Thursday, August 30, 2007

ART TRIALS. Well, I did my best with Clive James' Cultural Amnesia, but after 500 pages I had to set it aside, not out of fatigue but out of irritation. The writing's not the problem. In and among the dozens of essays, each dedicated to (but not necessarily about) a major figure of the 20th Century (and sometimes others), James reliably produces insights that have both force and delicacy, as with this bit on Pound:
Pound vaunted his ability to form explanatory relationships, but it was the very thing he could never truly do, even though, like any other paranoid psychotic, he tried to all the time. Nevertheless he had the talent to demonstrate that to go mad for detail might yield something, whereas to go mad for generalization leads nowhere... he thought that he could judge an empire by the metallic composition of its small change, just as he thought he could extract the meaning of a Chinese ideogram by the way it looked. In both cases he was too far from the mark for sanity. But if he didn't get the picture, he could at least see it...
When he likes his subjects James is even better: "Montesquieu can delay his judgement on Tiberius: a forebearance that not even Tacitus can show... Tacitus, as much fascinated as repelled, had his sense of irony exhausted by a satanically gifted individual. Montesquieu, less emotionally involved, saw a point about Tiberius that extended to all mankind." If you can't get with this sort of material, he also writes elegantly about Dick Cavett and Tony Curtis.

The book isn't all about art, though. James' 20th Century is a slaughterhouse, so by his lights Hitler, Goebbels, Stalin, Mao, Pinochet and other such like must be considered, as well as artists who either opposed or collabrated with them, or were their victims. On these subjects, too, James can be forceful and even subtle: Goebbels, for example, "was the preeminent Nazi advocate of Total War... but he was also a realist in a surreal world, the madhouse he had helped create." On Nadezhda Mandelstam, whose husband was executed by Stalin, James is even poetic:
Akhmatova encapsulated the anguish of millions of devastated women when she wrote: "Husband dead, son in jail: pray for me." But a romantic she remained, still believing in the imaginative validity of a love affair beyond time. In Hope Abandoned, Nadezhda was able to say firmly that her friend was mistaken. Love affairs beyond time were impossible to take seriously when violent separations are the stuff of reality. With real life so disturbed, the nature of romanticism had been changed. In the new reality, all love affairs were beyond time.
James is so good at finding such aesthetic kernels in the tragedies that came with totalitarianism that I was prepared and even eager to hear a lot more of them. Alas, I did, and the kernels lost their savor soon enough. Part of it perhaps could not be helped; the horrors of the century may have been unprecedented, but they certainly begin to resemble one another over long stretches of description, and after the thirtieth or fortieth outrage I wished an editor had gently told James that we get it already. When Dante went to Hell he took Virgil, and you need a guide at that level to keep the infernal circles from closing into a blind spiral on you.

James' solution is to place the artists -- or, when they won't serve, polemicists -- in the context of relevant totalitarianisms. Did they perform admirably? Ernst Junger, despite being "incomparably the most gifted writer to remain on the scene" -- that is, in the Reich, though never quite a collaborator -- "no amount of horrifying truth could induce him fully to admit that he made a mistake. His way out of such an admission was to blame the style of the times; i.e., to console himself that everyone was at it..." If you think that's harsh, see what European Reds like Saramago get:
When Democracy finally arrived in 1974, Saramago didn't trust it. Saramago had good reason to suspect that justice would never come by reasonable means. But when it showed signs of doing so, he did nothing in his discursive writings to justify his position the only way it could have been justified... but it was wholly untrue to go on claiming that the far left offered an alternative in itself. The price of sticking to such a proposition was to restrict his own frame of reference to the size of his study. There was a world elsewhere in which the common people, all over the planet, had been massacred by the millions...
You soon see there is no Third Way with James. Authors who don't get the message are failures on that basis, despite the merit of their prose. James does not quite descend to the sort of Konservetkult nonsense we regularly lampoon here because he is a true critic with a rigorous standard: as with Pound, the ability to see the object is some recompense, but to get the picture is what art should be doing, particularly when the picture is of an oncoming holocaust. This is an arguable point, and certainly not the same thing as the blind weighing and sorting of the propagandist, but weighing and sorting is done and sometimes to an absurd degree:
In the long view of history, Brecht's fame as a creep will prevail, as it ought to. An unblushing apologist for organized frightfulness against the common people whose welfare he claimed to prize above his own, he was really no better than Oswald Mosley and a lot more dangerous. Brecht's fame as a poet will depend upon a wide appreciation of what he could do with language, and there lies the drawback: because the more you appreciate what he could do with language, the more you realize how clearly he could see, and so the more you are faced with how he left things out. You are faced, that is, with what he did not do with language.
What Brecht did do with language James never addresses, but you can pick up his plays and poems and enjoy them, I would say, even if you are not an apologist for Stalin.

This sort of hectoring eventually wore me down, but I am still getting some pleasure out of riffling it, because now I can desultorily enjoy James' lovely anecdotes, textual analyses, appreciations, and even some history lessons, without having to fidget in anticipation of another session of his grim tribunal.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

WE ARE NOT DRUNKS. WE'RE MULTIMILLIONAIRES. The official end of summer is weeks away, but Labor Day announces the bell lap. Students are schlepping in; the nights grow less sultry. Have we wrung all the possible good out of our blessed time near the sun? Maybe not. So let's make the most of the short space left before the dropping of the iron leaf, and face life with the proper attitude. Here is an inspirational message from Withnail & I:

Enjoy your weekend.
POSITIVELY THE LAST LARRY CRAIG POST. Conservatives continue to contend that there's no hypocrisy in Larry Craig's actions. First, Jonah Goldberg tells us that "one can simply believe as a matter of principle or faith that marriage is the union of a man and a woman and that’s that while at the same time having much love or sympathy in your heart for gay people." Then he calls Craig a "pervert." Rod Dreher adds to this his usual obsession with gay men and bathrooms.

And... but why bother? The tools of reason are useless against people who are in full flight from reason. Better to contemplate how this argument would go down with normal people who are not in the semantic hair-splitting business. Hell, try it at Free Republic. Those guys may be bigots but they're no intellectuals. I should like to see Dreher exhort these proud members of the Republican base to oppose gay rights only in a spirit of Christian love. Soon enough they'll come to the conclusion that there's somethin' funny about Brother Rod.

I'm sick of it already. Bring on the next gay Republican!
SHORTER JOHN DERBYSHIRE. I say, deuced liberals won't allow one to enjoy racial humor, wot? (puts on ridiculous nightshirt, brushes rotten teeth with Marmite, and buggers a lad)

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

THE HEALING POWER OF LAUGHTER. Remember when National Review’s David Frum argued in defense of Ted Haggard that there was no such thing as hypocrisy? That must have been a trial balloon, because some conservatives are now using the idea as a defense of Larry Craig.

Mona Charen claims that she can’t find evidence that Craig “ran on family values” so, despite Craig’s support of Idaho's version of the Defense of Marriage Act, he can’t officially be a hypocrite:
I have no trouble saying that Craig should resign in disgrace. But the rest of the folks out there, particularly the lefties, who disbelieve in sexual disgrace (except perhaps where children are involved) can exult in cases like Craig’s only because this supposedly makes him a hypocrite. But what if he’s not a hypocrite? Suppose, as my admittedly hasty search suggests, he’s been pretty quiet about family values?  Doesn’t that mean the Democrats should be defending him?
I imagine Charen asking these questions in the manner of “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” and getting, as was gotten in the original context, the Big Ig.

Meanwhile Dean Esmay 's Kevin D.* offers the argument that secularists are the real hypocrites, man:
When pushing out one idea the void must be filled with another. You can't, as [David] Limbaugh points out, complain one group is legislating morality when you yourself seek to do the same thing.
So if you think, say, we should legislate against the persecution of homosexuals, you must also respect my legislation persecuting homosexuals. Otherwise you’re a hypocrite. Q. E. Duh.

As usual in cases involving gay people, Roger L. Simon pleads for tolerance, causing (again as usual) his commenters to roar their displeasure. One circulates a talking point from James Taranto’s Wall Street Journal defense of escort enthusiast David Vitter:
Hypocrisy does not mean saying one thing and doing the opposite. It means saying something that one does not believe…
So don’t call him a hypocrite -- he’s just someone who “weakened” under the awful strain of pretended heterosexuality.

We’re used to winger sophistries, of course. But this one’s in a special category. These guys are eager to defend Craig against charges of hypocrisy even as they accede to, and even demand, his resignation. Clearly they don’t give a damn about Craig, but they care deeply about negating the idea that their champions are hypocrites. They do it, I think, because hypocrisy inspires derision, which makes one's high horse about other people's morals less of an electoral asset, and that's an asset without which the modern American conservative movement is seriously weakened.

Hell, they're even making jokes about Craig themselves. Probably to keep from crying.

UPDATE. New reality: Larry Craig was set up. Defenders still want him out of the Senate, though. Sympathy and condemnation at the same time! This must be what they mean by "compassionate conservatism."

The Wall Street Journal:
Defenders of "outing" politicians argue that the cruelty is not gratuitous--that politicians are in a position of power, which they are using to harm gay citizens, and therefore their private lives are fair game. But if the politician in question is a mere legislator, his power consists only of the ability to cast one vote among hundreds. The actual amount of harm that he is able to inflict is minimal.
Clearly liberals should stop bothering gay anti-gay members of Congress until their number reaches at least a plurality. Which, given the trend, should be any day now.
Anyway, most lawmakers who oppose gay-rights measures are not homosexual. To single out those who are for special vituperation is itself a form of antigay prejudice. Liberals pride themselves on their compassion, but often are unwilling to extend it to those with whose politics they disagree.
OK, I've got a new idea: Keep the pressure on till growing conservative dismay at liberal "antigay prejudice" leads to sweeping legislative protections for homosexuals.

UPDATE II.Shorter Jonah Goldberg: Conservatives aren't uptight about sex. We laff at fags! Oh, and harumph harumph the humanity. (Must put that first.)

*UPDATE III. Fixed attribution on Esmay quote; thanks, apostropher.

Monday, August 27, 2007

LARRY CRAIG COVERAGE, CITIZEN-JOURNALIST STYLE. Democrats were Larry Craig first. Larry Craig is about the liberal media, semiotistics show. Larry Craig improves Republican prospects of retaining this Senate seat. Larry Craig should have punched plainclothes cop to demonstrate masculinity. Larry Craig is wrong on immigration, making his sexuality a legitimate issue. Larry Craig proves that active homosexuals must be purged from the Republican Party. Larry Craig proves that homosexuals are overrepresented in Congress. Larry Craig shows that closeted gay Congressmen can still be valuable allies in the war against non-closeted gay non-Congressmen.

Also, Citizen Journalist shocked to hear that gay people are targets of law enforcement.
BABY BOOM. A correspondent at Gates of Vienna charts declining birth rates in the West and blames "the disincentives to childbearing so readily provided by the welfare systems of Western countries." Those of us brought up on stories about welfare mothers churning out brats in order to collect more welfare may find this strange. GoV commenter Geraldo suggests that "Most of the problem is in school. Many girls/young women (ex, my daughter) dont want to have children because she was taught at school about a catastrophic world that is coming." As Gates of Vienna's primary subject matter is the coming clash of civilizations, I should think Geraldo's daughter, and anyone related to Gates of Vienna readers, would be used to such teachings.
HORATIO ALGER AT 9 PERCENT INTEREST. At National Review's Phi Beta Cons blog, George Leef notices a Harvard Business Online article about the choice to either stay in college or leave to seek one's fortune. The HBO author is sympathetic to the latter choice:
There are several arguments to be made on that side of the coin. First: as competition for college-educated employees increases, companies will become more and more motivated to use those without college degrees effectively in the workforce, in jobs that today would routinely require a diploma-in-hand as the price of admission. They will come to screen candidates in different ways, searching, perhaps, for the Simon Cowells among them: those who are bright, motivated, and will make them money.

A second argument: in their desperate search for college talent, companies will join professional sports franchises in recruiting individuals earlier and earlier in the pipeline. It will become a sign of your exceptional talent to proclaim that you were hired in your junior or even sophomore year in college. Only those in the lower ranks of the class will make it through as seniors.
The Phi Beta Con perspective in general is that all our citadels of learning are run by Marxist lunatics, which may explain why Leef highlights the author's claim that "a perception that at least parts of today's college education are actually not particularly relevant may pervade more and more young people's (and older employers') consciousness."

But an increasing number of Americans are going after college degrees -- including graduate degrees. The most recent Digest of Educational Statistics from the U.S. Department of Education:
College enrollment hit a record level of 17.5 million in fall 2005. Another record of 17.6 million is anticipated for fall 2006 (table 3). Enrollment is expected to increase by an additional 13 percent between 2006 and 2015... The traditional college-age population (18 to 24 years old) rose 15 percent between 1995 and 2005, which was reflected by an increase in college enrollment...
And (pdf):
Undergraduate enrollment rose 21 percent between 1996 and 2005. Graduate enrollment had been steady at about 1.3 million in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but rose about 59 percent between 1985 and 2005 (table 191)...

Growing numbers of people are completing college degrees. Between 1994–95 and 2004–05, the number of associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, first-professional, and doctor’s degrees rose (table 251). Associate’s degrees increased 29 percent, bachelor’s degrees increased 24 percent, master’s degrees increased 45 percent, and doctor’s degrees increased 18 percent during this period. The number of first-professional degrees was 15 percent higher in 2004–05 than it was in 1994–95.
I'll go out on a limb here and suggest that this upward trend in college enrollment and degrees has less to do with an increased thirst for the joy of learning than it does with students' (and parents') hopes that degrees will get them good jobs. The cost of degrees is steep and people are getting ridiculously deep in debt to obtain them. The shift toward private loans to pay for schooling has been a bonanza for a certain kind of lender:
Overall, student lending has been an extraordinarily profitable business. Sallie's return on equity, which was over 30 percent in 2006, is one of the highest among American companies, and its executives are compensated lavishly. From 1999 through 2004, former CEO and current chairman Albert Lord took home over $200 million. In 2006, current CEO Tim Fitzpatrick was paid $16.6 million in salary, bonuses and stock.
I have discussed here the popular notion among conservatives that our economy is doing so well that any negative perception by citizens of their own financial prospects is unjustified, and excited not by personal experiences but by liberal propaganda. From this point of view, I can see why they might also wish to believe that expensive degrees are unnecessary -- if your boy or girl has to drop out, he or she may still become a Simon Cowell. It's an optimistic view, in its way, of the sort that one might express casually when a friend finds that he just can't make the tuition payments. And in some happy cases it may even come true.

But people are digging deep to get those degrees if there's any way in hell they can be gotten. It's not easy for most of them, but they persist because they believe that opportunity comes with an ever-increasing price of admission, and they'd better pay it now before it goes up again. Because everything is going up, constantly. Maybe your grandpa went to the mill to earn the money to house and feed his family, but those days are gone: Your best bet is the diploma mill.

It doesn't look like a happy picture to me, but regular readers will know that I am not much of an optimist.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

FACE OF THE ENEMY UPDATE. Jules Crittenden, on vacation, gives the floor to one Theo Spark:
The West’s biggest problem however is…..the cancer of liberalism that is infecting our society. These are the fools who, having failed to turn the planet into a socialist ‘wonderland’ are now concentrating their attentions on the myths of ‘global warming’, the continuing struggle against capitalism (which gave them the internet, their new weapon of choice), and their standard anti-US mantra. They relish in the death of every ‘allied’ serviceman, fighting to preserve the very freedoms which give them a voice...

...The liberals are weakening our society, allowing our enemies to gain strength for the final onslaught. The worlds despots are surviving due to this weakness and millions are suffering as a result.

The title of this piece is ‘Is the West heading for Civil War? Unless we face down and defeat liberals the world over, we are headed for a civil war between the good and the gormless and the only people who will benefit will be our enemies.
Not finding in this post Sparks' recipe for the defeat of liberalism -- much less examples of our alleged glee at the death of coalition forces -- I visited his own blog. While it is clear that he likes girls except when they talk, he is short on policy prescriptions, which is perhaps for the best.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

WHY DON'T YOU GO TO THE STARDUST BALLROOM? IT'S LOADED WITH TOMATOES. Speaking of poor, misunderstood right wingers, a gay conservatarian says it's been hard for him to get a date because liberals are prejudiced against conservatives. At the end, though, he reveals he has found a boyfriend ("though more liberal than I"). I wonder if he observed the usual controls for such a study. Did he change his haircut, for example, or lose a few pounds during his dateless period? The data is unclear.

This stimulates discussion from the hetero perspective at Volokh Conspiracy, where Ilya Somin claims that "A great many people believe that it is wrong to date anyone whose political views differ significantly from their own." Again, the data is unclear, and Somin denies experiencing this alleged problem himself.

Plenty of discussion at both boards. My take is, getting laid is more fun than talking about how other people are to blame that you're not getting laid.
THE SOFTER SIDE OF RUSH. Our subject found himself at the tender age of 37 accused of being "racist, sexist, bigot, homophobe, mean-spirited, angry." But he overcame:
There are certain areas in the business that I am the most successful person in the world where I cannot work because of what I think. Now, I have not run around and bellyached and whined and moaned about it. I have accepted it as a badge of honor because I do not allow myself to believe that those people are better or more important than I am. Just the exact opposite. And I have found a way to work around it and found my niche here. I know what I'm good at. I'm doing what I was born to do...

Everybody has obstacles to overcome. Now, Eric said that he's heard me bellyache and whine and complain about things. Not within the context of being discriminated against! I've found ways to work around it. Everybody has to.
The speaker is Rush Limbaugh, and he's tired of people who can't see this is a land of opportunity, because if Rush Limbaugh can make it, despite his disadvantages, then anyone can. The tirade is set off by a mention of racism. And he accuses Democrats of exploiting the feelings of "a country half full of unsatisfied, malcontent, miserable, unhappy people" with bellyaching about racism and poverty, and rock concerts.

I am in general sympathetic to the notion that we should try to rise above our circumstances. Still, I would be shy about citing my own history as a white man with a college education (notwithstanding my humble beginnings) as a counterweight to historic racial discrimination.

Of course I don't know what it's like to be as rich and powerful as Rush Limbaugh. And it may be that when you've attained such heights, you might lose your awareness -- if you ever had it to begin with -- of what it's like to be without money and power. Then the people who do know what it's like, either by experience or observation, might look to you like miserable malcontents.

To give him some credit, I imagine he has noticed that there are more malcontents than there used to be. He may also understand that a healthy chunk of those malcontents in the half-a-country have been peeled away from the large Republican majority that was in effect when he was battling discrimination as a radio celebrity back in the Reagan era.

In politics as in market share, the game is to win such people back. If you're confident, you restate your case more boldly. If you're less confident, you complain -- that people don't understand you, that your enemies lie about you, that you, too, are a victim. It's actually your opponents who are the bigots, while you are "America's Real Civil Rights Leader." In advertising they call it repositioning, and Sears did have some success proclaiming its Softer Side. But it tends to work best when you can justify it with your product line. And it never helps to be so defensive.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

STOOPID ACE IZ STOOPID. Lofty social thinking, of the White Guy Trying to Be Helpful variety, from Mr. Ace O. Spades:
I guess this might be a reason to discuss the aggressively anti-intellectual -- or more accurately, pro-ignorance -- "Cult of the Authentic" which is more responsible for black failure than all the racism in the world.
Thereafter comes discussion of "thug life" and "culture of authenticity" -- as well as helpless laughter, as we discover Mr. Spades is talking about a black guy's entries in a freaking Facebook quiz -- a matter of cultural concern, according to Mr. Spades, because such language from a college man means that, among our dusky brethren, "this idea that intelligence is a sell-out to The Man persists."

I hope Mr. Spades will next bring his analytic skills to LOLcats, which phenomenon features lots of misspellings, and therefore must have been created by African Americans trying to make themselves look dumb for Al Sharpton or something.

I mean what else could it be? Humor? Maybe Ace can't see it because no one made fun of faggots.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

CENSORSHIT. Iraq bitter-ender Armed Liberal says that "we don't do purges, and that's a good thing," and has invented a derogatory "Moon Unit" award which he will give " to people who think that gagging someone -- with or without a spoon -- is an appropriate political response."

His first honoree is Atrios, who wrote:
Is Tom Friedman a Bad Person?

All signs point to "pretty hideous human being, one which all good people should shun."
Even Armed Liberal's commenters cannot achieve consensus as to whether Duncan Black's gag constitutes an attempt to silence Tom Friedman. Nonetheless, Armed Liberal predicts that "the progblogs are going to be racking up a huge number of these 'Moon Units.'"

I should think "gagging" would look more like this:
Life in an FBI muzzle is no fun. Two Connecticut librarians on Sunday described what it was like to be slapped with an FBI national security letter and accompanying gag order. It sounded like a spy movie or, gulp, something that happens under a repressive foreign government. Peter Chase and Barbara Bailey, librarians in Plainville, Connecticut, received an NSL to turn over computer records in their library on July 13, 2005. Unlike a suspected thousands of other people around the country, Chase, Bailey and two of their colleagues stood up to the Man and refused to comply, convinced that the feds had no right to intrude on anyone's privacy without a court order (NSLs don't require a judge's approval). That's when things turned ugly.

The four librarians under the gag order weren't allowed to talk to each other by phone. So they e-mailed. Later, they weren't allowed to e-mail.

After the ACLU took on the case and it went to court in Bridgeport, the librarians were not allowed to attend their own hearing. Instead, they had to watch it on closed circuit TV from a locked courtroom in Hartford, 60 miles away. "Our presence in the courtroom was declared a threat to national security," Chase said.
Or it might look more like this bullshit libel suit against PZ Myers.

Or it might look more like what the Army does to milbloggers. They're largely rightwing, of course, and censored by their own superiors, but I'm sure there's some angle by which liberals of the unArmed kind can be blamed.

But what do I know? I say mean things about conservatives all the time. Obviously I'm a one-man Legion of Indecency, trampling the free speech of wingnuts 'round with the world with the legally-non-binding force of my invective.

UPDATE. Gulagmaster Norbizness says of Christopher Walken's latest poor choice of vehicle, "I think it's official... nobody should remember anything good that Christopher Walken has ever done in his acting career." Not even Hollywood is safe from liberal terror! And I'm pretty sure I heard some hippie say, "Christ, what an asshole" about Bush. Developing...
AND NO, RED DAWN DOESN'T COUNT. Perfesser Glenn Reynolds on the War on Whatchamacallit:
In a decade or two we'll get a new revisionist history in which America was united against the threat, much like we're hearing today about the Cold War.
My memory's not what it used to be, but I think there were several Democratic Congresses during the Cold War, and even a few Democratic Presidents. How is it that the Sovet Union never invaded? America was obviously ripe for the plucking.

Yet not even the traitors' victory in Vietnam brought us even close to Soviet domination. A less convinced soul than the Perfesser might get the impression that the United States sometimes engages its forces in error.

Monday, August 20, 2007

ANNALS OF LIBERTARIANISM. Talking about the Giuliani health care plan, Megan McArdle argues that "As a class, the old and sick are already luckier than the young and healthy":
Moreover, as a class, the old and sick have some culpability in their ill health. They didn't eat right or excercise; they smoked; they didn't go to the doctor as often as they ought; they drank to much, or took drugs, or sped, or engaged in dangerous sports. Again, in individual cases this will not be true; but as a class, the old and sick bear some of the responsibility for their own ill health, while younger, healthier people have almost no causal role in the ill-health of others.

Perhaps they deserve it by virtue of suffering? But again, most of them are suffering because they have gotten old, often in high style...
Try to imagine this woman on a lifeboat.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

WRITING LESSON. Two interesting views of what was so awesome about 9/11, from two very different writers. First Christopher Hitchens:
In order to get my own emotions out of the way, I should say briefly that on that day I shared the general register of feeling, from disgust to rage, but was also aware of something that would not quite disclose itself. It only became fully evident quite late that evening. And to my surprise (and pleasure), it was exhilaration. I am not particularly a war lover, and on the occasions when I have seen warfare as a traveling writer, I have tended to shudder. But here was a direct, unmistakable confrontation between everything I loved and everything I hated. On one side, the ethics of the multicultural, the secular, the skeptical, and the cosmopolitan. (Those are the ones I love, by the way.) On the other, the arid monochrome of dull and vicious theocratic fascism. I am prepared for this war to go on for a very long time. I will never become tired of waging it, because it is a fight over essentials. And because it is so interesting.
Second, the man who quotes him, Rod Dreher:
I didn't, and don't, ultimately value the same things as Hitchens, but in reading this passage, I recognize his sentiment. To walk around New York City on that day and on the days that followed -- and probably to walk around where you live too -- was to see things with crystal clarity. As I've written elsewhere, that clarity, or perception of clarity, was more of an illusion than we could have recognized, and it led many of us to make bad decisions. Nevertheless, whatever one's view of the Iraq War, the feeling all, or nearly all, of us had on 9/11 and in its immediate aftermath was one of ultimate meaning returned to the world. Irony was suspended, and it was possible to feel not only real love for your neighbor, but love for your country, and a recognition of what you really did love, but took for granted -- until it was threatened. It couldn't last, but it was -- I have to confess -- a great feeling. All the usual bitching and moaning we do as part of our everyday lives ceased. We saw pure, uncut evil, and we knew it wanted to kill us, and we didn't know what we were going to do in response, but we knew we'd do something. And we were clear that Everything Mattered. Whatever else life was, it was no longer boring. We lived in interesting times.
One of the things I still admire about Hitchens' writing is that I believe him: not his belligerent analyses, but his portrayal of his own thoughts and feelings. He identifies clearly the personal obsessions that informed his strange reaction to the horrible event -- the multicultural versus the monochrome. He puts responsibility for his feelings on himself, and dares the reader to find him insane, because he doesn't care what the reader thinks. Hitchens seeks not to beg his reader's attention and understanding, but to command it.

Dreher has none of this. To speak in the first place of "the feeling all, or nearly all, of us had on 9/11" is a glaring sign that even in confessional mode, Dreher thinks in groupthink, and his announcement that our group feeling was "one of ultimate meaning returned to the world" shows that he can't even get groupthink right. "It couldn't last, but it was -- I have to confess -- a great feeling... And we were clear that Everything Mattered." Even if you weren't there, you'd have to doubt this, it's so phony. The problem is that Dreher can't take ownership of his own strange thoughts -- he has to project them on all of us. I think in the back of his mind he knew he was saying something awful, and so sought to offload responsibility for them.

If you can't take responsibility for what you're saying, you might as well shut up.
THE FACE OF THE ENEMY. The Times ran a lengthy disquisition by filmmaker Errol Morris about the famous picture of the "Hooded Man" from Abu Ghraib, and the guy who said he was that guy but wasn't really:
The problem was not a lack of research. Yes, there was archival material that could have cast suspicion on the claim that Clawman was the Hooded Man. But the mistaken identification was driven by Clawman’s own desire to be the iconic victim, to be the Hooded Man, and our own need to believe him. It is an error engendered by photography and perpetuated by us. And it comes from a desire for “the ocular proof.” A proof that turns out to be no proof at all. Indeed. What we see is not independent of our beliefs. Photographs provide evidence, but no shortcut to reality. Photographic evidence – like all evidence – needs to be seen in context. It needs to be evaluated. If seeing itself is belief-laden, then there is no seeing independent of believing, and the “truism” has to be reversed. Believing is seeing and not the other way around.
Uh huh. Well, it was a picture of somebody with electrical wires stuck to him. Which is why I was at first puzzled by a post at the site of war journalist/supporter Michael Yon which linked to it:
While we sleep, enemies define us.
What enemies did Yon mean, I wondered? Ali Shalal Qaissi, aka Clawman? Was his quest for fame some sort of Al Qaeda psy ops? Did his moment in the spotlight convince people there was torture at Abu Ghraib, or did all the photos of other tortured subjects, and the subsequent courts-martial, do most of the convincing? Was Yon suggesting that Qaissi's story proved the whole thing was a hoax -- one that took in even the United States Army?

I got a clue as to his meaning from the commenters on the Morris story who, it is reasonable to assume, would not have bothered with some artist's musings in the treasonous Times unless directed there by a higher authority:
...How many Iraqi prisoners died as a result of “torture” at Abu Ghraib? Now compare that to the number of American soldiers who have died as a result of an emboldened insurgency, emboldened by an agenda driven New York Times splashing 40 straight front page stories on this self-esteem “war crime"...

...To the left, gwbush is the real enemy. nothing else matters. More muslims are free than any time in history but their diseased minds can only fixate on that which he had no direct control (and if you THINK about it, was direct result of the clinton policy of eliminating regular army divisions and using national guardsmen and women to do jobs professionals used to handle)but what difference does any of that make. If a republican does it, its EVIL...

... Show me beheadings, severed ears, fingers, genitals, etc., then I’ll buy “torture”. Oh wait, that’s the ENEMY who does that. Until then, this constant braying about how this is “torture” only serves to embolden the enemy...

...The self loathing hate America leftists so overplayed this story that my perception of the overwhelmingly leftist American media becoming cemented in it’s disgust...
For them, Abu Ghraib's just another Beauchamp -- another MSM assault on our fighting men who guard us, as Kipling said, while we sleep. And that is what they mean by "enemies."

Thursday, August 16, 2007

RACE MEN. Daniel Henninger offers an especially incoherent Wall Street Journal column today, perhaps owing to the high excitement in which it was commenced.

We may surmise that, good culture cop that he is, Henninger was on the prowl for proofs that Diversity is Bad when he hit the jackpot: Robert Putnam’s alleged findings that ethnic variety causes a lack of faith in some institutions among some people.

Henninger, like Rod Dreher before him, is overjoyed to find academic support for his own miscegnophobia:
Now comes words that diversity as an ideology may be dead, or not worth saving... Short version: People in ethnically diverse settings don't want to have much of anything to do with each other. "Social capital" erodes. Diversity has a downside.
If you, like tens of millions of other Americans, actually live among different kinds of people, yet consider your social life happy and vigorous, don’t bother to tell Henninger –- not only will he characterize your tone of voice in the traditional rightwing way; he will also rebut your daily personal experience with a 43-year-old anecdote:
Give me a break! you scream. What about New York City or L.A.? From the time of Sherwood Anderson's "Winesburg, Ohio" through "Peyton Place" and beyond, people have fled the flat-lined, gossip-driven homogeneity of small American "communities" for the welcome anonymity of big-city apartment building--so long as your name wasn't Kitty Genovese, the famous New York woman who bled to death crying for help.
The fellow who killed her was black, you know. So you just wait, liberals –- your precious ethnic friends will murder your daughter, and then who’ll be the racist? (Both of you, Henninger clearly hopes.)

After this noirgasm, Henninger’s thematic force dwindles, and seemingly at the edge of sleep he murmurs all sorts of right-romantic nonsense: Don’t trust foreigners, but trust them enough to leave immigration unrestricted; we could make a religious exception for anti-diversity, but better we should magically make everyone middle-class, etc.

Clearly, for Henninger the Big One was the opportunity to broach the politically-incorrect solution of getting everyone segregated for their own good. Even church talk offers but faint thrills after that.

What animates conservative commentators against diversity so? Their complaints against silly seminars and such like are easily shared, but columns like Henninger's suggest that in their heart of hearts "diversity" is not just a nuisance, but a code word for "integration," which people such as they have been fighting since Brown vs. Board of Ed at least. It's telling that Henninger starts by denouncing diversity classes and comes (or cums) so quickly to Kitty Genovese.

The sulfuric whiff pervades even the work of younger conservatives who do not -- I don't think, anyway -- feel racism in their very loins. Take Ross Douthat, opining on Glenn Loury’s findings on race and imprisonment rates in America:
Loury's essay emphasizes the racial elements at work in the system, and they're real enough, but our incarceration policy is sustained by cool reason as much as racism. Mass incarceration emerged out of prejudice, yes, but also as a rational, albeit draconian, response to a social crisis: We lock up young black men by the hundreds of thousands because it's the only sustained response that we were willing to muster to the large-scale familial and social breakdown that helped sustain America's thirty-year crime wave.
Cool reason? Rational albeit draconian? He seems to be saying that we just had to lock up lots of dark-skinned people to make our white asses (feel) safe.

To be fair, Douthat does offer an alternative plan to mass black arrests: Bill Clinton’s ("more cops on the beat"!), of which plan (and its success) Douthat seems never to have heard, but which he thinks conservatives should claim in a “Nixon can go to China” sense. Still, he might have argued against the relevance of race, and focused on the classes of crimes that draw disproportionately heavy prison sentences (like drug offenses).

I guess he couldn't help himself; it's a right-wing thing. Between the fall of Jim Crow and the publication of Charles Murray's famous sociological treatise, Niggers are Stupid, most conservative writers were -- perhaps out of a (justifiable) sense of guilt -- somewhat reluctant to touch on race. Now they're fascinated by it and spout all kinds of gibberish to the effect that the dark are indeed different from you and me (assuming you and me are white) and we only need new, academically-approved ways to explain it to Americans who, unfortunately for their cause, have been brainwashed by decades of integration against accepting their message in its original Lester Maddox version.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

WILLING SUSPENSION OF DISBELIEF. Wayne Barrett's epic examination of Rudy Giuliani's 9/11 claims hasn't been refuted much by Giuliani's online fans. Maybe that's because it would be difficult: Barrett's work is very solid. But they're more likely hoping the story, being contrary to the well-engineered "America's Mayor" narrative, will fade away. Ross Douthat is plain about it:
No doubt such a story would draw the most blood if it appeared in N[ational] R[eview], but really, it would draw more blood, or at least attract more right-wing attention, if it appeared almost anywhere other than the Village Voice. I'm no great Rudy booster, but I'm much, much more likely to take this kind of story with a grain of salt because it appears in an extremely left-wing alternative weekly (but I repeat myself) that did nothing but bash Hizzoner, sometimes fairly but usually not, throughout his mayoralty.
Even without answering a single point in the story -- or in any other "unfair" piece of reportage -- Douthat says that its publication in the Voice "makes me automatically inclined to approach it with more skepticism that it may deserve."

As I've said before, Giuliani's fans love his blazing authoritarian streak so much that they'll overlook his inconvenient abortion politics. Why should this topic be any different?

Speaking of which, ten years after Giuliani lost his Federal suit to sustain a Koch-era executive order that "barred city employees from turning in illegal immigrants who seek city services like police protection, schooling and medical care" -- a reversal Giuliani had said would "create chaos in New York City" -- the former Mayor has pledged to end illegal immigration. At National Review Rich Lowry proclaims, "When Rudy says that, you can believe it."

I might fatalistically welcome a Giuliani Presidency on the grounds that it will inevitably force these folks to reckon with the fact that Rudy Giuliani is implacably and irreversibly devoted to nothing except Rudy Giuliani. But that day will never come. If Giuliani dismembered a fetus in the Oval Office, they'd register a strong complaint and then get back to cheering our invasion of wherever. They want a bully, and seem to understand, if dimly, that he will sometimes choose to practice on them.

UPDATE. Fixed some of the historical data.
THE TROUBLE WITH LIBERTARIANS, PART 45,882. If there's one thing libertarians care about more than your rights and mine, it's the rights of people with lots of money:
The Washington Times reports that Clarian Health, an Indiana hospital chain, has started charging obese employees and smokers more for their health insurance coverage—$30 and $5 more, respectively, per paycheck. As in the case of companies that refuse to hire smokers (or fire them when they test positive for nicotine), I think decisions like these should be left to individual employers, who cannot force people to work for them and, by the same token, should not be forced to hire people on terms unilaterally imposed by one party. Still, I understand the complaints about increasingly nosy bosses who seek to pressure or punish workers into changing their off-the-clock behavior even when it has nothing to do with job performance...
Jacob Sullum understands those complaints, but as von Hayek once said, money talks and bullshit walks. Why should corporations have to take care of a bunch of feebs? Healthy, strapping youths -- that's what's wanted. Surely you see the laissez-faireness in that.

And anyway, the real danger is universal health care. As Sullum points out, the government can be positively nannyish about smoking and such like, nagging and scolding. How much better to be financially penalized for it by employers. And if you don't like it, you can always quit your job and find another one, hopefully before this trend spreads widely enough (who doubts that it will?) that clean piss, blood, and lung-tissue samples become a de facto condition of employment, leaving those of us who drink, smoke, etc. to fight for scraps with the ex-cons and illegals.

Libertarians do seem to understand that each man should be free to go to hell in his own way. Unfortunately they never seem to catch on sometimes people are sent to hell by whims and quirks of fate -- catastrophic illness, say, or a shift in the employer class' understanding of what they can get away with. No doubt the staff of Reason is comprised of Randian supermen who will rise above all adversity, but when the rest of us schmoes observe a working world where it becomes easier to lose what few protections we have, the horror of intrusive government is very, very far from our minds.
SHORTER JAMES "BUZZ" LILEKS: I and Minnesota ain't dumb. Are we, Minnesota?

("My, they do have a grand opinion of themselves," says Lileks of "Poses," who turns out to be "a Santa Monica-based entrepreneur" who won the licensing rights for a New Yorker cartoon board game to be sold at Target. The actual New Yorker staff quoted in the LA Times story think the game's a great idea. To be fair, maybe "have a grand opinion of themselves" refers to some lady with a Democratic bumper sticker on her car, and a hippie.)

Monday, August 13, 2007

KONSERVETKULT UPDATE. The Friday after Brad Reed's and my American Prospect article appeared, I could find no film reviews at National Review Online. Shaming works! I thought; advantage: blogosneer!

Hubris, my friends, that's what that was. Conservatives still see culture war in some unlikely places.

The encouraging thing about this Weekly Standard article is it focuses on conservative artists who are actually trying to do work. You may think actor Steve Shub silly to say "I don't want to know what [movie actors'] agenda is in life because the whole idea is that you're supposed to seduce people into suspending their disbelief, just see the character," when of course he's in the article because he has consented to lay out his own agenda ("radical Objectivist") to the reporter -- but at least he's working a venerable show-biz PR hustle (like the actresses of olden times who annnounced they would only do nude scenes if they had artistic merit, whether or not anybody was observably asking them), and I can respect that. If artists can con moneyed wingers into giving them financing -- "the Human Rights Foundation will sponsor Schub's 'Afro-Celtic Yiddish ska' band, the Fenwicks, on a mini-tour this fall" -- I say swindle, comrades, and God go with you.

The reporter, alas, opens the show with a smoke-and-flashpots vision of Hollywood evil: Larry David.
...the very attractive female lead in the musical invites Larry into her dressing room for a quick fling. The liberal New Yorker is game, making out with the starlet until he notices something not quite right: a picture of George W. Bush beside her vanity mirror. Disgusted, he turns away, deciding he'd rather let his gift expire than have sex with a Republican.

To many conservatives, this vignette neatly sums up Hollywood's ideological monomania: Left-wing politics trumps even a good old fashioned roll in the hay.
I'm surprised his editor didn't query this: a TV star turning down sex? Maybe it's part of this "comedy" thing we've been hearing about.

At Red State we are encouraged to consider "Is Fight Club a 'Morally Serious' Movie?" Not necessarily a ridiculous topic, but get a load of author Leon H. Wolf's terms:
The moral objection to the first half of the movie typically goes that the movie is violent, and that violence on the screen is objectionable. This is an idea in which I find little merit, from a Judeo-Christian perspective. Recall that in the Old Testament, stonings (a particularly violent form of execution) were to be performed in front of the entire community, so as to encourage the rest of the community would learn to have the proper fear...
Why all those people in the multiplexes are cheering the Dolby explosions when they should be running in terror to their pastors is beyond me.

Later the author admits that "the movie pays homage to objectionable Rousseauian ideas concerning the primitive state of nature." C.S. Lewis is quoted -- the bit about men without chests. You can smell the rat there. Not all his observations are crazy, but his idea of the "morally serious" comes out of the same stew-pot as a thousand conservative essays on the Dark Age of feminazism and self-esteem. It gives the whole thing an air of peg-cramming to make an obstreperous film fit into depressingly standardized value hole.

And guess who Dr. Helen doesn't like anymore? Drew Carey. He made jokes about Bush, and speciously interpretted data on feminism ("The questions may be phrased in a way that does not allow one to know why the pollee answered the way he or she did"), which is of course vitally important in a freaking TV game show, from which these offenses are culled. Carey "was much more politically incorrect" a few years ago, sighs Dr. Helen; "I wonder what happened to him?" Some commenters suggest his Big Media masters jerked his chain. (Does that explain Leno's Bush jokes?) Another suggests his taste for "pron" is "starting to have a negative impact." Finally someone says "TV is a waste." In the kingdom of the blind, etc.
THE TURNING POINT. Salon runs an interview with Turkish science writer Taner Edis about the parlous state of the sciences in the Islamic world. Edis lays it on the line from the get-go:
Right now, if all Muslim scientists working in basic science vanished from the face of the earth, the rest of the scientific community would barely notice. There's very little contribution coming from Muslim lands.
He's very explicit that religious fundamentalism is the main problem: whereas "Europe got lucky" and shook off Church control of science centuries ago, in Islamic countries religion actively stunts scientific enquiry:
[Q.] I suppose [Islamic countries] could just import the science that's developed in the West. Is this really a big problem?

[A.] Falling further behind in something like condensed matter physics means that you'll have a harder time adapting technologies that are going to be based on this new knowledge of physics. And you're excluding Muslims from the creation of new technologies. It permanently locks the Muslim world into a subordinate position in those aspects of modern life that depend on creativity in technology and science. And this is a huge swath of modern life....

[Q.] ...I'm willing to bet that many Islamic thinkers would say the price of scientific success in the West has been too high. Once science was divorced from religion, you could argue that it was only a matter of time before secular values would triumph, atheism would become a viable option, and the modern world would end up with the rampant materialism and consumerism that we have today...

[A.] This is a dilemma for many people in the Muslim world who are thinking about science and religion... You can find many Muslim thinkers who say that Western Christians made a mistake by allowing science to operate independently of religious constraints. However, that is the way modern science has achieved the success it has. So it's hard to negotiate between these options.
Fascinating article. Guess how Ace of Spades reads it?
What is shocking is the interviewer's combative apologism on behalf of the benighted and backward state of Islamic science -- or pseudoscience, in the main. A science writer for an NPR station, no less.

Watch how the interviewer continues insisting, in the face of an expert telling him "no, no, no" that Islamic religious orthodoxy prevents genuine science. And then set a pillow beneath your jaw as he begins arguing on behalf of creationism -- Creationism, that most hated of all beliefs, to liberals -- so long as the creationism in question is of a suitably privileged foreign, non-western culture. And then it just gets more ludicrous as this supposed writer on science issues for NPR begins arguing for a more humanistic approach to science -- one that incorporates Islamic style religious dogma, apparently -- as preferable to cold, clinical (monstrously successful) Western science.

There's no "right" way to do science, this NPR science writer seems to believe, just different views of it. And, of course, the ultimate moral this story is driving towards is that we can both learn equally from each other.
Go read the article. There's nothing in it remotely like what Mr. Spades describes.

At first I thought maybe Mr. Spades had just misunderstood the devil's-advocate questioning style -- an ancient journalistic device, examples of which appear in the excerpt above. But as I read on, and saw the unquestioning linkage from Ole Perfesser Reynolds, I realized that we were on a cusp of a massive shift: conservatives have actually begun speaking a different language than the rest of us. When we say "creationism bad," they hear "Islam roolz," and tell each other how stupid we are to say "Islam roolz" when what we should have said was "creationism bad."

I'm beginning to get nervous about them. I've thought before that they'd crossed the final frontier, but they've always managed to kick the madness up a notch. This new threshold must surely be the very end -- but I know they'll try to outdo it, and by God, knowing the moxie they bring to such tasks, they might just make it. What will be the bone-chilling result? Will they draw the very fabric of time and space in upon itself, dooming us all? Or will they just start wearing their pants inside out like Dexy's Midnight Runners?

Sunday, August 12, 2007

UNEARNED RICHES. Ole Perfesser Glenn Reynolds links to not one but two articles whose apparent purpose is to tweak silly elitist types. In both cases I can sort of see the point, but the point evaporates when considered for more than a minute, unless you are ferociously dedicated to a particular kind of class war.

Though in our post-Marxist times class war is generally discussed as a liberal phenomenon, conservatives frequently get their licks in, too. In one of the current cases we have rich urban women who resent that they aren't getting all of the "all" they feel they should be getting (with baleful commentary from a rich collegetown woman who resents them), and in the other we have one of those liberal please-mug-me articles in which the author rails against what he professes to be his own tribe; in this instance, the target is the "media liberalist" BBC, and the author "ceased to be a BBC employee 40 years ago" but still feels entitled to an insider perspective and a self-excoriation that mainly hits other people.

There's nothing wrong with this. In fact it can be great fun for participants. But I wonder where that leaves those of us who, though we profess liberal views, have no nannies, and are not movers and shakers at giant media corporations. I feel we're missing out. I live in Brooklyn, drink cheap beer, and have a job in which I am actively discouraged from assailing the institutions which made this country great. Where's my class war?

I suppose that my views, as well as my location in a major metropolitan area, entitle me to some trailing strands of the broad brush that these people use to paint the left. But I still feel left out. Why don't these people occasionally turn their attention on liberals who are not newsreaders, movie stars, columnists, tenured professors, or members of a six-figure power couple? Why don't they mock our crummy apartments, our struggles to balance a budget, our discount warehouse furniture?

I guess the "rich liberal" thing will never get old. It's humorous and perhaps soothing for them to concentrate on wealthy toffs who mouth off about the working stiff, as opposed to focusing on the working stiffs themselves.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

HAWKS & SHEEPLE. A while back I said that Dean Barnett's Generation Nine Eleven article showed that pro-war conservatives have shifted their rage almost entirely away from Middle Eastern terrorists and onto Democrats. The President's statement that the Iraq adventure is the "decisive ideological struggle of our time" seemed, in its context last January, to refer to action in the Iraq and thereabouts, but his supporters appear to have reinterpreted it.

If you take a stroll through most of their opinion journals, you will find only occasional references to the war itself -- mostly based on favorable surge updates from milbloggers -- with most of the attention going to the treasonous activities of the domestic opposition.

It seems a bit rich, as the newly empowered Democrats in Congress are more or less rolling over for the President on war-related measures from funding to FISA. But these struggles are in the main not about winning a war, but about soothing the anguish of operatives who cannot understand how the consensus of five years ago slipped away from them.

I don't think they're even interested in changing people's minds anymore. Ten months after the last elections, they're just finding new and more entertaining ways of lashing out.

Here's a ripe example. I can't imagine any dispatch from Iraq -- aside from such citizens as are left alive gathering to spell out a giant WE LOVE YOU W message for an aerial photo -- getting as much attention from them as this amazing Philadelphia Daily News column, "To Save America, We Need Another 9/11."

Having only riffled the work of author Stu Bykofsky -- seen here delivering a fairly generic "Bush Derangement Syndrome" column -- I can't be sure whether he was in this case dead serious or merely provocative. His suggestion that another big attack is needed to unite the country did a lot of provoking, though, generally of the understandable WTF variety.

Less understandable is the response of some conservatives. This one goes for a denialist position that Bykofsky, as a "'mainstream' American political commentator," is merely doing more MSM treason. Others grasp the nettle, and take perverse comfort in the pain.

At National Review Mark Steyn paints this bleak picture:
For a start, the author overstates the immediate unity post-9/11. Even then, there was a big difference between the "righteous rage" crowd and those who wanted to wallow in bathetic weepy let's-hold-hands-and-drone-"Imagine" candlelight vigils and retreat into antiquated tropes about "root causes" like global poverty (notwithstanding the middle-class backgrounds of Mohammed Atta and co). The second time round, there won't even be a momentary veneer of unity...
He quotes approvingly Michelle Malkin, who says "We don’t need healing," which sentiment will come as no shock to her regular readers, and goes on:
We need the half of the country that doesn’t believe we are under threat from global jihad to wake up and smell the suicide bomb smoke.

The answer isn’t to pray for another mass terrorist attack. The answer is to educate the sheeple about our enemies, name them, shame them, fight them overseas, and fight them and their apologists with every fiber of our collective being here at home.
"Sheeple"! No wonder unity is hard to come by. Other unity-building alternatives to a Bykofskian holocaust include "Another Reagan" and, speaking of which, "Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson," with the sad caveat that these worthies "may be able to unite some of the nation, but not all." Well, a little unity is better than none, I guess.

As, for these folks, the war is not the problem, so is ending it not a solution: only a better explainer, one who can penetrate the thick skulls of the sheeple with oratory, is needed. This is at once a hopeful and a grim vision: half a nation, at least, given over to treason, but tractable in the right hands. I wonder how long they'll be content to prescribe mere words to solve the problem?
LIMITED MODIFIED HANGOUT ROUTE. Before she gets to telling her heroic story of how Little Bill Frist operated on Little General Petraeus who would grow up to be thrice Lord Mayor of Baghdad Town, Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan makes a startling analogy:
Normal Americans just want Iraq handled. They want America to succeed: for the war to end in a way and time that prove if possible that the Iraq endeavor helped the world, or us, or didn't make things worse for the world, or us. My hunch: The American people have concluded the war was a mistake, but know from their own lives that mistakes can be salvaged, and sometimes turned to good.
I suspect that if said Americans had seen their entire state invaded and occupied, with thousands killed, streets impassable, water and electricity sporadic, and bombings and beheadings at regular intervals, they might decide that the required salvage job for this "mistake" would have to start with removal of the troops, and the importation of a federal relief agency that, they would fervently pray, was not FEMA.

At Time, Bill Kristol looks for silver linings: "It's true that Iraq is an unpopular war. But hostility to President George W. Bush, or to the war, hasn't spilled over onto the military." Consequently Kristol believes the brave men and women of the Iraqi occupation "will be major figures in American life for the next couple of decades," proving that "The Vietnam era is over. The post-9/11 era is well under way."

Though Kristol implies that the occupation is going well, none of the anecdotes he brings from Iraq are too convincing -- he sees, for example, a colonel "deftly manage the political-economic interactions with local shopkeepers and citizens," which might mean he told them not to worry about the blackout because when the goat milk spoiled they could sell it as cheese. But whether or not these young soldiers have made a real difference in Iraq, they have shown "community building" skills, "sophisticated political-military leadership," and the ability to "operate in a more fluid and volatile environment." Clearly Kristol is hoping that a nice class of future Republican candidates will emerge from the war, able to repeat before crowds of voters their qualifications as possessors of the abstract values Kristol sees in them. If they can get away with that, what they left behind in Iraq won't mean much to anyone.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

THE MONEY SHOT. National Review's Jonah Goldberg's consideration of our nations youth is scent-identifiable bullshit, but some passages beg for a smidgen of research. F'rinstance:
The burgeoning “children’s rights” movement — to which a young Hillary Clinton was connected — saw treating kids as peers to be of a piece with the new egalitarianism. Movies as diverse as Taxi Driver, Bugsy Malone, and Irreconcilable Differences fixated on treating kids like adults in one way or another.
What might Goldberg mean by "children's rights movement"? Knowing the depths of his incuriosity, we might reasonably expect he is working from his own publication's 1992 condemnation of Clinton's alignment with the Children's Defense Fund:
She is a member of five corporate boards and is chairman (currently on leave) of the Washington-based Children's Defense Fund...

But she has also acted consistently to reduce the area of parental authority and to make children direct clients of government agencies. On her principles, the state could decide that parents violate their children's "rights" by keeping them out of public schools, or deny them "equal protection of the laws" when they forbid them to do whatever liberal judges think they should be allowed to do. No doubt other implications would be discovered by ingenious lawyers, to the detriment of the family's independence of the state. It's chillingly . . . Swedish.
Gasp! She endeavored to Swedify our children -- which means nudity! And she fought to keep children in school, and subject to hippie-nudist "equal protection of the laws"! Was there no end to her depravity?

Perhaps sensing the lack of observable connection between Jodie Foster's teen prostitute in Taxi Driver and non-fictional disaffected youths, Goldberg lunges for low-hanging cultural signifiers :
The result? Large numbers of kids raised to be like adults have concluded that they want to stay kids, or at least teens. People my age hate being called “Mr.” or “Mrs.” by kids. Grown women read idiotic magazines, obsess over maintaining a teenager’s body, and follow the exploits of Lindsay Lohan. Grown men have been following professional wrestling and playing video games for 25 years.
All that disrespectfulness and video gaming would be a heavy burden to place on Hillary-forced public education, were it not for the admitted assistance of Goldberg himself. And not only does he admit his own demoralizing distaste for honorifics: he adds,
I’m part of these trends. Not only do I still enjoy "The Simpsons," but I’m addicted to shows like "House" and "Grey’s Anatomy."
Yet instead of cutting his wrists in a bunker, as good taste would demand, Goldberg descends to further depths of culture analysis:
Consider that in the old days, "Marcus Welby" and "Ben Casey" were the ideal: selfless father figures in surgical garb, dispensing not just medical advice but authoritative life counseling. Modern-day "House," by contrast, is about a defiantly drug-addicted doctor who admits week after week that he doesn’t care about his patients, but merely about the personal satisfaction of solving a medical mystery. In "Grey’s Anatomy," horribly wounded patients are wheeled through each episode to serve as metaphors for the relationship problems of the residents. Impaled by a steel rod? That reminds me, my boyfriend hasn’t told me he loves me today! The patients often die, but at least the doctors learn important life lessons about dating.
I, too, mourn the loss of Robert Young's paralytic visage on network TV, but it would never occur to me to blame the insolence of teenagers on Hugh Laurie.

Amazingly, Goldberg skims a more meaningful statistic on his way to the snack bar:
Another result is that the generation taught to share and care beyond all precedent has become the most singularly concerned in history with making a buck. A recent UCLA study found that nearly 75 percent of college freshmen think that it’s important to be rich, compared with 62.5 percent in 1980 and 42 percent in 1966.
What Goldberg cannot admit, even to himself, is that the success of the Reagan Administration played a larger role than any TV show in getting Americans of every age to prize material success above all other values, though this result is blazingly evident in the stock market, in the newspaper obsession with box-office grosses, in the rise of financial reporting in mainstream media, and in the increased interest of ordinary Americans in mortgage and interest rates.

If there is any connection between our culture and what some of us consider a lack of respect from the young, Goldberg might have logically begun his investigation with what we might call the money shot. He might have asked youthful entrants to our economy, who cannot easily afford an apartment of their own even with a full-time job, or a decent health-care plan, how that state of affairs affects their interest in making as much money as they can right away, and their feeling toward those of us who were able to rent studios and get our cavities filled without pledging our troth to a corporation right out of school.

But Goldberg's prior conviction that negative developments begin and end with the Clintons and/or network television prevents that line of enquiry. The conservative faith in the free market really is faith, and like other kinds of faith disallows the possibility of negative results.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

ANOTHER DAMN DEBATE. There was something nicely old-fashioned about the Big Labor debate for Dems: local t-shirts, crappy sound, folks shouting "louder!" and who knows what else off mike, booing, and some fun pandering contests over who was on the picket lines when it counted.

But old-fashionedness and even pandering only go so far at present, and the AFL-CIO has declined to make an early endorsement, which was never likely but obviously hoped for by Biden, Dodd, and Edwards, who fought for it as if for life itself -- and for at least two of their campaigns it might well have been. Dodd in particular, in his green tie, subtly enhanced Irish accent, and booming tones, looked to be angling for the Labor endorsement for 1952. His alderman at the picnic routine didn't go, though, and I can't imagine how he'll hang in; Biden, whom I still think is running for Secretary of State, will just keep it up till the tank runs dry, as will Edwards, who has more fuel and a chance of being remembered when people get nervous about Clinton.

It's too early for most of the rest of us, too, so the most important part of the exercise might have been the continuing education of Barack Obama. Callow though he may be, he certainly didn't wilt under questioning on his Pakistan remarks. Maybe controversy suits his cause; maybe he benefits from stirring things up and drawing his opponents into something resembling actual debate. Or maybe it only works when the controversy is actually meaningless.

Kucinich should keep up the good work and get his shirt cuffs tailored so he doesn't look like the Artful Dodger. Bill Richardson should go home. And I hope Mike Gravel is lying doggo, ready to spring when the contenders have been rendered soft and weak by his absence.
SERVICE ADVISORY. Sorry for the infrequncy of posting. In the immortal words of the Circle Jerks...

No reason why you should be deprived, though, so here's an article by Brad Reed (of Sadly No!) and myself at American Prospect online. I'm still proudest of my "erotic fiction," but I think this one is pretty good.

Monday, August 06, 2007

IT'S HARD TO BE, HARD TO BE HUMAN AGAIN. Sadlynaut Brad has discovered vintage chatter from the "transhumanist" community -- those forward-looking folks who see the heads-in-jars on "Futurama" and sigh longingly:
If your head is cryogenically frozen today, you will be alive in 2100.

Your mind is a pattern of activity in your brain. The ability to induce that pattern is encoded primarily in your neurons — in which neurons are of which type, and which neurons are connected together. Freezing a brain today in liquid nitrogen destroys many things, but seems to preserve this type/connection info. By 2100 we should be able to scan this info from a frozen brain. If we scan your brain and then build and run a computer simulation of it, someone who remembers being you would wake up and feel alive...
Go ahead and laugh -- many more will take his place! The TransVision 2007 conference convened in Chicago last week. On the scene, Reason reporter Ronald Bailey found participants "wondering if it is more appropriate to refering to the transfer of your mind to a silicon substrate 'uploading' or 'downloading.'" Cryonics was also on the agenda:
Shannon Vyff, the author of the children's book 21st Century Kids and self-described "proselytizing immortalist"... became interested in cryonics when she was experiencing a high-risk pregnancy when she was 21 years-old. She has signed up her children as well, but Vyff says, "I don't tell them that it will work. I tell them that it's a chance."
Further reportage from New City Chicago:
Finally, a speaker approaches the stage to introduce the man of the hour, and after a short, bizarre video featuring a "Star Trek"/James Bond mash-up to transhumanist lyrics like "We can live forever and make everything better!" [William] Shatner takes the stage.
Another keen follower of the man-machine movement is Ole Perfesser Glenn Reynolds. A few years back the "transhumanist libertarian" Reynolds told us he found that "the Singularity is something to take seriously" -- the Singularity being a transhumanist re-creation myth -- and foresaw "the creation of many millions (and eventually billions) of individuals with powers that would have been until recently regarded as godlike..." Today he notices that William Gibson has grown leery of predicting the future, given the pace of change, and asks, "Does this mean we're already into the Singularity?... If the next 10 or 15 years is that unpredictable, and it probably is, then I'd say we're already into the singularity. "

There are many different kinds of wishful thinking. Who among us has not at times hopefully surmised, despite what reason and experience have taught us, that our negative actions may yet lead to good because some unrelated event would somehow alter our chances of success? More than once I have foolishly concluded, in matters of relationship and career and even simple physics, that things would go my way this time because of a shift in the zeitgeist or luck or my own personal development; yet the odds always seem to favor history and the house.

Similarly, it would seem the Perfesser expects the burgeoning technology of our time to deliver unto him an exalted android immortality. That he might expect technology to improve his life is only logical, but why would he expect it also to lift him out of the realm of the merely human? Technological revolutions have come and gone, yet man has remained man. Why should the tech advances of the Perfesser's time alter that seemingly deathless formula?

The ancients would call hubris. I, being a damned modern, have a different idea. I have followed the Perfesser's devotion to the war in Iraq as a war on terror, and seen where it has led. I notice also what the war has done to our traditional ideas of humanity. The New Yorker recently reported on the offshore torture operations of the American intelligence community. One example was the interrogation used on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed who, after months in U.S. custody, confessed to several grave offenses, including both the 1993 and 2001 World Trade Center attacks, Richard Reid's attempted shoe-bombing, the murder of Daniel Pearl, and the 2002 Bali nightclub explosion. The New Yorker reported how these confessions were brought about:
According to sources, Mohammed said that, while in C.I.A. custody, he was placed in his own cell, where he remained naked for several days. He was questioned by an unusual number of female handlers, perhaps as an additional humiliation. He has alleged that he was attached to a dog leash, and yanked in such a way that he was propelled into the walls of his cell. Sources say that he also claimed to have been suspended from the ceiling by his arms, his toes barely touching the ground. The pressure on his wrists evidently became exceedingly painful...

Mohammed is said to have described being chained naked to a metal ring in his cell wall for prolonged periods in a painful crouch. (Several other detainees who say that they were confined in the Dark Prison have described identical treatment.) He also claimed that he was kept alternately in suffocating heat and in a painfully cold room, where he was doused with ice water. The practice, which can cause hypothermia, violates the Geneva Conventions, and President Bush’s new executive order arguably bans it...

The inquiry source said that most of the Poland detainees were waterboarded, including Mohammed. According to the sources familiar with the Red Cross report, Mohammed claimed to have been waterboarded five times. Two former C.I.A. officers who are friends with one of Mohammed’s interrogators called this bravado, insisting that he was waterboarded only once. According to one of the officers, Mohammed needed only to be shown the drowning equipment again before he “broke.”
Etc. A human being, of the pre-transhumanist sort, might wonder -- as even some U.S. officials quoted by the New Yorker have -- whether Mohammed's "confessions" were merely an attempt to escape further torture. But one who has left his humanity behind might only be expected to say, "Does anyone besides the liberal media and the Far Left actually care how we treated this murdering bastard? We could tie the sob to a cross and take him around the country to town squares everywhere and give the kiddies a whack at him with a hardball for a quarter a pop, for all I care. And they'd get a stuffed animal if they nail him in the manly bits ... before we hang or shoot him on the National Mall." Or "i can't hear u/i am singing the theme/from green acres."

The Perfesser, whose alleged opposition to torture has always been more potential than kinetic, may have deduced that the best way out of this whole human conundrum might be an upload into a powerful computer with a lifelike silicone shell. Physically he would at least as comfortable as he is in his Toyota Highlander. If he needs adventure, he can have images uploaded from his digital archive. And from there the traditional "bugs" of humanity -- among them conscience, justice, and fellow-feeling -- may be in time forgotten.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

UNGAWA, BLACK POWER! I hadn't been to Gates of Vienna for a while, and with fond memories of previous visits in mind I returned today. Much of the current writing is about the dire situation of white people:
It is noticeable how aggressive many Leftists have become against whites, parallel to Muslim immigration. I think the Leftist logic goes something like this: We failed to achieve our Socialist society during the Cold War. The “white,” Western culture blocked our goals. Since a Socialist society is good, those blocking it are evil, hence whites are evil and need to be subdued and destroyed, even if this includes our own sons, daughters and grandchildren. Utopia requires a Villain Class to be smashed and sacrificed. In the global, Multicultural Utopia, this appears to be whites in general.
This causes me to reflect: first, have I been doing my part in the War on Whitey? Being white myself, I have been able to observe Caucasians at close range for some time, yet to my knowledge I have done nothing to dismantle their power structure. Am I a sleeper cell, to be activated on Der Tag? Readers, please advise; in code, it goes without saying.

But I also reflected that the Gateseans write mostly from a European perspective, which is little known to me; it may be that their analysis has more to recommend it than I can judge. So I sought out a passage from a Gates of Vienna U.S. correspondent:
And what about the United States? We, too, have (or had until recently) a common culture, based on a common language, a widely shared religious faith, and shared values. But we are even more loosely connected to it than are our European cousins, since our national founding myth welcomes all newcomers and repudiates traditional aristocratic hierarchies.

At one time each individual state may have approximated a demos. In 1789 Connecticut and South Carolina were quite distinct polities; hence the necessity of a federal structure. But the ensuing centuries have seen the federal behemoth rampage unchecked through the rights and traditions of the individual states. Add to that the customary mobility of the American populace, and the groundwork for the homogenized Multicultural nanny-state has been laid.
Those bastards Lincoln and FDR sold us out, apparently. This may explain the popularity of tanning salons; white Americans might be trying to "pass," and so avoid persecution in homogenized America.

Gates of Vienna is like a worldwide game of Telephone, in which multicultural outrages are transmitted and embellished until the conversation is all about race war.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

JUST A FLESH WOUND. The downgrading by some conservatives of the show "24" because of an environmental project its makers are conducting was previously covered here. Now someone at Ace of Spades has treated the subject, and the post is very instructive:
Can a show jump the shark by virtue of something it does off screen? If so, I nominate 24…

This obviously presents a conflict for the left. Sure Jack Bauer is the pop-culture face of torture but on the other hand he’s oh so concerned about global warming. What’s a modern progressive to do?
The "24" news infuriates conservatives, and the AoS author fantasizes the discomfort it will cause liberals.

This shows admirable pluck, or something.
SOFT BIGOTRY. At National Review Jonah Goldberg suggests "lower expectations" in Iraq:
Instead, explained a former administration official, America needs to set its sights lower. We need to keep Iraq from becoming a terror sponsor or safe haven for al Qaeda. The best we can hope for, the consensus seemed to be, is a “Jordan-style” Iraq with a moderate, somewhat reliably pro-American regime that will, on occasion, vote with us in the United Nations. What we need in Iraq is a “strong state” that can assert its will domestically. A Jeffersonian democracy on the Euphrates isn’t in the cards, most agreed.
Refresh my memory: why did we depose Saddam? It sounds like we could have just sent Rumsfeld over to shake his hand a few more times and achieved a similar goal.
SECOND (AND THIRD AND FOURTH ETC.) TIME AS FARCE. Conservative bloggers writing about the Scott Thomas Beauchamp thing have reached the Simon Says stage of analysis. From Confederate Yankee, for example, we get this:
Gavin M. [of Sadly, No!] blasts Charles at LGF for using the phrase, "purported to be written by a soldier." Charles used the "P" word to describe someone hiding behind a pseudonym? Why, that's the exact same thing as directly calling him an impostor, isn't it folks?
One wonders how Confederate Yankee would react if someone described him as a purported heterosexual.
NOT PEACE BUT A SWORD. Rod Dreher thinks the trouble with religion today is it's not masculine enough. After a quote about how there are too many women at services, Dreher preaches:
I believe one reason so many male Christians responded deeply to Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" was because it depicted a masculine Jesus who chose to endure excruciating pain to rescue those he loved. The Christian faith teaches that this is what Jesus did, but somehow the intense physical courage that that act of love required is easy to overlook. Gibson didn't overlook it. The Jesus Christ of his film embodied manliness par excellence: a strong, brave man who was willing to suffer and die to save others. After I saw that film in a press preview, then went to Ash Wednesday services and heard the plush priest give a homily about how Lent is really supposed to be about learning to love ourselves more, I wanted to slug the guy.
This helps me understand the appeal not only of The Passion of the Christ, but also of contemporary action movies in which the hero emerges after numberless beatings and explosions to kick the ass of Evil. This certainly makes The Passion more interesting than I originally thought. Jesus got more savage treatment than even John McClane gets in the Die Hard movies, and in an age before gunpowder. But since the Biblical conventions made it impossible for Gibson's Jesus to go out and beat hell out of his persecutors, The Passion left its audiences to carry a dream of vengeance out of the theatre and into the world. One of Dreher's sources writes that a Mass "must be a certain kind of ritual. It must be majestic, soaring, even martial. It must challenge and call you on." No wonder Dreher hates the happy-clappy stuff: when one's God has been torn to bits, Christian Soldiers go not inward but Onward.

I have generally assumed that the agon of action heroes was something through which fans released the little frustrations of their lives, but I begin to see that for the devout it may actually be an animated version of the Stations of the Cross.