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October 06, 2006

A Lack Of Clarity, III

Last night the half vast editorial staff just zipped down the Capital Beltway, at times achieving breathtaking speeds of up to 2 miles per hour. As we dove in and out of traffic like a deranged harpy on crack we idly weighed the benefits of ending it all right then and there. Is it, we pondered snidely, even possible to commit suicide by rapidly inhaling the decidedly eco-unfriendly fumes emitted by the BMW in the lane ahead?

The problem, we found, lies in holding one's breath without laughing whilst perusing the truly impressive assortment of bumper stickers of the outraged persuasion adorning the nether regions of said conveyance. Who in the holy hell puts bumper stickers on a new BMW?

Reluctantly, we concluded that no entirely sane human being was proof against the irony of an outraged Beamer owner using a vehicle which belches noxious fumes into the atmosphere to fulminate about impeaching the Chimp for refusing to ratify Kyoto. Of course the One Unavoidable Truth in all of this is that if George Bush really Cared about the Trees, he would order Congress to subsidize mobile Jiffy Lube stations for the masses. This is the kind of forward thinking we could have expected from a KedWards administration, who very likely had a 15 Point Plan for even this. Doubtless our BMW owner would be far happier if the government would just force him to take the time to get a tune up, but in the mean time all that concern for social justice and our Friends the Trees will just have to be demonstrated in the form of bumper stickers.

LOTS of bumper stickers.

As we drove - or more accurately, sat - the voice of Mr. Miyagi echoed inside our pea-sized brain, but instead of "Wax on... wax off..." he seemed to be saying "crutch in... crutch out". In due time the regrettable combination of four cups of coffee, no sleep, and an unremarkable mid-flight Bloody Mary with our usual head banging, adrenaline pumping choice of rush hour music pouring from the stereo caused our left knee to begin to twitch and sent us scurrying for the relative quiet of NPR to have our consciousness raised by those with more elevated sensibilities.

First, or more accurately, frist up on NPR was more visible evidence that, as the HVES staff strongly suspected in November of 2004, winning the election was the worst thing that has happened to the Republican Party in decades. It's like a train wreck - we haven't (mostly out of self-defense, but also because we've been insanely busy) read a paper in several days, but we often wonder if some of the Party Faithful have been taking their Lithium?

It is always something of a shock to find the Senate Majority Leader openly campaigning for the Taliban, but when we find ourselves on the same side of an issue with the Junior Senator from North Vietnam we start eyeing the liquor cabinet. Apparently Senator Frist has decided the war is lost and we might as well hand Afghanistan back over to the Taliban. Frist claimed the Taliban had the "support" of Afghanis, and were thus entitled to representation in the new government.

It would seem, first of all, that in an emerging democracy this would be a matter for the Afghanis to decide and not for outsiders to impose. And in a constitutional republic the participation of even democratically elected representatives assumes a willingness to respect the rule of law. For this reason, we do not allow felons to vote: they have violated the social contract and forfeited some of the rights conferred upon them by the polity they offended when they refused to respect the law; rights that were preconditioned on a mutual bargain to give up some freedom of action in return for security.

The entire point of democracy is that government exists by the consent of the governed. Those who refuse to recognize the legitimacy of government have no reasonable expectation of either participating in it or reaping the full privileges and benefits thereunto appertaining, if the readership gets our drift. This point, sadly, seems to be lost on Herr Frist, who seems to have succumbed to this nation's flirtation with attention deficit disorder.

All of which leaves us wondering, if we're going to do away with the First Amendment and start suppressing speech we don't like, can we at least start with some reasonable criteria? Personally, if we're going to allow only certain kinds of speech (all in the name of freedom, mind you) the HVES is all in favor of marginalizing the DimWits frist - let's establish some rational criteria for who should and should not be allowed complete and unfettered freedom of speech under the Frist Amendment. Then we can all break for lunch and bring in the Taliban for that all-important international perspective on what the Framers failed to foresee, when protecting our basic rights to do things that haven't changed in any fundamental way in over two centuries.

You see, we're sure your average Talibani has some downright enlightened ideas about freedom, and when we shut off the exchange of information between cultures, well frankly we're all diminished by that in some incalculable way that the average person is far too stupid to work out on our own, but that the Fourth Estate will be only too happy to explain to us at nauseating length. All of which, we are to understand, is NOT - we repeat NOT - fear mongering, because that sort of below the belt tactic is only engaged in by conservatives. It is, for example, never fear mongering to suggest that any limit at all on our freedom will send us all careening down the Otter Slide to Hell and an airless cell at Gitmo. After all, only a Neanderthal would dare to suggest that somehow the vastly more Enlightened States of the EU (you know, the ones we are constantly urged to emulate and establish a dialogue with so we can benefit from their wisdom?) have managed to exist for some time now without a First Amendment, an Establishment Clause, or many of the protections against what we consider unreasonable search and seizure on this side of the Pond. Of course they don't have an ACLU either to tell them how un-Free they are, which no doubt explains their indecent refusal to wallow in anomie over the fact that their governments are, in our eyes, excessively entangled with religion.

Speaking of informing the debate, Mr. Frist should have listened to NPR last night. He might have heard a young Afghani woman who doesn't like Rethugs much explaining that the Talibani don't have the support of your average Afghan. In fact, she says most of the Talibani and the insurgents in Afghanistan aren't even Afghans - they're pouring over the borders from Chechnaya and Pakistan. But Pakistani and Chechnayan terrorists are people too. Don't they deserve representation in the Afghani Congress? Never fear: in the kindler, gentler Afghanistan envisioned by Bill Frist, the lion shall lie down with the lamb and after dinner whoever is left can adjourn for a vente cappuccino with a twist of lemon at the nearest Starbucks.

Why, we wonder, is everyone in such a hurry to resolve Iraq and Afghanistan?

The unbearable lightmindedness of American political discourse is embarrassing and discomfiting. As a nation, we seem unable to focus for very long on anything. We are awash in news but we seem incapable of synthesizing anything meaningful from the enormous bulk of what we see and hear each day.

After listening to the Afghani segment we briefly returned to head banging music for a few moments before tuning into what turned out to be an unexpectedly articulate discussion about the war from Sen. John Warner, which ended up making us want to bang our pretty little head all over again, and not in a good way.

The good Senator had just finished making the rather remarkable admission that the Senate Armed Forces Committee blamed itself for many of the problems in Iraq. You see, according to him, they met constantly with Barney Frank... err... General Tommy Franks (it's so difficult keeping those two well, you know.... straight) in the days leading up to the war. And he admitted that though they felt they had successfully accomplished the military objectives, they had failed (oh! miserable failure!) to anticipate the enormous challenges faced by the Iraqis in transitioning from 3 decades of life under a brutal authoritarian government to freedom. In other words, human and societal engineering is an inexact science.

Quelle surprise. Now this could have been what my daughter in law somewhat facetiously calls a 'teaching moment', and in many ways the journalists in the room proved to be not unlike 2nd graders. One immediately pops up, like Whack A Mole, after this thoughtful, respectful, and nuanced answer and shoots straight from the lip:

"But..but...Senator Warner... how much longer can the patience of the American people last?"

BANG! goes my head against the side of the car. The pain in my ear lessened somewhat.

People are dying, an entire nation is struggling for freedom, a smart and highly paid man who just returned from Iraq is actually answering the media's questions thoughtfully and respectfully and this cretin, instead of following up on any number of fascinating themes raised by his answer, can't resist dragging us back down the Rabbit Hole. But the Senator's button had been pushed and he was dragged out of Serious Mode and back into Autopilot:

"Well, the next 60-90 days will, of course, be critical.... blah blah blah..."

WHAT IN THE NAME OF GOD HAPPENS IN 90 DAYS? Does the Iraq Egg Timer go off? Do we tell all the widows and amputees, "Hey - this was really special and thanks so much for participating, but that all-important 90 day window passed and we gotta run. Toodles!"

Hope ya don't mind that missing leg buddy. We won't forget. It seemed like such a good idea at the time, but freedom and democracy have a short shelf life.

This morning StrategyPage had a great bit of empirical support for the "give them time" school of thought on staying the course in Iraq. This was, of course the very same argument Sen. Warner was expounding so capably before Whack A Mole waved that shiny thing in his face and tragically derailed his mental train of thought:

Why is there peace and prosperity in the north, and why doesn't anyone talk about it? Actually, the economy is booming in the Shia Arab south as well, but there is also some violence down there. But nearly all the violence you hear about in Iraq is in Sunni Arab areas of central Iraq. Meanwhile, the north is so peaceful that Western journalists, and just about anyone else, can move about freely, without fear of attack. How can this be? Well, for one thing, the Kurds have tight controls on their borders, and any Arabs entering are checked carefully. Arab Iraqis are welcome to visit, and many do, for vacations from the violence in the south. When asked, Kurds attribute their peaceful neighborhood to the fact that Kurds are not Arabs. But this is not the main reason, for the Kurds have, in the past, been as factious and violent as the Iraqi Arabs are now. But during the 1990s, when the U.S. and Britain agreed to keep Saddam's forces out of the north (to prevent another large scale massacre of Kurds), the Kurds sorted out their differences and learned the benefits of cooperation and law and order. In effect, the Kurds had a ten year head start on the rest of Iraq, in the "how to create peace and democracy" department. The Iraqi Arabs, Sunni and Shia, who come north on business, or for a vacation, note this. The Arabs believe they are superior to the Kurds ("a bunch of hillbillies," to most Arabs), and find it irritating that the Kurds have made things work, while down south, especially in central Iraq, things are still a mess. Given another seven years, the Iraqi Arabs will probably catch up. But this is not a popular solution to the "Iraq problem," and no career-conscious journalist is going to talk about it.

Warner made a lot of good arguments, but we can guarantee that none of them will survive the dumbing down process that continues to destroy any chance of an honest debate on the war. In the meantime we'll be bombarded with daily tales of the civil war in Iraq, but virtual silence on the civil war on the streets of Europe.

Over and over again we'll be told how wrong it is to fear Muslims and to discriminate against them. We'll be told it is morally wrong to fear Muslims or treat them differently, and yet we will see evidence all around us (which we are neither to notice nor object to) that we both fear them and treat them very differently indeed.

We will be told, again and again, that George Bush and the War on Terror have made us less free. And yet, when real instances of government censorship and intimidation rear their ugly heads, those who spend their days ranting about potential abuses will remain oddly silent:

During the PC wars, many liberals were genuinely conflicted about whether free speech outweighed racial and gender sensitivity on campus. Today, some liberals still excuse censorship in sensitivity's name. The bigger danger, however, is not sensitivity; it is indifference. Having adapted themselves so fully to a hyper-partisan environment, many liberals seem unable to conceive of a struggle in which the Republican right is not an enemy but an ally. But there are such struggles, and, without today's activist liberals, they will be harder to win. Free speech is under threat, and Idomeneo should be the last straw. It is time, once again, to close ranks.

And meanwhile the truth goes begging for want of anyone with the patience to hear it out. In all honesty it doesn't make for pleasant listening on either side of the political spectrum, but that only makes the conversation all the more worth having. I will drop my mask for a moment and say what I rarely do come right out and say for two reasons: one, that it seems so completely obvious that it shouldn't require saying, and two that it truly doesn't matter in the end. Both sides are vulnerable here.


Both sides have screwed up.

The Left, while incessantly screaming that the other side is "politicizing" what happened on September 11th and accusing the Right of fear mongering, is guilty of the biggest case of projection since Sigmund Freud. Not every infringement of liberty in the freest nation in the world is going to take us irretrievably down the otter slide to hell into complete and utter fascism, and it is unbelievably, totally arrogant and irresponsible to on the one hand demand to be kept safe from terrorists and then turn around and complain that your own government is more dangerous than those very terrorists.

That is hyperbole and nonsense and they know it. The very fact that people like Keith Olbermann are allowed to continue spewing such baseless vitriol with impunity shows the utter frivolity of their sentiments.

But some elements of the Right are not exactly guiltless either.

We need to stop equating a belief in Allah with a desire to strap on a suicide vest and kill innocent women and children.

We need to think a bit more carefully about statements like "those who refuse to condemn terrorism are as bad as the terrorists themselves". SILENCE IS NOT CONSENT. I am a Christian, but I have not personally condemned the moron terrorists who bomb abortion clinics in the name of preserving life, nor any of the innumerable asshats who do stupid and reprehensible things in the name of Jesus Christ. Have you? Because if you can't produce the proof, you've a murderer.

My faith does not make me the Poster Child for Christian Deniability, and I am very sorry but I do not feel any personal responsibility to condemn every dumb ass act by every idiot Christian I disagree with. And it is moral equivalence of the worst sort to conflate silence with murder. It is a refusal to think.

Should more Muslims speak out? Sure. But don't start talking the talk too loudly unless you personally have searched out and condemned every murder ever committed by every whack job in the name of Christianity, for by your own rhetoric your silence has made you equally a murderer.

Can you criticize Islam? Sure. Knock yourself out. It's a free country. But I am not going to join a holy war that starts lining folks up against the barricades simply on the basis of declared religion, because the likelihood of what I like to call Bad Things Happening is just too great. I'd like to think at the end of the day that we're all still human beings.

I have been as ardent as anyone in the attempt to get people to take the threat of militant Islam seriously. It's here and it's real. I have been as ardent as anyone in the attempt to get people to
take the threat to the state of Israel seriously, and the plight of European Jewry. But I will not condemn an entire people, for the very same reasons I will defend Jews even at the cost of my own life or liberty. Because I know where that kind of thinking leads. Because I know our freedom is intertwined - we cannot pick and choose whom we will treat as fully human. This is the beauty of the rule of law, of the values in our Constitution that we are trying so hard to
spread across the world: respect for eternal values of freedom which apply to all people, regardless of skin color, regardless of religion, regardless of those externalities: a social contract under which we voluntarily surrender some small part of our freedoms so that the greater part may be preserved and we all will prosper. Thus we replace despotism and tribalism with the enlightenment values of democracy and the melting pot. This is the only system that will work in an age of jet liners and fluid international borders: we must learn to live together peaceably, because we can no longer huddle within our own borders.

I believe all of us have that divine spark within us. All of us.

Some of us may not know it yet, but that is what we are trying so very hard to do, half a world away. And I want the world to look better for my grandchildren. This used to be a liberal vision. I am proud beyond words that it is now a conservative one.

I am terrified that it will be strangled in its infancy by a nation that doesn't have the patience to fulfill its promises.

Posted by Cassandra at October 6, 2006 07:31 AM

Comments

A selection of my "window/bumper" stickers (I refuse to put them on the paint of my vehicle, all that glue when I try to remove them tends to really mess up the trade-in value):

"My two rules to success:
1. Never tell all you know"

"I know I'm not perfect, but I'm so close it's scary."

"Heaven doesn't want me, and Hell is afraid I'll take over."

"I don't suffer from insanity....I enjoy every minute of it."

"It's better to be crazy and know it than to be sane and doubt it."

"You're just jealous because the voices talk only to ME"

and finally
"Eliminate Traffic Congestion - Legalize Vehicular Weaponry" (for you Cass)

Posted by: Sly2017 at October 6, 2006 11:15 AM

Arguably my favorite bumper sticker is:

"If you don't like the way I'm driving, get the Hell off of the sidewalk".


Heh.

Posted by: Cassandra at October 6, 2006 11:18 AM

I've always liked that one, too. This is a first, for me anyway. By the time I finished typing a response to the bumper stickers (which was where the post originally left off when I started typing) you had already updated and my post was, well, less than relevant is the first phrase that comes to mind.
Oh well...... >;-)

Posted by: Sly2017 at October 6, 2006 11:25 AM

Was this a rant, or just a stream of consciouness essay?

It could be an Alanis Morrisette lyric, if we could come up with a snappy tune to set it to. :D

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at October 6, 2006 11:37 AM

Sorry Don.

My phone keeps ringing. Hard to concentrate. It is probably going to be both at this rate.

Posted by: Cassandra at October 6, 2006 11:50 AM

nice post. you're a new must read for me.

Posted by: Lola at October 6, 2006 12:34 PM

A very well done decal in a Jeep window, last week:

State of Texas
Terrorist Hunting Permit

I couldn't see if there was a bag limit.

Posted by: tomg at October 6, 2006 01:03 PM

Sorry Don.

It turned out to be a rant. Break out the Black Cohosh.

Posted by: Cassandra at October 6, 2006 05:03 PM

Lots to cover here...but it's nigh on uncanny how close our thinking runs.

The best stickers in my collection are on my motorcycle helmet:
"I hate stickers"
"Scooter Trash"
"Crashing sucks"
"Question stupidity"
"I'm not weird, I'm gifted"
"Life is sexually transmitted"
"I rode my bike to trailer week"
"Innocent by reason of insanity!"
"Shock me, say something intelligent"
"Never ride faster than your angel can fly"
"It's never too late to have a happy childhood"
"Get your own sticker and stop reading mine"
"If I have to understand, don't bother to explain"
"Ask me about microwaving cats for fun and profit"
"Of all the things I've lost, I miss my mind the most!"
"Never underestimate the power of idiots in large groups"
"I'm not totally useless; I can be used as a bad example!"
"I don't have an attitude problem, it's supposed to be this way"
"If you're not living on the edge you're taking up too much space"
"Some people are still alive only because it's against the law to kill 'em"
"Always remember...you are a very unique person, just like everyone else"

(I just went out to the garage to get it; there are quite a few of them)

Now, were you serious about pointing out typos?

Posted by: camojack at October 6, 2006 06:18 PM

Yep.

Posted by: Cassandra at October 6, 2006 06:40 PM

My family doesn't let me correct their grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc. any more. They got tired of getting it back looking like it had been bled upon.
Didn't the "Ask Cassandra" thread learn ya nuffin'?

Posted by: Sly2017 at October 6, 2006 07:04 PM

Well, I used to be incredibly anal retentive about having everything be perfect. But I just do not have time anymore. I can write and accept that inevitably there will be small errors, or I can obsess and not post anything until it is perfect. Given the sheer volume of what I write, that simply isn't practical.

So I am learning in my old age to live with imperfection.

But I would still rather know when there is a typo in one of my posts. I know they're there - lots of times I'm just so tired I don't see them, or I never read a post again. So I appreciate having another set of eyeballs.

Posted by: Cassandra at October 6, 2006 07:09 PM

My all-time fav: "What Would Scooby Do?"

Posted by: Joan of Argghh! at October 6, 2006 08:08 PM

Now, were you serious about pointing out typos?
Posted by: camojack at October 6, 2006 06:18 PM

Yep.
Posted by: Cassandra at October 6, 2006 06:40 PM

OK, for starters...Neandrathal, impugnity?!

Posted by: camojack at October 6, 2006 11:05 PM

Re: Frist and NPR -- Have you heard of the "NPR Game"? You listen to the news on NPR and then try to guess what actually happened. What Frist actually said (from his newsletter):
"In my visit to southern Afghanistan, it is clear the Taliban are aggressively recruiting and attempting to build support in that region.

But my visit also confirmed that the battle against the Taliban cannot be won by the military alone. Taliban fighters are coming across the southern border into Afghanistan. They must be eliminated. One of their major objectives is to recruit local Afghans who are farmers by day, putting arms in their hands by night. To prevent the Taliban from succeeding we must win the hearts and minds of the Afghans targeted for recruitment through job creation and government provision of enabling services such as education and health care. A government that is free, democratic and respectful of human rights and that at the local level creates jobs and a better life will defeat the Taliban’s aggressive initiatives. However, Taliban fighters should in no way be a part of the government."

Posted by: kevin at October 7, 2006 01:29 AM

Thanks, Camo :)

Actually, the Neandrathal vs Neander... wasn't actually a typo - I spelled that wrong because I did not know how to spell the word correctly. That is how I say it (must be a nucular vs. nuclear thing) and I've apparently been doing it incorrectly all this time, so I learned something new!

On re-reading the post, I also mistyped cappuccino with only one "c".

I appreciate the corrections - I never would have learned that I didn't know how to spell Neanderthal, had you not pointed it out. Normally my spelling is fairly good, but any time one writes as much as I do there are bound to be gaps.

I'd rather correct them and hopefully learn something.

Posted by: Cassandra at October 7, 2006 11:01 AM

I liked "impugnity" better...so you can impugn with impunity.

Posted by: camojack at October 7, 2006 07:45 PM

I agree, camo. Sometimes, the malaproprism is better than the original word.

Posted by: Sly2017 at October 8, 2006 12:17 AM

"LACK OF CLARITY" IMAGINE HOW IT IS WHEN WE IN THE MILITARY WHO ARE OVER IN AFGHANISTAN OR IRAQ HERE THIS CRAP FROM ONE OF OUR LEADERS. IMAGINE THE SENIOR LEADERSHIP ON THE GROUND TRYING TO EXPLAIN WHY AFTER THE JUNIOR TROOPS HERE THIS CRAP FROM OUR APPOINTED GOVERNMENT LEADERS. WE HAVE ENOUGH PROBLEMS WORRY ABOUT GETTING THROUGH THE DAY AND THEN THIS IS ADDED ON TO OUR PLATES. JESUS!!!!!!!!

Posted by: RICHARD DAUGHERTY at October 16, 2006 05:00 PM

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