IT'S OUR FIFTH ANNIVERSARY! CLICK HERE TO MAKE A DONATION. Sunday, September 30, 2001
THE MOTHER OF ALL MEMOES: Check out this astonishing memo from 1997, unearthed by the Washington Monthly. It's from the Justice Department's self-study of emergency responses to terrorism. The illustration almost gets the actual floor of the WTC right. No-one can say we weren't warned. Except, maybe, Sandy Berger.
THE HATE MAIL POURS IN: I've printed just one of the many, many hate emails I've received after my piece yesterday in the Sunday Times of London about the legacy of the Clinton administration in security and intelligence. Most make no points, and most seem not to have read the piece, but there is a general, loopy claim that is baldly untrue. I do not blame Bill Clinton for the September 11 massacre. Far from it. I say quite clearly early on: "We put the blame - rightly - on the terrorists who bear sole responsibility for the massacre." Emphatic enough? I do not even blame our former president solely for the security failure. Among others directly or indirectly responsible, I cite former President George H.W. Bush, General Colin Powell, CIA director George Tenet, the FBI, "senators and congressmen and lobbyists and civil liberties advocates and journalists - all of whom failed to see the danger staring us in the face. Very few of us are free from blame." I include myself in that list. Like many others, I didn't see what was coming, and I've been asking myself why. Part of the reason is that we couldn't actually visualize an attack of that gravity. For that oversight, I write, our leaders "deserve some sympathy. They were imperfect human beings in a world where September 11 was still an abstraction." I also write: "Hindsight is easy of course. In the halcyon and feckless climate of the 1990s, it would have required real political leadership to dragoon various, stubborn government agencies into a difficult reorganization to counter terrorism. It would have been extremely hard to persuade a skeptical public and a prickly civil liberties lobby that vast new government powers were necessary to prevent catastrophe." All of this is true, and is an important context. But it's also true that the president of the United States is ultimately responsible for the security of the United States and its citizens. The buck stops there. It is not partisan or unfair to question the record of our last president, who presided over the weakening of our intelligence and security apparatus for eight years, while the threat of Islamo-fascism clearly grew and grew. This is not written out of "hatred." It is written because accountability is an essential part of democracy. And our last president is accountable for the decay of our intelligence and security that preceded this nightmare. Clearly the Clinton alums see this, which is why they're engaging in a furious spin operation (see "ASS-COVERING WATCH" below). Read the piece to see if you disagree. It's called "The Fruits of Negligence," and should be posted opposite by 9.30 am Monday.
LETTERS: A gay marine for the war; how peaceful is Islam really?; why Colin Powell is right; etc.
POSTCARD FROM ACADEMIA: A beleaguered student from the University of Wisconsin writes to share a letter written by a fellow student to the student newspaper, the Badger Herald. Yes, it's just a student letter. No it's not earth-shattering. But it seems to me it's newsworthy that a student at a major university could even think these things. Here's an excerpt: "Make no mistake about it, the attacks of a couple weeks ago were a great national and international tragedy. But tearing up the Middle East, murdering every brown-skinned person in sight, is not going solve anything. The U.S. government is, without a doubt, one of the most genocidal and murderous political entities of the 20th century. In the name of ruthless capitalism and neo-colonialism, our government has murdered over 500,000 Iraqi children, thousands of Palestinians, and many more throughout the world in places like Latin America and East Timor. Brian Marquardt wrote in his letter that, "Those [protesters] are using the rights defended by our military during wars." What could be further from the truth? Not since World War II has the United States ever been involved in military activity defending our freedoms and liberties. Rather, they have defended a racist, imperialistic American hegemony which, believe it or not, is greatly resented by nearly every other country and their peoples around the world. So before you preach at us about the evil terrorists, why don't you try getting your facts straight and face up to the reality that our leaders are war criminals just as much as people like Hitler, Stalin and other monsters of the 20th century."
THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: "In war there is much to be said for magnanimity in victory. But not before victory." - Margaret Thatcher, "The Downing Street Years" (1993).
THE TALIBAN'S METHODS: A former Taliban secret policeman debriefs London's Sunday Telegraph. What he describes is beyond belief. "As we drove around at night with our guns, local people would come to us and say there's someone watching a video in this house or some men playing cards in that house," he said. "Basically any form of pleasure was outlawed," Mr. Hassani said, "and if we found people doing any of these things we would beat them with staves soaked in water - like a knife cutting through meat - until the room ran with their blood or their spines snapped. Then we would leave them with no food or water in rooms filled with insects until they died. We always tried to do different things: we would put some of them standing on their heads to sleep, hang others upside down with their legs tied together. We would stretch the arms out of others and nail them to posts like crucifixions. Sometimes we would throw bread to them to make them crawl. Then I would write the report to our commanding officer so he could see how innovative we had been." Ah, but compared to the sins of America's genocidal leaders, these are piddling offenses.
Saturday, September 29, 2001
ASS-COVERING WATCH: Aware perhaps that the next turn in this story will be a thorough examination of how American intelligence failed so badly to avoid the September 11 Massacre, the Clinton administration uses its favorite paper, the New York Times, for spin control. One major leak about past efforts to get bin Laden killed must have come from someone. Who? Sandy Berger? Does this leak in any way imperil intelligence today? Key ass-covering quotes from Berger and Albright follow. "It was something that we focused on on a daily basis, and pursued with vigor, and I think we accomplished quite a lot," said former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright. "'I think we took it as far as was possible to go at the time, and I think what we did has provided the basis for things the Bush administration is trying to do now.'" Yeah, right. And here's Berger: "'This was a top priority for us over the past several years, and not a day went by when we didn't press as hard as we could," said Samuel R. Berger, national security adviser in the Clinton administration. "But this is a tough, tough problem. I think we were pushing it as hard as we could. And I think the Bush administration is handling it in a smart way.'" The Times is forced to concede "mixed results" and it notably doesn't finger Robert Rubin as the main obstacle for shutting down al Qaeda's financial network. How could they when they spent major front-page space puffing Rubin earlier this week? No critic is quoted in the article. I'd say this piece is the first sign that the Clintonites are rattled. They know they bear the bulk of responsibility for this - although, of course, not alone. I'm not absolving any of us from some responsibility - including the two Bush administrations, and pundits who didn't sound the alarm loudly enough. But all signs point to the Clinton administration as the major source of responsibility. No surprise that the Times would be out in front trying to exculpate them.
MUST READ: I was struck by the following sentences in a piece by Gustav Neibuhr in Saturday's New York Times. A scholar was asked to comment on the extraordinarily pious notes found in the possession of the murderers of September 11. "Some of the letter invokes prayers and uses 'very mainstream religious language,' John L. Esposito, director of the Center for Muslim- Christian Understanding at Georgetown University, said, referring to excerpts published on Friday. But, he said, 'all of a sudden, after you've read through 90 percent of it, then you get to that set of lines that this is being wrapped around that militant action - You get your ID's, you're carrying your knives.'" Now what does that tell you? What it tells me is that perhaps the extremist version of Islam is not that different from the mainstream version of Islam in the eyes of the hijackers. Maybe the links between "good Islam" and "bad Islam" are actually closer than you might think. This is not politically correct; but it may be true. You don't need a whole new religion to do what these fanatics did; you just need to believe in your creed with greater zeal and fanaticism. This is about religion - or rather about the evil things that fundamentalism can do in any faith. Here are the hijacker's notes. See what you think.
SONTAG AWARD NOMINEE: "But who is Osama bin Laden really? Let me rephrase that. What is Osama bin Laden? He's America's family secret. He is the American president's dark doppelgänger. The savage twin of all that purports to be beautiful and civilised. He has been sculpted from the spare rib of a world laid to waste by America's foreign policy: its gunboat diplomacy, its nuclear arsenal, its vulgarly stated policy of "full-spectrum dominance", its chilling disregard for non-American lives, its barbarous military interventions, its support for despotic and dictatorial regimes, its merciless economic agenda that has munched through the economies of poor countries like a cloud of locusts. Its marauding multinationals who are taking over the air we breathe, the ground we stand on, the water we drink, the thoughts we think. Now that the family secret has been spilled, the twins are blurring into one another and gradually becoming interchangeable." - Arundhati Roy, The Guardian. I have seen no more eloquent statement of the fusion of anti-globalization and Islamo-fascism that is now resurgent. This is what the far left is becoming. And this is what so many in the mainstream left refuse to take on. - 9:55:02 PM
LEWIS VERSUS ME AND KRISTOL: Anthony Lewis, who has opposed almost every conceivable measure to halt or impede terrorism for his entire professional life, is relieved that the Bush administration seems to be abandoning a fully-fledged effort to remove the bases for terrorism's reach - in Baghdad, Damascus and Kandahar. He blathers on about a new "consensus" - which turns out to be his own vision of what we should do. He wants a multilateral coalition regardless of its ability to solve the real problem, he wants massive Keynesian reflation, he wants Clinton Treasury Secretary back in power, he wants John Ashcroft's belated measures to stop terrorism watered down. None of this should be surprising. Then he lobs a couple of cruise missiles at me and Kristol. I'm not going to defend myself again here from the grotesque distortion of my obvious meaning in Lewis's citation of two sentences from my piece for the Sunday Times (although I've written a brief letter to the Times). Anyone who reads it will see he's deliberately distorting its meaning. But I will point out that the dubious loyalty of some on the fringe left does not amount to a "disgusting diatribe" but a mere statement of fact. A movement to oppose all and every Western response to terrorism is already afoot, and it is based on the notion, widely held in these quarters, that the United States is morally inferior to the hoodlums who killed thousands, or is so morally crippled that it has no right to a robust response. Similarly, Lewis' attack on the alleged partisanship of those who have criticized Colin Powell's war strategy is simply unfair. Powell is clearly attempting to neuter the fight against terrorism and restrict it as tightly as he restricted the Gulf War. What is partsian about opposing a repetition of an already failed policy? Many on both left and right sincerely hold this view; the editors in chief of both the Weekly Standard and the New Republic have signed on to such a statement. There is nothing partisan about it at all. All Lewis is trying to do, in his usual pompous fashion, is to write people out of a genuine debate on the meaning, context and conduct of this war. Apart from the New York Times op-ed page, where true dissent from liberal orthodoxy is forbidden, Lewis will mercifully fail to silence us.
SONTAG AWARD NOMINEE: "We've been treated to some astonishingly vile images over the last two weeks: office workers hurling themselves into a hundred-floor-high abyss. A gaping, smouldering hole in the financial center of our greatest city. George W. Bush passing himself off as a patriot, even as he disassembles the Constitution with the voracious glee of piranha skeletonizing a cow… [E]ven if it's mainly the result of our pathetic desire to follow someone -- anyone -- in the aftermath of Sept. 11, there's little opposition out in the cities and towns across our vast continent: Bush's job-approval rating is hovering up there with puppies and sunny days. It may have seemed meaningless at the time, but now we know why 7,000 people sacrificed their lives -- so that we'd all forget how Bush stole a presidential election." -Ted Rall, cartoonist, September 27. - 2:56:46 PM
Friday, September 28, 2001
ACCOUNTABILITY WATCH: Superb piece by my colleague Frankie Foer in The New Republic on how the National Commission on Terrorism was simply ignored. It even had a picture of the World Trade Center on its cover! - 11:48:49 AM
THE BEGINNINGS OF A RECKONING I: I'm surprised more people haven't picked up on Joe Klein's excellent piece in the New Yorker this week. Klein doesn't quite draw the lines between the dots (I've just tried to do that in my upcoming piece for the Sunday Times in London), but the piece stands as a damning indictment of the Clinton administration's anti-terrorism negligence nonetheless. The warnings about bin Laden were copious throughout the 1990s. The recommendations for tackling the Islamic fundamentalist threat were all made repeatedly and with increasing urgency. It's not fair to say that nothing was done by the Clintonites; and I appreciate that hindsight is easy. But it's equally clear that not enough was done. Sooner rather than later, historians will need to go back and piece together the pieces that were ignored, undone, or simply denied as the Clinton administration concentrated on more important matters like avoiding impeachment. Klein concludes that "there seems to be near-unanimous agreement among experts: in the ten years since the collapse of the Soviet Union, almost every aspect of American national-security policy-from military operations to intelligence gathering, from border control to political leadership-has been marked by … institutional lassitude and bureaucratic arrogance." And who was responsible for eight of those ten years? Yes, many of us are to blame for not taking this more seriously. But only one man is ultimately supposed to take responsibility for this. There is no greater duty for a government than the maintenance of national security, and the physical protection of its own citizens from harm. When a senior Clinton official can tell Klein that Clinton "spent less concentrated attention on national defense than any other President in recent memory," and when this presidency is followed by the most grievous breach of domestic security in American history, it is not unreasonable to demand some accounting. With each passing day, the Clinton legacy gets darker and darker.
THE BEGINNINGS OF A RECKONING II: Alongside Klein's piece, check out a truly prescient and damning account of the failure of our counter-intelligence services to deal with the Islamo-fascist threat. Reuel Marc Gerecht deserves some sort of medal for prescience in this affair, penning superb pieces for the Atlantic and the Weekly Standard over the past few years. Here's his most insightful essay from the July/August issue of the Atlantic, a piece that reflects the great work Mike Kelly has been doing with that magazine. In it, he emphasized the extreme need for trained spies to go underground in the Muslim world of Afghanistan and Pakistan if the West were ever to get adequate intelligence on bin Laden's operation. But as late as 1999, not a single such "non-official-cover" spy had been trained or used for such a purpose. A former senior Near East Division operative tells Gerecht, "The CIA probably doesn't have a single truly qualified Arabic-speaking officer of Middle Eastern background who can play a believable Muslim fundamentalist who would volunteer to spend years of his life with shitty food and no women in the mountains of Afghanistan. For Christ's sake, most case officers live in the suburbs of Virginia. We don't do that kind of thing." A younger case officer summed up the policy to Gerecht thus: "Operations that include diarrhea as a way of life don't happen." Meanwhile, the man who presided over this catastrophe, George Tenet, is still sitting pretty. Wouldn't anyone with a sense of responsibility after this intelligence debacle have resigned by now? I agree with the Washington Times on this one. - 2:04:33 AM
Thursday, September 27, 2001
SEPTEMBER 27, 2001:
Though mild clear weather Smile again on the shire of your esteem And its colors come back, the storm has changed you: You will not forget, ever, The darkness blotting out hope, the gale Prophesying your downfall.
You must live with your knowledge. Way back, beyond, outside of you are others, In moonless absences you never heard of, Who have certainly heard of you, Beings of unknown number and gender: And they do not like you.
What have you done to them? Nothing? Nothing is not an answer; You will come to believe - how can you help it? - That you did, you did do something; You will find yourself wishing you could make them laugh, You will long for their friendship.
There will be no peace. Fight back, then, with such courage as you have And every unchivalrous dodge you know of, Clear in your conscience on this: Their cause, if they had one, is nothing to them now; They hate for hate's sake.
- "There Will Be No Peace", by W. H. Auden, 1956, (with thanks to L.M. Moore who first posted this on a Slate fray discussion thread).
HATHOS ALERT: If you really want to engage in an orgiastic feast of Blame-America-First-ism, take a look at these contributions to the insufferably smug and irredeemably leftist London Review of Books. There are some American writers here, and some worthwhile thoughts, but there's plenty of pretentious cant as well. My favorite is lit-crit guru Fredric Jameson, who manages to blame the event on the suppression of the left in the Third World. Here's a snippet: "Historical events, however, are not punctual, but extend in a before and after of time which only gradually reveal themselves. It has, to be sure, been pointed out that the Americans created bin Laden during the Cold War (and in particular during the Soviet war in Afghanistan), and that this is therefore a textbook example of dialectical reversal. But the seeds of the event are buried deeper than that. They are to be found in the wholesale massacres of the Left systematically encouraged and directed by the Americans in an even earlier period. The physical extermination of the Iraqi and the Indonesian Communist Parties, although now historically repressed and forgotten, were crimes as abominable as any contemporary genocide. It is, however, only now that the results are working their way out into actuality, for the resultant absence of any Left alternative means that popular revolt and resistance in the Third World have nowhere to go but into religious and 'fundamentalist' forms." Bet you never thought of that. Marxism could have saved us!
SPIN-ZONE: Several of you have asked for sources for my statement that it now seems that there was a) no basis for the assertion that Air Force One and president Bush received a phoned coded threat on September 11 and b) that the plane that hit the Pentagon was destined for the White House. My source for a) was an Associated Press report that "administration officials said they now doubt whether there was actually a call made threatening the president's plane, Air Force One." There was some "misunderstanding" among officials, apparently. No record of the alleged call can be found. CBS News also reported Tuesday night that no such threat had been made. My source for b) was also CBS News correspondent Bob Orr's examination of the radar evidence for the plane's flight path. The story is followed up today by Jake Tapper at Salon. I'd be only too happy to be shown evidence backing the administration's claims, but so far, the evidence seems to be overwhelmingly against them. Some of you have pointed out that is a deeply petty issue. I couldn't agree more. But that's all the more reason why the White House shouldn't be sending out these misleading signals - to people who are basically friendly to them. - 1:06:13 AM
Wednesday, September 26, 2001
THE ONION PULLS IT OFF: The first attempt to laugh our way through this that actually works. The TV listings are priceless. - 6:25:52 PM
KARL ROVE'S LIES: I asked recently for Maureen Dowd to provide the evidence for her scoop that there was no basis for Ari Fleischer's and Karl Rove's statements that AirForce One had been targeted on September 11, and that there were credible coded threats to it. It now seems that Maureen was right and I was wrong to doubt her. I apologize. There were no such threats. The White House has said that staffers misinterpreted statements from security officials. That's stretches credulity. It also appears that the flight path of the relevant plane did not, as was previously stated, circle the White House and the Capitol building before plowing into the Pentagon. So we were directly lied to by two senior administration officials. There was no need. There was plenty of reason for the president to get to a secure communications base as soon as possible on September 11, and plenty of reason to avoid Washington during an extremely uncertain time. So why the lies? Were these people spinning at a time of grave national crisis? And I thought the Clinton era was over. - 1:14:28 PM
MUST-READ I: Superb and devastating piece by Jake Tapper in Salon on the craven and dubious posturing of the official Muslim lobby groups in the U.S., specifically the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the American Muslim Council (AMC). Who do they really represent? Why have they not been able to say without reservation that they condemn bin Laden? Jake nails this one dead. Another feather in the cap of the sensible, liberal, fighting left.
MUST-READ II: Perhaps the most enlightening and elegant essay on this conflict that I've so far read was written well before September 11. In fact, it was written eleven years ago - by the peerless scholar of Islam, Bernard Lewis, in the Atlantic - and is called "The Roots of Muslim Rage." Check it out. It makes for deeply sobering reading, and is an essential counter-weight to some of the bromides peddled by, among others, president Bush's Catholic ghost-writer, David Forte.
REUTERS TIPS: Late entries for euphemisms for terrorists: "Deconstructionists;" "faith-based demolition engineers." - 1:03:32 PM
THE POWELL SYNDROME: An important editorial in the Washington Post today. The last few days have seemed to indicate the growing influence of Colin Powell in the administration, a truly ominous sign. The president's statement in his speech last Thursday that the Taliban would share the fate of the terrorists if they didn't hand bin Laden over has apparently been abandoned. Powell clearly wants the meekest of responses - limited to a few of bin Laden's operatives, leaving the Taliban regime in place, and Saddam as well. As Bill Kristol has observed and as an astute letter to the site today notes, Powell seems dismissive of the president in public, and undercut the president's speech in the Sunday news shows. My hope is that Bush is using Powell for good purposes - to soothe allies, talk softly - while we prepare for serious action against not only the terrorists but all the regimes that sponsor them. My fear is that Powell is calling the shots and that the alliance is taking precedence over the action we need to take - which is a recipe for the same failure as the ill-completed Gulf War. Wolfowitz, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice: don't let Powell screw up again! This time, as the Post rightly observes, failure is not an option.
MEMO TO REUTERS: Thanks for your suggestions for Reuters to use instead of the dread and terribly unobjective word "terrorists." "Compassion-challenged advocates" has an Oprah-esque quality. "Aeronautical Fundamentalists" distinguishes them from the 700 Club, but doesn't quite capture their aggressive tendencies. They could be evangelicals on the shuttle. "Collateral damage coordinators" has its merits. But I vote for "casualty facilitators." Maybe even Peter Jennings could spit that one out.
CHEMICAL WARFARE AGAIN: It seems irrefutable now that chemical and/or biological weapons are going to be used in some manner at some point against American citizens by the enemy. Read this chilling piece in the Washington Post which explains that bin Laden's Islamic extremists have been training for just such an attack. Today's New York Times reports on arrests of several people planning to capture hazardous chemicals. So why do we have, so far as I can tell, no civil defense preparation? The Times argues cogently that nightmare scenarios - like the successful contamination of reservoirs - are unlikely, but not as cogently that subways may not be death-traps. We surely need to ratchet up public health monitoring of potential outbreaks. But why are there not plans for mass manufacture and distribution of gas-masks? Is it because we will only find out we've been gassed after it's too late? If so, why are they available for members of Congress? Coming back to Washington, this kind of attack is the only thing I'm actually afraid of. Maybe I'm just another worried post-boomer, the kind Maureen Dowd lampoons today. Correspondents have tried to reassure me, but I'm not reassured. Why do we have to wait for the worst to happen before we take some elementary precautions to avoid it?
LETTERS: In defense of our universities; Pollitt and Lessing; a Canadian vents; Powell and Acheson - a revealing contrast; etc.
PATRIOTISM DEFENDED: "Patriotism has, then, many faces. Those who would reject it entirely do not seem to have considered what will certainly step - has already begun to step - into its place. For a long time yet, or perhaps forever, nations will live in danger. Rulers must somehow nerve their subjects to defend them or at least to prepare for their defense. Where the sentiment of patriotism has been destroyed this can be done only by presenting every international conflict in a purely ethical light. If people will spend neither sweat nor blood for "their country" they must be made to feel that they are spending them for justice, or civilization, or humanity. This is a step down, not up. Patriotic sentiment did not of course need to disregard ethics. Good men needed to be convinced that their country's cause was just; but it was still their country's cause, not the cause of justice as such. The difference seems to me important. I may without self-righteousness or hypocrisy think it just to defend my house by force against a burglar; but if I start pretending that I blacked his eye purely on moral grounds - wholly indifferent to the fact that the house in question is mine - I become insufferable....If our country's cause is the cause of God, wars must be wars of annihilation." - C.S. Lewis, "The Four Loves."
AMERICA RISING: A small interruption for a somewhat novel way of celebrating patriotism. Freedom of expression - and a tree carved into a 7-foot phallus with Old Glory on top. Just what would Katha Pollitt say? - 1:17:56 AM
Tuesday, September 25, 2001
PATRIOTISM DEFINED: "Patriotism opposes the lone representative of democracy who was brave enough to vote her conscience instead of following an angry mob. (Several others have confessed they wanted to vote the same way, but chickened out.) Patriotism threatens free speech with death. It is infuriated by thoughtful hesitation, constructive criticism of our leaders and pleas for peace. It despises people of foreign birth who've spent years learning our culture and contributing their talents to our economy. It has specifically blamed homosexuals, feminists and the American Civil Liberties Union. In other words, the American flag stands for intimidation, censorship, violence, bigotry, sexism, homophobia, and shoving the Constitution through a paper shredder?" This is Barbara Kingsolver's response to the many, many Americans who are not for intimidation, censorship, bigotry, sexism and whatever, and yet who also take pride in a symbol of country and freedom. Kingsolver still won't sign on to Old Glory, and her view of history is, to say the least, a little undeveloped. Here she is on the Gulf War: "In the Persian Gulf War we rushed to the aid of Kuwait, a monarchy in which women enjoyed approximately the same rights as a 19th century American slave. The values we fought for and won there are best understood, I think, by oil companies. Meanwhile, a country of civilians was devastated, and remains destroyed." Hmmm. No mention of Iraq or Saddam or aggression or the invasion of Kuwait. The selective nature of some of these people's memory is truly remarkable. No mention either of the truly fanatical hatred of women, gays, Jews and so on, represented by the Taliban. I have been asked by many to stop quoting these idiocies of the far left. Sorry, but no deal. I absolutely, categorically defend far leftists' right to write or say whatever they think, without fear or intimidation. But equally, it seems to me that exposing their nihilism, narcissism and illogic is also an important duty. Some people take these writers seriously. It's time they didn't.
DUNKIRK IN NEW YORK: A beautiful piece somewhat mitigating the dreck the Observer has been running elsewhere. An Australian, Peter Carey, pays tribute to his new city: "Now our neighbourhood has become a command centre. That evening we are standing on the corner of Houston and 6th Avenue watching the huge earth-moving equipment and heavy trucks rolling, bumper to bumper, in a never-ending parade towards the devastation. Here is the endless might and wealth of America. Here are the drivers, like soldiers, heroes. These are not military vehicles but huge trucks from small companies in Connecticut and New Jersey, from Bergen and Hackensack. Seeing all these individuals rise to the crisis, with their American flags stuck out of windows and taped to radio aerials, I am reminded of Dunkirk. I am moved. We are all moved. The crowds come out to cheer them. I do too, without reserve." - 11:40:33 AM
MEMO TO REUTERS: A reader sends in some Newspeak terms for Reuters to use to describe the September 11 terrorists: "asymmetric warfare specialists" or "civilian elimination engineers." Other euphemisms welcomed.
HITCH VERSUS THE LEFT: Hitchens goes at it again, taking on his own friends in the Nation. It's ok for me to bang on about the Left. They hate me anyway. But Hitchens' brilliant little piece skewers them like a well-done kebab. Here's one favorite rhetorical flourish: "But straight away, we meet people who complain at once that this enemy is us, really. Did we not aid the grisly Taliban to achieve and hold power? Yes indeed "we" did. Well, does this not double or triple our responsibility to remove them from power? A sudden sheep-like silence, broken by a bleat." LOL.
MOVE OVER, PETER JENNINGS: "My daughter, who goes to Stuyvesant High School only blocks from the World Trade Center, thinks we should fly an American flag out our window. Definitely not, I say: The flag stands for jingoism and vengeance and war… It seems impossible to explain to a 13-year-old, for whom the war in Vietnam might as well be the War of Jenkins's Ear, the connection between waving the flag and bombing ordinary people half a world away back to the proverbial stone age. I tell her she can buy a flag with her own money and fly it out her bedroom window, because that's hers, but the living room is off-limits." - Katha Pollitt, The Nation. These domestic scenes sound like a hilarious red-diaper version of Absolutely Fabulous, where hippie mom and nerdy daughter fight their own little cultural war. I'm with the kid.
- 11:17:31 AM
IN TRANSIT: My luggage (and laptop) are stuck at Boston's Logan Airport, causing a slight delay in updating the Daily Dish. To tide you over you'll find two new feature articles posted to the right. - 10:51:43 AM
Monday, September 24, 2001
NO OLD GLORY FOR ABC: Howie Kurtz reports today that ABC News reporters and staffers are going to be barred from wearing small American flag pins during this war. "Objectivity" is the key. As if anyone believed Peter Jennings would allow something obscene like love of country to infect his broadcast. Reuters will also apparently ban the use of the word "terrorist" from its lexicon. Too biased. "We're trying to treat everyone on a level playing field, however tragic it's been and however awful and cataclysmic for the American people and people around the world," Reuters official Stephen Jukes tells Howie. Then he gets to the real reason: "We don't want to jeopardize the safety of our staff. Our people are on the front lines, in Gaza, the West Bank and Afghanistan. The minute we seem to be siding with one side or another, they're in danger." And what exactly do you call people who massacre over 6,000 innocent civilians? Operatives? Campaigners? Peace-workers? Newspeak is alive and well - and harbored in the cowardly heart of Reuters.
GOOD FOR HERBERT: Bob Herbert gives me the willies a lot of the time, but say this for him: he's open-minded and his tribute to president Bush's address to Congress was gracious and true. - 11:10:50 AM
Sunday, September 23, 2001
FAREWELL, MARK: So fitting that Mark Bingham should have had Senator John McCain at his private memorial service. And quite typical that the Senator was glad to be there. Bingham was a Republican, gay and a hero who supported McCain's campaign early on. For McCain to point out how much Mark did to save this country from even worse horror was particularly touching. It helps erase the stench from the Amos Brown grandstanding of last week. I'm proud to reprint part of the Senator's eulogy here: "I never knew Mark Bingham. But I wish I had. I know he was a good son and friend, a good rugby player, a good American, and an extraordinary human being. He supported me, and his support now ranks among the greatest honors of my life. I wish I had known before September 11 just how great an honor his trust in me was. I wish I could have thanked him for it more profusely than time and circumstances allowed. But I know it now. And I thank him with the only means I possess, by being as good an American as he was." May he rest in peace.
LETTERS: Reports on the far left's anti-Americanism around the country; war and legitimate dissent; denial and death. Get ready to be cheered up.
SCRAP THE CONSTITUTION: It's a pretty good rule these days that the comments of anyone writing from the faculty of a leading American university about this event will be constrained from telling it like it is. American academia is currently in thrall to post-modern, post-colonialist nihilism in which any moral judgment - except knee-jerk demonization of Caucasians - is verboten. So part of the amusement of reading these people in the mainstream press is watching their ideology collide with common sense. Take a look at Yale scholar Lamin Sanneh's op-ed piece in the New York Times today. The following sentences ring with all the clarity of a dark, impenetrable fog: "Muslim leaders need to embark on programs of democratic renewal - with the support of the West, if necessary. The West needs to overcome its insistence that the nation-state must be secular to be legitimate. The West should recognize that specific cultural values and political policy may intersect without threatening civil liberties, and that religion can play an important role in public life. That would enable Muslims to engage with the West without endorsing secularism." What on earth does that mean? There are simply no Arab-Muslim states with even a semblance of democracy, and none that looks like fertile ground. They are all dictatorships or theocracies or some hideous combination of the two, despite billions in aid from the U.S. The pro-democracy forces in, say, Egypt or Saudi Arabia, are all but non-existent, and the main challenges to the despots come from even more fanatical mullahs. I'm sorry but a blithe call for "programs of democratic renewal" in those countries is all but meaningless. Besides, the West has accepted as legitimate the semi-religious satrapy of Saudi Arabia, while that regime has fostered the very fanaticism we now confront. The second point from Sanneh seems to be some sort of call for the Western nations to abandon their own sharp delineation between Church and State, i.e. a repeal of the First Amendment. Or some sort of greater fusion of presumably Christian public values with our politics. And this is supposed to help Muslims engage with the West? Gee, smart thinking on that one. Maybe if we put a cross in the middle of the Mall, they'll have a better target next time. I think this article is a classic in seeing how many of our current academics, parroting leftist dogmas to themselves and their poor, bewildered students for so long, have nothing much to tell us at a moment like this. In fact, their long endorsement of moral nihilism paved the way for the decadence and irrelevance we now see endemic on the far left.
DOWD'S SCOOP: Maureen Dowd, who has seen her entire year-long analysis of George W. Bush demolished before her eyes, keeps up the animosity in Sunday's column. I wish Maureen would give the guy a second chance. Bush has shown he is not lazy, not dumb, not incompetent, not a puppet. Today's New York Times' story about the president reveals someone adept at management and decision-making, trusting a black woman as his most important confidant. You'd think that combo might make some liberals take a pause and reassess the man. Dowd even has a scoop on her hands, at least I think it's one: "Karl Rove, Mr. Bush's political strategist, is in the middle of our national security crisis. First, he called around town, trying to sell reporters the story - now widely discredited - that Mr. Bush didn't immediately return to Washington on Sept. 11 because the plane that was headed for the Pentagon may have really been targeting the White House, and that Air Force One was in jeopardy, too." Funny, but I haven't read anywhere a story showing that the alleged coded threat to Airforce One and the White House was made up to give the president political cover. That is an extraordinary claim and surely deserves some evidence. Dowd is accusing the president of a bald-faced lie about our national security at a uniquely dangerous and important moment. Can we have something a bit more solid than "widely discredited"? Come on, Maureen. Tell us what you know.
FAREWELL, PTOWN: Finally flying back to DC tomorrow. They've just draped the hideous Pilgrim Monument with red, white and blue lights, and the mist is coming in off the bay. I feel enormous sadness leaving this little place, not least because it's far safer than where I'm headed; but also because its calm and eerie beauty has helped keep me and others sane these past couple of weeks. I do want to say, however, that this little town of such diversity and counter-culture has done itself proud. The memorials, the crowds, the gentle hugs on the street, the bonfires and tears, the flags jammed onto boats and trucks - they all showed that beneath our differences, some things endure. A drag show benefit at the Atlantic House raised over $10,000 for the American Red Cross a few days ago. How's that for a symbol? My one deep hope is that through this awful conflict, we may relearn the importance of a citizenship and community that transcends our particular identity. And part of that started here. - 10:19:04 PM
Saturday, September 22, 2001
THE GERMANS GET IT: Perhaps one of the best analyses of Bush's superb speech last Thursday night can be found in the Frankfurter Allgemeiner Zeitung. As the author Frank Schirrmacher observes, the patience and resolution of the president's message was completely not what the terrorists were expecting. They wanted Armageddon, a massive, sudden Clinton-like counter-strike that they could use to foment further disruption. What they got was a deadly serious, internationally conscious, militarily patient call to arms.
HITCH AGAIN: Christopher Hitchens and I disagree about many, many things, but I've always regarded him as a decent man of the Left who can tell the truth as he sees it. He's also a chum. In the current climate he is doing us all a favor by seeing more clearly what needs to be seen by his comrades. Hitch was absolutely right in being one of the first people to recognize the dark evil of the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, right to see the moral stakes in Bosnia, right to expose Bill Clinton for the negligent charlatan he was. So I'm not exactly surprised by his clarity in the Nation. Here's the critical passage for which he deserves warm support: "[T]he bombers of Manhattan represent fascism with an Islamic face, and there's no point in any euphemism about it. What they abominate about "the West," to put it in a phrase, is not what Western liberals don't like and can't defend about their own system, but what they do like about it and must defend: its emancipated women, its scientific inquiry, its separation of religion from the state. Loose talk about chickens coming home to roost is the moral equivalent of the hateful garbage emitted by Falwell and Robertson, and exhibits about the same intellectual content. Indiscriminate murder is not a judgment, even obliquely, on the victims or their way of life, or ours. Any decent and concerned reader of this magazine could have been on one of those planes, or in one of those buildings--yes, even in the Pentagon."
MARK BINGHAM'S LEGACY: I normally post letters in the letters section. But I want to make an exception for the following. It says a great deal to me and, I'm sure to others. It suggests that this war may lead to a better world, as long as we fight tenaciously and intelligently to win: "I am a pretty conservative native Arizonan. I thought I was middle of the road until I went to college, where I found out that, at least compared to most of the "elites" in my generation, I'm right of center. I was a football and rugby player in college as well, which further differentiated me from most of my classmates in that such sports were viewed with suspicion by most of the liberal-types on campus (which would be a sizeable majority). I also hold pretty conservative Christian views on most matters (I guess I'm a conservative Methodist, which is a bit of an oxymoron I'll grant). "The issue I wanted to talk about is gay rights, and gays in the military in particular. As you might imagine, growing up in Arizona in a family with strong military ties (my grandfather dropped out of medical school in WW II to be a medic), I agreed with the majority sentiment in my state that gays had no place in the military, especially if they were open about it. I played football in high school with several guys who ended up as combat vets of the Gulf War, and they were all in agreement that admitting gays would undercut morale and unit cohesion. Since this jived with my preconceptions, it just reinforced my position. I've read your arguments to the contrary (based on the similar problems with integration of the African Americans after WW II), and while I understood the merits of them, I still disagreed. What changed my mind was Mark Bingham. "You see, whether I admitted it consciously or not, one of my problems with gays in the military was not only the unit cohesion issue, but also the sense that gays just couldn't cut it. This perception is based in part on the media portrayal of gays (lots of it by gays themselves) as effeminate, etc., as well as my personal experience with gays my age, most of whom seemed little interested in military service or aggressive pursuits in general, unless it was protesting something (a daily occurence at Pomona). "Well, as we found out last week, Mark Bingham could cut it. He played rugby for Berkeley in the early 90's, when they had the best team in the nation and won the national championship three times in 5 years. I played against them twice during that time period, and we got killed both times. I'm sure I met Mark and had a beer with him after these games (Rugby can be pretty social that way), and I have no doubt that he crushed me once or twice, and vice versa, out on the "pitch." Last week during the aftermath of the attacks, the thought that kept occurring to me was, what would I have done if I had been on one of those planes? I know (without really knowing) that I would've attacked the terrorists and gone down swinging. It seems that had I been on the same plane as Mark, he would've been right there with me, and would have certainly been a formidable ally to have. His reaction (fight the bastards) to this horrible assault was the same as mine, and he probably helped save thousands of lives, and perhaps our Capital or the White House as well. He's a hero, plain and simple. I simply can't say to myself anymore that gays have no place in the military. I thought you should know. - 1:15:31 PM
Friday, September 21, 2001
EDWARD SAID VERSUS RUDY GIULIANI: A sharp reader noticed an interesting difference between Edward Said's piece for the Observer and the same piece as it appeared in Al Ahram, designed for Arab audiences only. In the Observer, Said notes that "Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a normally rebarbative and unpleasantly combative, even retrograde figure, has rapidly attained Churchillian status." In al-Ahram, the sentence appears as: "Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a normally rebarbative and unpleasantly combative, even retrograde figure, known for his virulently Zionist views, has rapidly attained Churchillian status." Hmmm. I wonder who is responsible for this. Said, playing both sides of the aisle, like Arafat? The Observer, worried that Said's swipe at Giuliani might alienate even their readers? Or Al Ahram, eager to denigrate even a man such as Giuliani? None of the possibilities is very encouraging. But then with Said, what else could we expect?
GAYS IN THE MILITARY: Some of you have asked me for a link to the fact that gays can now serve openly in the military - as long as there is a war on. Here's one piece from the San Francisco Chronicle.
Thursday, September 20, 2001
THE SPEECH: Nothing since Reagan has been as good in presidential oratory. The president's speech writers crafted a luminescent call to arms. It was measured without being weak; it was moving without a trace of melodrama; it was stirring without being jingoist. And there was something about the president's demeanor that suggested to me at last that he knows why he got this office. To speak of his growth at this point would be to condescend. He gets it. He means it. He knows what this war is fundamentally about. My cherished moment was when he rightly described this threat - and its twisted ideology - with the other great evils that have threatened freedom in the last century and before. "The unmarked grave of discarded lies" is a phrase that resonates deeply and truly. God bless the man and the country he finally indisuptably leads. - 10:14:08 PM
A NEW LOW FOR THE FAR LEFT: I probably shouldn't write this right now since I am literally shaking with anger. A memorial service for San Francisco's victims of the World Trade Center massacre was essentially hijacked by America-haters. San Francisco supervisor Amos Brown took advantage of the occasion - in front of families of the victims - to deliver an anti-America tirade. Paul Holm, the partner of Mark Bingham, the heroic gay rugby player who may well have played a part in downing one of the planes in Pennsylvania, stormed off the stage in protest. "America, America," Brown ranted. "What did you do -- either intentionally or unintentionally -- in the world order, in Central America, in Africa where bombs are still blasting? America, what did you do in the global warming conference when you did not embrace the smaller nations? America, what did you do two weeks ago when I stood at the the world conference on racism, when you wouldn't show up? Ohhhh -- America, what did you do?" As the leftist crowd cheered, Paul went over to Senator Dianne Feinstein and said to her "This was supposed to be a memorial service." He also went up to Senator Barbara Boxer and Governor Gray Davis and told them he thought Brown's remarks were a disgrace, as they truly were. Then he quit the stage, and will always be forced to remember his husband's memorial service as a place of anger and despair. Brown's sentiments are completely inappropriate in any case. But to express them in front of grieving spouses, people who may well not share Brown's hideous politics, is simply vile. (To her great credit, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, hardly a conservative, disowned and criticized Brown's remarks.) Maybe it's because I know some of Bingham's friends who do not share this perverted politics that I feel so angry right now. I feel as if this hero has been violated after his death. What on earth could possess people to do this at a moment like that?
AMPLIFICATION: The quote from James Dobson cited in a previous item has not been confirmed. It was posted on a gay news service but there is no independent confirmation. I'm trying to nail it down with a second citation, but until I do, I'll remove it. - 8:13:20 PM
APPEASEMENT WATCH: Two missives from the far right that are well worth airing, and that I have so far missed. The first was noted by James Taranto on OpinionJournal.com. It's from a man called Anthony Lobaido, published on a major conservative news site, WorldNet Daily. Here's a choice passage: "In the West, we most often see Islamic people as crazed and irrational. But have we considered that the Muslims might not be irrational when they consider America to be akin to Satan? Let's look at the Satanic Bible. What are the values of Satan? Lust, greed, gluttony, revenge. Hmm. Sounds like American society. Is New York the head of the "Great Satan"? All that is evil in the world can be found in New York: MTV, the United Nations, the U.N. abortion programs, the Council on Foreign Relations, New Age Church of St. John the Divine, Wall Street greed, Madison Avenue manipulation and of course more confirmed AIDS cases than the rest of America combined. Let's remember the filthy sodomite gay parade last summer in New York. Let's remember all the New York politicians falling all over themselves to praise this sick spectacle." Perhaps Josh Marshall will forgive me for pointing out something that is, as he would put it, "slightly off-message." How about "disgusting," Josh, or have you too lost a sense of the difference between "off-message" and "evil"? - 4:25:25 PM
MUST READ: Fascinating and devastating piece in the London Spectator on the Wahhabi Islamic sect that is responsible for the crazed intolerance fostered by bin Laden. It's not Islam, properly speaking; its hostility is directed as much to Islamic traditionalists as the West. It's a purist form of Islam that seems to have particular resonance among a few of the displaced and confused Muslims living in the West. And it is based in and funded by Saudi Arabia. As well as getting a grip on the terrorist networks in Afghanistan and Iraq and elsewhere, the administration should surely have a word with its friends among the Saudi leadership. This sect must be exposed, countered, defunded, and defeated. They are in Stephen Schwartz's words, "Islamofascists." - 3:50:52 PM
IDENTITY POLITICS AND WAR: I was heartened but not surprised that the military has now lifted its ban on openly gay service members for the foreseeable future. When push comes to shove, we need everyone. They are not gay soldiers; they are American soldiers. In the same vein, the extraordinary Father Mychal Judge, the hero to the firefighters among whom he died last week, is not a gay hero. He is a hero. Similarly Mark Bingham, a burly 6' 5" rugby player, who almost certainly participated in the bravery on a plane destined for Washington that ended up in a field in Pennsylvania. He wasn't a gay passenger, he was just a citizen with more courage than most. At this moment, identity shouldn't matter - whether racial, sexual, religious or whatever. But we will perhaps remember at some point that these brave gay men and women were and are a part of this ordeal. They always were, but now, with our more open society, we can see them in the light of day. If and when we thank these gay service members for their service in defending freedom, perhaps we will find it within ourselves not to treat them with contempt when they return, by throwing them out of their service simply because of the gender of whom they love. And perhaps the rugby players and jocks will take a minute to remember Mark Bingham, a national hero who was also gay, and reassess some attitudes toward gay men and women in sports. Perhaps they will also readjust some prejudice that still sees gay men as weak, ineffectual or cowardly. Nothing could be further from the truth. And when the Church celebrates a man like Father Mychal, a gay man who was loved in a surpassingly male and masculine world, perhaps they will also ask themselves to rethink the pain and heartache and cruelty they have inflicted on so many gay men and women, people who have served the Church as deeply as anyone in history. Now is not the time to engage in the politics of identity; but it is a time to keep our eyes and hearts open, and to observe what we are seeing in this war, and ensure that what we remember leads to a fairer, juster society when this conflict ends, if not before.
HITCH RISES TO THE OCCASION: Not everyone on the left has been craven. My magazine, The New Republic, had a splendid editorial last week. And in the Independent, the house-organ of appeasement in Britain, Christopher Hitchens has a thoughtful and moving piece. He grasps what some other liberals haven't: that the murderers of September 11 "are not even "terrorists" so much as nihilists: at war with the very idea of modernity and the related practices of pluralism and toleration." I particularly liked this paragraph: "American society cannot be destroyed even by the most horrifying nihilist attacks. It can outlast or absorb practically anything ... Last week, an entire population withstood an attempted rape and murder of its core and identity. It did so while the President was off the radar screen. But everyone, in an important sense, knew what to do, as well as what not to do. The whole point of a multinational democracy is that it should be able to run on its own power. In other words, if short-term foolishness can be minimized at home and abroad, then people will surely appreciate that, in the words of an old slogan worn out by repetition, the only thing we have to fear is fear itself." Amen, Hitch. Amen. - 2:01:42 AM
Wednesday, September 19, 2001
GET READY FOR YOUR JAW TO FALL OFF: According to the German radio station, Norddeutscher Rundfunk, the composer Karlheinz Stockhausen called the WTC assault "the greatest work of art imaginable for the whole cosmos." According to a tape transcript, he went on: "Minds achieving something in an act that we couldn't even dream of in music, people rehearsing like mad for ten years, preparing fanatically for a concert, and then dying, just imagine what happened there. You have people who are that focused on a performance and then 5,000 people are dispatched into the afterlife, in a single moment. I couldn't do that. By comparison, we composers are nothing. Artists, too, sometimes try to go beyond the limits of what is feasible and conceivable, so that we wake up, so that we open ourselves to another world." When a journalist asked him whether crime and art were interchangeable, Stockhausen remarked, "It's a crime because those involved didn't consent. They didn't come to the 'concert.' That's obvious. And no one announced that they risked losing their lives. What happened in spiritual terms, the leap out of security, out of what is usually taken for granted, out of life, that sometimes happens to a small extent in art, too, otherwise art is nothing." Life is a cabaret, old chum.
MORE PERTINENT ORWELL: "In so far as it hampers the British war effort, British pacifism is on the side of the Nazis, and German pacifism, if it exists, is on the side of Britain and the USSR. Since pacifists have more freedom of action in countries where traces of democracy survive, pacifism can act more effectively against democracy than for it. Objectively the pacifist is pro-Nazi." - from a review of Alex Comfort's book No Such Liberty: "No, Not One," Adelphi, Oct. 1941. The same, I think, can be said for the enclaves of leftist decadence celebrated among this country's universities and elites, in response to the act of war prepetrated by men who hold many of the beliefs the Nazis proudly held. - 5:20:20 PM
ORWELL NOW: "[T]here is a minority of intellectual pacifists whose real though unadmitted motive appears to be hatred of western democracy and admiration of totalitarianism. Pacifist propaganda usually boils down to saying that one side is as bad as the other, but if one looks closely at the writings of younger intellectual pacifists, one finds that they do not by any means express impartial disapproval but are directed almost entirely against Britain and the United States. Moreover they do not as a rule condemn violence as such, but only violence used in defence of western countries." -George Orwell, "Notes on Nationalism," 1945.
- 12:36:45 PM
THE FIFTH COLUMN: I hadn't received Tim Noah's email yesterday when I wrote "RETRACT WHAT?" below. It got lost in cyberspace. He re-sent me it this morning. I retract nothing, since the point I thought he was trying to make is simply untrue. I have absolutely nothing against the countless patriots in the blue zone, as my tribute to New Yorkers and the rest of the essay shows. I was talking about a few intellectuals and their cohorts who clearly do feel ambivalence about America fighting and winning this war. But these broad categories of "blue" and "red zones" can be misleading and unhelpful. I won't use this shorthand again. Ditto the shorthand of "fifth column." I have no reason to believe that even those sharp critics of this war would actually aid and abet the enemy in any more tangible ways than they have done already. And that dissent is part of what we're fighting for. By fifth column, I meant simply their ambivalence about the outcome of a war on which I believe the future of liberty hangs. Again, I retract nothing. But I am sorry that one sentence was not written more clearly to dispel any and all such doubts about its meaning. Writing 6,000 words under deadline in the heat of war can lead to occasional sentences whose meaning is open to misinterpretation. - 12:29:21 PM
ABC NEWS' JOHN MILLER LIKENS BIN LADEN TO TEDDY ROOSEVELT: Just when you thought the nihilism of some Western pundits couldn't get any worse, I came across this amazing "question" by ABC News' John Miller. It's buried in a PBS Frontline interview with Bin Laden from 1998. The salient question is for some reason not placed in bold in the transcript, like all the other questions, as if PBS and ABC are embarrassed by it, but it's clear that the question is Miller's. It follows a long diatribe by bin Laden which, with respect to the Jewish people, can only be described as indistinguishable from Hitler (see "BIN LADEN'S MEIN KAMPF" below). Now here's the coup de grace: "MILLER: In America, we have a figure from history from 1897 named Teddy Roosevelt. He was a wealthy man, who grew up in a privileged situation and who fought on the front lines. He put together his own men - hand chose them - and went to battle. You are like the Middle East version of Teddy Roosevelt." I guess we should be grateful Miller didn't compare this twisted maniac with George Washington.
BIN LADEN'S MEIN KAMPF: One of the amazing things about the far left's embrace of the anti-American ideology of some in the Middle East is their willful blindness about what these fanatics actually believe in. Susan Sontag, for example, is a Jew. Does she honestly believe that America is responsible for more evil than a bunch of Muslim fanatics who would gas her in a second if they could? Could any gay person seriously argue for appeasement of people who would execute them on the spot if they lived under their rule? Could any serious feminist not believe in opposing fanatics who would eviscerate the slightest shred of freedom for women? I just don't get it. Liberals of all people should be the most serious about fighting this scourge. Is their hatred of America that deep? As to bin Laden's vicious anti-Semitism, check the PBS interview out. Here are my choice excerpts from the Goebbels of Afghanistan: "The enmity between us and the Jews goes far back in time and is deep rooted. There is no question that war between the two of us is inevitable ... The leaders in America and in other countries as well have fallen victim to Jewish Zionist blackmail ... Once again, I have to stress the necessity of focusing on the Americans and the Jews for they represent the spearhead with which the members of our religion have been slaughtered. Any effort directed against America and the Jews yields positive and direct results - Allah willing ... We do not have to differentiate between military or civilian. As far as we are concerned, they are all targets, and this is what the fatwah says ... We believe that this administration represents Israel inside America. Take the sensitive ministries such as the Ministry of Exterior and the Ministry of Defense and the CIA, you will find that the Jews have the upper hand in them." This isn't like Nazism. In its pathological, paranoid hatred of the Jews, it is Nazism. And these guys want to appease it again?
RETRACT WHAT?: Tim Noah of Slate asks me to retract the following sentences from my recent piece for the Sunday Times of London: "The middle part of the country--the great red zone that voted for Bush--is clearly ready for war. The decadent left in its enclaves on the coasts is not dead--and may well mount a fifth column." Noah doesn't elucidate why this should be retracted, presumably because he doesn't really know, except that his left-wing friends find it abhorrent. Note what I didn't say. I didn't say that the vast majority of Gore voters aren't patriots or that they don't support this war as much as anyone else. Later in the piece, I pay particular tribute to New Yorkers, mostly Gore voters, who have shown the world their humanity and courage this past week. The sentence Noah slyly quotes continues: "But by striking at the heart of New York City, the terrorists ensured that at least one deep segment of the country ill-disposed toward a new president is now the most passionate in his defense. Anyone who has ever tried to get one over on a New Yorker knows what I mean. The demons who started this have no idea about the kind of people they have taken on." I'm sorry but it's completely clear I am not damning an entire section of the country because of the way they voted. Noah is deliberately distorting my argument. Elsewhere I say, "[Giuliani's] combination of chutzpah, practicality and deep, deep compassion is the essence of New York City. His troops - the firefighters and cops and medics and volunteers of the city - would make the Londoners of 1940 proud. If New York alone were a nation - and it has almost twice the population of Israel - then this war would already be well under way, and its outcome in no doubt." So much for damning the blue zone. What I was clearly saying is that some decadent leftists in "enclaves" - not regions - on the coasts are indeed more concerned with what they see as the evil of American power than the evil of terrorism, that their first response was to blame America, and that their second response was to disavow any serious military action. If this was their attitude in the days after 5,000 civilians were killed, what will they say and do when we have to take real risks and incur more civilian casualties weeks and months from now? These people have already openly said they do not support such a war, and will oppose it. Read Sontag and Chomsky and Moore and Alterman and on and on, and you'll see that I'm not exaggerating. Go to any campus and you'll find many, many academics saying the same thing. If anything, I'm minimizing their open hatred of the United States. So why should I retract? Noah's quote is a deliberate smear to obscure my larger point. One of my heroes is George Orwell. I've been reading his war journalism these past couple of days as solace. And one thing he never stinted on was calling the purist, defeatist left on their lack of moral seriousness, and their inability to see what any decent person can see at a time like this. I'm no Orwell, but I can try and tell the truth as I see it. And part of that truth is that some are acting as if they would rather America lose this war than win it. So sue me for saying so. - 1:59:16 AM
Tuesday, September 18, 2001
CORRECTION: Pat Robertson has now disowned his remarks of last week when he "totally concurred" with Falwell's comments that God was behind these attacks. - 4:10:20 PM
APPEASEMENT WATCH: A new low in hatred for America written by a woman called Charlotte Raven in the Guardian. I cite it not because it represents the people of Britain. Raven and her leftist, nihilist cohorts in London's chattering classes, have no real connection to the people of Britain. But they are sustained by the same decadent beliefs that sustain many of our own chattering elites. For Raven, America in these last few days has been what America has always been: "deeply dumb." For her, "Like so many of the ideas America is going to war to defend, free speech is a nice thought that hasn't panned out in practice." For her, delight at this horror is restricted to "three or four Palestinians." There is no war; and no real enemy. Bin Laden's network is just a handful of loons, and their cause, if not their method, is just: "If anti-Americanism has been seized, temporarily, by forces that have done dreadful things in its name, there is no reason for its adherents to retreat from its basic precepts. America is the same country it was before September 11. If you didn't like it then, there's no reason why you should have to pretend to now." That this was written in the wake of this hideous event shows how blind some people's hatred can be. I reprint it not because it is worth responding to. It is beneath response. But we might as well be aware of the enemy within the West itself - a paralyzing, pseudo-clever, morally nihilist fifth column that will surely ramp up its hatred in the days and months ahead.
BUSH'S FINEST HOUR: Tired of the predictable gripes about our president almost as soon as this crisis started - as if no new evidence were required to damn him? Tired of Rick Berke and Mary McGrory and Le Monde and Michael Moore? Dick Morris gets it right this morning. The comparison with Clinton is particularly sharp.
MOORE AND FALWELL BACKTRACK: I'm glad to see that Jerry Falwell has apologized for his remarks. I notice that Pat Robertson has not. I am appalled that Falwell was invited to the National Cathedral. It will be a mark of president Bush's commitment to this country that neither Falwell nor Robertson are ever invited to a formal or informal White House function again. They are evil. They even sunk below Farrakhan in their response to this event, and they deserve to be consigned to the same small box of derision that Farrakhan languishes in among decent people. But at least Falwell has responded to the criticism. Not so Michael Moore, the man who wrote the following words on his website on September 11: "Many Families have been devastated tonight. This is just not right. They did not deserve to die. If someone did this to get back at Bush, then they did so by killing thousands of people who DID NOT VOTE for him! Boston, New York, DC and the planes' destination of California - these where places that voted AGAINST Bush!" It appears he has now deleted that message from his site, www.michaelmoore.com. An apology is beyond him. He's now in Sontag territory.
"The dove descending breaks the air With flame of incandescent terror Of which the tongues declare The one discharge from sin and error Our only hope, or else despair Lies in the choice of pyre or pyre - To be redeemed from fire by fire."
- Little Gidding, T.S. Eliot, composed in 1941 and published in 1943.
APPEASEMENT WATCH: "Where is the acknowledgment that this was not a "cowardly" attack on "civilization" or "liberty" or "humanity" or "the free world" but an attack on the world's self-proclaimed superpower, undertaken as a consequence of specific American alliances and actions? How many citizens are aware of the ongoing American bombing of Iraq? And if the word "cowardly" is to be used, it might be more aptly applied to those who kill from beyond the range of retaliation, high in the sky, than to those willing to die themselves in order to kill others. In the matter of courage (a morally neutral virtue): whatever may be said of the perpetrators of Tuesday's slaughter, they were not cowards." - Susan Sontag, The New Yorker. Where does one begin with this pretentious buffoon? My favorite bit of claptrap is that weird little parenthesis: "courage (a morally neutral virtue)". Says who? Real courage - not rashness or fanaticism - is anything but morally neutral. It is bravery in pursuit of what is good and noble. Read your Aristotle lately, Susan? Sontag clearly believes that the demons who just killed over 5,000 innocent civilians are more courageous than those American pilots who police northern Iraq in order to prevent another gas-attack by Saddam on his own population. She's always been pretentious. Now she's revealed herself as contemptible.
LETTERS: You respond to the war. Looking for God; a new mood in the military; bio-chemical data; why Wright is right; etc.
THE LIMITS OF INTELLIGENCE: Fellow me-ziner Mike Antonucci makes an interesting point about too easily talking about the failure of our intelligence. "Of course it was an intelligence failure," Antonucci writes. "But we need to be very specific about what part of the system failed. Many experts have blamed this on an overdependence on electronic intelligence gathering at the expense of human intelligence gathering. While these two methods do seem to be out of balance, it is far from certain that spies would have prevented the attacks. Case in point: Two days before the World Trade Center crumbled, Ahmed Shah Massoud, the famous leader of the mujahidin resistance during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, was assassinated. Massoud was the primary military leader of the Northern Alliance, the ongoing rebel opposition to the Taliban, the fundamentalist rulers of Afghanistan. It is fair to assume that Massoud had dozens, if not hundreds, of spies in Kabul to pass critical information to him and his forces. He knew his enemies' mind, having fought with them for 10 years. He spoke the same language, knew their customs, and had the advantage of close proximity to his sources of information. How was he killed? Two men, posing as television journalists from Morocco and Tunisia, detonated a bomb hidden in a camera. Perhaps bin Laden himself had his agents perform this service for his Taliban benefactors." Makes sense to me - and is both reassuring and chilling at the same time.
TOMBSTONES REVISITED: "...The objective historian realizes that the twentieth century is in transition to a remarkable new technology and a formidable new environment before we have learned how to handle the old ones. Who's afraid of the big, bad buildings? Everyone, because there are so many things about gigantism that we just don't know. The gamble of triumph or tragedy at this scale-and ultimately it is a gamble--demands an extraordinary payoff. The Trade Center towers could be the start of a new skyscraper age or the biggest tombstones in the world." - Ada Louise Huxtable, "World Trade Center: Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Buildings?" New York Times, May 29, 1966
WHOSE CENSORSHIP?: Who is protesting grotesque Palestinian censorship of Western photographers and journalists? Er, no-one but Jonah Goldberg. The journalists' crime? Reporting on widespread Palestinian support for killing Jews and Americans. But shhhh. Don't tell Susan Sontag. She doesn't want to know.
THE ANGEL IN THE WHIRLWIND: Historians will surely go back to George W. Bush's Inaugural Address when they deal with his actions as a war president. A reader pointed out the prophetic nature of his remarks - unwitting though they may have been: "Americans are generous and strong and decent, not because we believe in ourselves, but because we hold beliefs beyond ourselves. When this spirit of citizenship is missing, no government program can replace it. When this spirit is present, no wrong can stand against it. After the Declaration of Independence was signed, Virginia statesman John Page wrote to Thomas Jefferson: 'We know the race is not to the swift nor the battle to the strong. Do you not think an angel rides in the whirlwind and directs this storm?' Much time has passed since Jefferson arrived for his inauguration. The years and changes accumulate. But the themes of this day he would know: our nation's grand story of courage and its simple dream of dignity. We are not this story's author, who fills time and eternity with his purpose. Yet his purpose is achieved in our duty, and our duty is fulfilled in service to one another. Never tiring, never yielding, never finishing, we renew that purpose today, to make our country more just and generous, to affirm the dignity of our lives and every life."
- 3:28:40 PM
MUST-READ: Here's the Hart-Rudman Report on our response to threats from terrorism. We ignored it once. We cannot ignore it any more. - 3:09:00 PM
APPEASEMENT WATCH: The solution to this conflict, Gary Kamiya of Salon suggests, is to hold Israel's aid hostage until they agree to let the people who celebrated this atrocity march into Jerusalem to conduct their Jihad from a closer vantage point. How anyone can even take a passing look at the developments since the Oslo Accord and blame Israel for unwillingness to take a risk for peace is beyond me. Kamiya's response to the invasion of Czechoslovakia would be to hand Hitler a nice chunk of Poland. After all, isn't it the underlying grievances of the German people that need addressing first? They feel alienated and betrayed. We need to pressure its neighbors to make more concessions. Then the German people and their radical leaders will be satisfied. The sheer moral relativism of this article - and its complete ignorance of history - is so eloquent. After a naked act of war by a sub-culture that makes no bones about its unremitting hatred of anything Jewish or American, Salon encourages us all to Blame Israel First. The magazine even equates American suffering with Palestinian suffering in its photo-images. This isn't just moral equivalence. It's moral abdication. - 2:55:12 PM
A PERFECT MORNING: Two new pieces on the war's beginning appear opposite.
CIVIL DEFENSE: I guess official Washington isn't talking about this so as to prevent panic. But one thing seems pretty obvious to me. Whatever military initiative we now mount, there will surely be a response. If the people behind this attack were smart enough to have come up with this first strike, it's surely possible that they will have anticipated a response and have at least a game-plan after that for counter-attack. Last Tuesday was a warning: that they can do anything. That "anything" could surely include a devastating nuclear, chemical or biological attack on civilian centers in this country. So shouldn't we take precautions as a matter of extreme urgency? We need to dust down air-shelters and build many, many new ones. We need gas-masks widely distributed. We need security at reservoirs and any place where chemical or biological agents could be swiftly disseminated. We need mass inoculations against any number of toxins or viruses. I'm not a security expert but there must be a list of civil defense procedures applicable to such a situation. It should surely be in place before our retaliation begins. Why is this not being done?
GRACIOUS OLD LADY: Good for the New York Times. Their lead editorial today acknowledges that this president has grown and will continue to grow during this war. The president should also notice: he's good informally among ordinary people. Fewer stilted speeches behind a desk with a teleprompter; more impromptu hugs and chats and off-the cuff discussion, please.
APPEASEMENT WATCH I: I've resisted taking on the terrorist fellow-travelers too aggressively so far. It seemed inappropriate. Now it isn't. Take a look at Edward Said's tirade in the current Observer. He mocks the notion that this is a battle between freedom and terrorism: "Political rhetoric in the US has overridden these things by flinging about words like 'terrorism' and 'freedom' whereas, of course, such large abstractions have mostly hidden sordid material interests, the influence of the oil, defence and Zionist lobbies now consolidating their hold on the entire Middle East, and an age-old religious hostility to (and ignorance of) 'Islam' that takes new forms every day." There you have it: the classic Marxist cant about freedom merely being an instrument for sordid materialism. With the WTC perpetrators and their backers, Said has long excused violence, even symbolically joining in by throwing rocks at Israel from the border. But with the Western democracies, he cautions restraint, education, and passivity in the face of barbarism. You don't need to read this piece too closely to see which forces he wants to triumph. And he exploits the freedom his friends want to destroy in order to make his case.
APPEASEMENT WATCH II: Another breath-taking column in the British left-wing press, this time from veteran bigot, Richard Ingrams. Who do you think was responsible for this war? Israel of course! "Noticeable was the reluctance throughout the media to contemplate the Israeli factor - the undeniable and central fact behind the disaster," Ingrams writes, "that Israel is now and has been for some time an American colony, sustained by billions of American dollars and armed with American missiles, helicopters and tanks." And his point? He doesn't need to spell it out. We should be grateful, I suppose, that those who seek the extinction of the Jewish state still feel somewhat hesitant to say so outright. But like all anti-Semites, Ingrams thinks he and the West are somehow victims of the Jewish people. "Who Will Dare Damn Israel?" is his headline. Damn? After an event like last week, Ingrams wants to "damn" a country that has long been the victim of such horror. Dare? Oh, the bravery of Ingrams' prejudice! And then further in the piece, he casts the usual ugly slur of dual loyalty on Lord Lever, a British citizen of impeccable patriotism: "Mr. Blair's adviser on the Middle East is an unelected, unknown Jewish businessman, Lord Levy, now installed in the Foreign Office; the fact that this same Lord Levy is the chief fundraiser for the Labour Party; unmentioned also would be the close business links with Israel of two of our most powerful press magnates, Rupert Murdoch and the newly ennobled owner of the Telegraph newspapers, Lord Conrad Black." One phrase stands out: "unelected, unknown Jewish businessman." These are the code words of the worst kind of anti-Semitism, and it says much about the decadence of the British left that it allows such claptrap to flourish in its midst. This is the kind of British upper-class anti-Semitism that tried to stop Churchill and will now try to stop Blair from doing his duty. He mustn't listen. And it looks like he won't.
MORAL EQUIVALENCE AGAIN: And of course, Ingrams' statement that no-one has raised Israel so far is untrue. Everyone is acutely aware of the role Israel plays in this crisis. It's just that no-one but Ingrams would have thought to blame the victim at a moment like this. Except, of course, Arab anti-Semites. Like the Nazis, the fundamentalist bigots of perverted Islam have relentlessly shored up their risible regimes by scape-goating the Jews. They look at Israel and see a country of dynamism and success, of freedom and faith, a society that has created more in fifty years than any of these other satrapies have managed combined. While Israel has rebuilt a civilization, the Taliban have been busy destroying one. We know that the murderers are a tiny minority, and that the overwhelming majority of Arabs have not engaged in such atrocities. But we also know that fundamentalist anti-semitism has widespread support in that part of the world, and it's time to stop making excuses for it. The Arab hatred of the Jews, and their deranged, envious paranoia about them, is there for all to see. It is as clear as the words in Mein Kampf. It is evil and wrong, and it is not balanced by anything comparable on the other side or justified by anything the West has done. Yes, Israel is not perfect. Yes, it has been responsible for many violations of civilized norms in defending itself from terror. But there is no moral equivalence between a tiny democracy fighting for its existence while allowing countless Israeli Arabs citizenship and prosperity in its midst - and the Arab dictatorships in Syria and Libya and Iraq. We will be subtly and constantly assaulted by the slow drip of moral equivalence in the days and months ahead. Time to start resisting now. - 1:35:37 AM
Sunday, September 16, 2001
THE FIRST ACT IN THE FIRST WAR IN WHICH AMERICA ITSELF IS AT STAKE: Opposite are my two contributions to thinking about this epochal event. One is written for Americans; the other for Britons. Last night, I attended a bonfire on the farthest beach at the end of Cape Cod, within sight of where the pilgrims first landed. It was for a friend - a proud, brash, funny, gay Englishman who had become an American - and who was killed by the demons who took over the airplane he was on last Tuesday. On the beach, we attached two flags: the Star Spangled Banner and the Union Jack. In the dusk, they enfolded each other, their red, white and blue fusing in the red glare of the sunset. Yes, we must bring the rest of the world together. But it is no accident that the haters of the Middle East hate these two countries the most. As we have before, we must become almost one nation together again. The English speaking peoples who now span every race and color and creed are the indispensable force for the survival of freedom. I make no apology for thinking of Churchill and Roosevelt now. The torch they raised is now passed to us. What a privilege. What an opportunity - especially for my generation and those younger. - 1:27:49 PM
Saturday, September 15, 2001
THE ELITES AND THE PEOPLE: As he has before, president Bush is slowly growing into this crisis. His words at National Cathedral yesterday were his best yet. His radio speech today even better. Thank God someone in this administration knows what Churchill knew: words matter. They matter as much as any military might. I believe in my heart that our president will rise to this occasion - and that he is far, far more in touch with most Americans than many of the chattering classes. I read last week with growing dismay that some of my fellow journalists were actually making partisan points about this, glibly assessing president Bush's performances, spinning and pirouetting as if the world were the same. Rick Berke's performance on PBS's Washington Week on Thursday told me all I need to know about this mindset. Mickey Kaus's staggering comment that this story "will be off the evening news by Thanksgiving" reveals that one element of the chattering class still hasn't begun to wrap its mind about what has really happened. These failures are not a result of what Mickey calls a faster news cycle among elites. They're a function of the slower news cycle of elites. These journalists are simply behind the news, behind the curve, immune to what the people of this country already know in their hearts. But these are errors simply of judgment and they will pass. These commentators are decent people, just completely blindsided by events, and no-one should blame them. That doesn't apply to the comments from the pathological right (Falwell and Robertson et al.) and the vile Left (Michael Moore, Eric Alterman), comments that reveal what many of us have suspected for years: that these elements in our culture are simply depraved. We shouldn't harbor any illusions about these people and their ilk, and we need not make distinctions between right and left. Crises show you what people are really about. Falwell and Robertson and Moore and others harbor a hatred for many people of this great country and at some level blame America for this atrocity. That they could do so this week is beyond belief. We have a war on now and I'm not going to pursue these people in this space for their divisive, cowardly remarks. To start attacking other Americans now would be to descend to their level. We have far more important things to think about and to do. But let us remember what this moment showed us about these people. And if this war ends, let us ensure that they are cast to the margins of our culture and our society, and never treated with respect again. - 2:19:41 PM
Friday, September 14, 2001
SEPTEMBER 15, 2001: I haven't written today because this is surely a time for prayer not argument. But let me share a report from a small gathering in a small town on the edge of America. Just before 7pm tonight, as people made their way to the center of town, the rain cleared and an enormous rainbow stretched across the bay. People came out of houses and stores and looked upward. And then as we gathered around Provincetown's monument, and friends arrived from New York, their eyes and faces seared with fear, a welling low sound came from the crowd. With no instruction, we started singing the Star Spangled Banner. Candles were lit and placed around the base of the iron plaque at the base of the monument. And then I realized for the first time the symbolism of where we were. This was the Pilgrim Monument. This is where it all began, where the first pilgrims arrived before moving on to Plymouth. This deeply diverse place - with its fishermen and store-owners, contractors and poets, gays and lesbians and families and children - stood undemonstratively together in grief and resolve. We shall overcome, we sang, the lyrics of the civil rights movement blending with the stirring patriotism of the centuries before in a strangely integrating chorus. Yes, I thought to myself. We shall overcome.
COMING SOON: My two recent essays for the Times of London and the New York Times Magazine will be posted here simultaneously with their appearance on the web pages of those publications. - 7:54:34 PM
SEPTEMBER 14, 2001:
In Flanders fields the poppies blow Between the crosses, row on row That mark our place; and in the sky The larks, still bravely singing, fly Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, Loved and were loved, and now we lie In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe: To you from failing hands we throw The torch; be yours to hold it high. If ye break faith with us who die We shall not sleep, though poppies grow In Flanders fields.
- John McCrae
REBUILD IT: Someone sent me this small quote from a book on architecture. It's from Minoru Yamasaki, the designer of the World Trade Center. Yamasaki wrote: "The World Trade Center should, because of its importance, become a living representation of man's belief in humanity, his need for individual dignity, his belief in the co-operation of men, and through this co-operation his ability to find greatness." No wonder these demons destroyed it. I want Bush tomorrow to say that we will rebuild it - taller, bigger, stronger. And that the flag that was placed by firefighters in the rubble should fly one day on its roof.
FALWELL GOES BEYOND THE PALE: So far relatively few have used this terrible tragedy for political points. Here is what Jerry Falwell said on the 700 Club: "I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way - all of them who have tried to secularize America - I point the finger in their face and say, 'You helped this happen.'" Pat Robertson concurred: "Well, I totally concur, and the problem is we have adopted their agenda at the highest levels of our government." I cannot express how personally wounded I and so many others are by his attempt to associate many Americans - some of whom were victims of this evil and some of whom were heroes - with the demons who carried it out. It is unspeakably wrong and inappropriate. We are at war. We must stand together or we will fail.
APOLOGIES: I'm sorry for the thin dish today. I have just finished two essays for the New York Times magazine and the Sunday Times of London on this event and its meaning. I've written over 6000 words in one day and I'm spent. Worse, it was impossible to think and write honestly about this without seeing the screen blur with the tears in my eyes. In my life as a writer, I've never come across an event that I could not somehow professionally analyze and dissect with some enthusiasm and zest. But this was just something I deeply didn't want to write. I just wanted the event to be undone. I realize more than ever that, seventeen years after coming to this amazing place, I am an American now. When they placed the flag on the rubble, I wept as I have rarely wept before. And then when I saw the Queen's Guards at Buckingham palace play the Star Spangled Banner, it occurred to me how deeply appropriate this was. Isn't everyone on the side of civilization an honorary American now? It is hard to realize after this unspeakable act that we are not alone. There is hatred for America and it is loud and powerful. But beneath that, around the world, there is also a quiet reservoir of love and gratitude that foreign national pride will not always allow full expression. We must remember that. And we must not let them down. They are watching now to see what we do and what kind of people we are. We must show them as we have never shown them before that a deep humanity and an unremitting rage are not incompatible. We must show them what we are made of - and keep their hope alive. - 1:55:25 AM
Thursday, September 13, 2001
SEPTEMBER 13 2001:
"There is sobbing of the strong, And a pall upon the land; But the People in their weeping Bare the iron hand; Beware the People weeping When they bare the iron hand."
- Herman Melville, "The Martyr," upon the death of Abraham Lincoln.
Wednesday, September 12, 2001
APPEASEMENT LIVES: A classic piece of appeasement appeared today under the guise of restraint and reason. My former colleague and friend Robert Wright argues in Slate against unilateral American action against the forces and states that have just declared war upon the United States. "[K]illing Islamic fundamentalist terrorists (which the perpetrators almost certainly were) can be not just ineffective, but counterproductive." This is the familiar argument of those who believe that these acts of fanaticism cannot be avenged without spawning more fanaticism. Kill one suicide bomber and you create four more. Wright's argument is that our new enemies are "simply not susceptible to normal deterrence." If Wright means by this that the indoctrinated handful of young fanatics who will always remain a threat cannot be deterred, he may be right. That is why these people must be hunted down and assassinated, and why we must kill any and all who surround or abet them. But the states and regimes that survive by fostering this evil surely can be deterred - and not by polite threats or warnings. In fact, the absence of a serious deadly response will only convince them to continue to foster the evil in their midst, and it will only get worse. Wright entertains the fallacy that because we can never eliminate all threats, we cannot eliminate any. His argument is simply defeatism. In 1940, many similarly well-intentioned urged Chamberlain to sue for peace, as whole swathes of the British establishment wanted, and as narrow British self-interest might even have required. Look what the consequences of war were back in 1940: the destruction of almost every major city in Britain. But Churchill was right to fight - even though it meant the deaths of hundreds of thousands of British soldiers and civilians. And he was right to say that there would be no surrender even if the entire city of London were reduced to rubble. A shocking statement that, isn't it? But it reflects an iron will that we must now summon for ourselves.
THIS ISN'T TERRORISM, IT'S WAR: Besides, this enemy is not simply a band of thugs, but several regimes that aid and abet these people and have celebrated this atrocity. These regimes have declared war on the United States, and it is time we repay the favor. The precedent is not the Sudan under Clinton or even Libya under Reagan. Under Clinton, these regimes were encouraged. Under Reagan, they were scared, but, under Reagan, they had not yet launched this kind of war. Now they have - even daring to target one of the citadels of our democracy: the White House. This is the most grievous declaration of war against America in history. What Wright hasn't absorbed, I think, is that we are no longer fighting terrorism. We are at war. And we are not at war with any old regime or even a handful of terrorists. We are at war with an evil that will only grow unless it is opposed with all the might at our command. We must wage that war with a ferocity that doesn't merely scare these monsters but terrifies them. Merely murdering bin Laden is a laughable response. If this new war can be waged with partners - specifically Russia, NATO, China - so much the better. But if not, the United States must act alone - and as soon as we can be assured of complete success. There are times when it is not inappropriate or even immoral to use overwhelming power merely to terrify and avenge. Read your Machiavelli. We must shock them more than they have shocked us. We must do so with a force not yet seen in human history. Then we can begin to build a future of greater deterrence. I repeat: we are not responding to terrorism any more. We are at war. And war requires no restraint, simply massive and unanswerable force until the enemy is not simply defeated but unconditionally destroyed. To hesitate for fear of reprisal is to have capitulated before we have even begun. I don't believe Americans want to capitulate to anyone. The only question is whether we will get the leadership now to deal with this or whether we will have to endure even worse atrocities before a real leader emerges. - 8:07:15 PM
SEPTEMBER 11, 2001:
I sit in one of the dives On Fifty-second Street Uncertain and afraid As the clever hopes expire Of a low dishonest decade; Waves of anger and fear Circulate over the bright And darkened lands of the earth, Obsessing our private lives; The unmentionable odour of death Offends the September night
- W. H. Auden, September 1, 1939.
THE IRAQI POSSIBILITY: Check out this 1995/1996 Public Interest essay on the first World Trade Center bombing. Some of it sends chills down your spine with its prescience. But its most important suggestion is that Iraq might have been behind the bombing. Ditto today. Saddam is not only capable but willing - especially against a nemesis like the son of the first George Bush. More evidence that Colin Powell's tragic abandonment of the war against Saddam might well be one of the biggest blunders in recent history. If this coordinated massacre needed real state-sponsored support, which nation would you pick as the prime suspect?
THE MOST OBSCENE COMMENT YET: Ignoring Peter Jennings' constant reiteration of the reasons for Muslim and Arab hatred for the West, the following passage from today's Slate is the first time I've actually felt revulsion at anyone's reaction to the horror of September 11. Here is John Lahr's attempt to insinuate that the United States was responsible: "We still don't really know who killed Kennedy or Martin Luther King; it took us a long time to find out the hidden agenda to the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Gulf of Tonkin "incident," which tipped us into Vietnam and a war we should never have fought. Perhaps it's eerie serendipity, perhaps it's my paranoia, but an acid thought keeps plaguing me. Isn't it odd that on the day--the DAY--that the Democrats launched their most blistering attack on "the absolute lunacy" of Bush's unproven missile-defense system, which "threatens to pull the trigger on the arms race," what Sen. Biden calls today in the Guardian, his "theological" belief in "rogue nations," that the rogue nation should suddenly become such a terrifying reality. The fact that I could even think such a thought says more to me about the bankruptcy and moral exhaustion of our leaders even in the face of a disaster where any action, in the current nightmare, will seem like heroism. But I do smell destabilizing violence in the wings. In fear, the nation, to my mind, has always proved mean-spirited and violent."
BIDEN'S BAD TIMING: "Senator Biden's remarks are expected to mark the start of a concerted campaign, reflecting the Democrats' belief that Mr Bush is politically vulnerable on foreign and defence policy, which has been characterised by a unilateralist approach, and a belief (ridiculed by Mr Biden as "theological") in building a missile defence system against possible attacks from "rogue states"." - The Guardian, September 11. Rogue states a threat? Naaahhh. - 1:29:47 AM
Tuesday, September 11, 2001
TODAY: I have been unable to think of anything substantive to write today. It is almost as if the usual conventions of journalism and analysis should somehow remain mute in the face of such an event. How can one analyze what one hasn't even begun to absorb? Numbness is part of the intent of these demons, I suppose. So here are some tentative reflections. It feels - finally - as if a new era has begun. The strange interlude of 1989 - 2001, with its decadent post-Cold War extravaganzas from Lewinsky to Condit to the e-boom, is now suddenly washed away. We are reminded that history obviously hasn't ended; that freedom is never secure; that previous generations aren't the only ones to be called to defend the rare way of life that this country and a handful of others have achieved for a small fraction of world history. The boom is done with. Peace is over. The new war against the frenzied forces of what Nietzsche called ressentiment is just beginning. The one silver lining of this is that we may perhaps be shaken out of our self-indulgent preoccupations and be reminded of what really matters: our freedom, our security, our integrity as a democratic society. This means we must be vigilant not to let our civil liberties collapse under the understandable desire for action. To surrender to that temptation is part of what these killers want. And the other small sliver of consolation is that the constant American temptation to withdraw from the world, entertained these past few years by many, will perhaps now be stifled. We cannot withdraw; we cannot ignore. We live in a world where technology and hatred accelerate in ever-faster cycles, and in which isolation is not an option. Evil is still here. It begets evil. When you look at the delighted faces of Palestinians cheering in the streets, we have to realize that there are cultures on this planet of such depravity that understanding them is never fully possible. And empathy for them at such a moment is obscene. But we can observe and remember. There is always a tension between civilization and barbarism, and the barbarians are now here. The task in front of us to somehow stay civilized while not shrinking from the face of extinguishing - by sheer force if necessary - the forces that would eclipse us. - 9:46:06 PM
EVIL: The forces of barbarism have clearly struck an extraordinary blow against freedom this morning. This is not about the United States alone. It is about the survival of free societies in an open, interconnected world where forces deeply hostile to freedom can wage a new kind of war against our humanity and our success. Words fail me. But my hope is that this will awaken the sleeping tiger. When our shock recedes, our rage must be steady and resolute and unforgiving. The response must be disproportionate to the crime and must hold those states and governments that have tolerated this evil accountable. This is the single most devastating act of war since Nagasaki. It is the first time that an enemy force has invaded the precincts of the American capital since the early nineteenth century. It is more dangerous than Pearl Harbor. And it is a reminder that the forces of resentment and evil - so prominent only recently in the Durban conference - can no longer be appeased. They must be destroyed - systematically, durably, irrevocably. Perhaps now we will summon the will to do it. - 3:47:37 PM
Monday, September 10, 2001
THE LEFT VERSUS SCIENCE: With the exception of stem cell research, the international Left has become, to all intents and purposes, one of the strongest forces restraining scientific research in the world. The attacks on pharmaceutical companies have already meant a slowing of research on important diseases. The hostility to genetically modified food will only hamper efforts to advance the day when no-one in the world has to endure hunger. The opposition to nuclear power will only raise the cost of energy in the long run and ensure that the more environmentally damaging fossil fuels will remain our major energy source for decades. Now comes news from the Independent in London that an important tool for understanding human genetic diversity has been scrapped after a political campaign against it. After ten years of effort, the Human Genome Diversity Project is now all but history. It was an attempt to understand genetic variations between different ethnicities in order to fashion better tools for curing disease, and enhancing our understanding of human pre-history. Of course, the Left loathes the possibility that actual genetic differences exist between racial groups, despite evidence that subtle differences do in fact exist. Representatives of indigenous peoples - groups that may soon disappear as separate genetic entities because of urbanization, inter-marriage and migration - complained that the data might be used for - shock, horror - commercial purposes. Much of the Western scientific establishment, terrified of any politically incorrect science, also helped stifle the project. The result might be an understanding of the human genome that is useless in addressing specific diseases in different populations. The notion that this research in itself is racist reminds me of the know-nothing attitude of so many liberals to the data of "The Bell Curve." We don't want to know, was the liberal refrain. I like the quote from one of the scientists on the project addressing this issue: ""The blatant lies that went on," Professor Kevin Kidd of Yale University, said. "I was insulted to my face. The project was called unethical when it was an attempt to put the research on an ethical basis. To study differences is not racist. Racists don't need to study differences, they are doing just fine as they are." Amen, but try telling that to the Luddite fundamentalists on the left.
THE ANIMAL HOLOCAUST CONTINUES: After the Blair government's alternately horrifying and incompetent attempt to deal with foot and mouth disease this spring comes new horror. The inhumane and hideous slaughter of hundreds of thousands of cattle and sheep for purely economic reasons didn't rescue the British market and didn't immediately wipe out foot and mouth disease. Now, consumers have gone off beef altogether, prices for cattle have collapsed and the cost of transporting calves to France where they can still be sold for veal has out-stripped the value of the calves. So now they're killing the calves at birth - all 200,000 of them - and burying them in mass graves. I thought it couldn't get any worse than last spring's massacre. But it has. "Ethically, it stinks," is how one farmer put it to the Daily Telegraph. To high heaven.
MR BLANK: My take on Colin Powell's non-influence in the Bush administration: woohoo. Check out my new piece opposite. - 11:22:14 PM
ADVANTAGE BUSH: Mickey Kaus makes a sensible if boring point that the current budget debate is being over-played. Neither Bush's predictions nor even the direst prognostications from outside see the future fiscal situation heading back to the kind of deficits of the 1980s and early 1990s. The most likely scenario is one in which the government is largely starved of much money for the next decade except to finance social security and Medicare (without much of a senior drug benefit). Mickey thinks this is good for Democrats because they can always rescind some of the tax cuts in future years to pay for their spending plans. It's all going according to plan, Mickey reassures his Democratic readers. Really? Already, there's mounting pressure not to raise taxes any further but to reduce them still more. Republicans are pushing for a capital gains tax reduction; Democrats want to see a reduction in the payroll tax. I'd pick the Democratic option myself, since I'd like to see a more even-handed tax cut than the one proposed by Bush. But whoever wins, doesn't this mean a deep change in the debate? A year ago, we faced a Congress spending double the rate of inflation and a candidate Al Gore wanting only modest tax breaks for middle-class heterosexual families and a vast expansion of government spending. Today, we have a big tax cut, neutered spending plans, and perhaps a bigger tax cut coming soon. Yes, you can make the semantic point that Bush wants spending increases as well. But Bush doesn't need to deliver on spending the way the Democrats do. And I'm still not convinced that any tax hikes in the near future - especially in sluggish economic times - can be anything but political poison. What Bush has done is to squash a small and rare window in fiscal history where a real expansion of government for more middle class entitlements was imaginable. Those of us who will paying taxes for decades to come will eventually be grateful we closed that window swiftly. And Bush's sense of priorities in this respect seems retroactively exactly right.
EDWARDS WATCH: Interesting snippet from the somewhat unread Saturday edition of the New York Post, highlighted by one of my readers among Edwards fans. He's clearly someone to watch closely. If Clinton is behind him, all the more so: "AL Gore didn't want Bill Clinton's help in last year's presidential race, but other presidential wannabes - gearing up for the 2004 election - do. Citing Clinton's phenomenal way of pulling in the cash, spies in D.C. say North Carolina Sen. John Edwards has been haranguing him for help with a presidential fund drive. "Edwards calls Clinton [in Harlem] at least once a week," our source added. So far, Edwards' tenacity has paid off: Clinton has been raving about Edwards in private to some of his biggest fundraisers. "These are private conversations," said Julia Payne, Clinton's rep."
ROLLING OR STONED?: Diverting piece in the Village Voice echoing some of my beliefs about the relative harmlessness of Ecstasy compared to many other legal, prescription drugs. It seems there is much scientific debate about how harmful ecstasy is over the long term and how the costs weigh against benefits in only occasional use. But finding some sane resolution to this debate - which would require studying Ecstasy's beneficial and therapeutic effects as well as its dangers - cannot be fully conducted until the current loopy official prohibition of the drug is lifted. So we'll never know, and the prohibitionist mentality, with all its baleful effects on our criminal justice system, continues. And no leader in either party is prepared to open up this debate.
LETTERS: My double-standard with Garry Trudeau and Roger Ebert; gay cookouts, etc.
WHAT A DRAG: I dropped by the kind of drag show in Provincetown last Friday night I would never usually attend: a drag show for straight people. It was called "Guys As Dolls," and featured Barbra and Marilyn look-a-likes and brought lots of appreciative oohs and aahs from the largely hetero crowd. The gay guys in audience, I'd say, found it tedious (although one of the performers was pretty great as Susan Lucci in her final Emmy acceptance speech). In fact, there are clearly two kinds of drag shows now around: celebrity imitators for straights and a much different form of theater for gays. Drag for gays these days actually eschews trying to pass off as women, instead caricaturing the way in which our culture promotes and rewards crass diva-dom. The uglier and crasser the impersonation the funnier. In many, there's a whiff of misogyny as well, but it's saved by equal doses of sympathy for the way in which straight women still contort themselves for the pleasure and amusement of straight men. But my point is that this newish kind of drag is ironic, amused, detached, self-mocking. It's post-drag, if you will. And what this goes to show is that drag is changing as the role of gays changes. Gay men do not need to pretend to be women any more to win attention; we can merely play at being men playing at being women. Within a couple of decades, I think, even this may dissipate some, as the whole conflation of homosexuality with gender-transgression fades, and as gay men and lesbians reclaim more fully their respective genders. Drag may eventually disappear altogether - which will be a shame in one respect, since it's a glorious and wonderful tradition. But I won't be sad to see the days pass when gay men had to pass as effeminate or almost indistinguishable from women to gain a foothold of recognition or acceptance. If drag collapses because gay freedom thrives, then it will be a worthwhile trade-off. - 12:41:24 AM
Friday, September 07, 2001
CLINDIT: Hitch scores a home-run on this one. Are we the only two people who think Clinton's crimes were far, far worse than Condit's sins?
PIGS FLY: Could it be that the gay left is waking up? This following passage could have been written by yours truly: "The bottom line is that GLAAD has more in common than not with right-wing, religion-based groups that have railed against such works as Terrence McNally's Corpus Christi and Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ. In condemning Dogma, a film about two renegade angels who have been kicked out of heaven (played by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck), the Catholic League was, in essence, saying that there is only one correct way to represent Christian beliefs. GLAAD, in condemning Jay and Silent Bob, is claiming that there is only one correct way to represent homosexuality through art. If the former is religious fundamentalism, the latter is sexual-identity fundamentalism." In fact, it's by Michael Bronski, a far-left activist, who delighted in trashing my private life earlier this year. Has he received new instructions from the Red Guard?
SHARPTON'S THUGS: A very similar piece to Rod Dreher's about the weird excess of Aaliyah's funeral and media hype has been written in Salon. I doubt whether Sharpton will call out his hoodlums for this one. It doesn't serve his political agenda in New York. Which only makes his persecution of Rod Dreher that much more disgraceful.
LETTERS: Why Rod Dreher is a boor; why I'm a sell-out; why Trudeau is a wimp; etc. - 1:44:56 PM
Thursday, September 06, 2001
THE PRICE OF BARREL SCRAPING: Perhaps the most depressing media news of the month so far is that Paula Zahn, the woman who put psychics on her show as serious commentators, is rewarded by tripling her salary and moving to CNN. Somehow I think the worst of media hell is yet to come.
THE WAR AGAINST FREE SPEECH: Imagine if a black columnist had written a column about some stupid and overly elaborate funeral of some minor white television celebrity. Legitimate cultural criticism, no? It certainly wouldn't prompt an outpouring of threats, protests, multiple hate-filled calls to the Post's switchboard and over 2,000 angry emails to the columnist's newspaper. Yet this is what has happened to Rod Dreher of the New York Post, who had the effrontery to write a pointed criticism of the extravagant funeral for a young black singer Aaliyah, who died recently in a plane crash. Read it for yourself. It may betray a certain ignorance of Aaliyah's relevance in hip-hop subculture, but I can't see anything even vaguely racist about it. Still, Al Sharpton unleashed his thugs, calling a press conference to denounce Dreher as a bigot. Dreher is now besieged, according to his friends and colleagues. He may have to work at home because of threats on his life at work. I'm told he's growing a beard to disguise his appearance. One recent message on his voicemail went: "Look, white bitch, you're not answering your phone, but you can't hide forever. One of us is going to be waiting for you outside your building, and you're gonna be thinking you're going home, but we're gonna step out and choke yo' muthafuckin' neck." Now where are all the usual guardians of free speech defending Dreher and condemning this vile campaign of intimidation against him? Or are condemnations of people who threaten the lives of writers only appropriate if the target is a liberal? The New York Post, friendly hacks tell me, is apparently imposing public silence on Dreher so as not to stir up even more hostility. I emailed Rod for confirmation, but he referred me to the p.r. company handling this for the Post. This is chilling. Dreher's column was innocuous enough - but even if it was not innocuous, he shouldn't be frightened of walking on the streets without being attacked. The response of any other journalist should not be to acquiesce in this cowardly silence, but to speak up and out about this pathological hatred that is now so sadly accepted among some minority groups. This is a form of terrorism. It's designed to intimidate journalists from doing their job. I've gotten death threats before - but nothing this terrifying. And the most terrifying thing of all is the silence of Dreher's professional colleagues. Perhaps they don't know yet what he's going through. I hope they do now.
LETTERS: A Heche-free zone; what really happened to Chandra; the trouble with steroids; why some criticism of Israeli racism is legit; etc.
THE FORMER EASTERN BLOC VERSUS DURBAN: One heartening piece of news from the World Conference Against Racism and Stuff is the statement from the Non-Government Organizations from the former eastern bloc, including many Russian democrats. They knew the score, arguing that, "We must emphasize that the language of the chapter "Palestinians and Palestine" as well as the deliberate distortions made to the chapter "Anti-Semitism" is extremely intolerant, disrespectful and contrary to the very spirit of the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance." Their post-script is priceless: "PS: On top of all the troubles of the NGO Forum, at the closing ceremony, the delegates had to listen for over two hours to a speech by Fidel Castro. We are offended by the fact that one of the worst dictators in the contemporary world, particularly notorious for gross violations of human rights, was invited to address this world gathering of non-governmental organizations. Listening to Fidel speak, we only had to wonder why the organizers had failed to invite Alexander Lukashenko, Turkmenbashi, Saddam Hussein, or a representative of the Taliban regime." Amen.
TRUDEAU'S NON-APOLOGY: We all make mistakes. But someone's character is best displayed in how they fess up to them. See what you think of Garry Trudeau's attempt to respond to his own parlaying in a comic strip a hoax story about the allegedly low I.Q. of President Bush: "Many thoughtful readers, including those sampled above, have expressed an interest in the "Presidential IQ" story, an internet hoax which was portrayed as factual in a recent strip. This was a regrettable error, although perhaps inevitable, given that this feature uses the same fact-checking house as Saturday Night Live and The Drudge Report. Trudeau takes full responsibility, acknowledging the use of fictional material from an outside source instead of simply making it up as he usually does. The creator deeply apologizes for unsettling anyone who was under the impression that the President is, in fact, quite intelligent." Graceless, in my book.
KKK UPDATE: The Washington Post and the Boston Globe have run fair retractions of their previous stories on the alleged hate crime. Good for them. - 10:57:57 PM
THAT KKK STORY: The hate-crime that turned out to be hoax, a reader tells me, was first reported in the New York Daily News, the Los Angeles Times, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and The Washington Post. Let me know if you see a correction in any of these papers. It'll be interesting to see if they bother.
POSEUR ALERT I: "There's a giant swan on the cover of Vespertine, Björk's newest album (out last week), and Björk once again sports the swan dress in all her photos. I'm unable to suss out the waterfowl semiotics at play here, but I did notice that Björk.com has line-drawings of a duck. As for the album title, "vespertine" means crepuscular-blossoming at dusk, like vesper prayers. In contrast to the bombast of earlier Björk tunes, Vespertine is a dusky, twilight creation. It's electronic music, but no one will dance to it. It made me want to curl up in an egg chair, pull a few mellow tokes, and work on my macrame." - Seth Stevenson, Slate.
HOTLINE SCOOP: According to the Hotline, I'm a liberal pundit. Why didn't they tell Peter Beinart that?
POSEUR ALERT II: "This evening the water crept slowly away toward low tide, like a purple pool of mercury, and then the low red moon grew over the horizon. The final drag shows are closing; the bar patrons dwindle; the seasonal townies gather for long bull sessions over smoke and wine. This has been a vintage summer, but its ending has been a classic." - Andrew Sullivan, andrewsullivan.com.
THOSE CANNY BRITS: Fresh from reprinting the hoax survey of presidential I.Q.s as if it were fact, the Guardian of London just ran the following item: "Commiserations to Palatino, Geneva and the rest, but the champion at Tuesday's 73rd annual Fonty Awards in Los Angeles was Helvetica Bold Oblique, which took home 11 statues, including 2001 Best Font. "A million thanks to all the wonderful folks in the font community who believed in Helvetica Bold Oblique," said its jubilant designer Oliver Gwynneth Rudd. "Without your faith in my vision, I would not be here before you tonight." Now stop that, Oliver, before we all get the moists." The provenance of the story? The Onion! And the Brits think Americans have an irony deficiency? - 1:31:59 PM
Wednesday, September 05, 2001
STEROIDS ETC: As usual, a terrific piece from Malcolm Gladwell in the New Yorker. I wish I could link to it but the snobs at that magazine think it's beneath them. Malcolm breaks a taboo I have long since found troublesome. Why are we concerned that most athletes these days use increasingly sophisticated steroids and performance enhancers? He rightly scoffs at those in denial about this; and just as smartly shows how it's all but impossible to test accurately and fairly for their use. Today's ramshackle testing regimen merely punishes those with the least sophisticated doctors and trainers. So why not just give in? The case against, I suppose, is that steroids are an unfair advantage in sports. So what? Our genes are the deepest unfairness in this respect. Some of us just aren't made to be great athletes; others are. Why is the dumb luck of genetics somehow morally superior to the contrived success of training and pharmaceuticals? Then there's the argument that excellence in sports is somehow morally better if it's related entirely to 'effort.' Maybe, but most steroids enhance the ability of athletes to recover from hard training, and so boost their performance primarily by allowing athletes to train harder, giving greater emphasis to effort. Besides, most of these drugs simulate the body's own 'natural' chemicals. Why should someone with a genetically higher level of, say, testosterone be deemed morally superior to someone who gets it from a vial? Beats me. Gladwell is right, I think, to argue that we should simply put limits on the upper end of steroid use and allow everyone below that measurable level to compete using drugs. I'd favor legalizing and deregulating their use for amateurs as well. Athletes will have to determine whether this will impact their long-term health and well-being, and minors should be protected from abuse. But apart from that, I share Gladwell's insouciance toward the whole area. Maybe it's because I've been on testosterone therapy for a few years now and seen what human growth hormone can do for the emaciation and deformation many people with long-term HIV endure. But like many other pharmaceuticals, steroids can enhance our human experience. They could enhance our sports experience as well. In fact, of course, they already have.
A.S. T.R.B. R.I.P.: I'm sad to say that last week turns out to have been my last TRB column. I had a year's contract and my editor, Peter Beinart, told me last week that my time is up and he now wants to write it himself. I don't have much to say except I am very sad not to be able to continue but that I had a blast and am glad to have been allowed to write openly and honestly for a year - even when the column often tilted against the current of the magazine. I'll take a breather from column writing for the next couple of months before reassessing. I have a couple of long essays I want to finish. Meantime, I'll still be a senior editor at TNR, writing weekly for the Sunday Times in London; writing more for the New York Times Magazine; and updating the Dish daily. I'd like to thank all the editors, fact-checkers, and emailers who helped me fill a space I have long revered in American journalism and wish Peter all the best in carrying on the tradition. Any further questions people might have about this should be directed to TNR's editor, Peter Beinart.
THE EXODUS: Provincetown now is the place I've been waiting all summer for. In a matter of days, the throngs have all disappeared. I wake up to a largely deserted beach and walk the dog to the local bakery for coffee and scones. The light pierces everything - and the clearer fall air focuses it. This evening the water crept slowly away toward low tide, like a purple pool of mercury, and then the low red moon grew over the horizon. The final drag shows are closing; the bar patrons dwindle; the seasonal townies gather for long bull sessions over smoke and wine. This has been a vintage summer, but its ending has been a classic.
ANOTHER HATE-CRIME HOAX: Like the church burnings of a few years ago, this one was too good to check. A woman who had claimed that she had had the initials KKK carved on her body now admits it was self-inflicted. I don't think we should simply dismiss this kind of thing as simple loopiness. There's a need here - a need for relevance, a need to matter. And mattering these days, from Durban to Texas, means being a victim of something called 'racism,' increasingly a receptacle for the all the inchoate grievances many of us have and refuse to overcome. That is not to say that racism doesn't exist. But it is to say that its centrality in our culture is a very strange disorder. What deeper anxiety, I wonder, is this really all about? - 10:47:25 PM
BEGALA AWARD NOMINEE: "Israeli Arabs have an easier time having their votes counted than blacks in some parts of Florida do." - Michael Lerner, New York Times today. - 1:18:06 PM
HER MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION: A new low for Maureen Dowd's sadly knee-jerk dismissal of Bush. She's really better than this. Maybe this column makes a good faith attempt to explain why some people disagree with missile defense. Or maybe it's worthy of Molly Ivins. I particularly liked this group of sentences: "The last time a president became infatuated with Star Wars, the obsession was easier to understand. Ronald Reagan was by temperament a utopian. He believed that the unattainable was attainable. He confused real life with the movies." And of course, Reagan turned out to be a fool, his foreign policy collapsing into thin air, his delusion that Star Wars might hasten the demise of the Soviet Union pure fantasy. Why, the end of the Cold War was just a figment of his movie-addled imagination! Does Maureen still buy this interpretation of Reagan? Was she alive in the late 1980s? Or is this just more crowd-pleasing throw-aways for know-nothing blue-zoners? On another matter, imagine a column being written that made the same simple assumptions about another completely risky, utterly unproven and possibly dangerous area of research: on embryonic stem cells. Now imagine it in the New York Times.
IAIN DUNCAN PAPIST: I remember a telling moment when I was a whipper-snapper on the editorial board of the Daily Telegraph at the tender age of 20. Under the tutelage of a wonderfully erudite and funny man, Peter Utley, it was my job to write editorials while the real editors were on vacation or on an extremely long lunch. Peter was a ferocious Unionist and Anglican and saw both identities as central to what English conservatism was all about. I once asked him, in jest, if a good Catholic could really be a Tory. Peter replied in all seriousness that this was a deeply vexing question. I was a little stunned. A gay Catholic, I quietly surmised, might as well join the Socialist Workers Party. So how remarkable that the front-runner for the Tory leadership, Iain Duncan Smith, is a) a practicing Catholic and that b) no-one has even mentioned this. An interesting piece in the Irish Independent notices. What a difference it might make to those Catholics still persecuted in Ulster to have a prime minister who actually shares their faith.
THE RESILIENCE OF BIGOTRY: Two stories from different parts of the world, revealing just how vile humanity is. In Ulster, Unionist bigots traumatized elementary school children for the crime of going to a Catholic school in a predominantly Protestant enclave. My recent skepticism of the IRA should not, I hope, be taken as implicit support for the poisonous hatred that some Protestants in Ulster still hold for Catholics. Having endured anti-Catholic sneers of a far milder kind growing up in a state high school in England, I'm under few illusions as to the sweetness and light of some unreconstructed Protestants. And these school kids face yet more barrages of hate in the days to come. Then in the Times of London, some more reporting about the bigotry vented in Durban. It seems that Egypt told the U.S. that Cairo would never accept a conference declaration that didn't condemn Israel as inherently "racist." The Times goes on: "The warning was accompanied by a statement from Syria saying that the Holocaust, in which more than six million Jews lost their lives, was a "Jewish lie" and a demand from Iran that anti-Semitism should not be accepted as discrimination because it was not "a contemporary form of racism"." These are the people with whom the Israelis are urged to make peace. - 2:15:54 AM
Tuesday, September 04, 2001
POSEUR ALERT: "She was only 22 years old. Yet in an instant, Aaliyah Dani Haughton joined an exclusive but heartbreaking club: stars who are gone too soon. Aaliyah was Mercury rising. She was Saturn with brilliant rings of movies, songs and laughter getting brighter and hotter. But she was more. Unlike others on the verge of greatness, Aaliyah's success had already mounted the horizon and was coming at her like a sunrise in a hurry. She had already reached places that once existed only in her dreams. But she wanted mega-stardom on the scale of Barbra Streisand's. When word came of her fatal plane crash in The Bahamas last Saturday, we mourned a star, not the hope of a star. As did two other rising stars -- James Dean and Selena -- she left too soon for the world to know truly how far she could go." Rochelle Riley, Knight Ridder. - 1:44:12 PM
DURBAN BRAWL: It’s worth checking out the British papers for coverage of issues like the Durban Conference Against Racism. Among other things, they are less squeamish in quoting some African-American comments. The Telegraph has a quote from Jesse Jackson absent in the Washington Post and New York Times. Jackson accused the Bush administration of “in a sense subverting” the meeting. “It is most unfortunate and unnecessary to withdraw based on one issue,” he elaborated. That “one issue” is whether Israel is inherently a racist state, based upon theories of “racial superiority,” that practices apartheid. Is that a view Jackson endorses? The Guardian also quoted Essop Pahad, President Thabo Mbeki’s number two. "I don't know if anger helps," Pahad said. "It's a matter of great regret. There are millions upon millions of citizens of the United States who will not be happy with this decision; committed people against racism. The anti-racists will be very disappointed in their government and will ask why it is not committed to the same ends, why it does not think that combating racism is important?” Does Pahad think appeasing virulent and unrestrained anti-Semitism – the most poisonous form of racism that has ever existed – is something “anti-racists” should endorse? In fact, we should all be relieved that this conference has ended in collapse. These U.N. sessions are mere opportunities for venting the envy and hatred that pervades the failed and failing states of much of Africa and the Middle East.
CORRECTION: Parris Glendening is separated from his wife, not divorced.
THOSE QUIET RUSSIANS: To my mind, the most extraordinary political story of the last decade is the story that never happened. That’s the much-anticipated collapse of democratic life in Russia. We have been treated from day one to gloomy prognostications about the re-emergence of military rule, suspension of the free press, the rise of corrupt oligarchs, the grip of the mafia, and so on. And much of the gloom seems at least partly deserved. But through it all, Russia has given up a vast empire, transformed its economy, engaged in a brutal and bitter war, and yet still stayed democratic. The much under-rated Boris Yeltsin has something to do with this. But one of the most persuasive recent explorations of the change I’ve yet read is in Ian Buruma’s modest but telling essay in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine. Check it out. His counter-intuitive bet on Russia’s long-term stability over China’s seems dead-on to me. Our real fear should not be that China will soon become a militarized capitalist dictatorship, but that it will explode under an authoritarian system that has no way to absorb or redirect the vast social unrest it has unleashed. Buruma’s essay is also a necessary reminder that economics and politics are what we used to call independent variables. And sometimes, political stability is far more important than economic growth.
LETTERS: Was Condit not cute enough? Why Parris Glendenning is sadder than you already thought; etc.