Sunday, December 21, 2008

I haven't thought about much for a while, but after reading my blog entries from five years ago, when I thought I was thinking, I realize now that I probably should stop thinking. Because I can't. Do it well. Remarkable, how long delusions can perpetuate.

I'll be adding to this blog. No one will read it. That's OK. If someone did read it, I'd be even more embarrassed than I am now, comfortably anonymous. Because dullards like me shouldn't attempt to be insightful.

Funny thing is, I tried to make a living at that. Fatuousness multiplied by ineptitude, equals such a nullity, it's bewildering.

Back I am. Am I back. Start with one word. Sentience. Unfortunate, that.

Tuesday, March 25, 2003

Jimmy Carter. American nebbish.

Not only did Carter put on a cardigan sweater and talk about "malaise" while Iranian theocrats held (and tortured, don't forget) our embassy employees, but under his administration, the US started its "tilt" towards, of all things, Iraq. So Carter is responsible in large part for the twin problems we face--the Batthists and the far more important problem of the rise (or, more accurately, the rebirth) of reactionary Islamic fundamentalism.

Jimmy Carter: worst American president of the 20th century, and with NO competition. (Bush is 21st century, and in all fairness, he's got a long, long, long way to go before he can match Carter's incompetence, which was transcendent at times.) And all Carter's holier-than-thou Habitat for Humanity crap is grating as ... well, hell. We want to put a deck on our house; maybe I'll write Carter and ask him if he'll do it. I'm human, I'm humane (well, to dogs and cats), and I want expanded habitat.

Billy, his late, lamented booze-hound of a brother, on the other hand, might have made a damn fine president. (His evangelist sister, Ruth Stapleton, who's also dead, would probably have made a better president as well.) I'm sure Billy would have flattened Teheran 48 hours after the hostages were taken, sucking down beer all the time. That's what we should have done; just told the Soviets what we're doing, and there you go. The hostages would have died, of course, but I'm pretty sure that would have saved 2,800 lives on 9/11. Nip it in the bud.

Jimmy Carter is the Mister Rogers of American presidents.

Speaking of religious nuts, why is even Fox new failing to focus on shithead Asan Akbar, the murderer in the rear, and his beliefs? Here's the US military spin:

"George Heath, a spokesman for the division's home base at Ft. Campbell, Ky., said Akbar had been "having what some might call an attitude problem." Max Blumenfeld, an Army spokesman in Kuwait City, said the suspect's motive "most likely was resentment."

Here's something a bit more pertinent:

"Akbar graduated from Locke High School in Los Angeles. He also studied at the Masjid Bilal Islamic Center, a predominantly African American mosque in South-Central Los Angeles."

Islam is a religion of peace, right Mr. Bush?
There's entirely too much focus on goofy anti-war protestors and "human
shields," and not nearly enough on whether this military action is the SMART thing to do.
I know we have smart weapons; I don't think those include some members of this Administration or its so-called brain trust..

The "embedded" reporters have been awfully silent over the past few days.

In lieu of three-day old CNN human interest stories, or Faux News cheerleading interviews with third-tier Heritage Foundation functioinaries, or MSNBC interviews with top brass who've been TV commentators since Kosovo, here's
some of what's going on:

According to a BBC reporter in central Iraq, "a large convoy of US marines remains stalled about a 100 miles south of Baghdad after encountering heavy resistance from Iraqi forces. Further shelling took place this morning,
aimed at Iraqi convoys, before the marines switched location. The warm greeting these men received as they entered Iraq has all but evaporated. The Bedouin tribesmen and their toothy grins have been replaced by tenacious and
well-armed groups of Iraqi fighters, seemingly determined to halt the advance on Baghdad."

Even in Shiite-controlled Basra, an area certainly not fond on Saddam, the city has not fallen yet. Some reports are attributing this to elements of the RG who are intimidating the local population. Could be. But the city is surrounded, and I would think that if the local population was really happy that we were there, they wouldn't be quite so intimidated by some Batthist thugs left behind; they'd be looking at this opportunity to get even for years of tyranny.Of course, they remember how we sold them down the river (almost literally) in '91, so I'd be reluctant, too. And this is the BBC, which didn't like the fact we went into Afghanistan, for chrissakes, never mind Iraq.

Despite our admirable policy of minimizing Iraqi civilian casualites (and possibly endangering our own guys in the process), the hearts and minds don't seem to be all a flutter at our incursion. All this talk about "liberation" fails to
take into account that we are invading another country. We are not invading Saddam's living room; from some of the admin shills, you'd think we were doing just that. One guy's liberation is another's threat. That's not moral relativity; that's reality. One that the right wing doesn't seem to get. There's been a great deal of debate on how righteous this is; there should have been more on how prudent it is.

BTW, Rumsfield's and Wolfowitz's confidence that shock and awe would cause the Iraqi leadership to cave belies their ignorance of military history. Bombing doesn't do it. We leveled every city in Japan with conventional bombing, and the Japs were still ready to fight. They were ready to keep at even after Hiroshmia and Nagasaki, but Hirohito knew the game was up, and because he was god on earth, when he talked, the Japanese followed, and the adverbly "timidly" soon followed.

Here's another report:

"British Royal Marines have moved into positions along the Iraqi border with Iran. It is the furthest east that they have deployed and is a sign that Britain and America are worried that Iran may try to exploit the chaos caused by the war. RAF Chinook helicopters dropped hundreds of Marines, many looking tired after days moving through the desert into the border region. We went with them into an area pitted with shell holes. They are not from the current conflict, but are the scars left by eight years of fighting between Iraq and Iran during the 1980s. Now the Marines are trying to make sure Iran can't exploit Iraq's current weakness. The Marines have complained already they've come under fire from Iranian machine guns, a charge denied by Iran."

This shouldn't be surprising. Iran is much more of an enemy to us than Iraq, since it is run by religious theocrats who are far more of a danger to this country than a tinhorn Arab nationalist dictator. Expect more of this kind of thing. I wouldn't be surprised if we were in a full scale (if undeclared) war with Iran with a couple of weeks. Who knows what kind of WMDs the Iranians might have. Certainly its military is more imposing than Iraq's. (What about those Silkworm missles?) The Iranians will feel that we are overextended and could try to take advantage, by embarrassing Uncle Sam and giving the Muslim world
a quick thrill. The optimistic scenario is that by this time Iraq would be "conquered" and Saddam and his gang consigned to the dustbin of history. It'd be nice if we had a coalition of troops from other countries who could serve as peackeeepers so that we could turn our military to use on any repercussions (i.e., any Iranian incursion) that results from this war. But
Micronesia hasn't offered its crack Tahitian divisions yet, as far as I know. And our "coalition of the willing" is mostly that kind of thing (the Brits excepted, of course.)

Meanwhile, Turkey moves against the Kurds to the north. Many supporters of this war thought we were going to somehow "save" the Kurds; now they are coming to the belated realization that this Administration doesn't give two
turds about the Kurds. And rogue Russian criminal (or quasi-criminal) elements are giving night vision goggles to the Iraqis. Bush is telling Putin to crack down. Bit of history here. Last year, Putin agreed with Bush on massive cuts on our nuclear arsenals and, at considerable domestic political risk, Putin went along with Bush on Star Wars. Putin, naturally,
felt Bush owed him one. In the run up to Iraq, however, the morons who run our administration took Russia completely for granted (I thought Condi Rice was a "Russian expert") and assumed the bear would line up behind us obediantly. Bears are not noted for obediance. (Read Theodore Rex, which I just got finished with, and you'll see how even Teddy Roosevelt, who
is to Shrub what a sequoia is to milkweed, had to handle the Russians with diplomatic nuance.) This hurt Russian pride; our Adminstration didn't seem to give a damnt. We don't seem to give a damn about anyone's pride but the Weekly Standard's.
Well, here's the blowback: Putin is not going to put himself out cracking down on unauthorized (we hope) arms shipments to Iraq.

This is making all the continued grumbling about human shields and Blimpie Moore a bit dated.


One of the princesses of the right, Peggy "Dolphins" Noonan, better hire herself a new editor.

A VERBATIM quote from her recent article in the WSJ (boldface mine):

It is going to mean, first, that something good happened. This sounds small but is huge. The West has been depressed since Sept. 11, 2001. It has been torn, riven. It has been a difficult time. The coming victory is going to be the biggest good thing that has happened in the world, the West and the United States since the twin towers fell.

Why is "West" capitalized and "twin towers" isn't? And then there's the matter of how this reads.

Whatta dimwit. And that's being kind.

Meanwhile, here's a guy blogging his ass off, breaking stories way before the cable channels or major websites are. Worth a long look.

Update on Farmer Wright. He was "distraught," and that included because his dog died. I got a lot of sympathy for people who grieve over their dogs. And, yeah, our right to protest, and it's under seige, possibly. Still, this guy did claim to have a bunch of explosives in his truck, so that separates him out from your run-of-the-mill protestor. And he drove it into the
reflecting pool, which I'm sure violates many an ordinance; I don't think you can get a permit to do that kind of particular
"protesting." So "nonviolent" is not applicable in Old McDonald's case, even though "violent" might be stretching things. There's a gray area in between.

While I agree there's more than a hint these days that anyone who dares to protest anything is an enemy of the state and subject to, at the least, summary execution, this hayseed was going quite a bit beyond the exercise of his First Amendment rights as well as anything that could reasonably be allowable under any standard of "civil disobedience."

Besides, it's personal. He's a religious fanatic (knock, knock), the type of guy always complaining others getting the
gummit handout when he's gettin' plenty himself, and he caused me to be late to an appointment. Red state/blue state, round 7646. If his f*****g farm is going up in smoke, he should go learn how to grow soybeans or something. Or move to
Iowa and get on the ADM ethanol gravy train.
Daschle's gotten a lot of grief for his remarks the other day, and it's probably deserved, but I'm much more interested in what is worse.

People have mentioned that Lott got a bit of the shaft, given that "Bringin' Home the Bacon" Byrd's resume includes a stint in the KKK. You know the ground is shakin' when Trent Lott becomes a object of relative sympathy.

I "weep for my country" whenever I realize Byrd (Lott, too, for that matter) is (still) a member of the "World's Greatest Deliberative Body."

Like the article says, it's just one guy, so it might not mean there's widespread disaffection. And it's not like the intelligence services deserve the benefit of the doubt, since they, like everyone else, are culpable in 9/11.

The money passages (b/f mine)::

WASHINGTON, March 19 (UPI) -- The top National Security Council official in the war on terror resigned this week for what a NSC spokesman said were personal reasons, but intelligence sources say the move reflects concern that the looming war with Iraq is hurting the fight against terrorism.

Rand Beers would not comment for this article, but he and several sources close to him are emphatic that the resignation was not a protest against an invasion of Iraq. But the same sources, and other current and former intelligence officials, described a broad consensus in the anti-terrorism and intelligence community that an invasion of Iraq would divert critical resources from the war on terror.

This is a very intriguing decision (by Beers)," said author and intelligence expert James Bamford. "There is a predominant belief in the intelligence community that an invasion of Iraq will cause more terrorism than it will prevent. There is also a tremendous amount of embarrassment by intelligence professionals that there have been so many lies out of the administration -- by the president, (Vice President Dick) Cheney and (Secretary of State Colin) Powell -- over Iraq."

Bamford cited a recent address by President Bush that cited documents, which allegedly proved Iraq was continuing to pursue a nuclear program, that were later shown to be forgeries.

"It is absurd that the president of the United States mentioned in a speech before the world information from phony documents and no one got fired," Bamford said. "That alone has offended intelligence professionals throughout the services."

This loon shut down DC traffic for two days.

Two questions:

1/This guy's worried about tobacco price supports, or whatever, and creating a public menace, at a time of war. Where's John Ashcroft? I guess he's too busy opening people's mail. If we're going to start throwing around words like traitor, I've got the first name for the list: Dwight W. Watson.

2/What does this say about our ability (or inability) to respond to potential terror attacks
The difference between reactionary-right charlatans on the Supreme Court and those "f*****g Hollywood/leftist communists" who are so scorned these days--and I'll scorn 'em right along with everyone else, since I despise the celebirty culture in general--is that the Hollywood left has no real power, and anyone who thinks otherwise knows nothing about power. "Shaping the cultural climate" of the nation is just geek-speak of those with a social agenda only slightly less restrictive than the Taliban's.

So let's go after things that matter, OK?

Scalia, one of the most important men in the country, yesterday said that we should suspend, or amend, or otherwise traduce, the Bill of Rights. (I thought Scalia was a "strict constructionist." Tony S., by virtue of his membership in the USSC, is in a bit more of a position to do harm to the country than, say, Martin Sheen is.

So where are the libertarians on this one? Can Neil Boortz stop shilling for the Administration long enough to notice this?
And the "liberal" Washington Post, where is its editorial outrage. First Amendment is usually the first one to go, after all. That's why so many are so absolute about it.

Someone sent me an email by someone who had spent evidently hours tracking down the educational achievements of Susan Sarandon and Alec Baldwin and that lot, and compared that to the educational backgrounds of people in this administration. Funny, that, on many levels, not the least of which is that so many people spend so much time assailing academia, but then don't hesitate to haul out academic credentials when it "supports" their argument. (I'll leave aside for the time being that one of the educational titans this email listed was our famously intellectual President.) Funny, also, that this guy didn't look up the educational background of, say, Ted Nugent, or Reba McIntyre, or Charlton Heston, or any other celebrities who are Republicans Party supporters. {Being an actor didn't seem to disqualify Reagan from being President, did it?}. If Martin Sheen should shut up, then so the f**k should Little Teddyboy Nugget. At least Martin Sheen has made a couple of good movies.

Back to Tony Soprano. Don't think when he starts talking about scaling back individual rights in time of warfare (Has Congress declared war yet? How can it be wartime) that he's just going to limit it to Muslims. That would, of course, involve religious profiling, which I fully support, but which isn't going to happen any time soon. If the choice is casting a look at an organized monotheistic relligion or just de facto (and, eventually, de jure, no doubt) shaving back on a few rights, which option do you think Tony Soprano and Ashheap will pursue? That ilk has been gunning to do this quite a while; read Robert Bork's "Slouching Toward Gomorrah" to get an idea of their agenda.

This crowd was looking with admiration, in fact, at fundamentalist Muslim societies, until 9/11 made such sympathities a bit unseemly. Remember Grover Norquist's advise to the Republican Party to actively recruit in mosques (so 1990s, but there it is.) Or Dana Rohrbacher playing Disraeli with the Taliban literally weeks before the Towers fell?

I tell you, if getting rid of Saddam means giving Scalia, Ashcroft, Poindexter, and that crowd carte blanche to gut our freedoms, it ain't worth it. Meanwhile, 150 billion deficits, the threat of turning Iraq (which had been, for that part of the world, a relatively secular society) into another maniacal bunch of Muslims (read http://this-- especially the last couple of paragraphs) ticking off the rest of the world (who'll we'll need somewhere down the line both to reconstruct and pay for the reconstruction of, Iraq, and to continue to pursue Islamic fanatics) and on and on and on. These are tough questions, and should make anybody ambivalent about this little adventure we're launching into. I'm not saying we shouldn't, and we have to now, we've come too far. But that doesn't diminish the gravity of these issues. But the right wing just lays the smackdown on the surrender monkies a bit, and laughs o' million, and over 50% of people in this country think most of the 911 hijackers were Iraqis, and meanwhile Scalia does his Machiavellian-cum-Capone act. With Clarence Thomas featured as the enforcer .... naah, that doesn't work. He's fat, but it's a pudgy fat; he ain't Clemenza, in other words.

Not all is lost. Here's something from a real libertarian and not that poseur Boortz down in Atlanta.

Yesterday, Tony "sopranos" Scalia handed down this pearl of legal legerdemain:

UNIVERSITY HEIGHTS, Ohio (AP) -- Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said Tuesday night that government has room to scale back individual rights during wartime without violating the Constitution. "The Constitution just sets minimums," Scalia said at John Carroll University. "Most of the rights that you enjoy go way beyond what the Constitution requires."

That's lovely. Compare to the Bill of Rights, which has generally been thought as superceding the random burblings of a SCJ.

Amendment IX: The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
Amendment X: The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

But after all, the French and Hollywood has-been Hollywood actresses are the REAL threat here, huh?
What's anti American here, that Dixie Chick (who are they, anyway?) saying that Bush is an embarrassment, or
Where's Bill O'Blather now?
Where's Neil Bore-tz?

This country's gone through the looking glass. You'd think we were at war with Hollywood celebrities and
French-American citizens instead of Islamo-nuts.
This is every bit a "hate crime" as burning a cross on a black family's lawn. If we're gonna prosecute something as a "hate crime" (and I'm not generally comfortable with that whole idea, but that's another issue for another time) then these pr***ks should be brought to account. Make 'em sit in a room for a year and watch Jean-Luc Goddard films, and having nothing to eat but sweetbreads.

The yahoos who do this kind of thing take their lead directly from chest-thumbing cretins like Hannity and Mike "Savage," who define balls as the ablility to insult Barbara Streisand, and indirectly from Rumsfield, who defines balls as the ability to target Iraq the day the worst attack on American citizens in history. The former are evil scoutmasters manipulating their easily fooled listeners; Rummy is just increasingly dangerous to our national security.

Chirac is manipulative scum and totally irresponsible, but there are plenty of people of France who are worried about their own problems with Muslim Immigrants (look at how well Le Pen did) and we shouldn't be alienating them by spending taxpayer dollars debating whether the Congressional cafeteria should rename French fries "Freedom fries." What garbage.

Chirac, with his dunderheaded attempts at strong arming Eastern Europe, is alienating the entire world even more quickly than Bush,, and he'll be consigned appropriately shortly. Meanwhile, we're alienating a liberal democracy with whom we've got a shared 200+ year history where we've helped each other out of several jams (usually because it was in our own respective national interests), while staying mum on our theocratic friends like the Saudis or our authoritarian friends (who are perilously close to become theocracies themselves) like the Pakis.

These French bashing jokes were funny, but it's getting old.

Friday, September 13, 2002

This sucks.

I don't much like celebrities or celebrity culture, and bad things if they happen to good people happen a lot more to anonymous ones. Bad things, when they happen to celebrities, I shrug my shoulders and if someone mentions that Former Heartthrob Simon or Lovely Princess Diana died, I let go with an insta-screed against our pop-drenched society

I suppose I'm no different though. I'm taking this kind of hard, and that's surprising, given what a hard week this has been on the emotions to begin with. Zevon was (well, still is; like Michael Palin, "he's not dead yet" and he'd probably appreciate the reference) the anti-celebrity, with a great warped sense of humor--already joking about his impending death, which is something I wouldn't have the mettle to do--and he was a hell of a songwriter. You put the two together, and you get "punching out Chryslers in the factory/breathing polymetalchloride in the factory." (Given this bad news, was Zevon priescient with this lyric?) I always thought Springsteen's song "Factory" from "Darkness" was moving; then I heard Zevon's take, and I could never again listen to Bruce's without thinking a wee bit, well ... sentimental. As in "Sentimental Hygiene."

One of my favorites, off the same album, is "Bad Karma": "I took a wrong turn/On the astral plane/Now I keep on thinking my luck is gonna change/Someday/Bad karma/It's uphill all the way." The idea of karma, the stuff of millions of phonies propounding on half baked metaphysics while fingering beads, bracketed by lines like the last, straight out of a C&W song back when C&W was sung by ... well, people like Zevon. Hearning Zevon sing about bad karma is kind of like hearing Celine Dion sing about seducing the milkman. The difference, of course, is that Zevon did sing about that stuff, and about a whole lot of other things few other people did, and he did it, to borrow from another memorable performer (two, if you count Sid Vicious, who was kind of like an untalented Zevon, I suppose), his way.

I've seen him three times; once, around 1990, in DC's Lisner Auditorium, he orchestrated (and that is the word, literally) the most memorable concert opening I've ever seen. No big laser show, of course, no fireworks, just synthesized music that was like the soundtrack from some movie like "Soylent Green," and this semi-modulated, disembodied voice, part haunting and part cranky, that spoke German over for a few minutes. It could have been directions on the Metro, it could have been a lecture in chemistry, it could have been ... well, it was German. I understand a little German, but I couldn't make much of it out, so maybe it was pidgin German. Well, anyway, what it did was, it drew you in, like a good opening of anything should, and in a way that surprises you, even in retrospect. My description doesn't do it justice.

Little Bennie Shapiro, in his little smug cocoon of right wing christianity and disdain of our amoral and godless society, should let his hair down a bit, get drunk, not waste his youth on being a scold, and learn a thing or two about living from Zevon. We all probably could.

Thursday, September 12, 2002

From the ridiculous to the sublime.

I spend too much time brooding about the munchkins like Shapiro, and not enough contemplating the giants.

Like Melville. This from his poem, "The Martyr," on Lincoln's assassination. Quite apt for the Slaughter, though.

"There is sobbing of the strong,
And a pall upon the land;
But the People in their weeping
Bare the iron hand;
Beware the People weeping
When they bare the iron hand."

Wednesday, September 11, 2002

And then there's little munchkins like this . I've got more respect for the average Tailban. At least they've got the stuff to live in the desert and go through military training for their allah. This little derisive nonentity sits at home having intelligent conversation with Mother dearest. Hint, dork: real 18-year-old patriots are humping it in Parris Island, not bravely berating liberal arts professors.
Oh, and one more thing.

How should we go about "commemorating" today?

How about by disposing of these cretins.

How's that for introspection?

We've had days of sadness and reflection and crying, and it's all very edifying and civilizing.

Now it's time to start licking our chops again.
I read somewhere once that we write things down because it helps our thinking. I probably read it several times, ii fact, since chances are if I only had read it once, I wouldn't have remembered it. I've always been intimidated by those essays that begin by some multitasker braying, "once, thirty-seven years ago, when I contemplated at dawn the mulberry tree in my backyard while scratching my armpit and reading Keats' "Ode to a Grecian Urn," I was struck by ..."

We write things down to tell us not what to think--christ, there are enough pretenders to that task among us--but to bring order to our thought, which invariably starts off chaotic and primordial, full of biases and little known facts and eddies of conversations and snippets of things we've read, and we have to sort through all this as we pursue the primrose path of logic (or Dianectics {sic) if you're a Scientologist.). And there's a lot of sorting out when it comes to the ... Event.

So one way I've -- and better writers than me -- have tried to do it, has been to put fingertip to keyboard, and pound away until the chemic of sense precipitates out of the volume of inspiration.

I remember Leon Wiestieler (sic) of the New Republic, writing even before the bellow of the towers' collapse had been silenced in our minds, "beware of attempts at fine writing." He's a fine writer, himself, and I'm never wary of him, but I thought this was a rather cheap or at least ungenerous sentiment. But I did remember it after having read it only once; the cuts closest to the bone are the ones that bleed the most.

So in writing about It ... well, that's the first thing. By what name shall last year at this time go by? 911? Convenient shorthand, but, in the end, a hotel room number. I stayed on the ninth floor in a Dallas hotel recenlty, and whenever I passed room 911, I looked at it, sure, but there was no essential revelation. Just a hallway with faux art and faux carpet; comfortable, I might add. But the gods or monsters of inspiration were not summoned. Not even in the city JFK was shot in, a city 230 miles south of where the Murrah building used to be and where McVeigh may or may not have had the help of Iraqi intelligence. A state that houses Waco, the Alamo, the Texas City explosion of 1947 that killed around 600, one of the great civilian death tolls in the 20th century.

These threads can lead the unbalanced mind anywhere.

So what other name do we name these dreadful things, other than, say, "Dreadful Things," which could be nightmares or cancer. "Attacks"? "Attack" implies something that was being defended at the time. We weren't defending ourselves; the nature of these ... events ... is that they won't, can't occur to something that's defended. "Terrorist attacks" is, to me, an oxymoron, if you buy a certain meaning of attack. I'm sure think tanks citywide are full of people who'd disagree, and some who'd say that's a dangerous way to think. Well, fine.

And, then, "terrorism". That's a weasel word here; this isn't the IRA or Basque Separatists, as many have pointed out. It's radical Islam, and maybe a lot more of Islam--it's up to them to prove that to me, and not incumbent upon me to apologize for that. That's a debate that should be over, unless of course you're on the campus of SFSU or in the Bush Administration. Such strange bedfellows there are in these times.

How about "slaughter," then? Yeah, that'll do. But even that implies a crime. Well, it was a crime, the biggest one ever perhaps, but it was much, much, more, and anyone those who say, like the National Review, that if we look at it as a crime we respond to it with legality and not war have a very good point. Me and the National Review; another strange partnership. But then against, Christopher Hitchens is being published by Front, so up is down and black is white

But writing it down helps, and its therapeutic, and the need for some kind of reflectiveness shouldn't be lost even though I'm grinding my teeth at hearing 60s peacenik anthems as background music for some 911 memoriums. Writing it down, grappling with the immensity of the horror, is probably most of the reason blogging has become such a phenomenon. Lots of folks were doing it before, of couse, just like lots of people had cars before World War II; but the automotive age didn't start until afterwards, and the Blogging Age, if there is such a thing, will be marked from September 11th. All the sudden, there were these shattering, horrid events, ravishing symbols and killing thousands (and this in a country where only four times in its history had more than a thousand civilians been killed in a single event); being thinking, rational people, we turned to this wonderful creation the I-net, which allows us to explore the very nether regions of opinion which exist because every fact can be turned inside out and refracted, and it allowed us to learn much more and much more quickly about this than any other like minded group of people have ever assimilated a similarly arresting event.

But thinking is not and never should be just a means to an end, even if that end is opinion. Opinion is necessary, of course, if we are to order the world and not have it simply reflect our internal chaos. But some are taking that too far, and demanding certainty everywhere, iron bound and commanded by some smoldering Diety whose traditional values, and by the way, Eminem in jail and post the Ten Commandments in every public place in the country and block any website that has a naked breast on it. Uh-huh. Remember all that jabbering about postmodernism, and the decline of the west, and feeble academics? They're the ones shilling hardest for the march on Baghdad now, even with al Qaeda's top leadership still lurking in the shadows of the Karakorams.

And what about this? Everyone is screeching all Chomsky, all the time, how feckless he and Sontag and Fisk and a lot of other people no one had ever heard of before last September were so warped, and very good sport at the time it was. But now, what about this -- while Noam was manufacturing dissent, that shining star of the American patriot right, Representative Dana Rohrbacher, was hobnobbing with the Taliban two years after their house guest Osama had called for the slaughter of Americans. Type in "Fisk" or some of those other names in Google, and you'll get web page listings that crawl with invective, and for good reason. Why doesn't that happen when you type in Dana's name? Katha Pollit gets her panties up in a bunch at the idea of flying the American flag, and she's zinged for being a creepy-crawlie leftie, and she should have been. Lots of people, myself included, who'd never flown a flag in their life put one on the 11th and have left it and will leave it up ... well, forever. It's called taking back love of country from the demogogues like Whorebacher who've made it unappealing in the first place. Well, the left is in sorry disgrace; will Whorebacher be sent packing?

But these opinions, whether from the left or the right, it's just hobnobbing with the demogogues, and are just slightly less worthless than a plunger in a port-o-john. Besides, on any given topic, in any given lifetime someone will usually change their opinion on the margins, and might even rip their opinion out by the roots once or twice and think something else. Consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds; another bromide that can sink a thousand arguments.

This is an issue so vast, so inclusive, so transmogrifying in so many ways, that the habit of what the gloomy might call introspection or the precise call scrutiny should never conclude. My wife got me five books on it for my birthday, which I'd pointed out to her just a week before; all of these have been already supplanted on the best-seller lists. We think we have a lot to assimilate now, just wait a few years.

Some sharpie might say, if you think there's no argument about how huge this Slaughter, this Crime, this Act of Sadistic Insanity, then doesn't that right there kind of dent the edifice of my theory, which is that real debate should never end. Yet here I am, proposing the end of debate, saying no one should ever stop thinking about it. And so on this can go -- you can see where it will go -- into an infinite regression of dialectic, which invariably brings up postmodernism and them thar hateful libs, and then j'accuse from the libs who complain how they're being suppressed, and there it is, the Free Republic v. Media Whores Online, round ninety-eight, blue v. red, Bush caused 911 to get oil for his buddies v. the only thing Clinton did was send over a few rockets to get people's minds off that slut Monica. The extremes are always entertaining but, Christ, sometimes, I get sick of all that hooey.

I keep thinking to the scene in "Casablanca"--all right, it's a cliche, fuck it, it's always been a cool movie, and now more relevant than ever--right after Bogart sends Ilsa off with Lazlo, and Louie, no slouch in panache, says, "well, Rick, it seems you're not only a sentimentalist, but you've become a patriot," and Rick replies, "well, it seemed like a good time to start." Shrugs his shoulders. Damn right. Good a time as any, lefties. But, righties, before you start gambolling in ultimate victory, it's worth remembering that Bogie was called a commie in his time and haled before the House Un-Americans Activity Committee. A sign of someone who's not thinking is someone who doesn't see some unsettling parallel betweens Joe McCarthy and John Ashcroft.

've always believed it's a good thing if you talk to yourself, not to mention unavoidable, and if you move your lips doing it, so what? I remember being told when I was kid not to do that because people would know you were crazy and they'd scorn you and make fun of you. Well, they did that anyway, until I got to be bigger than them; then I could move my lips and if anyone looked at me funny, I'd glare back at them, and that was that. Of course, the lesson took, in its own way; I'm always finding myself humming some idiotic tune, like the old "Batman" theme, instead of thinking about whether the Islamic world is salvagable, or what if any blowback there was from our support for the mujuhadeen in the 80s to al Qaeda today. So, yeah, hold the opinions, and defend them, but remember it's usually not a bad idea occasionally to question them, to yourself if to no one else, and if you put all down in a blog, even if no one reads it, it's part of the record, and we're all part of that.

So does this mean the journey is all, not the destination? (Another shopworn phrase, uh-oh, but I've been bureaucratizing over the past two weeks, and I've got the fever but good.) Then think back to last year on this day and, in that case, it was the destination which was important, tragically so. How nice it would have been, after all, if the planes had just kept flying, or just landed where they should have, and the 11th would have gone down as just another noneventful pleasant late-summer day, and not the defining act of our times.

But then I'm reminded that if Al Qaeda or some other group of god fearin' loons had kept its powder dry a few more years, so to speak, they might have obtained some bad-ass biological "agent" or some horrible toxin or a nuke, and then we'd have had a six-figure death toll. Not a flippant rumination if you do it five miles from the White House. Would we have woken up to the danger of Islamic fundamentalism without a 911 occurring? You say "yes," but the evidence is sparse, if not non-existent. There's were the Iranian hostages, fatwas against Salman Rushie, the first WTC, the African embassies, the destruction of the Buddist temples, the USS Cole. None of those were the "tipping point," in the popular parlance, that the 11th was.

But you say "no," and that's ... I don't want to go any further down that path of inquiry. Not today.

Thursday, August 29, 2002

Scrambling up mount oracle (as in the Greeks, not Larry Ellison's), trying to revitalize my blog. Too much depressing stuff going on to attend to call of egocentricity. The stock market collapsing (yeah, yeah, up month in August, beware September, the meanest month), corporate crooks everywhere, Ann Coulter advocating blowing up the New York Times (some wit said that the NYT is now performing the role Clinton's member used to, the ... er, thrust of all evil), and the Saudis, the SAUDIS, the GODDAMN SAUDIS. I feel like Matt Dillion's character in Drugstore Cowboy after he sees the hat on the bed.

Plus this month harbors my birthday, which is always a rank event that leads to dangerously lugubrious ruminations. When the highlight of the past fortnight was a business trip to Dallas to report on meetings regarding federal government workman's compensation claims --- I therefore lay claim to the informantion bidness crown of Extreme Esoteria -- you know the days I've fallen on have been particularly fell.

So, in keeping with the creative advances I've achieved this month, I'll recycle a few emails here.

You know what that patriot, Ari Fleishcher, said the other day about Prince

"He's a very charming guy. He speaks very good English, better than most
Americans do."

Prick. Here we have, as Matt Welch points out, have the spectacle of the president's press secretary condescending to and rankly INSULTING
Americans in order to genuflect to the people who sponsored the murder of 3,000
of us.

Can you imagine the reaction if Clinton's press secretary had said
something like this? Yet nary a peep from the established media. So much for
Bernie Goldberg's thesis about the "liberal" media. Maybe they are
individually, but they treat this administration like ... well, this
adminstration treats the Saudis.

If the Bush Administration kissed any more Saudi ass, even Hustler wouldn't
publish the pictures.

Welch grits his teeth and gives us the latest rundown of American genuflection before the Soddies.

Like I said, I just got back from Dallas, covering meetings regarding workman's compensation. Pure adrenal excitement. 13 breakout sessions, each one trumping the previous one in dash and flair. A man cain't stand too much of that lest he go BLIND!

Oh, well, I always like going to Texas. I got there a day early and tooled up to Oklahoma. Texans are nice; Okies are mean. Sorry to any Okies reading this, but I'm plain spoken (easy to be that way, 1000 miles from Oklahoma City) But there's this national wildlife refuge outside of Lawton called the Wichita Mountains that rears up off the plains like, as Cormac McCarthy might write, the backbone of some great spined creature of myth. I went hiking up there, up Last Resolution Mountain, or something like that. I also stopped by Archer City, Texas, a little piss of a place where Larry McMurtry was born. McMurtry still keeps a lplace there, and the entire downtown (well, what there is of it, it really is out of the "Last Picture Show") is more or less a used bookstore that he runs. He's a big collector of used books. Anyway, I pull into town about 5 pm Saturday evening, feeling like Hud ("did you have trouble here last night?" "I had HUD in here last night, is what I had" -- Hud the movie was based on McMurtry's first novel, Horseman, Pass By) -- and who do I see getting out of his big black Caddie, wearing a bolo tie, and looking like he'd just stepped out of a John Ford western? I walk by him, say "hello, Mr. McMurtry," and he said, "O'Grady, ah yes, even though I've won Pulitzers and National Book Awards and made shitloads of money, my life is incomplete, because I know I'll never be in the running for one of your Nonachievement Awards!" I shook my head sadly and in sympathy, musing all the while on the fickleness of fate and on man's desperate attempts to deny his own.

Driving around Texas reminds me of the P.I. in Blood Simple: "Now in Russia, they got it figured that everyone pulls for everyone else; at least, that's the theory. Well, I don't know about Russia, but this here is Texas, an' in Texas, you're on your own." That got me to thinking of Jeff Skilling and Sullivan and that crowd, and how the tax 'n spenders are just drooling in anticipation in launching an assault on Fort Lassiez-Faire, and how we're no longer going to be on our own. Even though it's been my experience you're usually better off when you're on your own (which, actually, is one of the hidden meanings of the movie, come to think of it).

Dallas reminded me of Don DeLillo's "Libra," a (somewhat) fictionalized account of the JFK assassination. T.J. Mackey. George de Mohrenschilt. Shadowy figures lurking on the fringe, hiding between the neon-lit corridors, brooding over that bastard who sold us out to Castro. Dallas is still like that. It thrusts its glamour and wealth (or what's left of it), but in between the seams, there's this sleaziness of industrial parks and liquor-on-the-go shop and robs and strange bedeviled looking characters who've spent too much time in urban wildernesses living beneath underpasses selling the odd LaRouche newsletter. I was last in Dallas six years ago on my American trauma tour, when I went to Oklahoma City as well as Dallas, and also almost got myself killed wandering around Waco asking where the Branch Davidians complex was.

In Dallas, there's this main arterial road, the Stemmions Freeway, that approaches downtown from the northwest. Lots of budget motels along it back in the mid 90's, I stayed in one. And strip joints to the galore. Industrial section, with lots of long low buildings that could hold massive amounts of contraband and, in the winter, illegal immigrants. But now, in true Dallas fashion, the area's been totally redone as a convention epicenter. Trade marts, skyscraper hotels. The convention was in this swanky place called the Wyndham Anatole. They done put in me up in style, goldurn it, for a govmint type. Complimentary cocktail, bathroom phone, towels the size of comforters, a bed so wide you could scout across it. (Only problem was, the friggin' air conditioning didn't work well, so there I was, trying to sleep in this 300 dollar a night room, sweating.) The lobby could have held a roundup of steers (I learned that a steer is really a castrated bull, which gives a whole 'nother level of meaning to the "steers and queers" Texas jokes.). Cavernous, overwhelmingly capacious. As they say, "Texas-sized." At a restaurant called Pappas Bros., I got me one of them there 28 oz. ribeye steaks one night and chewed it all up right there on the premises. Then I left the gal who served me a PETA brochure on the evils of slaughterhouses, instead of a tip.

Monday, July 15, 2002

Excuse me, Shrub? You're calling the 90s an "economic binge?" I thought you were a Republican, and favored economic growth and the increase in individual wealth. Now you're saying it was nothing more than a wild party that we have to suffer for.

You (or that ghastly Karl Rowe) are choosing to play politics with the stock market collapse. A Republican. A Texas bidnessman Republican. This is astonishing. Somewhere, Calvin Coolidge is crying in his scotch and soda. Good God, Shrub, you're bashing people doing well in the stock market? Just to keep fresh in everybody's mind how miserable your predessor was and how Clinton was such a baneful immoral devil that even the healthy economy that supposedly he could take no responsibility for has now been rejiggered as nothing more than a bachelor party in a seedy strip joint, and now all of us who aren't big campaign contributors have to take our medicine. Er, where's Skilling's medicine, Shrub? Where's Fastow's? Where's Bernie's?

Oh, I see. They weren't the ones who elected Clinton. That noxious, scheming, murderous, licentious scoundrel. That thieving rapist, that leering trianguist, that husband of Lilith. We, the American people, did, and now we must be punished by losing our investment savings. All that wealth creation, since it occurred simultaneously with the Presidency of the most foul President since ... well, ever, must be taken away from us.

This is beyond farce, beyond tragedy, beyond outrage. This is surreal: a Republican president is ostensibly trying to assuage the capital markets by saying, it's all right, all that wealth that has evaporated was a chimera, and immoral at that. Your 401k which is now a 101k, your portfolios, the grand experiment of the democratization of investing in the 1990s, is akin to one of the drunken binges I went on while forgetting to inform the SEC about my Harken transactions. Those trillions of dollars y'all have lost in the market? The equivalent of Bill Clinton's fondness for interns and their panties, a sordid overindulgence.

Keep your mouth shut, Shrub. Every time you open it, Americans lose more money. Someday, all these defenders of Shrub who take seriously the idea of the accumulation of individual wealth will stop making excuses for him.

It's a shame the Republicans have turned out like this, because the Democrats ... well, it's back to the class warfare, myriad and omnipresent legislation to clog up the works we've spent over twenty years trying to fix.

And Jesse's in the hospital, his political career evidently over. Boy, we need him, or someone like him, now.

Friday, July 12, 2002

I might be the closest blogger to the explosion that's just occured in Northwest DC, so here's a thumbnail sketch.

Around 2 pm this afternoon, a man was seriously injuried in an explosion in a parking garage about two blocks from me, in the 5200 block of Wisconsin Ave. The DC Chief of Police Ramsey just spoke and said that there were indications that a pipe bomb went off. The parking garage is underneath a restaurant. For those familiar with the area, Chevy Chase, the incident happened near the Mazza Galerie complex.

The whole panoply of authorities are here: police, ATF, FBI. So it was a deliberate act, evidently; from what I heard, the individual who was injured just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. It wasn't an earth-shattering explosion; I heard a muffled thud, but at first I just thought it was a car wreck on Wisconsin Avenue, which is only two blocks from me. I hear those every now and then. There was no smoke and, in fact, the police have re-opened the street up to vehicular traffic.

Still, a pipe bomb in the backyard. One thinks of the inevitable context. The weather today is similar to what it was on the 11th: pleasantly warm, no humidity, a virtually cloudless sky. That's a similarity.I compare Wisconsin Avenue right now, bubbling with activity, to the way it was on that dreadful September, when the emptiness was eerie. The shared sense of the jitters was unavoidable and proves that, in DC at least, we know we're still at war.

Thursday, June 27, 2002

"Religious controversy is better than none" -- Augustus McCrae, "Lonesome Dove"

To paraphase something John Candy once said in the movies, the yahoos are on pins and needles regarding this Pledge business.

Let's review for a minute the state of the nation.

We are at war with religious fanatics who perpetrated nine months ago the great mass slaughter of Americans in our history. Their motiviation was as simple as pie and old as the hills: religion, specifically theirs. Yet in the world of the dull reality, we, the infidel, (sounds like a book Nabakov would've written) stomp their medieval keisters with our free markets, free women, free speech, and free pizza delivery. So the Islamists decide to attack us, kill us. The strategists among them fear most our economy (free minds being something they can't envision and therefore cannot even fear).

And they're right; it is our best weapon but, unfortunately, one we are undercutting through our own spasms of panic. The backbone of that economy, the stock market, has lost trillions of dollars in net worth over the past few years, and has recently seen a harsh (and I believe unwarranted, but then I didn't go to Wharton) panic selling by investors who, in so doing, are playing right into Bin Laden's hands. We are into the third year of the most wrenching bear market in four generations, and anyone who doesn't think that this kind of market collapse will have serious repercussions in our overall economic well being (and to the war effort) is deluding themselves. The stock market tanking is not just a bunch of callow telco whiz kids getting their greed and ambition handed to them, it's people's retirement accounts, faith in markets and investing, and all that. And as soon as I'm tempted to think that it wouldn't be much of a sacrifice for Americans to hold onto their stocks and not sell them, along comes World Con to take up residence next to End Con as a house of financial ill repute, and all of the other properties on the Street take another plunge in value.

So here we have two issues, war and the economy, that conservatives have always claimed to define themselves on. They love these issues, or so they claim. And I'm with 'em on both; I believe in prosecuting the war (in fact, a hell of a lot more than we are doing, and I often find myself agreeing with, of all people, the National Review here) and I believe that the health of the stock market is one of the most important things to our country, vital to our economy, and therefore vital to our success in the war against Islamists.

But what are conservatives doing? Declaring war on Michael Newdow and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, who found on Wednesday (in case you've been on, say, a religious retreat) that the phrase "under God" is an unconstitutional endorsement of religion by the government.

Oh, the fur flies. Our nation is in the hands of Beelzebub, thunder the pulpits. Our President, who can no longer hide his sundry and endless ineptitudes behind the patriotic response to September, mustered more vitrol over the Ninth Circuit than he did over Worldcom. Paleoconservatives are gidder than they've been since Lewinsky, itching to fire up the culture war and not at all bothered by the unseemliness of so doing when we've got a real one going on. Their more established neocon bretheren are also panting with anticipatory glee, as a break from turning the tinhorn two-bit despot Saddam into HItler II. Stentorian in their rhetoric and apocolyptic in their warnings of what will happen if we don't invade Iraq, they're finding the that the charade of taking out Saddam has less and less resonance and versimilitude, not to mention urgency, especially as the revelations about the real garbage over there, the ghastly House of Saud, keep piling up. This Pledge issue is a ... er, godsend to 'em.

Let's blow one canard out of the water right now; the phrase "under God" has no business in a pledge of allegiance to our nation, that is if you take the Constitution not only seriously, but literally. The Constitution -- yeah, yeah, the Declaration of Independence says "our Creator" but that's not a legal document, guys, and so therefore irrelevant, not to mention Jefferson was a Deist who did not believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ -- says that Congress will make no laws respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. That's a quote and, like a lot of the Constitution, pretty easy to understand. But in 1954, the Congress passed a law establishing "under God" as a part of the Pledge, and since schoolkids are made to recite (at least I was) the Pledge verbatim, then this act of Congress has the actual intent of establishing a religion. When you start about God, you are axiomatically talking about religion. A religion without a god is called philosophy. It's not an accident the Congress didn't amend the Pledge as "one nation, under John Locke." Of course, back in the McCarthy era, John Locke was probably considered a commie.

Ah, yeah, the commies. It almost always boils down to them, at least over the past half-century or so. In 1954, to distance ourselves from them thar pernicioius reds as much as possible, the Congress grafted "under God" to a perfectly servicable Pledge that itself has its origins in a socialist tract around the turn of (last) century. Everything old is new again, the saying goes, and this 1954 bit of Congressional buncombe was in the same tradition of brainless demagogery that we saw on display with such fecundity Wednesday when the Senate rushed to bash the Ninth Circuit's ruling. Mucking up the Pledge with this "under God" business was intended, back in '54, tthat most conformist of times, to indoctrinate all the little ones out there with the only possible antidote to communism: God. Funny how it was business, its tools (such as fax machines and video tapes) and rewards (private property, working for yourself) that brought the commies down. God didn't have much to do with it; Bill Gates and Vaclav Havel, take a bow. If we wanted to put the names of Locke, or Havel or, hell, even Bill Gates into the Pledge, at least we'd be keeping to history and to the facts.

This is what is so unsettling. The commies were godless, and so to prove that we weren't commies, it was all-God, all the time. All righty. Now, however, our enemies martyr themselves, define themselves, as being more godly than we are.
They wants to kill as many of us, whether we believe that Jesus is our personal savior, that Moses came down with the Tablets, or that the moon is made of Lindburger cheese, as possible.

So it's clear that the phrase "under God" was put in the Pledge to establish a religion, in this case the only religion that was acknowledged in the US in 1954, which was monotheistic Christianity. To hold otherwise is a violation of common sense, and any attempt to elide it is sophistry. So the issue is whether government should be in the business of establishing religion, which would trash the First Amendment and, basically, turn us into the kind of society al Qaeda could probably vacation in without looking to take flying lessons.

That's playing dirty, you say? Here are a few more facts, then, to muddy the sandbox. The "Allah" Atta mentioned 8,000 times in his goodbye letter is another name for "God." We've learned over the past six months that for the past sixty years, priests have been doing little boys on a fairly regular basis, all over the country. So we've got the two most blatant examples of the two most heinous crimes imaginable -- mass murder of innocents, and the violation of children. Practiced ... well, not by those like Michael Newdow or Madeline Murray O'Haire. And then there's Bernie Ebberts, former Worldcom CEO's who presided over five quarters of his auditors listing 3.8 billion dollars' worth of expenses as investments; guess what he is? Born again.

Yeah, that's playing dirty, and so what. This kind of crap was irritating before. Now it's dangerous. What's really playing dirty is the hundreds of people, good Christians all, no doubt, who have phoned in death threats to Michael Newdow. What's playing dirty -- and, much more importantly, acting irresponsibly -- is the Congress of the United States, with what you could call a fairly large agenda, rushing off and wasting time on Wednesday to pass a resolution 99-0 (kudos to the lone Senator who didn't bother to waste time on such idiocy) slamming the decision.

Some are saying that "under God" is more or less innocuous, and there's a lot of banter justifying it using the newly minted judicial standard of "nondemonationally monotheistic," whatever that means. I said earlier that when you talk about "God" you're talking about religion, but the inverse is not necessarily true. When you mention "religion" in vast areas of the world, you're not talking about the Yahweh. Most religions in this world are not monotheistic, and you don't have to be a brain-dead worshiper (pun intended, the far left and the far right coalese in the realm of the silly) of poliltical correctness to recognize that someone is really showing their parochialism on matters of religion when they toss around the phrase "nondenominationally monotheistic." Tell it to followers of the Buddha statues of whom, I'd remind the reader, were blown up by the full-court press of monotheism that is the Taliban, thereby bringing their unique worldview to the attention of the most of the world for the first time.

What's really important here is what the Circuit Court didn't say; it didn't say that someone could not recite the Pledge of Allegiance with "under God" in it wherever he wants to say it. There' s no law at all against someone reciting the Pledge, or for that matter the singing the Song of Solomon or shouting out the Ten Commandments or preaching the Book of Revelations. This ruling didn't proscribe the free exercise of religion one iota. But to these people, the free exercise of their religion means imposing their dross on the rest of us, by claiming the moral high ground. It's a zero-sum with these bastards, and I'm fed up with them.

Saturday, June 08, 2002

It's rare when I stand with a mass media opinionmaker. Most of them are cloying, or idiotic, or gutless, or just irrelevant and not worthy of my time (not that I'm worthy of their, either. But, hey, this is my page, not TimeWarner/AOL's.)

That conglomerate, in fact, employs Lou Dobbs, who's kicked up quite a ruckus, evidently, by his decision to refer to the War as one on Islamists and not on Terrorism. Dobbs irked me last year. He had received a letter from some MBA type who was lamenting his lack of job opportunities, and Dobbs, from his six or seven-figure perch, lambasted the letter writer for a wanton sense of entitlement and advised him to go work for a ice-cream stand to learn the true meaning of "work." This is the kind of attitude I can't stand; the writer probably went into serious hock getting his MBA, worked his tail off getting the degree, and is totally entitled to lament the fact that he couldn't find a job in his chosen profession, after going through all that time and expense to pursue it.

By this act, however, Dobbs has completely redeemed himself (even though Hitchens nailed the enemy as Islamofascists months ago). Religious extremism is exactly what the enemy is, and to try and elide this issue by throwing out "Terrorism" like it's some great beast we have to slay, is not only nonsensical, but sophistry. Bush just doesn't want to go to war against religious fanatics, possibly because religious fanatics make up the base of his Republican party. How else to explain why Ashcroft, instead of Muellar, isn't the one being made to fall on his sword about the intelligence lapses of last year, particularly since Guiliani is tanned, rested, and ready to assume the A.G. slot and do what he did prior to being mayor (and what Ashcroft never has done): go after the bad guys.

We'll never make the kind of progress we need against al-Qaeda and that ilk unless we're willing to call it what it is. What Dobbs is doing, therefore, is not only admirable, but exemplary.

Tuesday, May 28, 2002

There's a new Rasputin at large in Russia; you can read about this bunco artist here. (Link courtesy of More Than Zero).

I'm charitable when I call this guy a charlatan. If he were one, I'd actually have some respect for him because I have precious little time or fools for those who chuck away the conveniences of modern society to pursue development of their "spiritual" side. That's silly behavior, and people who do that disqualify themselves from consideration as anything other than self indulgent. I'm of the opinion that, if you're going to throw it all away and ruin your life, shoot heroin. The high's probably better, and you'll get to your precious heaven quicker anyway.

More later. A rant is aborning.

Thursday, May 23, 2002

Chandra Levy's remains have been found, and so as regular as the proverbial Capistrano birds, the media is returning full tilt to the story. I have been more forgiving of last summer's media obsession over her disappearance than have a lot of people who seem to think that if the media hadn't been covering Levy and Conduit, it would have been training its collective eye on al-Qaeda operatives. That's doubtful to say the least, especially given the recent discovery that our Administration, which we pay to do this stuff, didn't, or couldn't. Some smart agent in Phoenix paints the entire picture, and his memo flounders around in the Great Interstice that is the bureaucracy. Then there's Minneapolis, and who knows how many other dots that weren't connected. (I only used that shopworn phrase because I saw it three separate places in last Sunday's New York Time. The grey lady needs a thesaurus.)

At this time, however, crime-lab-to-Modesto, all-Chandra 'n Gary-all-the-time is unwarranted and irresponsible. While some bimbo from Talk magazine more or less compares the tragedy of Levy's disappearance to the events of September 11th (equating the two as she did, insultingly, last night on bubblevision), India and Pakistan raise the rhetorical roof, mass troops, and ascend to ever higher levels of def con. Read about it (if you dare) here.

Nuclear war has always been considered unthinkable (which is a nonsensical observation anyway, since to consider nuclear war "unthinkable" in the first place is to think about it). Whatever. Last September should have proved that the "unthinkable," or, more accurately, the "impossible," is no longer either. Considering nuclear war to be impossible or unthinkable, for one thing, dulls the edge of vigilance. It's like trying to quarantine a virus by putting a police line around a house whose inhabitants are sick.

The Indian subcontinent is a long way off, true, but a nuclear weapons exchange there could kill hundreds of millions of people. We should be blunt about that possibility and blunt about that number, and not be precluded from talking about this situation in those kind of harsh terms simply because some people might think it's fear mongering. It might be in order to have a little more fear mongering about this South Asian situation, and a little less coverage of how or why Baretta killed his wife (or for that matter, a little less fear mongering about Nonspecific Disasters from the Executive Office to cover the significant swath of Administrative butt revealed by recent events)--especially now, when nations, or particularly cultures and religions with death cults and death wishes, with great gobs of WMDs seem to be in a collective march off the short plank of reason into the deep end of medievalist fantasy and idiocy.

Between I and P, they have an estimated 100 nuclear weapons -- mostly Indian -- and the populations of those countries are increasingly concentrated in huge urban centers like Dehli, Lahore, Karachi, Islamabad, Ahmadabad, and of course Bombay, all fat targets within range of the other side's delivery systems. (I suppose "fat" is not a word to be used lightly in that part of the world, but I digress.) It's doubtful whether Pakistan could reach such Indian cities as Hyderabad or Calcutta, much less Madras or Bangalore, the two main cities in the south. Radiation from any bombings to the west surely would, however. It is entirely feasible that an India/Pakistan nuclear french kiss (I know that's an absurd metaphor, but I can't resist it, as eros and death are often considered two sides of the same coin and whatnot) could result in the kind of wholesale slaughter of a percentage of the human race as hasn't happened since the Black Death of the 14th century. Who knows what the ramifications of such carnage would be, geopolitically, economically, environmentally? Many a brain in many a think tank in DC is probably churning through these scenarios right now.

The Indian air force has deployed its Jaguars at forward (read: aggressive) positions; the Jaguars are ground attack aircraft that can be fairly easily adapted to carry nuclear weapons. All of Pakistan is easily within the range of these planes. India also has ballistic missles, the Prithvi and the Agni but, according to the Federation of American Scientists Military Analysis Network, it is unclear whether these can be easily adapted to a nuclear use. Pakistan's nightmare arsenal is much smaller, which, perhaps paradoxically, means the situation is more unstable, because there is such an asymmetry of force strength between the two nations' nuclear (and for that matter, conventional) capabilities. Pakistan's major weapon appears to be a Chinese-made jet, the A-5, a ground-attack type. Pakistan also has a few squadrons of F-16s which were not furnished with the requisite equipment to carry nuclear weapons when the U.S. sold these to Pakistan back in the 80s; these planes can be adapted, however.

This leads to the question of the survivability of the weapons systems, and particularly the impression of that survivability.Our concept of nuclear brinksmanship is invariably predicated on the history between the US and USSR. Big differences between that conflict and this one. The India-Pakistan face-off has a lot more inherent instability than did the US/USSR rivarly. The superpowers constructed their nuclear forces, and the strategies for their possible use, to maximize the survivability of those forces after a surprise first strike by the other side as an attempt to preempt the other's ability to strike back. This led to the element of deterrance that, for all its madness, the doctrine of mutually assured destruction helped sustain. This in turn kept the superpowers more or less at arms length and the overall situation stable, because both sides knew they could not take out the others' delivery systems in one fell swoop.(The fact that neither side had suicidal leaders -- not even the manaical Stalin, who never hestitated to sacrifice millions during World War II -- certainly helped here.) India and Pakistan's nuclear forces, however, do not seem to have this kind of built-in survivability. So there's a destabilizing "use it or lose it" mindset prevailing, which necessarily makes the decisionmakers trigger happy.

With all this in mind, a renewed national obsession over the Levy case, fueled by a media addicted to celebrity scandal, is not exactly warranted. It all reminds me of one of the great ends to one of the great movies, "Bridge on the River Kwai," when the doctor at the POW camp looks down at all that has happens and mutters "madness, madness."

UPDATE: Joe Katzman at his blog "Winds of Change" has an alternate, and far less worrisome scenario regarding I&P. He backs it up with reasoned analysis, too.

Wednesday, May 22, 2002

STOP THE PRESSES! The Pope has found a way to put to rest the scandal dogging the Roman Catholic Church, by forgiving the sinners. Boy, I'm relieved.

Tuesday, May 21, 2002

That crazy guy who trumpted the "end of history" in a book a while back, Francis Fukuyama, has now launched a crusade against cloning. Another neocon strikes up the band for government control of the individual. Ain't it funny how often that is happening? (I'm embarrassed to admit that old Frank has settled into a comfy academic perch at my alma mater, Hopkins). I'll take his article down later, for my own good. But I'm not going to do as well as a good man called Brink Lindsey has. In his blog, Lindsey carves up Fukayama's petty idiocy perfectly. Quoting a conservative friend who observes that "the essence of human nature is the desire to improve your condition, (and) you can''t oppose that" Lindsey writes, "But Fukuyama does -- in the name of defending an imaginary, static "human nature," he sets himself against the essential dynamism that defines our humanity." Exactly.
Because I spent, oh, about a half an hour of my time on the subject, I'm going to recycle here an e-mail I recently wrote. I'm generally a believer that more is better, and that while quality is subjective, quantity is objective. In this spirit, I'll never hesitate to lard up my blog with random bloviating taken from any context that can be wrenched into this form.

Quality is fine and a wonderful thing, and useful when assessing an Italian restaurant or a painting. But the true measure of net worth is a number thing and nothing but, just as the true measures of bodily strength and horsepower and a daisy cutter's destructive impact on some Islamic fanatics can all be captured in a number. Maybe the true worth of a blog, in fact, is not the quality of the posts, but how many of them there are. If only I could get my archives to work, I could really gild the lily, since I have an evidently limitless capacity for jabbering away. (Somewhere in here, there's a Borges short story; or at least a good puzzle: if 500 bloggers post continually, how long will it take before two of them post exactly the same thing, in the same words.)

The e-mail in question revolved around this Bob Brinker chap, who is, I suppose, a commentator on the stock market. He has a radio show; some think he is a "guru." He's got the requisite eponymous website, wherein he invites those who surf by to partake of his market wisdom. Mostly fee-based stuff, and there's nothing wrong with that; at least his site does not launch Night of the Popups. My love of fees, however, is in direct proportion to my ability to charge them, so my enthusiasm for his site is tempered by my reluctance to credit my Visa. Brinker's site does have a "sound money" audio freebie, but my surge protector, like my credit, has inherent limits -- only so many outlets -- so my computer's multimedia potential has not been fully realized. My speakers aren't up, and there's nothing more worthless than an audio file without speakers. I realize I'm missing out on the whole broadband experience, which makes me something between a Luddite and a neophyte, I suppose: too plugged in to be the former, too old to be the latter.

Back to Bob Brinker, and he's calling for a "secular" bear market. I suppose that, first off, I should be pleased that he's calling it a "secular" market instead of a "religious" one. Actually, this is a usage -- "secular" to describe long-term trends in securities markets -- that seems to have acquired a lot of ... er, currency, over the past few years in the biz press. (It was a secular bull market a couple of years ago, that was going to go on and on and on and on ... ) One of the uses of this word is to describe a thing occurring once in an age or a century, or to describe a period of time lasting ages or centuries. Or to characterize, at least, a long interval of time: longer than, say, a year or two, which is as far into the future as anyone can reasonably, accurately, and responsibly predict the future course of the stock market.

Brinker is calling for a "secular bear market" lasting 10 years or so; I guess that 2002 is Year Three, which means we have to hump it for seven more years of this stuff. Question is, why should anyone heed this call any more than, say, Miss Cleo calling for a spiritual antelope of a market? Bob Brinker: I thought at first he was the guy with the white hair who hosted the "Price is Right" who hugs the fat contestants and then beds down the blondes who model the camping equipment dressed in the height of Brownie short-shorts fashion. No, this is Bob Brinker, market guru, who evidently "called" the bear market back in January of 2000.

What was that call? That month, he advised his listeners to reduce their exposure to stocks to 60% of their total portfolio. I'm not sure what percentage he had advised investors to have in stocks prior to that; it would be helpful to know if he had been advising investors to be fully invested, or to be 65% percent invested. If the latter, going from 65% to 60% is not exactly the kind of market call that would register on the Richter scale, at least in my opinion. It's always been a big deal in the biz biz when, for instance, Abby Cohen, one of the heavy hitters of the Street, advises a "rebalancing" of a portfolio. That rebalancing is never anything I'd consider to be real dramatic; she'll go from 65% to 60% in stocks, for instance. But, boy, does that make the Street sit up like it's just heard a banshee in its collective ear. Clocks stops, tides fail, earth stands still, and a few pacemakers are strained. Not to bash Abby, who's as legit as they come and always worth listening to, but these numbers don't exactly rivet my attention, when the Nasdaq market loses 70% of its value in 18 months (from March of 2000 to September of 2001). In that context, an asset reallocation from 68% to 65% is something less than a tectonic shift on the order of the Loma Preita earthquake; it's more like dust motes stirred up by the slamming of a phone on the receiver after your broker tells you to sell a stock at an 80% loss which he had recommended six months ago.

All this is not to say that Mr. Brinker does not know his stuff. No doubt he does. Evidently, he's very good at describing the nuances of the market to the individual investor, and anyone who can, and is willing to, provide the average Joe or Josephina copies of the keys to the gates of investing is performing a public service. With the duplicity and conflicts of interest of so many brokerage firms open to such display now, it's more than ever important for an investor to make his or her own decisions, and not to rely on Henry Blodgett and company. That means they have to learn something about what they're doing and, to the extent Mr. Brinker is willing to teach, he does a valuable and good thing. Whether that translates into taking his advice, and especially hewing to it all the time, is another thing entirely.

I'll give credit to Brinker for "calling" the market top in January 2000 -- although I'll bet he wasn't at the time calling it a "market top," but probably something like a "prudent reallocation of assets away from a market we think has become slightly overvalued." Still, in saying that, Brinker comes out smelling like the proverbial rose. And perhaps it's unfair to hold him to the standard that he needed to say at that time, this is a bubble and get out now. Few, if any, did, and the legit people in the business all admit they were burned in one way or another, because they all were. If they had been any kind of significant skepticism about the market bubble, it wouldn't have bubbled up to the levels it did in the first place. Only in retrospect does it seem obvious that the index was at an unsustainable level, just like only in retrospect is it obvious that barbaric religious lunatics would want to use planes as weapons of mass destruction against innocents in skyscrapers. In the winter of 1999-2000, when everyone was worried about what would happen when the clocks turned that left-most digit from "1" to "2", every disaster, it seems, was being predicted, except the two which eventually happened: the stock market collapse and September 11th (and, please, I'm not equating the two here, I'm just making a point). In other words, there were very few people then calling for Nasdaq to be brutalized by a 70% decline; if all the people who claim now to have seen that kind of collapse coming had acted accordingly, then the Nasdaq would never have gone much above 3000, much less topped out at 5000.

So Brinker was better than most. When we gauge the effectiveness of services in our culture, however, "better than most," when the "most" are atrocious, hasn't, historically, cut it. In the 1970s, when the American auto industry was, by most accounts I've read, punching out absolutely wretched stuff, does anyone commend to fond memory now the odd 1970s car that might not have been as bad as the others, for any reasons other than sentiment or esthetics?

I would credit Brinker's call a bit more if I knew more about its specifics; a quick "Google" search of newsgroups such as misc.invest.stocks, however, didn't turn any up. Since January of 2000, in fact, some stock sectors -- health manitenance organizations, consumer nondurables, some industrials, precious metals -- have done quite well. It's the technology and telecommunications sectors, and to a lesser extent, all big captialization names -- in other words, the companies held by the vast majority of retirement plans in this country and which make up (or at least made up) the "stock market" in the public's mind -- that have been eviscerated. The relative weighting of these companies on specific indicies has directly influenced these indicies relative performance; the Russell 2000 index made up of companies with small captializations, or market values of five billion dollars or less, has done far better than the aforementioned Nasdaq composite index.

For a fair analysis of Brinker, his admittedly prescient January of 2000 market call should be placed in the context of other market-timing calls he's made since. One was to buy the Nasdaq (in the form of the so-called "triple QQQs", basically a stock that trades the Nasdaq index) in the autumn of 2000. At the time, the Nasdaq was struggling to hold around 3500 (I can't believe I just typed that: "struggling to hold 3500"). Then there was the election, and the ongoing Florida drama (which, at the time, seemed like the event, or at least the controversy, of a lifetime; have times ever changed). The Nasdaq couldn't handle the Saga of the Chads, however, and it plunged through the 3000 level (I'm not sure of the exact number) that had represented the bottom of the April of 2000 selloff, when the tech/telecom investment bubble first burst. I'm not sure where Brinker's call came, but if he suggested buying the triple-Qs after that support level of 3000 had been broken, then that's a clear violation of any rule of technical analysis known, and it would have been almost irresponsible of him to recommend buying the Qs, to an audience that by definition is probably not that sophisticated about investing and probably does not trade. Perhaps that's being too hard on him, and I'm not sure exactly when he made that call, anyway, so I shouldn't reach such a conclusion. But from what I've read on Google -- not the final word, I know -- whatever Brinker might have saved his listeners by getting them out in part earlier in the year, he lost a lot of that when he made that autumn call. How so? The percentage loss on the Nasdaq between March of 2000 and November of 2000 (from 5100 to 3400, approximately) was
33 percent (actually, very close to the 31.8% figure beloved by practitioners of the Fibinacci method). A similar point loss has occurred between then and now (the Nasdaq is, as of this writing, about 1700); that is a 50% loss, however. I'd be interested to hear whether Brinker was one of those pitching the "new tech" names in the fall of 2000 -- the JDSUs and CIENAs and AMCCs -- when they were all priced to the stratosphere and when so many of the commentariat were pitching them like the real estate salesmen were pitching Florida in Mamet's "Glengarry Glen Ross."

I haven't heard Brinker's show, but "financial genius" is a term I'd be hesistant to employ when describing him. These media financial touts get one call right, and their suddenly the Oracle of Omaha (Warren "nu'cler" Buffett) if not of Delphi. What is often obscured by the dust raised when these panegyrics get tossed around is that expert's subsequent performance. Joseph Granville is a classic example; he said in 1981 that the stock market was historically undervalued and that it represented a great opportunity. He was right. Since then, however, he's made one bad call after another.

Brinker, after all, is first and foremost a market commentator. That's what pays the freight. I'm sure he invests and does well. He probably wouldn't have gotten his perch in the commentariat if he hadn't had some kind of track record. But these guys are in the business of making dramatic, which usually means contrarian, calls. There's nothing wrong with being a market contrarian; in fact, that's a sound investment strategy to be employed. Whenever everyone's ecstatic, you sell; when the blood's on the streets, you buy. That's generally hard for human beings to do, however, since we are instinctively creatures who find security in the herd. To be a contrarian on a consistent basis takes a lot of discipline psychologically, and psychological discipline is the hardest of all to instill. And if you are not a contrarian on a disciplined, consistent basis, then you're probably better off just rolling the dice.

The market commentariat has been exploding in membership over the past few years, and will probably continue to do so, since more and more people (and especially in the light of the Merrill Lynch scandal) are going to be tempted to invest for themselves (that is, if they invest at all; plenty have left the stock market, never to return, and that's a shame). A whole herd is out there, waiting to be led, and the market commentariat sees a lot of opportunity. How to get noticed? Make the dramatic calls, say the melodramatic things, use terms like "secular bear" and scare the hell out of everyone.

One of the best investors out there, I believe, is Bill Miller. He oversees a couple of Legg Mason mutual funds. His returns have beaten the S&P 500 average every year for the past 12 years. That's simply phenomenal, and no accident. No lucky throws of the dice there. That's particularly impressive in that his record has been established during a period that encompassed every kind and extremity of market environment: grinding bears, strong bulls, bubbles, markets going nowhere, markets going haywire. There's a guy I'll call a genius; to have a record like that, he must have mastered both the psychological and fundamental aspects of the market. Miller's not always appearing on television or radio, however. Why? Because while Brinker and James Cramer and all these other "geniuses" are popping up all over the media, Miller is putting in serious time analyzing companies, analyzing markets, analyzing psychology, and making his clients money, not making himself a reputation. Evidently, he's buying technology and telecom right now: AOL, for instace, which if you listen to most people is going the way of Westinghouse. Meanwhile, the Janus funds, which were buying AOL in the 50s, are selling it now down here at 19.

Brinker might, like Cramer does, provide a good service, in that he explains the nuances of the market, and I suppose he's pretty good at that. Assuming he's ethical as well, that makes him probably superior to 75% of the commentariat. That doesn't mean he's right all the time, however. He could be right about being in a "secular" bear market, although again I'd like to know exactly what he means by that. Does he mean that the major averages are going to continue to go down over the next decade? Or just that the Nasdaq
will not get back to 5000 in the next 10 years? Or something in between? He could very well be right that Nasdaq will not get back to 5000 in the next 10 years. But -- and, again, I emphasize, in the absence of any external event like a catastrophic terrorist attack of Buffett's nightmares -- there is just no fundamental economic evidence to suggest that the stock market is going to continue to tank for the next 10 years; in fact, there is a preponderance of evidence suggesting otherwise. The economy is strong and getting stronger, inflation is, in the short term at least, a nonissue, the cost of money is historically low, productivity continues to increase (and act as a brake on inflation), and the technological revolution that everyone seems to have forgotten about (which prompted, in a way, the bubble in the first place) is still going on. Against this background, we're well into our third down calendar year in the stock market, which hasn't occurred since the Great Depression. Even the most pessimistic bear would not even try to compare the fundamental economic conditions of today to those prevailing duirng 1929-31.

Brinker doesn't really have much of an idea where the market will be going in 10 years. Obviously I don't. For that matter, Bill Miller doesn't, either. No one can predict things 10 years out. Too many variables, and too much time for any one variable to launch a chain of events that no one can possibly foresee with any degree of accuracy. Does anyone know what the status of the war will be in 2012? Will there even BE a Wall Street or a New York City in 2012? Assuming the Apocolypse doesn't happen, what will interest rates be in 2012? What will the growth rate of GDP be? What will inflation be? What will the dollar's relative strength
verses the Euro be? No one knows the answers for these in 2003, much less 2012. To try to predict where they will be 10 years from now, or what might happen over the next 10 years, is throwing the dice.

And the dice are loaded, but not for bear. In the absence of any real facts, when you throw the dice, the best thing to do is use history as a guide. And history suggests that the stock market goes up, and that you're better off having your money in the stock market than anywhere else (that is, if you believe that more-is-better when it comes to money, which is what captialism is all about, anyway), since it is the asset class that has consistently outperformed all others: precious metals, bonds, cash, real estate, the mattress. This is a generality, of course, but when you're going out 10 years into the future, generalities are -- and I'll say this in keeping with Sunday's merciful end of the X-Files (a show that should have ended five years ago) -- the truth that is out there.

Friday, May 17, 2002

Weather nurd alert: the NWS is calling for snow flurries tomorrow evening in the Maryland mountains. Lows in the upper 30s in DC. That's about 20 degrees below normal. As aberrational in its way, if not as dramatic, as last month's La Plata tornado (which was downgraded to an F4; that's a rant for another time.)

Where was this frickin' pattern in February, when it could have been put to good use fomenting paralyzing blizzards?

Next time some Bible thumper prattles on about how sordid and blasphemous our popular culture is, direct them here. I particularly liked the handy ratings scheme. Finally that NPAA garbage has been put to some good use.

While much of the world, under the auspices of the marvelous and unbiased United Nations, is excoriating Israel for a Jenin massacre that never occurred, the human capacity for brutality has been on rather horrid display in many other precincts of the globe. Most of these locations are countries -- Algeria, Uganda, Sudan -- that always seem to be the most strident in the aformentioned U.N. in their denunciations of "Zionist terrorists," "American hegemonical imperialism," and other such bogeymen.

Here's a long yet also interesting article about distinguishing speech that is volatile, unnerving, perhaps even omnious -- yet nonetheless Constitutionally protected -- from common and vile threats that should not only fall outside of First Amendment protection, but should be legally actionable. I just read the article's beginning and the conclusion, so I might not being doing it full justice ("full justice" and "blogging" are usually, and perhaps inevitably, exclusive of one another). The author's premise is that --

"To determine when speech is protected by the First Amendment, and therefore not punishable as a threat, most circuits have adopted either a reasonable speaker or a reasonable listener test. Both these tests essentially boil down to an evaluation of whether or not a reasonable recipient of the statement would believe it constituted a true threat.[16] The Supreme Court has never reviewed the differing circuit court tests to determine their constitutionality ... "

This is necessarily a pretty subjective and contextual basis for delineating "you're a &%$#@ who doesn't deserve to live" from "I'm going to make him an offer he can't refuse." I wonder how adequate it is as a standard for defining how far the right to free speech (about which I am, for the record, more or less an absolutist) goes to protect the sponsors of the online, so-called "Nuremburg Files," which lists abortion providers names' and home addresses, advocates punishing them for "crimes against humanity," and celebrates their assassinations by drawing a line through their name of those who are murdered by anti-abortion zealots. This is the kind of test case that drives people like me nuts: to defend what I consider to be the most fundamental right there is, and to be consistent in that defense, I have to look the other way when people who would make the Taliban look like the editorial board of Playboy magazine start in on their blood and thunder tirades against modernity. But when should that kind of vitriolic talk be considered a criminal threat? (Needless to say, this kind of thing goes on with the extreme "left" as well, as when African-Americans who refuse to abide by a boycott of Korean grocery stores are threatened with physical harm by the other blacks who have instigated the boycott.)

The author's intent is to try and distinguish "warning threats," which are allowed, indeed protected, by the First Amendment, from "true threats" that have nothing to do with expression or First Amendment protection of even unpopular and unpleasant speech, and everything to do with intimidation and coercion. She proposes appending the preexisting tests of what makes up "free speech" (about which there is no consensus anyway) withh another measure for distinguishing between the two classes of speech: "actor intent," or whether the speaker and/or associates intend to take action to manifest the threats they make.

Her proposal makes good sense, but it seems to me it still does not completely address the problem. The speaker's intent to back a threat up with action can really only be fully determined after the fact; the intent of violence which would disqualify the threatening speech from First Amendment protection can only be proved after the violence itself occurs. Otherwise it's just supposition, no matter how many tests of intent are applied. It's one thing if some guy who's got a conviction for breaking and entering threatens, upon his release from jail, to kill the owner of the house where the criminal had been caught. That would be a "true threat." But if some loudmouth in a bar with too much to drink but no criminal record starts blathering away about how some public figure should be shot, does that constitute a "true threat"? There'll be a lot more in jail if they do. Look at most any bulletin board thread about some controversial subject, and you'll find posters throwing around all kinds of imprecations and blood oaths.

The law here is mirky, and I agree with the author that there needs to be some kind of clarification, lest any strong speech is eventually rendered taboo, if not illegal, by what would be in effect government-mandated speech codes masquerading as prevention of "true threats." If the test of what is a "true threat" is left up to, say, those who currently oversee the implementation of "speech codes" in universities, then we might as well all just yank out our vocal cords now, be done with it, and learn how to sign.

Of course then they'd go after that.

Thursday, May 09, 2002

Hitchens, as usual, gets it right. On the excesses in zeal that characterize both the Palestinians and the Israelis:"September 11, more than anything, marked the opening of a culture war between those who believe that god favors thuggish, tribal human designs, and those who don't believe in god and who oppose thuggery and tribalism on principle. That ought to be the really historic and dialectical sense in which it "changed everything.""

This is as perfect a summary as I've read of what the great danger of our times is: the worst instincts of the species for flocking together coupled with, and driven by, petty, theistic rationalizations that are directly contrary to the traditions of secularism and rationality that have been the strengths of Western civilization and, in fact, the real Saviors of the human race.

My natural inclination is to support the Israelis, for two reasons: (1) it is a secular democracy surrounded by hostile enemies and (2) I still remember, AND WILL NEVER FORGET, those cheering Palestinian bastards on September 12th. My support for any Palestinian cause is directly contingent upon the level of mortification in that community over the Atrocity. If that reaction reflected how most Palestinians feel, the hell with them. But I'm not sure that it does.

The old bromide--that there are two sides to most issues--cannot be put aside here. To acknowledge this is not to indulge in sophistry and moral relativity. No matter how offensive Palestinian behavior has been, and no matter how legitimate (not to mention measured) the Israeli response, it remains that, for the past generation, ultra-Orthodox Israeli "settlers" have been moving into the West Bank as an occupying force, with a concomitant degradation of the rights of the Palestinians there. This has further poisoned an already toxic environment, and the redress can't just be catering to these territorialists who employ the same logic, if not to quite as base ends, as do fundamentalist Islamicists: that their behavior is a reflection of their god's will, that their god is the true god, and that all other considerations are not only inapplicable, but blashphemous. "Blasphemy": the greatest expletive in the language.

I hadn't heard of Sharon's Minister of Internal Security Mr. Landau until reading about it here, but a cabinet minister who advocates the gassing of adjacent populations, no matter how hostile, cannot really be borne in a country which wants to claim (and has, generally, the right to claim) the moral high ground. Sharon and the ultra-Orthodox reactionaries who support him, intent as they are in making real their Old Testament fantasy of a Greater Israel at the expense of the Palestinians, is not the Israel I'm supporting. It's rather unfortunate that such an unsavory group like Sharon and Likud is heading up the country right now, and that we have to, in supporting Israel's right to defend itself against homicide bombers, end up tacitly backing a bunch that considers the West Back their "God-given" backyard with the same fervor that the gangsters of al-Qaeda prosecute their despicable jihad on the Western infidel. This is not moral equivalence; I'm asserting that the motivations (and from motivation to act is still a ways to go, especially for those operating in the secular democratiic tradition of an Israel as opposed to the medieval environment of a Saudi Arabia) of the ultra-Orthodox settlers of the West Bank and of the minions of OBL are equally alien to me and equally offensive.

There really is no choice but to support Sharon's hard line against the PA and Arafat, whose duplicity and bile is unarguable, but that doesn't translate into backing the Israelis' own fundamentalists.

On the other hand, Charles Krauthammer, in his latest jeremiad against cloning (one no different from all the others he's written over the years) reminds me why I've always been ambivalent about him. He gets it all wrong on the issue. Granted, he steers clear of the cheapskate prohibitionist argument based on personal religious belief, where prohibitions on behavior are functions of a cadre of individuals' fervency in accepting what are, at bottom, unarguably mythologies. That just makes Krauthammer's whole position even more nonsensical.

His whole basis for wanting the government to ban theraputic cloning is that to sanction cloning would be to sanction "the creation of a human embryo for the sole purpose of using it for its parts." It is "commodification" of the human embryo. (Why, it's a "Bridge Too Far"! I'm waiting on the movie. I hope it stars the clones of Henry Fonda, Richard Burton, and John Wayne; I'd much prefer them to Tom Hanks, Anthony Hopkins, and Bruce Wills.) Krauthammer tosses around other various third-rate tropes from the Brave New World playbook, a style of argument unworthy of the man who quite accurately has said (and was one of the first to say) that the War on Terrorism must ultimately go through Riyadh, and will not be effective if it simply ends with corralling Saddam.

Krauthammer's argument begs the question, naturally, of what exactly it is about the blastocyst--the thing being used in the cloning--that makes it "human." Arguments that try to define "humanity" as occurring at one instant, instead of recognizing that the evolution of a random accumulation of cells into a human being is a complex process, don't work. For one thing, as a legal matter, to enforce the "humanity" of a blastocyst means society will eventually have to give the sperm 'n egg (sandwich?) the same rights that, say, you and I have. (That's what the ludicrous "Human Life Amendment" would do.) Reductio ad absurdium, indeed. I'm quite offended by those who believe a fertilized egg has the same rights that I do, and anybody who is concerned about individual rights should be, too. This smacks of--dare I say it, and ain't it ironic?--moral relativity on their part on the part of cloning opponents, who are usually so quick to accuse others of that. They are assigning the same rights that you and I have to a random agglomeration of cells at the very instant the ol' sperm slithers into the orb. Talk about the excesses of identity politics; it is particularly silly when there is no real identity to politicize about. I don't know when life "begins" -- for some people, I'm not sure it ever does, but that's another issue -- but I know when it doesn't, and that's in the nanoseconds after fusing of the sperm and egg.

Krauthammer's argument basically boils down to the nonsensical "slippery slope" fear: that somehow theraputic cloning will lead to all kinds of Frankenstinian horrors. That's been thoroughly debunked here. I'll add a couple more, however.

For one thing, cloning will occur, if not in the U.S. then elsewhere (already biotechnology companies are preparing to move out of the country to a less restrictive location, such as the U.K., if these prohibitions are imposed). Why should the U.S. concede worldwide leadership in something like this simply because of some byzantine conception of personhood by a bunch of people who if they had their way would never let us read anything other than the Book of Common Prayer?

Second, say theraputic cloning is banned and criminalized in this country, as would happen under the Senate version of the Human Cloning and Prohibition (key word there) Act of 2001 already passed by the House. The Senate version is the brainchild of Senator Sam "Mullah" Brownback of Kansas, who would find a worldview complementary to his in many of the madrasses between the Nile and the Indus. This little piece of legislative legerdemain, in criminalizing the process of creating embryonic stem cells to regenerate lost organs or repair damaged cells, mandates fines of a million dollars or more as well as criminal penalties of up to 10 years not only for the practitioners of this devilry, but also for the patients as well. You can see where this will go: another War on Drugs, complete with vast sums of Federal dollars wasted, systematic violations of civil liberties, the aforementioned loss of U.S. leadership in scientific research, and on and on. All because some dandified right-wing kooks are worried that everyone will start wanting to clone themselves into perpetuity. (Or maybe it's because some of them just like it when human beings suffer, suffering so often being what compels people to the church and keeping its coffers full and its priests endlessly supplied with ... well, do I have to spell it out?)

Even if theraputic cloning doesn't turn out to offer 90% of the benefits its proponents claim (which is a dubious proposition itself, given that scientific research often leads to benefits that aren't forseen by even its most active supporters), how would the prohibitions against cloning be enforced? The Bill, of course, doesn't specify, and that makes it all the more ominous. Another open-ended invitation for the government to gut individual freedoms, to arrogate to itself yet another set of perogatives to monitor and proscribe individual behaviors that harm no one but seem to offend the ass-backward worldviews of some well-connected wowsers. It's easy to envision a future where, when you go through Customs, you'll have pass genetic muster with an INS officer or some other government type (who recently have so distinguished themselves in securing our borders against malicious foreign nationals). These functionaries will be staffing entry points in international airports, taking random passengers out, extracting cells from them under duress, and seeing if those cells have some telltale blastocystical characteristics. You think airport searches are intrusive now? Wait until they start sticking needles in your noggin.

I can't think of anything more idiotic, but never underestimate the power of the Brownshirts ... er, Brownbacks of the world.