Friday, May 28, 2004
George W. Bush promised us a foreign policy with humility. Instead, he has brought us humiliation in the eyes of the world.
He promised to "restore honor and integrity to the White House." Instead, he has brought deep dishonor to our country and built a durable reputation as the most dishonest President since Richard Nixon.
Hmm...now which President was it who was censured for perjury by his state bar association? Hint: he feels your pain.
Honor? He decided not to honor the Geneva Convention. Just as he would not honor the United Nations, [Quick quiz: Name the UN resolution that justified the Clinton Administration's attack on Serbia in 1999. All right, it was a trick question.] international treaties, the opinions of our allies, the role of Congress and the courts, or what Jefferson described as "a decent respect for the opinion of mankind." He did not honor the advice, experience and judgment of our military leaders in designing his invasion of Iraq. [Not what Tommy Franks says.] And now he will not honor our fallen dead by attending any funerals or even by permitting photos of their flag-draped coffins. Me, I find it refreshing that we have an administration that doesn't substitute symbolism for leadership.
How did we get from September 12th , 2001, when a leading French newspaper ran a giant headline with the words "We Are All Americans Now" and when we had the good will and empathy of all the world -- to the horror that we all felt in witnessing the pictures of torture in Abu Ghraib.
Does Al really know what the word "torture" means? If the word "torture" is to have even the remotest meaning, then to equate some guy with panties on his head with real torture is to destroy the word, to render it forever meaningless.
To begin with, from its earliest days in power, this administration sought to radically destroy the foreign policy consensus that had guided America since the end of World War II. The long successful strategy of containment was abandoned in favor of the new strategy of "preemption." The people on the 99th floor of the World Trade Center on September 11th might have had a wee disagreement with how "successful" the old strategy was. And what they meant by preemption was not the inherent right of any nation to act preemptively against an imminent threat to its national security, but rather an exotic new approach that asserted a unique and unilateral U.S. right to ignore international law wherever it wished to do so and take military action against any nation, even in circumstances where there was no imminent threat. All that is required, in the view of Bush's team is the mere assertion of a possible, future threat - and the assertion need be made by only one person, the President.
There are any number of facts with which to counter Al's straw man argument here, but the proven Iraqi involvement in the first, 1993, World Trade Center attack was an act of war in itself. But the Clinton administration made a habit of ignoring acts of war, so Al's point of view is not inconsistent.
More disturbing still was their frequent use of the word "dominance" to describe their strategic goal, because an American policy of dominance is as repugnant to the rest of the world as the ugly dominance of the helpless, naked Iraqi prisoners has been to the American people. Dominance is as dominance does.
I haven't really noticed the administration using the term all that much...I am starting to wonder about Gore. (or "Al the bottom" as someone called him).
Dominance is not really a strategic policy or political philosophy at all. Actually, it's a highly accurate and useful term to describe America's historically unprecedented current position in the world. The Clinton administration spent eight years pretending that America wasn't dominant in the world in the hope that everyone would love them. Responses to this policy came through loud and clear (to everyone except the deluded) at Somalia, the World Trade Center, Khobar Towers, two African embassies, and the U.S.S. Cole. It is a seductive illusion that tempts the powerful to satiate their hunger for more power still by striking a Faustian bargain. And as always happens - sooner or later - to those who shake hands with the devil, they find out too late that what they have given up in the bargain is their soul. Black Preacher Al reappears.
One of the clearest indications of the impending loss of intimacy with one's soul is the failure to recognize the existence of a soul in those over whom power is exercised, especially if the helpless come to be treated as animals, and degraded. [See this cigar, Monica?] We also know - and not just from De Sade and Freud - the psychological proximity between sexual depravity and other people's pain. It has been especially shocking and awful to see these paired evils perpetrated so crudely and cruelly in the name of America.
Even more shocking and awful are Gore's disgraceful attempts to blame everyone for the stupidity of a handful of people, simply for political gain.
Those pictures of torture and sexual abuse came to us embedded in a wave of news about escalating casualties and growing chaos enveloping our entire policy in Iraq. But in order understand the failure of our overall policy, it is important to focus specifically on what happened in the Abu Ghraib prison, and ask whether or not those actions were representative of who we are as Americans? Obviously the quick answer is no, but unfortunately it's more complicated than that.
Speak for yourself, Al. It's not representative of me, you ass.
There is good and evil in every person. And what makes the United States special in the history of nations is our commitment to the rule of law and our carefully constructed system of checks and balances. Our natural distrust of concentrated power and our devotion to openness and democracy are what have lead us as a people to consistently choose good over evil in our collective aspirations more than the people any other nation.
Our founders were insightful students of human nature. [So why do Democrats pretend that so much of their work--the Tenth Amendment, for example--doesn't exist?] They feared the abuse of power because they understood that every human being has not only "better angels" in his nature, but also an innate vulnerability to temptation - especially the temptation to abuse power over others.
Our founders understood full well that a system of checks and balances is needed in our constitution because every human being lives with an internal system of checks and balances that cannot be relied upon to produce virtue if they are allowed to attain an unhealthy degree of power over their fellow citizens.
Listen then to the balance of internal impulses described by specialist Charles Graner when confronted by one of his colleagues, Specialist Joseph M. Darby, who later became a courageous whistleblower. When Darby asked him to explain his actions documented in the photos, Graner replied: "The Christian in me says it's wrong, but the Corrections Officer says, 'I love to make a groan [sic] man piss on himself."
What happened at the prison, it is now clear, was not the result of random acts by "a few bad apples," it was the natural consequence of the Bush Administration policy that has dismantled those wise constraints and has made war on America's checks and balances.
Um...no. To call this analogy a stretch is to insult stretches everywhere.
The abuse of the prisoners at Abu Ghraib flowed directly from the abuse of the truth that characterized the Administration's march to war and the abuse of the trust that had been placed in President Bush by the American people in the aftermath of September 11th.
There was then, there is now and there would have been regardless of what Bush did, a threat of terrorism that we would have to deal with. But instead of making it better, he has made it infinitely worse. We are less safe because of his policies. He has created more anger and righteous [!] indignation against us as Americans than any leader of our country in the 228 years of our existence as a nation -- because of his attitude of contempt for any person, institution or nation who disagrees with him.
Al, as always, is clueless. People hate America because, simply, of what we are.
He has exposed Americans abroad and Americans in every U.S. town and city to a greater danger of attack by terrorists because of his arrogance, willfulness, and bungling at stirring up hornet's nests that pose no threat whatsoever to us. [I bet they will start training pilots to fly planes into our buildings...oh wait, they already did that during your administration, Al.] And by then insulting the religion and culture and tradition of people in other countries. [How exactly did Bush do this?] And by pursuing policies that have resulted in the deaths of thousands of innocent men, women and children, all of it done in our name.
Here I am forced to recall the Clinton Adminstration's incineration of 88 American children at Waco. Talk about stirring up hornet's nest--the "arrogance, willfulness, and bungling" displayed at Waco led directly to the Oklahoma City terrorist bombing. So presumably this is a subject that Gore is an expert in: Exposing Americans to a greater danger of terrorist attack.
President Bush said in his speech Monday night that the war in Iraq is "the central front in the war on terror." It's not the central front in the war on terror, but it has unfortunately become the central recruiting office for terrorists. Dick Cheney said, "This war may last the rest of our lives. The unpleasant truth is that President Bush's utter incompetence has made the world a far more dangerous place and dramatically increased the threat of terrorism against the United States. Just yesterday, the International Institute of Strategic Studies reported that the Iraq conflict " has arguable focused the energies and resources of Al Qaeda and its followers while diluting those of the global counterterrorism coalition." The ISS said that in the wake of the war in Iraq Al Qaeda now has more than 18,000 potential terrorists scattered around the world and the war in Iraq is swelling its ranks.
Like most dishonest people on the Left, Gore ignores Afghanistan and the rout of the Taliban. How come that war didn't "swell the ranks" of terrorists?
The war plan was incompetent in its rejection of the advice from military professionals and the analysis of the intelligence was incompetent in its conclusion that our soldiers would be welcomed with garlands of flowers and cheering crowds. Thus we would not need to respect the so-called Powell doctrine of overwhelming force.
One word: Somalia. You wouldn't let the poor bastards have even one tank or Bradley, and they died needlessly. You have no right to lecture anyone about "overwhelming force," you hemmorhoid.
So I only made it halfway through.
Sunday, May 23, 2004
I suffered through the drive from hell, as we went with three customers (gamers) from the store, which was a bad mistake. Gamers are perhaps the least socialized adults in America, and their conversations consist of things that would be cute in five-year-olds but are annoying-verging-on-repulsive in twenty-five-year-olds. Gamers.
I was not about to wait four hours in line for autographs, so I just gawked from a distance. In person Eliza looks...not thinner, like I expected, but paler and more fragile, and pretty more than beautiful, except when she smiles, which is dazzling. At least a third of the people in line were female, which I kind of expected.
The second half of my day was spent at my nephew David's house, at a first birthday party for his daughter Corrinne. I have a nice family.
Thursday, May 20, 2004
The Hatfield book auction always features dozens of box lots, which almost always have some gems that other dealers miss; sometimes you get lucky on them and sometimes you don't, but it's easy to get full value back when you only spend $2.50 a box. I've also gotten mercenary about books in a way that would have horrified me only a year ago; I can now ruthlessly throw books in the trash, which I would never have done before.
The one in Philly is the place where I get the highest-margin items, because the box lots there are so carelessly assembled that you can find amazing stuff. One three-box lot I bought for a dollar contained an old N.C.Wyeth collector plate that sold for $58. It just requires a lot of patience to sit through a long bunch of, literally, garbage in order to snag some decent stuff. Today, though, I spent the day in the "better" auction there (the Philly auction is a three-ring circus with three different auctions going on simultaneously). From it I got a few things, most importantly an original Lil Abner daily comic strip from 1958 that I should make some good money on.
I was fortunate in a completely different way today. I was sitting in one of the bidder chairs, eating some grapes, waiting for the auction to begin, when this guy who sort of resembled the actor Delroy Lindo walks up to me...holding what I recognized as my car keys. I had left them in my door when I had locked it before I came in. The guy had been parked in the space in front of my car and after I left he got the keys and went looking for me inside the building until he found me. I almost fell over. (I could not thank him enough, and I insisted on carrying his stuff into his van after the auction).
And yes, I'm tired.
Monday, May 17, 2004
Half the complaints about Bush’s “war on women” revolve around his disinclination to spend taxpayers’ dollars promoting abortion overseas. Which begs the question: leaving aside the moral questions, what is the state’s interest in abortion?
The answer to that is obvious: The most urgent problem facing the western world right now is the big lack of babies. On the Continent, abortion is part of the settled political consensus and its persistence as an issue over here is seen as further evidence – along with guns, capital punishment and functioning militaries – of American backwardness. The result is collapsed birthrates in Mediterranean countries of around 1.1, 1.2 children per couple – that’s to say, about half of what’s called “replacement rate”. Why be surprised that Spanish voters don’t have the stomach for war? To fight for king and country is to fight for the future, for your nation, for its children. But Spain has no children, and thus no future. What’s to fight for?
Even if you subscribe to the premise of Roe vs Wade - that abortion is a privacy issue – society as a whole has no interest in elevating a “woman’s right to choose” to state policy. The government’s interest lies in increasing birthrates, to avoid the death spiral of post-Catholic Italy. If any Democrat understands that, she or he is in no hurry to speak up.
Which leads to the next question: Who will be the first victims of the west’s collapsed birthrates? In Europe, the only country still exercising its “reproductive rights” at replacement rate is Muslim Albania. The rest of the continent is dependent on immigration mainly from North Africa and the Middle East. In other words, by exercising a “woman’s right to choose” to the present unprecedented degree, western women are delivering their societies into the hands of fellows far more patriarchal than a 1950s sitcom dad.
Sunday, May 16, 2004
Austen, Jane: Pride and Prejudice.
Brontë, Charlotte: Jane Eyre.
Brontë, Emily: Wuthering Heights.
Beckett, Samuel: Waiting for Godot.
Camus, Albert: The Stranger.
Chaucer, Geoffrey: The Canterbury Tales
Cooper, James Fenimore: The Last of the Mohicans. The movie doesn't count....
Crane, Stephen: The Red Badge of Courage.
Defoe, Daniel: Robinson Crusoe.
Dickens, Charles: A Tale of Two Cities. Never made it through.
Dumas, Alexandre: The Three Musketeers.
Golding, William: Lord of the Flies. Shockingly, I managed to get through high school, college, and adult life without having read this.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel: The Scarlet Letter.
Heller, Joseph: Catch 22.
Homer The Iliad
Homer The Odyssey
Kafka, The Metamorphosis.
London, Jack: The Call of the Wild.
Melville, Herman: Moby Dick
Orwell, George: Animal Farm.
Remarque, Erich Maria: All Quiet on the Western Front.
Salinger, J.D.: The Catcher in the Rye.
Shakespeare, William Hamlet
Shakespeare, William Macbeth
Shakespeare, William A Midsummer Night's Dream Have seen it played.
Shakespeare, William Romeo and Juliet
Shaw, George Bernard: Pygmalion.
Shelley, Mary: Frankenstein.
Swift, Jonathan: Gulliver's Travels. Partially.
Twain, Mark: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Wilde, Oscar: The Picture of Dorian Gray.
The other one is more modern, and Brit-centric, with very little duplications from the other one. I have never even heard of several of these books or even authors....
1984, George Orwell
The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho
Alice's Adventures In Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
Animal Farm, George Orwell
Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
Anne Of Green Gables, LM Montgomery
Artemis Fowl, Eoin Colfer
The BFG, Roald Dahl
Birdsong, Sebastian Faulks
Black Beauty, Anna Sewell
Bleak House, Charles Dickens
Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh
Bridget Jones's Diary, Helen Fielding
Captain Corelli's Mandolin, Louis de Bernieres
Catch 22, Joseph Heller
The Catcher In The Rye, JD Salinger
Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl
A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens
The Clan Of The Cave Bear, Jean M Auel
Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons
The Colour Of Magic, Terry Pratchett
The Count Of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas
Crime And Punishment, Fyodor Dostoevsky
David Copperfield, Charles Dickens
Double Act, Jacqueline Wilson
Dune, Frank Herbert
Emma, Jane Austen
Far From The Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy
Girls In Love, Jacqueline Wilson
The God Of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
The Godfather, Mario Puzo
Gone With The Wind, Margaret Mitchell
Good Omens, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
Goodnight Mister Tom, Michelle Magorian
Gormenghast, Mervyn Peake
The Grapes Of Wrath, John Steinbeck
Great Expectations, Charles Dickens
The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald
Guards! Guards!, Terry Pratchett
Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets, JK Rowling
Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire, JK Rowling
Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone, JK Rowling
Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban, JK Rowling
His Dark Materials trilogy, Philip Pullman
The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, Douglas Adams
The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien
Holes, Louis Sachar
I Capture The Castle, Dodie Smith
Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte
Kane And Abel, Jeffrey Archer
Katherine, Anya Seton
The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe, CS Lewis
Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
Lord Of The Flies, William Golding
The Lord Of The Rings, JRR Tolkien
Love In The Time Of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
The Magic Faraway Tree, Enid Blighton
Magician, Raymond E Feist
The Magus, John Fowles
Matilda, Roald Dahl
Memoirs Of A Geisha, Arthur Golden
Middlemarch, George Eliot
Midnight's Children, Salman Rushdie
Mort, Terry Pratchett
Night Watch, Terry Pratchett
Noughts And Crosses, Malorie Blackman
Of Mice And Men, John Steinbeck
On The Road, Jack Kerouac
One Hundred Years Of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Perfume, Patrick Suskind
Persuasion, Jane Austen
The Pillars Of The Earth, Ken Follett
A Prayer For Owen Meany, John Irving
Pride And Prejudice, Jane Austen
The Princess Diaries, Meg Cabot
The Ragged Trousered Philantrhopists, Robert Tressell
Rebecca, Daphne Du Maurier
The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett
The Secret History, Donna Tartt
The Shell Seekers, Rosamunde Pilcher
The Stand, Stephen King
The Story Of Tracy Beaker, Jacqueline Wilson
A Suitable Boy, Vikram Seth
Swallows And Amazons, Arthur Ransome
A Tale Of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
Tess Of The D'urbervilles, Thomas Hardy
The Thorn Birds, Colleen McCollough
To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee
A Town Like Alice, Nevil Shute
Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson
The Twits, Roald Dahl
Ulysses, James Joyce
Vicky Angel, Jacqueline Wilson
War And Peace, Leo Tolstoy
Watership Down, Richard Adams
The Wind In The Willows, Kenneth Grahame
Winnie-the-Pooh, AA Milne
The Woman In White, Wilkie Collins
Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte
Wednesday, May 12, 2004
As it is, we have their heights, builds, body mannerisms, shoe sizes, voice prints and other more subtle data provided to the CIA courtesy of the video they so thoughtfully provided, as well as enough solid evidence of their guilt to justify their capture and "intense interrogation". We also know what kind of video camera they have, as well as other, more subtle clues from what might appear to be a "sterile" makeshift stage.
They are all dead men walking, and their future looks very bleak indeed. The reason they keep their heads covered is that they are terrified of us. They are right to be terrified, and we haven't even begun to get nasty yet.
Tuesday, May 11, 2004
There was no way to be certain the tape was authentic.
Of course, the CBS reportage of the Abu Ghraib "torture" photographs evinced not a single doubt about their authenticity, even though a number of other "abuse" photos seem to have been manufactured.
Sunday, May 09, 2004
Which means, among other things, that huge stories have been almost totally ignored because they don't fit the immediate media template. In the past week we've seen--to name only one--an American connection to the Madrid train bombings (sorry, I am way too tired to do any links). One would think that, possibly, the knowledge that some of the people who helped murder 200 Spaniards were right here in this country (if Portland, Oregon can be given that distinction) and presumably capable of doing it here would be, just maybe, worth at least one day at the top of the newscrawls. But no, it's more important that we get more and more torture photographs, we haven't seen nearly enough.
But the story that intrigues me the most features the new Canadian Prime Minister not only trashing the evil UN, but essentially calling for its abolition. I was stunned, and thrilled. It really seems as though there is a near-critical mass of disgust with that awful institution, what with the disgraceful seating of Sudan on the Human Rights Commission, the alleged trafficking in slave women by UN troops in Kosovo, and of course the ever-popular oil-for-food scandal. May it continue until this appalling body goes away. Yes, I know I said I was too tired to do any links, but what can I say, the UN motivates me.
Sunday, May 02, 2004
"As football overseer, Uday kept a private torture scorecard, with written instructions on how many times each player should be beaten on the soles of his feet after a particularly poor showing."
"When we arrived, they took off our shirts, tied our feet together and pulled our knees over a bar as we lay on our backs. Then they dragged us over pavement and concrete, pulling the skin off our backs. Then they pulled us through a sandpit to get sand in our backs. Finally, they made us climb a ladder and jump into a vat of raw sewage. They wanted to get our wounds infected."
Half his teeth have been knocked out, his face is battered and the eyes sunken and haunted-looking. His chest is covered with 50 separate cuts from a knife, his back has even more marks, which he says are cigarette burns. Two of his fingers were broken and deliberately bent into a permanent, contorted position and there?s a hole in the middle of his palm where his torturers stabbed him and twisted the blade.
Pictures of dead Iraqis, with their necks slashed, their eyes gouged out and their genitals blackened, fill a bookshelf...In one instance, the soldier recalled, he witnessed a Kuwaiti soldier, who had been captured during the 1991 Persian Gulf War, being forced to sit on a broken Pepsi bottle. The man was removed from the bottle only after it filled up with his blood, the soldier said. He said the man later died.
The usual suspects have spent the last several days with their dresses pulled over their heads about the "torture" of Iraqi prisoners by American jailers. I place quotation marks around the word because the alleged torture--naked Iraqi prisoners being humiliated by smiling U.S. military police, says the AP story--doesn't seem all that torturous, especially compared to the Saddam-era activities quoted above.
One of the more serious charges against the American guards was "threats of rape," which--in spite of the seriousness of such an indictment--made me laugh. Threats of homosexual rape are pretty much inseperable from the culture these days; the sight of network news operations which are part of huge entertainment conglomerates being shocked by threats of male homosexual rape is, I'm sorry, funny.
Half the Hollywood action movies made in the last ten years expect the audience to smile warmly when the good guy addresses lines like these* to the bad guy: "I have a dear friend named Tyrone...who will be more than happy to introduce you to the intimate pleasures of prison life." Stand-up comedians get laughs and applause for conjuring up the image of Enron's Ken Lay meeting "Bubba" in prison. All of this business is simply a diseased culture's chickens coming home to roost.
All of this of course doesn't stop the people who make their living being outraged at America from being, um, outraged. Anti-American outrage has been a cottage industry for a long time.
First, we have the Arab media. A quick run-thru of the AP story linked above gives us:
Arabs expressed outrage at graphic photographs shown on TV screens Friday across the Middle East.... . "They were ugly images. Is this the way the Americans treat prisoners?"..."I was disgusted and angered by those humiliating pictures"..."The scenes were really ugly." "This is not humiliation of Iraqis...It is humiliation of all Arabs."..."The Scandal," ran a front-page headline in Egypt's government-leaning newspaper Akhbar al-Yom. "The Shame," read one in the opposition newspaper Al-Wafd.
And on and on. There are dozens and dozens of such stories, all featuring outraged Arabs outraged at Americans for making them outraged at the outrageously outrageous outrage outraged by the outrage of it all. Far less common are such skeptics as the Israeli Ha'aretz, which pointed out that
The outrage contrasted sharply with the Arab silence that has accompanied evidence of atrocities within Arab countries, notably those carried out in the very same prison by officials of Saddam Hussein's former government.
Exactly. The contrast between this weekend's anti-American anger and the decades-long complete silence over Saddam's eye-gougings and filmed baby-rapings is pretty overwhelming. What it offers is a fascinating glimpse at the pathologies of the Arab world.
This is how it works: When the Arab world screams about phony American "atrocities" but ignores actual Arab atrocities, it sends a subtle but distinct message: Arab lives only matter when an American or Israeli takes them. Boiled down even more, it sounds like this: Arab lives have no intrinsic value. And this mindset, far more than any extrenal "oppression," is what keeps the larger Arab world stupid and pauperized, seemingly permanently.
The other outraged group is comprised by the anti-American Left, both domestic and foreign.
The eagerness with which the leftists in the media have seized on the story gets me wondering about motivations. It makes me wonder if the Left has been itching to turn the Iraq story into a full-on Vietnam analog, complete with the wholesale depiction of the American military as baby-killers. Throughout the last twenty years in America, one idea that has remained unchallengeable, even sacrosanct, is the belief that the rank and file troops, even if they do vote Republican, are decent and honorable. The disgraceful treatment of Vietnam veterans after that war shamed the American Left for a generation.
But today is a new day. I suspect that, in the heart of hearts, this belief in the basic decency of American enlistees has grated on many on the Left, especially those in the press and in human rights organizations.
Amnesty International, for example, demands an international investigation. But only a year and a half ago, the British government's publication of a torture dossier on Saddam was greeted by AI very differently:
...the human rights organisation Amnesty International accused Foreign Secretary Jack Straw of a cynical attempt to whip up public emotion.
CNN, which supressed all information of Saddam's torture and human rights violations for ten years, is all over this story.
*Actual dialogue from Steven Seagal in 1997's Fire Down Below.