July 31, 2008
Did Somebody Say "Race Card"?
Nobody here but us "nobodies"...
... Could you work the words "fear", "afraid", "scary", and "black" in there just a few more times, Barry? Because I'm "afraid" voters might miss the point.
You know, that you're... like, totally ... black. And the bad, scary Republicans want us to be afraid of you. Because you're so ... black. Even though you're half white. Which we're not supposed to talk about, because that would be focusing on race and you were so hoping we could get beyond that, I know. Damned Republicans. If only they'd quit bringing up the fact.
That you're black. And we should fear you.
Odd tactic, for a man liberals keep saying is so likable and non-threatening he may well be our first woman president. The looming menace must express itself in a disarmingly feminine, non-threatening way.
Which is why the Republicans have to keep reminding everyone of your essential Blackitude and scariliciousness. It's subtle, man. Under the radar, sub rosa, float like a butterfly sting like a bee .... BAM!!! That's what makes you dangerous. You're a dangerous black man, with an Ivy League education. You use words like numchuks.
CWCID: Linda SOG's brilliant Cynthia McKinney card
Pass the Smelling Salts...
Is John McCain stupid? Daniel Henninger is beside himself:
Is John McCain losing it?
On Sunday, he said on national television that to solve Social Security "everything's on the table," which of course means raising payroll taxes.
No, it doesn't. It means that raising payroll taxes is one of a host of possible solutions, Mr. Henninger. That's what "everything's on the table" means. It doesn't mean "I have decided raising payroll taxes is the only solution to the Social Security debacle."
But don't let that stop a perfectly good rant in the making. This is what Republicans do at this point in a presidential campaign.
The one thing -- arguably the only thing -- the McCain candidacy has going for it is a sense among voters that they don't know what Barack Obama stands for or believes. Why then would Mr. McCain give voters reason to wonder the same thing about himself? You're supposed to sow doubt about the other guy, not do it to yourself.
Yes, Sen. McCain must somehow appeal to independents and blue-collar Hillary Democrats. A degree of pandering to the center is inevitable. But this stuff isn't pandering; it's simply stupid. Al Gore's own climate allies separated themselves from his preposterous free-of-oil-in-10-years whopper. Sen. McCain saying off-handedly that it's "doable" is, in a word, thoughtless.
Speaker Pelosi heads a House with a 9% approval. To let her off the hook before the election reflects similar loss of thought.
Oh for Pete's sake.
Henniger has a point. A good one, in fact. McCain's campaign is straying from the message. But it's hardly unusual for candidates to look a bit fractured at this point in a campaign, or for them to say things that make them look foolish:
The RNC is chuckling over Obama calling for voters to make “sure your tires are properly inflated” because “we could save all the oil that they’re talking about getting off drilling if everybody was just inflating their tires.”
RNC spokesman Alex Conant responds, “Obama’s solution to America’s energy crisis is inflating tires?! Maybe he’s been out of the country too long.”
There's even an entire blog devoted to Obama's gaffes. If misspeaking on the campaign trail were a measure of a politician's staying power (or even a reliable predictor of his ability to win elections) legions of pundits wouldn't have had George W. Bush to kick around for eight years. Fortunately, some people are able to focus on deeds rather than soundbytes.
Bonnie Erbe does a far better job of nailing the respective weaknesses of the candidates, and (surprise, surprise!) it isn't John McCain she's worried about:
Is it just me, or have the political parties switched roles this election? The normally hapless Democrats have become an imperious, on-message political machine. The habitually martial GOP, which stays on message the way drill sergeants stay on GIs, lacks an overarching message to the point where its conservative base is as energized as a turtle.
...Democratic Party leaders would have you believe they are barreling toward victory in November with a youthful, enigmatic, messiahlike candidate capable of resolving every ill and satisfying competing constituencies. The GOP candidate, on the other hand, switches message from the war to the economy to offshore oil drilling and back again. Sen. John McCain goes through staff, advisers, and surrogates more quickly than McDonald's changes burger flippers. What is wrong with this picture? Why are Democrats so united and on-message this year and Republicans so fractiously incompetent?
Stay tuned, friends, because this, too, could change. The cracks are growing in the Democratic unity dam. and McCain may be on the verge of getting his act together. Sen. Barack Obama needs to step off his "holier than thou" platform and get his designer shoes dirty. He needs to let voters catch a glimpse of the regular guy who may actually lurk under his veneer of superiority. From using a logo resembling a presidential seal at one speech earlier this year (an obvious error and never seen again) to addressing a crowd of 200,000 in Berlin and meeting with heads of state before he has reason to, Obama's puerile self-absorption may backfire on him and turn off the very voters he needs to turn on: the white working class. His campaign's use of Cecil B. De Mille speaking backdrops rivals Karl Rove's brilliant manipulation of wedge issues. But as Steve Kornacki of the New York Observer notes, this, too, has its downsides:
Mr. Obama's campaign has featured Reagan-like stagecraft that has made his opponents look like midgets, producing an effect that prompted Chris Matthews, in a moment that will haunt him to his grave, to talk of a certain "thrill going up [his] leg." But it never seems to move his polls numbers.
Indeed, according to Gallup and Rasmussen Reports daily tracking polls, Obama's European trip poll bounce dwindled almost immediately to pretrip levels.
As I noted long ago in regard to the NY Times' ridiculously fact-free "analysis" of wartime casualty data, it generally helps to look at effort expended in relation to the desired return on investment. By that measure, the Iraq insurgency the Times relentlessly assured us was certain to win the war was already foundering. The clue? They were spending an ever-increasing amount of effort on bombs that were having a decreasing effect. To make a strictly awful pun, they were getting less "bang for the buck". Such unproductive outlays can't continue indefinitely.
One might make the same observation about the Obama campaign: what are they buying for all this relentless hype? From all appearances, a heaping helping of ridicule:
Barack Obama’s critics laid down the foundations of the strategy months ago: The Republican National Committee started the “Audacity Watch” back in April, and Karl Rove later fueled the attack by describing the first-term Illinois senator as “coolly arrogant.”
It wasn’t until the last week, however, that the narrative of Obama as a president-in-waiting — and perhaps getting impatient in that waiting — began reverberating beyond the inboxes of Washington operatives and journalists.
Perhaps one of the clearest indications emerged Tuesday from the world of late-night comedy, when David Letterman offered his “Top Ten Signs Barack Obama is Overconfident.” The examples included Obama proposing to change the name of Oklahoma to “Oklobama” and measuring his head for Mount Rushmore.
“When Letterman is doing ‘Top Ten’ lists about something, it has officially entered the public consciousness,” said Dan Schnur, a political analyst from the University of Southern California and the communications director in John McCain’s 2000 campaign. “And it usually stays there for a long, long time.”
Following a nine-day, eight-country tour that carried the ambition and stagecraft of a presidential state visit, Obama has found himself in an unusual position: the butt of jokes.
I said it earlier this morning: when people start laughing at you, that's not a good sign. It would appear others are thinking along the same lines.
"No news publication has dared to barely scratch the surface like this before," columnist and campaign reporter Michael King wrote in The Washington Post Tuesday. "This profile sets a benchmark for mindless filler by which all other features about Sen. Obama will now be judged. Just impressive puff-journalism all around."
The 24-page profile, entitled "Boogyin' With Barack," hit newsstands Monday and contains photos of the candidate as a baby, graduating from Columbia University, standing and laughing, holding hands with his wife and best friend, Michelle, greeting a crowd of blue-collar autoworkers, eating breakfast with diner patrons, and staring pensively out of an airplane window while a pen and legal pad rest comfortably on his lowered tray table.
According to political analysts, the Time piece features the most lack-of-depth reporting on Obama ever published, and for the first time reveals a number of inconsequential truths about the candidate, including how he keeps in shape on the campaign trail, and which historical figures the presidential hopeful would choose to have dinner with.
"The sheer breadth of fluff in this story is something to be marveled at," New York Times Washington bureau chief Dean Baquet said. "It's all here. Favorite books, movies, meals, and seasons of the year ranked one through four. Sure, we asked Obama what his favorite ice cream was, but Time did us one better and asked, 'What's your favorite ice cream, really?'"
Time managing editor Rich Stengel said he was proud of the Obama puff piece, and that he hoped it would help to redefine the boundaries of journalistic drivel.
"When the American people cast their vote this November, this is the piece of fluff they're going to remember," Stengel said. "Not the ones by Newsweek, Harper's, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New Republic, The Economist, Nightline, The Wall Street Journal, or even that story about lessons Obama learned from his first-grade teacher we ran a month ago."
The article, which follows Obama for 12 days during his campaign, was written by reporter Chris Sherwood, and is relentless in its attempt to capture the candidate at his most poised and polished. Sherwood said the profile easily trumps all other fluff pieces in its effort to expose the presidential candidate for who he really is: "an awesome guy."
"My editors told me that if I wanted to uncover the most frivolous, trivial information on Obama, I had to be prepared to follow the puff," Sherwood said. "That meant that not only did I have to stay and watch Sen. Obama play endless games of basketball with city firemen to show readers how athletic and youthful he is, but I also had to go to NBA shooting experts to learn what aspects of his jump shot are good and what parts are great."
Sherwood said he was granted full access to the candidate, and was permitted by chief strategist David Axelrod to ask any question he desired—an opportunity the reporter used to lob the easiest softballs at Obama yet, ranging from how happy he felt when he met his wife to what songs are currently on his iPod playlist. Sherwood was also fearless in his effort to paint the candidate as someone who is "surprisingly down to earth," a phrase that is used a total of 26 times throughout the feature.
"If we were going to get the story we wanted, it was my responsibility as a journalist to ask the really tough questions to his two young daughters," said Sherwood, who grilled Malia and Sasha Obama, 9 and 7, about whether they were "proud of [their] daddy." "I also had to capitalize on every opportunity to compare the story of Obama's upbringing and rise to power to that of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s and John F. Kennedy's, no matter how suspect those parallels really are."
We had to check the byline. For a moment we were convinced Dana Milbanks had deserted our hometown paper.
Update: regarding MikeD's comment, fear not loyal readers.
The Editorial Staff only happened upon this juicy bit of snark b/c Intrepid Reader bthun had sent us this, thus sending our peripatetic staff of itinerant Eskimo typists into paroxysms of glee.
Obama: The Would-Be Emperor with No Clothes
John McCain has a new ad out about Barack Obama.
Somewhat predictably, the new campaign spot is sending McCain supporters and Obama supporters alike into paroxysms of panic and mouth-frothing fury. Much to the delight of Obamites, former McCain campaign supporter John Weaver has dubbed the new ad "childish":
"There is legitimate mockery of a political campaign now, and it isn't at Obama's. For McCain's sake, this tomfoolery needs to stop."
Ramesh Ponnoru piles on:
McCain's recent ads are juvenile.
And with that pronouncement, we can safely say that we have once more come full circle. It's deja vu all over again: the traditional weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth so beloved of our conservative brethren in Christ has commenced. The good news is that we will undoubtably live through it, as we did the unbearable certainty that George W had unequivocally (in the irrefutable judgment of Those In The Know) "blown" the 2004 debates with the suave and oh-so-debonaire John Foregainst Kerry, who as we all know went on to win the November election by a landslide, thus ushering in a four year reign of Progressyve Terror that continues to send all "real" conservatives running for the nearest bottle of neat double scotch to this day.
If you have not already done so, may I politely suggest that you view the ad?
Whatever it is, the McCain ad is not childish, or juvenile. In fact, it attempts a very good point (and moreover, one you'll find echoed by the media over and over; even by many of Obama's supporters). The point is simply this: Obama is a stuffed shirt whose almost uncanny ability to project a telegenic, appealing, charismatic image far outweighs anything he has ever done, or even promises to do.
The problem with the McCain ad is not that it was childish, but that it failed to get the intended message across efficiently.
The intended message was that Obama is an empty suit whose fame owes more to the cult of personality than to his achievements or his plans for America. Subliminally "selling" this message by juxtaposing Obama's picture alongside that of Britney Spears and Paris Hilton reposes waaay too much confidence in the intelligence of the average swing voter.
Sadly, it also allows Obama supporters to project their many and varied neuroses upon John McCain:
I note with interest today, John McCain's new tactic of associating Barack Obama with oversexed and/or promiscuous young white women. (See today's new ad and this from yesterday.) Presumably, a la Harold Ford 2006, this will be one of those strategies that will be a matter of deep dispute during the campaign and later treated as transparent and obvious once the campaign is concluded.
But what I'm most interested in today is the new meme the McCain campaign has been pushing for the last few weeks that Obama is presumptuous, arrogant and well ... just a bit uppity. Ron Fournier picked the ball up early in his reporting for the AP. And John King was pushing it over the weekend on CNN. Is it arrogant or above Obama's station for him to meet with the Chairman of the Federal Reserve? If I'm not mistaken he is a sitting United States senator and also the presidential candidate of the Democratic party. Such meetings are actually the norm.
Woo ha, John McCain. Josh Marshall has got you in check, baby. Where have we heard this line of 'reasoning' before? Ah yes, from the perennially above-the-fray candidate himself:
“Nobody thinks that Bush or McCain have a real answer for the challenges we face. So what they are going to try to do is make you scared of me,” Obama warned, “You know he's not patriotic enough. He's got a funny name. You know, he doesn't look like all of those other presidents on the dollar bills.”
Yessir, there is nothing like a little honest dialog about race relations in America to dispel all that wrong/bad tension between blacks and whites. Because the Other Side, you know, they operate from the Politics of Fear. And the only way to combat the Divisive Fear and Hate perpetrated by those hateful, divisive fear mongers who keep dragging race into this campaign even though I'd prefer not to mention it is by constantly reminding you of Fear and Race. Because we all know that any criticism of Me during a hotly contested political campaign can only be based on 400 years of simmering racism.
It couldn't have anything to do with the way Obama and his supporters have chosen to sell him to the American public:
Hi, my name is John. I'm a hopium addict.
It's true. Yes, I'm a journalist. And that led to the harder stuff. Then one day, Barack phoned the Tribune and called me "bro."
Now, I'm addicted to hopium.
So if you're addicted to hopium, or you're worried that your loved ones might fall prey to its power, then please click on this link for the hard left's Moveon.org commercial for Barack Obama
"I never thought it could happen to me," says a shaggy blond-haired surfer dude in the ad, a guy who should have carried a bong.
"I've been living with it for a while now," says a young woman, talking as if she'd contracted a sexually transmitted disease.
That's how they discuss hopium. Like a disease. But they have nothing to be guilty about. It's not some disease that cranky old Republicans can't get because they stopped having sex.
Once you see it, you won't be the only one addicted to hope. You'll all become addicted—you, your family and friends, even your pets, except for various crustaceans in your aquarium, which are immune. But you and yours are not immune. You'll all become hope-heads, together.
It's America's most powerful drug. Once on hopium, you won't care if Iran has nukes or if taxes are raised during a recession or whether Obama keeps flipping and flopping on everything from foreign wiretaps to withdrawing troops from Iraq.
Who cares? Relax. Hopium is your friend.
It's not a rational appeal. It's an appeal to emotion and that's the message the McCain ad should have gotten across, but signally failed to convey. There are a lot of things the McCain campaign is having trouble articulating, but that's not surprising.
Barack Obama is so good at manipulating appearances, so adroit at packaging and delivering a polished, manicured image, that it can be difficult to pierce the veil; to see what lies beneath the glitzy exterior. Astute observers (not all of them conservatives) have no trouble pinpointing Obama's Achilles Heel. It's his overweening arrogance, his presumption:
Barack Obama has long been his party's presumptive nominee. Now he's becoming its presumptuous nominee.
Fresh from his presidential-style world tour, during which foreign leaders and American generals lined up to show him affection, Obama settled down to some presidential-style business in Washington yesterday. He ordered up a teleconference with the (current president's) Treasury secretary, granted an audience to the Pakistani prime minister and had his staff arrange for the chairman of the Federal Reserve to give him a briefing. Then, he went up to Capitol Hill to be adored by House Democrats in a presidential-style pep rally.
Along the way, he traveled in a bubble more insulating than the actual president's. Traffic was shut down for him as he zoomed about town in a long, presidential-style motorcade, while the public and most of the press were kept in the dark about his activities, which included a fundraiser at the Mayflower where donors paid $10,000 or more to have photos taken with him. His schedule for the day, announced Monday night, would have made Dick Cheney envious:
11:00 a.m.: En route TBA.
12:05 p.m.: En route TBA.
1:45 p.m.: En route TBA.
2:55 p.m.: En route TBA.
5:20 p.m.: En route TBA.
The 5:20 TBA turned out to be his adoration session with lawmakers in the Cannon Caucus Room, where even committee chairmen arrived early, as if for the State of the Union. Capitol Police cleared the halls -- just as they do for the actual president. The Secret Service hustled him in through a side door -- just as they do for the actual president.
Inside, according to a witness, he told the House members, "This is the moment . . . that the world is waiting for," adding: "I have become a symbol of the possibility of America returning to our best traditions."
As he marches toward Inauguration Day (Election Day is but a milestone on that path), Obama's biggest challenger may not be Republican John McCain but rather his own hubris.
Over at NRO's The Corner, Peter Kirsanow makes the most astute and dead-on observation I've seen regarding this campaign: Obama doth protest too much:
According to ABC News Sen. Obama told supporters in Springfield, Missouri today that the GOP's strategy is to scare voters: "So what they are going to do is make you scared of me. You know he's not patriotic enough. He's got a funny name. You know, he doesn't look like those other presidents on the dollar bills." It's Sen. Obama who repeatedly refers to these themes. ( Apparently, now both GOP leadership and their bitter, gun-toting constituents are racist). If the GOP really wanted to scare voters they would simply threaten to replay all of Sen. Obama's insufferable statements, accumulating rapidly by the hour.
But even Kirsanow misses something vital - the reason why Obama keeps harping on the "they'll try to make you scared of me". Hint: it's not just a race thing. It's a manliness thing too - when even your supporters are hailing you as "our first woman president", perhaps it ought to occur to the McCain campaign that constant attempts to portray yourself as "blacker than thou" and "scary" might just reveal a tad bit of oversensitivity related to certain... shall we say... identity issues?
As I noted some time ago, the key to beating Barack Obama is to pierce that bubble of pretension and inevitability with humor:
I don't know. Could you work the words "fear", "afraid", "scary", and "black" in there just a few more times, Barry? Because I'm "afraid" voters might miss the point.
You know, that you're... like, totally ... black. And the bad, scary Republicans want us to be afraid of you. Because you're so ... black. Even though you're half white. Which we're not supposed to talk about, because that would be focusing on race and you were so hoping we could get beyond that, I know. Damned Republicans. If only they'd quit bringing up the fact.
That you're black. And we should fear you.
Odd tactic, for a man liberals keep saying is so likable and non-threatening he may well be our first woman president. The looming menace must express itself in a disarmingly feminine, non-threatening way.
Which is why the Republicans have to keep reminding everyone of your essential Blackitude and scariliciousness. It's subtle, man. Under the radar, sub rosa, float like a butterfly sting like a bee .... BAM!!! That's what makes you dangerous. You're a dangerous black man, with an Ivy League education. You use words like numchuks.
Voters like a good joke, and the only way to criticize someone like Barack Obama and get away with it is to make it seem like a joke. The key is, it has to be funny and it has to be true.
Dana Milbanks did a fantastic job of parodying Obama's presumption in the Post the other day. If the McCain campaign has a brain in its collective head, it will sit up and take notice. John McCain has a very quick wit and impeccable comedic timing, whereas humor is Barack Obama's weak point.
That's the message the McCain campaign needs to get across: simple, direct, and devastating. It's not that Obama is too inexperienced to be president, but that he presumes too much. That message is more likely to resonate with an electorate we're constantly being told has been alienated by what they perceive to be the arrogance of George Bush. A guy who keeps assuming the trappings of an office he has yet to be elected to, is already stiff-arming the press in ways even they admit the White House would never dare to and from all appearances has begun to believe his own hype is not bringing the kind of change America seeks. Nor does he have any business running the world's largest superpower.
I imagine that we'll see a lot of this kind of thing if Obama is elected President. And perhaps the best reason to vote against Obama is to spare the country an administration that reflexively characterizes any criticism as racist.
Yep. That pretty much says it all. Martin Luther King envisioned a nation that would one day be able to look past skin color and focus on the content of a person's character. So far, Obama's campaign seems determined to remain blissfully content-free and answer any questioning of his character with reflexive accusations of racism.
No candidate, be he black, white, or pink with purple polka dots, gets to do that. In America, you still have to earn the vote.
Again, not the kind of change I seek.
July 30, 2008
Best War Movies of all Time
Sean had a great idea inspired by the recent posts on the 173rd Airborne: what, in your opinion, are the greatest war movies of all time, and what makes them worth watching?
For me, the first war movie that got me interested in the genre was Gettysburg. There are so many moments from this movie that I love. I must have watched it a thousand times.
To me, a great movie is like that. It's like a great book: it only improves the more you see it. There are books I read every few years because I love them so. I actually look forward to certain passages that particularly resonate with me. Shakespeare has the power to move me that way (you probably couldn't tell, could you?). There is a universality to his characters and plots. Often when reading some news story, I'll find a snippet of verse from some play floating into my mind, and when I watch a performance of one of the Bard's plays there are certain passages that can predictably send a chill right down my spine or cause anticipatory tears to well up in my eyes long before the first words ring out on the stage.
They're that good. The strength of Gettysburg, to me, was that it showed the goodness and humanity of both sides of a bitterly contested war. I consider myself a Southerner, and yet I thrilled with pride to hear Joshua Chamberlain's stirring "What we're fighting for" speech to the 20th Maine.
I think, sometimes, that is what has broken my heart about this war.
Not the cruelty of al Qaeda, but the bitterness and cruelty of so many Americans to those who simply disagree with them.
I understand disagreement. I don't understand what causes so many of us to impugn the motives of those who, for all they know, may be doing what they sincerely believe is right. We - none of us - can see into each other's hearts.
It is so easy to speak in anger and so hard to understand that sometimes, looking in the mirror in the morning demands that each of us be true to our own principles. I am not sure that any of us has a monopoly on wisdom, justice, or the truth as determined by almighty God or the ACLU. We can only fumble through life doing the best we can.
I sometimes wish we could be kinder to each other. As corny as I'm sure this sounds, it takes all kinds of people to make up this crazy world. I wouldn't change it.
Not even the people who make me nuts. A little challenge to the way we think keeps us from being smug and self-satisfied. Whether or not you believe in God, I have always found much wisdom (as well as beauty) in the Bible. As one of my favorite verses reminds us, being right isn't everything:
This is the part that is most often quoted, and which you are probably most familiar with:
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.
And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.
Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,
Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;
Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;
Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.
But this is part I have always loved:
For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.
But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.
When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child:
but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face:
now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.
I am not sure it is given to us during life to fully understand certain things. If we did, we'd be so frightened that we should almost certainly crawl under the covers and never attempt anything worthwhile.
I think charity and humility exist to remind us not to get too full of ourselves; that there is much we don't understand, much we don't know. Not that the Princess requires such reminders, mind you... :p
Anyway... movies. Comments.
My two cents:
Bridge on the River Kwai.
Lawrence of Arabia
The Caine Mutiny
Zulu (yeah, I liked that one too!)
Sands of Iwo Jima
Big Red One
I am forgetting tons, I know. I don't watch war movies a lot, being more of the boring Merchant-Ivory pretentiously mind numbing British period piece/historical drama persuasion.
I'll throw a few more up after I've gotten a few things down.
More 173rd Airborne
It is well worth your time. He does good work.
July 29, 2008
Tuesday Night Tune
July 28, 2008
We are a voice for conservative and Republican Moms and their families. We write about the issues that affect us and our families in the hope to effect positive and conservative change in The United States.
You can read Kat's first interview (herself!) here. Seriously, I think this is a great idea. I wish I'd had half her smarts when I was a young mother.
You are cordially invited to check out my 15 minutes of fame :p
Violent Video Games Only Good When They Depict Amorality, Random Violence
You have to love it. While the 10 most violent video games are widely defended by advocates of free expression as the argument goes, Parents Should Not Be Concerned because it is just ludicrous to believe that online role playing influences real life behavior:
Resident Evil 4--"Player is a Special Forces agent sent to recover the President's kidnapped daughter. During the first minutes of play, it's possible to find the corpse of a woman pinned up on a wall--by a pitchfork through her face."
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas--"Player is a young man working with gangs to gain respect. His mission includes murder, theft, and destruction on every imaginable level. Player recovers his health by visiting prostitutes then recovers funds by beating them to death and taking their money. Player can wreak as much havoc as he likes without progressing through the game's storyline."
God of War--"Player becomes a ruthless warrior, seeking revenge against the gods who tricked him into murdering his own family. Prisoners are burned alive and player can use 'finishing moves' to kill opponents, like tearing a victim in half."
NARC--"Player can choose between two narcotics agents attempting to take a dangerous drug off the streets and shut down the KRAK cartel while being subject to temptations including drugs and money. To enhance abilities, player takes drugs including pot, Quaaludes, ecstasy, LSD, and 'Liquid Soul'--which provides the ability to kick enemies' heads off."
Killer 7--"Player takes control of seven assassins who must combine skills to defeat a band of suicidal, monstrous terrorists. The game eventually escalates into a global conflict between the US and Japan. Player collects the blood of fallen victims to heal himself and must slit his own wrists to spray blood to find hidden passages."
The Warriors--"Based on a '70s action flick that set new standards for 'artistic violence,' a street gang battles its way across NYC in an attempt to reach its home turf. Player issues several commands to his gang, including 'mayhem,' which causes the gang to smash everything in sight."
50 Cent: Bulletproof--"Game is loosely based on the gangster lifestyle of rapper Curtis '50 Cent' Jackson. Player engages in gangster shootouts and loots the bodies of victims to buy new 50 Cent recordings and music videos."
Crime Life: Gang Wars--"Player is the leader of a ruthless street gang, spending time fighting, recruiting new gangsters, looting, and of course, more fighting. Player can roam the streets and fight or kill anyone in sight for no apparent reason."
Condemned: Criminal Origins--"Player is an FBI serial killer hunter in one of the first titles for the Xbox 360. Game emphasizes the use of melee weapons over firearms, allowing players to use virtually any part of their environment as a weapon. The next-generation graphics provide a new level of detail to various injuries, especially 'finishing moves.'"
True Crime: New York City--"Player is a NYC cop looking for information regarding the mysterious death of a friend. Player can plant evidence on civilians and shake them down to earn extra money."
OK. We'll buy that. Except, of course, for when the military is involved... then, of course, censorship is a good thing and we need to protect our children from the horribly violent, corrupting influence of our own government:
Recent player Miles Cahill, 23, who works at a videogame retailer, said the Army's game wasn't as good as other shooter games he's tried, but it was still fun. He didn't mind the marketing aspect.
"Beer companies have hot women. They have a videogame," he said.
The Virtual Army set up camp for nine days this month outside the Six Flags Great America amusement park here. Ads throughout the theme park touted the Army's attraction. One read: "Bumper cars or fully loaded Humvees?"
A chain-link fence cordoned off the Army's 19,500-square-foot exhibit. VAE adviser Lt. Col. Randall Zeegers, 6 feet 5 inches tall, saluted children as they passed and posed for pictures.
"There's no sales going on here," said Lt. Col. Zeegers, who added that the goal of the VAE is primarily to educate the public. "It's another way to tell our story ourselves."
Those who want to try the game are asked for their age, address, phone number and email, and the information is entered into a database. Players are also asked whether they want to join or learn more about the Army. Local recruiters can contact promising leads, if they are at least 17, within 24 hours.
Players file into an air-conditioned trailer, filled with computers and Xbox 360 consoles, where they wait to be briefed. Then Staff Sgt. John Harper explains the mission: Genocidal indigenous forces are attacking international aid workers. It's up to the players to protect them.
Participants enter a dark, inflatable dome. They climb into one of six modified Humvees or two Black Hawk helicopters. Each vehicle, mounted with fake M-249 Squad Automatic Weapons and M-4 rifles, faces three huge screens where the videogame is projected.
Players fire air-pressured guns, meant to mimic the recoil and kickback of real ones. The ethnicity of the bad guys they shoot at is ambiguous. The rat-a-tat-tat of gunfire blares from the game's speakers and the Humvees shake from the simulated blasts of roadside bombs. Some participants hoot and holler. Despite the nature of the game, there is no blood or guts on screen.
Scores are higher if players only shoot people in uniform; they lose points for firing indiscriminately or at noncombatants.
Perhaps if the Army added a few prostitutes who could be conveniently offed after they provide the requisite rejuvenation points, parents would be more comfortable letting their kids try the game. What the heck - since the scenario involves international aid workers, why not increase the realism and throw in a few United Nations child brothels?
An international watchdog must be set up urgently to investigate widespread cases of child sex abuse by aid workers and peacekeepers, a British charity said today.
Save the Children demanded action after its research found that starving and desperate youngsters as young as six were being coerced to sell sex for food, money, soap and even mobile phones in war zones and disaster areas.
Hundreds of young people from Ivory Coast, Southern Sudan and Haiti were involved in the research behind the conclusions.
One of them was 'Elizabeth', who was 12-years-old when she was snatched from the roadside early one morning last June and dragged into the bush by 10 UN peacekeepers who raped her one by one.
Village elders who tried to report the attack to senior officers in the Ivory Coast claimed their allegations were ignored. Since the attack 'Elizabeth' says she has dropped out of school and lost interest in life.
Or is that too much "reality"? We wouldn't want our children to become confused about who the real bad guys are.
Coffee Snorters, Delusions of Adequacy Edition
Just when you thought it was safe to come out from underneath the covers, the Editorial Staff comes home to this...
What is it about the E.U. that seems to give some people such an outsized feeling of their own importance?
July 25, 2008
This Is The Moment!!!!
My brothers and sisters.
I firmly believe that one day we will all look back and realize that this is the moment when Barack Obama's campaign finally jumped the shark.
Did Obama overreach in Germany?
Why yes I believe he did, boys and girls:
And it came to pass, in the eighth year of the reign of the evil Bush the Younger (The Ignorant), when the whole land from the Arabian desert to the shores of the Great Lakes had been laid barren, that a Child appeared in the wilderness.
The Child was blessed in looks and intellect. Scion of a simple family, offspring of a miraculous union, grandson of a typical white person and an African peasant. And yea, as he grew, the Child walked in the path of righteousness, with only the occasional detour into the odd weed and a little blow.
When he was twelve years old, they found him in the temple in the City of Chicago, arguing the finer points of community organisation with the Prophet Jeremiah and the Elders. And the Elders were astonished at what they heard and said among themselves: “Verily, who is this Child that he opens our hearts and minds to the audacity of hope?”
In the great Battles of Caucus and Primary he smote the conniving Hillary, wife of the deposed King Bill the Priapic and their barbarian hordes of Working Class Whites.
And so it was, in the fullness of time, before the harvest month of the appointed year, the Child ventured forth - for the first time - to bring the light unto all the world.
When a candidate starts promising to heal the oceans and remake the world, I think we can all agree it's time to cut waaaaaaaaaaay back on the caffeine.
Yes, yes we can.
Last weekend I traveled back in time.
Back then the world was different. Younger, more innocent; and not just because I was younger too. Spring, Summer, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas: the seasons of the year moved at a majestic and unhurried pace. None of them rudely jostling each other for position on the calendar, none impatiently leap frogging or butting in line.
We were not so insanely preoccupied that we bought live Douglas Fir wreaths the last week in October only to watch them turn brown and sere in the Southern sun by Thanksgiving. As yet unspoiled by an endless array of cable TV choices and the Internet, we were content to wait until December to begin putting up our Christmas lights and making our holiday preparations.
On Saturday morning I woke up in Atlanta and drove through the countryside for a few hours. As it had a little over six months ago, I felt the heavy red clay and gently rolling hills begin to work their magic upon my battered soul:
God seems closer out here. That can be jarring for those with a more modern, urban sensibility. There is something primitive about strong faith, something that stretches back beyond our earliest memories, our most basic human programming, something we can't quite put our collective fingers on. Something that doesn't quite seem rational, logical, empirical.
At the end of the road, I stepped from the car up onto the porch and the memories rushed up to greet me like sweet, slightly sticky kisses:
My darling son,
Where you are, it's your birthday and you've turned 22. I don't know where the time went. When did you get so "adult"?
I remember the night before you were born. I knew you were coming and had your dad come home from TBS. We had BBQ. I threw it up. Gross, right? Funny the things that you remember.
I won't bore you with the details of labor. One day, you'll be in your Dad's shoes and you'll know. We'll share a beer, you and I, and talk about it as we celebrate the arrival of your first child and my first (gulp) grandchild.
My oldest son. The light of my life.
Standing on the porch, with my grandson in his arms. Does he know? Can he ever know how dear he is to me?
I remember the day they first laid him in my arms. The love, it hits you with the force of a small hurricane. You don't expect it.
I was that way with both my boys. They had rooming in at the hospitals. It was new, daring. You had to insist upon it, but it was the 70's and I was, like, totally organic. Nursing. LaMaze. Natural childbirth. I wanted to do everything the right way. I was so young. We drove to a hospital that was over an hour away from where we lived because they were the only ones who would do natural childbirth and I was convinced they would hurt my baby if they used forceps.
I had nightmares about it.
They let you keep the baby in the room with you after the delivery. The nurses put him in the incubator, looking for all the world like a funny little caterpillar wrapped in his little blanket and hat. I kept taking him out and laying him over my heart.
I wanted him near me. The nurses fussed. "You'll fall asleep. You'll roll over and crush him.", they said. As if I wasn't smart enough to put him back before I went to sleep.
My mind drifts back to the present. I am watching my grandson Army-crawl across the living room floor. He is intent upon chasing a stuffed giraffe. Every now and then, he stops what he is doing, looks over one shoulder and flashes a big, goofy grin. He is enjoying the fact that the adults in the room are watching his every move.
Little boys are so amazing. I never had a daughter, but boys suited me just fine. They are tiny engines of business, stopping only to get their batteries recharged with mountains of hugs and kisses which they find delightful only until some shiny thing catches their eye, and then suddenly they're off without a word or a backward glance in your direction.
And if you're a wise parent, you let them go: cheerfully, happily, proudly; even knowing that within the next few hours they'll likely as not come tearing back with a knot on their forehead or a big bruise or a bloody knee and a flood of pent-up tears they're trying manfully to hold back because big boys don't make a fuss when they go flying over the handlebars of their bicycles.... again. And you hug them (but not too much!) and put a band-aid or an ice cube over the boo-boo, and let them go.
Again. Sometimes I think most of raising a boy is the tension between holding onto them when they need you, and letting go when they need that, too. The holding on is important, because without a little direction all that energy can get him into a lot of trouble. A boy needs a lot of love and guidance. He needs discipline, so he learns to channel his energies wisely, and compassion so he uses his strength to protect and serve rather than to harm those weaker than himself. But the letting go matters too, because a boy's fighting spirit is what makes him into a man, and you don't want to break that, or make him ashamed of his own nature.
In the end, that's what I thought of when I heard that we'd lost nine good men in Kunar province:
• 1st Lt. Jonathan P. Brostrom, 24, of Aiea, Hawaii. • Sgt. Israel Garcia, 24, of Long Beach, California. • Cpl. Jonathan R. Ayers, 24, of Snellville, Georgia. • Cpl. Jason M. Bogar, 25, of Seattle, Washington. • Cpl. Jason D. Hovater, 24, of Clinton, Tennessee. • Cpl. Matthew B. Phillips, 27, of Jasper, Georgia. • Cpl. Pruitt A. Rainey, 22, of Haw River, North Carolina. • Cpl. Gunnar W. Zwilling, 20, of Florissant, Missouri. • Pfc. Sergio S. Abad, 21, of Morganfield, Kentucky.
Each of those nine men had a mother and a father who loved him.
I wish I had the words to do each of these men honor. I can't do that in a single post. What I can do is to ask each of you to read about them, and remember them.
They went down fighting hard:
Outnumbered but not outgunned, a platoon-plus element of soldiers with 2nd Platoon, Company C, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment (Airborne), 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team accompanied by Afghan soldiers engaged in a fistfight of a firefight.
After maybe two hours of intense combat, some of the soldiers’ guns seized up because they expelled so many rounds so quickly. Insurgent bullets and dozens of rocket-propelled grenades filled the air. So many RPGs were fired at the soldiers that they wondered how the insurgents had so many.
That was July 13. That was when Stafford was blown out of a fighting position by an RPG, survived a grenade blast and had the tail of an RPG strike his helmet.
That was the day nine Chosen Company soldiers died.
The first RPG and machine gun fire came at dawn, strategically striking the forward operating base’s mortar pit. The insurgents next sighted their RPGs on the tow truck inside the combat outpost, taking it out. That was around 4:30 a.m.
This was not a haphazard attack. The reportedly 200 insurgents fought from several positions. They aimed to overrun the new base. The U.S. soldiers knew it and fought like hell. They knew their lives were on the line.
"I just hope these guys’ wives and their children understand how courageous their husbands and dads were," said Sgt. Jacob Walker. "They fought like warriors."
The next target was the FOB’s observation post, where nine soldiers were positioned on a tiny hill about 50 to 75 meters from the base. Of those nine, five died, and at least three others — Stafford among them — were wounded.
When the attack began, Stafford grabbed his M-240 machine gun off a north-facing sandbag wall and moved it to an east-facing sandbag wall. Moments later, RPGs struck the north-facing wall, knocking Stafford out of the fighting position and wounding another soldier.
Stafford thought he was on fire so he rolled around, regaining his senses. Nearby, Cpl. Gunnar Zwilling, who later died in the fight, had a stunned look on his face.
Immediately, a grenade exploded by Stafford, blowing him down to a lower terrace at the observation post and knocking his helmet off. Stafford put his helmet back on and noticed how badly he was bleeding.
Cpl. Matthew Phillips was close by, so Stafford called to him for help. Phillips was preparing to throw a grenade and shot a look at Stafford that said, "Give me a second. I gotta go kill these guys first."
This was only about 30 to 60 seconds into the attack.
Kneeling behind a sandbag wall, Phillips pulled the grenade pin, but just after he threw it an RPG exploded at his position. The tail of the RPG smacked Stafford’s helmet. The dust cleared. Phillips was slumped over, his chest on his knees and his hands by his side. Stafford called out to his buddy three or four times, but Phillips never answered or moved.
"When I saw Phillips die, I looked down and was bleeding pretty good, that’s probably the most scared I was at any point," Stafford said. "Then I kinda had to calm myself down and be like, ‘All right, I gotta go try to do my job.’ "
The soldier from Parker, Colo., loaded his 9 mm handgun, crawled up to their fighting position, stuck the pistol over the sandbags and fired.
Stafford saw Zwilling’s M-4 rifle nearby so he loaded it, put it on top of the sandbag and fired. Another couple RPGs struck the sandbag wall Stafford used as cover. Shrapnel pierced his hands.
Stafford low-crawled to another fighting position where Cpl. Jason Bogar, Sgt. Matthew Gobble and Sgt. Ryan Pitts were located. Stafford told Pitts that the insurgents were within grenade-tossing range. That got Pitts’ attention.
With blood running down his face, Pitts threw a grenade and then crawled to the position from where Stafford had just come. Pitts started hucking more grenades.
The firefight intensified. Bullets cut down tree limbs that fell on the soldiers. RPGs constantly exploded.
Back at Stafford’s position, so many bullets were coming in that the soldiers could not poke their heads over their sandbag wall. Bogar stuck an M-249 machine gun above the wall and squeezed off rounds to keep fire on the insurgents. In about five minutes, Bogar fired about 600 rounds, causing the M-249 to seize up from heat.
At another spot on the observation post, Cpl. Jonathan Ayers laid down continuous fire from an M-240 machine gun, despite drawing small-arms and RPG fire from the enemy. Ayers kept firing until he was shot and killed. Cpl. Pruitt Rainey radioed the FOB with a casualty report, calling for help. Of the nine soldiers at the observation post, Ayers and Phillips were dead, Zwilling was unaccounted for, and three were wounded. Additionally, several of the soldiers’ machine guns couldn’t fire because of damage. And they needed more ammo.
Rainey, Bogar and another soldier jumped out of their fighting position with the third soldier of the group launching a shoulder-fired missile.
All this happened within the first 20 minutes of the fight.
Platoon leader 1st Lt. Jonathan Brostrom and Cpl. Jason Hovater arrived at the observation post to reinforce the soldiers. By that time, the insurgents had breached the perimeter of the observation post. Gunfire rang out, and Rainey shouted, "He’s right behind the sandbag."
Brostrom could be heard shouting about the insurgent as well.
More gunfire and grenade explosions ensued. Back in the fighting position, Gobble fired a few quick rounds. Gobble then looked to where the soldiers were fighting and told Stafford the soldiers were dead. Of the nine soldiers who died in the battle, at least seven fell in fighting at the observation post.
These words have been far too long in coming because, to be honest, I have struggled to find the right words - any words at all. I don't have them. Sometimes, you reach way down and there is just nothing left except grief that you can't find a way to express. I keep waiting for this to get easier and it never does.
I suppose I would just like the families of these men to know how very sorry I am, and how proud that America produces sons of this caliber. No matter what one thinks about the war, no one can ask any more of any man but that he do his duty.
I remember when my son decided to become a police officer. After a while I lost track of the number of people who said to me, "You must not very happy about his decision."
I was always puzzled by that remark, and a bit hurt. No one ever wants to lose a child. I think that must be the most awful thing in the world. But on the day my first son was born, I knew that some day I would have to let him go. For eighteen years, I poured everything I had into my children.
And then I opened the door, and let them step through it with my blessing. I never presumed that it was my place to decide for them what they should do with their lives, and if my son takes what I gave him and uses it to protect others, that makes me proud.
I hope the families of these men take some small comfort in knowing how very much they are honored for their bravery and their service.
We will not forget. We should never forget.
July 23, 2008
Le Good Read
John Hawkins has a great interview with Kathleen Parker, syndicated columnist and author of "Save the Males: Why Men Matter Why Women Should Care." With a title like that, it will probably come as no surprise that the half vast Editorial Staff (not to mention our legion of snarky itinerant Eskimo typists) are all huge fans of Ms. Parker's.
Many is the time we have sat around Villa Cassandranita yukking it up as Ms. Parker deftly lampoons yet another public figure's energetic attempts to beclown him- or herself. In fact, it was the spousal unit who first turned us on to Ms. Parker's writing. He has often recommended her to the blog princess as a model of what she ought to be doing with her life (something she is not entirely sure she appreciates, but what is she going to do?).
It is always about the smart blondes :p
Sheesh. Go read the interview. Good stuff.
The Blogosphere's Worst Video Contest
What sucks worse than Pile On?
Worse than being taken to an airless cell in Gitmo to watch in horror as your inner Koran is flushed, just before the Frilly Panties of Oppression are pulled over your unsuspecting head to the undulating strains of Christina Aguilera?
Well, the videos my so-called "friends" send me, for one thing.
What Does Obama Offer America, Minus The Hype?
Vizzini cuts the rope The Dread Pirate Roberts is climbing
Vizzini: HE DIDN'T FALL? INCONCEIVABLE.
Inigo Montoya: You keep using that word.
I do not think it means what you think it means.
For the past few days, American voters have been bombarded with carefully selected images of a presidential candidate whose strongest qualification for office seems to be the audacious hope that come November, he will occupy 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Demonstrably his resume, when contrasted with previous occupants of the Oval Office, is painfully thin:
Obviously it is racist to wonder whether Barack Obama has enough experience - or even the right experience - to handle the demanding duties of running the world's largest superpower. In deciding that such questions are racist, we are not allowed to look at the facts.
We are not allowed, for instance, to compare Obama's experience to that of other men who have won the nomination of their party in presidential elections:
Since the Civil War, 49 men have won a major-party presidential nomination. Only three of these nominees were less qualified, by traditional measures of leadership and experience, than Obama.
That puts Barack Obama at or around the 6th percentile of presidential candidates chosen by a major party in the last century and a half, experience-wise. But we are not allowed to notice this, because it would be racist to elevate experience over skin color.
None of those men was able to win the White House.
But we are not allowed to notice this, because it would be racist to elevate statistical evidence of voter preferences over skin color.Americans have only elected 6 U.S. Presidents who had no previous executive experience. Notably, since the Civil War, we have only elected one: John Fitzgerald Kennedy.
But we are not allowed to notice this. You see, that would be racist.
One might be justified in asking, is executive experience a good predictor of presidential performance? Let's find out:
Based on the historical rankings of all the U.S. Presidents (the Wall Street Journal 2005 study) compared to their levels of experience prior to taking the high office, the evidence indicates that experience in general isn't in itself an indicator of how successful our Presidents have been in office. However, there is evidence that that the type of experience is extremely important. By dividing our Presidents into groups based on the types of experience they had prior to coming to office, here are some statistical observations:
* Presidents who possessed previous experience as a Government Chief Executive at the state or local level have above-average historical ratings.
* Presidents who did not possess previous experience as a Government Chief Executive at the state or local level have below-average historical ratings.
But since Amerikka has a long history of deeply entrenched racism, the very notion that we can trust history is, in itself, deeply racist. So that's right out.
Though John McCain has no executive experience in civilian government, he was the the Executive Officer and the Squadron Commander of the largest aviation squadron in the United States Navy, having attained the rank of Captain. Having direct responsibility for a government organization which employs over 1000 people and maintains 75 aircraft is comparable to running a small corporation.
Barack Obama has no comparable executive experience in either the civilian or government sector. So we are left with the question of who has more legislative experience: John McCain or Barack Obama?
John McCain has 24 years, both as a member of the House of Representatives and the United States Senate. He has been a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee since his election to the Senate in 1987.
Barack Obama was an Illinois State Legislator from 1997-2004 and a United States Senator from 2005 to the present. He served on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He has
8 11 (thanks, Jeffrey!) years of experience to John McCain's 24. Only 3 years of Mr. Obama's legislative experience were served at the national level. Assuming the two men's records were directly comparable in a qualitative sense (they are not), from a quantitative sense Mr. Obama brings less than one third half the amount of experience to the table.
Perhaps to make up for the glaring deficits in his experience, Senator Obama assures us he has "The Judgment to Lead" and that his candidacy offers "change we can believe in". That many Obama fans have fallen for the latter slogan is evident from listening to the gushingly inane pronouncements of celebs like George Michael:
Michael, 45, touring North America for the first time in 17 years, told fans during a concert at New York City's Madison Square Garden that "I know you guys all need a change."
He admitted he doesn't know what kind of change Obama would bring if elected, saying that after "months of watching CNN" he still does not know what Obama or Clinton stand for. But he went on to say that the Illinois and New York senators would make "the strongest team" for the Democratic ticket.
That many Democrats are willing to embrace change - any kind of change - for change's sake is all too evident from statements like Michael's and Susan Sarandon's:
"So I think he definitely has convinced people that he stands for change and for hope, and I can't wait to see what he stands for."
Blind, unthinking support. Now there's change America can believe in, if they only knew what it was. Oh well. Just close your eyes and Daddy will fix all the evil in the world while you sleep. Never mind about those pesky details:
THE INITIAL MEDIA coverage of Barack Obama's visit to Iraq suggested that the Democratic candidate found agreement with his plan to withdraw all U.S. combat forces on a 16-month timetable. So it seems worthwhile to point out that, by Mr. Obama's own account, neither U.S. commanders nor Iraq's principal political leaders actually support his strategy.
But this is not a matter which need concern you. The metamessage here is that an Obama presidency is inevitable. Like Fate, Obama cannot be denied and those who dare to point out the inconsistencies between what he says and the realities on the ground are just petty naysayers who oppose the hopeful change Obama so desperately wants to bring to a waiting world:
Gen. David H. Petraeus, the architect of the dramatic turnaround in U.S. fortunes, "does not want a timetable," Mr. Obama reported with welcome candor during a news conference yesterday. In an interview with ABC, he explained that "there are deep concerns about . . . a timetable that doesn't take into account what [American commanders] anticipate might be some sort of change in conditions."
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has a history of tailoring his public statements for political purposes, made headlines by saying he would support a withdrawal of American forces by 2010. But an Iraqi government statement made clear that Mr. Maliki's timetable would extend at least seven months beyond Mr. Obama's. More significant, it would be "a timetable which Iraqis set" -- not the Washington-imposed schedule that Mr. Obama has in mind. It would also be conditioned on the readiness of Iraqi forces, the same linkage that Gen. Petraeus seeks. As Mr. Obama put it, Mr. Maliki "wants some flexibility in terms of how that's carried out."
But these are mere trivialities. It is so important to stay on message and the message here is the Obama brings hope, he has the judgment to lead, and most importantly that he was right to bravely oppose the Surge, even if ignorant folk think he doesn't quite grasp the mechanics of the recent turnaround in Iraq's fortunes:
It’s conventional wisdom now to say that Anbar improved because the Sunni tribes aligned against al Qaeda. True enough, but an incomplete explanation. With inadequate manpower, the Marines and Army National Guard and active duty soldiers persisted year after year with gritty, relentless patrolling that convinced the tribes the American military was, as one tribal leader said to me, “the strongest tribe”. Hence the tribes could turn against al Qaeda, knowing they had the strongest tribe standing behind them.
But why join “the strongest tribe” if it is migrating back to the States?
Furthermore, Muqtada al Sadr’s Mahdi Army ceasefire was a result of the surge, but had nothing to do with the decrease in suicide bombings, which accounted for the biggest reduction in violence at the time.
Barack Obama — a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — should have been paying more attention to what was going on in Iraq as he prepared to run for president than relying on the Washington Post. That he either remains ignorant of what happened in Iraq, or seeks to mislead voters about it, simply to maintain the fiction that he was not wrong about the surge, does not inspire confidence in his competence or trustworthiness.
The fact of the matter is that it is Obama who has a frighteningly poor grasp of the Surge and what it has accomplished. He argues, illogically, that we cannot afford to lose in Iraq. And yet we should never have funded the very Surge that transformed Iraq from a losing proposition to the point where he is able to speak of withdrawing troops. He says he wants to "avoid hypotheticals", yet his entire "plan" is based on the hypothetical and completely unsupported notion that, had we given in to the demands of al Qaeda and the insurgency they would have laid down their arms and abandoned their publicly announced plan to seize an Arab state and turn it into the central front of a global jihad against the West.
Mr. Bin Laden must not have received the official Obama memo. Contrary to whatever al Qaeda may have in mind Iraq is not - we repeat not - the central front in the war on terror.
Such colossal ignorance, such determination to ignore what Osama bin Laden has openly threatened to do time and time again is, truly, (as Rep. Heather Wilson stated) frightening. His determination to ignore the words Bin Laden has taunted us with repeatedly - that retreat, far from placating al Qaeda, only encourages further attacks, is incomprehensible:
...fears [have] enshrined you all. Where was this false courage of yours when the explosion in Beirut took place on 1983 AD (1403 A.H). You were turned into scattered pits and pieces at that time; 241 mainly marines solders were killed. And where was this courage of yours when two explosions made you to leave Aden in lees than twenty four hours!
But your most disgraceful case was in Somalia; where- after vigorous propaganda about the power of the USA and its post cold war leadership of the new world order- you moved tens of thousands of international force, including twenty eight thousands American solders into Somalia. However, when tens of your solders were killed in minor battles and one American Pilot was dragged in the streets of Mogadishu you left the area carrying disappointment, humiliation, defeat and your dead with you. Clinton appeared in front of the whole world threatening and promising revenge , but these threats were merely a preparation for withdrawal. You have been disgraced by Allah and you withdrew; the extent of your impotence and weaknesses became very clear. It was a pleasure for the "heart" of every Muslim and a remedy to the "chests" of believing nations to see you defeated in the three Islamic cities of Beirut , Aden and Mogadishu.
It is not John McCain who fundamentally fails to understand the Surge or the nature of the enemy we face, but Barack Obama. The Anbar Awakening was, like many gains purchased at such great cost in Iraq, indeed fragile and easily reversible. It took a massive and credible demonstration of America's ongoing commitment to the future of democracy in Iraq to move those early gains from the "clear" column into the "hold" column; to build trust in the hearts of ordinary Iraqis that we would not pull the rug out from underneath them, to convince them to risk retribution from the insurgency and report the militia members in their neighborhoods.
Clearly, Barack Obama still does not understand simple human nature. He does not understand the nature of instilling trust, whether it be among our foreign allies or in the troops he would one day lead should be become Commander in Chief. Trust means having the courage to stick with unpopular positions. It means keeping your promises, even when the political winds grow chilly and sharp:
Just as success in winning past global conflicts depended on forging a broad coalition that stretched across party and ideological lines, success in using the advance of democracy to win the war on terror will depend on building and maintaining a wide consensus of support.
Yet despite these criticisms, I recognize that I have the luxury of criticizing Mr. Bush's democracy agenda only because there is a democracy agenda in the first place. A policy that for years had been nothing more than the esoteric subject of occasional academic debate is now the focal point of American statecraft.
For decades, a "realism" based on a myopic perception of international stability prevailed in the policy-making debate. For a brief period during the Cold War, the realist policy of accommodating Soviet tyranny was replaced with a policy that confronted that tyranny and made democracy and human rights inside the Soviet Union a litmus test for superpower relations.
The enormous success of such a policy in bringing the Cold War to a peaceful end did not stop most policy makers from continuing to advocate an approach to international stability that was based on coddling "friendly" dictators and refusing to support the aspirations of oppressed peoples to be free.
Then came Sept. 11, 2001. It seemed as though that horrific day had made it clear that the price for supporting "friendly" dictators throughout the Middle East was the creation of the world's largest breeding ground of terrorism. A new political course had to be charted.
Today, we are in the midst of a great struggle between the forces of terror and the forces of freedom. The greatest weapon that the free world possesses in this struggle is the awesome power of its ideas.
The Bush Doctrine, based on a recognition of the dangers posed by non-democratic regimes and on committing the United States to support the advance of democracy, offers hope to many dissident voices struggling to bring democracy to their own countries. The democratic earthquake it has helped unleash, even with all the dangers its tremors entail, offers the promise of a more peaceful world.
Yet with each passing day, new voices are added to the chorus of that doctrine's opponents, and the circle of its supporters grows ever smaller.
Critics rail against every step on the new and difficult road on which the United States has embarked. Yet in pointing out the many pitfalls which have not been avoided and those which still can be, those critics would be wise to remember that the alternative road leads to the continued oppression of hundreds of millions of people and the continued festering of the pathologies that led to 9/11.
Now that President Bush is increasingly alone in pushing for freedom, I can only hope that his dissident spirit will continue to persevere. For should that spirit break, evil will indeed triumph, and the consequences for our world would be disastrous.
I have said this before, but there is often a steep price for doing the right thing and in an increasingly borderless world we may well be finding out that freedom is not the automatic birthright we once believed it to be. Technology is rapidly dissolving the buffers which have traditionally allowed us to think of ourselves as an isolationist nation: people, information and money move freely and with astonishing speed around the globe and neither force of arms nor the law appear able to stop them for long.
And so we are left with ideology. This, and a man many think is too stupid to eat a pretzel without choking. And yet, he sees this.
Obama, not so much.
Update: The comments are closed on this post.
July 22, 2008
Obama: The Audacity of Branding
When it comes to propping up his supersized ego, is any move too audacious for the Obama campaign?
At a discussion with a dozen Democratic governors in Chicago on Friday morning, each of the governors was identified with a small name plate but Senator Barack Obama sat behind a low rostrum to which was attached an official-looking seal no one had seen before.
It is emblazoned with a fierce-looking eagle clutching an olive branch in one claw and arrows in the other and is deliberately reminiscent of the official seal of the president of the United States.
...Just above the eagle’s head are the words “Vero Possumus,” roughly translated “Yes we can.” Not exactly E Pluribus Unum (Out of Many, One), the motto on the presidential seal and the dollar bill. Then again, Mr. Obama is not the president.
Ah but we live in hope, do we not? Currently the candidate for Change We Can Believe In has embarked upon a whirlwind tour of the MiddleEast in his very own chartered jet. Obama's exact whereabouts at any given point in time are a closely held secret. Due to security concerns, the candidate declined to release his itinerary to the press. Fortunately for Obama watchers worldwide, he shouldn't be too hard to spot since before leaving on this highly secure trip, Obama had his stealth plane ostentatiously emblazoned with his logo and the moniker, "Obama One". No doubt keeping Bill Keller and Eric Lichtblau in the dark as to his whereabouts will be all the protection Obama needs:
The remodelled Boeing 757 jet, dubbed "Obama One" is painted blue and white and sports the Illinois senator's distinctive rising sun logo on its tail and bears his slogan "Change We Can Believe In" along each side.
The jet includes a secluded first class section for Obama, his family and top aides up front, a cabin reserved for staff with business class seating behind and economy-style press accommodation aft.
Watching the coverage of his Iraq visit, one does wonder why Obama bothers to bring the press at all:
MITCHELL: Let me just say something about the message management. He didn't have reporters with him, he didn't have a press pool, he didn't do a press conference while he was on the ground in either Afghanistan or Iraq. What you're seeing is not reporters brought in. You're seeing selected pictures taken by the military, questions by the military, and what some would call fake interviews, because they're not interviews from a journalist. So, there's a real press issue here. Politically it's smart as can be. But we've not seen a presidential candidate do this, in my recollection, ever before.
Barack Obama’s campaign is taking heat from news media after herding political reporters onto the Illinois senator’s charter plane to take off Thursday night without the candidate — while he met secretly with Hillary Clinton in Washington, D.C.
The Washington bureau chiefs from FOX News, ABC News, CBS News, NBC News and CNN, along with the acting bureau chief from The Associated Press, penned a joint letter of protest Friday to Obama’s campaign manager and chief spokesman.
...The letter details three instances in which the bureau chiefs felt their reporters were misled by the campaign. The letter also suggests that the news organizations — which pay thousands for their reporters to fly on the private jets of candidates — will review whether to decline to reimburse the Obama campaign for the Thursday flight.
Obama's Revenge: New Yorker Reporter Banned From Press Plane For Overseas Trip
It led with the report that Lara Logan had scored the first overseas sit-down with Barack Obama, but here's the most interesting nugget from yesterday's Mike Allen piece about the trip:
Forty journalists, including such leading correspondents as Dan Balz of The Washington Post, will be aboard his plane for next week's swing through Jordan, Israel, Germany, France and England.
The campaign received 200 requests for press seats on the plane.
Among those for whom there was no room was Ryan Lizza, Washington correspondent of The New Yorker. The campaign, which was furious about the magazine's satirical cover this week, cited space constraints in turning him away.
It simply won't do, you see, to tarnish the brand.
This trip isn't about listening to the commanders or assessing conditions on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan. If it were, Obama would not have announced his plan for Iraq before traveling to either country. And having gone there, he would not continue to oppose the Surge, even knowing that it has been a success:
"Hindsight is 20/20. But I think that what I am absolutely convinced of is, at that time, we had to change the political debate because the view of the Bush administration at that time was one that I just disagreed with, and one that I continue to disagree with -- is to look narrowly at Iraq and not focus on these broader issues."
Obama can utter lines like that and go virtually unchallenged because in the end what matters to both Obama and the media is not winning the war but getting Barack Obama elected. That is both the purpose of this trip and the message: the inevitability of an Obama presidency. Because of it, he can say utterly nonsensical things like this and get away with them:
...we need to have some sort of time frame because we have to start planning if we want to get an additional two brigades in Afghanistan," he said. "We've got to start planning now.
"I said a year and a half ago that we needed more troops in Afghanistan -- at least two brigades,"
A year and half ago we were losing in Iraq, but Obama wanted to pull troops from Iraq and send them to Afghanistan. Yet Obama maintains we cannot afford to lose in Iraq, either. Uninformed folks might see this as a flaw in his "plan" for victory, but since the press helpfully refuse to call attention to this apparent flaw in his reasoning it must not be an issue. Obama can contradict himself in the same interview and go unchallenged because the definition of "winning" is not for America to win the war, but for America to admit that Obama was right all along:
When asked if he is committed to winning the war in Iraq, Obama said, "I don't think we have any choice. We have to win the broader war against terror that threatens America and its interests. I think that Iraq is one front on that war, but I think the central front is in Afghanistan and in the border regions of Pakistan."
Never mind that before the Surge, we weren't winning in Iraq.
Don't mention that we are winning in Iraq now. And by all means, don't bring up the inconvenient truth that the only reason Barack Obama is able to speak of withdrawing troops from Iraq and redeploying them to Afghanistan is because the Surge - a military tactic he opposed and continues to oppose to this day (even as he cynically takes political advantage of its success) - worked. Start talking like that, and some folks might get the cockamamie idea that Brother Obama doesn't have the judgment to lead.
The real irony here is that it is only the success of the Iraqi Surge that makes withdrawing troops from Iraq without defeat, much less an Afghani Surge, plausible. It takes real cynicism to continue to run down the only tactic that makes your "Plan" anything other than a pipe dream.
But then this reality-free "plan" is coming from a man who treats the media who will put him in the Oval Office like hired help and they worship him for it. To the extent that they continue to focus on Obama, The Brand and not upon the gaping holes in his platform, the media play right into his hands:
Since clinching the nomination, Obama has been cautiously executing a Nixonian post-primary pivot toward the center. He weathered the outrage of his "net-roots" bloggers over his vote for the national security wiretapping bill. But hedging on Iraq was vastly more dangerous, particularly when it appeared he was modifying his famous pledge to remove U.S. troops within 16 months of becoming president.
So, in his pre-trip speech last Tuesday, he reaffirmed the 16-month deadline (though in less robust style than on the primary election circuit): "We can safely redeploy our combat brigades at a pace that would remove them in 16 months." But he added, cryptically, "We'll keep a residual force" for "targeting any remnants of al-Qaeda; protecting remaining U.S. troops and officials; and training Iraq's security forces" provided they "make political progress."
How big would this more or less permanent "residual" force be? Obama did not say, but advisers leaked that it could reach 50,000. That would be far too much for the candidate's net-roots to swallow, but a token force of around 2,000 would be ludicrous.
Regardless of which candidate ends up in the Oval Office next November, the same hard choices will have to be made. The important question is, do we want a president who has not only been consistently wrong about the war, but who (even with the benefit of hindsight) keeps trying to make us believe we can win the War on Terror while ignoring the people on the front lines and opposing the only tactics that have succeeded?
Commanders and troops, including our top commander, Gen. David Petraeus, have long been reporting that the surge is working, that we must protect and expand on our fragile-yet-reversible gains, and that Iraq is the central front in the War on Terror. And yet how many times has the junior Senator from Illinois called Iraq a “failed mission” or a “civil war”? He claims Iraq “is or never was” the central War on Terror front.
... Obama continually speaks about the lack of judgment of those supporting victory in Iraq, yet he’s continually demonstrated his lack of judgment on the most obvious — denouncing the surge not a month after it started, insisting on timelines for withdrawal before meeting with commanders on the ground, announcing a willingness to meet with dictators and despots unconditionally.
As the old saying goes, be careful what you wish for, America. This may not be the change you were waiting for, but it's change you can believe in.
July 21, 2008
Generation Kill Review – Part Two
The Cradle of Civilization
Review by Richard S. Lowry,
Author of Marines in the Garden of Eden
July 21, 2008
In part two, The Cradle of Civilization, Ed Burns' and Eric Wright's credibility started to erode. While the series remained visually stunning and the characters seemed like real Marines, the story started to stray from the truth.
When it comes to the battle for Nasiriyah, I will probably end up being Burns' and Wright's worst critic. I know too much about that fight to be dazzled by their literary license. The Generation Kill story is unfolding to be quite an adventure and we still cannot tell which direction the writers will be taking us. It appears that they will portray 1st Recon's enlisted Marines as gruff good guys and officers and other units as lacking in courage, intelligence and morals. Last night, I was particularly offended by the implication that 2d LAR indiscriminately killed civilians north of Nasiriyah. I was also disgusted with the distortion of the truth in the events surrounding the fight in Nasiriyah.
Let's start with March 23, 2003. The day Task Force Tarawa attacked into Nasiriyah. All of our 1st Recon "heroes" were stuck in the traffic jam, south of the city. Eleven soldiers and eighteen Marines were killed in, and around, Nasiriyah that day and about twenty Marines were wounded. Captain Eric Garcia flew the last CASEVAC at sunset. There were no other casualty evacuations that night. It was horrible to lose twenty-nine Americans in a single fight, but the number of casualties was nowhere close to the 200 claimed in Generation Kill.
Ambush Alley – street was straight and wide, buildings were low.
Tank in Ambush Alley – nothing like Generation Kill
Which leads me to 24 March; when our 1st Recon "heroes" arrived at the Euphrates River Bridge, there was quite a fight going on. This is absolutely true, but it was the 2d Battalion, 8th Marines, not RCT-1, that got into a large scrap at the bridge that day. The fight did not erupt until after LtCol Eddie Ray had taken his 2d LAR Battalion through "Ambush Alley." By the way, not a single shot was fired when Ray charged through the city. 2/8 sustained a few injuries in their fight, but none were serious. There was never an artillery friendly fire incident at the river. No Marines were wounded or killed by friendly artillery fire. I challenge the writers to support this claim.
It is very true that Colonel Dowdy, RCT-1's commander, hesitated and would not order his regiment through "Ambush Alley." Generals Conway and Mattis were extremely unhappy with his lack of aggressiveness. This was the second of several incidents which caused Dowdy to be the first Marine regimental commander to be relieved on the field of battle. Notwithstanding, the Marines of RCT-2 fought courageously in Nasiriyah. Colonel Ron Bailey, RCT-2's commander, drove through Ambush Alley just after 2d LAR with only a few vehicles to visit his battalion, north of the city.
Godfather 6 concluded last night's installment with a couple disagreeable statements. He claimed that the enemy "stared us down" in Nasiriyah. In fact, the enemy was decimated in Nasiriyah. 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines, another Task Force Tarawa battalion, lost eighteen brave Marines because they pressed the attack and did not give up until they had met their objectives which were the two bridges in Nasiriyah. By sunset on the 23rd, both bridges were secure and RCT-2 was waiting for RCT-1 to pass through the city. Again – the war did not revolve around the 1st Recon Battalion.
I studied the battle of Nasiriyah for quite some time. I interviewed nearly one hundred soldiers, sailors and Marines who were actually there in the fight. I am not happy with the way the writers have bent the facts to fit their story and overlooked the courageous stories of men like Major Bill Peeples; Captain Eric Garcia; Lieutenants Fred Pokorney, Brian Letendre, "Ben" Reed and Mike Seely; Sergeant William Schaffer, Corporals Nick Elliot and Pat Nixon and many, many more. Burns and Wright have lost their credibility. I will have a hard time believing anything in the last five segments.
Richard S. Lowry is the award-wining author of "The Gulf War Chronicles" and "Marines in the Garden of Eden." He served in the U.S. Navy Submarine Service from 1967-1975 and spent the time from 1975 to 2002 designing sophisticated integrated circuits for everything from aircraft avionics to home computers. He is currently working on his next book, "New Dawn," which will tell of the fight to free Fallujah. Visit www.marinesinthegardenofeden.com for more information.
Answers To Questions We Never Asked, Part Deux
"It's about heightening the thrill, about doing what's considered naughty. It's about rebellion,"
The only mystery here is why some moron hasn't managed to wangle a multimillion dollar grant to study the question at nauseating length.
Nothing shatters nothing breaks
Nothing hurts and nothing aches
We've got ourselves one helluva place
in my heaven
No one's lost and no one's missing
No more parting just hugs and kissing
And all these stars are just for wishing
In my heaven
There's little white lights everywhere
Your childhood dog in Dad's old chair
And more memories than my heart can hold...
For every soul that's down there waiting,
Holding on, still hesitating
We say a prayer of levitating, in my heaven
You can look back at your life and lot
But it can't matter what you're not
By the time you're here, we're all we've got
In my heaven
Posted by Cassandra at 03:03 PM
Well Now That's A Completely Different Cracker, "Cracker"...
Interesting update to the "cracker" story Grim wrote about last week. For those of you who didn't catch it, a quick recap. The discussion began over here at VC. It continued over at Grim's place:
Cassandra is doing ethics today. I love ethics -- it is one of the most interesting branches of philosophy. Studying it, though, does require that you spend a few hours, or years, challenging things that might otherwise be bedrock principles of your life:
...if you put people into an ethics class, you are asking them to try using their minds to challenge ethical teachings. The concept is to reaffirm ethics by teaching them not just what is wrong, but why it is wrong.
That means they have to pose challenges to the principles. You're supposed to try to see if there are ways around the principle at work: then, if there aren't, you've found something solid.
... momentary idiocy kept in the class can lead to a better, truer understanding of ethics to guide you through the rest of your life. That's the whole point of teaching the class.
If a student of ethics says something foolish, then, cut him some slack. If a professor of ethics says something horrible in class, he is probably trying to challenge the students in the other direction -- to challenge the principles they hold true, to force them to find a way to defend them. That, also, leads to a deeper understanding of the principles.
A professor of biology will have a harder time justifying himself.
...“Can anyone out there score me some consecrated communion wafers?”
...“if any of you would be willing to do what it takes to get me some, or even one, and mail it to me, I’ll show you sacrilege, gladly, and with much fanfare. I won’t be tempted to hold it hostage (no, not even if I have a choice between returning the Eucharist and watching Bill Donohue kick the pope in the balls, which would apparently be a more humane act than desecrating a goddamned cracker), but will instead treat it with profound disrespect and heinous cracker abuse, all photographed and presented here on the web.”
A lively discussion ensued. The blog princess was of the opinion that people tend to get rather confused on the question of censorship.
First of all, an employer has no duty to allow speech from an employee uttered while that employee is clearly performing the duties for which he is being compensated; especially when that speech places the employer in a bad light or is inconsistent with the image the employer wishes to project to the community at large (or to its paying clientele). During working hours, an employee is not acting as an individual, but as an agent of the employer. To force an employer to endorse (or give the appearance of endorsing) offensive speech exposes the employer to the risk of lost revenue (boycotts) and legal liability.
Secondly, those who want to call this censorship should be reminded that the Professor can desecrate the Host to his heart's content... as a private citizen. Of course, this is not what he wishes to do because as a private citizen, he would face risks that he is indemnified against as an employee of the university.
What is so attractive to him is the apparent endorsement of academia and the larger megaphone it offers him for his noxious views. Nothing prevents him from paying for a private web site and conducting these activities after working hours. But Professor Myers has nicely judged the moral squeamishness of the administration of the U. of Minnesota.
The truth is that, absent the protection of his employers, Prof. Myers lacks the courage to defend his intentionally inflammatory experiment. As I commented over at Grim's, stating you intend to desecrate the sacred symbol of another's belief is the type of speech the Supreme Court specifically exempted from the First Amendment's speech protections: what we commonly call "fighting words":
There are certain well-defined and narrowly limited classes of speech, the prevention and punishment of which have never been thought to raise any constitutional problem. These include the lewd and obscene, the profane, the libelous, and the insulting or "fighting words" those which by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace. It has been well observed that such utterances are no essential part of any exposition of ideas, and are of such slight social value as a step to truth that any benefit that may be derived from them is clearly outweighed by the social interest in order and morality.
– Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, 1942
Though recent court decisions have tended to restrict the fighting words exception to cases in which personal insults were exchanged, what makes it crystal clear Professor Myers intended to stir up hate and discontent rather than legitimate inquiry is his utter lack of intellectual consistency on the acceptability of desecrating religious symbols. You see, it's perfectly fine to desecrate the body and blood of Jesus Christ. That's just a cracker.
But don't you dare flush anyone's inner Koran, because that would be sacrilege:
The latest, via the Catholic League, from Paul Z. Myers, a professor at the University of Minnesota intent upon desecrating the Eucharist: "'I have to do something ... that shows this cracker has no power.'"
However, he condemned the abuse of the Koran, comparing it to desecrating a cemetery. But when it's a matter of the Body of Christ, he pronounces, "'The cracker is completely different.'"
Catholic League president Bill Donohue shoots back:
This isn’t the first time Myers has shown deference to Islam ... he was critical of the Danish cartoons that simply depicted an image of Muhammad. ‘They [the cartoons] lack artistic or social or even comedic merit, and are presented as an insult to inflame a poor minority.’ So now the Planet-of-the-Apes biologist has divined himself an expert on the artistic value of cartoons. So thoughtful of him. He even went so far as to say that Muslims ‘have cause to be furious.’ (His italic.) Worthy of burning down churches, pledging to behead Christians and shooting a nun in the back, Professor Myers?
The true issue here is not freedom of speech, but that respect for the beliefs of others, without which true discourse cannot take place.. Oddly enough, it takes an agnostic to point that out:
It is not “respect to a symbol” that is being demanded. It is respect for harassment-free religious assembly.
If a Catholic approached Myers on the street and offered him a piece of religious literature, or a statue of the Virgin Mary, or told him to bow and receive a communion wafer on his tongue, Myers would be within his rights to receive such items from the evangelist and then desecrate them on the Internet. He is equally free, any time he pleases, to go to a Catholic bookstore, purchase an item, and desecrate it on the Internet.
It would be uncivil and juvenile, but he could do it.
But what Myers is actually wanting to do is of a different order. He is going out of his way to procure, by deceit, within the confines of a church’s property, an object that Catholics do not share with nonbelievers. Period.
He is, in short, encouraging his readers to interfere with a particular people’s ability to practice their religion without interference within their own property boundaries.
And he is indulging a primitive and volatile human passion: iconoclasm (taking from a religious people, against their will, objects sacred to them for desecration or destruction).
This is an enormously serious breach of the liberal foundations of our society. We would not, for one moment, condone or tolerate an anti-Semite interfering in a similar fashion with a Jewish synagogue service, and we must not condone or tolerate an atheist attempting to interfere with a Catholic mass.
Tolerating such behavior threatens the very foundations of a liberal society.
Reverence and its polar opposite (contempt) are not peculiar to people of faith.
Scientists believe in certain ideas passionately. As a commenter points out, would a paleontologist who doubts the validity of colleague's work be within his rights to break into an exhibit and smash a fossil to make a point about a theory? Of course not. To find the things a person believes in deeply, trespass, and destroy private property are acts no university should countenance in the name of "speech". They are certainly not "discourse". They are not academic inquiry, they do not open minds to each other, nor do they further the cause of liberal education.
One begins to wonder what the value of an education is, when those who have studied so long and so hard cannot seem to find the courage or the wisdom to stand up for what is right.
July 18, 2008
Is Obama the New John Kerry?
The Blog Princess awoke from her slumbers this morning with a most distressing thought rattling around the inside of her brain housing group. Is Obama the next incarnation of the French-speaking junior Senator from Massachusetts who, in 2004, came within a hair's breadth of razing 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in a fashion reminiscent of Ton-Loc?
The parallels are beginning to rack up and they're getting far too numerous to ignore:
ON THE WAR:
Kerry: "I have a plan for Iraq"
Obama: "I have a plan for Iraq"
ON EXECUTIVE POWER:
Kerry: solidly foregainst it ... unless he's in charge, of course:
I voted to hold Saddam Hussein accountable, because had I been president, I would have wanted that authority, because that was the way to enforce the U.N. resolutions and be tough with the prospect of his development of weapons of mass destruction. … Now, might we have wound up going to war with Saddam Hussein? You bet we might have—after we exhausted those remedies and found that he wasn't complying, and so on and so forth. But not in a way that provides, you know, 90 percent of the casualties are American, and almost all of the cost.
This is the kind of endless, backside-covering nuance that earned Kerry two months of "Kerryisms" in Slate. But it doesn't change his position: United Nations, WMD, compliance, process. And it includes a very important phrase: "[B]ecause had I been president, I would have wanted that authority."
Only when you remember that phrase does the meaning of Kerry's statement on Monday become clear. When Kerry says he would have voted for war authority because "it was the right authority for a president to have," the president he's thinking of—"a president," as he puts it—isn't Bush. It's himself.
Barack Obama: solidly foregainst it ... unless he's in charge, of course:
Just two weeks after getting into a brouhaha with Huffington Post editor Rachel Sklar, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann has found himself in a tussle with one of the chairmen of the Netroots, Salon's Glenn Greenwald.
At the heart of this dogfight between two shameless liberal pols was Barack Obama's recent flip-flop on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and how Olbermann altered his own views on this subject in order to shelter the Democrat presidential nominee from criticism.
...What's much more notable is Olbermann's full-scale reversal on how he talks about these measures now that Obama -- rather than George Bush -- supports them. On an almost nightly basis, Olbermann mocks Congressional Democrats as being weak and complicit for failing to stand up to Bush lawbreaking; now that Obama does it, it's proof that Obama won't "cower." Grave warning on Olbermann's show that telecom amnesty and FISA revisions were hallmarks of Bush Fascism instantaneously transformed into a celebration that Obama, by supporting the same things, was leading a courageous, centrist crusade in defense of our Constitution.
ON THE LITTLE WOMAN:
ON LE NUANCE:
John Kerry: the Boston Fog Machine:
Kerry established himself early as the senator most likely to pierce through the superficial clarity and embrace the miasma. The gulf war had just ended. It was time to look back for lessons learned. ''There are those trying to say somehow that Democrats should be admitting they were wrong'' in opposing the gulf war resolution, Kerry noted in one Senate floor speech. But he added, ''There is not a right or wrong here. There was a correctness in the president's judgment about timing. But that does not mean there was an incorrectness in the judgment other people made about timing.''
For you see, Kerry continued, ''Again and again and again in the debate, it was made clear that the vote of the U.S. Senate and the House on the authorization of immediate use of force on Jan. 12 was not a vote as to whether or not force should be used.''
In laying out the Kerry Doctrine -- that in voting on a use-of-force resolution that is not a use-of-force resolution, the opposite of the correct answer is also the correct answer -- Kerry was venturing off into the realm of Post-Cartesian Multivariate Co-Directionality that would mark so many of his major foreign policy statements.
Obama: the Human Cipher:
"So I think he definitely has convinced people that he stands for change and for hope, and I can't wait to see what he stands for." - Sue Sarandon
"We are the change that we seek"
- Barack Obama
ON WINGS OF HOPE:
Kerry: Hope is on the way
Obama: Audaciously Hoping to be Elected
ON THE UNBEARABLE INCONVENIENCE OF TRUTHS:
Kerry: I never said that
Obama: I never said that
ON THE LANGUAGE OF DIPLOMACY:
House majority leader Tom DeLay, Republican of Texas, is reported to have started a meeting by saying, "Good morning, or as John Kerry would say, `Bonjour.' "
You know, it's embarrassing when Europeans come over here, they all speak English, they speak French, they speak German. And then we go over to Europe, and all we can say [is], "Merci beaucoup."
Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.
Leave Michelle Obama Alone!!!!
What are we to believe about Michelle Obama?
In a recent interview with Glamour magazine, Barack Obama took the media to task for the crime of including her public statements, made on the campaign trail on his behalf, in their campaign coverage. How dare they take this strong, independent, Princeton educated, Harvard trained attorney seriously? After all, she's just a wife and mother.
No one has the right to expect her to defend her own ideas:
It's infuriating, but it's not surprising, because let's face it: What happened was that the conservative press—Fox News and the National Review and columnists of every ilk—went fairly deliberately at her in a pretty systematic way...and treated her as the candidate in a way that you just rarely see the Democrats try to do against Republicans. And I've said this before: I would never have my campaign engage in a concerted effort to make Cindy McCain an issue, and I would not expect the Democratic National Committee or people who were allied with me to do it. Because essentially, spouses are civilians. They didn't sign up for this. They're supporting their spouse. So it took a toll. If you start being subjected to rants by Sean Hannity and the like, day in day out, that'll drive up your negatives.
Everybody who knows Michelle knows how extraordinary she is. She's ironically the most quintessentially American woman I know. She grew up in a "Leave it to Beaver" family. She is the best mother I know. And our kids are a testimony to that, because she's really had to raise them, oftentimes without me being there. She's the most honest person I know, she's smart, she's funny, so yeah, it infuriates me. And I think that it is an example of the erosion of civility in our political culture that she's been subjected to these attacks, and my attitude is that the people who have attacked her in the ways that they have...if they've got a difference with me on policy, they should debate me. Not her.
I have to hand it to Senator Obama on this one. As a woman, for the first time in my life I feel real hope for the status of women in this country because I can see that under an Obama presidency we will be respected as fully equal partners. Why, this example just screams respect and equality.
For far too long, women have not been allowed their rightful place in American politics. Senator Obama made a place for his wife in his campaign. He placed her right in the forefront, allowed her free reign to speak her mind honestly and forthrightly.
And when her remarks generated the kind of spirited debate that has characterized American political discourse for over two centuries, he boldly stepped forward to shield her from the distasteful chore of having to defend her own statements in the marketplace of ideas:
, and my attitude is that the people who have attacked her in the ways that they have...if they've got a difference with me on policy, they should debate me. Not her.
It is truly heartening to see this kind of respect for the intellectual accomplishments of women. It's been a long time coming. And the best thing of all is that the respect is busting out all over!
Democrats are upset (again) about a new Republican ad featuring Michelle Obama. This one, produced by the Washington State Republican Party, begins with Mrs. Obama's famous "For the first time in my adult life I am proud of my country" remark. From there, it cuts to a series of Washingtonians saying why they are proud of the United States. "Because we live in the land of the free and the home of the brave," says one woman. "Because in our country people can freely express themselves however they wish," says another. "Because this country has given more blood for freedom than any other country in the world," says a third. After that, the ad cuts to those same people reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. After a quote from Ronald Reagan, the ad ends on a slide that says, "Help us welcome Michelle Obama to Washington. Forward this video to your friends and family!"
And that's it. So what's wrong with that? Now, this is not a big-budget production, but it's one of the more positive negative ads you will ever see. And it is, on the whole, quite unremarkable. But it has made some Democrats very, very upset. "I was proud to welcome Michelle Obama, who clearly loves our country deeply, here to Washington state this morning," says Governor Christine Gregoire in a just-released statement:
These shameless attacks by the state Republican Party have no place in our politics. If John McCain is serious about running a 'respectful' campaign on the issues, he and Republican leaders like Dino Rossi will denounce this tasteless attack ad and tell the state Republican Party to pull the plug on it immediately. After eight years of the most divisive, fear-driven politics this country has ever seen, I agree with Senator Obama that it's time to turn the page and bring Americans together.
You can see why the Obama campaign, from the candidate down, is trying to take the Michelle Obama issue off the table. But calling an ad in which people describe why they are proud of the United States a "tasteless attack" and a "shameless attack" and a continuation of "the most divisive, fear-driven politics this country has ever seen" is a bit over the top, isn't it?
Freedom of speech means the freedom to speak your mind without encountering opposing speech! If you attack a person's ideas that is exactly the same as attacking them personally: it is intolerant and divisive behavior which is incompatible with civil discourse; unless of course the ideas themselves are harmful (in which case they must be suppressed lest they create a hostile environment or subjective feelings of alienation or discomfort in the listener).
Obama understands this, as he understands the need of liberated, fully equal women to be given a platform where they can freely express their ideas without the tiresome accountability that so often accompanies public speaking.
July 17, 2008
We Are All About Health Here
Maryland: land of opportunity.
Looking for work in all the wrong places?
That's what happened to job seekers who dialed a phone number listed on the state's Family Health Administration's Web site - which actually was a phone number for women looking for sex.
The number for the Maryland Job Service Hotline was listed incorrectly on the state Web site, as well as in the Verizon Yellow Pages and other Web sites.
State officials say they are aware of the problem and are working to correct it.
Something tells us there wouldn't be nearly so many complaints about Nanny-statism if it took this particular form more often... because, you know, the State is just looking after your health.
Write Your Own Headline, Part II
Go ahead and laugh.
We are soliciting AP-style headlines with some trepidation.
Suppose the worst happens, and the next terrorist attack hits Washington hard, taking out the president and the vice president. What happens next?
New Yorker writer Jane Mayer's new book, The Dark Side, opens with a shocker. Apparently sometime in the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan issued a "secret executive order" that in the event of the death of the president and the vice president "established a means of re-creating the executive branch." Reagan's order violated the express terms of the Constitution and governing statutes.
Does a similar order exist today? We aren't told. But we do know that Dick Cheney filled an innocent lawyer full of buckshot to prevent him from alerting Eric Lichtblau to the existence of top secret documents proving him complicit in a nefarious plot to put Alexander Haig in the Oval Office.
And we do know that Prescott Bush, grandpappy to George W. Bush, sipped blood from the purloined skulls of native American infants as the price of admission to the elite brotherhood of the Chinese toy-loving minions of the richest 1%...
Well, actually we don't know any of these things:
Despite the administration's repeated acts of lawlessness, I must confess to a certain naivete. It never occurred to me that Bush didn't care how Congress responded to the problem because he had issued a secret executive order that took the law into his own hands. After all, when he issued a public directive on the matter on continuity in government in 2007, he explicitly pledged to act "consistent[ly]" with the Presidential Succession Act. At the same time, however, his directive refers to a secret appendix. And as Ron Rosenbaum pointed out in Slate, even members of the House Committee on Homeland Security have been denied access to the document.
The committee, and Congress, should not take "no" for an answer. But they should also move beyond the appendix and demand to know whether investigative reports of a secret succession order are well-founded. If Reagan did issue an illegal order, Congress should publicly determine how subsequent administrations dealt with it. Perhaps President George H. W. Bush or Bill Clinton expressly repudiated the order. Or perhaps they reaffirmed it, thereby laying the foundation for President Bush, with the encouragement of Vice President Cheney, to do the same—through a process entirely independent of the administration's formal directives on the subject.
And to think all these years we've been living with a Constitutional Crisis and we didn't even know it! And we thought we'd just forgotten to take out the trash...
There are days when the Editorial Staff wonders how this nation has managed to survive for 230+ years without a bloody military/religious coup? Surely 'tis only the industrious efforts of watchdogs like Mr. Ackerman, who assiduously and with such unflagging zeal lay bare these dangerous treasons lurking in our midst, which have prevented such an unfortunate occurrence? After all, as he so shrewdly points out, in a system of government with no checks and balances it is imperative we discover whether this secret (which is - strictly speaking - not a secret anymore now that Ms. Mayer has gone and written a gosh-durned book about it) it still not-so-secretly ticking away like a not-so-secret time bomb, ready to blow up in our faces when we not-so-secretly expect it?
In any event, it is time for Congress to find out. Even if Reagan's initial illegal order has been rescinded, Congress must deprive it of all value as a precedent. Lawmakers should pass legislation that expressly nullifies all secret orders, present and future, through which the president asserts the imperial privilege of naming his own successor. We must decisively repudiate these illegal moves before they explode in our faces.
Yes. It is imperative. To do otherwise would be to give in to the cynical machinations of those vile, divisive fear-mongering fear mongers we are always warning you about when we remind you that there is absolutely nothing to be afraid of except partisan fear mongers who would prefer the politics of fear to principled and reasoned political discourse.
UPDATE: Mein Gott im Himmell!!! Glenn Reynolds has uncovered a real Constitutional crisis!
Who is to blame for this unconscionable abrogation of responsibility in the wake of 9/11? With Congressional approval ratings at an all-time low, we demand an investigation.
If only there one honest man left in Washington. Someone we could count on to place integrity ahead of partisan politics.
July 16, 2008
Photo of the Day
CWCID: Solomonia. Thanks to bthun :)
Feel free to supply your own AP-style caption.
To Love, Honor, And Cherish
Something tells me it's going to be one of those days.
The Princess had a bad night last night. Woke up at 2:30 with the uncomfortable feeling the Attention Bill hadn't been paid. Made the world's largest pot of coffee, pottered randomly around the kitchen in the dark for a few minutes (thus allowing me to don the highly coveted Mantle of Domesticity), savagely threw an obscenely large spoonful of coffee ice cream into my coffee cup and headed for my office where I performed the ritual genuflection at the shrine of Santa Mañana, the patron saint of highly ineffective people.
Hey look: I don't think of it as procrastination. After 49 years of living on the edge, it's more like performance art.
Read an email from Pile. Seems Brit Hume is leaving FauxNews:
Brit Hume, a top anchor and executive with Fox News since the channel was launched 12 years ago, plans to step down at year's end. But he won't disappear entirely.
Sources familiar with the situation say that Hume, 65, will give up his job as Washington managing editor and anchor of "Special Report," the 6 p.m. show that has beaten the cable news competition for seven years. They say he is near a deal to continue with Fox in a senior-statesman role, not unlike that of NBC's Tom Brokaw, for roughly 100 days a year.
Hume would be a senior political analyst, anchor for special events, panelist on "Fox News Sunday" and occasional substitute for the host, Chris Wallace.
Mr. On, to say the least, was less than enthused about the change. In a desperate effort to cheer him up I'd sent back a snarky bit of repartee referring to a conversation years ago on ScrappleFace about how I thought Brit was just dreamy. Back then the idea had struck me as funny, given Hume's correct and rather formal manner. It worked as a riff on the old Carol Burnett/John Foster Dulles routine, except that Hume really is rather cute. The funny thing was that shortly after that I found myself at a fairly small cocktail party sipping a glass of wine when suddenly, my youngest son tapped me on the shoulder, one eyebrow raised with Spock-like interest (as though he had just placed two exotic but highly unpredictable specimens together in a Petri dish). My cherubic offspring proceeded to inform me of the great man's presence with what I deemed an unwarranted degree of relish.
There are times when I suspect I provide entirely too much entertainment value to my children.
Sure enough, there he was. Brit Hume. Standing not 20 feet from me. Sadly, my son also saw fit to alert my mother in law. Who decided we needed to walk over and talk to him. Fortunately, it was a very crowded party in a very small house. We spent the next 40 minutes or so weaving in and out of various conversational groupings whilst the Princess assiduously avoided any situation which might result in accosting FoxNews anchors.
The thing is, Pile can never resist the temptation to pull my chain.
My snarky comment, you see, had been something to the effect of, "Dang - I *knew* I should have spoken to Brit at that cocktail party."
To which he replied, "...if you had talked to him, did you know that he would for him be talking to a much younger chick?"
And that is all it took to send this too, too much younger chick's Clue Train right off the rails. The female mind is a Terrible Thing. Forty minutes of my life I will never get back, one deleted and unsent email later, my mind had been to Timbuktu and back. Poor Brit. And poor Ben Stein, because he is about to get dragged into this against his will. Back in March I wrote about the interplay between economics, decision-making, and happiness:
The architect's maxim that the form of a building should express its intended use cleanly and honestly seemed so right. But what interested me even more was a notion that occurred to me in thinking about the human implications of this idea. For often, perhaps because I'm female, I see human corollaries to ideas in economics, math, or even architecture. Not that, as a consequence, I am necessarily quick enough to correct my own behavior, mind you :p
I just lecture other people about how to correct theirs. This is one of the dubious joys of being a solipsistic parasite who traffics more in pronouncement than persuasion.
Once, after having a 'discussion' with my husband, it occurred to me that in marriage outward behavior (i.e., our "form") was in many ways more important than (and may even at times play a role in determining) what both partners think to themselves privately. In other words, some times if we are not happy, it's because we've fallen into the habit of not acting happy. Correct the behavior and you correct the state of mind.
Relationships are a bit of a feedback loop. In marriage, people tend to get sloppy and stop doing the nice things they did when they were courting. They take each other for granted. And all of a sudden, there is no positive feedback and they wonder where the 'magic' went? What they forgot was that the magic wasn't an externally created force: they had a role in creating it. If the flame dies out, you can re-ignite it. I think that's the biggest reason modern marriages don't succeed; couples are so busy with careers, the Internet, their iPods, and watching cable TV that they're forgotten to take an active role in their own lives. No wonder they're unhappy.
Stein picks up this idea. It's one that has always fascinated me - the notion that because it deals with the way human beings assign value, manage risk, and choose from competing alternatives in the presence of scarcity, economic theory applies not just in the marketplace but is broadly applicable to all facets of our personal and emotional lives:
In general, and with rare exceptions, the returns in love situations are roughly proportional to the amount of time and devotion invested. The amount of love you get from an investment in love is correlated, if only roughly, to the amount of yourself you invest in the relationship.
If you invest caring, patience and unselfishness, you get those things back. (This assumes, of course, that you are having a relationship with someone who loves you, and not a one-sided love affair with someone who isn’t interested.)
The economic corollary is "Don't throw good money after bad." - a maxim many women would do well to study. Stein has more:
The returns on your investment should at least equal the cost of the investment. If you are getting less back than you put in over a considerable period of time, back off.
Long-term investment pays off. The impatient day player will fare poorly without inside information or market-controlling power. He or she will have a few good days but years of agony in the world of love.
To coin a phrase: Fall in love in haste, repent at leisure.
Realistic expectations are everything. If you have unrealistic expectations, they will rarely be met. If you think that you can go from nowhere to having someone wonderful in love with you, you are probably wrong.
You need expectations that match reality before you can make some progress. There may be exceptions, but they are rare.
None of these, however, is what popped into my mind in response to Pile's "young chick" crack. Though I know he was just kidding, what popped into my mind was actually quite serious.
Men and women have such different perceptions about age and appearance. Being on the Internet has been an eye opening and at times disheartening experience. What is very much apparent, both through reading endless intuitively obvious studies and the comments of male readers is that men of all ages pretty much universally prefer young women. Duh.
The reverse, however, is not true. Women do not prefer younger men. Very much the opposite is true, in fact.
Men and women value different things in each other. But paradoxically I am not always certain we reward the things we claim to value in our mates. I am always interested in what finding out what people think. Consequently I try to visit other sites and read the conversations there from time to time.
I don't know how much skew there is in the readership of some of the larger sites, but I've been dismayed at the tone of the comments at Dr. Helen's and Ace of Spades. I see an awful lot of what seems to me to be very angry, unhappy men coupled with a lot of female bashing. There are times when I don't see much difference between what goes on there and what goes on over at Pandagon where the men are all evil, all the time and the women all seem to be victims of some galactic conspiracy to chain them to their Easy Bake ovens and force them to deliver unwanted fetuses.
I suppose I don't see life that simply. I see a lot of systemic problems in modern society which mediate against happy marriages but I hardly think all of them can be the fault of shrill, shrieking feminazis or the overbearing, testosterone-laced Patriarchy. Maybe - just maybe - there is some room for individual responsibility here?
Maybe it takes two people to make a happy marriage: a man, and a woman. Both have to try. Both take a vow: till death do us part, not "Like ... until this gets so, last week.".
What I see, mostly, is a mutual lack of respect.
I think this is largely a function of modern society, but also of a failure to honor the vows we take on that one day we make such a tremendous deal over. We hold nothing sacred anymore, so perhaps it is hardly surprising that we have lost the ability for reverence in our private lives. But nowhere is this more necessary than in a marriage. The marriage vows say, "To love, honor, and cherish." I believe the honor part is essential to a happy marriage. In order for a couple to form a bond that withstands the stresses and strains of modern life, each partner must feel the other has placed them first: in a place of honor and respect that takes precedence over anyone outside the relationship.
Viewed through this lens, each sex's objections to certain things become more understandable. For instance, in reading Pile's 'young chick' joke, I immediately thought to myself, "Isn't that funny. Men do like younger women, but I'm hardly a younger woman. Haven't been for years."
Women, on the other hand, continue to find men attractive well into their fifties and even sixties. I often think of this when I'm getting ready to go out. I thought of it when reading an article in the WSJ this morning. It made me laugh:
My kid is playing Russian roulette with Creamsicles. He's seven, pushing eight, but he scarfs them down like he's got the arteries of a four-year-old. Then he rationalizes it all by boasting about his "HDL/LDL ratio" and his "fitness routine." Which is chasing the cat around the house 100 times.
Last week his doctor hoisted him up on the examining table and gave him a stern talking-to, complete with gruesome pictures of arterial plaques. In response, Harry noted that "a kid'll eat the middle of an Oreo first." But he knows he's whistling past the graveyard.
At least we got through the midlife crisis, which arrived like clockwork at Harry's fifth birthday party, where he licked the icing off 30 cupcakes, opened the piñata with my buzz saw and ran off with Meryl Braunsdorf for 15 minutes. That autumn in kindergarten, she wouldn't stop bothering him at nap time and left decapitated Steiff animals in his cubby hole when he tried to end things. At Thanksgiving he abstained from the pilgrims-and-Indians diorama project, calling it "scary" and "sad."
Now that he's getting slammed by the alternative minimum tax, though, all that seems quaint. He's been meeting with his accountant, Joey Scardino from next door. Scardino's the best, been handling tricky cases for most of his nine years, but from what I overheard of their working lunch at our kitchen table yesterday, it isn't going well.
HARRY (slurping): This milk is good and cold. Why are there bubbles?
SCARDINO (riffling through papers): Harry, you need to focus. I'm looking at accelerated depreciation here, I don't like your percentage depletion … bottom line, you're out of deductions. We're talking about a 26% rate.
HARRY (immersing cookie): How fast do you think it'll disintegrate?
SCARDINO (snatching briefcase and rising to leave): Harry, you're in denial. Call me when you're ready to deal with this.
I don't think he is ready to deal with it. It doesn't help that he's in a lot of pain with that torn rotator cuff, that and the itchy palms (his dermatologist says it's just dry skin but it's driving him crazy), plus a clicking he's started to notice in his jaw when he goes like this. He's been brooding a lot. Yesterday he snarled that if this $4 gas continues he's going to "go drilling in the damn Arctic Wildlife Refuge" himself.
"Dad?" he says, as I kneel by the school entrance to hug him goodbye. "You think Scardino'll get me out of this mess?
Whenever I go clothes shopping with my son, he or the sales clerk will bring me clothes and I invariably say, "That's too young for me - put it back."
And they say, "Nonsense. You don't look your age. Try it on." And I do. And it looks fine, and I buy it.
I don't look my age, or at least what I remember as a child thinking someone my age should look like. Who does, these days? None of us does. My husband is proud of the fact that I've kept my weight down. I'm not beautiful, but I look OK... for my age. At my age, that is all I aspire to. And my husband likes me to dress nicely sometimes. Well, not like this exactly, but it is not so hard to dress like a woman instead of like some of those couples I see where I cannot tell which is the wife and which the husband.
The point of all this (and there is a point) is that sometimes I am struck by my own relative discomfort with all of this, but also by how much time men spend running down women who are "shallow" and "preoccupied with their appearance" while out of the other side of their mouths ostentatiously ogling pretty younger women and complaining that their wives have let themselves go. Do they ever wonder what their wives think of the mixed message?
I argue with Grim, sometimes, about why women spend so much time fixing themselves up? I would just as soon stake myself on an anthill as wear makeup and high heels and fussy clothes but the truth of the matter is that I look better with them on. Not to my next door neighbor, who doesn't give a rat's ass if I'm wearing a sundress and high heeled sandals, but to my husband. Because the truth of the matter is, the aesthetic I'm competing against, subconsciously, is that 19 year old supermodel with the cantilevered physique that often as not owes as much to the surgeons knife as to mother nature.
She's everywhere. Everywhere I look. And it's a competition that I don't stand a chance in hell of winning, and one that can often make me feel vaguely shamefaced. Truth be told, I'd rather be in shorts and a t-shirt. It would be feel more natural to me, and I'd be a hell of a lot more comfortable. But I'm competing with a million years of programmed biology, so I put my game face on and compete because I love my husband and I love to see that smile on his face when he comes home from work and I've taken his preferences into account, not mine.
But it's not just me. Feminists, of course, would tell me I'm "pandering" to the patriarchy. But isn't my husband "pandering" to me when he gets home from an exhausting day at work and makes boring conversation when what would be far more natural for him would be to zone out in front of the TV? There are times when it's pretty obvious that it - that I - take a lot out of him.
I don't think we're at all unusual. I see plenty of couples who do this, who accommodate each other. It's not difficult.
But what is also apparent is that increasingly, as with childbearing, a great many men and women can't be bothered to make the effort to accommodate each other, to place each other's needs above their own comfort zone.
I have no great desire to push my lifestyle, much my values, upon them. But what I wonder at is the bitterness, anger, and disappointment I keep seeing. As society and gender roles have changed, so have marriage and the demands of raising a family. But human nature and the basic truth that you get out of these endeavors what you put into them, haven't changed. The simple truth is still, after all these years, this: marriage is sometimes hard work. But it is still possible to be married, and to make marriage succeed.
The truth is that it is modern life which has gotten easier, and our tolerance for the work that is necessary to make marriages work that has changed. Another unpleasant truth may be that the erosion of our culture has eroded our will to work at institutions like marriage. As movie critic Pauline Kael learned to her sorrow after a lifetime of championing pop culture at the expense of craftsmanship, what we take for granted sometimes disappears altogether. Once the benefits are forgotten, the cost of producing what used to be the standard become unacceptably high:
Kael assumed she was safe to defend the choices of mass audiences because the old standards of taste would always be there. They were, after all, built into the culture. But those standards were swiftly eroding. Schrader argued that she and her admirers won the battle but lost the war. Acceptable taste became mass-audience taste, box-office receipts the ultimate measure of a film's worth, sometimes the only measure. Traditional, well-written movies without violence or special effects were pushed to the margins. "It was fun watching the applecart being upset," Schrader said, "but now where do we go for apples?"
...Not long before she died, Pauline Kael remarked to a friend, "When we championed trash culture we had no idea it would become the only culture." Who did?
And so it is with marriage. Will it the same thing happen, one day, with having children?
The birth rate among the Western nations suggests this may be so. And many of our "well educated" children whom we tried so hard to spare the pains we gladly suffered when we were young see no downside to all of this.
So much for progress. Or is it regress?
July 15, 2008
Back when I was a child,
before life removed all the innocence
My father would lift me high
and dance with my mother and me and then
Spin me around ‘til I fell asleep
Then up the stairs he would carry me
And I knew for sure I was loved
If I could get another chance, another walk,
another dance with him
I’d play a song that would never, ever end
How I’d love, love, love
To dance with my father again
When I and my mother would disagree
To get my way, I would run from her to him
He’d make me laugh just to comfort me
Then finally make me do just what my mama said
Later that night when I was asleep
He left a dollar under my sheet
Never dreamed that he would be gone from me
If I could steal one final glance,
one final step, one final dance with him
I’d play a song that would never, ever end
‘Cause I’d love, love, love
To dance with my father again
Sly's father passed away last night. Besides supporting me during the year my husband was gone, Sly is a long-time lobber of snark here at VC under various monikers, one of a few who has posted here from time to time, and someone I feel privileged to consider a very dear friend. Please leave your best wishes in the comments section.
July 14, 2008
Tony Snow's Amazing Grace
Tony Snow on the blessing of finding out you have cancer:
The mere thought of dying can send adrenaline flooding through your system. A dizzy, unfocused panic seizes you. Your heart thumps; your head swims. You think of nothingness and swoon. You fear partings; you worry about the impact on family and friends. You fidget and get nowhere.
To regain footing, remember that we were born not into death, but into life—and that the journey continues after we have finished our days on this earth. We accept this on faith, but that faith is nourished by a conviction that stirs even within many nonbelieving hearts—an intuition that the gift of life, once given, cannot be taken away. Those who have been stricken enjoy the special privilege of being able to fight with their might, main, and faith to live — fully, richly, exuberantly—no matter how their days may be numbered.
... God relishes surprise. We want lives of simple, predictable ease — smooth, even trails as far as the eye can see—but God likes to go off-road. He provokes us with twists and turns. He places us in predicaments that seem to defy our endurance and comprehension—and yet don't. By his love and grace, we persevere. The challenges that make our hearts leap and stomachs churn invariably strengthen our faith and grant measures of wisdom and joy we would not experience otherwise.
Read it. Read it all.
Thanks to Carrie, and a certain Colorado Cat who shall remain nameless.
July 13, 2008
I haven't been able to write about him. I don't think I will be able to.
July 12, 2008
Important New Study
Your federal tax dollars at work, sheeple:
A new study suggests that even moderate drinkers who turn abstinent may develop depression. Researchers found that mice who drank alcohol voluntarily for 28 days exhibited depression-like behavior 2 weeks after they stopped imbibing.
The negative mood was linked to a reduction in neuron production in the brain, which can also cause diminished cognitive abilities.
So it's official: beer makes us happy. The Mice have spoken.
What the Editorial Staff want to know is, who in the helk thinks up these studies? And more importantly, why are we not included?
Via Men's Health, which has more on happiness. We tend to agree: happiness, like love, is a decision.
July 11, 2008
Zoriah and the Golden Rule
Zoriah's unauthorized appropriation of the photo of a dead Marine (and no, I refuse to link to him directly, nor will I view the image out of respect for the privacy of Marine in question and his family) raises some interesting moral questions.
When my sons went off to college, I advised them both that whatever else they did during their four year sojourn, they should be certain to take an ethics class. One of the functions of a college education is to broaden the mind. In many ways, college is a bit like a kaleidoscope. If the education process is successful, we gain the ability to look at our experiences, upbringing, and moral teachings in a variety of different ways; very much like one can twist the end of a kaleidoscope and see something different each time.
The blog princess had a nonstandard education, interrupted by an early marriage, two bouncing baby boys and years of rapid-fire moving from state to state (which is an education of an entirely different sort). She started off at one of the Ivies, but quickly realized that partying 5-6 days a week, while highly amusing, was a waste of her time and her parents' hard earned money. She didn't return to college until her early thirties.
As a returning adult, I took an ethics class as an elective. It was to prove one of the best courses I ever took. It was also one of the most disturbing. Sandwiched in between Plato and Nietschze were discussions on situational ethics. I found these particularly interesting since I was constantly talking with my sons about the importance of personal integrity and doing the right thing in a world where these qualities are not always rewarded. As one of a very few adults in the class, I was intensely interested in hearing how other young people would react to hypothetical ethical dilemmas.
The most memorable of these questions was posed one day in class: "If you could climb a watchtower with a high powered rifle and shoot people - with total impunity - (no one would ever know that it was you) would you do it?".
To me, the answer was crystal clear: of course not. **Murder is always wrong. It does not matter whether anyone sees you or not. It does not matter whether you get caught. Those are irrelevancies.
As it turned out, I was in the minority in the class that day. I was one of the few people in the class who thought such an act unequivocally wrong. I found that simply appalling, and I have never forgotten it. But what came out of that class is that I believe that while there are many moral grey areas, I also believe there are certain things which stand out in black and white: that certain acts are wrong or right no matter who performs them, and no matter what the circumstances. These actions may be quite limited. I am not a moral absolutist. But I do believe they exist.
I found out that a great many of my fellow human beings see the world very differently. They see the world as a canvas in which acts are right or wrong depending upon whether they (or someone who they are in sympathy with) perform them.
This poses a great many interesting ethical problems in an increasingly multicultural world where collectivism and identity politics are rapidly supplanting character and individual responsibility. We have already seen the effects in the economic arena: it is no longer considered a radical notion to assert the right of "underprivileged" citizens to help themselves to a generous portion of the earnings of their more productive fellow citizens, whose crime appears to be the ability to produce more money than they "need" (at least in the eyes of the arbiters of social justice). This sort of reasoning is artifically attractive in the aggregate. After all, who can argue against helping the poor, especially when the answer involves a transfer of "excess wealth" from those who don't need it to those who do?
This type of argument, however, becomes less attractive when the government shows up at your front door to figure out exactly how much of your hard-earned paycheck you don't "need". The problem with this kind of reasoning is that the real Enemy is not poverty, but inequality. The war, by definition, can never be won because there will always be those who earn more than others and so long as this is true, there will always be those who argue for the "right" to transfer the earnings of the more productive members of society to the least. As Christ remarked sardonically, the "poor" will always be with us.
That JesuChristo was one snarky dude. No wonder Dad called him home.
But that brings up another interesting facet of the morality debate: the rapid secularization of modern society. During a discussion with the spousal unit many moons ago over a frosty brewski or two, he said something that surprised me a bit. Any society, he opined, which abandons God and religion will inevitably lose its moral compass. This surprised me, for although we both believe in God, neither of us goes to church. Furthermore, we both believe it is quite possible for an atheist (or a non-Christian) to be a fully moral person. But I fully understood what he was trying to say, because I happen to share his concerns. I've written before of my concern about the diminishing influence of women as moral teachers and anchors in society. I think the two concepts are related.
Because I work in statistics, I have seen that people often conflate what happens on an individual level with behavior on the aggregate level, and there are important differences between the two. In trying to make an argument, many people will resort to anecdotal evidence (i.e., the individual case) to "prove" their case. And while the anecdotal does prove a certain phenomenon exists, it does not demonstrate that phenomenon applies to most of society, which is the population laws, rules, and institutions are intended to serve.
In my ethics class, it was disturbingly apparent that a whole generation of children have grown up without any real moral compass. Absent religion, there is no authoritative voice to settle questions of right and wrong. Everything is open to question, and so there was nothing to tell these kids that going up into a bell tower and shooting other human beings ought, objectively speaking, to be not only offensive, but morally wrong to any decent human being.
A Christian (or a practitioner of any of the world's great religions) could point to the prohibition against murder. Likewise, the laws of nearly every civilized nation forbid murder, yet interestingly, absent the prospect of punishment this did not seem to signify to these kids. But a more simple - and more intuitive - rule that should have kicked in is one that most toddlers easily learn, if their parents teach it.
It is the Golden Rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It is this moral precept that Zoriah violated when he published the photo of the dead Marine. The application is quite simple. To see it, one need only flip the situation on its face.
How would Zoriah feel, if he were killed while he is in Iraq, and a Marine published graphic photos of his dead body with its face blown off, on the Internet in a post that supported the war in Iraq?
Would he like his mother to see those photos? His father? If he had a wife, would he want her in the first shock of her grief to agonize over the thought that his image was being used in a way diametrically opposed to everything he stood for in life, but be unable to do a single thing to stop this obscene exploitation? If he had small children, would he like to think about them stumbling upon the image years later and having nightmares? Being teased about them in school? Being sent them by email? This kind of thing happens.
Would he want his likeness associated with a pro-war post when he is so clearly vehemently opposed to the war?
Lt. Nixon, in the comments of my previous post on this subject, makes a patently dishonest argument in defense of Zoriah:
There's actually a lot of precedence for showing dead bodies in the media. One interesting story is the 14 year old Emmett Till who was killed in the south for whistling at a white woman in the 50s. He was beaten to death and his mother insisted that the media photograph his badly beaten body. The picture of his body is on the Wiki, so don't click it if you're easily offended by history.
This example doesn't merely fail to support the rightness of Zoriah's actions. It isn't even analogous: an examination of the circumstances of publication clearly shows how Zoriah's use of the image differs dramatically from the media's publication of Emmet Till's photo:
...his mother insisted that the media photograph his badly beaten body.
One could argue, even then, that the deceased (Emmet Till) did not give permission. However, Till was no longer living. Arguably, his sensibilities could hardly be offended, though we cannot know whether such a publication would have been contrary to his wishes. But at least in that case a member of his family was asked, though perhaps other family members may have objected.
Zoriah knows full well that had this Marine been alive, he would not have been able to use his photo without his express permission. MaryAnn makes an excellent point over at Blackfive:
Had the photo in question been taken of a patient within a medical facility, it would almost certainly be a violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996. Any information pertaining to the disposition of a patient, which can be linked to a specific patient and thus enabling identification, communicated in any way (written, oral, email, photo, etc.), and without written permission of the patient or next of kin may result in disciplinary action against the individual (including termination), heavy fines against the facility, and possible litigation for damages.
A rather unclear issue is that of "identifiable". One could argue that a close relative will always be able to identify their loved one. If you've read the book Flags of our Fathers, you may remember that Harlon Block's mother was able to identify him immediately upon seeing the famous flag raising photo, although his face was not shown. Even her other son told her she was silly and that the photo showed nothing but "some Marine's butt" that could have been anyone. She replied she knew her own boy because she had put thousands of diapers on that butt.
It should be noted that under HIPAA service members in military medical facilites are provided with the same protection as civilians. That is, freedom of the press or the public's "need to know" does not override the right of the individual to privacy.
I'd like to see the rights of the deceased and their families protected in a similar way.
My husband's comments the other night mirrored MaryAnn's. Military people give up so many of their own civil rights - voluntarily - to serve and defend their fellow citizens. It is appalling that members of the media think they should have the "right" to photograph soldiers while they are severely wounded, rolling around in agony, drugged to the gills on morphine, or dead, just to tell us what anyone who has ever seen a single war movie made in Hollywood already knows: that war is horrible, people get their legs and arms blown off, they die, they scream, they cry like babies sometimes when they are hurt, and sometimes they don't.
This is not news to anyone over the age of four.
To see the hypocrisy inherent in the media's treatment of our soldiers and Marines, one need look no farther than the Jill Carroll media blackout story:
Sitting on newsworthy information is an unnatural act for most reporters—some would say unprofessional—and nobody can argue that the kidnapping of Jill Carroll isn't newsworthy. By effortlessly banding together across several time zones to squelch information in the name of protecting one colleague in Baghdad, American journalists placed themselves in a hypocritical position. Didn't their leading newspaper just publish national-security information over the objections of a White House that protests that the story endangers the lives of millions of Americans?
Ironically, I have absolutely no problem with what the media did to protect Carroll. I think they did the right thing in that instance, but consistently do the wrong thing when their own interests are not threatened. In that case, because a journalist was threatened, they were able to empathize, to put themselves in the shoes of another human being.
What a shame that Zoriah is not able to put himself in the shoes of this dead Marine's family; that in his quest to persuade the world that war is wrong/bad, a dead United States Marine and his grieving family stopped being human beings and became useful tools; the too-convenient means that justify an end. What he and so many other journalists will never understand is that this is why they are not allowed to photograph the coffins of dead U.S. service men and women, nor to make spectacles of their private family funerals.
We do not exist to allow them to persuade America to leave Iraq and Afghanistan. We are human beings. Leave us some dignity, and the space and privacy to mourn our dead.
Have some elemental human respect for our opinions, even if you do not share them. Your "right" to oppose the war does not outweigh our right to support it, nor the other fundamental rights other Americans take for granted every single day. An American citizen should not forfeit his dignity, nor your respect, simply because he wears the uniform of his country. And more fundamentally no human being: be he or she Iraqi, Afghani, American, insurgent or coalition member in this war should have to worry about having a surviving family member stumble upon graphic images of his corpse upon the Internet simply because some adherent of the pro- or anti-war movement lacks the words to make a compelling, coherent and rational argument in support of their position. If you have an argument to make, do so in words, and under your own name. Back it up with logic and facts rather than relying upon fear and shock to override the cerebral cortexes of your carefully chosen victims. Don't draft the dead and their grieving families as unwilling conscripts in your obscene little information war.
As the great man once said, have some decency. And some taste.
**Thanks to Grim for catching my error - see coments.
July 10, 2008
Thursday Nite Lyrics
A little light looks through her bedroom window.
She dances and I dream,
She's not so far as she seems,
Of brighter meadows, melting sunsets
Her hair blowing in the breeze.
And she can't see me watching.
And I'm thinking
more sweet than bitter,
Bitter than sweet.
It's a bittersweet surrender.
I'm older now.
I work in the city.
We live together
But it's different from my dream.
Morning light fills the room
I rise, she pretends she's sleeping.
Are we everything we wanted?
And I'm thinking love...
I know we don't talk about it.
We don't tell each other
All the little things that we need.
We work our way around each other.
As we tremble and we bleed.
more sweet than bitter,
bitter than sweet.
It's a bittersweet surrender.
Hug a Rethug...
Who knew they were so lovable?
When Night Falls II
The world we knew
Won't come back
The time we've lost
Can't get back
The life we had
Won't be ours again
This world will never be
What I expected
And if I don't belong?
The first time made me sad. I was only six or seven: too young to understand.
The second time I stopped sleeping for nearly a year. Sometimes I still hear her screaming in my dreams.
The third time made me angry. And hopeful. And guilty. And last December it brought me back here; brought me back home:
“There is but one truly serious philosophical problem,” Albert Camus wrote, “and that is suicide.”
How to explain why, among the only species capable of pondering its own demise, whose desperate attempts to forestall mortality have spawned both armies and branches of medicine in a perpetual search for the Fountain of Youth, there are those who, by their own hand, would choose death over life? Our contradictory reactions to the act speak to the conflicted hold it has on our imaginations: revulsion mixed with fascination, scorn leavened with pity. It is a cardinal sin — but change the packaging a little, and suicide assumes the guise of heroism or high passion, the stuff of literature and art.
"The stuff of literature and art"? What a traveshamockery. I often wonder if the kind of person who romanticizes suicide has ever seen the twisted wreckage it leaves behind?
After he was gone, the second one, everyone agreed. No one - not one of us - had seen it coming. He kept it all inside, kept it safely hidden away. All that pain, the anxiety attacks. He couldn't allow anyone to help him. It was only afterwards that people picked up the shattered puzzle pieces with shaking hands and painstakingly tried to assemble them into the sketchy outlines of a pattern.
But there will always be too many pieces missing. One piece that seemed not to snap neatly into place was that he'd been just fine before he went to Iraq.
But he'd had "a good war". From all accounts, he hadn't experienced the kind of debilitating stress one expects to produce symptoms like that. And they hadn't shown up right away. There are a lot of things we don't understand about the human mind. We don't understand, for instance, why one person walks through the gates of Hell and emerges unscathed while others go into an endless free fall. Kim Dozier thinks it has a lot to do with attitude:
I think the other assumption some people have about trauma patients, and combat troops, is that we're scarred for life in our heads and hearts. Even some friends assume I'm plagued by nightmares and flashbacks, all the symptoms of the dreaded post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.
Newsflash: You can go through hell and end up with some of those symptoms, yes, but you can get rid of them. It's not a life sentence.
Dispelling the flashbacks for good can be as simple as talking about them, saying out loud, "Yeah, that shooting/bombing/car crash gave me some nightmares. I keep remembering it, feeling the blast like it's happening now."
When people who are haunted by these things DON'T talk about them, that's when the problems start.
How did I avoid getting PTSD? I talked my head off, and then I wrote everything I could remember.
I would like to believe that it is that simple for everyone. I am not so sure, however, that it is.
I do know how important it is to have someone you can talk to, if you need to, about PTSD. Not in the patronizing, scoring political points way that forces the mantle of victimization on every man and woman who serves, but in a way that recognizes both the pain some feel, and the magnificent potential of the human spirit: the nearly miraculous ability we have to battle despair and suffering, and overcome them.
This is a lesson we all too often forget. If pain is sometimes part of the awful price of war, the sheer power of human resilience can also be a priceless and unexpected gift:
I listen to people for a living. As a psychologist in the Department of Veterans Affairs, I hear about some of the worst experiences humans have to bear. I have sat face-to-face with a Bataan Death March survivor, an airman shot down over Germany, a Marine who was at the Chosin Reservoir, veterans from every region of Vietnam, medics and infantry soldiers from Afghanistan and Iraq. I have spoken with people who have been assaulted and brutalized by their own comrades, and parents who've had to attend their own children's funerals.
I have gained a surprising belief from hearing about so much agony: I believe in the power of human resilience. I am continually inspired by the ability of the emotionally wounded to pick themselves up and keep going after enduring the most traumatic circumstances imaginable.
My friend Semper Fi Wife has seen the same thing in her work with recovering vets:
I honestly don't understand. The men and women that I meet through volunteering at the hospitals humble me with their courage and their service. You see, they're not just surviving, they're thriving. Maybe they are having to relearn how to do something we take for granted like walking but they are doing it with determination and humor. They are trying new things. One of my guys learned how to play ice hockey with prosthetics on and he's so good that the instructors want him to teach kids how to play.
Why wouldn't you want to know someone like that? Or someone like the young Soldier who came to a fishing event last week wearing a t-shirt that read,"$10 for the leg story"? That's a guy with a damned good sense of humor, don't you think?
And knowing them gives me perspective. The impediments I perceive as mountains are really just molehills. Looking at what they can overcome makes me realize that anything is possible.
I wrote to a few friends privately a while back about an early morning trip to Walter Reed. I saw a young Marine there.
My eyes met his, and I was immediately struck by the force of his personality. He literally glowed with youth and energy and intelligence. His chest and arms were heavily muscled and lean and his skin was lightly bronzed. I rarely do more than glance at men who are not my husband - especially men young enough to be one of my sons. This young man somehow managed to make me, from his wheelchair, feel acutely conscious of my femininity in a way I haven't been for years. He was a double amputee.
If that fazed him in any way, it was undetectable. If I were 25 years younger it would not have stopped me for an instant from doing everything in my power to gain his undivided attention.
I think, sometimes, we are too quick to project our own pain, fears and insecurities upon recovering soldiers. They deserve our concern and our gratitude. But have they not also earned our confidence? That is why I have always loved the portraits of Michael D. Fay. He looks in the eyes of these men and finds the warrior who still lives there.
To do so is not to minimize the price paid in war, but to acknowledge the bravery with which these men and women fight, often long after the last trumpet has sounded on the field of battle. Even when sometimes, heartbreakingly, the fight is one they cannot win.
I don't know whether we will ever be able to prevent tragedies from happening. I know that some very good people are trying, and I know that nothing we can ever do will seem like enough when good men and women die and the tears begin to fall.
I also know that each of these men and women was once a living soul. They had their own reasons for living and dying which we may never know. But once they have passed on they can no longer speak for themselves. And it is an obscenity to parade their dead bodies on the Internet to score cheap political points in a shadow war of words and images, to draft them against their will; purposely juxtaposing their bodies next to sentiments designed to defeat the cause for which they willingly gave their lives.
After all, a corpse can hardly fight back, nor can he argue with you, and so this is a war you will always win. And if there happens to be "collateral damage", if mothers, sisters, wives, brothers, fathers of the men killed can recognize a wrist, a forearm - it's not difficult, when there were only three - who needs a nametape?
Casualty of war. Some men fight with a gun. You fight with your camera.
The only difference is the intended target. Bullseye.
They say all's fair in love and war. Or at least that is what you tell yourself, after you tell yourself you followed the rules. It's a tough world out there and anyway, these people should be able to handle reality.
This world will never be
What I expected
And if I don't belong
Who would have guessed it?
I will not leave alone
Everything that I own
To make you feel like it's not too late
It's never too late...
Even if I say
It'll be alright
Still I hear you say
You want to end your life.
Now and again we try
To just stay alive
Maybe we'll turn it around
'Cause it's not too late
It's never too late
July 09, 2008
Stephen King on "Ignorant Military Types"
DimWit of the Day: Stephen King, speaking to high school students at the Library of Congress:
I don't want to sound like an ad, a public service ad on TV, but the fact is if you can read, you can walk into a job later on. If you don't, then you've got, the Army, Iraq, I don't know, something like that. It's, it's not as bright. So, that's my little commercial for that.
No, Mr. King, the fact is that military recruits as a group are more literate than their counterparts in the civilian population:
...in the most recent edition of Population Representation in the Military Services, the Department of Defense reported that the mean reading level of 2004 recruits is a full grade level higher than that of the comparable youth population. Fewer than 2 percent of wartime recruits have no high school credentials. Table 2 shows the breakdown for the educational attainment of the wartime recruit cohorts. The national high school graduation rate taken from the Census 2004 ACS is 79.8 percent.
It is a sad thing when the level of political acrimony in this country becomes so pronounced that celebrities abuse their fame to discourage children from public service by lying and insulting those men and women who (unlike them) have been willing to step up to the plate.
If only King could control that pesky free press:
A new study shows women and minorities are more satisfied in general with their jobs than white men in the military and that military women are generally much more positive about their career and career prospects than their civilian counterparts:Any list of the best places to work is sure to include cool favorites like Google. The U.S. military? The sacrifices and risks required of its members seem to make it an unlikely pick. But new research suggests that it may well belong on such a list, particularly for minorities and women. The members of those two demographics in the military consistently rate their jobs as more satisfying than white males do, according to new research in this month's American Sociological Review. Much like Manning's military experience, the study of over 30,000 active duty personnel suggests that the armed forces' social hierarchy-explicitly based on rank-overrides many of the racial or gender biases in civil society, which tend to act as barriers for women and minorities in career advancement.
"Whites are far and away the least satisfied [in the military]," says Jennifer Hickes Lundquist, a sociologist at the University of Massachusetts and the study author. "Black females tend to be the most satisfied. It's a direct opposite and complete reversal of what we know about civilian job satisfaction."
In civilian society African-Americans generally express higher dissatisfaction with their jobs than their white counterparts and are less committed. But Lundquist's study of 30,000 active-duty personnel found that those norms are largely flipped in the military. She looked at five measurements of career satisfaction, including overall quality of life and opportunities for advancement, and found African-American women to be the most positive and satisfied with their jobs, followed by African-American men, Latinas, Latinos and white women. White men are the least satisfied with their military careers, rating their satisfaction and overall happiness with their jobs much lower.
"It's not that the military environment treats white males less fairly; it's simply that, compared to their peers in civilian society, white males lose many of the advantages that they had," Lundquist says. "There's a relative deprivation when you compare to satisfaction of peers outside of the military."
The same leveling effect among ethnic minorities also occurred across genders, although that was a bit more challenging to explain. A third of the women in the military say they have been sexually harassed, according to a recent Pentagon survey, and women in male-dominated specialties consistently rank their job satisfaction lower than those largely occupied by women. But female job satisfaction ratings seemed largely unaffected by these factors. Among each ethnicity that Lundquist studied, the women consistently had higher levels of job satisfaction than the males.
So... not only can military recruits read better than their civilian counterparts, but if they happen to be black, Latino, or female, their job satisfaction is higher too.
Sometimes the truth just hurts.
When Night Falls
The world we knew
Won't come back
The time we've lost
Can't get back
The life we had
Won't be ours again
This world will never be
What I expected
And if I don't belong?
Posted by Cassandra at 07:15 AM
July 08, 2008
Why Rising Prices Don't Affect Behavior That Much
Via Glenn Reynolds, all the hyperbolic hand-waving on the nightly news aside, rising gas prices don't seem to have had much of an effect on local leadfoots:
TIGERHAWK LOOKS AT GASOLINE PRICES AND BEHAVIOR MODIFICATION, and doesn't find much of the latter. "When I pulled on to the New Jersey Turnpike I set my cruise control at 66 mph (substantially faster than I would drive -- 55 or so -- if I wanted to maximize my fuel economy), got in the right lane, and started counting cars that passed me. I was passed by more than 40 cars before I came up behind another vehicle going more slowly than me, and it was a step van trying to exit. I gave up counting when more than 100 cars passed me without me passing anybody. At 66 miles per hour."
Yeah, I noticed that people weren't slowing down much this weekend -- and where they were it seemed more connected with the heavy holiday-weekend police presence in a few areas than with fuel-saving, because once the cops were gone people sped up again.
UPDATE: From the comments: "Virtually nobody is willing to substitute their time for the money they would save slowing down, and several have offered very cogent economic reasons why they would not. It is a little indication of the enormous cost to the economy and to our personal freedom imposed by the government actually mandating a 55 mph speed limit."
But it's not just a question of time. The time vs. money tradeoff has been exaggerated, too. In real terms (how long does it take the average American to earn a gallon of gasoline) the price of gas has not gone up as drastically as we've been lead to believe:
As Americans know, today’s rising food and energy prices are crimping household budgets. But there are other ways to understand the relative size of the rise of food and energy costs. For example, in terms of time worked at the average pay rate, the real cost of a 12-item basket of basic foods has hardly budged. And while the work-time price of gasoline doubled in recent years, a gallon of gasoline still goes for less than 11 minutes of work (Fig. 3). At 20 miles per gallon, an hour of work will get you 110 miles down the road; at 30 mpg, you can go 165 miles.
When it comes to how hard we have to work for food and fuel, we still face far lower burdens than our grandparents did. Living standards rise on the ability to use productive resources to churn out more goods and services—that is, to advance productivity. As the economy has become more productive decade by decade, Americans have reaped the gains, first and foremost by consuming more.
There’s more to the good life than goods and services, however, and we’ve taken some of our added productivity in other ways. We’ve gained more leisure time, improved our working conditions, enhanced safety and security, and added variety to our choice set. All of these benefits become increasingly important as we climb up the income ladder.
The lament-filled anecdotes about long hours and low pay just don’t stand up to the test of hard data. Real total compensation—wages plus fringe benefits, both adjusted for inflation—has been rising steadily for several generations (Fig. 4). Over time, the fringes have become a larger share of the rewards for work, dampening the statistics on wage increases. At the same time, we’re spending less time at work. An average workweek has fallen from 39.8 hours in 1950 to 36.9 hours in 1973 to 33.8 hours today.
So if you're wondering why all the gloom and doom at the gas pump doesn't translate into behavior modification on the highways, it's easy.
We can afford to drive fast. We have more leisure time and more money, relatively speaking, than our grandparents did. So increases in the price of gas and groceries don't impact us as much.
Thanks to OBH for the tip.
The Internet As Public Space
Grim poses an interesting question:
"Public" Online Space:
There was an interesting article on Yahoo/Flickr today, which touches on a topic that interests me. To what degree is the Internet "public" space? On the one hand, there's nothing to stop anyone at all from coming to visit; on the other, no part of it that citizens can use to express themselves is "public" in the traditional sense of the term. It is privately owned.
There are legal consequences to that, but those don't interest me particularly -- what interests me are the normative questions. In other words, I am interested not in what the law currently says, but rather in the question of what the law ought to say.
We increasingly live on the internet: don't we want some of these public-space protections for our speech?
Under what legal rationale would American citizens be entitled to legal protection for online speech? Our first amendment rights protect us against government censorship; they do not guarantee us the unrestricted right to bloviate on someone else's server (much less on their nickel!). How do we guarantee online speech rights?
Do we force site owners to grant access to all comers, even though they may be sued for the actions of commenters? Does this not amount to a taking of private property? Or have we, post-Kelo, simply abandoned the notion that individuals have any enforceable property rights against the collective?
The 'Net may be the one place where we face the disturbing notion that, as special as each one of us may be in our own eyes, other people's rights matter too...unless, of course, they happen to be lousy, stinking spicists.
NYTimesWatch: Bill Keller, The Decider
Many moons ago, the Editorial Staff brought the assembled villainry the riveting tale of one Bill Keller, Unitary Editor:
In the Times' estimation, the outing of a single "covert" agent is a dangerous national security breach requiring a special prosecutor; even when the charging statute is one the Times itself held to be unconstitutional when it was passed. The outing of entire classified anti-terror programs, on the other hand, is not only safe, but serves the public good!
"How can this be?", you may be asking yourself. The answer is simple. Bill Keller is a Very Smart Man - so smart that he can be trusted to make major national security decisions without any oversight. He has formulated the Theory of the Unitary Editor, which goes something like this. On the first day of the Constitutional Convention, the Founding Fathers created the New York Times. And they looked upon their creation, and they saw that it was good. And they clearly intended for it to have a tremendous amount of power for, as our Democrat brethren-in-Christ are always reminding us, Thomas Jefferson said it would be better to have a press and no government, didn't he? So on the second day the Framers, via the First Amendment, explicitly created a Fourth Branch of government which operates completely independently of the other three branches. Furthermore, unlike the other three branches, this fourth branch was to be able to violate laws passed by our elected representatives at any time with impunity, since the First Amendment would operate as a virtual trump or "get out of jail free" card.
Now this may alarm some of you somewhat, but you should not worry. We the Little People should simply trust that the Times would never abuse this tremendous power, because although the press are not subject to any external oversight or checks and balances, the Founders did provide for an entirely sufficient internal oversight system in the form of Executive Editors. This is where the Theory of the Unitary Editor comes in.
According to the Theory of the Unitary Editor, whenever a Times reporter is given unauthorized classified information, Bill Keller's editorial conscience allows him to unilaterally declassify national secrets, bypass Congress, and violate the law in the interest of keeping the nation safe from a popularly elected President who he fears may be unilaterally declassifying national secrets, bypassing Congress, and breaking the law.
Conveeeeenient, no es verdad? It is good to be King.
Because when you're The Decider, rules are (apparently) for other people:
New York Times Public Editor, a.k.a. ombudsman, Clark Hoyt devoted a long column yesterday to, essentially, defending his employer’s decision to publish the name of the CIA interrogator who got Khalid Sheikh Muhammad to talk. Hoyt endorses the Times’s conclusion that it was somehow in the public interest to learn Deuce Martinez’s name, despite the pleas of Martinez himself and CIA Director Michael Hayden not to publish it–and despite the experience of another CIA operative who had gone public after interrogating another Al Qaeda big shot:
When I asked [John] Kiriakou for full details about his experience, he said he received more than a dozen death threats, many of them crank. His house was put under police guard and he took his family to Mexico for two weeks after the C.I.A. advised him to get out of town for a while. He said he lost his job with a major accounting firm because executives expressed fear that Al Qaeda could attack its offices to get him, though Kiriakou considered that fear unreasonable.
Interestingly enough, back in 2003 the Times' own Nicholas Kristoff dismissed the idea that "outing" Valerie Plame had placed her life in danger:
Mrs. Wilson's intelligence connections became known a bit in Washington as she rose in the C.I.A. and moved to State Department cover, but her job remained a closely held secret. Even her classmates in the C.I.A.'s career training program mostly knew her only as Valerie P. That way, if one spook defected, the damage would be limited.
All in all, I think the Democrats are engaging in hyperbole when they describe the White House as having put Mrs. Wilson's life in danger and destroyed her career; her days skulking along the back alleys of cities like Beirut and Algiers were already mostly over.
Moreover, the Democrats cheapen the debate with calls, at the very beginning of the process, for a special counsel to investigate the White House. Hillary Rodham Clinton knows better than anyone how destructive and distracting a special counsel investigation can be, interfering with the basic task of governing, and it's sad to see her display the same pusillanimous partisanship that Republicans showed just a few years ago.
Still, Kristoff acknowledged that needlessly identifying CIA employees was both reckless and wrong. After all, he noted huffily, professional journalists would never violate the public trust just to get a scoop:
We in journalism are also wrong, I think, to extend professional courtesy to Robert Novak, by looking beyond him to the leaker. True, he says he didn't think anyone would be endangered. Working abroad in ugly corners of the world, American journalists often learn the identities of American C.I.A. officers, but we never publish their names. I find Mr. Novak's decision to do so just as inexcusable as the decision of administration officials to leak it.
No, the Times would never leak the names of covert agents.
Because unlike partisan politicians, professional journalists can be trusted to protect classified information. After all, they have a code of ethics that takes the rights of sources into account:
Often, the only people who are truly authorized to speak for attribution are paid spokesman, who merely parrot the official line. Their remarks are usually included in news stories, but to leave their statements unchallenged by other sources who are as knowledgeable but not officially designated to speak in public, would mean that our journalists were not giving readers a full picture of the truth. Many sources now fear that their supervisor will see unsanctioned remarks in the press, even statements that don't seem at first blush to be either negative or controversial, especially when every public utterance is quickly picked up and can ricochet across the Internet. So some unofficial but still credible sources ask to withhold their names to avoid getting into trouble. Perhaps this is, as you note, unwholesome. Again, our main concern is not whether a source is wholesome or unwholesome, but whether he/she is credible and whether the information from the source is important to getting the full story.
So it is perfectly ethical to use an anonymous source who speaks off the record because he has agreed as part of the terms of his employment not to speak to reporters. Such a person, though he is breaking his word by speaking off the record, is nonetheless, "credible".
On the other hand disclosing the identity of a source known to the editors who requested anonymity because he fears for the safety of his family is highly ethical. After all - why should he need anonymity? He spoke to the Times with the knowledge and consent of his employers! Therefore, his credibility is not at issue!
But there is a far more serious problem than tawdry concerns about life, death, or even national security: that of the Times' street cred. Though the Times commonly redacts the identities of other anonymous sources for far less serious reasons, hard times require hard decisions:
I can assure you, Mark, that I often put myself in the source's shoes, as do my colleagues here. The source has the right to set the terms of any dialogue with a reporter. And those terms are best set at the beginning of any conversation, where the terms "off the record," "on background," "not for attribution," and the like are discussed. The reporter, of course, is free to reject the terms and end the conversation, or the reporter can ask for a halt in order to consult an editor on whether restrictive sourcing terms are worth the value of the information or quote for a story. The source is, naturally, also free to reject terms and not be interviewed.
You are correct that there is usually an assumption that conversations between reporters and sources are on the record and for attribution unless the source otherwise states, preferably at the beginning of any interview or by placing some observations on different terms as the interview progresses. I've had a few experinces where a source, realiziing his quotes may be controversial, asks, retroactively, if the entire interview can be considered "not for attribution." Usually, I have negotiated to keep some of the material for attribution. Occasionally, I have been convinced that a source could face retribution and unless the interview is of paramount importance, I agree not to use the source's name.
What is important to realize here is what is "of paramount importance" to the NY Times.
If there was any doubt in anyone's mind, it is not the safety of CIA agents. The staff of the Times feels uniquely qualified to judge these matters, just as it has several times felt uniquely qualified to bypass the Congressional oversight committees on intelligence and unilaterally and illegally publish classified documents. The Times does not need a shield law.
It is a law unto itself.
What A Hoot!
July 07, 2008
The World's Top 20 Public Intellectuals
...according to Foreign Policy, are almost all Muslims:
Rankings are an inherently dangerous business. Whether offering a hierarchy of countries, cities, or colleges, any such list—at least any such list worth compiling—is likely to generate a fair amount of debate. In the last issue, when we asked readers to vote for their picks of the world’s top public intellectuals, we imagined many people would want to make their opinions known. But no one expected the avalanche of voters who came forward. During nearly four weeks of voting, more than 500,000 people came to ForeignPolicy.com to cast ballots.
Such an outpouring reveals something unique about the power of the men and women we chose to rank. They were included on our initial list of 100 in large part because of the influence of their ideas. But part of being a “public intellectual” is also having a talent for communicating with a wide and diverse public. This skill is certainly an asset for some who find themselves in the list’s top ranks. For example, a number of intellectuals—including Aitzaz Ahsan, Noam Chomsky, Michael Ignatieff, and Amr Khaled—mounted voting drives by promoting the list on their Web sites. Others issued press releases or gave interviews to local newspapers. Press coverage profiling these intellectuals appeared around the world, with stories running in Canada, India, Indonesia, Qatar, Spain, and elsewhere.
No one spread the word as effectively as the man who tops the list. In early May, the Top 100 list was mentioned on the front page of Zaman, a Turkish daily newspaper closely aligned with Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen. Within hours, votes in his favor began to pour in. His supporters—typically educated, upwardly mobile Muslims—were eager to cast ballots not only for their champion but for other Muslims in the Top 100. Thanks to this groundswell, the top 10 public intellectuals in this year’s reader poll are all Muslim. The ideas for which they are known, particularly concerning Islam, differ significantly. It’s clear that, in this case, identity politics carried the day.
What I find astounding is all the names who are not on either list.
Dare we propose an alternate one?
Break out les secret decoder rings, mes amis!
M. Brodaire, he is resurrecting ze extremely conspiratorial Constitution-in-Exile theories.... and we all know who is ze Dread Lord of that dark plot to replace the Living Constitution with a bunch of stale, moldy words penned by a bunch of dead white dudes - that's right: He Who Must Nevaire Be Named!!!!
The fiendish members of this plot took the backward view that judges ought to try reading the actual verbiage penned by our Founding Fathers instead of haring off to nations like, say... France in search of a hand-rolled Gauloise and a Derrida primer (the better to deconstruct the Commerce Clause whilst staving off that annoying sense of anomie that comes from eating one too many confits).
Membership in this clandestine Brotherhood must have been an awfully well-kept secret, for the arcane and conspiratorial nature of the plot was such that the rank and file apparently went about their business for decades, blissfully unaware they were engaged in a desperate struggle to overthrow the Republic. But Evil will brook no delay. The Cause marched on. Sans soldiers, sans leader, even...until Gonzalez v. Raich reared its ugly head:
The most radical dissenting opinion was written by Thomas. Thomas has proved to be the most reliable ally of the movement to resurrect what some conservatives call the Constitution in Exile, referring to limitations on federal power that have been dormant since the New Deal. In his dissent, Thomas said that courts should take it upon themselves to decide whether congressional regulations are "appropriate" and "plainly adapted" to executing powers explicitly listed in Constitution. Thomas's logic would uproot more than a century of Supreme Court cases, including the 1942 wheat case, [Ed. Note: 'SWounds!... not the wheat case!] and could paralyze the government's effort to enforce myriad regulations, including environmental and labor laws. As Stevens pointed out, Thomas's reasoning would also call into question Congress's power to regulate the possession and use of pot for recreational purposes, an activity that all states now prohibit.
Thomas. Mein Gott Im Himmel!, who would have guessed it! That pudgy, avuncular-looking little man, suddenly rising up in his black robes like the Lord of the Nazgul. Stooping to pick at the flesh of a Woman's Right To Choose and grabbing welfare dollars from the hands of baby-Daddies all over this great nation! Sure, he may look like a teddy bear, but he's [[[shudder]]] worse than Scalia!
Dionne waxes fairly apoplectic over the prospect of the conservative court's ability to thwart what he views as the will of the progressive majority (i.e., the voters):
The spate of 5 to 4 conservative decisions during the Supreme Court term just ended should stand as a warning that we may soon revisit the fights of 70 years ago. Yet almost nobody is talking about this danger. To the extent that judges have been a campaign issue in recent elections, the focus has been on a few hot-button issues, notably abortion. After last week's decision in the sharply contested Second Amendment case, perhaps gun rights will join the list.
But the more important question is whether conservative judges will see fit to do exactly what conservative courts did for much of the New Deal era by using a narrow, 19th-century definition of property rights to void progressive economic, environmental and labor regulation.
Many judicial conservatives view the late 1930s as a disaster because it marked the end of their power on the courts. After the court-packing battle, the Supreme Court began to defer to the elected branches of government and their efforts to regulate the economy in the public interest. Property rights were well protected throughout this time, yet government was allowed to set rules on the uses of property that judicial conservatives of the pre-New Deal period viewed as suspect.
A new generation of conservatives wants to bring the old order back under the auspices of what's called the Constitution in Exile movement. Their driving idea is that the thrust of jurisprudence since the late 1930s voided the "real" Constitution.
As legal scholar Jeffrey Rosen noted in the New Republic, this movement favors "reimposing meaningful limits on federal power that could strike at the core of the regulatory state for the first time since the New Deal." He wrote that "justices could change the shape of laws governing the environment, workplace health and safety, anti-discrimination, and civil rights, making it difficult for the federal government to address problems for which the public demands a national response."
But he conveniently overlooks two things. The first is that it is not the Court's task to automatically uphold Congress, but rather to uphold the Constitution. This is important, because the Constitution is the primary source from which our rights as citizens flow. Congress may add to the rights guaranteed by the Constitution but it may not detract from them.
The second thing Dionne misses bears directly upon the first. It is the conservatives on the Court who have arguably been the most faithful guardians of the individual rights guaranteed by the Constitution:
The Supreme Court's decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, upholding the Second Amendment right of individuals to own firearms, should finally lay to rest the widespread myth that the defining difference between liberal and conservative justices is that the former support "individual rights" and "civil liberties," while the latter routinely defer to government assertions of authority. The Heller dissent presents the remarkable spectacle of four liberal Supreme Court justices tying themselves into an intellectual knot to narrow the protections the Bill of Rights provides.
Or perhaps it's not as remarkable as we've been led to think. Consider the Court's First Amendment decisions. Contrary to popular belief, conservative justices are about as likely to vote in favor of individuals bringing First Amendment challenges to government regulations as are the liberals. Indeed, the justice most likely to vote to uphold a First Amendment claim is the "conservative" Justice Anthony Kennedy. The least likely is the "liberal" Justice Stephen Breyer. Consistent with general conservative/liberal patterns in commercial speech cases, Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia have voted to invalidate restrictions on advertising more than 75 percent of the time. Justices Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, meanwhile, have voted to uphold such restrictions in most cases.
Conservative justices also typically vote to limit the government's ability to regulate election-related speech, while liberal justices are willing to uphold virtually any regulation in the name of "campaign finance reform." In Davis v. Federal Election Commission, decided the same day as Heller, Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the Court's conservatives, reaffirmed the "fundamental nature of the right to spend personal funds for campaign speech." The dissenters argued that "in the context of elections . . . limiting the quantity of speech" is perfectly acceptable.
Liberals have also been more willing than conservatives to limit the First Amendment's protection of "expressive association." The Court's conservatives held that forcing the Boy Scouts of America to employ a gay scoutmaster violated the Scouts' right to promote its belief in traditional sexual morality. The liberal dissenters thought the government should be allowed to force the Scouts to present a message inconsistent with the Scouts' values.
The Fifth Amendment's protection of property rights presents, if anything, an even starker example of greater commitment to individual rights by the conservative majority. In the infamous Kelo v. New London, the Court's liberal justices, joined by Justice Kennedy, held that the government may take an individual's property and turn it over to a private party for commercial use. The four conservative dissenters argued that such actions violate the Fifth Amendment's requirement that government takings be for "public use."
A few years earlier, the Court's conservative majority held that a government regulation that deprives a land owner of any use of his property amounts to a "taking" that requires compensation. The liberal dissenters would have permitted the government to totally wipe out an individual's investment without any redress.
Progressives like Dionne love to conflate the will of the people with freedom, but as Federalist 10 reminded us, they are not always one and the same:
Hence, it clearly appears, that the same advantage which a republic has over a democracy, in controlling the effects of faction, is enjoyed by a large over a small republic, -- is enjoyed by the Union over the States composing it. Does the advantage consist in the substitution of representatives whose enlightened views and virtuous sentiments render them superior to local prejudices and schemes of injustice? It will not be denied that the representation of the Union will be most likely to possess these requisite endowments. Does it consist in the greater security afforded by a greater variety of parties, against the event of any one party being able to outnumber and oppress the rest? In an equal degree does the increased variety of parties comprised within the Union, increase this security. Does it, in fine, consist in the greater obstacles opposed to the concert and accomplishment of the secret wishes of an unjust and interested majority? Here, again, the extent of the Union gives it the most palpable advantage.
Dionne is so worried about thwarting the will of the "progressive majority". As decisions like Kelo show, he might more properly be concerned about preserving the individual rights guaranteed to all citizens, irrespective of political affiliation, by the Constitution.
This Fourth of July seems to have generated a good deal of discussion about patriotism. Over at The Corner, there is an interesting distillation of two contrasting views of American patriotism. The first - one more akin to American exceptionalism - is outlined by Mark Hemingway in response to a post by Matthew Yglesias:
... is there anything unique about America and its founding that Yglesias would argue is superior to the rest of the world and worth celebrating? I have always thought that one of the great things about this country is that, though its citizens may disagree on politics, everybody agreed that the way freedom was inherent in America's founding onward was special and unprecedented in human history. That there wasn't "something arbitrary" about being American, but rather fortuitous. That's why frequently the most patriotic people you encounter are immigrants. Yglesias's crudely explaining the undercurrents of American patriotism as cosmopolitan liberals dismissive of American uniqueness vs. conservatives too parochial to understand the difference between patriotism and nationalism doesn't do anybody any favors.
More to the point, Yglesias claims to be extolling the virtues of liberals, but I think the the vast majority of liberals in America would reject this view outright. Liberals may think America isn't nearly as sensitive to the concerns of the world as they ought to be and may be currently unhappy with their government, but the vast majority still recognize that America is superior to other countries in fundamental ways and are correspondingly patriotic.
The cheap hit on American exceptionalism has always been that it inevitably leads to a 'my country, right or wrong' mentality. This ignores the possibility that one might love one's country deeply enough to want to correct its shortcomings; that it might be America's dogged (and sometimes impractical) determination to live up to her ideals which inspires the devotion of her citizens:
I love my country not because she is perfect, but because she wants so badly to be. I even love her faults, even the kind of obsessive navel gazing angst that mistakes fallible humans and imperfect realization of our ideals for evidence of pervasive moral rot and in so doing, makes conscience the scourge that would make moral cowards of us all...
...America is not a destination but a journey and in loving her, we must not become so firmly fixed upon the goal that we lose heart when we stumble a time or two upon the road. For stumble we will. After all, we are but human; all too imperfect clay with which to form the more perfect union our founding fathers envisioned.
Grim explains this "fighting faith" well:
... George Washington had many virtues, and was surely correct in his undertakings, but one thing he cannot claim is to have lived as a patriot of his king and country. We do not esteem him less for that. If a nation sets aside the natural rights of mankind, it becomes a tyranny, and not patriotism but separation or destruction is the duty of its citizens. This view is the birthright of Americans, and it is a longstanding complaint of mine against our hard left that they will not accept it. If America is as bad as they so often claim, they have duties beyond mere complaint. If she is evil, fight her. If she is not, fight for her.
Those who whine on the sidelines are the ones I detest. Even William Ayers at least fought, in his way. I wish he had been hanged for it, but I respect him ten times as much as I do any number of beardless men I have met who did nothing but snark about 'America's sins,' as if they too had lived two hundred years, and could judge her as a peer. At least Ayers had courage enough to fight as well as talk, and that redeems him somewhat.
America is a fighting faith. Beinart gets that right:
So is wearing the flag pin good or bad? It is both; it all depends on where and why. If you're going to a Young Americans for Freedom meeting, where people think patriotism means "my country right or wrong," leave it at home and tell them about Frederick Douglass, who wouldn't celebrate the Fourth of July while his fellow Americans were in bondage. And if you're going to a meeting of the cultural-studies department at Left-Wing U., where patriotism often means "my country wrong and wronger," slap it on, and tell them about Mike Christian, who lay half-dead in a North Vietnamese jail, stitching an American flag.
With that, I have no argument at all. A true patriot must love his country enough to want to leave it to his sons as he got it from his fathers, pure, with its ideals as well as its physical attributes intact. If anything, he should wish to perfect it, extend it, and make it ever purer.
What I like best about his formulation is that it puts the actor in an eternal fight for his nation. When he goes here, he should fight this way for her; when he goes there, fight for her that way.
That's the thing, the real thing. It is the love that stands off the world.
Ramesh Ponnoru counters:
Are you maintaining that to be an American patriot you have to believe that the U.S. is superior to all other countries? I loved my mother not because I truly believed that she was in some objective sense "the greatest mother in the world"—although I think I may have gotten her a coffee mug to that effect—but because she was mine. Can't we love our country the same way?
That is a different kind of love, and it is a part of patriotism. But to me it is more akin to loyalty: a reflexive, unthinking kind of love. As Marc explains so well, that kind of feeling resembles nationalism more than anything else.
If your country is attacked, it may be all you need. In an increasingly borderless world where both threats and morality are not always clearly defined, I'm not sure it suffices.
What do you think?
July 06, 2008
Here and There
These are just some things I found while wasting time on the 'Net:
Best thing I found today: one word.
Lyrics Directory: a search engine for lyrics.
You have to love a man with attitude.
Commonly confused words. This is one of my pet peeves.
Star trails in the night sky, along with some neat stills of fireworks. I still miss living in the high desert.
I'll bet the mosquitos just love it too: (warning: link probably NSFW unless you work in a nudist colony)
Why garden naked? First of all, it's fun! Second only to swimming, gardening is at the top of the list of family-friendly activities people are most ready to consider doing nude. Moreover, our culture needs to move toward a healthy sense of both body acceptance and our relation to the natural environment. Gardening naked is not only a simple joy, it reminds us--even if only for those few sunkissed minutes--that we can be honest with who we are as humans and as part of this planet.
What a hoot.
July 04, 2008
Why I Am Patriotic: A Love Letter to America
Today is the Fourth of July.
Independence Day. I awoke this morning to a country in which I can, if I choose, leave my front door unlocked at night without serious fear that my family or property will be harmed. Not everyone in America is this lucky. Certainly we did not start out this way.
My husband and I worked hard to get where we are today, but the fruit of our labors is protected by the rule of law. Thirty years ago, we had next to nothing. We were two young people with low paying jobs living well below the federal poverty level. At tax time, we didn't pay taxes. The government gave us money.
And we made good use of the opportunity we were given. Now, both we and our two grown sons and their families are prosperous and secure.
I awoke this morning to a country in which women have control over their bodies, their education, their careers, and their personal lives. We need not fear being held down and mutilated simply for the crime of possessing female genitalia. Our daughters attend school with boys. They go on to graduate from college and postgraduate schools at greater rates than do our sons. Women enter and leave marriage freely; childbirth and motherhood need not be the inescapable consequences of biology: science and law have made them voluntary decisions. In the workplace, laws give us redress if we face discrimination. Truly, we are liberated in every sense of the word.
I awoke to a country awash in information.
It comes to my door each morning in the form of two newspapers which land with a reassuring "plop" in my driveway by 5 a.m. If I turn on my TV, over 300 channels await my delectation. Information of every kind is there for the taking: history, investigative journalism, opinion, discussion and debate, perspective on the day's events. There are 6 computers in my home, all of them Internet-capable. No government filters what I see and hear. New York Times reporters release classified documents and jeopardize legitimate anti-terrorism programs without fear of jail. Comedians and musicians bait and insult the President of the United States at social occasions. But instead of being punished or rebuked for their boorish behavior they are celebrated; treated as though they had said something of consequence.
I awoke to a country in which citizens may write whatever they please no matter how critical of the government, the military, or the State, without fear. They will not be arrested, beaten, and condemned to hard labor for six years for the crime of disparaging the military. They need never see the pain and confusion in a little girl's eyes as she wonders whether she will ever see her father again?
I awoke to a country in which young men and women are still unashamedly idealistic, in which they are passionately interested in debate and the free exchange of ideas. But more importantly, I awoke to a country in which our children are not all cynical, spoiled, and apathetic. It is a country where young people possess the courage and integrity to stand up for their beliefs:
These grand, overarching questions cannot obscure, at least for me, the plain fact that Mark Daily felt himself to be morally committed. I discovered this in his life story and in his surviving writings. Again, not to romanticize him overmuch, but this is the boy who would not let others be bullied in school, who stuck up for his younger siblings, who was briefly a vegetarian and Green Party member because he couldn't stand cruelty to animals or to the environment, a student who loudly defended Native American rights and who challenged a MySpace neo-Nazi in an online debate in which the swastika-displaying antagonist finally admitted that he needed to rethink things. If I give the impression of a slight nerd here I do an injustice. Everything that Mark wrote was imbued with a great spirit of humor and tough-mindedness. Here's an excerpt from his "Why I Joined" statement:Anyone who knew me before I joined knows that I am quite aware and at times sympathetic to the arguments against the war in Iraq. If you think the only way a person could bring themselves to volunteer for this war is through sheer desperation or blind obedience then consider me the exception (though there are countless like me).… Consider that there are 19 year old soldiers from the Midwest who have never touched a college campus or a protest who have done more to uphold the universal legitimacy of representative government and individual rights by placing themselves between Iraqi voting lines and homicidal religious fanatics.
And here's something from one of his last letters home:I was having a conversation with a Kurdish man in the city of Dahok (by myself and completely safe) discussing whether or not the insurgents could be viewed as "freedom fighters" or "misguided anti-capitalists." Shaking his head as I attempted to articulate what can only be described as pathetic apologetics, he cut me off and said "the difference between insurgents and American soldiers is that they get paid to take life—to murder, and you get paid to save lives." He looked at me in such a way that made me feel like he was looking through me, into all the moral insecurity that living in a free nation will instill in you. He "oversimplified" the issue, or at least that is what college professors would accuse him of doing.
I have a confession to make. I am truly, madly, deeply in love with America.
I love my country not because she is perfect, but because she wants so badly to be. I even love her faults, even the kind of obsessive navel gazing angst that mistakes fallible humans and imperfect realization of our ideals for evidence of pervasive moral rot and in so doing, makes conscience the scourge that would make moral cowards of us all:
... note how readily Beinart disposes of “liberty, justice, and equality.”
He has stripped patriotism to its vacuous essence: Love your country because it’s yours.
If we stopped that arm from reflexively saluting and concerned ourselves more with “universal ideals” than with parochial ones, we’d be a lot better off.
We wouldn’t be in Iraq, we wouldn’t have besmirched ourselves at Guantanamo, we wouldn’t be acting like some Argentinean junta that wages illegal wars and tortures people and disappears them into secret dungeons.
Love of country is a form of idolatry.
It is a dangerous moral equivalence which is so afraid of sinning that it would not kill a rabid wolf, lest it starve the flea on its back.
America is not a destination but a journey and in loving her, we must not become so firmly fixed upon the goal that we lose heart when we stumble a time or two upon the road. For stumble we will. After all, we are but human; all too imperfect clay with which to form the more perfect union our founding fathers envisioned.
I love this country because she was born in turmoil; baptized by fire and lighting; conceived from the highest aspirations of Enlightenment thinkers: words that ring as true today as they did over two hundred years ago:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
What are those words worth, today? Not much, apparently. Do we still believe them? Are they still engraved on our hearts? Do we still believe that ALL men are created equal? I keep hearing that the Arabs are "not ready for democracy". I consider that an appallingly condescending statement.
I submit that in 1776, those words were not worth the parchment they were scribbled on. Utter and absolute rubbish.
They did not become real until long years of bloody, miserable warfare breathed life into them. They were purchased, truly, at the cost of incalculable human suffering.
Bloodshed. Starvation. Sickness. Injustice. Abuse. Ugliness. Imperfection of every sort imaginable. And as Ignatieff mentions at the beginning of his piece, they did not apply equally to every American for a long, long time. Not to the Irish, nor to women, nor to Jews, nor Catholics, nor blacks, nor non-landowners. But this experiment we call America truly did 'light a fire in the minds of men'. And that fire was seen from a great distance.
It became a beacon to others, even with all its imperfections, because it was better than what had come before. This glorious dream: this democracy. It remains an imperfectly-realized ideal, because humans are still flawed and we bring all our sins and weaknesses with us on this journey. But we are vastly improved for having reached beyond our baser selves, for having dared to dream. We are still improving. And so will the rest of the world, if we can find the courage and the resolve to help them. We are on a road to the stars, but we progress one faltering step at a time.
Who are we to think that Freedom is ours to spread, Ignatieff asks?
We were the First. We are the guardians of the flame. Not perfect beings, but in all the world the only ones, it seems, still naive enough, still brave enough, still daring enough to put our money where our mouths are. We are the only ones who are still willing to defend the dream with our lives, our fortunes, our sacred honor.
Not all the time. Not in every single instance, because that is impossible. And honest liberals will admit that: in a universe with limited resources, choices must be made. But where we can, where it aligns with our interests and with the interests of the rest of the world: yes.
Our own Revolution was not without blemish. Innocent men were tarred and feathered. Families torn asunder. People bled, and suffered and starved. There was even [shudder] terrorism. But it lit a flame that has burned brightly for over 200 years. There are signs that this is happening in the MiddleEast: Arabs are looking at election day in Iraq and Afghanistan and demanding democratic reforms in Egypt and Lebanon and Kuwait. The fire in men's (and women's) hearts is spreading.
We would like certainty. We would like painless progress. We would like closure. We will not get any of those things.
On July 4th we must ask ourselves, what do we believe? Our military - brand new immigrants who enlist before the ink is dry on their visas - believe in those words so strongly that they will lay down their lives to spread the fire of democracy. They also believe (as I do) that their purpose is to serve American foreign policy aims, no matter how abstract and long-term they may seem. No matter how difficult to explain to the American people. No matter how frustrating in the short term.
What kind of world will we bequeath to our grandchildren? It may be that long before we know. But our actions today will have an incalculable effect on that far-off tomorrow. And if our policy is not firmly grounded in the spread of those long-ago words:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights...
...then I wonder if we shall not be the first Americans who fail to pass the blessings of liberty on to the next generation?
“The only thing necessary for evil to triumph. is for good men to do nothing.” - Edmund Burke.
Happy Birthday, America. May you always be great. May you remain a nation of thinkers, of dreamers, of believers, of doers; striving always towards our ideals without despising the imperfect means we use to achieve them.
But most importantly, may you never give in to cynicism and despair. In life as in sports, ninety nine percent of success lies in simply showing up.
July 03, 2008
Party Idea of the Week
First there were Mandals. Then came the ManCave and the Mancation.
The latest shiny thing? The ManShowers:
When Jonathan Morris’ daughter was planning her wedding, he thought the groom was getting overlooked. So he planned a guys-only "man shower" to welcome Brian Wigand into the family.
The party included manly snacks, games and gifts.
"It seemed like there was a lot of hoopla for the ladies and not too much for the guys," said Morris of Maple Valley, Wash. "It was really fun, male bonding."
It’s another example of grooms leaving their stereotypical roles behind, she said, noting that male bridesmaids and female groomsmen are becoming more common.
That doesn’t mean they’re abandoning tradition. For Rob Wise, the man shower was a warm-up to, not a substitute for, the bachelor party.
"It was precursor, a chance to get the guys together and let off a little steam," he said.
Highlights of the party included playing football, drinking games and Rock Band, a video game where players perform in virtual bands, said Wise, who married Michelle Creel in June.
"First and foremost, it was getting all my friends together in one place," the Baton Rouge, La., resident said. "It meant a lot for everyone to mingle before they got to the wedding."
Men also are recognizing that showers are a great way to acquire tools and other necessities needed to maintain a home, said Abby Buford, spokeswoman for Lowe’s Home Improvement stores, which launched an online wedding registry in 2006.
Actually, as long as guys don't have to wrap stuff or do anything stupid, I don't see what's wrong with giving the groom something to take his mind off the fact that his life has been completely derailed by the preparations for a one day ceremony. This kind of bonding experience could catch on.
VC's Official ThongWearer in Chief kicks some heiny:
...my li'l buddy, ry ... recently asked my thoughts on a subject he'd heard bruited about: “Why haven’t we gotten a better Iraqi Army for all the money we’ve spent?”
Ummmmm -- huh?
First, *we* didn’t get an Army -- Iraq did. Sure, we foot the bill -- just like we foot the bill for most of NATO during my growing-up years (pssst -- Marshall Plan, remember?), and for a lot of our other allies during their growing or reconstruction spurts (*waving hi to all our buddies in South Korea and Japan*) -- and Iraq is now an ally.
Second, everything else. Let’s take a look at the Army Iraq got.
* Light infantry, with a decent mech capability and recent airmobile experience.
* Operates jointly with allies as necessary or solo as required.
* Battle-tested in urban warfare against urban guerrilla terrorists (hey, there’s a catchy term from the past – urban guerrilla. You know, what Weather Undergrounders like Bernardine Dohrn and Bill Ayers were calling themselves before they decided to stop planting IEDs *in US cities* and go work for the Lightwalker).
The New Army kicks butt, takes names and, when it runs out of paper, stops taking names -- because it was recruited, trained and organized while its officers, NCOs, soldiers and recruits were being bombed, shot, rocketed, kidnapped and executed en masse by the same scuzzballs who demand that *we* roll over and die because our existence offends their tender Wahabi sensibilities.
Go read it all. And remind me never to get on Bill's bad side. I'd hate to be called one of them silly names... :p
The Future of Iraq
July 02, 2008
We Were Shocked....
...shocked we tell you, to hear (upon alighting from betwixt the marital sheets) that our fave SC Justice had once again waved his butter knife over the Constitution in style majestical and caused yet another federal statute to vanish into thin air!
Linda Greenhouse — yes, that Linda Greenhouse — reports:
When the Supreme Court ruled last week that the death penalty for raping a child was unconstitutional, the majority noted that a child rapist could face the ultimate penalty in only six states — not in any of the 30 other states that have the death penalty, and not under the jurisdiction of the federal government either.
This inventory of jurisdictions was a central part of the court’s analysis, the foundation for Justice Anthony M. Kennedy’s conclusion in his majority opinion that capital punishment for child rape was contrary to the “evolving standards of decency” by which the court judges how the death penalty is applied.
It turns out that Justice Kennedy’s confident assertion about the absence of federal law was wrong.
The lawyers missed it. The law clerks missed it. The justices missed it.
Who caught it?
A military law blog pointed out over the weekend that Congress, in fact, revised the sex crimes section of the Uniform Code of Military Justice in 2006 to add child rape to the military death penalty.
At this rate, we begin to fear for the entire federal code. Whatever would we do without Justice Kennedy?
He has become the Sally Struthers of SCOTUS, forever finding adorable little Penumbral Rights and Evolving Standards of Decency wandering alone and forlorn upon the streets of gay Paree. This would be fine if he didn't insist upon bringing the puppy-eyed little buggers home with him, but it's getting so the Editorial Staff are afraid to open our mailbox for fear of being accosted:
You’ve probably seen Keith Olbermann's invaluable Special Comments. Every night this brave truth teller defies the brutal repression of the current administration to warn us how millions of completely innocent American citizens have been locked up in Guantanamo Bay simply for daring to speak truth to fascism. In fact if not for Keith's nightly reminders, most Americans would probably remain tragically unaware their Constitutional rights are vanishing faster than serious news stories on the Fox News website. But all is not lost, mes amis.
One man: Justice Anthony Kennedy, stands between the Republic we hold dear and utter Tyranny. Striding boldly like a Colossus where others timidly toe the line, Justice Kennedy bursts the stale, quotidian shackles of precedent and judicial modesty asunder with supreme confidence in his own unerring infallibility.
We don’t all get to make a difference in this world. You’ve probably considered Opposing the Chimp before, but it’s so easy to make excuses like, ‘Ummm... American Idol is like, totally coming on at 8 o'clock’, or “I haven't voted since the 2000 election (in which my party demanded electronic ballots, which in turn allowed me to say I've completely lost faith in the electoral process) [exploding head]". You may even say, "What is the point of even trying in virtual police state? We all remember what happened to Keith Olbermann: dude is locked up in an airless cell in Gitmo with the frilly panties of Fascism pulled over his head."
But you can make a difference. For the price of a cup of coffee - just 50 cents a day - you can adopt your very own European Evolving Standard of Decency and bring it here to the U. S. of A.! We’ll even send you a picture of your young Standard of the generosity of patriots like you have saved from the clutches of Dick Cheney and Barney the White House Terrier. You can post your photo on your refrigerator to remind you of money well spent.
You owe it to your children to help Justice Kennedy rescue the few shreds of decency and civil rights that have managed to elude the depredations of your elected representatives. Remember our motto here at Evolving Standards R Us:
“L'etat? C'est moi!”
Seriously, the Editorial Staff are not quite sure why CAAFlog is so surprised:
Wednesday's controversial Supreme Court decision in Kennedy v. Louisiana, No. 07-343, canvassed the law in the United States governing the maximum permissible sentence for rape of a child. Remarkably, both the majority and the dissent overlooked a congressional statute right on point: the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2006.
As we noted earlier, Boumediene put us all on notice that the majority has slight regard for either Congressional statutes or the notion of judicial deference:
This excessive genuflection to the Black Nine has been bothering me quite a bit, too. Just why everyone should be inclined to perform the Thousand Prostrations simply because yet another imperial edict, informed by the kind of toffee nosed legal opinion that results from strolling down the Champs Elysees at midnight with a badly rolled Gauloise and a pocketful of anomie, has once again been handed down from on high continues to elude me.
In case it wasn't obvious, we're not in a serious mood here today, but the topic of SCOTUS simply ignoring Congress is a serious subject. After reviewing what just happened a few weeks ago, one wonders: did the majority "overlook" the relevant federal statute?
Or simply choose to ignore it? We sense a pattern developing, here.
If we didn't know better, we'd suspect Justice Kennedy was developing a coherent judicial philosophy. But that would be downright silly, wouldn't it?
Must See Photo of the Day
Via Fbl. Just scroll down and click.
She's right. Words are inadequate.