that I’m an optimist. It occurred to me that much of the intramural debate here can be organized along optimist/pessimist lines, so I tried to think like a grumpus for day, just for exercise. Came up with one very unhappy idea, but I won’t spoil it here.
10/25/2001 10:09:50 AM
A Proposed Settlement Between Left and Right: I’ve received lots of sensible e-mail recently from lots of sensible people on both sides of the putative political spectrum. Much of it goes like this: “Jerry Falwell doesn’t represent Republicans!” or “Barbara Kingsolver doesn’t represent Liberals!” Here’s my big idea of the day: you’re both right! Most everyone is sensible, and hold varying approaches toward governance (i.e., “political views”). When I dip into the National Review and whatnot, I find much of what they espouse to be perfectly sensible, until they start tarring everyone from the center to the Left as “postmodern multiculturalist elites” or whatever. I’m dumber than most, but I think there are plenty of culturally leftish people like me out there who don’t even really know what the word “postmodern” means, beyond indicating something academic and probably foolish. Multicultural? I like multis of culture, I suppose, (even dislike a few!), but mostly I enjoy hailing from a country of immigrants based on an inspiring idea instead of a pre-selected nationality. What the hell does that make me, other than pretty much like most of you? Similarly, it seems that some on the Left are discovering, to their surprise, that many on the Sensible Right enjoy things like sex, Tori Amos and ethnic food, preferably at the same time.
We’ve clung to stupid and largely irrelevant political caricatures in this country for way too long. Why not take this opportunity to discard them? Put away your Al Sharpton and Pat Robertson voodoo dolls, brothers and sisters! Let Barbra Streisand and Chuck Heston duke it out unobserved in the Malibu highlands! Let’s argue vehemently, on the merits, about goals, tactics and politics, but leave the broad brushes and 1950s battle scars at home! And now, back to our regularly scheduled polemic....
10/24/2001 12:04:00 PM
‘This Is a War for Freedom. So Let’s Have Some.’ Bracing column today by the L.A. Times’ John Balzar about press access to the war. Before you judge it one way or another, let me point out what Balzar had the modesty to omit: he was a soldier in Vietnam, and a reporter in the Gulf War, where he was censored by his own country for documenting U.S. slaughter. Here’s a little of his point about the Pentagon vs. the Press:
We should all remember the real lesson of Vietnam. It was not the press that lied when the communist troops kept coming and coming and coming. Or the soldiers or Marines wallowing in the mud. Their blood was no lie; neither was their courage.
The lies came from the men with stars on their collars and their bosses in the pressed suits. The lies came from the podium.
10/24/2001 10:14:07 AM
‘You Take Penacilin Now’: I thought some of these Fascist nut-sandwiches were supposed to be educated. Something about seeing their handwriting and hopeless grade-school defiance (“Death to Israel,” etc.) makes me want to drink a bunch of coffee and get on an airplane. (Also via Drudge.)
10/23/2001 08:50:08 PM
Whaaaat? ‘White House Staffers Given Cipro Six Weeks Ago’: That’s pretty f***ing classy. I realize it’s probably not the easiest thing in the world to handle an unprecedented bio-terrorist attack during war & all, but it seems to me postal workers and media mailroom flunkies have a right to be pissed off at the bizarre information-management coming out of Washington. Stop telling us to “not panic,” start telling us the minute you receive a credible threat that, say, people are sending anthrax through the mail. When was the first moment when that seemed like more than just paranoia? And how long after that did prospective targets (i.e., the rest of us, especially media, government and postal folks in D.C. and New York) get notified about precautions and delivery systems? Seems like an unconscionably long lag to me. (Via Drudge.)
10/23/2001 08:15:30 PM
Tabloid Flashback: Taliban Torture Spree! Stumbled across this terrible Tabloid.net story from two and a half years ago about the enemy’s “wall-toppling method,” whereby a convicted thief or sodomite “stands by a large brick wall, which is then bulldozed directly on his head by a tank ... in front of a cheering crowd of thousands.” The story, as I recall, was written by Don Frances based on wire reports, but it was my very late-night editing that led to both the grammatical sloppiness, and the fortuitous use of the phrase “Hitler points” in the lead. Charlie Hornberger was presumably responsible for the line “The Afghani God is a forgetful sadist.”
10/23/2001 07:53:07 PM
The Sex Bomb: I’m usually not the guy who appreciates the mixing of in-your-face sexuality and leftish politics, but Laura Riscol might change my mind. She’s a socio-sexologist, to use a phrase that usually sends me to the exits, but she’s also a former army sergeant “trained for tank repair, finance and photojournalism, and [a] ranked expert on grenades and M16s.” Like Salman Rushdie, Nick Denton, and a whole lot more Republicans than you think, Riscol believes our libertine ways are a strength, and even a potential weapon.
Make no mistake -- sexual liberty and justice are virtues of the civilized world. Bush declared that our enemy hates us because they hate our freedom. Despite the simplistic analysis, Islamic fundamentalists most definitely hate our sexual freedom. As the Religious Right does here. But covering our sexuality in burkas, or corralling it into marriage-only, does not contribute to our cherished American way. Supporting sexual diversity and responsibility does.
Circulating the Internet are jokes about how best to defeat the Taliban: drop porn bombs and airlift in women's colleges and strip joints. A government that honors female autonomy and tolerates sexual expression -- even when offensive to the sensibilities of some -- is far less dangerous than one that tries to control them.
I thank God I was born in America where I could break from my upbringing and forge my own path. Where I could choose my lifemate and when to have a baby. Where I could tap into the erotic at a wedding between a Jew and a Lebanese, dancing naughty with the bride who's wearing only a bra. And where I can continue to fight for sexual liberty and justice as a way to give back to my country.
10/23/2001 07:11:35 PM
Steyn: It’s All About the Saudis: Looks like the root-cause crowd and the Lefty-baiters are finding some common ground: Mecca. Saudi Arabia and the House of Saud have taken a flat-out whupping in the North American press these last two weeks. Here’s Mark Steyn’s pile-on (via Bjørn Stærk):
Saudi, Saudi, Saudi. American defense of Saudi Arabia gave Osama bin Laden his cause, American investment in Saudi Arabia gave him the money to bankroll it. If we're looking for “root causes” to this current situation, American support for Israel is a mere distraction next to its creation and maintenance of modern Saudi Arabia.
The Beltway guys may talk about realpolitik, but they're pikers compared to the House of Saud. After all, as this last month has proved, you can be one of only three states with diplomatic relations with the Taliban, you can be militarily uncooperative, you can refuse to freeze Osama's assets, you can decline even to meet with Tony Blair, you can do whatever you like, and Washington will still insist you're a “staunch friend.” […]
This isn't some quaint ancient culture that the United States was forced to go along with, but rather one largely of its own creation. Saudi Arabia as a functioning state is an American invention, the prototype of latter-day hands-off post-imperialism and a shining example of why it's ultimately a waste of time. American know-how fueled Saudi Arabia's rapid transformation from reactionary feudal backwater into the world's most technologically advanced and spectacularly wealthy reactionary feudal backwater. They've still got beheadings every Friday but the schedule is computerized. As Ibn Saud told Colonel William Eddy, the first U.S. minister to Saudi Arabia in 1946, “We will use your iron, but you will leave our faith alone.”
10/23/2001 06:52:16 PM
Straw Man of the Day: It’s Arundhati Roy … again! But this time it’s the estimable Steven Den Beste who spots the fish in barrel and pulls trigger.
After conferring, they announced that it didn’t matter whether or not the “evidence” would stand up in a court of law. Thus, in an instant, were centuries of jurisprudence carelessly trashed. This is both false and irrelevant; the nations that saw the evidence (such as Pakistan) announced that it was sufficient to indict, and in any case this is war, not law enforcement. A war is not fought to punish an enemy for something they've already done, it's fought to prevent them from doing something in future. We are not attacking the Taliban and al Qaeda to revenge the thousands of dead in New York, we're attacking them to make sure they don't attack again, and kill more thousands in Miami or Philadelpha or London or Paris. It isn't necessary to prove complicity in the previous attack to justify this, what is necessary is the conviction that they are both willing and able to launch such an attack -- and that is undeniable. "Centuries of jurisprudence" have nothing to do with this. Go read his bit; it’s a treat. She also goes on to describe the bombing campaign as “an act of terrorism,” and makes the interesting claim that “they use flags to shrink-wrap peoples’ minds and suffocate real thought.” Maybe that’s why she can write paragraphs like this:
The International Coalition Against Terror is a cabal of the richest countries in the world. Between them, they manufacture and sell almost all of the world’s weapons, they possess the largest stockpile of weapons of mass destruction — chemical, biological and nuclear. They have fought the most wars, account for most of the genocide, subjection, ethnic cleansing and human rights violations in modern history, and have sponsored, armed and financed untold numbers of dictators and despots. Between them, they have worshiped, almost deified, the cult of violence and war. For all its appalling sins, the Taliban just isn’t in the same league.
10/23/2001 05:33:25 PM
More “Dissent” B.S. From Michael Hasty, of the Hampshire Review:
The harsh overreactions in the past month to any discordant notes in the media's "patriotic" harmony -- journalists fired or publicly excoriated; a purposely controversial show named "Politically Incorrect" dropped by network affiliates; advertising pulled from "60 Minutes," because Andy Rooney made humorous comments about the president's speech -- are disturbing. Italics mine. Why can’t people just criticize what actually happens (in this graph, the stuff between the long dashes), instead of creating some Pink Floyd fantasy world of brainless, militarized obedience? You want discordant notes? Try the three columns on today’s L.A. Times op-ed page – the aforementioned piece by Scheer, an anti-fast track authority thing by Santa Monica State Senator Sheila Kuehl, and a class-war number by liberal economist Robert Reich. Discordant notes a-plenty. Very little harmony with, say, President Bush. According to Hasty’s language, all three writers now face “harsh overreactions.” Sure.
I doubt that the Founding Fathers' vision of America's future included all of us mindlessly goose-stepping together into a brave new world order of permanent warfare. Too true. I also doubt they imagined us colonizing Pluto with dogs, or declaring Oct. 23 “Eat Your Furniture Day.” Each of those are about as likely to happen as “all of us mindlessly goose-stepping together.” Tasteful Nazi imagery, though.
Like tragedies and crises in the lives of individuals, [the Sept. 11 attacks] offer America an opportunity to mature beyond the "perpetual adolescence" to which our national character is so often compared. But maturity requires a bedrock conservative value: taking responsibility for your actions. And thus far in our national dialogue, the signs of that are not encouraging. He’s right – it’s never encouraging when people who spout gibberish refuse to take responsibility for their nonsense, and instead cry “dissent!” and “censorship!” when their arguments are attacked on their merits.
Although there has been perfunctory acknowledgment of the legitimacy of some grievances concerning Middle East policy, the true causes of this war are still being kept mostly hidden from a shell-shocked American public -- to our peril. End the suspense, Hasty! Lift the veil!
10/23/2001 02:42:11 PM
Divide Afghanistan Along Ethnic Lines: Interesting anti-Clintonian idea by F.R. Tangherlini in the L.A. Times letters page for arranging post-war Afghanistan into various Pushtun, Uzbek and Tajik mini-countries to avoid future civil wars.
Note that Afghanistan, with a land area of 250,000 square miles, is larger than many Western European countries put together. For example, it is larger than Germany (137,800 square miles) plus Austria (32,376 square miles) plus Hungary (35,900 square miles) plus the Netherlands (16,033 square miles) plus Belgium (11,800 square miles) plus Switzerland (15,900 square miles), for a total of 249,809 square miles. One could argue with some merit that U.S. policy has been hobbled in the Balkans and elsewhere by unworkable applications of the very American idea of multi-ethnic/nationality cohabitation. When mixed with an inborn conservative fear of irredentism, this feelgood formula has contributed to three successive administrations looking the other way when, for example, Russia has imposed its will on separatists in its Near Abroad. I usually fall on the side of the kumbaya krowd on this one, but when you impose 21st century yankee solutions on 18th century countries wrecked by clan warfare….
10/23/2001 10:31:17 AM
Nothing Courageous About Being Wrong: Here’s what Robert Scheer writes today:
War skeptics such as Richard Gere, Susan Sontag, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Oakland), Bill Maher and the Berkeley City Council should be congratulated, not vilified, for daring to demur, ever so slightly, from government propaganda. Right or wrong, they have acted as free people in a free society who understand that if our course is correct, it can survive criticism. No. Leaving aside whether Barbara Lee was right or wrong (though the rest seem obvious to me), no one should be congratulated for the mere act of belonging to a tiny minority … especially if you believe they are wrong (about a matter of life and death, no less). Though the analogy is imperfect, should Bob have “congratulated” pro-Vietnam War demonstrators in Berkeley in 1973 for “daring to demur, ever so slightly,” from the massively anti-war Student Left? With this logic, you might congratulate Falwell for having the guts to blame the Sept. 11 massacre on the ACLU. What is courageous in these times is the Truth, not self-marginalization.
10/23/2001 10:00:35 AM
Making Terrorism Morally Unacceptable: A few readers have wanted to know what I mean by “wanting to make terrorism morally unacceptable.” Here’s an example:
In fact, the most effective pressure [on the Irish Republican Army to disarm] probably has come from the United States, which has made it clear that it has no stomach for armed groups in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon. Even many of the IRA's Irish American supporters seem to have lost heart after the attacks, which left more than 5,000 civilians dead or missing. Next up: U.S. supporters for Hamas, Hezbollah, the Kosovo Liberation Army, and so on. … Here’s a new motto I’d like to see Reuters and the rest of us adopt – one person’s terrorist is ... another person’s terrorist.
10/23/2001 09:45:19 AM
One Last Encomium: Kind reader/warblogger Dan Hartung of the recommended Lake Effects was nice enough to recommend me, despite bringing up the understandable criticism that he doesn’t necessarily “need all his encomiums about his friends.” So though I don’t really know what “encomium” means, I will bring the recent wave of buddy-love to a close, by wishing the Rev. Tony Pierce a happy birthday (buy him a car!), and recommending any of you L.A. types to go out tonight and see my good friends Psoma and Tsar rock the bejeebus out of Spaceland. It’s even free. Tomorrow, everyone gets back to work, and hopefully, you’ll start seeing some columns from me.
10/22/2001 09:08:04 PM
New York, Mexico: Boy, was that a spectacular & cleansing weekend. Who could have imagined a wedding ceremony where the minister references Vicente Fox, the Sept. 11 massacre, worldwide gaps between rich and poor, radioactive isotopes, and Ken Layne’s fondness for the phrase “get it together”? One of the best and most warblog-related highlights of the day was when the DJ put on “New York, New York,” and the shockingly handsome crowd instinctively formed a circle around bride & groom, performed chorus-line high-kicks, and sang to Sinatra at the top of their tequila-soaked lungs. Ken even substituted himself for New York photographer Jim Lowney (who works 10 blocks from Ground Zero), which was nice, because it gave me the opportunity to kick Jim square in the arse a few times. For two preliminary wedding photos (plus a disturbing shot of bride, groom & Bert), click here.
10/22/2001 11:57:20 AM
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