Saturday, December 29, 2007

So I’ve been home for the second full day since my ten-day trip to Israel ended, a wonderful, amazing, incredible time. I hope to return someday, and make aliyah. And I also hope to see the people I met once again somewhere across these United States. I got bused with mostly Univ. of Florida people, great people, very cool people. And I hope to meet the wonderful Israelis we met once again, someday, somehow. Thank God for Facebook; I’ve been able to get my pictures developed (woot, Motofoto!) and posted. I usually don’t do personal stuff on this blog but I feel it is appropriate, more than appropriate here. We did, and saw, and experienced so much. Unfortunately I have to spend the next few days I am home until I return to college to draft my undergrad paper, something about media critiques and propaganda.

So I’m sababa (cool) and wondering about haMatzav (the situation) and everything, hoping I can stay connected with my new hevre (friends). The biblical Hebrew I’ve taken, one semester’s worth, has not prepared me. Nor should it have. I’ll continue with it, and throw in the new conversationals I’ve picked up. And here’s to the children we spent time with at the daycare center, a government-financed home for them to go to as respite from their “at-risk” or otherwise dysfunctional family lives. Atsuv (sad), I know, but at least they’re happy there, and here’s hoping they turn out as great as they are now.

Israeli music and food and sights and sounds, it’s still unfolding. I observed some interesting parallels between the culture and what I saw in Spain some three years ago. On one point they’re both Mediterranean countries. So now I’ve seen both ends of it. Balkan Beat Box; these guys are incredible. Bought a copy of their record, “Nu Med,” on the way home at the Ben-Gurion airport. Ben Gurion, son of a lion cub. My Hebrew name is Ari, simply meaning lion; well the Kabbalists won’t settle for simple meanings. Ari. I knew someone named Ari once. He was the brother of a girl I once knew, Yelena, a very rambunctious kid. I’m rambling, and digressing.

Probably going to sleep soon, been quite sick all day. Estoy enferma. It’s a winter thing.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Thank God for conservative writers like Andrew Sullivan. I’ve been a long-time reader of his, and it appears that the impeachment option is not only common-sensical but, by now, practically mandatory if we are to remain a constitutional republic, and a free society. I’ve taken the liberty to post (above) a delightful memo he clipped on his blog, simply because it’s so fucking chilling. The writing is on the wall, I fear.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Some words on the Ron Paul phenomenon: how has it come to pass that anti-war, anti-empire and pro-Constitution positions are nearly universally labeled radical and fringe?

(Disclosure: Some weeks ago I contributed $25 to the campaign, my first and hopefully last political donation. Therefore supporters of his candidacy are hopelessly biased.)

Thursday, December 06, 2007

“You see, my mom, she saw Kristallnacht; and my dad, he saw worse/the land called Lithuania was the country of his birth/and before the Auschwitz ovens fired, the Nazis went there first/

“So I heard their stories and, well, I guess I keep ‘em someplace in my mind/Though I go about my business pretty carefree most of the time, when I see the mark of Nuremberg I have to speak my mind/

“Excess nationalism; religious intolerance; corporate worship; unchecked military growth, with a global reach/Sounds like fascism to me.

“… I remember a boat full of dreams carryin’ my mom and my dad/And I can’t be silent about the only country I’ve ever had.”

— Dan Bern, October 2004
Nelsonville, Ohio

Monday, December 03, 2007

There is democracy in Venezuela. Take that, Chavistas.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

“If only holiness were measured by the volume of our incessant chatter, we would be universally praised as the most holy nation on earth. But in our fretful, theatrical piety, we have come to mistake noisiness for holiness, and we have presumed to know, with a clarity and certitude that not even the angels dared claim, the divine will for the world. We have organized our needs with the confidence that God is on our side, now and always, whether we feed the poor or corral them into ghettos.”

— Charles Marsh, “God and Country,” The Boston Globe, July 8, 2007

Marsh prefaces his article by quoting a line from the old Dylan song: “If God is on our side, He’ll stop the next war…” Studs Terkel interviewed Dylan (Zimmerman) in 1963. He was asked about another song, “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” and in response he explained that he wasn’t “talking about that hard rain meaning atomic rain,” but instead that “it seems to me like the bomb is a god in some sort of way,… and people will worship it actually. You have to be nice to it, you know. You have to be careful what you say about it. People work on it, they go six days a week and work on it, you have people designing it, you know, it’s a whole new show. … I don’t believe they’re bad people.

“…What’s gonna happen, there’s got to be an explosion of some kind. The hard rain that’s gonna fall. In the last verse when I say, ‘When the pellets of poison are flooding the waters,’ that means all the lies, you know, all the lies that people get told on their radios and in their newspapers. All you have to do is think for a minute. They’re trying to take people’s brains away. Which maybe has been done already. I have to think it’s been done. All the lies I consider poison.” (Quoted in Bob Dylan: The Essential Interviews, ed. Jonathan Cott [New York: Wenner, 2006], pp. 7, 8)

Poisonous pieties and self-righteous platitudes, to boot.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Sir, I beg your pardon,” said the sandy-haired young man. “There is nothing here. You don’t seem to understand. The Middle East, all of this, this is nothing.” He gestured around the new living room and toward the window, where we could see a half-finished house, obscured in the fading winter light by a haze of blowing sand.

“The Middle East,” he said, firmly taking another crescent, “is just a corridor, a pass-through for great powers. Always has been. Throughout history. Even more now.”

“But the Golden Age,” I protested. “The Arabian Nights.”

“That was centuries ago.” The young man laughed disdainfully. “Do you see any magnificent palaces in Baghdad today?” …

Mr. Kirtikar set down his biscuit-filled plate. “Ah, Sami,” he said to the sandy-haired young man. “You’re not being fair to our guests. We are all here, my dear Sami, most probably, is that you do not see a long-range future for yourself here in Baghdad.”

“Why?” asked Bob. “Is it politics? Religious discrimination against Christians? East-West tensions? The Arab-Israeli conflict?” Bob came out with it. The company looked slightly embarrassed. Mrs. Kirtikar offered more tea. There were more cardamom crescents and also large round thick cookies with whole almonds pressed into their centers.

Sami nodded. He had apparently decided to take this strange American seriously. “All of those things,” he replied. “Yes. I would like to go to America. Maybe you could give me a list of places where there are scholarships available? Because,” he rushed on, “well, in addition to all of those things you mentioned you must remember that this is a poor area, a poor country. Without resources such as you are accustomed to taking for granted.” He laughed, bitterly, I thought. “Nomads. The desert. Living off of goats’ milk. You have surely heard of all that, even in rich America.”

“But what about oil?” Bob asked. “You have plenty of that.”

Mr. Kirtikar sniffed. “The British take most of it. Iraq gets only a small share. But you see the British made a great investment and they are the ones who brought the technology that made it possible for Iraq to exploit their oil. So they deserve the largest share.”

Was he serious? I stared at him. He was, and he was not finished talking. “And the Arab-Israeli conflict, that is not such a problem. It will pass with time.”

— Elizabeth and Robert Fernea, The Arab World: Personal Encounters, ch. 14, “Baghdad and Al-Nahra, Iraq” (1956) [New York: Anchor Books, 1985], pp. 334, 335

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

An Onion editorial cartoon (29 October 2007).

Saturday, November 10, 2007

As the popular saying goes, “In times of universal deceit, truth-telling becomes a revolutionary act.”* Indeed, I discovered a bit of this myself when for this week’s issue of my campus paper, The Wooster Voice, in an editorial I made the following off-hand observations: (1) the president — our president and leader of the free world — likely has several of the defining characteristics of sociopathy, (2) has presided over a murderous and criminal reign, (3) impeachment is a moderate, in fact conservative and, most importantly, the right constitutional remedy, and (4) given the above facts it is shocking enough that the firing squad (or gallows) option goes unmentioned.

I wrote this in full recognition that many will take these statements to be extreme, even awful and deplorable. So I will be completely clear in what I am saying; a fault of the article, in retrospect a glaring one, is its lack of clarity which may make people jump to the wrong conclusions. First, another colorless and uncontroversial fact: our leaders have committed, repeatedly and remorselessly, crimes against peace and war crimes (though not crimes against humanity, in my opinion, although others may disagree) for which the defendants at Nuremberg were hanged — including waterboarding, a political science professor and study advisor at my college, was quick to add. Expecting an outcome, based upon the logic of crime and punishment, is not the same as desiring it. The aggressive war against Iraq hatched in Washington is obviously far from the scale of Nazi criminality — not suggesting that. But let’s have some honesty and consistency in our moral judgments. Otherwise, ethical standards have no meaning and ought to be discarded.

Here I am going to quote from the record of the Trial of the Century. As Norman Birkett, alternate judge for the United Kingdom, declared on September 30, 1946: “To initiate a war of aggression, … is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole” (proceedings of the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, vol. 22, p. 426, via the Avalon Project of the Yale Law School). Or as United States prosecutor Robert Jackson said on November 21, 1945, “We must never forget that the record on which we judge these defendants today is the record on which history will judge us tomorrow. To pass these defendants a poisoned chalice is to put it to our own lips as well” (quoted in “Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression,” Office of the United States Counsel for Prosecution of Axis Criminality [Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1946], vol. 1, ch. 5, “Opening Statement for the United States,” via Avalon Project).

Anyway, earlier today I watched Robert Redford’s excellent and stunning film Lions for Lambs. “Rome is burning.” Reminded me of a song that went, “How do we sleep when our beds are burning?” Or “Room on Fire,” by The Strokes, in which Julian Casablancas wails, “The room is on fire/and she’s fixing her hair!” But I digress.

*Of course, this is attributed to Orwell, although it is not precisely sourced and actually comes up in many different variations.

NOTE (Nov. 11): Common-sensical commentator Frank Rich hit the nail on the head today.

“So what if America’s chief law enforcement official won’t say that waterboarding is illegal? A state of emergency is a state of emergency. ... Constitutional corners were cut in Washington in impressive synchronicity with General Musharraf’s crackdown in Islamabad. ... In the six years of compromising our principles since 9/11, our democracy has so steadily been defined down that it now can resemble the supposedly aspiring democracies we’ve propped up in places like Islamabad. Time has taken its toll. We’ve become inured to democracy-lite. That’s why a Mukasey can be elevated to power with bipartisan support and we barely shrug.

“This is a signal difference from the Vietnam era, and not necessarily for the better. During that unpopular war, disaffected Americans took to the streets and sometimes broke laws in an angry assault on American governmental institutions. The Bush years have brought an even more effective assault on those institutions from within. While the public has not erupted in riots, the executive branch has subverted the rule of law in often secretive increments. The results amount to a quiet coup, ultimately more insidious than a blatant putsch like General Musharraf’s.

“... Take the Musharraf assault on human-rights lawyers. Our president would not be so unsubtle as to jail them en masse. But earlier this year a senior Pentagon official, since departed, threatened America’s major white-shoe law firms by implying that corporate clients should fire any firm whose partners volunteer to defend detainees in Guantánamo and elsewhere. For its part, Alberto Gonzales’s Justice Department did not round up independent-minded United States attorneys and toss them in prison. It merely purged them without cause to serve Karl Rove’s political agenda.

“Tipping his hat in appreciation of Mr. Bush’s example, General Musharraf justified his dismantling of Pakistan’s Supreme Court with language mimicking the president’s diatribes against activist judges. The Pakistani leader further echoed Mr. Bush by expressing a kinship with Abraham Lincoln, citing Lincoln’s Civil War suspension of a prisoner’s fundamental legal right to a hearing in court, habeas corpus, as a precedent for his own excesses. (That’s like praising F.D.R. for setting up internment camps.) Actually, the Bush administration has outdone both Lincoln and Musharraf on this score: Last January, Mr. Gonzales testified before Congress that ‘there is no express grant of habeas in the Constitution.’

“To believe that this corruption will simply evaporate when the Bush presidency is done is to underestimate the permanent erosion inflicted over the past six years. What was once shocking and unacceptable in America has now been internalized as the new normal.”

As Garret Keizer wrote in a recent issue of Harper’s magazine: “It is one thing to endure abuses and to carry on in spite of them. It is quite another thing to carry on to the point of abetting the abuse. We need to move the discussion of our nation’s health to the emergency room. We need to tell the doctors of the body politic that the treatment isn’t working—and that until it changes radically for the better, neither are we.”

Monday, November 05, 2007

CYNICAL THOUGHT OF THE DAY: If Musharraf had our electoral system, he wouldn’t have to worry about an independent judiciary — or mass, popular demonstrations in city streets. (Ouch.)

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

I’ve got only enough time these days for short posts, like the preceding one (and a random though hilarious photo to boot). As a matter of fact, I used to have a series of “rumble jumbles,” but those have fallen by the wayside. That and my computer (a 2005 iMac from the PowerPC era) has been acting screwy; almost makes me miss my old Dell laptop. Maybe needs more memory. Should be studying for that Hebrew midterm tomorrow, but first…

We’re now right in the middle of Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week. Stone a pundit! Declare a fatwa on your university, O Westerners! See, David Horowitz is a funny man. Not comedically; I mean there is something that is quite clearly imbalanced about him. I’ve read his autobiography (in 2006), and have read his writings as much as I can keep up, trying to keep appraised of where he’s at intellectually. And to be honest? Lunacy, sheer lunacy. The picture of his mind that he presents in that autobio is completely opposed to the character he parades as on TV and in his speeches, and diatribe-based performances. It’s day and night: one is a reasonable man trying to overcome and repudiate and have second thoughts from the shady notions he used to have, and the other is an unthinking, hysterical party-liner who sees criticism as an act of treason.

That said I agreed with every point on the Islamo-Fascism petition, which stated thoughtfully enough the following: “[W]e affirm four key principles denied by the jihadists and threatened by them: the right of all people to live in freedom and dignity; the freedom of the individual conscience: to change religions or have no religion at all; the equality of [sic] dignity of women and men; the right of all people to live free from violence, intimidation, and coercion… opposing all forms of religious supremacism, violence and intimidation.” Perfectly fine. No quarrel. And for the most part, I think “Islamofascism” is a valid and non-hateful term. I wouldn’t hestitate to designate hateful and intolerant species of Christianity as Christofascism and the same in Judaism (I believe Meir Kahane’s movement came closest to this) as Judeofascism.* Nor should Horowitz, and if he were consistent I don’t expect he would. An important caveat is that Islamist extremism is much more prevalent and, crucially, more violent: let us not forget that we are in deed at war with the Islamofascists. The Christofascists and Judeofascists have not yet embraced suicide terror, nor do they seek the destruction of Western civilization; conversely, the Christofascists seek the end of the American Enlightenment and constitutionalism and the Judeofascists seek the prevention of a viable, sensible Palestinian state. Alright, enough with this piece.

The Pew Research Center reported last Thursday that the news media, once again, is totally at odds with people’s “news interest.” It’s almost inverted. Twenty percent of Americans “listed” the “situation in Iraq… as their most closely followed story” and the media responded by giving it six percent of the coverage. Only eight percent are most closely keeping tabs on the 2008 presidential (ugh) campaign; fifteen percent of coverage is devoted to it, which admittedly is not quite as dramatic as the Iraq Slaughterhouse (er, war).

Jeff Bercovici’s Mixed Media blog at Portfolio raises an interesting question: if Fox has an alternative to CNBC (and the self-described “unabashed capitalists” who run it, quoted in the New York Times) with its Fox Business Network, who’s the enemy? The “news” division’s “bread and butter is the culture war, and it’s forever inventing new campaigns to boil viewers’ blood in the dead space between celebrity scandals.” Generally, the forgotten man versus a shadowy big government that overtaxes him and is prone to take away his land (the eminent domain demon). What’s the equivalent? “Where’s the us-versus-them?” Would it be “the forgotten little guy against the sinister corporate interests”? Likely not, since Bercovici quotes Fox president Roger Ailes as saying that he simply doesn’t see them “as the enemy.” Wouldn’t be politically correct.

“Alternatively,” Bercovici adds, “Fox Business could adopt a libertarian stance: embattled entrepreneurs versus heavy-handed, tax-and-regulate government.” Seems like it would jibe very well; in the news, the little guy gets fucked over by dastardly bureaucrats who think they’re doing it for the common good, and in business hard-working Joes trying to set up shop keep getting hassled. Their entire enterprise would be admirable if it weren’t soaked with nationalist ideology and tabloid-chic sensibilities, upon which blowhard “experts” and “analysts” get to pounce, snipe and self-aggrandize.

*In an article for Slate (Oct. 22), Christopher Hitchens goes farther, pointing out that Yeshayahu Leibowitz, “editor of the Encyclopaedia Hebraica, coined the term Judeo-Nazi to describe the Messianic settlers [Gush Enumim, Bloc of the Faithful] who moved onto the occupied West Bank after 1967.” Hitchens adds that “there need be no self-pity among Muslims about being ‘singled out’ on this point.”

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Strange days have found us: first there was that Israeli neo-Nazi cell (you read that correctly), and now this? Oh, and once again the Indians got massacred. Strange days indeed.

Monday, October 15, 2007

First time seeing this in any major U.S. paper. Yeah, it’s definitely a first (not counting the N-bomb in Slate some time ago):

“Our humanity has been compromised by those who use Gestapo tactics in our war. The longer we stand idly by while they do so, the more we resemble those ‘good Germans’ who professed ignorance of their own Gestapo. It’s up to us to wake up our somnambulant Congress to challenge administration policy every day. Let the war’s last supporters filibuster all night if they want to. There is nothing left to lose except whatever remains of our country’s good name.”

— Frank Rich, 14 October 2007

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Radiohead’s latest work, In Rainbows, their last since 2003’s Hail to the Thief (my pithy comments last time), is a Web-only deal at any price you choose. I decided to pay a fair share, considering my respect for their sound and the hypnotizing effect their music has always had on me: $8.50, which is what the baseline music album price probably ought to be I think. In only ten much-too-short tracks it’s clear it’s going to take time to grow on you like the others have; toward the middle it becomes almost symphonic, beautifully. Then it cuts off. Next year’s full-release should promise more, but with what exists now quality, at the outset, seems to have triumphed over its ne’er-do-well sibling quantity.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

The royal treatment.

I’m with Hitchens on this one: enabling of genocide in Darfur, tyranny in Burma — not to mention the antifreeze and lead. Enough is enough. BOYCOTT THE 2008 BEIJING OLYMPIC GAMES

Sunday, September 30, 2007

“We don’t need another president of 9/11. We need a president for 9/12. I will only vote for the 9/12 candidate. … 9/11 has made us stupid. I honor, and weep for, all those murdered on that day. But our reaction to 9/11 — mine included — has knocked America completely out of balance, and it is time to get things right again. … We need a president who will unite us around a common purpose, not a common enemy.”

— Thomas Friedman, New York Times, 30 September 2007 (his emphasis)

At least he acknowledges his own contribution to the off-balance discourse. Here’s where he’d been all this time:

“… let’s stay the course in Iraq, but stay extra-vigilant at home” (13 April 2005)

“Sept. 11 amounts to World War III — the third great totalitarian challenge to open societies in the last 100 years” (8 January 2004)

“The failure of the Bush team to produce any weapons of mass destruction (W.M.D.’s) in Iraq is becoming a big, big story. But is it the real story we should be concerned with? No. It was the wrong issue before the war, and it’s the wrong issue now. … The ‘real reason’ for this war, which was never stated, was that after 9/11 America needed to hit someone in the Arab-Muslim world. Afghanistan wasn’t enough. Because a terrorism bubble had built up over there — a bubble that posed a real threat to the open societies of the West and needed to be punctured. … The only way to puncture that bubble was for American soldiers, men and women, to go into the heart of the Arab-Muslim world, house to house, and make clear that we are ready to kill, and to die, to prevent our open society from being undermined by this terrorism bubble. Smashing Saudi Arabia or Syria would have been fine. But we hit Saddam for one simple reason: because we could, and because he deserved it and because he was right in the heart of that world” (4 June 2003)

“Lord knows, 9/11 has been a trauma for us, and our response has been to strike back and install better security” (8 January 2003)

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

“Thank you, may the Imam Mahdi’s return be hastened, for your silver grail. And here is your gold star…”

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, the veritable dean of realist international relations figures, has just said that “the administration, the president and the vice president particularly, are trying to hype the atmosphere, and that is reminiscent of what preceded the war in Iraq.” This comes about one week after French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner said that the world should “prepare” for a US-Iran war should negotiations fail. Redux indeed.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

“Southern trees bear a strange fruit.
Blood on the trees, blood at the root.
Black bodies swinging in the Southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees,
Pastoral scene of the gallant South,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolia sweet and fresh,
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.
Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck.
For the sun to rot, for the tree to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.”

— “Strange Fruit” (1939), courtesy Michael Louis-Ingram

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

“I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil.” (Alan Greenspan, in his memoir The Age of Turbulence, as quoted by Bob Woodward in the Washington Post, 15 September)

You meant what you said, Alan. Grow a pair and quit dissembling.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

(Courtesy Martin Klimas, and a personal hat-tip to Andrew Sullivan, who drew my attention to this really cool gallery; I think this is the best one.)

Friday, September 14, 2007

An air-attack on Iran’s nuclear sites would likely lead to a Shiite uprising in the South of Iraq — that’s why the Brits are trying to get out of there as quickly as possible — and mass casualties across the country. It would align the new Shiite ‘government’ in Baghdad much more closely with Iran, and force the US into a hideous alliance with Sunni dictators and Sunni tribes. We would have no other global allies. We would still have insufficient troops to win. And we would not just have created a regional civil war in the Middle East; we would have taken sides in it. Such a development could unleash a wave of Islamist terror across the West far more lethal than anything we have yet seen — and even bring the Sunni-Shiite conflict to the streets of Western cities. Such warfare would likely lead to an intensification of the imperial presidency at home, with all the consequences for the Constitution that would entail. There is a disconnect right now, I fear, between the enormous stakes we are deciding and the awareness of most Americans of what may be about to engulf them.”

— Andrew Sullivan, 12 September 2007

Writing in The Nation, Alexander Cockburn is skeptical: “Despite the unending stream of stories across the months announcing that an attack on Iran is on the way, I’ve had my doubts. … China has a big stake in Iran. It’s also Uncle Sam’s banker. The Chinese don’t have to destroy the dollar, merely squeeze its windpipe or revalue their currency enough to double retail prices at Wal-Mart. The Republicans and the presidential candidates wouldn’t want that.

“The Joint Chiefs of Staff know the Iraq War has almost broken the US Army,” he adds; it is worth noting that it has been reported that several military commanders have vowed to resign should war with Iran commence. “Wouldn’t they adamantly oppose the notion of an attack on Iran, which would see Shiite resistance groups in Iraq cut US supply convoys from Kuwait…? [Sullivan’s point, I believe] Wouldn’t Shiite forces as a whole finally commence a campaign of eviction of the American occupier?” These are reasonable critiques, although I disagree that “the Israel lobby calls the shots in US foreign policy,” as Cockburn believes. We’ll have to see how it plays out.

NOTE (Sept. 15): Debat vigorously denied the allegations brought against him yesterday, and the examination has been extended to his reporting of the Jundullah affair in Pakistan, the reported US arming of the militant organization in an effort to spur regime change in Iran. The New York Times reports that ABC News investigative reporter Brian Ross, “the correspondent who worked most closely with Mr. Debat, said the Jundullah story had many sources. ‘We’re only worried about the things Debat supplied, not about the substance of that story,’ he said. … So far, ABC has found nothing that would undermine the stories Mr. Debat worked on, Mr. Ross said last night. But he acknowledged that as the stories of fabrications continue to roll in, the network ‘at some point has to question whether anything he said can be believed.’”
CORRECTION: One of the more sensational claims in the preceding post was attributed to one Alexis Debat of the Nixon Center who, according to the New York Times, “has been revealed to be the author of faked interviews” and ABC News is launching what is going to be “a second investigation” into Debat, on whom ABC had used as “a consultant.” This obviously brings into question the credibility of his claims about our war plans for Iran. The Times notes that Debat “was quoted as a knowledgeable source in an article in The Times of London … saying that American military forces were planning attacks that would demolish ‘the entire Iranian military.’” Regardless, I think, of the validity of the source saying this, that would be the way to do it. It doesn’t make much sense to take out the nuclear plants and wait for a response, which would of course be balls-out ballistic. So, in a word, mea culpa.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

“Today I received a message from a friend who has excellent connections in Washington and whose information has often been prescient. According to this report, as in 2002, the rollout [for war against Iran] will start after Labor Day, with a big kickoff on September 11. My friend had spoken to someone in one of the leading neo-conservative institutions. He summarized what he was told this way [my italics]:

They [the source’s institution] have ‘instructions’ (yes, that was the word used) from the Office of the Vice-President to roll out a campaign for war with Iran in the week after Labor Day; it will be coordinated with the American Enterprise Institute, the Wall Street Journal, the Weekly Standard, Commentary, Fox, and the usual suspects. It will be heavy sustained assault on the airwaves, designed to knock public sentiment into a position from which a war can be maintained. Evidently they don’t think they’ll ever get majority support for this — they want something like 35-40 percent support, which in their book is ‘plenty.’

Of course I cannot verify this report. But besides all the other pieces of information about this circulating, I heard last week from a former U.S. government contractor. According to this friend, someone in the Department of Defense called, asking for cost estimates for a model for reconstruction in Asia. The former contractor finally concluded that the model was intended for Iran. This anecdote is also inconclusive, but it is consistent with the depth of planning that went into the reconstruction effort in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I hesitated before posting this. I don’t want to spread alarmist rumors.”

— Barnett Rubin, a specialist on Afghanistan at New York University (according to George Packer of the New Yorker), 29 August 2007

What about the alarmism — and dehumanization — in that cartoon (above) in the Columbus Dispatch, published on 4 September, the day after Labor Day?

In related news: “The United States has the capacity for and may be prepared to launch without warning a massive assault on Iranian uranium enrichment facilities, as well as government buildings and infrastructure, using long-range bombers and missiles, according to ... well-respected British scholar and arms expert Dr. Dan Plesch, Director of the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London, and Martin Butcher, a former Director of the British American Security Information Council (BASIC) and former adviser to the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament.”

(The report adds that “Plesch and Butcher dispute conventional wisdom that any US attack on Iran would be confined to its nuclear sites. Instead, they foresee a ‘full-spectrum approach,’ designed to either instigate an overthrow of the government or reduce Iran to the status of ‘a weak or failed state.’ Although they acknowledge potential risks and impediments that might deter the Bush administration from carrying out such a massive attack, they also emphasize that the administration’s National Security Strategy includes as a major goal the elimination of Iran as a regional power.”)

Oh, and the London Times reported on 2 September that “the Pentagon has drawn up plans for massive airstrikes against 1,200 targets in Iran, designed to annihilate the Iranians’ military capability in three days, according to ... Alexis Debat, director of terrorism and national security at the Nixon Center, [who] said last week that US military planners were not preparing for ‘pinprick strikes’ against Iran’s nuclear facilities ... at a meeting organised by The National Interest, a conservative foreign policy journal. He told The Sunday Times that the US military had concluded: ‘Whether you go for pinprick strikes or all-out military action, the reaction from the Iranians will be the same.’ It was, he added, a ‘very legitimate strategic calculus’.”

Stop the cockroaches before it is too late!

ADDENDUM (Sept. 11): I’m not alone in my crazed assertions. One commentator at Asia Times (some kook named Alan Jamieson) also thinks war against Iran looms, writing specifically that it’s most likely to go down sometime over the next twelve months, possibly just as the 2008 election heats up. Speaking of today, though, it’s not one for politics — albeit that politics but for a brief lull swept it into an exploited memory that less and less of my generation remembers, judging by an increasingly younger freshman class that was all of twelve(!) when it happened. My God. To paraphrase Hot Tuna, death don’t have no mercy in this world.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Think twice. (Courtesy Vero Testa, McSweeney’s)

Thursday, August 30, 2007

“We are poorly developed primates, these people, my friends, the Jews and the Palestinians of the Holy Land. We beat our fists against our chests a lot to assure our enemies, and no less, ourselves, that we haven’t lost an ounce of macho. But we’re not man enough to be human beings.… Like little boys delighting their family with precocious displays of bonehead locker-room masculinity, every act of war that we the Jews or they the Palestinians perform, is met with a chorus of cheers, blessings, learned explanations and justifications from supporters across the world. Every half-hearted tic we take in the general direction peace is hooted at from home, condemned to death by the self-styled keepers of the faith at home, who will shout it down the initiative if they can, or literally shoot it down if they must.

The choice is simple, and we are persuaded to make it early. If we make war, we are loved by our own side as the little boy who has done as his family or his rabbi or sheikh, would have him do. There will be compliments on his devotion, his guts, his savvy, his clarity of thinking, his willingness to act. Try to make peace, however, and your own side will be the first to emasculate you. How could you know so little, they will ask. How could you risk so much?…

Holy men of this place teach chapter and verse that war is right and proper, that peace is worse than surrender, it is contrary to the will of the one God of these two peoples. The Mideast conflicts, in particular the 1967 war, have warped religious Judaism and fundamentalist Islam beyond recognition. … We have been taught, both in the Israeli and Palestinian narratives, that uprising and warfare are the path to freedom. But we are, both of our peoples, now slaves to the consequences of our uprisings and our wars. It is time for a redefinition of courage here, a new conception of heroism, one that recognizes that the risks of compromise are fully as necessary as the readiness to fight. It is time to fight the idea that manliness and moral authority grow out of the barrel of a gun.…”

— Bradley Burston, writing in Tuesday’s Ha’aretz
Marc Perelman in the Forward reports that the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai Brith’s (ADL) “description of the Ottoman massacre of Armenians during World War I as ‘tantamount to genocide’” has set off a conflagration as “Turkish, Israeli and American Jewish officials held frantic consultations … in an effort to defuse a diplomatic crisis” — one that doesn’t need to exist because, aside from the ADL’s understatement (not simply tantamount), there are more important things besides diplomatic relations and public relations “crises.”

But what brings this matter to the level of moral depravity is what the ADL has done, “issuing a statement opposing a congressional resolution recognizing that a genocide took place and by sending a letter to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressing ‘deep regret’ and the desire to ‘deepen our friendship.’” This is a straightforward betrayal of Jewish ethics and human rights in the name of propagandizing for the Israeli Government and its ties with the Turkish Government, mostly military (“diplomatic”). Shmuel Rosner ruefully adds that this is “the always controversial Israeli position … choos[ing] Realpolitik over moral purity.” The Forward editors inquire as to “the point of fighting for a Jewish state if it will not act in a Jewish manner,” a painful question indeed. As a short-term remedy, Abraham Foxman must step down now. He’s for defamation.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

It’s not at all surprising to see anti-Bush attitudes from someone using one of the New York Times computers, as the now-essential WikiScanner has shown (“jerk jerk jerk jerk jerk jerk jerk jerk jerk jerk jerk jerk”) but, to be honest, one would expect Al Jazeera to descend to a similar level of juvenile pranksterism, i.e. “America: blah blah blah” or some stupid shit like that on the “United States” page. Oh no, it’s worse. Here’re some enlightened comments about Israel from… well, someone using one of the Jazeera computers:

Israel is only created in 1948 after the Jews fled from the hands of Hitler. The Jews did to the indigenous people of Palestine what Hitler had done to them. Jews were the first people to start the terrorist attacks in the region. They have stolen the land of the Palestinians. Jews believe that they are chosen by God and that they are better than other people.”

Some real hateful ignorance coming from somewhere at that station. (Imagine if someone at, say, CBS or CNN or Fox mused about whether the Wiki is “a Jewish propaganda site”!) Thanks a bunch, Virgil Griffith. (Added to Wired’s list.)

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

John From Cincinnati. Canceled. Dammit. Only a million other viewers will agree.

Monday, August 20, 2007

At least it won’t hit New Orleans.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Been away for awhile, and will continue to be until it feels right to talk about something at all important. Thought to let you know.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Let us count the ways, in rough chronological order: 1) Fraudulent and deceptive casus belli; 2) criminal manipulation of (international and domestic) intelligence services; 3) commission of aggressive war and invasion without justifiable cause or pretext; 4) failure to stabilize or establish peace upon cessation of hostilities, and 5) further criminal embezzlement, favoritism and fraud; 6) routine violations on a systemic scale of international humanitarian law and 7) widespread, unclear rules of engagement backed by an unaccountable, byzantine chain of command; 8) wanton employment of torture and abuse toward prisoners, wrong-headed alone in the name of actionable military intelligence to rationalize it; 9) radical de-Ba’athification decrees in the early occupation period that inexorably have led to the wholesale exemption of the Sunni bloc from political representation, much less the encouragement of the Sunni resistance; 10) the ever-present lack of any meaningful exit strategy; and 11) the establishment of permanent bases* closely mapped to petroleum refineries (notably Kirkuk and the northeastern fields) and transport routes… etc etc.

Meanwhile, a soldier (one Jesse Spielman, private first-class) receives a 110-year sentence for the rape-murder of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl: compounding the crimes of the above, committed not by the discretion of soldiers but under their orders, missions and operations through the systemic, executive decision to invade and the subsequent, over-arching events and failures done by the military command under the direction and orchestration of civilian planners and ideologues who wear no uniform. How thus many sentences should belong saddled unto the backs of Mssrs. Cheney, Rumsfeld, Bush, Bremer and Franks? For the sake of argument, each of the above is of equal deleterious and destructive value; and each receives a relatively light punishment, say, one-fifth the imprisonment given to this one soldier. At the very least two hundred years, then, in total: for each of the five named right there, perhaps in descending order (Bremer and Franks getting the least share, Cheney-Rumsfeld the most). To be clear, this is a very modest, bare-bones fair sentence; emaciated justice, you could say, since there is no weighing of the crimes, many are omitted, and the punishment is meted out to five actors at the very top, three of whom are ex-officio.

*The Chicago Tribune first broke the story in 2004, quoting Robert Pollman, an Army brigadier general, as saying that the project “makes a lot of logical sense.” Further, in corroborating the story the Christian Science Monitor adds, “Polls find that 80 percent of Iraqis … want US armed forces to leave their nation,” on top of which our permanent occupation encampments of freedom “could stir up more opposition” (i.e. more names in the small boxes of the back pages, not to speak of the suffering and misery our policies are doing to them). Chalmers Johnson, an international relations specialist and a former Navy officer, would likely see this as of a piece with what he called “the military-petroleum complex” (USF Center for the Pacific Rim, Pacific Rim Report No. 33, March 2004) of bases ringing and radiating outward from the Caspian region and the Central Asian sphere of the former Soviet satellites — including our Mideast protectorate in the Saudi kingdom, for which the “enduring bases” in key Iraqi cities may serve as a useful (colonial) replacement.

Friday, August 03, 2007

This writer (i.e. blogger) does not demand any guarantee to either provide punditry or make sense, nor is any type of certifiable lunatic. Warning: some of my thoughts on turning twenty (posted below) in the approaching days may sound like it; just a dent in the eternal wall of inquiry, one could say. At least this blog lives true for a strange singular moment to its own name. [Enjoy, if that proves possible.]

impossible to describe after all so many things are beyond description
lives are so short and yet there are so many of them it is up to question whether everyone’s experiences are unique as all world history will yet repeat
obsessive ramblings are so easy to reproduce though it often feels fleeting
what are these psychotic people pretending they try and pose the right way and will not even realize ever what they do or why but it’s good for now we have no ideas
fit to print wall of paint lines in love like sieves you filter the good and bad and then weigh the final balance in time it all sorts itself out nothing ever changes
everything is changing all too fast it oftentimes seems that change is everything
all there is and all that there will ever be what should never be somehow persists
timeless and time-stamped so much structure to the free-form idiosyncratic dispositions of never mind never think never say never
cracking up or falling down it is hard to articulate the tearing away at the seams of reality panic turns to short flash picture start full stop
patterns emerge especially where none exist it does not seem to look like how it really is until too late too soon not the right time when will it be coming into focus captures the moment living in that frame shift the register
self-consciously piercing through windows opened when the door is closed
minds are not at peace they talk among themselves sometimes violently but not me
streams of consciousness get rerouted past the horizon
you don’t even know the faces of tomorrow or that which you can never see
sheer oceanic enormity rolls back across the rock of ages the surface eroded but invisibly warping the hallows of persistence of memory all the world memory staged fabricated invented the necessity when do you get it all set and sorted out
no use filling up with fact they get mangled and thrown into the mix of templates
ancient dreams will not broadcast crushing ignorance past histories the totality of lived ideas can’t even describe the pained metamorphic humanity
these years have a failing to return every misstep walks its way backward
better pack your things leaving home how many mis-connected souls go back
universes condemned not to know down to the small things beyond reach
morning light clarity of day not fast enough things that think too much what do you have to say about that
unable to withstand the flak useless to attempt futility of resistance in spirit of free expression individual right universally achieved going unaware no we’re not happy
the whole world crumbles spinning in madness and confusion so much good left little drops of comment infinity of sublimity and misery share the road obey all posted signs keep back five-hundred feet observe caution and all holy days
overwhelming and ineffable in pursuing truths and irrefutable comprehension
lying eyes belie the truth solidity to pure air you’re not actually breathing sheer oceanic enormity of time thinking things six billion existing living within every two set eyes seeing through itself as atoms
right and fact namely to name but what content contained there its truth and justice not respective hard to tell
it is ultimately contestable people tend to disagree and time has a tendency to slip falls fast and gone complexity need not breed confusion but some make life harder than it is so obviously surreal
minded toward a convolution of thesis in dominant ideological narratives moral clarity and socio-political enlightenment no ideas worth repeating yet all histories will repeat in time
that multitudes of mystery repeating myself already had to stop felt compelled repellent signal
flicks to green spark and blue funnel things no one will ever know frustrates everyone but somehow people make their own peace even if they never see it at hand

(Good night.)

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

“…a student at Pace University in New York City has been arrested for a hate crime in consequence of an alleged dumping of the Quran. Nothing repels me more than the burning or desecration of books, and if, for example, this was a volume from a public or university library, I would hope that its mistreatment would constitute a misdemeanor at the very least. But if I choose to spit on a copy of the writings of Ayn Rand or Karl Marx or James Joyce, that is entirely my business. When I check into a hotel room and send my free and unsolicited copy of the Gideon Bible or the Book of Mormon spinning out of the window, I infringe no law, except perhaps the one concerning litter. Why do we not make this distinction in the case of the Quran?”

— Christopher Hitchens, writing in Slate (July 30); would it unduly piss him off to say Amen to his words?

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

“Oh, for Heaven’s sake, why can’t you trust me? I’ll take care of her…” It was nice knowing you, Wall Street Journal. (Courtesy Mark Lennihan/Associated Press)

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Above: the same general subject contiuned, namely my avatar at the old Avatavern.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Apu: is he a racist caricature or not? You decide. And then see the movie. Literally, been waiting for it my entire life.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Mr. Fantastic! Why? How could you?

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

In Los Angeles until the 23rd. Hold down the fort.

Monday, July 16, 2007

“At the present moment, this Government has but three non-military tools with which to work in the Near East to place sufficient American impress on the region to win and hold it for the Western World. Those tools are: (a) Note-writing by the Department of State; (b) Propaganda regarding the high principles to which we claim to adhere; (c) Government loans made on a commercial basis and repayable in dollars. These tools are hopelessly inadequate. It is clear that unless the situation is handled firmly and adequately, a situation might well develop in the Near East which would result in another World War.”

— Gordon Merriam, Chief of the Division of Near Eastern Affairs (State Department), August 1945, in Foreign Relations of the United States: Diplomatic Papers, 1945, Near East and Africa, p. 46 (my emphasis)
Thomas Jefferson, a figure inexplicably considered to be mighty in our history albeit his futile objections to the then-existing order, seemed to have been stricken with the disease of idealism. Indeed, how terribly naïve and foolish were his words concerning the American Revolution, whose declaration of independence we celebrated two weeks ago. Jefferson, in a letter dated November 13, 1787, to William S. Smith, wrote: “The people cannot be all, & always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions it is a lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty… what country can preserve it’s [sic] liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance?” Clearly a dangerous radical who needs to be bought out somehow before the rot he champions spreads until it is far too late.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

You learn something new everyday, it seems: the idea of youthful idealism, a natural yet ultimately futile process, refers to the sensible yet naïve critiques of how society appears to operate in transparently unfair and possibly amendable ways, best to be discarded as soon as possible once you learn to give up your alleged integrity and imagined autonomy as a free agent with free thoughts in service, without question, to the hands that will feed you into a lulling, fulfilling submission. It’s worthy of a lot of empathy, and leaves no room for the haughty contempt of know-betters and their lectures. You learn something new everyday.
Blogs have been around for ten years, apparently, according to this weekend’s Wall Street Journal, which has deemed “by widespread consensus, 1997 … a reasonable point at which to mark the emergence of the blog as a distinct life-form” (sec. P, p. 1). If my memory can be trusted (a dubious proposition), the hottest thing on the Web that year was the NASA Pathfinder mission, which had racked up a then-unprecedented number of hits. So these web logs, as they were initially known, didn’t gain much general appreciation until, say, 2002; that might be a more reasonable starting-point. This blogger didn’t get interviewed by the Journal, for very good reason, even though the Center has been here since 2003, when the medium was still quite young and the good people at Blogger were still operating a tiny, independent “push-button publish[er] for the people” that had yet to be acquired by Google.

In a similar vein, a recent item that has fancied my interest is this excellent compilation of “indecent” and “obscene” recordings from 1890-era wax cylinders created by the great Vaudeville-era performers of the day, only to be harassed and (in some cases) imprisoned under the rather theocratic police powers of Anthony Comstock and his — Saudi-like — New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, to be referred later as the infamous “Comstock laws.” In a way, it’s like the very early, and obviously different, sort of blogging; the Internet, infinitely more tied up and connected than the fairs, amusements and parlors of those days, had only been a commercial entity for two years preceding the apparent advent of the Blog, whose first author — quoting the Journal — is “regarded by many to be Jorn Barger” and his Robot Wisdom site. [Barger’s subtitles, in a very tiny print that run at the bottom of the top banner, have a curiousity of their own; according to the Internet Archive crawl, they’ve included colorful things like “stop economic satanism” and “smash with truth the lying machine,” along with “we are all palestinians now” and, as of right now, “judaism is racism is incompatible with democracy” — must he be the father of our craft?]

A very similar vein, it turns out; it is indeed quite profane to believe, no less broadcast, that an entire religion — particularly one that has suffered a terrible and obvious history of persecution at the hands of malevolent racists — is, irony of all ironies, racist(!) or is somehow “incompatible” with democratic governance, like some alien force. Fortunately, Actionable Offenses, that collection of cylindrical “smut,” is actually funny. And you’d never get my seal of approval for a band of witch-hunters seeking the suppression of blogland vice.

Friday, July 13, 2007

The big news of this past day was the frighteningly lax licensing rules at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), under which two fake companies were able to (almost) acquire enough radioactive material for a so-called dirty bomb — technically known as a “radiological dispersion device” or RDD. But is that true? Looking at the report itself, from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), what is actually discovered is that the investigators “could have acquired [enough radioactive material] … to reach the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) definition of category 3.” (p. 3)

This is right in the middle of the IAEA scale of nuclear apocalypse*: “Category 3 sources include byproduct material, which is radioactive material generated by a nuclear reactor, and can be found in equipment that has medical, academic, and industrial applications,” to quote the GAO report. What about the dirty bomb idea? Here’s where the news media fearmongering comes in; both the Washington Post and New York Times led their stories with the mention that their NRC license “enabled them to buy enough radioactive material from U.S. suppliers to build a ‘dirty bomb,’” or “would have allowed them to buy the radioactive materials needed for a so-called dirty bomb” (respectively). The Times is actually slightly more accurate; it indeed would have, as nothing was enabled. Also appreciated is the use of “so-called” for the ridiculous descriptor of death — at least not as bureaucratically cumbersome as “radiological dispersion device,” which emotes no (reasonable) fear at all.

But it’s semantics to say more accurate in that sense, since both reports displayed an unnecessary bit of fright to their readers and, as well, the national agenda. The work of the NRC and the Energy Department is cited — from 2003 — which “identified several radioactive materials … as materials at higher risk of being used in an RDD, describing these as ‘materials of greatest concern,’” in the GAO report (p. 4). The specter of dirty bombs is mentioned in the “background” section, but there is no clear connection. What the papers accounted from this amounts, seemingly, to the fabrication of the very “fear and panic” (p. 3fn) such crude weapons would create.

*For ironic effect only.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Have been following the events surrounding the Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) siege, before the massive government-military crackdown began, as it happens, when it was just a fringe, violent ascetic cult. The whole impression of it does remind one of Waco and the Branch Davidians, and some comments about that comparison would be here had not a Google search shown something on the order of 650 hits making that very parallel. Ah, well.

The happenings at Lal Masjid caught my attention some months ago with news of a women-led demonstration outside of the mosque, whose leadership is especially misogynistic, for Islamabad. (Odd, then, how the lead cleric made his escape shrouded in a hijab.) Hopefully it is not considered insane to wonder if, globally, Islamist jihadi fundamentalism is on the wane. Personalities like Fareed Zakaria can expound at length that this may be case; at least he did a couple of years ago. The threat from al Qaeda is reported to be up so, well, seal the border. The one the hijackers traversed, i.e. the northern one. Why not wall off the Canucks?

Saturday, July 07, 2007

The documentary “Muslims Against Jihad” inspired me to pen my own anti-jihadist thoughts (as an infidel, admittedly) that do not fall into the trap that the cause celebre surrounding it seems to require, i.e. the irrational corralling of Islamic people — everywhere on all fronts — into an interesting, though infuriatingly simple-minded, dichotomy of “moderate” and “radical.” It is clear that we, as free people of the West, can look into the eyes of the puritanical, absolutist and fanatic strains within the political manifestations of Islamism and call it for what it is, while not succumbing to the wicked notion that all are suspect, prone to the same brush, within our gun-sights at the wrong moment’s notice. To borrow the words of David Grossman, an Israeli novelist, we must not condemn ourselves “to this absolute, fallacious and suffocating dichotomy — this inhumane choice to ‘be victim or aggressor,’ without having any third, more humane alternative.”

It is also clear, certainly this far along in the global terrorist war, that a truly fascist or at very least fascistic Islamic tawheed, that is world-view, threatens by its existential nature, throwing its weight around with a literalist rejection of any deviations of interpretations of its scripture and history. It constructs an ideology of clashing worlds in which the “laws of war” ought be thrown out at the command of uncompromising patriarchal figures claiming immutable holiness. Jihad is “struggle,” with murky origins. Most troublesome is its obvious co-option by these mindless extremists whose worldly presence we continually see. A corpus of commentary that has carefully delineated what is and what is not fair game in warfare suffers the habitual abuse of commandants who brutishly seek the total surrender of common humanity and good reason to their delusional righteousness. The hope of mankind is great.
The seventh day of the seventh month of the seventh year of this new century greets us all tomorrow, that three number string of lucky 7s to designate a once-in-a-lifetime date. Unless any of you plan on living until 2107. (Probably not.)

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Happy Independence Day. Meanwhile:

The New York Times caption reads, “Iraqi boys staged a mock execution yesterday in Baghdad, with a 4-year-old, center, playing the role of the condemned. Children in Iraq have been heavily influenced by the violence in the country.…”(Courtesy Hadi Mizban/AP)

Not to spoil the fun, though; again, happy Fourth. You couldn’t take away the irrepressible grin of the hadji at the left. Let’s hear it, Jesse!

Saturday, June 30, 2007

“I know of no Muslim who would argue that we today exemplify — by any stretch of the imagination — the principles and ideals of Islam.”

— Jeremiah McAuliffe, Jr., from a 1997 essay, writing of the lack of understanding of self-criticism within the Islamic ‘world’; no less true these days, apparently, considering soberly whatever horror may befall the United Kingdom in the coming days because of the deeply irrational radicalization of the British Muslim community

ADDENDUM: Christopher Hitchens, in Slate, notes, “The fascistic subculture that has taken root in Britain and that lives by violence and hatred is composed of two main elements. One is a refugee phenomenon, made up of shady exiles from the Middle East and Asia who are exploiting London’s traditional hospitality, and one is the projection of an immigrant group that has its origins in a particularly backward and reactionary part of Pakistan.”

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Scott Horton at Harper’s is disturbing in his clear-eyed analysis of the coming US-Iran war. “Iraq redux,” as Vanity Fair quoted one high-end foreign policy specialist, regarding the build-up, planning and rhetoric. Pundits are already placing their bets on another “summertime war” between Israel and some combo of Lebanese militants, Gazan Hamas-heads or whoever. The situation is thoroughly disgusting. Back in May, for the last issue of the campus paper in which my editorials appear off-and-on, it looked like Iran was heading up to be the new enemy to destroy. “Iran is clearly a menace to [American] hegemonic interests in the Mideast,” went my words, concluding on the point about the horrid danger of “lending credibility to the Tehran regime, ramping up the threat of regional war and tying the fates of the Iranian and American people alike to the will of lunatics.”

Horton looks at the logistics, all within “striking range”: “Four aircraft carriers, 12-16 destroyers, 4-8 submarines, 4-8 AEGIS cruisers, and over 200 strike aircraft,” giving reason to why “an admiral [is] in charge of CENTCOM.” It is obvious that we’re preparing some kind of air assault; ground invasion is totally out of the question. As for the Iranian/American hostages (how symbolic), Horton thinks “the mullahs in Tehran” and their counterparts in “the Cheney clique … will demonize their respective hostages as spies and a threat to their national security.” It didn’t happen with the UK embroglio with the captured sailors, though it could just as easily happen this time; we can only pray. It is awful when people are used as pawns for wargames. To wit, Horton adds, our government is going to “portray Iran as a force for evil throughout the Middle East and beyond.” Destablizing, evil, threatening, gathering storm. Take it out. Surgical strikes. Preemption. Our force for good. Theirs for evil. Let’s hope history doesn’t unfurl redux at our expense, needless to say the world’s as well.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Speaking of military matters, former Army Major General Antonio Taguba, quoted in the latest issue of the New Yorker by investigative reporter Seymour Hersh, has a few words for the higher-ups who threw him out after he contributed to the investigation of the abuses at Abu Ghraib, surrounded by the evasions and deceit of the former Secretary of Defense, a man unworthy of the title from the beginning.

Quoting from Taguba at length, because it’s important: “From the moment a soldier enlists, we inculcate loyalty, duty, honor, integrity, and selfless service. And yet when we get to the senior-officer level we forget those values. I know that my peers in the Army will be mad at me for speaking out, but the fact is that we violated the laws of land warfare in Abu Ghraib. We violated the tenets of the Geneva Convention. We violated our own principles and we violated the core of our military values. The stress of combat is not an excuse, and I believe, even today, that those civilian and military leaders responsible should be held accountable.”

Agreed. Somewhere, sooner than later, Rumsfeld and all other parties to the scandal who knew full well and tried to dissemble their way out of it must be tried and thrown into prison for the rest of their natural lives.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

As two years have passed since my registration in the Selective Service System without (yet) being called up, maybe it’s a good time to deliver this excerpt from I’m Really Dragged But Nothing Gets Me Down (1968), Nat Hentoff’s “breakthrough novel” (Sunday Denver Post) whose “provocative timeliness” (Horn Book) explores “the conscience of the free individual versus the demands of state” (The Daily News [Whittier, CA]). Here’s such an exchange, if you will, between those forces as expressed in the mind of the book’s protagonist, Jeremy Wolf. (Words of the military bureaucrats in italics, Wolf’s in bold.)

Please, sirs, can’t you find it in the national interest not to make me a killer? Don’t be ridiculous, young man, do you want them Communists swarming up the street, raping your sister? I don’t have a sister. Your girl friend, then? But that’s not the point, sirs, they’re not attacking this country. Young man, we can’t take the time to argue with every Tom, Dick and Jeremy. You’ve got to have confidence that your President, on the basis of all the information, and only he knows all the information, has made the right decision in the national interest. You just sign up, and in four years, after you get out of college, we’ll see where you fit in best. I’ll think about it, sirs. Ain’t nothing to think about. You’ve got seven months and three days. You all come in and register or we are all going to come and get you. See, ain’t nothing to think about. You got no choice, boy. Yes, I do, I don’t have to register at all. Symbolic action, boy, that’s all it is, symbolic action. Waste of time. Face up, face up. Be a man!

But I don’t choose to be that kind of man. Hear that, Joe? He doesn’t choose to be that kind of man. Well, with that hair, I can see where he has a problem. But that’ll be all fixed up. Son, the Army’s the best thing that could happen to you. If I was your father, I’d say you ought to go right straight in, and go to college after. You’ll get a lot more out of that higher schooling, being a man. Sirs, I think you’re crazy. Boy, what kind of qualifications you got to make that kind of judgment? Trouble with you is, you don’t appreciate being an American. You’ve had it too soft, boy. That’s the trouble with kids like you. But sirs, why do I have to kill? For peace, damn it! Can’t you see that? How can we have peace if we don’t stop those people who are always aggressing against it? But aren’t we aggressing, sirs? Boy, I tell you, education has just gone to hell. Don’t you know the difference between aggressing and defending freedom?” (pp. 85-6, from the sixth printing, July 1973)

Saturday, June 16, 2007

“You aren’t going to Iraq to change the Iraqis. Just the opposite. We are fighting this war to preserve the principle of ‘live and let live.’ Maybe that sounded like a lot of words to you at home. Now you have a chance to prove it to yourself and others. If you can, it’s going to be a better world to live in for all of us.”

A Short Guide to Iraq, U.S. War and Naval Depts., 1943 (p. 5)

Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan. (The link to the whole thing.)

Monday, June 11, 2007

Stanley Fish, a professor of worldly repute, likes to throw some bombs. His latest piece for the Times looks at the collage of “atheist books” for which Richard Dawkins, the neuroscientist; philosopher Daniel Dennett; Sam Harris, asshole; and smart-alecky iconoclast (and fellow bomb-thrower) Christopher Hitchens have received notoriety and much hubbub. Thought to reprint my comments, along with a sampling of other ideas the readers had in mind for the whole chestnut of religion, faith, God.

There are three components to religion, as I see it. One involves the institutions of religious faith, the second the religious community and, third, the deity to which the faith is professed.

The authors, with very different agenda notwithstanding, seem to be focusing on religion as the organized, institutional force through human history that has, by their outlook, engendered terrible violence and intolerance, irrationalism and everything inspired by a zealous factionalism toward a particular protecting and vengeful god. That, if I am understanding their theses correctly, sets up religious (or even spiritual) faith as the embodiment of ancient prejudice with the usage of ‘religion’ as its vehicle; this is unfair.

Harris is the worst offender at conflating a fundamentalist approach to religion with belief in a Supreme Being (or Force) itself. I agree with Prof. Fish regarding Hitchens, who, according to a recent review of this spate of God-bashing books by The Nation, is the only one to treat the subject of God as an adult, and approaches the texts therein with a better understanding of religion’s abuses than the others.

As for my own opinion, I suppose I’m alternately agnostic on the question of God, whatever it may be, and my best hopes go with the communities of believers who derive their strength from simply believing in something beyond our human power of logic and reason, which are obviously important enough.

Atheism seems awfully empty of something very important, I think, whatever it is. The point of ‘religious’ mystery, maybe, is not knowing; when atheism as Harris-Dawkins-Hitchens (hyphenating while being aware of their divergences) deconstruct with such certainty, there is a richness lost, with full appreciation (not approval) of the terrors history has seen in the name of God.”

Someone going by the handle “jlangill” had this to say:

To look at atheists in any light one needs to define faith. Atheists that write about it are people of faith, true to their own dogma one of logic and absolute truths. If one looks at faith in the perspective of reason and absolute truths it falls apart every time because the points of religious faith are ‘Trust’, ‘Love’, and ‘Justice’. These three items are where all of the argument arises because there is no ‘logical” or ‘reasonable’ point to any of them. Many a thousand tomes of law and we are little closer to true justice.

…The pundits of atheist beliefs would have you think that these things are ruined by religious faith because of the actions of people that have lost the objectivity of an all powerful god… ‘We must rid the world of the infidels’ is what the zealots cry in the world of the all powerful god. Why should I raise a hand against anyone where God is the issuer of all judgment. So if the rationalists and the logical thinkers think that zealots are the beginning and the end of religious faith than they have missed the point.

In the book of Mica there is the shortest statement of faith. Being a youth group leader I teach this to all the youth I come in contact with whether they are of faith or not it goes, ‘And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?’(New American standard translation Mica 6:8) Even if I remove god from the statement I could live in a world where we ‘Do justice’ ‘Love kindness’ and ‘Walk Humbly’ couldn’t you? But it is that elusive something more, of having a light to guide me, the path already walked, even to my death that binds me to my religious faith.…”

And this, from one Paul Tuttle, quoting Ann Druyan, the widow of the late Carl Sagan:

His argument was not with God but with those who believed that our understanding of the sacred had been completed. Science’s permanently revolutionary conviction that the search for truth never ends seemed to him the only approach with sufficient humility to be worthy of the universe that it revealed. The methodology of science, with its error-correcting mechanism of keeping us honest in spite of our chronic tendencies to project, to misunderstand, to deceive ourselves and others, seemed to him the height of spiritual discipline.

…Ann quotes Bertrand Russell that ‘what is wanted is not the will to believe, but the desire to find out, which is the exact opposite.’ [Tuttle adds:] To argue in the support of science requires education and discipline, to argue in support of a religion only requires a vocabulary. But the real problem with belief without evidence is its ability create and maintain privilege. Carried to its extreme privilege justified through religion is capable of subjugating entire populations.”

Humanity and its abuse of faith in a higher spirit, or a higher authority, seems to define religion generically considered by the authors, in their own way. Another commenter, Colin Nicholas, has the perceptive sense to draw from Einstein’s God (quoted below), maybe as old as Aristotle’s, which exists as some intelligent force that somehow created everything but does not take part in human matters:

About God, I cannot accept any concept based on the authority of the Church. As long as I can remember, I have resented mass indocrination [sic]. I do not believe in the fear of life, in the fear of death, in blind faith. I cannot prove to you that there is no personal God, but if I were to speak of him, I would be a liar. I do not believe in the God of theology who rewards good and punishes evil. My God created laws that take care of that. His universe is not ruled by wishful thinking, but by immutable laws.” [Nicholas cites William Hermanns’ Einstein and the Poet: In Search of the Cosmic Man]

All for now.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

‘Huh? What do you think? You like it?’ Apparently not. (Photo courtesy Tom Hevezi/AP)
Speaking of Vermont, some trouble seems to be brewing there; very small group of people there are actually serious about — no joke — seceding from the United States. Their manifesto (from the Vermont Commons) reads, quoting Newsday’s excerpts from the declaration of one Thomas Naylor, formerly a professor at Duke: “Thoughtful Vermonters, opposed to the tyranny of the United States government, corporate America and globalization, believe that Vermont should once again become an independent republic, as it was between 1777 and 1791, and that the United States of America should begin to peacefully dissolve.

“Ultimately, as was the case with the American revolution, whether or not a state is allowed to secede is neither a legal question nor a constitutional question, but rather a matter of political will. The ultimate test of sovereignty lies with the people themselves: How strong is the will of the people of the departing state to be free and independent of the control of the larger nation it was a part of?

“My own favorite fantasy would be for Vermont to join Maine, New Hampshire and the four Atlantic provinces of Canada to create a new nation I would call New Acadia.” Ok, the last line is where it gets completely ridiculous. Naylor does have a point about constitutionality; there is no prohibition against succession, although history may show its futility.

The leader of the group, one Rob Williams, has this (sophomoric) thing to say: “If bloodshed were required to take back our country from the corporations, from big government and from the heavy hand of the law, then shed mine first. Our constitution was born out of revolution and a revolution will be required to restore it. We must re-establish the vision that is lost in the greed, the corruption and the oppression of the present establishment.

“We must re-stoke the forge of liberty and as a nation, pick up the hammer of freedom and strike America upon the anvil of justice and make it strong again.” Fairly frightening, and maybe a bit extreme. The ideals appear to be (at least sourced) in the right place. Hopefully.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Foreign Affairs, the leading establishment international relations journal, published the first of a series of foreign policy essays by the top-rung presidential candidates, first among them Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, respectively the presumed centrist candidates for the Dems and GOP. Without poring over minutia, there doesn’t seem to be a hair’s breadth of difference between them.

In “Renewing American Leadership,” Obama effectively refrains much of the so-called Bush Doctrine: dismissal of “outdated thinking” in service to “visionary leadership,” the United States’ divine “promise and purpose,” etc. It is not simply rhetorical. Toward “the broader Middle East,” we must use “tough-minded diplomacy” in which, for example, “we must not rule out using military force” against irritants like Iran. More worrisome is that he declares that he “will not hesitate” to “unilaterally” use force (“if necessary”), to protect undefined “vital interests” under the specter of being “imminently threatened,” whatever that may be. Our role is to fight the “evils” of the world, in the name of the “ultimate good.”

As for the other, “Rising to a New Generation of Global Challenges,” Romney is stuck with boilerplate extremism dressed up as calm, cool-headed statesmanship. There is “a new generation of challenges,” he writes, to which we can face with our “power and influence,” which “stems from [our] values and ideals.” A “bold” new struggle is needed; the U.S. “cannot remain mired in the past.” Public opinion on foreign policy matters, particularly viz. Iraq, is folded into neatly packaged contempt: “…we cannot let current polls and political dynamics drive us to repeat mistakes,” etc. All of this, of course, in the name of exporting “moral leadership” and our status as “a unique nation.”

Obama and Romney are correct in asserting that, respectively, our obsession with militarism must be pared down and that we are up to our necks in trouble. Their solutions reflect a very narrow range of policy choices that the parties find acceptable; the people are probably far ahead. There is no pretense, in any case, that you are going to find peace plans on this page, ever. It is just a bit threatening when there is little disagreement about supporting, and avidly promoting, the same sort of ideas that resulted in the mess we’re in now, and in the blood on our hands.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal published a letter that is worth quoting at length because it reads as the most eloquent case for impeachment yet. Dan DeWalt of South Newfane, Vermont writes (“The Call Goes Out From Vermont: Impeach!”, A15):

While the Bush administration’s attempts to change the constitutional balance of powers by establishing a unitary executive of government is radical, following the proscribed constitutional remedy for such a breach, impeachment, is an act of conservation. To declare himself to be above the law, as the president has done in his signing statements, is both radical and unconstitutional. Calling on Congress to investigate these actions is an act of conservatism. To expect our representatives to honor their oaths of office to defend and uphold the constitution is an act of citizenship, neither left nor right.”

DeWalt also has (needed) harsh words for the Dems, who

have made a crass political calculation to let the president stew in the disaster that he has had simmering for six years. The thousands of lives to be lost in the next year and a half of unchecked war, as well as the tattered Constitution that will have suffered under the Bush administration for eight years, are, apparently, collateral damage to be sacrificed for the greater good sure to come when the Democrats regain the White House.”

I sure hope someone is listening to this guy.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

After revelations like these, from Eugene Robinson’s condemnations based on the testimony of former Justice Dept. deputy James Comey, it turns out this writer was completely wrong about Alberto Gonzales. The day he became Attorney General of the United States was not the day Lady Liberty was punched in the face.

No. It was the day she was raped, repeatedly, without shame. What a disgusting human being. The fatal assumption here had been that the man would be decent enough to stop and cry for his repentence after clocking her jaw and wounding her pride.

Friday, May 18, 2007

The past is not always prologue; however, a “failure of generalship” appears to be plaguing the Iraq war, much like (though not identical) with past conflicts. An excerpt from Lt. Col. Paul Yingling, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment deputy commander (in the Armed Forces Journal), below:

After going into Iraq with too few troops and no coherent plan for postwar stabilization, America’s general officer corps did not accurately portray the intensity of the insurgency to the American public. The Iraq Study Group concluded that ‘there is significant underreporting of the violence in Iraq.’ The ISG noted … ‘Good policy is difficult to make when information is systematically collected in a way that minimizes its discrepancy with policy goals [my emphases].’ … America’s general officer corps underestimated the strength of the enemy, overestimated the capabilities of Iraq’s government and security forces and failed to provide Congress with an accurate assessment of security conditions in Iraq. … The intellectual and moral failures common to [the corps] in Vietnam and Iraq constitute a crisis in American generalship. Any explanation that fixes culpability on individuals is insufficient.”

Iraq is not Vietnam; it’s its own war, and it’s worse, perhaps immeasurably. One can only imagine what its memorial will look like, in blood, treasure and the brightest lights of this country.