IT'S OUR FIFTH ANNIVERSARY! CLICK HERE TO MAKE A DONATION. Sunday, December 30, 2001 TO MY READERS: Actually, ‘readers’ is a bad term. You’re correspondents, interlocutors, researchers, fact-checkers, brainiacs, mentors, friends, family, and much more. This past year has been such an adventure for me. When I started this website, I thought it would be a useful way to collect my journalism, and have an easy place for people to contact me. I didn’t realize it would soon become a two-way broadcasting channel for a whole host of ideas and arguments and facts and jokes and stories. This may be a cliché but it’s also true: you are at least 50 percent of the product. You notice so many things no single person could alone; you keep me on my toes; you cheer me up and bring me down; you make me think and rethink. You’re not afraid to tell me how it is, or where I’ve screwed up, or where I’ve got it right.
ONWARD: I guess the kind of journalism we have jointly helped pioneer is somewhere between an op-ed column and talk-radio. I’ve tried hard to keep it honest and real, to admit mistakes, to think (sometimes stupidly) aloud, to take risks, and irritate some of my professional colleagues when they deserve to be irritated. I’ve also tried to keep it human, to get away from the notion that a writer or pundit is somehow above it all, a creature of certainty, free from error or emotion. And you have responded in kind. Your emails of personal support, or kindness and stern admonition have all made my year an extraordinary one. Whether it was getting through this horrifying fall (which we did, in some sense, in real time, together) or whether it was surviving my embarrassing sexual ‘outing’ last spring, you helped me stay focused and sane. I will always be grateful for the strangers who are now my friends.
2002: For whatever reasons, the whole thing seems to have worked. In a year, the number of visits has quintupled. Only last summer, I was thrilled to have 7,000 daily visits. Now, we rarely go below 20,000 and have reached as high as 77,000. All of which is to say: a deep, heartfelt thanks to all of you. I think we’re pioneering together a new kind of opinion journalism, as well as a new relationship between writer and readers. Editors and proprietors, wonderful though they can be, are dispensable in this new cyber-age. That’s a huge shift. It’s already fomenting a whole subculture of web-logging that is changing the political and intellectual culture. And we’re only at the very beginning of the new era. In a few days, our redesign will be up. Later in January and February, new features will be added. You’ll see several corporate allies on the site, from American Express to Dell, helping to make this model financially viable. More will follow. I hope this site will be as unrecognizable at the end of 2002 as it is at the end of 2001. And the thrill is that I have no idea where we’ll end up. Anyway, stay along for the ride. Keep your donations and links and gripes coming. And have a wonderful, blessed, righteous, happy New Year.
- 1:48:01 PM CLINTON’S SILENCE: Only a few days ago, we were told that former president Bill Clinton was launching a new spin campaign to help counter the notion that he was lax on terrorism. In today’s New York Times, hardly an anti-Clinton paper, a thorough three-part series on the Clinton terrorism legacy concluded. It was pretty damning, although it gave Clinton far more leeway than I think he deserves. And what was Clinton’s response? He refused to be interviewed. Getting other people to spin for you is ok. Actually taking personal responsibility and facing up to your mistakes is – once again – an impossibility for the ex-president.
CORRECTION: "The Green Mile" was a movie not released in 2001. It was so awful I'm still recovering. - 1:25:20 PM
Friday, December 28, 2001 2001 – AN ANDREWSULLIVAN.COM ODYSSEY:
BEGALA AWARD WINNER 2001: “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 Senator Biden calls today in the Guardian, his “theological” belief in “rogue nations,” that the rogue nation should 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 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.” – John Lahr, in Slate, speculating that president Bush might have been behind the attacks on the World Trade Center.
ANDREWSULLIVAN.COM’S PERSON OF THE YEAR: Donald Rumsfeld.
DERBYSHIRE AWARD WINNER 2001: “Chelsea is a Clinton. She bears the taint; and though not prosecutable in law, in custom and nature the taint cannot be ignored. All the great despotisms of the past – I’m not arguing for despotism s a principle, but they sure knew how to deal with potential trouble – recognized that the families of objectionable citizens were a continuing threat. In Stalin’s penal code it was a crime to be the wife or child of an “enemy of the people. The Nazis used the same principle, which they called Sippenhaft, “clan liability”. In Imperial China, enemies of the state were punished “to the ninth degree”; that is, everyone in the offender’s own generation would be killed, and everyone related via four generations down, to the great-great-grandparents, would also be killed.” – John Derbyshire, in National Review Online, almost calling for the murder of Chelsea Clinton. And they fired Ann Coulter for excessive zeal?
BEST INNOVATIONS: iPods, weblogs, segways.
WORST INNOVATIONS: The anti-sleep pill, Al Gore’s beard, Amtrak's Acela trains.
SONTAG AWARD WINNER 2001: “Then young men broke my glasses, began smashing stones into my face and head. I couldn't see for the blood pouring down my forehead and swamping my eyes. And even then, I understood. I couldn't blame them for what they were doing. In fact, if I were the Afghan refugees of Kila Abdullah, close to the Afghan-Pakistan border, I would have done just the same to Robert Fisk. Or any other Westerner I could find.” – Robert Fisk, the Independent.
BEST MOVIES: A.I., Amelie, Memento.
WORST MOVIES: American Pie 2, Harry Potter, The Green Mile.
WORST WAR COLUMNISTS: Maureen Dowd, Anthony Lewis, Madeleine Bunting, Stephanie Salter.
BEST WAR COLUMNISTS: Charles Krauthammer, Tom Friedman, Dick Morris, Victor Davis Hanson.
WORST PREDICTION OF THE YEAR: Mickey Kaus’s assertion in September that the World Trade Center massacre would be off the media radar screen by Thanksgiving.
VON HOFFMAN AWARD WINNER: “Meanwhile the popular expectation of a knockout blow against the Taliban has been cruelly disappointed. Remember the optimistic remarks a couple of weeks back about the way American bombs were eviscerating the enemy? This has given way to sombre comment about the Taliban's dogged resistance. Evidently our leaders gambled on the supposition that the unpopularity of the regime would mean the bombing would bring about the Taliban's rapid collapse. And they also seem to have assumed that it would not be too difficult to put together a post-Taliban government. This was a series of misjudgements. The Joint Chiefs may have been misled by the apparent success – now that Milosevic has been defeated – of the bombing campaign in Kosovo. Perhaps they should have reflected on Vietnam. We dropped more tons of explosives on that hapless country than we dropped on all fronts during the Second World War, and still we could not stop the Vietcong. Vietnam should have reminded our generals that bombing has only a limited impact on decentralised, undeveloped, rural societies.” – the always wrong Arthur Schlesinger Jr., the Independent, November 2.
LOSERS OF THE YEAR: Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Gerald Levin, Bill Clinton, Susan Sontag, Jim Jeffords.
WINNERS OF THE YEAR: Tony Blair, Eminem, Aaron Brown, Condi Rice, Bernard Lewis, Marc Rich, Barry Diller.
POSEUR ALERT WINNER 2001: "But make no mistake about it: PopOdyssey is not retrogression to pre-irony pop spectacle. It is the dialectical answer to U2's (and alternative rock's) attack on spectacle. It is pop in defense of itself … Anyone who saw the MTV "Making of the Video" episode about 'N Sync's "Pop" now knows that this is definitely no clean-cut band. If anything, 'N Sync is losing touch with its audience's needs, and "Pop" (certainly an inferior single compared with "Bye Bye Bye"), with its lyrics of "What we're doing is not a trend/ We got the gift of melody," may ultimately prove to be a case of pride before the fall, of Nero choreographing a lavish, beautiful and thoroughly entertaining dance as Rome burns around him.” – Neil Strauss, New York Times, June 5.
MOST EFFECTIVE LIAR: Former Senator Bob Kerrey.
MOST INEFFECTIVE LIAR: Gary Condit.
WORST TELEVISION PERFORMANCE 2001: Connie Chung.
GAFFE OF THE YEAR: "I think that President Bush is also very committed in drug addiction." – Colombian president Andres Pastana, April 23.
Runner-up: “I think we launder our views through out "objective critics" and certainly the press is pretty green, the press is pretty pro-environment. And I don't think there's any question that they, as a body, feel that Bush is wrong on the environment, with varying degrees of willingness to give him credit, and I'm excluding the conservative press, "The Weekly Standard" and so forth. But, generally, the rank and file press is pretty green and they're going to use the Europeans to take the Bush's to task.” – Evan Thomas, Newsweek, June 16.
- 5:40:11 PM
RALL HITS BOTTOM: Yes, I’m sure many on the far left don’t hate America. But Ted Rall sure does.
CLINTON LEGACY WATCH: Dick Morris adds even more details to the former president’s negligence with regard to terrorism.
THIS IS WHAT SANCTIMONY MEANS: A dumb-as-a-post, theologically inane, self-righteous screed from San Francisco. Don’t you think a right-wing Christian invoking God in this political fashion would be decried as extreme and self-serving?
Thursday, December 27, 2001
TIME FOR TIME: The war has been great for the news magazines. Time’s Person of the Year issue was particularly good. Great call on Giuliani. The first credible insider reporting from the White House on the war as well. I learned – or relearned – one thing from both features. Rudy and Dubya are the same men they have always been. There has been no ‘transformation’ from within. Rudy hasn’t suddenly found a heart. Bush hasn’t suddenly found a brain. This isn’t the Wizard of Oz. Both were highly capable managers with skill and compassion before and after September 11. All that day did was reveal these qualities under immense scrutiny and enormous pressure. I was particularly interested to see the war’s time-line in Time. There was no sudden U-turn in the middle of the campaign. The war-plan was the same from the beginning to the end, with merely tactical adjustments. Bush wasn’t dilly-dallying until he read the editorials in the Weekly Standard and the New Republic. He was executing a shrewd war-plan and never lost his nerve. The public gets this. That’s why he’s riding not just a poll high but a deep bonding between him and the people of this country. Eventually, the press will see this. Time’s reporting suggests some are seeing it already.
CHRISTMAS BREAK: The dish will be light and al dente this week. I’m recuperating from excessive socializing in New York, and struggling through my usual Christmas alienation. Man, I get so blue this time of year. I’m not taking a planned vacation next week, and will be chilling out at home instead. Normal service will resume January 3, when we hope to launch the redesign for the New Year. Until then, do check in, because I’ll post when the feeling strikes.
Saturday, December 22, 2001
HOME NEWS: A quarter of a million visits in the last week alone, from over 150,000 unique hosts. Thanks.
OFF TO NEW YORK CITY: Maybe it was growing up in England, but I've long been a bit of a Christmas-phobe. As a kid, it meant two weeks in a small house in the gloomy English mid-winter with no relief from, er, family. (No, seriously, love you, guys!) Since I came to America, I've been home for Christmas maybe a couple of times. I try and go places where the festivities impinge the least - usually Miami, where you can almost forget it's happening altogether. This year, we're going to New York out of a) solidarity, b) a desire to party. Why my Christmas phobia? I think it's a freedom thing. I'm not referring to the religious aspect. I'm planning on going to midnight mass in Harlem this year and love the Advent and Christmas ritual. What tyrannizes is the hermetically-sealed universal secular imperative to be happy. It's like a universal Disneyland for a few days. It seems to me that a critical freedom is the right to your own mood. If you feel lousy, there's nothing more irritating than some cheery boob telling you to cheer up, it's Christmas. Screw that. Have a great Christmas. And be miserable if you feel like it. - 12:31:09 PM
Friday, December 21, 2001
HEADS UP: This weekend, I'm on NPR's Saturday Weekend Edition with Scott Simon and PBS' Think Tank with Ben Wattenberg. My fellow chatterers on PBS are David Brooks and Juan Williams. - 11:14:05 PM
AN EERIE SILENCE: Why has the Osama trail gone cold? Why is the al Qaeda network suddenly silent? I don't know why but I find this kind of quiescence ominous.
IS BLAIR READING THE DISH?: The British PM publishes a dossier marking a hundred days of war and slams Sontag, Fisk, Bunting and Pilger for their crass errors of judgment and morality. Didn't Blair get the memo telling him the anti-war left doesn't exist? Never mind. We are making progress on all fronts. - 12:18:12 PM
HE’S STILL SPINNING: The man just can’t let go. My favorite Clintonista quote from Rick Berke’s piece: "He does not want to appear to be upstaging Bush." Don’t worry, Bill. You won’t.
NOT SO BEAUTIFUL MIND: A.O.Scott puts the boot in this morning: “Of course any movie that traffics in biography must edit, foreshorten, emphasize and condense, but "A Beautiful Mind" goes further, becoming a piece of historical revisionism on the order of "J. F. K." or "Forrest Gump," and manifesting a depressing lack of faith in the intelligence of the audience.”
YOU AND DERB: Thanks for all the letters. It seems from some of them that I’m always talking about what I do in the “bedroom.” I bet I’d get more hits if I did. Why is it that for some people heterosexuality is all about your spouse, girlfriend, family, kids, etc. but homosexuality is only and ever about ‘disgusting’ anal sex? When a movie has a sweet ballet-dancer kid who turns out gay, it’s propaganda. When movies have been produced for decades as if gay people simply didn’t exist, that’s entertainment. I give up. If you start from the premise that someone is defined by ‘disgusting’ sex, even if they have no more and no less disgusting sex than anyone else (you think heteros only use the missionary position?), then there’s simply no way to argue back. When someone like me comes along and mentions my boyfriend coming to Thanksgiving or something harmless like that, I’m shoving it in your face. When Jonah Goldberg casually mentions that his wife leaves in the morning and comes home at night in his column, he’s just humanizing his prose. Man, I’d love it if homosexuality were a non-issue. But when I write and behave as if it is, some of you have a cow. I think that’s called a no-win situation. I just have to believe there are some straight people out there who get it. Mercifully, many of my straight readers do. I’m grateful for your open minds.
Thursday, December 20, 2001
SAN FRANCISCO “TOLERANCE”: A resident confesses: we’ll tolerate anything but Republicans. - 6:00:00 PM
A MOVIE JOHN DERBYSHIRE WOULD LOVE: David Geffen has always known how to keep gay guys in their place. While coddling Bill Clinton for eight long years, telling the president he needn’t worry about gays in the military, advising him that no gays really want marriage rights, refusing to support the campaign for marriage, he was always there for us. Now his studio is producing a movie, “A Beautiful Mind,” that actively removes any reference to the lead character’s homosexuality. The book on which the movie is based is completely frank about such themes, and helps contextualize the life of a great mind. Still, it’s important to ensure that straight movie-goers don’t associate intelligence – let alone, Russell Crowe - with homosexuality. That would be “shoving it in their face,” wouldn’t it? This is what gets me about some Hollywood liberals. Throw a benefit for gay rights and they’ll be there, red ribbons and all. Ask them to take a financial risk to deal honestly with the lives of gay people in a major mainstream movie, and they run a mile.
UPDATE: It turns out that the actor who played Billy Elliott’s gay friend in the movie of that name has just signed up for the British Army. For John Derbyshire’s screed against gays, read the current National Review. Derb has clearly come to terms with being a proud bigot. Every single piece of anti-gay propaganda is shoehorned into the piece – even the myth of our alleged recruitment of children. Our loves and relationships are reduced to “weird things” we do in our bedrooms. His view is that gay people are lucky not to be actively persecuted for our disgusting behavior and should be grateful for it. He doesn’t address the only criticism I made of him, but then how could he? Then he preposterously claims to wish us a loving Christmas. I once had some respect for this man. How can anyone now?
THE DIALECTICIZER: The latest entries from the amazing web dialect machine are below. I think that's enough, don't you?
ELMER IVINS: “Haiw and faweweww, O Enwon! What a fwameout. De Estabwishment media, sucking its cowwective thumb wif unwonted sowemnity, is tweating us to meditations on two themes: "How the mighty have fawwen" and "Who wouwd have thunk it?" Pawdon me whiwe I snowt, in wieu of wudew noises, and offew two themes of my own: "What took so wong?" and "Anyone wif an ounce of common sense."
REDNECK SULLIVAN: “Ah knows whut Cohen means. Ah was talkin' t'a friend in th' gym today, a man who is mild-mannered t'a fault, an' he said thet he wanted t'shoot bin Laden hisse'f. Varmintally, I’d like t'pummel bin Laden’s haid in fo' a while fust. But th' truth is, ah's ashamed of this hyar impulse. ah was a li'l ashamed when gabbin' wif friends t'other day, ah was axed whut I thunk we sh'd does wif th' Taliban stragglers. Ah said, “Three wo'ds: kill them all, ah reckon.” Mah faif tells me thet these impulses is not simply wrong but sinful, ah reckon. We kin fo'give but we kinnot excuse them, dawgone it. Fo' years, ah have tried t'channel whut is pow'ful a profoun' rage at th' way society has treated gay varmints fo' so long into sumpin mo'e cornstruckive an' reasonable.”
THE FIRST BLACK PRESIDENT: "I dun did not gots sexual relashuns wid dat honky chick, Miss Lewinsky. Slap mah fro!" – president Clinton in “Jive.”
- 1:29:19 PM
KEN STARR EMPATHIZES WITH WALKER: Wrap your head around that one. Ken Starr who thought it necessary to detail every second of president Clinton’s sex with Monica Lewinsky manages to sympathize with a traitor. His initial reaction to Mr. Walker was one of "empathy and sympathy." According to today’s New York Times, Starr saw Walker “as ‘a young kid with misplaced idealism’ who appeared to have gone off with the intention of learning more about Islam, not joining Al Qaeda. While he saw Mr. Walker's actions now as ‘troubling,’ Mr. Starr added, ‘He doesn't seem like a Benedict Arnold.’” And Mr Starr doesn’t seem to have his priorities straight. - 1:07:52 AM
FRENCH ANTI-SEMITISM WATCH: The French ambassador to Britain refers privately to Israel as a "shitty little country," that is the root of today's global unrest. "Why should the world be in danger of World War III because of those people?" he allegedly said at a private dinner party in London. I think we call that by the French word "gaffe." I wish I could say I'm shocked. - 12:25:21 AM
Wednesday, December 19, 2001
THE CASUS BELLI: Judith Miller puts some more pieces together for us on Iraq.
JERRY JIVES: “I real recon' dat da damn pagans, and da damn abo'shunists, and da damn feminists, and da damn gays and da damn lesbians who is actively tryin' t'make dat an alternative lifestyle, de ACLU, Sucka's Fo' de American Way - all uh dem who gots tried t'secularize America — ah' point da damn fin'a' in deir face and say "ya' helped dis happen. 'S coo', bro." - Jerry Falwell, from the Sept. 13 edition of "700 Club." Translated into jive.
LETTERS: Derbyshire's hetero credentializing; why Chesterton is full of it; and gay history month?
KINGSOLVER AS THE SWEDISH CHEF: “I vunt tu du sumetheeng tu help reeght noo. Boot I cun't geefe-a bluud (my hemetucreet elveys roons tuu loo), und I'm tuu fer vey tu geefe-a unybudy shelter oor a dreenk ooff veter. Hurty flurty schnipp schnipp! I cun oonly geefe-a vurds. Um gesh dee bork, bork! My ferbel hemuglubeen nefer seems tu vune-a, su vurds ere-a vhet I'll ooffffer up in thees teeme-a thet esks ooff us zee best ceetizenship ve'fe-a ifer moostered. Bork bork bork!” – Barbara Kingsolver. She loves Sweden, doesn’t she?
- 11:47:10 PM
ARAB ANTI-SEMITISM WATCH: “"The covetous, racist, and hated Jew Shylock, who cut the [pound of] flesh from Antonio's chest with the knife of hatred, invades you with his money, his modern airplanes, his missiles, and his nuclear bombs. You must face a hard question: Do you, Christians and Muslims, wish to live, survive and fulfill your convictions? Or are you Abraham's bleating lambs on the threshold of the Jewish altar, who are led to be sent to the Hereafter?" - Dr Ali Aqleh Ursan, chairman of the Arab Writers Association, in the Syrian publication Al-Usbu' Al-Adabi, February 5, 2000, as reported in a terrifying piece in the Guardian.
ONE LAST THING, JONAH: I don’t want to drag this out, so this is really my final small word. Jonah is a wonderful writer, fair-minded, hilarious when he wants to be, and civil to a fault. So I don’t mean this personally. But one sentence he wrote haunts me. It’s this: “By having a single public standard that was inconvenient to everyone, but not tyrannical in its implementation — Oscar Wilde's gaol time notwithstanding — there was no moral tragedy of the commons.” Jonah is referring to the Victorian standard of everyone adhering to a public norm of marital heterosexuality while doing anything they wanted to in private (Gladstone getting whipped by whores, etc.). Jonah rightly says that this is now a non-starter, but I think he is way, way too blithe about what he’s describing. Gay men and women were not given an easy break in any Anglo-American society until very recently. Thousands were jailed, humiliated, murdered without real recourse, demonized, or subjected to lives of such misery and shame that they could barely function. This was a form of tyranny. Some rose above it – see Oscar Wilde. But many, especially of poorer backgrounds, went through unspeakable private pain. Either forced into sham marriages or into the underground or the Church or education where their public lies each day diminished their dignity and integrity, these men and women were subjected to terrible cruelty. They were denied the saving power of love and the wonder of sex – without fear of exposure, imprisonment, violence or social death. I don’t believe that Jonah would ever countenance such cruelty; but he needs to come to terms with its moral legacy. There was indeed a “moral tragedy of the commons.” And only now, fitfully, is it being addressed and accounted for.
PONNURU RULES: A judicious and completely persuasive analysis of foreign policy by Ramesh Ponnuru in the current National Review. Don’t miss it.
A CANADIAN GETS IT: Could politics be changing up north?
- 4:11:43 PM
THE END OF CHOMSKY: I guess he’ll continue, but how he can garner even the remotest public respect after this dissection by Ron Radosh and David Horowitz is beyond me.
- 1:24:11 AM
THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: "There is in Islam a paradox which is perhaps a permanent menace. The great creed born in the desert creates a kind of ecstasy out of the very emptiness of its own land, and even, one may say, out of the emptiness of its own theology. It affirms, with no little sublimity, something that is not merely the singleness but rather the solitude of God. There is the same extreme simplification in the solitary figure of the Prophet; and yet this isolation perpetually reacts into its own opposite. A void is made in the heart of Islam which has to be filled up again and again by a mere repetition of the revolution that founded it. There are no sacraments; the only thing that can happen is a sort of apocalypse, as unique as the end of the world; so the apocalypse can only be repeated and the world end again and again. There are no priests; and yet this equality can only breed a multitude of lawless prophets almost as numerous as priests. The very dogma that there is only one Mahomet produces an endless procession of Mahomets. Of these the mightiest in modern times were the man whose name was Ahmed, and whose more famous title was the Mahdi; and his more ferocious successor Abdullahi, who was generally known as the Khalifa. These great fanatics, or great creators of fanaticism, succeeded in making a militarism almost as famous and formidable as that of the Turkish Empire on whose frontiers it hovered, and in spreading a reign of terror such as can seldom be organised except by civilisation " – G.K. Chesterton, “Lord Kitchener.”
Tuesday, December 18, 2001
OINK, OINK: This is the week that lobbyists hope to shoe-horn tax-payers’ money to their favorite projects and paymasters. The biggest outrage is the wonderfully named Travel America Now Act. The Act would give us all a $500 tax credit to get on an airplane. This pathetic piece of economic micro-management is proposed by – yes! – a Republican. TANA is a wonderful piece of rhetorical ammunition for all those neoliberals who argue that Republicans only say they believe in market economics but are actually the tools of corporate interests. In the case of the current Republican party, the neolibs are increasingly right. Then there’s protection for catfish production, aid for sky-diver companies and all sorts of nonsense. It seems to me that president Bush has an opportunity here. Veto! Sure, some of these companies may have been disproportionately hurt by the aftermath of September 11. But it’s not the role of government to make sure anyone who gets a bad business break immediately gets a handout courtesy of everybody else. Some Americans are risking their lives in this war and many have already lost them – and these businessmen can’t get through a recession? Please. There’s a sweetheart deal for Boeing as well, just in case you thought the biggest corporate interests were spared. As always, John McCain is a lone, noble voice decrying this ugly spectacle. But if Bush came out against this opportunistic pork, wouldn’t it help him politically and also save us from some terrible legislation? C’mon, Dubya. Go for it.
KILL THE STIMULUS: Talking about terrible legislation, I’m praying for the ‘stimulus package’ to go down the tubes as well. The Dems have squeaked in a new healthcare entitlement, the Republicans are born-again Keynesians, and the entire package of accelerated tax cuts and handouts will almost certainly have an effect just when we don’t need it. I agree with Michael Barone that Bush can afford to see the stimulus die a welcome death. I don’t believe it will have any impact on turning around our little recession; I don’t think the Democrats are going to be able to run on the “Bush recession” next year with any real traction; and I do think voters will narrowly blame the Democrats for failing to pass one. Bush has already got a decent education bill under his belt. He has a successful war on terrorism. He will have a recovery by next summer. He can afford to let this piece of Keynesian nonsense go down the tubes. Here’s hoping it never reaches his desk.
STRESS RELIEVER: Is there a particular columnist that drives you up the wall? Dialecticize him! This dinky little site will automatically “translate” your favorite pundit into one of many accents. Here’s Madeleine Bunting, for example, as a redneck: “So we've been lef' wif a straightfo'ward mo'al narrative: fine triumphs on over evil, ah reckon. It's been this hyar kind of easy mo'alisin' thet kicked me into th' idiots' camp fum th' start. Th' US may haf wanted t'exack revenge, but it was nevah sumpin ennyone c'd claim t'be mo'ally right.” Feel better? My favorite previous column by Madeleine gets translated as “No politics, We Is British.” Here’s Anthony Lewis’ farewell column as rendered by Elmer Fudd: “Wewigion and extweme nationawism have fowmed deadwy combinations in these decades, impewvious to weason, uh-hah-hah-hah. Sewbs in the gwip of wewigion and mysticaw nationawist histowy kiwwed thousands and expewwed miwwions in theiw "ethnic cweansing" of Bosnia. Oh, dat scwewy wabbit!” Oh joy! The possibilities are endless. Have fun. And if you can come up with a particularly hilarious sentence (one or two only, please!) from one of the usual suspects, enter it into our Christmas contest. I'll post the best entries as they come in.
DERBYSHIRE AWARD NOMINEE (FOR EGREGIOUS RIGHT-WING HYPERBOLE): “"The recent Billy Elliot was not bad, if you ignored the ingredient of homosexual propaganda that seems to be compulsory in British movies nowadays - some edict from the European Union, no doubt." – John Derbyshire, National Review Online. This bizarre one-liner comes in the middle of a perfectly entertaining piece on ballet. Why the slur? If you’ve seen “Billy Elliott,” you’ll know that it’s about a straight ballet dancer. The only conceivable piece of “homosexual propaganda” is the fact that this straight guy doesn’t disown and actually gets along with a gay friend. This is propaganda? What Derbyshire objects to is the simple human presentation of a sympathetic gay character – in a movie about ballet, for goodness’ sake. Imagine if the movie showed that Elliott befriended, say, a Jewish ballet dancer. Would that be a piece of “Jewish propaganda?” I’ve come to like much of what John Derbyshire writes and then he throws this piece of bigotry in there. What gives?
HIZBOLLAH UNREPENTANT: More calls for suicide bombing. “We tell Palestinians, stay tough. Our martyrs’ operations are laying the grounds for the coming victory,” declares Hizbollah’s secretary-general. “Do not listen to those who say these types of attacks go against Muslim Sharia (law). Those who say there are civilians and soldiers in Israel are mistaken. There are no civilians in Israeli society. All of them are invaders, collaborators in crimes and massacres, and it is for this reason that you must continue on your path.” Charming, huh?
THE OTHER GOLDBERG: Bernie Goldberg’s withering attack on liberal bias at CBS rockets to Number 13 on the New York Times bestseller list. The Internet (i.e. Drudge) fueled this. Methinks the liberal media establishment is melting, melting …
- 8:39:50 PM
THE PLACE OF ANGER: A very powerful piece by Richard Cohen today. It’s really a defense of anger – justified anger. “[A]s for myself and countless other Americans,” Cohen writes, “our anger is so pure, so clean, so clearly the product of what was done to us, that to shame us for it mocks our humanity. It comes not from our insecurities or failings but from what is best in all of us -- sorrow for the dead, sympathy for the grieving, concern for the future and love of our country. I feel no shame -- but I would if, after what happened, I felt no anger at all.” I know what he means. I was talking to a friend in the gym today, a man who is mild-mannered to a fault, and he said that he wanted to shoot bin Laden himself. Personally, I’d like to pummel bin Laden’s head in for a while first. But the truth is, I am ashamed of this impulse. I was a little ashamed when gabbing with friends the other day, I was asked what I thought we should do with the Taliban stragglers. I said, “Three words: kill them all.” My faith tells me that these impulses are not simply wrong but sinful. We can forgive but we cannot excuse them. For years, I have tried to channel what is really a profound rage at the way society has treated gay people for so long into something more constructive and reasonable. I’ve been criticized for this, but anger, I still believe, is only and always part of the problem. It is never part of a constructive solution. I think what Cohen really means is that his anger is related to a sense of righteousness. In so far as anger is proportionate to such righteousness, then it’s a good sign but it is still not a good thing in itself. Killing bin Laden out of rage is not the correct response. We must not kill him because we are angry. We must kill him because it is just.
MUST READ: “Anyone who ever wondered about the extraordinary blindness of clever people towards the Soviet Union 70 years ago - all those Shaws, and Wellses, and Webbs, and G D H Coleses; all those subscribers to the Left Book Club - anyone, indeed, who thought we would never see such naivety again, has been able to enjoy a little trip down memory lane since September 11… Substitute Islamic fundamentalism for Soviet Communism and you will hear exactly the same argument being made today - with this one difference. At least Shaw and the Western sympathizers for Stalin believed in something: for all their folly, they had a kind of intellectual grandeur about them, a coherent philosophy to defend. Today, the Left doesn't even offer an alternative - just endless nit-picking raised to the level of an ideology.” – Robert Harris, Daily Telegraph today. The American Left, of course, has not been as shameless as the British Left in this war. But the impulse is the same and Harris is right to name it: it’s not legitimate skepticism about a war; it’s a desire to see the West lose. Those faulty predictions were really wishful thinking gone awry. Thank God they were wrong.
JONAH AGAIN: Jonah Goldberg’s response to my response to him is now up on National Review’s site. He makes a couple of good points, although I think he has largely conceded the gist of my argument about what conservatism should be like. Our agreement is that conservatism is a messy temperament. Conservatives like what is, but they are not averse to what might be - if the change seems sensible, practical and moral. There is no conservative textbook, no fixed set of principles with which conservatives approach all political questions. That’s why conservatives place particular emphasis on the necessity for practical judgment, for prudence, in politicians or even political writers. And I think what Jonah is saying is that as a practical matter, the inclusion of gay people among conservatives is a non-starter. The Republican Party isn’t ready for it. The country isn’t ready for it. Get real.
The sentence that set Jonah off is the following one from a set of rough and ready suggestions I made for conservatism to adjust to the new opportunities proffered by the war. Here’s the offending sentence: “And why not win some gay votes, by noting and praising the way in which gay Americans . . . acted as patriots and heroes in an integrating national crisis?" This is my crazed and radical idea: that the president might actually include a previously marginalized group in a unifying national sentiment. In the piece Jonah is referring to, it’s almost the only mention of the subject of homosexuality: one sentence out of over 4,000 words. (Then Jonah goes off on a tangent about equal marriage rights, which it is not in the purview of the president to grant, which I do not mention in the piece, and with which Jonah in part seems to agree. On Jonah’s basic point that I should have patience before we get marriage rights, dignity in the military, etc., all I can say is: sure. But when every other NATO military bar Turkey has already included open gays, and when our current compromise has doubled the rate of discharges, why am I being impatient? As to marriage, I’m perfectly happy to let federalism work and have marriage tried out in a few states for a while to see how it transpires. But it’s the position of National Review that no such empirical experimentation should be allowed – ever – and that such a ban should be imposed by federal diktat. How conservative is that?)
Where was I? Oh, yes. A presidential acknowledgment of gay war heroes. Why, I wonder, was I so ‘quirky’ in suggesting such a thing? Was Senator John McCain quirky when he attended gay rugby player Mark Bingham’s memorial service and paid tribute to Bingham’s spouse? Was Colin Powell out of it when he presided over Michael Guest’s swearing in as ambassador to Romania, with Guest’s spouse present? Were Barry Goldwater and Gerald Ford nuts when they supported equal treatment for gay citizens under the law? Was Dick Cheney a flake when he said in the vice-presidential debate that it should be up to states to decide whether to grant gays and straights equal marriage rights? Are all these people – luminaries in the Republican Party – raving solipsists for arguing that including gay people within the bounds of conservatism is good for gays, good for their families, good for Republicans, good for the country? Or is it only a gay man making this argument who is subject to the terms ‘solipsistic,’ ‘quirky’, etc?
Recall that I wasn’t even asking for anything more than words: simple words of inclusion and respect. Is there any Christian Church which wouldn’t endorse such a statement and see it as completely consonant with Christian orthodoxy? Recall too that I suggest this not as a way to criticize Republicans but as a constructive measure to help them win wider support. Jonah says it’s naïve to believe that such a statement wouldn’t have serious “consequences for the conservative project.” I think he means it would antagonize a few religious right leaders. But why should it? What happened to the “hate the sin, love the sinner” concept? One of the people I think Bush should praise was a priest, for goodness’ sake. The other was a Republican jock who might have been one of those who actually saved Washington from terrible destruction. Sorry, I don’t get it.
As a practical matter, I think Jonah is too hard on his fellow Republicans. My experience is that they are not in fact the homophobes he seems to think they are. More and more of them know openly gay people and don’t have huge problems with them. More and more are actually related to them. They may not be ready to sign on to, say, marriage rights – but I don’t think they’d be shocked if the president found a way to reach out to gays, especially in the context of a unifying speech which mentioned others as well. Bush did as much already in Austin, at the behest of his good gay friend, Charles Francis. Why not do more? Besides, as a political matter, the Republican Party is changing. The religious right is in retreat. Jerry Falwell has become a national disgrace. Pat Robertson has just quit. The new GOP chair, Marc Racicot, defended gay dignity and equality in his home state. The vice-president’s daughter is openly gay. Several key non-left writers – from Jon Rauch, Norah Vincent, Walter Olson, to Camille Paglia, David Boaz and yours truly – are openly gay. Many others whom Jonah knows all too well are privately gay. One thing conservatives surely shouldn’t do is deny reality. The gay presence in our culture is here. Sure, we’re a mixed bag, as all human beings are; but there’s plenty about gay people that good conservatives should want to co-opt, embrace and nurture. Jonah, it’s your refusal to follow the logical consequences of this that seems quirky and solipsistic to me. Get real.
Monday, December 17, 2001
SONTAG AWARD NOMINEE: “Meanwhile, the Taliban were hopelessly ignorant. They always buried the bodies too quickly for western cameras. Just compare them with the Kosovo Liberation Army, which ensured a storm of western moral outrage at Serbian ethnic cleansing by taking the cameras to remote villages to show them the dead bodies … The US may have wanted to exact revenge, but it was never something anyone could claim to be morally right. The Americans have unleashed a principle of foreign policy - it is legitimate to fight terror with even greater terror - that is causing havoc in the Middle East, could cause more havoc in Kashmir and is being used from China to Zimbabwe to warrant brutal repression.” – Madeleine Bunting, The Guardian. So the attempt to bring justice to the murderers of 3000 civilians “is never something anyone could claim to be morally right.” And the United States and Britain are the moral equivalent of Serbian fascists. I went to school with Madeleine. Whatever happened to her mind?
Sunday, December 16, 2001
MAKING ISLAM FIT FOR CAPITALISM: Fareed Zakaria has a noble attempt to argue for the imposition of liberal institutions in the Islamic world in this week’s Newsweek. I wish I could buy it. I wish I could believe that democracy could – even in its most basic form – take root in Islamic culture. But I don’t. Compare Zakaria’s hopeful essay with this riveting little piece of colonialist condescension from one Albert Kinross in the Atlantic in 1920. Here’s my favorite anecdote from it:
“My soldier-servant, Ibrahim, put the whole political situation in a nutshell, when, before we were separated by order of the higher authorities, he asked me to get him a new job. 'Why don't you go to one of your own people?' I replied. 'I am only an Unbeliever and an Englishman.' We were excellent friends and understood one another perfectly, and so I could permit myself these candors. 'If I go to an Egyptian, he say, "Bring me money, or bring me a girl, and then I find you a job." If you send me to an Englishman, he say, "What can you do?" and he give me so much pay.' Thus Ibrahim. 'Where would you find a girl?' I asked next. Ibrahim shrugged his shoulders and said, 'My sister.'”
Do we really think this part of the world is much different today?
DERBYSHIRE AWARD NOMINEE (FOR EXCESSIVE RIGHT-WING RHETORIC): “So President Bush, fighting terrorism abroad, now invokes executive privilege to keep us from getting to the bottom of FBI terrorism back home. I don't understand. Except in terms of the body count, what's the difference between an al-Qaeda savage on Tora Bora and a crooked G-man in Boston? A badge, and that's about it. They both kill Americans or help fiends who do. And when they're confronted, they run away and hide. The Arabs cower in caves, the retired FBI agents sun themselves in Florida.” – Howie Carr, Boston Herald.
NAZI ARAB CULTURE WATCH: I’m assuming this picture isn’t what it appears to be. But even Hamas must know what a Nazi salute looks like. And getting school kids to do it?
LETTERS: You pitch in on the Goldberg-Sullivan debate on what conservatism really means.
MARY FRANCES BERRY: A deeply pleasurable George Will column on the lawless hoodlum chairing the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.
Friday, December 14, 2001
FREEDOM THINKS: I love reading Jonah Goldberg. He writes like an angel after a couple of bourbons. But I think he’s confused about my political philosophy, or how I think conservatism should adapt to modern liberal (in the good, old sense) society. In referring to my recent stab at portraying the problems of conservatism after September 11, he says that my “conclusion is that all branches of conservatism are wrong, and that they should basically adopt Sullivan's own quirky, iconoclastic, personal brand of conservatism, complete with his imperative of incorporating gays into the mainstream conservative movement.” I don’t think that’s the best interpretation of my piece. I actually make a point of saying: “Don't get me wrong: Many of the schools of thought I've discussed here have important insights. But they need adjustment to new social realities and new geopolitical opportunities.” I guess it just goes to show that even when you ask people not to get you wrong, they still do. My basic point is that conservatism is not in its best incarnation an ideology. It’s a temperament, a spirit, an impulse that has always been alive to change. From Burke to Oakeshott, the flexibility of conservatism as a political philosophy in response to a changing world has come almost to define its difference from other modern creeds. That’s the kind of conservative I am. Although others may have very different ideas of what conservatism is, I don’t think I’m being outrageous in saying that this emphasis on unideological temperament is perfectly within the mainstream of conservative philosophy.
So if conservatism is flexible, is it infinitely flexible? Nope. I think any political proposal a temperamental conservative makes is informed not by sheer random experimentation but by a respect for current institutions, an appreciation of morality, empirical common sense and an openness to debate. In my own fitful attempts to describe a conservatism that can respond intelligently to modernity, I’ve tried to make arguments that do all of that. My nuanced argument for gay equality, for example, is not some knee-jerk pro-gay polemic, but a carefully constructed, classically liberal, temperamentally conservative argument. Check it out. Reviews by such conservative figures as Harvey Mansfield and Kenneth Minogue did not read the argument as solipsistic or liberal. And the issue of gay integration is not something I have simply dreamed up out of my own needs. It’s been a burning public issue for a while now. Obviously I have a stake, but I’ve been extremely careful not to argue from personal need, but simply to incorporate what I know from simply living as a gay man into an intelligent conservative case. That’s why so many liberals don’t agree with, say, my rejection of hate crime laws or even more harmless anti-discrimination statutes.
Ditto with the legalization of soft drugs. This isn’t some culturally neutral argument for anarchy, or a projection of my own tastes. It’s a case based on good classical liberal principles and empirical observation. I’m sorry but the ban on legal marijuana is so obviously counter-productive, needlessly authoritarian and irrational that, frankly, I’m amazed any sane conservative defends it. I think lifting such a ban would be good for social order, just as allowing gays to marry would be. I’m not a doctrinaire libertarian. I support banning the most addictive and anti-social drugs. I believe in an interventionist foreign policy; I support public schools; I largely back John Ashcroft’s anti-terrorism measures. Let’s tick off a few other items: I’m against affirmative action, morally opposed to all abortion, but politically resigned to legal first trimester abortion. I’m for a flat tax and secular government. I’m an anti-Keynesian; a Zionist; a fan of Orwell and Montaigne, a Catholic in frustrated but respectful dialogue with my own Church. In all this, I’m not a typical conservative, if there is such a thing. But are my views merely “an extrapolation of [my] personal beliefs – or, more accurately, [my personality]”? I don’t think so – at least no more than anyone’s political philosophy. Why is my congeries of beliefs more idiosyncratic than Robert Bork’s? Or Jack Kemp’s? Or Jonah Goldberg’s?
My view is that conservatism needs to adapt to modernity or die a reactionary death. Oakeshott for me was an epiphanous intellectual mentor. He showed me how a conservative temperament could come to terms with a liberal order, restrain, temper and guide it. He faced similar attacks – that he was an idiosyncratic and unintelligible thinker. Read him closely and you will see that he isn’t – and that this coherence is also a function of his own, yes, personality. A conservative is someone who doesn’t take his views from some authoritative tome called, in Jonah’s words, “old-style conservatism.” He is someone who looks at the world afresh all the time, informed by tradition, alert to history, but constantly exhilarated by the possibilities of the present. He knows that all thought is, at some level, refracted through the prism of human personality, and rather than see this as a weakness, he sees it as a strength. Does anyone believe that Disraeli’s version of conservatism wasn’t informed by his personality? Or Lincoln’s? Or Reagan’s? Or Thatcher’s? None of these figures checked a guidebook to proper conservative ideology to govern. In his day, Burke was regarded as a Whig. No Tory backed American independence and he was decried as being completely on an idiosyncratic wing of his own. Now he's regarded as the most influential conservative thinker perhaps of all time. My point exactly.
A conservative’s philosophy is a blend of experience and argument, of temperament and reason. He is enamored with intellectual challenge and does not, as Jonah seems to, feel threatened by new and idiosyncratic interpretations or ideas. That’s what Oakeshott meant, in part, by the metaphor of conversation. No book can contain this political tradition. No encyclopedia can inform it. It’s happening now – as I write and you read and you write back. That’s why in a way I think this new medium is such a boon for such a way of thinking. It’s so supple and open and human, it can reveal truths that more dogmatic approaches cannot. Jonah clearly gets this and practices it. At some point, his political theory may catch up with his practice.
BUSH AND GAYS: Yes, there’s clearly a thaw, as Newsweek has noticed. I’ve certainly had no major sense of anti-gay animus from this administration, and the work of Charlie Francis is of enormous importance – not just for gay Americans but also for Republicans who want to see their party grow and breathe and unite. But the administration needs to do more than be passively non-hostile if it is to achieve a breakthrough. Here’s hoping Bush will get there soon. How about not discharging gay soldiers who have been fighting for their country when they return home from duty?
THE ENRON SMEARS: Spinsanity does a good job dissecting our good friends, Molly Ivins and Robert Scheer, whose dishonesty is only slightly leavened by their indefatigable dimness. Spinsanity has some cred here since they really are bipartisan bullshit detectors, and have taken me down a mini-peg or two in the past.
LETTERS: A Salon cartoon mud-fight: you weigh in. Plus: AbFab and John Walker.
JONAH: OK, ok. Trust me, I’m gonna blow his liquor-ridden, dog-hair covered, libertarian-baiting ass out of the water. But I’ve been writing all day and I don’t want to pen something as rambling as his original piece. I’ll post something first thing tomorrow. And first thing for me means sometime after noon.
Thursday, December 13, 2001
LETTERS: David Talbot defends running a cartoon depicting a fantasy assassination of Bush. I reply. - 8:51:59 PM
INSTAPUNDIT: After reading the transcript of bin Laden’s sickening discourse with his fellow religious lunatics, a couple of things strike me. The first is that anyone who doubts the genuineness of this man’s faith, the inextricability of a twisted fundamentalist Islam with this form of terror, is simply in denial. The second thing that’s obvious is that the only thing bin Laden respects is power. Notice how he predicts that there will be mass conversions to Islam after the massacre. He believes that people, especially those in his own backyard, suck up to the powerful – and that this is the critical battle in his region. He directly rebuts Western nonsense about the Arab street being enraged by any exercise of American power in the Middle East. In fact, bin Laden proves that the best form of persuasion in that part of the world is not rhetorical but military. Pummel them and they will respect you. Talk to them nicely and you’ll end up like Robert Fisk. Best of all, pummel them and then talk. The most persuasive piece of rhetoric yet unleashed in this conflict has been the daisy cutter bomb. It’s the only argument that much of this clearly depraved culture actually respects. And when bin Laden is dead or captured, his hold on the imagination in that part of the world will collapse. - 5:41:12 PM
SALON’S NEW LOW: Would you run a comic strip that treats the murder of president George W. Bush as a) desirable; b) a joke? Salon just did. - 5:25:32 PM
SCORE ONE FOR THE GIPPER: "I don't think you can overstate the importance that the rise of Islamic fundamentalism will have to the rest of the world in the century ahead -- especially if, as seems possible, its most fanatical elements get their hands on nuclear and chemical weapons and the means to deliver them against their enemies." – Ronald Reagan, “An American Life,” chapter 57.
SCORE ONE FOR YOURS TRULY: “After a mere three weeks, the press has begun to use the word, 'quagmire.' After three weeks, liberal critics have pronounced the war not merely lost but unwinnable, and conservative critics have declared it half-hearted. The only thing that can be said about such armchair strategists is that they cannot have a clue what they’re talking about.” – yours truly, Sunday Times, November 4.
JONAH’S VICIOUS ATTACK: Just kidding. A response is in the works …
- 3:04:37 PM
LIFE IN PRISON AT LEAST: Will Saletan rightly takes president Bush to task for seeming sympathetic to the plight of John Walker. But he cannot use the rhetoric of this war and make an exception for a terrorist simply because he is a young American. As Will puts it, “You can frame this as a war on terror and demand that all terrorists and those who harbor them be punished. You can frame it as a war on Afghanistan and demand that the United States spare the lives of young Taliban and al-Qaida fighters. But you can't call it a war on terror and spare—much less harbor—the one al-Qaida fighter known to be an American. That's not a perspective. That's a lie.” Amen.
THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: “Moderns in Marin try to live down their mothers back in Spokane ("I mean, she makes casseroles"), make up bumper-stickers for their Volvos ("Another Glass-blower for Udall"), attach tiny silver coke spoons to their high school charm bracelets, drink at "The Silenced Minority," buy Earth shoes at "The Electric Poppy," and get hair cuts at "Rape of the Locks," where a black militant shampooer harasses the ladies by constantly changing the soul handshake.
”Marin's affliction is "French bread thumb," a wound suffered by hostesses who drink too much with hors d'oeuvres and then slice themselves instead of the bread. Marin exercises inclde Zen jogging, and dressing for tennis… The Serial is a comedy about moderns struggling to keep their chins above the rising sea of their status anxieties. It is a Baedeker guide to a desolate region, the monochromatic inner landscape of persons whose life is consumption, of goods and salvations, and whose moral makeup is the curious modern combination of hedonism and earnestness.” – George Will reviewing the novel, Serial: A Year in the Life of Marin County, by Cyra McFadden, in 1977.
EPIPHANY WATCH: “Three months ago, the World Trade Center was destroyed by terrorists, and what happened to the Bay Area? One of our young men, from Marin County no less, was captured in Afghanistan fighting with the Taliban. This provided the only chuckle of the war, yet led to an entirely serious debate about whether John Walker, Taliban Ranger, is an only-from-Marin phenomenon or not. Well, folks, he wasn't from Nebraska. Now that would be news, although not as good a story. Walker is the worst thing that's happened to Marin County since peacock feathers, and everybody has an opinion. Why the big fuss in the Bay Area? Because we've had a crisis of belief, and our truest believer turned up with an AK-47 on the side of the enemy. “ – Rob Morse, San Francisco Chronicle.
POLITICAL SITE OF THE DAY: Thanks to aboutpolitics.com for naming us their site of the day.
AIDS IN INDIA: On the plane to Chicago this evening, I got time to read two deeply rewarding essays. One was Michael Specter’s report from India on the burgeoning HIV epidemic in that country. The piece is full of the usual New Yorker high-mindedness, but it breaks ranks with orthodoxy by making a simple, arresting point. Cheap anti-HIV drugs – or even free anti-HIV drugs – have all but no relevance to curtailing the epidemic in a vast and dirt-poor country like India. It’s far more important and feasible in such a place to find innovative ways to prevent HIV infection than to treat or cure it. Specter, like all New Yorker writers, is a liberal. He’s basically sympathetic to writers like Tina Rosenberg who have laid almost the entire responsibility for the spread of HIV in the developing world at the feet of the evil pharmaceutical companies. But when Specter actually saw the situation on the ground, he saw the tragic futility of such an approach. And his intellectual honesty casts a dark shadow on the real motivations of some of those who want to use the developing world HIV crisis to cripple a free market in pharmaceuticals at home. Alas, Specter’s piece is not online. But if you get the New Yorker, don’t miss it.
WHEN AMERICA BLINKED: I also got around to Robert Kagan’s endless book review in The New Republic of David Halberstam’s tome on “Bush, Clinton and the Generals.” Like much of what Kagan writes, it was cogent, elegant and powerful. Kagan’s account of the collapse of foreign policy nerve among American elites in the past generation is a wonderful rubric through which to see the country’s recent history. It’s a polemic, of course, but that only buoys the narrative along. What you get here is an almost pristine view of the boundless potential of American power abroad, and the necessity to project it anywhere and everywhere to do good, prevent harm, and generally bring about a better world. I’m sure Kagan would consider my reaction to his often breathless naivete about the wider world to be a symptom of my own enmeshment in American decadence. But his admirable idealism and sharp intellect would, I think, be leavened if they came with at least some respect for the virtues of moderation in foreign policy, prudence in foreign engagements, and respect for other powers and cultures. Certainly, we need more of Kagan’s spirit in foreign policy – but I’d be terrified if there were no moderating influence as well. That’s why, although I’m critical of many of Colin Powell’s views, I’m glad he’s at the table in the current war. The president, I think, understands this mix. I wish that some neoconservatives, who deserve our gratitude for their powerful critique of recent foreign policy, would appreciate this more.
Wednesday, December 12, 2001
SOUTH PARK COMES OUT: Yes, we now know, after much speculation, something that is obvious to any devoted fans of the Comedy Central cartoon show, “South Park.” This brilliant, scatological, hilarious concoction of anti-p.c. Gen X genius is the product of two men – Trey Parker and Matt Stone. And at a recent award ceremony hosted by People for the American Way, no less, they came out as … Republicans! Well at least I now have a quick response to the next person who asks me to sum up my politics. I’m a South Park Republican. But shhhh! Don’t tell Robert Bork.
GIULIANI ON WALKER: "I could feel sorry for someone and still string 'em up," Rudy tells MoDo of the Times. At last a definition of “compassionate conservatism” that makes some kind of sense.
MARIN LIBERALISM: The New York Times, after yesterday’s damning profiles of Walker and Spann, goes into spin-mode today. The headline for the follow-up story, “An Improbable Incubator for a Militant Muslim,” gives the game away. The piece does its best to portray the echt-liberal enclave of Marin county as a conservative-leaning suburb, but is honest enough to let some facts get in the way. My favorite is a quote from a Marin resident: “"I find that people here are basically very forgiving, no matter what their point of view. With the Walker kid, I can't imagine anyone here thinks he should go to jail for 25 years. I think most people are compassionate about him, especially when they think about his parents." Notice it doesn’t even occur to her that Walker might be executed. And the thousands of victims of the terrorist group Walker aided and abetted? Compared to the pain of Walker’s parents, they don’t seem to count.
- 2:37:49 PM
REDEFINITION: A reader objects to the term "war pessimists." They should be called according to what they are: "defeat optimists." - 1:26:18 PM
THE BRUTAL TRUTH: “If Israel were a Palestinian state, complete with superior firepower and all the privileges of internationally recognized statehood, and the West Bank were a Palestinian occupied Jewish enclave, do you really suppose there would be any Jews left to protest?” Norah Vincent nails the depravity, illiberalism, intolerance and hypocrisy of the ascendant Arab culture. People ask why Americans tend to sympathize more with Israelis than Palestinians. It’s not racism. It’s a recognition that, for all their failings, the Israelis live in the same moral universe as we do. The Palestinians palpably, brazenly do not. - 1:09:47 PM
BARBRA GRAPPLES WITH THE TOUGH ISSUES: “As Streisand groped for equilibrium after Sept. 11, her shock turned to uncertainty in matters both grave and trivial. She relates, ‘One day I tell myself, 'Screw everything, I'm getting a Carl's Jr. hamburger and eating fried chicken three nights in a row. I don't care about my weight.' The next day, my optimistic side takes over and I think, 'Wait a minute, life goes on, people will get wiser, justice will prevail. Maybe I should watch my diet.' I'm still in that state of confusion.’” – Barbra Streisand, on her response to September 11. To be fair, she also has some decent and appropriate things to say as well. Then she plugs her new album. - 12:56:09 PM
BUCKLEY’S WORRIES: The esteemed Bill Buckley worries that Osama is achieving a mythic status of invulnerability. Something tells me Buckley couldn’t be more wrong. Chill, Bill. We’re gonna get him. And soon. And then the myth implodes in exact proportion to its inflated grandeur. In fact, the myth helps us. The crushing psychological blow to the murderers and fanatics and mischief-makers who lionized bin Laden will only make our military victory more emphatic. Then on to Somalia ... - 9:59:45 AM
THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: "We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful." - C.S. Lewis, “The Abolition of Man.”
THE FORGE OF WAR: Some interesting results from the latest poll from the New York Times. One number that piqued my interest was that most Americans still don’t really have a clue who John Ashcroft is. But of those who did know, his favorability rating was 31 percent and his unfavorability rating was a mere 8 percent. And to think of all the money, time and ink that some people have spent trying to peg him as the source of all evil. I guess no one really internalizes Frank Rich. Then there’s the astonishing fact that 61 percent of Americans approve of president Bush’s handling of the economy, even during a recession. Bottom line: there doesn’t seem to be a massive disconnect in people’s minds between domestic and foreign affairs. This makes intuitive sense to me. One of the reasons that Bush’s poll numbers are so high is partly patriotism in a time of crisis, but also surely that people admire the crisp, effective and mild-mannered presidency the war has revealed. The idea that this will have no impact on his clout in domestic matters seems to me to be unlikely. The analogy of his father doesn’t hold. Before the Gulf War, 41’s image with the public was already pretty set – out-of-touch, inarticulate, pushed around by his own party, not as impressive as Reagan. The war didn’t change this identity; it merely helped give the old guy more respect. But this war has come at a very different time for 43. In Dubyah’s case, the best analogy, I think, is Thatcher. She dealt with a surprise attack early in her first term – the Falklands. She performed brilliantly under pressure and saw her approval ratings grow domestically – even though her economic policies were never very popular, and she precipitated a brutal recession in her early days. The war transformed her image when it was still formative in the eyes of the country. It never changed. I think there’s a good chance the same thing is happening with Bush, which is why Democratic faith that they can compartmentalize the war and insulate it from domestic politics is, in my opinion, misplaced. This poll suggests I may be right. Well, we’ll see, won’t we?
THE CULT OF PESSIMISM: Useful piece by Jake Weisberg on how war pessimists endure, against all the odds and against all the evidence. Speaking of which, this latest piece from the Guardian probably deserves a prize for finding the dark lining in every silver cloud. Don’t kid yourselves: these people never ever learn.
Tuesday, December 11, 2001
RED, BLUE AND YOU: Okay, you officially win this debate. Not because I've been proven completely wrong in my first take on Walker/Spann but because you've definitely persuaded me it's much more complex and more interesting than my original impression. I don't mean to be wishy-washy, but I'm still thinking about this. Memo to Weisberg/Noah/Lewis: I still think you were wrong but not so wrong as to owe me an apology. There's a lot of room for doubt and debate here, but the easy equation of Walker's background and his eventual politics is just that: too easy. The letters page now contains a new swath of points from all sides. I'm constantly amazed by the knowledge and intelligence of my readers, but this time, you surpassed yourselves. - 11:43:13 PM
RED AND BLUE RECONSIDERED: One email has really got me thinking. The best point of those who disagree with my earlier post on Walker/Spann is that Walker wasn't/isn't really a lefty. He's actually a right-wing religious zealot. Here's the case:
"Maybe I missed something, but I am not sure how a religious fundamentalist and zealot like John Walker is an embodiment of the American Hating Left. He is a right wing religious nut just like the guy arrested here in Cincinnati last week for sending fake anthrax to abortion clinics. While you may be correct that his permissive parents and his multicultural context may have produced him (sounds like something some right wing nut case would say about homosexuality, right Andrew?), what it produced was a right wing Islamic religious nut who hates the West and America for its decadence (which he enjoyed and benefited from) and sin, just like his brothers on the right wing Christian extreme (like maybe Tim McVeigh, who was a Catholic to boot?). Let's at least be honest that Walker represents some of the worst of American permissiveness and multiculturalism, while being the embodiment of right wing religious fanaticism. I think we all get caught on this one."
This strikes me as pretty smart. What it misses, though, is that Walker actually rebelled against Catholicism for being too strict when he was younger. I think he was attracted to Islam as much by its exoticism as by its strictures. I think we have a classic case of being brought up with really permissive parents in a really permissive culture. You want to rebel, but your authority figures approve of 'rebellion' so you have to find some sort of anti-liberal rebellion. Islam fits the bill perfectly. Hip-hop was a mite too predictable and you can imagine his parents almost approving. The extremism with which he pursued his rebellion is probably inexplicable out of psychoanalysis. But the link between his chosen lifestyle and the culture in which he was born is still valid, I think. - 7:25:31 PM
LETTERS: You weigh in against me (mainly) on the Walker-Spann divide. - 7:04:57 PM
SCORE ONE FOR DICK MORRIS: It strikes me that the old Clinton-enabler has a very good point in his latest column. Why are we admitting any students from countries that sponsor terrorism? Subjecting all of them to lengthy interrogations about their possible terror connections seems to me hugely time-consuming, expensive and prone to failure. And the possible sympathy some might acquire for the United States by studying here is far outweighed by the costs of even one terrorist finding his way here as a result. Look, I’m a big fan of immigration, natch. Student visas for foreign students are a great idea and a critical part of this country’s educational excellence. But this is clearly one area where new circumstances merit changes. Why not increase the number of student visas from friendly countries to make up financially for those from countries that still harbor terrorists? That seems like a preferable compromise to me. - 4:41:47 PM
BLUE AND RED AGAIN: You may well have read the astonishing piece in the New York Times today about the divergent paths of John Walker and John Spann. The thing that stood out most starkly is the blue-red split. In fact, both are almost absurd stereotypes of each part of America. Here’s Spann’s background: “Mr. Spann grew up foursquare in a four-stoplight Alabama town. Life in Winfield revolved around family, church, duty and high school football, and Mike Spann embraced them all. He took apples to his teacher, played soldier at recess and prayed on Sunday with his family at the Church of Christ.” You couldn’t make that up. Then here’s Walker: “Encouraged by his divorcing parents to seek his own spiritual path, he found himself by rejecting teenage culture in the name of Islam. He sold off his hip- hop records, immersed himself in the Koran and started wearing a long white robe.” One is from Alabama; the other is from Marin County, California. One is a national hero, the first American casualty at the hands of the enemy. The other is the enemy. Does it get any starker than that?
ENCLAVES OF THE LEFT: The question, I suppose, is whether their respective backgrounds tell us anything. The Times' story wisely assumes social and cultural background is at least relevant to understanding them, and, however queasy that will make some liberals, I agree with the Times. We can debate, of course, whether places like Marin County are hotbeds of anti-Americanism. For the vast majority, they’re probably not. But for some parts of the decadent left, they are, and Walker starkly illustrates that fact. Memo to Weisberg/Noah/Lewis et al, who pummeled me for predicting that such a fifth column might eventually come about in exactly these “enclaves of the decadent left on the coasts”: you owe me an apology. These people exist. They're not numerous, but then I never said they were. They have support - just read the San Francisco press to see the strained excuses still being made for Walker. If the San Francisco left claims him as an emblem of their openness and diversity, why shouldn't we?
INSTA-TRAITOR?: Actually, Walker isn’t even a fifth columnist. He is an honest-to-God traitor. Yes, the expanse of coastal decadent leftism is diverse – ranging from apathetic hostility to American power all the way to actual treason – but the connection between a certain leftist relativist subculture (e.g. the New Age parenting of Walker) and actual treason is now no longer an abstraction. It’s real. It’s called John Walker. And what’s the Left’s response? Here’s Salon, already in denial. Walker is an “insta-traitor,” a figment of the McCarthyite right’s fevered imagination. Do I detect a Hiss for our generation? I’m not going to push the point, since many on the far left are not guilty of treachery or even lack of patriotism (in their own often strained formulation). In fact, none apart from Walker can claim the ignominy of realized treason – so far. But the real question is: does it surprise anyone that this traitor came from the political and cultural background he did? Of course, it surprises no one. Whatever else he is, Walker is a catastrophic embarrassment to the cultural left. If David Horowitz had wanted to concoct an imaginary leftist figure from his most paranoid fantasies, he could hardly have come up with a more perfect incarnation than Walker. And liberal apologists can spare us the sermons about how unfair it is to associate one man’s actions with an entire sub-culture. Timothy McVeigh anyone? Well, this time the shoe is on the other foot. It may not be entirely fair, but it’s damning.
- 4:14:42 PM
THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: "I have seen ... good democratic liberals, lovers of peace and gentleness, struck dumb with admiration for individuals threatening or using the most terrible violence for the slightest and tawdriest reasons. They have a sneaking suspicion that they are face to face with men of real commitment, which they themselves lack." - Allan Bloom, "The Closing Of The American Mind." - 1:58:03 AM
Monday, December 10, 2001
DISAPPOINTED DASCHLE: Funny piece in Roll Call on Tom Daschle’s favorite feeling. The man lives in a constant state of disappointment. “In the past year,” Roll Call notes, “Daschle has been ‘disappointed’ by the appropriations schedule, the lack of progress on a patients' bill of rights (‘and, frankly, saddened’ as well as ‘dismayed, really’), the media's coverage of the stem-cell research debate, criticism of Democrats' stance on Mexican truck safety, the White House position on the Kyoto treaty, the report of the Social Security Commission, the scope of the tax rebate, and the ‘millionaires’ amendment to campaign finance reform.” Of course, he was never actually disappointed. In reality, he was probably pissed off. But being mad doesn’t convey the composure of the man above-it-all whose passion rises only to the level of condescending sadness. I guess he should be congratulated for “changing the tone,” and heaven knows, his rhetoric is preferable to, say, Terry McAuliffe. If only the two alternatives for some politicians weren’t vulgarity or sanctimony.
ANOTHER EPIPHANY: Close students of Israeli culture and society (I’m an editor at The New Republic so I count) will have been gob-smacked (yes, it’s a Briticism) to find out that historian Benny Morris has now publicly stated his belief that “the Palestinians, not Israel, are to blame for the ongoing conflict and for the current state of affairs.” Morris became famous or infamous for his view that Israel’s official history was riddled with distortions, biases and untruths. A terrific and highly critical review of his work can be read here. When he gave a recent speech at Berkeley, his leftist audience was expecting an anti-Zionist tirade. What they got was an epiphany. Here’s a great summary of what happened. The world turns.
- 8:20:49 PM
NUKE ‘EM?: The most cogent argument I’ve yet heard for using an underground nuclear weapon to destroy Tora Bora and minimize our casualties.
WHY I LOVE RUMMY: "It's true, it's hard to get information from me. It is true that I clean the damn room out. With the president's full blessing, I reduce down the size of the room. And of course, when people are asked out of the room, that is not something that pleases them. So it's not surprising for me that some person who's not in the loop, and ought not to be in the loop, is expressing that thought, and it bothers me not one whit." – Donald Rumsfeld justifying his habit of telling lower-downs to scram when he wants to talk about sensitive matters with the president.
Sunday, December 09, 2001
THE PATHOLOGY OF ROBERT FISK: His account of his ordeal at the hands of an Afghan mob – a mob that apparently cried “Infidel!” as they attacked and tried to rob him – is a classic piece of leftist pathology. You have to read it to believe it. Even when people are trying to murder Fisk, he adamantly refuses to see them as morally culpable or even responsible. I’ve heard of self-hatred but this is ridiculous: “They started by shaking hands. We said, 'Salaam aleikum' – peace be upon you – then the first pebbles flew past my face." That sentence alone deserves to go down as one of the defining quotes of the idiotic left. If it weren't so tragic, it would be downright hilarious. Who needs Evelyn Waugh when you have this?
"I WOULD HAVE DONE THE SAME": But wait, there's more. "A small boy tried to grab my bag. Then another. Then someone punched me in the back. Then young men broke my glasses, began smashing stones into my face and head. I couldn't see for the blood pouring down my forehead and swamping my eyes. And even then, I understood. I couldn't blame them for what they were doing. In fact, if I were the Afghan refugees of Kila Abdullah, close to the Afghan-Pakistan border, I would have done just the same to Robert Fisk. Or any other Westerner I could find.” What does this mean, you might well ask? What it means is that someone – anyone – is either innocent or guilty purely by racial or cultural association. An average Westerner is to be taken as an emblem of an entire culture and treated as such. Any random Westerner will do. Individual notions of responsibility or morality are banished, as one group is labeled blameless and another irredeemably malign. There’s a word for this: it’s racism. And like many other members of the far left, Fisk is himself a proud racist, someone who believes that the color of a person’s skin condemns him automatically and justifies violence against him. So the two extremes touch and are, in fact, interchangeable. Rightist racism springs from the premise that some races are somehow morally superior. Leftist racism springs from the premise that some races are also morally superior. The only difference is the color of skin. Alleged “victimization” sanctifies any evil perpetrated by the oppressed race. Just as the Nazis and Communists claimed self-defense for the mass-murder of their “oppressors,” so some modern leftists claim the absolution of self-defense even for a mob attacking a carful of innocent, harmless journalists. Or a sky-scraper for that matter.
THE VICTIM OF THE WORLD: You know the expression: you wouldn't understand a culture if it actually hit you in the head? Fisk has now officially retired that expression as a metaphor. He goes on: “There were all the Afghan men and boys who had attacked me who should never have done so but whose brutality was entirely the product of others…” Notice that phrase – “whose brutality was entirely the product of others.” What can that possibly mean? We’re not talking about extenuating circumstances – things that might help us understand or contextualize the hatred of one people for another. We’re talking about a priori moral absolution. Take this passage: “Goddamit, I said and tried to bang my fist on my side until I realised it was bleeding from a big gash on the wrist – the mark of the tooth I had just knocked out of a man's jaw, a man who was truly innocent of any crime except that of being the victim of the world.” No, Mr. Fisk, that man who attacked you was not truly innocent of any crime. You were. He was not the victim of the world. You were the victim of a thieving, violent mob. For those who believe that the left-wing intelligentsia is capable of critical thought or even a modification of their ideology in the face of evidence, this incident is a wonderful example of why it won’t happen. They won’t recognize reality, or abandon their racism, or moderate their spectacular condescension to the inhabitants of the developing world – even when reality, literally, crushingly, punches them in the face.
THANK YOU: I promised a long time ago that I would publish a list of sponsors for the site. As our redesign seems to be taking longer than the war against al Qaeda, it seems ungrateful to wait for its unveiling to thank you all. A list of sponsors is now up in the site, here. In a few cases, we were unsure from the letters whether the donors wanted anonymity. We’ve withheld their names to protect their privacy. If you’re one of them and want your name added, please email Robert Cameron at Robert@fantascope.com. If you want to become a sponsor, please go to the Tipping Point for instructions.
SONTAG AWARD NOMINEE I: “Those willing to sacrifice for their beliefs deserve respect -- even if what they believe in is foolish. As a teenager, American Taliban fighter John Phillip Walker gave up a comfortable life in Marin County and traveled halfway around the world to put his life on the line for his religious convictions. How many of us are that courageous?” – Glenn Sacks, San Francisco Chronicle.
SONTAG AWARD NOMINEE II: “Far from an act of cowardice or retreat, Bin Laden's canny underground maneuvers replay a religious drama, which enhances both his spiritual power and his political effectiveness with his followers. The images he manipulates not only are those of modern culture but are also religious symbols, which pulse in the psychic underground of our consciousness. Bin Laden's elusiveness and invisibility are actually sources of his strength. Indeed, his absence has become an overwhelming presence for those who seek him. This is why his death will solve very little. When placed in a ritual context, the sacrificial victim is reborn in the spirit of the community of his followers. Like religious martyrs before him, Bin Laden will become even more powerful in death than in life.” - Mark C. Taylor, Los Angeles Times. He’s a professor, natch.
SADDAM’S GAS CHAMBER: Not sure whether this story is checkable, but opposition groups in Iraq claim that Saddam is now gassing his political prisoners in specially built gas chambers. Any further confirmation of this story is welcome. Here’s the link from the Kuwaiti Times.
LETTERS: Steve Chapman replies; an enlisted servicemember remembers.
MEDIA BIAS WATCH: Check out these two captions from the AP and Reuters for the same photograph. The AP caption: “A group of Hamas suicide bombers, with fake dynamite strapped around their chests, parade at the el-Hilweh refugee camp near the southern Lebanese city of Sidon on Sunday, Dec. 9, 2001, during an anti-Israel demonstration organized by Hamas to mark the 14th anniversary of its founding. The group said they hoped to join their Hamas colleagues in Palestinian areas to carry out suicide attacks against Israel.” The Reuters caption: “Members of Hamas pray during a rally held at Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp near the port-city of Sidon in south Lebanon, December 9, 2001. Palestinians poured into the streets in Lebanon on Sunday to mark the14th anniversary of the founding of the militant Palestinian Islamist group Hamas.” No wonder they can’t bring themselves to use the word “terrorist.”
- 6:46:40 PM
FISK’S FREUDIAN SLIP: What happened to British left-wing journalist, Robert Fisk, was terrible. He was attacked by a crowd of angry Afghans, after his car broke down in a dangerous spot. But what he said about it is so deeply revealing, it’s worth recording. “If I had been them, I would have attacked me,” he said. Think about that for a minute. He doesn’t excuse their violence – “It doesn't excuse them for beating me up so badly” – yet he feels they were morally justified in what they did. Isn’t that exactly what the far left essentially meant in the wake of September 11: that the massacre was wrong but understandable? And doesn’t it suggest that the only moral difference between these intellectuals seduced by violence and the terrorists themselves is the will and capacity to actually translate beliefs into action? - 2:37:09 PM
Saturday, December 08, 2001
THE ENEMY SURRENDERS: I mean the Guardian, that is, the leading Western anti-war newspaper. In today’s editorial, it folds. It concedes that there is still fighting to come, that the war isn’t over, that humanitarian problems will no doubt continue. Then the kicker: “All that is true, but it absolutely misses the bigger picture, which is that the US-led campaign in Afghanistan continues to be far more successful than the pessimists, and even most optimists, ever thought possible. It is always harder to act than not to act, but the action taken by the US has been largely vindicated, at least in the short term… This is not a reason for silly gloating; but it certainly ought to be a reason for those who have consistently claimed to know that each stage of the operation would create some new and worse catastrophe to confess that they got it wrong. Their confidence turned out to be fear. Their apparent knowledge was in fact ignorance. Their belief that history would prove them right proved only the more useful lesson that history repeats itself until it does not.” Good for the Guardian. Moderate liberals are now denying that there ever was an anti-war left; and left-liberals are now announcing that they were wrong about the war. Does it get any sweeter than that? - 4:14:40 PM
SAN FRANCISCO DEFENDS WALKER: Well at least, Bay Area dupes are claiming him as one of their own. But what do some think we owe him? Compassion. “We'd want nothing less for our own children, who could easily have found themselves in a similar mess.” Yes, guys. And that’s the problem.
THE BRITISH ASHCROFT: Here’s Britain’s Home Secretary, David Blunkett, on those in the House of Lords who are trying to delay and amend the British government’s anti-terrorism legislation: “God willing there won't be an attack on us over Christmas and New Year, because all those who tell me we are not [at risk] are the ones who do not have the security and intelligence information which, for my sins, I carry. And that information tells us that because of our alliance - quite rightly - with the United States and because of our vulnerability we are at risk." Blunkett, of course, is no Ashcroft. He’s a long-standing member of the Labour Party, he’s blind, he’s relatively liberal, he may well be the next British prime minister. And what he’s doing suggests that Ashcroft, for all my protestations, isn’t the only one upping the ante.
HAMAS AMONG THE DEMOCRATS: A key aide to Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney resigned last week after writing a letter to the Hill newspaper. In the letter, Raeed Tayeh, identifying himself as McKinney’s aide, opined: "What is more disturbing to me is that many of these pro-Israeli lawmakers sit on the House International Relations Committee despite the obvious conflict of interest that their emotional attachments to Israel cause… The Israeli occupation of all territories must end, including Congress.” It turns out that Tayeh has an interesting past. According to the Forward newspaper, “Mr. Tayeh has served on the executive board of the Islamic Association for Palestine, based in Richardson, Texas and Chicago. Authorities say that the IAP's finances are entwined with those of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, also based in Richardson and Chicago. On Tuesday, the government froze the assets of the foundation, saying that it finances the terrorist group Hamas. As recently as this fall Mr. Tayeh worked as a researcher at the United Association for Studies and Research. In 1993 a convicted Hamas operative testified in an Israeli court that the UASR was the political arm of Hamas in the United States.” Puts McKinney’s long-standing flirtations with anti-Semitism in perspective, doesn’t it?
Friday, December 07, 2001
END-GAME: So after a good long time at the helm, the old cleric finally decided to surrender his last remaining fortress - the place where it had all begun not so very long ago. What should we do with him? Capture? House arrest? Public humiliation? I think we should let Pat Robertson get on with the rest of his life in peace, don't you? - 6:40:41 PM
MEDIA BIAS WATCH: “Those views reflect the degree to which many residents of Longmont, a fast-growing but still conservative community of 71,000 outside of Boulder, are galvanized over Mr. Walker, the 20-year-old man from Northern California who was captured with 79 other Taliban soldiers last week in Afghanistan.” – New York Times today. Is the Times aware that some of the fastest growing regions in the country are precisely some of the most conservative leaning? Or did it even occur to them?
THE ARGUMENT ABOUT MILITARY TRIBUNALS IS NOW OVER: Jimmy Carter just came out against them. Of course they’re a good idea.
- 12:30:22 PM
ASHCROFT AND GUNS: Byron York has another important piece this morning on National Review Online. Yes, it’s true the law itself bars FBI checks on gun-owners who might be terrorists, as Glenn Reynolds pointed out yesterday. So why not change the law? If this administration believes that everyone needs to sacrifice something except the NRA, they’re going to commit political suicide. The closer you look at Ashcroft’s performance yesterday, the worse it seems. - 11:22:03 AM
THE WAR AND THE RIGHT: Conservatism after September 11: my take. Posted opposite and on TNR.com. - 11:14:07 AM
LETTERS: In defense of NPR; Clinton; and Satan (just kidding about the last one). Plus: more liberal laundry and computer theology. - 1:52:32 AM
ASHCROFT’S HUBRIS: Look, I support many of the measures the administration has put in place to try and prosecute terrorists. A large amount of the criticism has been way overblown. Military tribunals are almost certainly necessary. The war mandates changes that we shouldn't contemplate in peacetime. The priority right now is to prevent more massacres of American citizens. But you’d have to be brainless not to realize that many of these measures can be improved, amended, and corrected after a healthy debate. I’d like to see much more detail on the procedures of military tribunals; judicial review of their decisions; government eavesdropping of lawyer-client conversations only by an independent judge – not government lawyers; and other fixes. Many people – from Jeff Rosen and Laurence Tribe to Akhil Amar to Stuart Taylor Jr. – are not viscerally opposed to emergency measures but worried (as we all should be) about any unnecessary endangerment of civil liberties. They and others have made important contributions to the debate, which needs to continue. In that respect, Attorney General Ashcroft’s tone at yesterday’s hearings was way off. He came close to asserting that the Congress itself was somehow soft on terrorism for raising questions about new laws. I agree with the Washington Post today that that’s offensive and dumb. The administration has done a sterling job in this war so far. Hubris shouldn’t lead them to push their luck.
BEGALA AWARD NOMINEE: “The Enron analogy will soon become a tired cliché, but in this case the parallel is irresistible. Enron management and the administration Enron did so much to put in power applied the same strategy: First, use cooked numbers to justify big giveaways at the top. Then, if things don't work out, let ordinary workers who trusted you pay the price. But Enron executives got caught; Mr. Bush believes that the events of Sept. 11 will let him off the hook.” – Paul Krugman, New York Times today.
WHILE I’M AT IT: “Money to rebuild New York? Sorry, no.” – from the column cited above. Now, everyone knows that a large sum of federal money has already been apportioned to New York City for recovery and rebuilding. So what can Krugman mean? Read the column again and you’ll see there’s no qualification here. He doesn’t say “More money to rebuild New York?” Or: “Enough money to rebuild New York?” Is Krugman unaware of the funding? Or is this simply a smear?
Thursday, December 06, 2001
THE NEW ANTI-ANTI-LEFT SPIN: Even the cartoonists are joining in.
MY POLITICS AND YOURS: Here’s a diverting little quiz. It asks you all sorts of economic, social and political questions and then plots your politics on a little graph. It doesn’t simply go right to left. It also measures you on a libertarian/authoritarian axis as well. Some of the questions need far more context and are way too crude. But the exercise does help show how our new politics has to be thought of outside a crude right-left paradigm. I’m fascinated to know where my readers end up, but don’t email me to let me know. I’ll be flooded. The scores run from – 10 to + 10 on the economic left-right axis; and – 10 to + 10 on the social libertarian-authoritarian axis. No surprise that I’m in the economic right/social libertarian box. I’m slightly more economically conservative (+ 6.25) than I’m socially libertarian (- 4.10). And the box I’m in is the least populated there is.
- 6:00:11 PM
AMERICAN TALIBAN: I’m sorry but I don’t agree with president Bush’s compassion toward American traitor, John Walker. This Newsweek scoop reveals Walker’s non-cooperation with CIA agent, Johnny Spann, moments before Spann was killed by Walker’s friends among the Taliban. Walker needs to be tried for treason. Period. - 4:59:16 PM
BUMILLER BIAS WATCH: "[President Bush] also said Democratic senators 'need to stop fussing and stop talking and get something to my desk that will take care of the workers and provide stimulus to this economy.' " – Elisabeth Bumiller, New York Times, December 5. “"There seems to be a little bit of a logjam in Washington, D.C. right now. And I know that Senators from both parties, if they could hear the stories about -- and I'm sure they do, I'm sure they listen when they go home. But they need to act. They need to stop fussing and stop talking and get something to my desk that will take care of the workers and provide stimulus to this economy." – President Bush’s actual remarks, same day (emphasis added).
- 4:45:21 PM
A LIBERAL AND HIS LAUNDRY: A little gem from the Onion. - 4:06:11 PM
“MALIGN NEGLECT”: One theme of James Bennet’s otherwise excellent recent dispatches from Israel has been that the current conflict was in part caused by the Bush administration’s “malign neglect” of the peace-process. This ignores the fact that more Israelis have been murdered by terrorists since the Oslo Accord than in all the years since 1948. It is also belied by the New York Times’ own story today by David Firestone that documents Hamas’s plans for terror and supplanting the PLO since at least 1993.
ASHCROFT, BUTTERFIELD AND GUNS: The invaluable weblogger, Glenn Reynolds, dismantles Fox Butterfield’s New York Times’ piece on attorney general Ashcroft’s ruling on gun checks today. Reynolds argues that “a firearms registry that permits the lookup of individuals is specifically forbidden by statute.” Hmmm.
THE MYTH OF THE MYTH OF THE ANTI-WAR LEFT: Be sure to check out Ron Radosh’s response to Jake Weisberg in the current Frontpage magazine. Thinking about this debate overnight, it occurred to me that I should add something. Although I disagree with Jake about the salience of the anti-war left, he does have one good point. Those of us who hammered the nihilists, post-modernists and feeble-minded after September 11 might seem to be going overboard in one respect. In retrospect, with regard to this war, these people turned out to be pretty irrelevant. But there was no way we could have predicted that at the time, and under the circumstances, I think we were right to take no chances. Jake will have noticed that the anti-left campaign has now subsided in this regard. But more generally, the reason for our vehemence was that we decided to take the opportunity of the war to expose and discredit the far-left more broadly. The reason is obvious. For the past generation, the pomo left has hijacked our universities, helped destroy good high school education, derailed good causes like gay rights, and acted as a horrifying bully whenever it won power. Most of the time, sane good people couldn’t be bothered to take notice of these authoritarians. The war changed that. By showing how people like Sontag, Pollitt, Chomsky, Moore, et al were incapable even of responding to mass murder, we were able to show how deeply corrupt their thinking was and is. The war was an invaluable opportunity to expose them to a wider audience, discredit and marginalize them. I make no apologies for doing so. Liberals whose cause is also derailed by these extremists should, in my opinion, join in. And some liberals – like The New Republic – have. It’s a pity that Jake and others should now rise to these leftists’ defense just when we have them somewhat on the run. I say: smoke ‘em out wherever they’re hiding.
THOSE SWEDISH CHARACTERS: I’m sorry for the weird characters in an item posted yesterday. To all of you Microsoft gloaters, it had nothing to do with Apple. It’s too boring to go into detail but it was a series of tech errors. I hope it won’t happen again.
THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: "The fact is that the world is divided between users of the Macintosh computer and users of MS-DOS compatible computers. I am firmly of the opinion that the Macintosh is Catholic and that DOS is Protestant. Indeed, the Macintosh is counterreformist and has been influenced by the "ratio studiorum" of the Jesuits. It is cheerful, friendly, conciliatory, it tells the faithful how they must proceed step by step to reach - if not the Kingdom of Heaven - the moment in which their document is printed. It is catechistic: the essence of revelation is dealt with via simple formulae and sumptuous icons. Everyone has a right to salvation. DOS is Protestant, or even Calvinistic. It allows free interpretation of scripture, demands difficult personal decisions, imposes a subtle hermeneutics upon the user, and takes for granted the idea that not all can reach salvation. To make the system work you need to interpret the program yourself: a long way from the baroque community of revelers, the user is closed within the loneliness of his own inner torment. You may object that, with the passage to Windows, the DOS universe has come to resemble more closely the counterreformist tolerance of the Macintosh. It's true: Windows represents an Anglican-style schism, big ceremonies in the cathedral, but there is always the possibility of a return to DOS to change things in accordance with bizarre decisions... And machine code, which lies beneath both systems (or environments, if you prefer)? Ah, that is to do with the Old Testament, and is Talmudic and cabalistic. " – Umberto Eco.
Wednesday, December 05, 2001
CLINTON LEGACY WATCH: Here's an op-ed by someone who ought to know on Bill Clinton's negligence with regard to al Qaeda. It's by one Mansoor Ijaz, the interlocutor between the Clinton administration and Sudan in 1996 and after. One devastating passage: "In July 2000--three months before the deadly attack on the destroyer Cole in Yemen--I brought the White House another plausible offer to deal with Bin Laden, by then known to be involved in the embassy bombings. A senior counter-terrorism official from one of the United States' closest Arab allies--an ally whose name I am not free to divulge--approached me with the proposal after telling me he was fed up with the antics and arrogance of U.S. counter-terrorism officials. The offer, which would have brought Bin Laden to the Arab country as the first step of an extradition process that would eventually deliver him to the U.S., required only that Clinton make a state visit there to personally request Bin Laden's extradition. But senior Clinton officials sabotaged the offer, letting it get caught up in internal politics within the ruling family--Clintonian diplomacy at its best." Let's see how Joe Conason spins his way out of this one.
THE REAL BUSH: Amazing that Salon ran this little piece, but from everything I know, it tells you much more about the real character of our president than any number of hatchet-jobs from Dowd, Wolff, etc. Enjoy.
CAMELOT IS A SILLY PLACE: I'm a sucker for Lego and Monty Python, so this little movie amused me no end. Give it a whirl.
THE NON-EXISTENT LEFT: Yes, I know these people don’t really exist. Their influence is always exaggerated by crazy daisy-cutter rightists like yours truly, but this piece by Stanley Kurtz is really eye-opening. Author Christina Hoff Sommers was invited to speak about various educational methods designed to eradicate differences between boys and girls in American education. The forum was the Center for Substance Abuse and Prevention (CSAP) of the Department of Health and Human Services. When Sommers was about to launch into criticism of some of these programs, she heard what might be described as the rallying cry of the academic left when they come across someone who disagrees with them. “Shut the fuck up, bitch,” yelled professor Jay Wade of Fordham University. Sommers’ talk was ended. All Sommers had done was argue against positions held by the leftist educational establishment. Their response was to humiliate, insult and silence her, which is what they do every day on their respective campuses against anyone deviating from their agenda. The apologists for the far left – they don’t exist, they’re fringe, they’re irrelevant – have one thing in common. They haven’t been targeted by these intolerant bullies. Maybe when they are, they will wake up and see what’s really out there.
THE TALIBAN'S DON'T ASK, DON'T TELL: All the rest of NATO may have given up on policing their militaries for homosexuals, but the United States can rest easy knowing that one military that still supports U.S. policy is the Taliban. Any consorting with beardless young men in the army is strictly forbidden. This story from the Daily Telegraph tells of a weird and fastidious obsession.
- 11:17:09 PM
THE MYTH OF THE MYTH OF THE ANTI-WAR LEFT: There's a new liberal spin out there. The left has always been in favor of the war. My friend Jake Weisberg makes the point in Slate: "Those policing the debate are dropping the rhetorical equivalent of daisy cutters on a few malnourished left-wing stragglers. Of course those opposed to the United States defending itself against terrorism are wrong. They also happen to be totally irrelevant." My friend, the always charming Rick Hertzberg, did the same pirouette in the New Yorker last week: "[T]here is no anti-war movement to speak of… Apart from traditional pacifists, and a tiny handful of reflexive Rip Van Winkles, almost no-one objects, in broad outline, to the aims and methods of the anti-terrorism campaign." This week Hertzberg blithely goes on to object to virtually every domestic security measure the administration has pursued and calls for Attorney General Ashcroft to resign. Never mind.
SOME CONTEXT: What neither Rick nor Jake points out is context. Neither can deny that a battery of left-wing intellectuals - from the Nation to the New Yorker to Slate - had immediate knee-jerk anti-American responses to September 11. They did. Some of us documented it. Neither Rick nor Jake can deny that 5 percent of the country still opposes the war. Neither can deny that much of the left-wing professoriate blamed America first – again, it is documented, thanks in part to invidious "debate-policers" like me. (And by the way, I started the Sontag Awards. The Weekly Standard ripped the idea off.) Nor can they deny that anti-war protestors organized, rallied and mobilized in the immediate aftermath of the massacre. Did Rick or Jake go to Union Square or see the anti-war protestors in Washington calling George W. Bush the "real terrorist"? Now it's also true that these people are a tiny fringe. They exist in "enclaves." But it’s equally true that the main reason for their current retreat is not because they didn’t exist in the first place – but because even in their reality-free minds, the sheer success of the war completely pulled the rug from beneath them. After all, it's hard to rally against a war when it seems on the verge of being won. Do Hertzberg and Weisberg doubt for a minute that if the Taliban were still in power and if the Northern Alliance and U.S. troops were still bottled up in Northern Afghanistan that the airwaves wouldn’t be crammed with naysayers and anti-war protestors? Do they listen to NPR’s incessant anti-war commentary? Another reason, methinks, why the Nation, Sontag, et al have changed their tune somewhat is precisely because some of us refused to give them a pass. I think many leftists were shocked by the vehemence of the reaction to their nihilism and stupidity. Our intellectual daisy-cutters, like the real thing, had an effect. Most of these intellectuals are slaves to public opinion and they tacked to the prevailing winds at the first opportunity. But they haven't disappeared. At every step of the way, they have tried to undermine the war effort. They have done what they can to slant the media; they have opposed much of the domestic anti-terrorism effort; people like Barbara Kingsolver still subject us to glib sermons about American cultural inferiority. I can see why moderate lefties might want to retroactively cover up the knee-jerk attitudes of their more extreme allies in the wake of a mass-murder of American civilians. But some of us noticed at the time. And some of us won't forget.
- 4:42:24 PM
KAUS ON FIRE: If you like catty web-commentary - and I have no idea whether you do - then check out Mickey Kaus’s first two items today. He skewers Salon; then he skewers Bob Kuttner, the oleaginous socialist who runs the mind-numbingly earnest American Prospect. (Kuttner's intellectual acumen can be gleaned from a cover-piece he wrote for The New Republic at the beginning of the 1990s predicting an economic "abyss" for the entire decade. Oh, well.) My favorite quote from Kuttner’s snooty letter is when he refers to the always-readable kausfiles.com as a "vanity webletter." I love it when these tired old poobahs refer to weblogs as "vanity" publications. Eric Alterman described andrewsullivan.com as such in a previous column. Kuttner and Alterman are just jealous because weblogs are new and interesting and free and subversive, while they are pouring out the same old schlock for media conglomerates and lefty philanthropists, with nothing better to do with their money. And people actually read us. - 4:05:50 PM
MEDIA BIAS WATCH: This from NBC News correspondent Keith Miller talking to Tom Brokaw last night.
“MILLER: Today's violence continues a battle between two men that goes back more than 30 years: Arafat, the freedom fighter, intent on winning a homeland for Palestinians; and Sharon, the tank commander, defending the state of Israel. Today, both men are in their seventies, losing patience and running out of time.”
Freedom fighter versus tank commander? Who’d you pick?
RACIAL POLITICS AT THE NEW YORK TIMES: Yes, I’m biased because the New York Times today was referring to my former teacher, Harvey C. Mansfield, a lone voice decrying grade inflation. But was it really necessary for the Times to report the following in this way:
“[Mansfield] has also injected a racial component into the discussion by contending that white professors tend to avoid giving bad grades to black students, perhaps because they worry that such students might then be inclined to flee Harvard. "There's a feeling that you shouldn't pass judgment in a way that might hurt someone's self-esteem," said Mr. Mansfield, who is white.”
Notice the subtle pejorative here. Mansfield didn’t raise a touchy subject worth exploring. He “injected a racial component” into the debate. And his motives are suspect because “he is white.” This from a paper which will go out of its way in all sorts of cases to avoid citing the race of someone who is black, for fear of stirring racial stereotypes. Simply put, it is irrelevant what race Mansfield is. Either his point has merit, or it does not. In this case, I’m not sure I completely agree with Harvey. But that doesn’t mean his point should be summarily dismissed. This man has been right about this issue before the New York Times even reported it. They need to give him some r-e-s-p-e-c-t.
- 11:55:16 AM
ON A ROLL: Since September 11, Tom Friedman has been almost unrecognizably good. Today’s column is a burst of clear-eyed sanity. Here’s a sentence that’s still ringing in my ears: “[I]f it is impossible anymore for Arab-Muslim leaders to distinguish between Palestinian resistance directed at military targets and tied to a specific peace proposal, and terrorism designed to kill kids, without regard to a peace plan or political alternatives, then over time no moral discourse will be possible between America and the Arabs.” There you have it. But will the Arabs understand this before it gets too late? - 12:39:25 AM
LETTERS: Michael Wolff and Al Gore; Jesus and hippies; conservatives and New York City. Check 'em out. - 12:32:13 AM
Tuesday, December 04, 2001
CAMILLE SPEAKS: There I was reading Interview magazine on the can this afternoon (well, looking at it, anyway) when who should pop up but Camille Paglia! It’s not her best but the interview with Ingrid Sischy has some nice moments. For all you Pagliari here are some extracts. I don’t think it’s online, but it’s the Dec/Jan 2002 issue if you want to read the whole thing.
On the Taliban destruction of the Buddhas:
“Yes, that was chilling. Ironically, the idea of the West as destroyer has been pushed down the throats of students at elite universities – yet we’re the only ones in history who have gone to such lengths to recover the past, reassemble the jigsaw puzzle, reconstruct past cultures. Those great stone Buddhas, smashed by cannon fire, were on trade routes dating from the period of the wandering hordes that attacked Rome. History will say that the destruction of those images was an early warning sign of something that was about to happen to us. Those falling monuments were a prefiguration of the collapse of the Twin Towers.”
On the new frontier post September 11:
“It’s almost as if there is no frontier, because by definition a frontier is the point where civilization is pushing us out into the unknown. What we’re facing now is the void or heart of darkness created by a fanatical hatred of progress, of history, of science. The way the terrorists used our technology against us – that’s another horror. To turn those tremendous jetliners against the Twin Towers: It’s like reversing the whole 20th Century – the history of flight and the great skyscrapers, the apex of architecture. To create this giant void where nothing is recognizable – even I, with my catastrophic imagination, never envisioned that civilization would do that to civilization.”
SONTAG AWARD NOMINEE: “While different kinds of Americans live in strictly segregated monochromatic cities and neighborhoods and can't even stand to hear each other's music, Afghans of all ethnic stripes live side by side in a truly blended nation. This partly explains why yesterday's Taliban can shave, trade his turban for a Hindustani cap, and become Northern Alliance -- to jump from a Pashtun- to a Tajik-dominant culture isn't that hard. Afghans make war all the time -- it's what they do best -- but they fight out of loyalty to a commander or a warlord. They don't shoot each other merely because of the color of their skin. We Americans, who most assuredly know better, do.” – Ted Rall, finding more reasons to hate America.
GOOD NEWS WATCH: A simple story of amazing generosity from the New York Times. And they didn’t even need a “faith-based” grant from the government.
MORE ON BRAME: An interesting quote from Robert Brame III appears on a website called “Christian Statesman.” The quote argues that "...[law that] is not rooted in explicit commands of Scripture would be at best abstract, vague, and esoteric. It could neither guide legislation and adjudication nor check abuses by government, and could be rapidly captured and perverted by an elite.” Sounds like mainstream Christian Reconstructionism to me. We’ve been told that Brame has severed all links to these groups as well. So why is he still listed on page 2 of the November 2001 “Biblical Worldview” magazine, put out by American Vision, as a still-active member of the AV board? Just asking. Sources tell me, however, that Brame has just withdrawn his name from consideration for reappointment to the NLRB. Great.
NPR CHANNELS AL JAZEERA: Suddenly it all makes sense. Boston’s NPR station WBUR will provide daily updates on the war on terrorism direct from the mouthpiece of anti-Western Muslim fundamentalism, Al Jazeera. No reason is given as to why NPR won’t provide daily coverage from, say, the Israeli media as well. But then it’s NPR. We know the reason already.
- 11:10:44 PM
THE IMPENETRABLE TALIBAN: Here's an interesting point made by a reader. We were told for ages that one reason we had no intelligence on the Taliban or Muslim terrorists in general was that they were basically impenetrable. An American spy couldn't effectively go under cover, we were told: they would be spotted and expelled immediately. So how come a red-diaper baby from the Bay Area managed to infiltrate Taliban ranks and find himself on the front-lines in Northern Afghanistan? In retrospect, all that hooey about the impossibility of human intelligence in these groups seems like defensive CIA spin. Has George Tenet been fired yet? - 6:10:06 PM
IN WOLFF’S CLOTHING: Michael Wolff, about as good an indicator of the snide new York left as you’ll find outside the New York Times op-ed page, vents revealingly about the ascendancy of George W. Bush. Like much that Wolff writes, this is pure onanism. It has no relationship to actual reporting, research or honest examination of something called policy. It’s just how he feels. Well, he feels bad. He wants a return to the days when Bush was ridiculed. He fears, in the way that a substratum of provincial Manhattanites often fears, that any popular Republican is a harbinger of the Fourth Reich (he even uses the Nazi analogy.) Anyway, this is all to say that his column cheered me up no end. If this is how Wolff feels right now, a lot of things must be right in the world.
MOVE OVER, SEGWAY: Here’s an invention that really changes our lives.
AIDS NOW: An interesting piece in the Washington Post today about research into the possibility of ‘cycling’ anti-HIV drugs. It seems that in many cases, taking constant ‘holidays’ from the relentless drug regimen doesn’t adversely affect your immune system, can halve the cost of treatment, and reduces side effects. This is big news - both for healthcare costs and also for HIV patients. For what it’s worth, my own experience bears it out. Last June, on the eighth anniversary of my becoming HIV-positive, my blood results came back. They showed an undetectable viral load – i.e. there were fewer than 50 viral particles in a milligram of my blood. And my T-cell count (CD4 cells), an indicator of the strength of the immune system, was a solid 495. (People’s immune systems vary – but the range of normal CD4 counts is between 500 and 1500, with most people in the middle. You only risk illness if the count goes below 200. Viral loads also vary. They can go as high as several million in people with AIDS and vary from a few hundred to hundreds of thousands in other people with HIV). I decided, with my doctors’ blessing, to take a break from my meds. The fatigue, diarrhea, and nausea were getting to me. I found myself forgetting doses. I had begun to develop weird fat deposits around my waist and between my shoulder blades. So I tried an experiment.
THE RESULTS: Since the experiment started, I’ve had three blood tests. Off my medications, my immune system actually strengthened a little, going from 495 CD4 cells to three measurements over 600. My viral load came back, however. From being undetectable, it went to 2500 in two months, then leaped to 48,000 in the wake of 9/11, but now it has declined back again to 6800. No one knows quite what’s going on, but it appears my own immune system is fighting HIV quite effectively on its own. With a low viral load and high CD4 cells, my docs recommend staying off my meds for the time being. I’ll monitor it carefully, and go back on medications if my health worsens. But in general, this is great news for the quality of my own life, as well as for my health-insurer. If further research confirms these findings, then the cost structure of HIV care could also be transformed – especially for those who do not have insurance. We don’t know for sure yet – and everyone’s body is different – but this strikes me as really good news, and worth a little cheer. The only downside is that people like me who were once undetectable and barely infectious are now more liable to transmit the disease, because of our modestly higher viral loads. If there’s a shift in the number of similarly more infectious people in the population, transmission could tick upward. All the more reason to practice safer sex, or to keep sexual contact within the HIV-positive population.
- 5:51:05 PM
COMPLACENCY WATCH: The lead Washington Post story by Woodward and Kaiser is a useful, if terrifying, wake-up call. The administration clearly believes that there is a small chance that al Qaeda has the wherewithal for a dirty nuclear bomb. The following sentence is priceless: “U.S. officials are very concerned that any nuclear detonation by al Qaeda would be a calamitous psychological setback to the war on terrorism.” Er, yes. You can say that again – especially if it happens in an American city. I got the same sinking feeling reading this paragraph: “On at least one occasion, the White House cited the increased concern that al Qaeda might have a radiological bomb as a key reason that Vice President Cheney was not available for a face-to-face meeting with visiting senior foreign officials. The meeting usually would have allowed for informal personal contact, but took place via secure video conference because Cheney was at a secure location outside Washington.” I’m grateful to the Post for this story not least because I notice in myself – and all around me – an unnerving sense that the war is somehow over. People aren’t talking about it in the same earnest and desperate way they were before. I guess we knew this would happen – but it’s surely a mistake. We’re barely three months away from the massacre, and growing psychologically complacent. I’m not say we should stay afraid indefinitely – just that it’s good to have a reminder that we still have something to be very afraid of.
MEDIA BIAS WATCH I: “According to the sources, the planning is being undertaken under the auspices of a the US Central Command at McDill air force base in Tampa, Florida, commanded by General Tommy Franks, who is leading the war against Afghanistan.” – The Observer, London, December 2. War against Afghanistan?
MEDIA BIAS WATCH II: Am I overly-sensitive or is this Elizabeth Bumiller piece in the New York Times beyond snide? The story itself could have been assigned by Terry McAuliffe – the premise being that if the White House cannot be open for tours by the general public, no press Christmas parties should take place either. (Notice the nasty stage whisper high up in the piece that Bush is related to a former president, a detail designed to paint the president as an aristocrat elitist.) Bumiller insinuates, under the guise of news, that the Bushes are a) like the Clintons, selling access to the highest bidder, and b) elitists for accepting secret service recommendations about opening the White House for public access. In fact, these parties have nothing to do with fundraising, they’re dumb schmooze-fests designed to charm the press. And the numbers invited, as the Times concedes, are under half the peak for the Clinton years. And the security distinction makes sense: it’s far easier to vet individuals whom you have personally invited and whose guests are also assigned in advance, than vetting people who line up for Christmas tours on Pennsylvania Avenue. (To all those readers about to accuse me of elitism, I should say, I guess, that although I’ve been invited many times, I’ve never gone to the White House Christmas press parties. My only invites were from the Clintons.) Besides, surely Bumiller has been made aware by now that there is a war on. Security isn’t a matter of elitism; it’s a matter of life and death.
RAMADAN SCHMAMADAN: Remember all that hooey about how we shouldn’t fight terrorism during Ramadan because it violated some religious propriety. I love this sentence from the Washington Post today: “In the past, al Qaeda terrorists have tried to launch attacks during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which this year began Nov. 16. The first bombings of the World Trade Center, which killed six people and injured more than 1,000, came on Feb. 26, 1993, three days after Ramadan began that year. During the Ramadan observance from Dec. 9, 1999, to Jan. 7, 2000, the United States and other nations stopped a series of attacks that were keyed to the millennium celebration.” Not only do the terrorists allow terror during Ramadan, they positively encourage it. I say: let’s be sensitive to these sensibilities and follow their example.
THE AMERICAN TALIBAN: Several of you have pointed out to me that Robert Brame III was appointed to the NLRB four years ago by president Clinton. I’ve been trying to find out if Brame’s radical Christian Reconstructionist views were known then or have only subsequently been exposed. I wish I’d known when I wrote the first item to provide the context. But it doesn’t change my point. The man has no place in appointed public office. And no, it’s not some new McCarthyism to nix someone for a position like this because of his views or the views of his colleagues on unrelated matters. It’s a political decision for any president to make. And which president would want to advance or condone such views? There are plenty of candidates who aren’t in the pocket of organized labor who could do the job. Why pick someone who has been part of a movement that even the religious right regards as extremist?
THE JEWS DID IT, PART DEUX: “When the Israelis killed a senior Hamas figure just as the US peace envoy, General Anthony Zinni, began his work, they made it almost certain that there would be a response from Hamas. It may well be that Hamas would have staged suicide operations, at this time or later, whether or not a leader had been killed by the Israelis. But there must be a suspicion that some Israelis wanted General Zinni to have a first hand view of terrorism, which might then shift the view of Mr Arafat in Washington.” – The Guardian, in its editorial today. This is a carefully parsed sentence. It doesn’t actually blame the Israelis for the massacre of their own citizens, but it comes extremely close. The European Left’s loathing of Israel never ceases to amaze, and it’s not restricted to the Left. Thanks in part to the BBC, anti-Zionism is now endemic in Britain. I’ve barely talked to a Brit recently who doesn’t essentially blame Israelis for all the violence in their own country. Oh well, they couldn’t quite keep up the moral equivalence with al Qaeda, so Hamas will have to do.
“NO-ONE CAN CONTROL OR CHANGE ME”: E.J. Dionne gets Arafat exactly right, methinks.
Monday, December 03, 2001
THE AMERICAN TALIBAN: Yes, many people have woefully abused this term as a way to tar all sorts of characters with a demagogic brush. But in some cases, it actually is fair. I refer to a fringe group known as Christian Reconstructionists, far right Christians who believe that the Constitution should be replaced by Biblical law, that women have no place in public life, that homosexuals should be executed, that non-Christians should be forcibly converted, and so on. Now, you’d think these extremists would be personae non gratae in the Taliban-fighting Bush White House, wouldn’t you? So why on earth has the administration considered nominating one Robert Brame III to the National Labor Relations Board? Until recently, Brame was on the board of American Vision, a Christian Reconstructionist body, and was an adviser to the Plymouth Rock Foundation, a group with similar views. Here’s a recent quote from an AV representative in their magazine: “We've been told that Christians cannot impose their religious beliefs on others. Since heaven is at stake, we have no choice. There is no hope outside of Jesus Christ." Remind you of anyone? A June 1999 edition of the group’s magazine described democracy as “the first step toward fascism.” I’m sorry but something is seriously wrong when people associated with views such as these are deemed worthy of appointment by any administration. The president has a chance to save himself from this embarrassment. He ought to – and fast.
HOME NEWS: The good news is that Entertainment Weekly’s “Shaw Report,” which catalogues the ups and downs of pop-cultural fashion has designated andrewsullivan.com as the “in” website of the moment. We replace mcsweeneys.net (“five minutes ago”) and thedrudgereport.com (“out”). Well, if Drudge is so “out,” why does he keep giving me almost half my referrals? (Drudge, like diamonds, is forever.) But the bad news is that the other “in” things of this moment are boiled wool, shrinky dinks, and chocolate martinis. Eeewww, EW. But thanks!
- 2:44:51 PM
THE END OF ARAFAT?: We’re in an end-game here, aren’t we? However you feel about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it seems clear to me that Yassir Arafat is perilously close to being irrelevant. He can’t deliver peace, as we found out at Camp David. He can’t deliver even a semblance of order in the Palestinian territories, let alone Israel. So what use is he as an interlocutor or even protagonist in the bloody conflict? This piece in the Washington Post is as gloomy as it is hard-headed. Even Colin Powell is apparently refusing to lecture the Israelis on what they should do next. Here’s my prediction: a brutal finale that re-establishes some semblance of order in Israel and on the West Bank at the cost of even greater Palestinian bitterness and further conflict. Who’s responsible? Ultimately the majority of Palestinians who still cannot reconcile themselves to a viable Zionist entity in Palestine. They’d rather suffer and die and be pummeled than concede Israel’s right to exist. The tragedy is ultimately theirs’.
MY SWEET BEATLE: Here’s a nicely arch paragraph from Philip Norman’s biography of the Fab Four about their first encounter with the Maharishi Yogi: "Amid the small audience of the faithful, four Beatles garbed as flower power aristocrats listened while a little Asian gentleman, wearing robes and a gray-tipped beard, described in his high-pitched voice, interspersed with many mirthful cachinnations, an existence both more inviting and more convenient than mere hippydom. The 'inner peace' which the Maharishi promised, and which seemed so alluring to pleasure-exhausted multimillionaires--not to mention the "sublime consciousness" so attractive to inveterate novelty seekers--could be obtained even within their perilously small span of concentration. To be spiritually regenerated, they were told, they need meditate for only half an hour each day." Okay, so that’s a bit mean. It’s a little easy to condescend to Harrison’s eastern-influenced spirituality and Steve Waldman does a decent job on Beliefnet.com of explaining why. Seeking the presence of God is not at its core an intellectual exercise; what Harrison looked for in the 1960s was a practice of belief, that could lead to the experience of belief. Pascal explained this best – and I think most post-Vatican II Catholics who long for the ritual robbed from us have yearnings for something like Eastern meditation. Like Harrison, I believe such practices can at some point lead to a kind of spiritual calm – which is why I had a pretty intense Buddhist phase in my 20s, which had me disappearing into temples in Burma at one point. I even believe, as Harrison bravely confessed, that some types of recreational drugs can help elevate the consciousness artificially to give you a glimpse of what a higher state of being feels or looks like. If that leads to a deeper sense of the divine, then no one should scorn it, let alone make it illegal.
CONSERVATIVES AND HIPPIES: Besides, conservatives who deride “hippies” are missing something, I think. They’re missing the inherent weirdness and experimentalism of true religion. It should surely be possible to affirm a stringent conservative politics, while leaving space in civil society for all types of experimental religious practices – especially those that do not adhere to the exigencies of fundamentalism. In fact, one of the reasons to affirm the principle of a limited but active government is to create the safe social space for all types of experimental living that over-weaning government crowds out. To paraphrase Oakeshott, I’m a conservative in politics so that I might be a radical in many other human activities. It’s sad that so few contemporary liberals or conservatives understand this point – especially religious conservatives. Jesus was a hippy, after all, and the 1960s performed a useful service in reminding us of this. So was Saint Francis. As for Harrison, “My Sweet Lord,” will always be a deeply religious song to me; and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” my favorite later Beatles composition. At least Harrison didn’t descend to the hideous banality of Lennon’s “Imagine.” And at least he had the presence of mind to bestow us with the following sentence repeated by Waldman: “I'll tell you one thing for sure, once you get to the point where you're actually doing things for truth’s sake, then nobody can ever touch you again, because you’re harmonizing with a greater power." I pray he is right now.
MY SWEET POWERBOOK: Speaking of religion, the several hundred emails inquiring how I’m doing in MacLand deserve a response – and I simply couldn’t respond to them all individually. Simply put, I’ve been working on this sleek little thing for a day or so now, and I’ve had no problems to speak of, just a little adjustment to figure out what goes where. In general, the organization seems far more intuitive than Microsoft. If you love aesthetics, there’s also no comparison. I’ve been blissing out to the new New Order album, Get Ready, on my iPod at the same time. Now all I need is a Segway to jump on and I’m all set. Seriously, thanks for all the offers of help, support and spiritual solidarity from my new friends in MacLand. You also helped boost our visits last Friday to a cool 36,000 in one day. I think that’s a record.
THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: "War is repugnant to the people of the United States; yet it is war that has made their nation and it is through their power to wage war that they dominate the world. Americans are proficient at war in the same way that they are proficient at work. It is a task, sometimes a duty. Americans have worked at war since the seventeenth century, to protect themselves from the Indians, to win their independence from George III, to make themselves one country, to win the whole of the their continent, to extinguish autocracy and dictatorship in the world outside. It is not their favoured form of work. Left to themselves, Americans build, cultivate, bridge, dam, canalise, invent, teach, manufacture, think, write, lock themselves in struggle with the eternal challenges that man has chosen to confront, and with an intensity not known elsewhere on the globe. Bidden to make war their work, Americans shoulder the burden with intimidating purpose. There is, I have said, an American mystery, the nature of which I only begin to perceive. If I were obliged to define it, I would say it is the ethos---masculine, pervasive, unrelenting---of work as an end in itself. War is a form of work, and America makes war, however reluctantly, however unwillingly, in a particularly workmanlike way. I do not love war; but I love America." – John Keegan, Warpaths.
Sunday, December 02, 2001
CLINTON'S LEGACY II: Check out Byron York's devastating little piece in National Review Online about Bill Clinton's response to the 1996 Khobar bombings, and indeed all such terrorst incidents in his term of office. His instinct? Take a poll. All the more reason for president Bush to ignore the Berke-Dowd double-punch in today's Times goading W to go all-political in the war on terrorism. There is simply no trade-off whatsoever between the war and the economy right now, and anyone who thinks so is either dumb or deliberately trying to trick W into repeating not his father's but his predecessor's mistakes. If we win the war, the economy will do fine; if we half-win this war, the economy will tank at the slightest hint of another terrorist attack. Memo to W: ignore these domestic-policy types. Veto the stimulus package; focus like a laser-beam on Iraq.
POWERBOOK HEAVEN: Well, I know this makes for a Hollywood ending, but I bought the Powerbook yesterday and this is my first posting using the new system. It's a) beautiful; b) easily mastered in about fifteen minutes for the tasks I need to perform; c) extremely quick. I also bought the incredible little iPod. Jeez. My CD collection is busily disappearing into my hard drive as we speak (not as painful as it sounds) and I'll soon have any music I want portable in what amounts to a cigarette box. I've used previous MP3 systems before and this one leaves them all in the dust. Anyway, before I turn into a total Mac-head, I'll close. But I have to wonder now: whatever took me so long?