Welcome to the letters page. If you want to add your two cents, send me an e-mail, let me know if
you want or are willing to have it published, whether you want your name on
it (which I would prefer), and whether you want your e-mail address on
there as well. I reserve the right to publish or not publish whatever the
hell I want to, to make annoying headlines, etc. Thanks!
Languages in Afghanistan
From: JOHN MONASCH, Nov. 9
The language question in the current War seems interesting but nobody really seems to mention it. We've all become experts on Afghanistan in the last 2 months like this guy: http://www.theonion.com/onion3740/area_man_acts_like.html.
The media and the Internet have been useful sources for teaching us the names of the major towns, cities, ethnic groups, tallest mountains, etc. I've come to know, at least by name if nothing more, all these tribes/ethnicities living in the area. (Pashtun, Tajik, Uzbek, Hazara, Baluchistani, etc.) I've also learned that there are several different languages in the area that limit communications and logistics to some extent. I'd like reporters to start telling more details about the way they or their translators are communicating.
Recently there was an article in the TNR about a reporter visiting Northern Alliance troops on the front line. She told the story of the soldiers bantering with their Taliban rivals by walkie-talkie. I immediately wondered about this situation. Don't the N.A. speak Dari or a few other Persian or Tajiki dialects? Don't the Taliban speak Pashtun? How similar are these languages? Are they related like English and German? Are they close and part-mutually intelligible like Norwegian and Swedish or Spanish and Portugeuse, or are they completely different like Swedish and Finnish? Are Afghans mostly bi-lingual? What are the dynamics of communication between al-Qaeda, the Arab recruits and the Taliban host? Likewise the Pakistani (Urdu?) and other volunteers pouring in from places all over the Muslim world. Is Arabic a universal language in the Muslim world like Latin was for many centuries in Europe? How many translators do people need to navigate this melange of Urdu, Pashtun, Dari, Arabic and English, not to mention several other minor languages that I have read about?
11/9/2001 10:56:05 PM
Freedom First, Then Democracy
From: NDG, Nov. 7
Re: The Case Against Saudi Arabia
Without any functioning opposition, there is no reason to believe that free elections would produce anything but a hostile, fundamentalist government. […] That view on self-determination seems self-evident. However, over the years, I've come to the conclusion that the emphasis on democracy is misplaced. Voting guarantees nothing -- as you pointed out in the prior excerpt.
All nations deserve self-determination, and need to learn the responsibility of self-governance.
What really matters is freedom. Off the top of my head: speech, press, and association probably come first; freedom of religion is vital both on moral grounds and for diffusing antagonisms of potentially infinite depth; economic freedom is required for sustainable material progress.
In the West, we often treat freedom and democracy as inseparable; almost interchangeable. Unfortunately, new democracies have often failed quite miserably to achieve any real increase in freedom. In the near-term, for many countries of the world, I don't think democracy is the best way to achieve freedom. Perhaps that should come as no surprise; afterall, the West's gradual expansion of freedom didn't start with "one person, one vote". It's time to focus our foreign policy on freedom. That's what we should promote; that's how we should measure progress.
Now, to Saudi Arabia. Imagine if the Saudi rulers make genuine steps towards essential freedom for their people. Will they eventually lose some of their power to a newly energized middle class? Of course. But, in return, their country would be far more stable and thus their own personal security enhanced. And, to be frank, they could still be tremendously wealthy -- look at the British royal family. The Saudi royal family has a way out; we should encourage them to follow it.
11/9/2001 05:39:21 PM
Thinking About Tomorrow
From: BEN SULLIVAN, Nov. 9
Re: Is This Cartoon Funny?
It's a little funny. Especially the part about the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
11/9/2001 03:34:42 PM
Vincent’s Amendment Would “Ensure Failure”
From: KEN GOLDSTEIN (http://bleak.blogspot.com), Nov. 8
Re: She Doesn’t Really Mean This, Does She?
I'm not sure which part of her "anti-censorship" article I take as bigger proof of Norah Vincent's idiocy: her incredible, ridiculously misguided comments themselves, or her complete failure to understand that her "advertiser's contract" plan would ensure the failure of any TV show or magazine that was, or could possibly become, even slightly controversial, since no company would want to take that risk and advertise with/on it, knowing there was no way out.
Love the site, by the way. it's one of my everyday vital reads.
11/9/2001 12:58:35 PM
Giving Tomorrow a Hard Time
From: PATRICK NIELSEN HAYDEN, Nov. 9
Re: Is This Cartoon Funny?
I thought you were a little hard on poor old Tom Tomorrow; while I don't find all of his stuff funny, this one didn't seem to be either making fun of "stupid Americans" or ragging on any kind of "working class." It seemed to me his point was rather broader -- the dangers of overblown "crusade against evil" rhetoric. As it happens, I'm an optimist like you, but I don't mind this kind of "remember, Caesar, thou art mortal" sleeve-tug, nor do I read into it an imputation that Americans or working-class people are stupid. In fact, when Tom Tomorrow puts dumb assertions into the mouths of clip-art people the way he often does, it seems to me his point isn't that dumb Americans talk like this and believe these things; his point is that _nobody_ actually talks like this and believes these things. Sometimes he pulls this off brilliantly and sometimes he just comes off as heavyhanded, and it's hard to argue about what works in humor beyond a certain point -- but I will argue that I don't think he means the message you're suggesting he means.
11/9/2001 12:27:15 PM
On Vincent, Maher, etc.
From: BRIAN HOFFMAN, Nov. 9
Re: She Doesn’t Really Mean This, Does She?
On episode 81 of 'Larry Sanders Show,' "Pilots and Pens Lost," head writer Phil decides to leave the show to write a pilot. He describes it as a sitcom about a ska band, "but very dark." "Dark?" asks Brian, Hank Kingsley's assistant, "You mean like 'Friends'?" I was reminded of these lines when reading Norah Vincent's silly article. Vincent doesn't seem to understand that a proposed Constitutional amendment (this from a self-described "civil libertarian" (www.norahvincent.com!) doesn't mean that shows will become edgier, it means THEY WON'T GET MADE IN THE FIRST PLACE! What company is going to throw money at a network and just pray that some programming exec isn't going to decide that blackface minstrels might be just what America needs right now? Instead, NBC et al will just be blander than ever...unless Vincent thinks there should ALSO be a constitutional amendment that says X% of all advertising has to be set aside for a) bad boys with a Bolex and a cause up their ass and b) the NBC Nightly News with Pat Robertson?
Which, by the way, brings me to Bill Maher, whom Vincent defends. I never much cared for the show, starting with the title, which had become a blood-from-the-ears cliche by the second half of the 1980s. Ratings were lousy for some time before September 11th, so the controversy has merely extended its life, and for that Mr Maher ought to be grateful. I note also that Maher's new HBO special, 'Be More Cynical,' is going forward as scheduled--so much for Vincent's claim that Maher is being "silenced" (yes, I know, HBO has no ads, but they do have subscribers who could cancel; maybe they shouldn't be allowed to). The trailer for the special portrays Americans as a bunch of liars who are, simultaneously, credulous--so that's why we have to "be more cynical." But there's very little "cynical" about his cynicism. Is it "cynical" to say that people who pilot planes into buildings full of civilians are brave? Hell, no. It's credulous in the extreme--taking seriously what suicide bombers believe. Susan Sontag's comments betray the same naivete (by the way, does she still think that it "99% likely" that domestic terrorists are behind the anthrax attacks--well, blessed are they who believe without seeing, as the Scriptuire hath it). Dona Spring went even further, calling "us" terrorists because "the Taliban say so." And Nader's comments were the sine qua non of the same belief in one's own press releases. For all the "hermeneutics of suspicion" of Said and West, who could believe the hype (of religious-zealot dictators, no less) more than they? Who's a bigger sucker than Chomsky or Chussudovsky, except for their audiences? Shouldn't Maher retitle the show 'Be Less Cynical'?
11/9/2001 12:08:57 PM
Changes in Conservative Thinking -- Data Point of One
From: PATRICK PHILLIPS, Nov. 7
Re: “Dilettantes can get back to the important business of saving Mumia”
On your website you touched upon a point that I've also been considering.
I’m wondering about the flip side of the story; i.e., how is Sept. 11 going to affect the right side of the political spectrum. My crude guesses: more Reynoldsian embraces of the country’s wild & rollicking diversity (for lack of a better word), less Puritanical Culture-War hectoring. More libertarianism, especially on the Drug War (imagine some law enforcement agencies were expending valuable energy harassing dying cancer patients who smoke pot, while Saudi terrorists trained on U.S. soil to blow up the World Trade Center). Bush has already done much to marginalize the race-wedge Republicans; now maybe the gay-bashers will be next. Now, I'm a card-carrying member of the "Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy" (sorry, can't show you the secret handshake, but I'd be happy to sell you the t-shirt) and I have been ever since I was old enough to realize that the 60s "Peace Movement", if successful, would condemn the inhabitants of Southeast Asia to slavery and carnage.
However, I've also have a bit of a Libertarian streak. In other words, I like to say things like, "the best argument for keeping guns and abortion legal is that we shouldn't give the government the idea that constitutional rights are disposable," and "what you choose to do for kicks on a Friday night is pretty much your own business as long as everyone involved is an adult volunteer".
So I'm not quite the kind of conservative that is caricatured in a typical episode of "Left Wing" or "the Aaron Sorkin Propaganda Hour" or whatever the hell they call that liberal wet-dream TV show about the White House. But since I do think that the government is an incompetent and money-hungry pain-in-the-ass, and that there's nothing wrong with the Pledge of Allegiance or a moment of silence in schools, and that the best way to guarantee peace is to prepare for war, and that affirmative action is a political pay-off for people who tend to vote Democratic at the expense of people who tend not to vote Democratic, and that the death penalty is justified for the crime of murder, I guess that makes me a conservative to most folks.
So has my thinking changed since September 11th? Sure. In fact, I can identify three main areas. And since you made that mistake of sounding curious about what us paleolithic types are thinking, I thought I'd let you know. Of course, be aware that I am a data point of one.
1) I used to describe myself as the last true isolationist. I really thought that we should tell the Old World to go to hell, withdraw to the Western Hemisphere, and continue the great work of making North and South America into bastions of Democracy and the Free Market.
Well, that's out. September 11th made it absolutely certain that we need to keep our nose in that other, screwed-up, hemisphere for a long time to come. Oddly enough, Osama bin Ladin is the man who made sure that the U.S.A. will be a permanent presence in the Islamic world for the forseeable future. Maybe someday the Israeli people will finally be hammered into the sea, and U.S. forces will leave Saudi Arabia, but even that would change nothing. We have no choice but to keep on eye on where Islam is going -- it's too much of a loose cannon. And what I said about Islam also applies to a variety of other Eastern Hemisphere trouble spots (Pakistan-India, the Balkans, and China--all by itself). The potential price for not paying attention to those hot-spots has become too high.
2) Gays in the military. I can't say I was completely against the concept, but I wasn't thrilled by it. I was a GI once and it was seemed obvious that having openly gay soldiers serving side-by-side with straight soldiers was trouble waiting to happen. Hell, I know there are already lots of gay people in the service -- I turned away several seduction attempts when I was in the Army. But the potential hassle of allowing openly gay people in the service struck me as being more of a problem than it was worth.
Well, that's changed as well. If Mark Bingham (a gay Republican, I might note) could step up and help make sure that Flight 93 didn't smash into anything more populated than a farm field -- well, it's time to admit that I was wrong. The hell with the potential problems. If gays want to join the service, then let them. The services did a good job of sorting out our country's racial differences, they can sort this one out as well.
3) The Left. Or as I more usually describe them, "those bastards". I always thought that when the chips were down they'd bail out on the rest of us.
I was partly correct on this one. But I was far, far, more wrong than I was right. Yes, the Left is the major component of the suicide cult that the news media likes to call the "Peace Movement", but the lefties who don't work for "the Nation" or "Rolling Stone" are exhibiting a lot more sense than I ever gave them credit for. They know this is a real war and that we have to meet the threat. Hell, some of the liberal soccer-mom types I know are all but frothing at the mouth and telling their men-folk to GET OUT THERE AND KILL THAT SON OF A BITCH!
Frankly, I'm pretty happy to have been wrong on that last point.
11/8/2001 11:24:26 AM
How Sept. 11 Will Affect the Culture Wars, Cont.
From: KURT HEMR, Nov. 7
Re: “Dilettantes can get back to the important business of saving Mumia”
With regard your suggestion that post-9/11 may bring "less Puritanical Culture-War hectoring," the biggest surprise of yesterday's election for me was that two Michigan cities (Traverse City and Kalamazoo) defeated anti-gay-rights ballot initiatives and one Detroit suburb actually voted to enact an anti-discrimination measure:
I grew up in Michigan, and I wasn't surprised because I think Michigan's such a hotbed of homophobia: it's not Greenwich Village, sure, but it's not Iran either. But these so-called "no special rights" initiatives are calculated to appeal to the sort of people who may not be openly homophobic but would rather not think about gay rights issues. In short, Reagan Democrat-ish midwesterners like those who live in Michigan, particularly in medium-size cities like Traverse City and K'zoo. But initiatives in both cities failed by significant margins.
11/8/2001 11:15:54 AM
The Left’s “Credibility Problem,” According to Nader Voter
From: TIMOTHY ROSCOE CARTER, Nov. 6
I am probably in the most Left-wing professional environment you can be in here in the United States outside of academia. I have been affected: I voted for Nader last year. However, I also voted for Tom Campbell. I was glad to hear that you voted that way too: Even I thought voting both Green and Republican the same year was weird, and it was nice to know that I was not alone.
My main problem with the left is credibility. Currently, having lost all other arguments against the war, some are emphasizing the seven million supposedly at risk for starvation. If they are right, then we should stop, at least for the winter. But as this is only prediction, and is only coming from people who were blaming the US for the attack and oppose everything the US does, I simply cannot consider the sources believable.
Credibility problems of the Left:
I. Everything the US does is wrong. In a previous column, you asked: What should we do about a repressive regime?
Option 1) Military Aid. Obviously wrong. We are providing the weapons that kill the innocent. See Israel, Turkey, Columbia, Reagan-era Iraq, etc.
Option 2) Economic Aid. Wrong. We are financially propping up the regime. See Egypt, Indonesia, etc.
Option 3) Humanitarian Aid. Still Wrong. By relieving the regime of its financial duty to feed its people, we free up their money for military uses. See Afghanistan, where the US supported the Taliban by providing $43 million in humanitarian aid in exchange for the Taliban not exporting Heroin, thus sacrificing 12 million women to the alter of the failed War on Drugs.
Option 4) Trade / Constructive Engagement. Wrong. This is merely an excuse for US corporations to profit off of the regime's repression of its own people. See China and Reagan-era South Africa.
Option 5) Economic Sanctions. Wrong. The economic sanctions in Iraq have killed 6,000 people a month for the past 11 years, or nearly 800,000 victims of US foreign policy.
Option 6) Military Attack. Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong! War! What is it good for? Absolutely nothing! See every military conflict that the United States has every engaged in. (Caveat: There may be a possible exception for the US Civil War, which will be considered obviously justified if you are talking to any white person born in the former Confederacy.)
Option 7) The Prime Directive. Wrong. It is intolerable for the most powerful nation in history to sit by and do nothing while thousands die. It probably stems from a racist lack of concern for people of color of persons of other religions. See Rwanda, Bosnia (not to be confused with Kosovo, which falls under Option 6, above).
II. The US gets all the blame, but never any of the credit.
When Lefties take a breather from blaming us for all the misery in the world, they sneer about how unfavorably we compare to Western Europe. So where would Western Europe be without past heavy-handed intervention by the United States? Without the US in WWI, WWII, the Marshall Plan, the Cold War? Ruled by Fascism, Nazism, or Communism? Or maybe still ruled by hereditary Monarchs? Personally, I see Europe and Japan as US success stories.
III. If you can't say something mean, don't say anything at all. Have you ever heard a Left opinion about Kashmir? There may be one, but I can't find it. In 1999, Pakistani forces entered Indian-controlled Kashmir. Two nuclear powers were shooting at each other, so I thought it was important. I tried to follow it in the news but no mainstream source was reporting anything about it. So I turned to Democracy Now! and other "alternative" sources. And I heard... Nothing. The blanket of "censorship" had covered them just like it had covered the corporate media. I had to spend weeks reading foreign sources on the internet for weeks to stay informed about how close my Indian brother-in-law was to being nuked. My conclusion: The Left is waiting for the US to pick a side, and then they can jump on the other. If we side with India, they can recycle all their Israel-Palestine opinions. If we side with Pakistan, they can search their many files of opinions on US support of military dictatorships to find the best ones to recycle. They could berate the US for not getting involved, but since this is an ongoing situation, they would then have to PICK A SIDE THEMSELVES, and say what the US SHOULD do. Better to wait for disaster to happen, and THEN criticize the US for not intervening. (For obviously racist reasons.)
11/7/2001 10:22:01 AM
Corrupt Sheikdoms “Need to be Jammed up Against the Wall”
From: ERIC BOGAN, Nov. 6
Re: The Case Against Saudi Arabia
Uh, word to all you said. While there does exist some fine English-language newspapers in the Arab World, too many of them are 1) gov't controlled or 2) spew out anti-Semitic garbage (even some Arab intellectuals have spoken out about this crap). It’s high time we re-evaluated our "special relationship" with corrupt sheikdoms like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and start gettin' some returns on our investments in those countries. Having spent some time in both Kuwait and the KSA, they both need to be jammed up against the wall and some concessions need to be extracted.
11/7/2001 10:03:24 AM
When Will the U.S. Take Responsibility for its Crimes?
From: ANDRE PRASSINOS, Nov. 6
Re: The Case Against Saudi Arabia
Is it any surprise that the US supports the repressive Saudi government? The "Freedom House" (lovely oxymoron, that one!) report mentioning restrictions on the press could have gone on to note that every one of the nations listed are also victims of overt and covert US intervention, the vast majority of which is totally outside the scope of international law and treaties. Further, it could be noted that the US supported brutal dictatorships in some of these countries which only came to be labelled as pariahs when they threw off the yoke of US oppression and declared their intention to govern for their people and keep their resources for themselves rather than allowing multinational corporations to plunder their assets.
Some of these governments have perpetrated great wrongs upon their citizens and others. That does not, however, give the US unilateral license to bomb, invade, sanction or otherwise punish those governments that they take issue with. The UN has clear and effective tools for dealing with grievances, most of which the US simply ignores. The empire answers to no one.
Your comments regarding the Saudi government are generally well founded and topical, but you fail to mention that the entire scenario is largely a creation of the west (most notably the US and the UK). In criminal law, the defendant can be held responsible and punished for unanticipated effects of their unlawful acts. For example, if I rob a liquor store and run over a pedestrian in my getaway attempt, I may be subject to murder charges, even though I did not intend to kill when I demanded the loot from the clerk. Similarly, the US and its cohorts must take responsibility for the direct causal influence that they have had on the makeup of the region and the resulting fallout. The US must acknowledge that these terrible circumstances are largely (almost entirely?) of its own creation.
That the Saudi royal family are not a nice bunch of guys is not germane to the discussion. What is central is the fact that the Saudi royal family would not exist, as such, without the support of the US. This can be said of many of the regimes in the area, including Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi, and the various other petty (but incredibly wealthy) emirates that exist at the whim of those that buy the oil.
One of the first lessons that I learned was to take responsibility for myself and my actions. When will the US apply this simple moral concept to itself and its actions?
11/7/2001 09:59:02 AM
Hello from the Post-Modern Left
From: ANTHONY OLIVIERI, Nov. 6
I have to say that I find your website very enlightening. I enjoy the comments in The War Blog and the columns in Working For Change. As a far-left post-modern liberal it's surprising that I agree with much of what you say.
Well, aren't we all?
I am an atheist -- who staunchly defends the separation of church and state. I am pro-choice. I am a vegetarian for health and political reasons. I am an environmentalist (partially responsible for my vegetarianism).
And, I agree with our actions in Afghanistan. My post-modern views preclude me from seeing things in terms of "good vs. evil" that have been offered up by The President, but that doesn't mean I can't assess the actions of Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda, and the Taliban and choose to oppose them. I am -- along with the other above liberal credentials -- optimistic that democracy, pluralism, and freedom will be some day concur the paranoid, superstitious, intolerant regimes of the world.
I find it interesting that some can't criticize our nation without vilifying it. I find a lot of our nation's actions -- foreign and domestic -- to be reprehensible. That doesn't mean that I find the nation as a whole one big bad apple poisoning the world.
Recent events have led us all to inform ourselves on the "rest of the world". Reviewing the stories of middle-eastern newspapers condemning Jews and spreading more violence has only strengthened my resolve that America is the most free, most liberal nation in the world – history maybe.
Of course, I feel for the innocents being killed in Afghanistan, and I'm not so lazy as to say, "How many American innocents were killed?" in an attempt to "even the score". I truly care for the innocent men, women and children of that roughshod nation. To those people: I'm sorry. Just as I am sorry to the innocents of Germany that were killed by American bombs trying to eradicate the Nazis. Now is the time to ask, "How many lives can be saved by further action?" instead of "How many innocents are being killed?" The caring stance is to hopefully prevent further deaths, dismemberments, judicial amputations, and the like.
This letter is just to let you know that not all left-leaning people are so blinded by ideology, and self-seeking contempt. Some of us are still searching for the truth, and I would like to recognize you as someone who also seeks the truth.
Keep it up, please.
11/6/2001 05:15:45 PM
A Military Man Against the Draft
From: ALEXANDER DEL CASTILLO, Nov. 6
Re: This Time, A Draft for the Home Front, Too, in the Washington Post
This article touches on the issue of who might man the newly federalized airport security and other homeland defense jobs. It is pretty seductive and was even linked to NRO. The thing is that the piece takes as given that the WWII draft was good in that it "helped unify the country." It could be argued that the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the threat of Nazism may have caused that effect.
The authors also cavalierly dismiss the military's opposition to the draft to the assertion that "it resists all change." Speaking from thirteen years of enlisted and commissioned experience, I can tell you that official armed services' resistance to the draft (pun intended) is because of the success of the all volunteer force and the problems associated with conscripts. Many of today's "Nintendo Babies" (as the grizzled CPO who kept my silly JO neck out of trouble referred to them) act like they were Shanghaid when they get to boot camp. Imagine if they really were drafted. When I enlisted back in '87, there were plenty of senior noncoms around who remembered the bad old days of the draft and let me know categorically that the all volunteer force was, in all ways, superior.
Finally, something I think Heinlein wrote (either in "Starship Troopers" or "Glory Road") keeps sticking in my mind. I paraphrase: In a free state, if a war must be fought by conscripts then the war is not just or the state is not worthy of defense.
Armed citizen volunteers and voluntary service in homeland defense are the answer for people on a free country, not the draft.
11/6/2001 05:04:14 PM
Who Makes the List of Marginalized Voices?
From: RAY ECKHART, Nov. 4
Re: A whole bunch of stuff that Eckhart & I have been e-mailing back and forth for weeks
Still seems very odd to me that my views tend to match, more than conflict, w/ a Nader voter.
That focus, though, brings me back to my first E-Mail to you, about the forums where debate is allowed, and who is allowed to participate, and the efforts to control access to those forums. (the definition of "centerization", so to speak, of the media, or "marginalization" by the punditry). I came across this quote from Bill St. Clair's Website, that helps clarify, for me, two issues you've been grappling with lately: The anti-war left (I do prefer the pejoratives I'm used to, but I'm trying to be good) and the "post-modern deconstructionists" who give intellectual weight to their position.
"The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum." I don't read Chomsky, so it's probably unfair to use this, but it illustrates what I'm going to say. To read this quote in its best light (leaving aside the patronizing "passive and obedient"), this means we should marginalize those opinions that are way out of the mainstream, so as not to waste time debating real issues. Hence David Duke's opinion is out of bounds. Good. Easy choice.
-- Noam Chomsky
Who decides who's next, though, and what tactics are acceptable to do the marginalization?
Rush Limbaugh is a big fat idiot. OK, he is, or at least was (fat that is) but he says some stuff that I agree with, but I shouldn't listen anymore. (it's not unusual, though, when I do happen to catch him, to find that I agree with what he's saying, but then I listen to some of the callers, and I get the willies, but that happens on NPR, too - so maybe it's the format - his TV show sucked, and I don't visit his web-site, because he was marginalized before he had one).
Dr. Laura brings a moral simplicity to people struggling with issues about raising kids, says some stuff almost identical to Camille Paglia in attacking the radicalization of the feminist movement (not about porn, though), but must be boycotted, taken off the air, charged with "hate speech" (literally censored in Canada), be subject to hyper charges of hypocrisy, and invasions of her private life. OK, I buy that. She said bad stuff, defended it, apologized in a very back-handed way, and what she said was way wrong. It must be OK to be intolerant about the intolerant.
So, there must be a list somewhere, that exiles commentators to the sideline, whenever they say something that is out of bounds. (Hello Ann Coulter). Will someone print the list for me? Who controls the list? I want to add to it. Some candidates:
Courage is a morally neutral value And some of the tactics used to control its content:
America is a terrorist nation
The American Flag is a symbol of repression
See Dr. Laura Nude, that hypocritical bitch! Instead, we get people on Nightline, NPR, NYT and WP Editorial Pages, Salon, The Advocate and OUT, etc., "debating lively" these "acceptable opinions." (The first place that gives McKinney a forum for defending her position, after her recent nonsense, will be telling, and an absolute waste of time. She'll probably use the floor of Congress, given her "pugnaciousness"). The Washington Post editorializes about tolerating "distasteful remarks", but says nothing about the silencing of "hate speech" by Dr. Laura. Will any mainstream program book Ann Coulter or Jerry Falwell so that their "distasteful remarks" could be expressed as dissent a la Arundhati Roy, and Katha Pollitt, and Susan Sontag? My knowledge of all these folks, outside of Falwell and Dr. Laura, was very limited, prior to all this, by the way.
Andrew Sullivan rides bareback!
You disagree w/ me because I'm black, and because you're a racist!
I'll tolerate you speaking, because I know you're "...not a hater", like all the other folks who support your position.
I agree w/ you about the call for a truce between right and left. I am heartened by the disgust expressed by you, Layne, Willis, Denton, etc. about the anti-war Left, and the futility of reasoning w/ people who view rational thought as immaterial to the discussion. Also, as a gay, Christian, right-of-center Republican, with self-esteem issues, (think Woody Allen in Annie Hall, quoting Groucho Marx, "Why would I want to join a club that wants to have me as a member?") I get it from both sides, and feel pretty defensive, and paranoid much of the time. So it's totally validating to hear you guys take them on, and it's great that you've been reading more right of center stuff, so the demonization curse might wear off.
The questions on my mind now are, are they now marginalized? Are others allowed back in? Is debate what goes on the list allowed? Who decides? What tactics for controlling content are allowed? Is demonization ever acceptable?
I never studied Journalism (Math Major), where this stuff is probably talked about. But there are some stupid statements from Journalists about "objectivity" floating around lately. Speaking of which, did anyone else find Jim Lehrer's "I don't even vote" position at all bothersome? It seems extreme to me. I had thought he was just real good at not letting his opinions affect his professionalism, not that he has to completely stifle exercising them, in order to maintain it. I don't believe he doesn't have any.
Enough of a rant. I'm rambling.
11/6/2001 02:45:23 PM
Criticism Ignores Consquences of Inaction
From: STEVE SHERMAN, Oct. 31
Re: Hyperbole in Wartime is Immoral
The point about calling things by their proper names and making analagous sense is certainly an excellent point. I would like to offer another point. The comparisons of American foreign policy to terrorist activities always assumes that our failure to act would not have had dire consequences. Would S.Korea be anything other than a Communist gulag had we not acted? Would Saddam not have cast his reign of terror over Kuwait had we not expelled him? Would Israel not be obliterated without US support? Did the US perserverance in the Cold War not fee hundreds of millions of Eastern Europeans while millions of Soviets were murdered by their own gov't? Had we interevened and overthrown Castro would tens of thousands of Cubans not have been imprisoned and killed as political prisoners?
11/6/2001 01:39:17 PM
“Fear of Embarrassment” Makes Military Distrust the Media
From: JOSEPH BRITT, Oct. 26
Re: That’s Right, the Readers Are Smarter
Your reader Pat Phillips misses the point of why distrust of the press is so widespread in the upper levels of the military. It isn't concern for operational security, or contempt for the ignorance of journalists. It's fear of embarrassment.
It's not likely that enlisted men or junior officers will be embarrassed by anything that winds up in the newspapers, so asking them what they think of the media is beside the point. Distrust of the press and desire to control information comes from the top down. Senior officers don't just want to avoid a negative story; they know that getting a reputation for talking to the media is a good way to ruin their own chances for advancement, so generally they will err on the side of caution. If this brings them criticism from the press, they can live with it. The one thing they can't live with is criticism from higher-ups, both military and civilian, who might have influence over their futures within the military.
Does this mean that media relations should take priority over operational security? Of course not. Balzar's main point is that it does not need to be, and he's right. Explaining the military's work to the public is important, and can be valuable for more reasons than the public's right to know. It was no accident, for example, that during the Gulf War the Marines got better press than the other services; they were also the most open with the media. Their commanding general even hauled a reporter around Kuwait in his tent!
11/6/2001 01:13:03 PM
Arundhati Roy’s Catch-22
From: MOIRA BREEN, Oct. 24
Re: Straw Man of the Day
A comment re: Arundhati Roy. She is indeed a fish in a barrel, but she nicely illustrates a common confusion in anti-Americanism. (Y'all know the drill - America is evil for: a) intervening, b) not intervening, c) all of the above.)
On the one hand she decries America as hypocritical for having truck with regimes that don't embrace American political and cultural values. She then condemns America as an arrogant bully for attempting to impose its political and cultural values on other nations. I suppose it's logically possible to be an arrogant hypocrite, but there is no
possible logical position wherein one can maintain that America actively support democracy and pluralism, while at the same time punctiliously avoid conflict with non American political and cultural values.
But even so obvious a contradiction would hardly register with someone who can, with a straight face, invoke "centuries of jurisprudence" in an anti-Western screed.
I also note her "solidarity with the wretched of the earth" posturing. I don't know the particulars of Ms. Roy's life, but I somehow suspect that a successful member of New Delhi's educated classes has about as much in common with an impoverished Afghan as I do. (Paging Marshall Sahlins...)
11/6/2001 01:00:27 PM
“Talk About Muddy Thinking!”
From: HOLDEN LEWIS, Oct. 11
The UK Guardian asked a number of people there and here if they agree that the world changed after Sept. 11. Here's the answer given by Rabbi Jonathan Sachs, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth:
Yes, the world has changed, and with a speed and tragedy no one expected. Until September 11th globalisation was a vague concept, to do with intangibles like the weather, the international economy and Naomi Klein's "No Logo". We now know it means the abolition of distance. A remote conflict can suddenly explode into our lives, with no forewarning and no apparent logic. We risk regression to Hobbes' "state of nature" in which everyday life was fraught with risk. We therefore need a global social contract. It will take years to evolve but it should be based on the following principles: (1) respect for cultural difference and no attempt to impose Western culture on the world; (2) a commitment on the part of the West to help developing countries fight poverty and disease; (3) a commitment on the part of every nation to fight terrorism, giving it neither refuge nor resources. What I found most fascinating about Sachs's statement is Point No. 1:
respect for cultural difference and no attempt to impose Western culture on the world. Now, let's break that down:
Large swaths of militant Muslims have no respect for cultural differences.
They certainly don't abide by Locke's theory of the social contract.
According to Sachs, we should come up with a global social contract to respect cultural differences while not attempting to impose Western culture on the world.
Talk about muddy thinking!
Anyway, when do we try to "impose" Western culture? When millions of people stop immigrating to North America and Europe, I'll believe that we're trying to impose something on people that they don't want.
11/6/2001 12:20:06 PM
Is the Amount of Sept. 11 Aid ‘Obscene’?
From: BEN SHERIFF, Oct. 31
Re: Jarvis, to Parrish: ‘Sod Off'
Another way of looking at the numbers is that UK transport policy values a "life saved" at around about £1m (approximately $1.5m). And that, of course, is any life, be it a 92 year-old with terminal cancer or a young healthy mother of three with a high earning job. That value is used to determine whether safety measures are cost effective (in some cases, far higher effective numbers are used). As a "price on a life" it stands up well in an awful lot of studies in the UK on how much people would pay to avoid certain risks, improve their health, etc. $200,000 isn't that much at all.
11/5/2001 06:27:55 PM
“We Have Almost Lost … the Athletic Sense of the Word ‘Opponent’”
From: JULIANA BOYD, Sept. 24
Re: Go Gently Into That Good Argument
Gee, Matt - Thanks for a little perspective. You're going to be castigated for it, you know. Here's one reader's contribution.
Our national discourse has been inflamed in part because we have rarely been able to distinguish between our country and our morality. This is not surprising in a country deliberately self-founded on noble objectives, rather than by accident of geography or ethnic similarities. Because we called ourselves into being as a democratic republic by invoking moral principles, we are obligated to elevate almost all our public discourse, and our political differences, to ethical debates about good and evil.
But there are two unfortunate consequences to this virtuous conversation. First, in the public arena, ethics often serves as a very poor basis for state action or public policy. Government must be concerned first to pursue what is workable (politics being the art of the possible), and to achieve what works. The 20th century approach to welfare was created from laudably moral motives - but it didn't work; it seemed instead to intensify the very phenomenon it was trying to ameliorate. An error of liberal morality, wherein we tried to reduce poverty and dependence and instead ended up institutionalizing them. On the other end of the spectrum, the Reagan and Bush tax measures also don't work; the intended incentives for initiative and hard work (which are morally laudable) vanish when wealth becomes so disproportionately concentrated that opportunity shrinks to negligible levels for most wage-earners. The healthy middle class that has driven this country's economic engine is seriously threatened, and the nation's economic health is declining. Compare that situation to the years following WWII, when we had highly regressive tax rates, and vast subsidies in housing and education financing available to the lower and middle classes - with a resulting economic boom for the country.
If we could focus our political energy on what works, rather than yearning for what we want to be proved true because it seems the "right" thing to do, we could achieve more rational and more productive debates about governing.
The second consequence of our insistence upon politics as a moral balancing act is that we view our political opponents as morally wrong, as actively evil. Not just misguided, certainly not the good citizens that we ourselves are, with our pure hearts and noble motives, but as actually wicked and needing to see the error of their sinful ways. So we lecture, and exhort, and condemn, all of us from our pulpits of various sorts. Not conservative, but greedy and coldhearted…not liberal, but dissolute and slack.
(This has been a long-standing tendency in our nation, and always prone to flare up at times of national stress. But it has been grossly inflamed in the last decade by a scandal-hungry media obsessively titillated by our officials' sexual escapades, thundering in bleating herd after any whiff of sexual scandal, and by the cynical eagerness of our politicians to join in the baying pack, as long as it is hunting someone on the other side of the aisle. Our "moral" debates are descending into the gutter, so that we had the ludicrous spectacle of our entire political process mired in - as one commentator said - whether the president lied about getting a blow job. But sexual discretion is a grossly inadequate stand-in for meaningful virtue, and a ridiculous standard to use in judging the effectiveness of a political leader.)
The worsening pseudo-moral polarization between our country's political adversaries means that we are abandoning respectful public deliberations, because why should you have a respectful discussion with someone who is simply evil? We have stooped to demonizing each other, charge and counter-charge escalating into increasingly vitriolic arguments about good (me and mine) and evil (you and yours).
We need to back down from imputing scurrilous motives to each other. We need to re-learn how to disagree with each other, good citizens all, without hate. What a shame that we have almost lost, in our national politics, the athletic sense of the word "opponent" - a noble and worthy adversary, against whom we test our abilities and hone our skills.
We need to focus on what evil truly is, whether it's our nation's evil, or another nation's, or our homegrown fascists, or that of a terror group with a completely alien worldview. And we desperately need to have a respectful, rational debate about practical and constructive tactics to combating true evil - for our own sake, and for the future of the world.
Good luck with the good fight.
11/5/2001 05:25:19 PM
Welcome to the Letters Page! Okey, here’s how it’s going to work (I think): I will first reach back into the in-box and post a bunch of old stuff, to which I will attach a parenthetical date. Soon, hopefully, it’ll all be real-time, and my super-cool templates will make it frictionless and nearly pain-free. Muchas gracias to Ben Sullivan, the world’s most reliable handyman, for setting this page up for me. Let the games begin!
11/5/2001 04:52:53 PM
testing 123 leters baby
11/4/2001 12:42:10 PM
Comments, questions, bad links? Send e-mail to Matt Welch