Monday, February 28, 2005

 

No more 'No More Mister Nice Blog'

Sad news in the liberal blogger community - Steve M. of No More Mister Nice Blog has decided to strike his tent:
I want to thank everyone who's read this blog over the two-plus years I've been doing it. I can't tell you how grateful I am that you came by. And I want to thank everyone who's linked to me -- especially the serial linkers (you know who you are). But, well, I'm wrapping it up.

It's begun to dawn on me that there's nothing I can do here that isn't being done with more style, wit, and/or reportorial doggedness by dozens of others. It's gotten harder and harder lately to say something fresh, to make a connection no one else seems to be making. And it often seems futile -- the political world doesn't pay much attention to the first-raters on the Internet left, and often snickers when it does (see: Gannon, Jeff, revelations about). I'm not in the same league as those first-raters, so I can't imagine ever having any more impact with this blog than I'd would if I were just muttering about Bush in a bar.

I've enjoyed this, but I don't read as many books as I used to, and I think and talk about this way too much. I need to move on. Maybe I'll do something similar someday, but right now it's time to let go.
There are other fine liberal bloggers out there (check my blogroll for a representative, though not complete by any means, list), but Steve was one of the best. Clear-headed, passionate, forward-looking, and seeing what's really going on - I'll miss him a lot.

Good luck with whatever you do from now on, Steve, and we all hope to continue hearing from you. Keep fighting the good fight!

Friday, February 25, 2005

 

Friday Blog Blogging - proud and honored

I've been meaning to write something on this for some time now, so James Wolcott's post gives me the perfect opportunity to do so.
Salut!

The Koufax Awards for best lefty bloggers have been announced to the honking of car horns and tooting of kazoos, and congratulations to the winners. To quote Rip Torn from Songwriter, "I wish a picture of how beautiful y'all are at this moment could be painted as a mural on the great wall of China."

Though I admit I'm somewhat miffed that my naked cry from the heart, "I Need to Borrow a Spatula," wasn't nominated for Best Post in the pro-am division. But being nominated for Best New Blogger is honor enough--it's hard to imagine being in a better battalion of avenging angels.
I feel the same way. When I read Wolcott or Eric Alterman or Daily Kos or Eschaton or AMERICABlog or Hoffmania! or No More Mister Nice Blog or Rising Hegemon or Tom Tomorrow or Bob Harris or lots of others (check my blogroll), I'm proud and honored to be a liberal blogger, too. Not that I do it as well as these guys do, but I try; and when I read them, I'm glad we're all on the same side, fighting the good fight against ever-increasing odds.

Friday, February 18, 2005

 

The return of Friday Blog Blogging! (Some Doctor Who news, too!)

With the return of Doctor Who to TV screens a matter of weeks now (looks like the new series starring Christopher Eccleston will begin airing on the BBC in late March; no word yet on when the CBC will premiere it or on which US network will have it), fan excitement is picking up enormously. Those fine folks at Canada's Doctor Who Information Network (DWIN), publishers of the superb fanzine Enlightenment, have started the brand-new Doctor Who Blog. Good for them!

And it's an excellent blog, too, with wit and commentary similar to that which makes Enlightenment such obligatory reading. This is a great way to usher in the new series.
 

Fafblog wins (as usual)

Fafnir at Fafblog! manages to say what I wanted to say (immediately below) even better than I did (not at all surprising) or The Poorman did (somewhat surprising):

Treason: Hurting America's Feelings

Treason: it’s all the rage these days! From treasonous news executives to treasonous former Presidents everybody’s doin it. In fact you may be a traitor and not even know it! “That is silly Fafnir I could never betray America I love it an eat twelve flags a day” says you. Well a lotta traitors start off not even tryin to be traitors, it is just that easy to do! Treason isn't just providin aid an comfort to the enemy. It's providin not-aid an discomfort to America. Treason is hurting America's feelings.

Now you may think "oh well Fafnir America's a big country it can take care a itself" but in fact it is very sensitive. When you say its mom's ugly or criticize its foreign policy or kick sand on its face at the beach it is just as hurt as if you'd sold its state secrets. Like every emotional young superpower America needs love and care from its citizens. We've put together a brief guide to treason so you can understand it a little better.

Q: Which of the following is treason?
1. Not wishing the President a happy birthday even when he is clearly wearing a party hat and a "Kiss The Birthday Boy" shirt
2. Questioning the progress, purpose, or justification of the Iraq war
3. Providing material aid to a hostile enemy of the United States
4. Telling America "Hey America yo mama's so fat by the time she bends over it's Daylight Savings Time."

Answer: All of them are treason but number four is the worst treason of all on account of America is real sensitive about the fatness of its mama.

Q: I'm at a formal dinner party when the President shows up half-naked and stinking of rum. Can I tell him he is inappropriately attired without committing treason?
A: No. By embarassing the Commander-in-Chief you're providing aid and comfort to our enemies such as Osama bin Laden and Al Franken.

:::snip:::

Q: Oh no, I've accidentally committed treason! What do I do!
A: Don't worry there is still time to make up for it! America's very forgiving an there's always another second chance to cheer up your country after you've gotten it down. Here's a few examples:

Calling America an illegal occupier --> three God Bless Americas, two public denunciations of Ted Kennedy as an Islamist sympathizer

Voting against tort reform --> four America the Beautifuls, three strident blog posts on Why We Must Win

Selling nuclear technology to North Korea --> four National Anthems, one delicious chocolate ice cream cake especially for the President

Leaking a CIA agent's identity to Robert Novak --> one fifteen minute segment plugging White House policy on the Sunday morning talk show of your choice

Leaking a CIA agent's identity to Robert Novak to get back at her treasonous husband --> Totally not treason! Buy yourself a taco.

Now you're ready to go out there and respect your country's boundaries and feelings!

Aren't we lucky to have Fafnir around to answer all our questions?

Seriously, the right wing has always believed that the only proper form of patriotism is tub-thumping and that criticizing the president is one step down from failing to love JEEEEEEEEEEEEEEZUS (unless they're the ones doing the criticizing - what gave Bill Clinton the ridiculous notion that he ever had the right to actually win?) Especially since "9/11 changed everything!", man.

There has always been a political style that questioned the motives of one's opponents - Richard Nixon built his entire career on this style - and not just among wingnuts, I'm sorry to say (the left is not innocent of this tactic). But that it has become so ingrained among the right wing that someone could seriously accuse Jimmy Carter - a man after whom the Navy has just named a new submarine - of being a traitor and not be laughed off the stage by everyone to the left of David Duke tells us everything we want to know about PowerLine.

Fafblog!, by subjecting the entire notion of "treason" to the ridicule it deserves - and doing their usual brilliant job of ridiculing - should end this sad, squalid affair immediately. Let's move on to oxes that need goring (with all due respect to my animal-loving girlfriend: Honey, I'm not talking about real oxes!)
 

The total lack of principle in paranoid political thought

There's a lot of buzz among liberal bloggers about the charge on the right-wing extremist blog PowerLine that former President Jimmy Carter is, among other things, a traitor to the United States (specifically, that he is on "the other side").

I gather that this is a current topic of great joy amongst the wingnuts (there's a book out calling Carter the worst ex-president ever; probably to counter the widespread notion many Americans feel that while Carter may have been a poor president, he has been an exemplary former president). A lot of wingnuts can't forgive Carter for having the audacity to win the Nobel Peace Prize (like it's his fault he has spent the past 24 years not getting rich but devoting himself to humanitarian concerns).

I spent many years involved in Russian Studies - Russian history, Russian language and literature, Soviet history and politics - and the idea that Carter is somehow (and I can't figure out how, but then I'm not a wingnut) actually a traitor reminds me alarmingly of what in the thankfully defunct Soviet Union used to be construed as an "objective crime." That is, intent was irrelevant if your actions were defined as harmful. The idea being that the dissidents calling for greater freedom and democracy in the Soviet Union were, regardless of their motives, objectively doing damage to the state and thus could be punished for it.

This is a dangerously paranoid delusional way of looking at the world, because it is based on nothing other than your own short-term, narrow interests. It is based on power (apposite for a blog calling itself PowerLine), pure and simple. We're in charge, so anything we don't like is by definition treason. It don't matter what you think you're doing - you're hurting us, so that's treachery.

The danger comes from the likelihood that this kind of "reasoning" will create its own opposition that feels it has no choice but and nothing to lose from doing exactly the same if and when it gets the power. Granted, the entire point of this kind of PowerLine arguing is to ensure that the opposition never gets into power by totally invalidating and discrediting the very notion of opposition and any and all opposition leaders. But history takes a long time and has a strong sense of irony; after Lyndon Johnson crushed Barry Goldwater in 1964, many Democrats and liberals assumed that the Republicans were done for a long time. It took just four years for us to be disabused of that notion.

And at some point in the future, the triumphalist hacks at PowerLine will be gnashing their teeth and tossing cold crusts of pizza at the TV sets in their parents' basements as President Hillary Clinton takes the oath of office for the second time (yes, I know that "Hindrocket" is actually a lawyer; my point about their lack of emotional maturity stands). They will wail in anguish as they are accused of obstructionism and worse by the all-powerful liberal bloggers who have learned the lesson only too well - what comes around goes around.

(Of course, I do not wish for this scenario at all - other than a liberal Democratic president being reelected. I don't want anyone accused of committing treason simply because I don't like them or their policies. And that does not happen under liberal establishments - except toward those liberal establishments.)

However, if your entire argument is based on the premise that what you disagree with is not merely wrong but actually treasonous, you have absolutely no grounds for objecting when your opponents turn your argument against you. If they are dangerous to you, then you are dangerous to them. Whether or not you think you are is irrelevant. The pattern has been set - sauce for the goose, etc.

There is no way that the people at PowerLine will understand this. They could not care less. As far as they are concerned, they are in the ascendance; to them, as to Homer Simpson, "everything lasts forever." But there is no reason to take them seriously. Nor is there any reason to demand that they apologize. Jimmy Carter's humanitarian good deeds will be remembered long after the smirking teenagers at PowerLine have been totally forgotten.

However, this should be seen as clear evidence of just how violently outside the mainstream PowerLine and similar extremist right-wing blogs are. As The Poorman puts it so eloquently,
So, in a nutshell, here's the evidence for the Powerline argument for Jimmy Carter's treachery, written by a fellow at the Scaife & friends-funded right wing propaganda mill Claremont Institute: the Rev. Moon's racist far-right Washington Times and Scaife's deeply sad press release regurgitation service NewsMax, and, if you want something more scholarly, a book published by the white supremicist-linked Regnery who earned his graduate degrees at the Scaife & friends-funded university attached to the Scaife PR mill that writes their checks. That's quite an impressive little circle jerk they've put together for themselves over there, all the kept men in Scaife's wingnut harem. That's the soggy biscuit you must eat if you want to be "on their side". This is your modern Republican machine, in all its shameless glory. And, no, they aren't sorry. No one is sorry at all.
That's not quite true. No one is sorrier than PowerLine. We couldn't possibly be any sorrier than them.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

 

Caption of the Year!

I can't display the photo, but click here to see (scroll down to the bottom of the page).

And the winning caption:

"Ein Reich, Ein Volk, Ein Finger" - YOW!!!!
 

US Senate proclaims to world: "We love torture"

AKA, "Fuck you, world".
Senate confirms Gonzales for attorney general

Memo on torture fails to derail nomination


WASHINGTON (AP) - The Senate voted Thursday to confirm White House counsel Alberto Gonzales as attorney general, setting aside Democratic complaints he helped craft questionable U.S. policies on the treatment of foreign prisoners.

Gonzales, 49, a longtime friend who was President Bush’s legal counsel when he was governor of Texas, becomes the first Hispanic to be the nation’s top law officer. The vote was 60-36, with all the opposition coming from Democrats.

The 36 “no” votes were the second most ever lodged against a successful nominee for attorney general. John Ashcroft, whom Gonzales succeeds, was confirmed 58-42 on Feb. 1, 2001.

“This is a breakthrough of incredible magnitude for Hispanic-Americans,” said Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., calling Gonzales “a role model for the next generation” of Hispanics in this country

Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., said he expected Gonzales, a former Texas judge, “to help lead the way for the creation of an America that despises hate and bigotry and recognizes that every human being deserves a government that will fight for the dignity and equality of all.”
Unless you're someone George W. Bush or Donald Rumsfeld doesn't like. (That was almost too easy.)

So, 5 Democrats have not learned their lesson (4 did not vote; don't know why). They have failed to fully appreciate Beck’s Axiom: Anyone George W. Bush appoints for his second term (or who is appointed by someone appointed by Bush for his second term) will be worse than the person being replaced.

In addition, they don't care that the rest of the world hates our guts and thinks confirming Gonzales is a clear sign that America has gone way too far down the road of becoming the world's largest rogue state. At some point, we are going to be listed on the EU's "axis of evil".

I know that no Republican gives a shit what the rest of the world thinks. The red state wingnuts positively revel in their ignorance of anything east of the Mississippi and north of Kentucky; for them, the enmity of the rest of the world is the biggest positive imaginable. But the Democrats should know better. And, at least, 36 did. But Joe Lieberman, Salazar, Ben Nelson, Mary Landrieu, and Bill Nelson decided that America can be proud of Abu Ghraib and of the man whose legal memos provided the threadbare cover that Bush and Rumsfeld were demanding, America's legal obligations be damned.

But, 36 Democratic Senators can see the train wreck this Administration is hellbent on careening towards. They had the wisdom and courage to jump off the train and alert a heedless America of the danger. They may pay some small price now, but we will all pay a much heavier price soon and for a long time to come.

It would have been better if all 45 Democratic Senators had put George W. Bush on notice that they will not complaisantly bend over and let him paddle their asses with his bogus appointments and mendacious legislation. I'm sorry that Harry Reid could not provide stronger leadership. At least he voted no. And so did 35 other Democrats we can all be proud of.

The 5 who showed neither honor nor courage - shame on you.
 

So much for the myth of "self-reliance" in the Old West

Ronald Reagan and his idolators loved (and still love) to pretend that in America - by which they mean the "heartland" - by which they mean any place without too many Negroes - is and always has been a place where nobody really needs a handout, especially from evil Big (or any other kind of ) Government. In America, myth has it, you succeed or fail 100% on your own efforts. That way, you owe nobody the slightest gratitude if you make it - and, more importantly, you owe nobody the slightest assistance if they don't.

Of course, this is 100% bullshit. Even Ronald Reagan did not "make it" on his own. His acting career was tanking in the 1950s when he sold out his liberal, pro-labor roots and became a good-looking, slick-talking salesman for big business and the right wing.

But the myth remains, as pernicious as ever. Even in the face of massive historical evidence that it is 100% bullshit.
The West's New Boomtowns Are Looking Beyond the Drought

By KIRK JOHNSON

AURORA, Colo., Feb. 2 - Peter D. Binney used to look out his window and wonder, as drought settled over the West, what the heck happened.

Now, as snow has finally fallen heavy and deep in the mountains this winter, his worries have shifted direction like the wind. As the director of utilities in this suburban city on the prairie east of Denver, Mr. Binney now fears people will think that the drought is over and that it is back to business as usual.

"There's a natural tendency to wish crisis away, and it's difficult to maintain the discipline and conviction," he said. "It's something I wrestle with every day."

For cities like Aurora that were hard hit by the drought's worst years, the wet interregnum of this winter - which may or may not be the beginning of the drought's end, meteorologists say - is presenting its own peculiar season of anxiety.

For cities like Aurora - part of an archipelago of new urban centers across the West that have never experienced a serious drought until this one - the sense of political limits that came with a change in the weather pattern was as much of a shock as the drought itself.

Older cities like Denver and Phoenix grew up nurtured by a huge federal commitment in the 20th century to water the West through dams, reservoirs and irrigation projects. The new places found themselves largely dependent on their own resources, as federal ambitions have retreated and the environmental costs of the old ways have become clearer.
And who paid for that "huge federal commitment"? The same people who paid for the Tennessee Valley Authority and damn near every other improvement this country has ever made in rural areas - the rich "blue" states of the Northeast and the North Central areas. New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Illinois - and we're still paying out far more to the federal government than we get back. Meanwhile, the list of states that get back more in federal spending than they pay in taxes is highly tilted to the "red" states.

New Jersey, for example, receives about 50 cents for each dollar we pay. Rural states get up to $1.50 and even more for each dollar they pay. And this has been going on for over a century. Much of the West would be an uninhabitable desert without all those water projects paid for with trillions of tax dollars largely paid by states in the northeast and north central.

And how do those red states thank us? By electing presidents who prattle on and on about self-reliance (as if George W. Bush ever earned a damn thing in his entire useless life) while happily transferring blue state money to red state freeloaders. If the blue states seceded, they'd take with them a huge portion of national product, national income - and national tax revenues.

It's okay in abstract - we're all one country, the rich should take care of the poor - but isn't that "redistribution"? And isn't that "socialism"? And isn't that evil? I mean, Bush's entire tax plan is based on the idea that the rich shouldn't pay more to the poor just because the rich have it and the poor need it. So why should New Jersey give money to Alabama and Mississippi?

At least, if you red states are going to rip us blue states off, for God's sake stop bragging about how 'self-reliant' you all are! Because you aren't - and you never have been.
 

Marines running out of straight recruits

What do you bet that one of the obvious solutions will never occur to them?
Marines Miss January Goal for Recruits

By ERIC SCHMITT

WASHINGTON, Feb. 2 - For the first time in nearly a decade, the Marine Corps in January missed its monthly recruiting goal, in what military officials said was the latest troubling indicator of the Iraq war's impact on the armed services.

The struggles of the Army, the Army Reserve and the Army National Guard to recruit and retain soldiers have received national attention in recent months. But the recent failure of the Marines, who historically have had the luxury of turning away willing recruits, is a potential problem for the service.

The Marines missed their January goal of 3,270 recruits by 84 people, or less than 3 percent. The Marines last missed a monthly goal in July 1995, and 1995 was also the last full year in which the corps fell short of its annual recruiting quota, said Maj. Dave Griesmer, a spokesman for the Marine Corps Recruiting Command.

Richard H. Kohn, a military historian at the University of North Carolina, said, "It's most troubling because the Marines tend to attract people who are the most macho, seek the most danger and are attracted by the service most likely to put them into combat."

Senior Marine personnel officials say that one month is hardly a trend, that the Marine Corps is slightly ahead of pace for the fiscal year beginning last October and that they fully expect to meet their overall goal for the year. But senior officers acknowledge that the drop in January - and close calls in November and December - could be linked to the widely publicized risks in Iraq.

"Do Iraq and Afghanistan have an impact? Yes," Brig. Gen. Walter E. Gaskin, the head of the Marine Corps Recruiting Command, said in a telephone interview. "But I am very optimistic we will meet our goal over all."

In a reflection of the difficult market for Marine recruiters, the service offers bonuses of up to $30,000 to retain combat veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, rather than relying mainly on replenishing its infantry with troops fresh from boot camp. About 75 percent of enlisted marines leave the service after their first tour, requiring a steady stream of recruits moving through training centers in San Diego and Parris Island, S.C.

Even as the Marine Corps strains to meet its recruiting targets, the Air Force and Navy are flush with recruits and are actually shrinking their overall ranks. Military personnel experts say there are indications that young people interested in joining the military may be turning to the Air Force and Navy, which have suffered relatively few casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan. In contrast, the Marines make up about 21 percent of the fighting force in Iraq now but have suffered 31 percent of the military deaths there, according to Pentagon statistics.

"It's not surprising that the Navy and Air Force would be doing just fine," said Professor Kohn. "Kids getting a start in the military will migrate to the physically safer services, and it seems to them that they'll get more technical training there."

General Gaskin said that despite missing January's goal, which was first reported by ABC News on Tuesday night, the Marine Corps was in no danger of running out of recruits for boot camp. Because of strong recruiting last year, the Marines entered the current fiscal year having already signed up 52 percent of their 2005 quota, he said. Typically, a recruit is sent to boot camp several months after signing an enlistment contract.

The Marines are devising recruiting strategies and offering signing bonuses of $2,000 to $5,000 for specialized jobs, like linguists and avionics technicians.

Sgt. Kimberly Leone, a marketing and public affairs representative at the Marine recruiting station in Chicago, said one new recruiting strategy would involve sending the Marine Corps Band from San Diego to high schools across the country.
How about another new recruiting strategy: ending "don't ask, don't tell"? Granted, a lot of gay men aren't particularly "macho," but some are, and so are some gay women. In any case, automatically excluding any population as a whole is a ridiculous and damaging self-limitation in a time when we need all hands on deck.

Yes, "don't ask, don't tell" is Congressionally mandated and thus cannot be changed by the armed services themselves. But come on, if the Marines went to the Senate and House Armed Services committees and formally requested an end to "don't ask, don't tell," that Congress would refuse them? Well, maybe, but at least then we'd know who to blame for the shortfall in recruits.
 

Corruption in the State of the Union

Bush last night decried "frivolous asbestos lawsuits."

Guess which US company faces the largest asbesto-related liabilities?

Could it be - say - Halliburton? Why - yes! Halliburton bought Dresser Industries and is trying to escape Dresser's asbestos-related liabilities. They want Dresser's assets but not its debts.

Al Franken just pointed this out on Air America Radio. Wonder if anyone else in the media will have the guts to mention this?

Granted, Dick Cheney is no longer the CEO of Halliburton. Maybe he no longer owns any Halliburton stock. But still, this is unseemly (to say the least).

If Bill Clinton did this on behalf of someone connected to him, the Mighty Wurlitzer would still be shrieking about how awful it is and he is.

But - IOKIYAR.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

 

American terrorism

I graduated from Hamilton College in 1976. It was a nice, little place (emphasis on the "little"), a fine, traditional liberal arts college (with a not so traditional "sister" school, Kirkland College, for women, across the road). Hamilton was founded in 1812, Kirkland in 1968. By 1977, Hamilton had decided to pull its funding from Kirkland as a separate school, and after much internal controversy, the two merged (it was really more of a takeover). I loved my time at Hamilton and still revere and respect my old school.

Since then, I have eagerly sought mention of Hamilton in the news, which rarely occurred. Now, alas, all that has been made up, and in the worst possible way.
College Cancels Speech by Professor Who Disparaged 9/11 Attack Victims

By PATRICK D. HEALY

CLINTON, N.Y., Feb. 1 - Over the last five days, tiny Hamilton College in upstate New York has been barraged with more than 6,000 e-mail messages full of fury, some threatening violence. Some donors have canceled pledges to an ambitious capital campaign. And prospective students have withdrawn applications or refused to enroll.

Then, on Monday night, a caller to the college threatened to bring a gun to campus.

Stunned and frightened, Hamilton leaders sought to end the turmoil on Tuesday by canceling the event that set it off: a planned speech by a Colorado professor who was invited to talk about American Indian activism but whose earlier essay on the Sept. 11 attacks fueled the criticism and threats. The professor, Ward Churchill of the University of Colorado, Boulder, wrote disparagingly of the victims inside the twin towers and referred to them at one point as "little Eichmanns," a reference to Adolf Eichmann, an architect of the Holocaust.

The speech, scheduled for Thursday night, was canceled for security reasons, Hamilton officials said. Mr. Churchill said he and his wife had received more than 100 death threats, and other warnings of violence mentioned Hamilton officials, including the president, Joan Hinde Stewart. Yet the uproar also adds a twist to decades of battles over free speech on campus, showing the powerful emotional resonance of Sept. 11.

In a telephone interview on Tuesday night, Mr. Churchill called the threats against Hamilton College "American terrorism." He urged those making the threats to "take a look in the mirror."

In recent days, Gov. George E. Pataki said he was appalled at Mr. Churchill's remarks and at Hamilton for inviting him, and a Fox News host, Bill O'Reilly, repeatedly urged viewers to e-mail the college in protest. Ms. Stewart, the president, as well as the professors who invited Mr. Churchill, said they did not know about his essay before asking him to campus. She denounced his comments in December, but said rescinding the invitation would harm First Amendment principles.

"His remarks about the victims of 9/11 are repellent, but our reaction to 'repellent' is how we test the right to free speech," Ms. Stewart said in an interview on Tuesday shortly before addressing the turn of events with the Hamilton faculty, who gave her a standing ovation.

"We did our best to protect the principles and the values that we believe in - the right to speak, to study, to teach freely - but the point came that I simply felt that this threat was too large for us to handle," said Ms. Stewart, who was told by campus security that even additional police officers could not ensure safety.

Hamilton, a campus of 1,750 students, has always had a reputation for accepting divergent voices. In November, the same program that invited this speaker - the Kirkland Project for the Study of Gender, Society and Culture - hired Susan Rosenberg, a former member of the Weather Underground, after her release from prison on explosives charges. She later withdrew in the face of protest.

On another end of the political spectrum, the scholar Elizabeth Fox-Genovese equated abortion to murder during her talk to a packed, polite campus auditorium last Thursday. According to The Spectator, the weekly student newspaper, she also said that empowering humans to choose who lives and who dies "opens the road to the Holocaust."

Mr. Churchill - who had planned to give his remarks Thursday in a flak jacket with two bodyguards in tow - was originally scheduled to speak by himself, but Ms. Stewart and others added three people to the panel and changed its focus to free speech. One of those added was Mr. Churchill's wife, who is also a scholar. The Churchills were to be paid $3,500, but volunteered this week to forgo the money because of the complaints.

In his original essay, Mr. Churchill wrote that the thousands killed at the World Trade Center had played a role in American sanctions on Iraq that "translated, conveniently out of sight, mind and smelling distance, into the starved and rotting flesh of infants."

"If there was a better, more effective, or in fact any other way of visiting some penalty befitting their participation upon the little Eichmanns inhabiting the sterile sanctuary of the twin towers, I'd really be interested in hearing about it," he wrote.

The bulk of the outraged e-mail messages began arriving last weekend, after Mr. O'Reilly of Fox had urged viewers to contact Hamilton.

Controversial speakers are nothing new to academic institutions: For years, Leonard Jeffries of the City University of New York would create a stir on campus and elsewhere with provocative remarks, and a Columbia University faculty panel is now investigating remarks by some pro-Palestinian professors that offended some Jewish students.

In 2002, Harvard College's English Department canceled a campus reading by a poet who had once referred in verse to the Israeli Army as a "Zionist SS." and had criticized American-born Jewish settlers. As at Hamilton, professors at Harvard said they had not known about the remarks of the poet, Tom Paulin, before inviting him.

As Hamilton was trying to contain the outrage on Tuesday, political and university officials in Colorado were criticizing Mr. Churchill.

Gov. Bill Owens, a Republican, called on him to resign from the university, while Representative Mark Udall, a Democrat, said in a statement that the professor was "factually inaccurate" about the terrorist attacks and owed the families of victims an apology. Mr. Churchill gave up his chairmanship of the ethnic studies department this week, and a spokeswoman said that the university's governing body, the nine-member Board of Regents, would meet Thursday to discuss his future.
I am extremely disappointed with my old school and have written to tell them so. I won't join in the national piling on of Mr. Churchill.

I can see his point. America has done good things and bad things around the world, and much of the world thinks we have profited from the poverty that they think our actions have caused. The destruction of the Twin Towers was, in a way, the "ghetto's revenge". The victims of the 9-11 attack were just that, victims; and celebrating their deaths is nasty and, I'm sure, intentionally provocative. I've read elegies on them that praise them for their extreme devotion to capitalism and making money, as if enriching oneself is an unalloyed good.

My point is, those are points of view. Mr. Churchill is not a government official charged with making policy. He represents no one but himself - in exactly the same way that Bill O'Reilly does or Leonard Jeffries or anyone else speaking as a private citizen. If he had made that point in class and refused to listen to alternative viewpoints and had disparaged students who disagreed with him or gave them lower grades - that would be not only objectionable but also actionable.

But to threaten him - and the college that offered him a chance to speak in public - merely because you find his views offensive - that is an American form of terrorism. If this country is about anything, it is about the right to say things that may - indeed, will - offend others. Andrew Sullivan is a terrorist when he calls those who oppose the president's was in Iraq "fifth columnists." Bill O'Reilly is a terrorist when he calls for his viewers and listeners to bombard Hamilton with threatening emails. (And likening a liberal arts college that invited a controversial speaker to Auschwitz, as one emailer did, is beyond offensive and into derangement. Far more outrageous than anything Churchill did.)

I understand that people get angered by anything that challenges the national consensus that the victims of 9-11 are all now holy martyrs. Although nobody seems to mind when they are used by conservative politicians to promote their own anti-democratic agenda (except some of the victims' families, and their sensibilities can't be permitted to get in the way of the Republicans' jihad on the world and on American freedoms). I can understand Hamilton feeling that they got caught in a buzzsaw of wingnut manufactured outrage and injured amour-propre. I can understand them panicking and deciding simply to bag it rather than risk seeing it go from bad to worse.

But I wish they'd shown the courage to let Churchill speak and defy the professional outrage-mongers and skilled haters and numbskull chauvinists. I wish they'd stood up for free speech - which, if it is free only when the extremists say it is, is not truly free - and said, We disagree with what he said, but the cure for offensive speech is not censorship, it is a true debate. They should have invited Bill O'Reilly and the governor of Colorado and anyone else who wanted to challenge Churchill - and anyone who wanted to support him, and anyone in between - to speak. They should have swallowed the cost of extra security and used the opportunity to show what real courage looks like.

I can understand why they didn't, but I am very disappointed with Hamilton this morning. This is not how I wish to see my beloved old college in the news. And for what? Cravenly cancelling the event will not save them from the controversy. They already had the black eye; they might as well have gone the full mile and truly earned it. They could have bravely stood up for freedom, for free speech in the face of screaming know-nothings who feel empowered by George W. Bush's conservative counter-revolution since 9-11 to give vent to their worst instincts of fear and anger against anyone who dares say anything that challenges their tidy, comforting notion of America as a land of conformity and uniformity.

Now the bullies know that they can force academia to obey them. Is that the message Hamilton wants to send to the wingnuts? Does Bill O'Reilly need even more power?

The cure for obnoxious speech is more speech. Hamilton had a chance to demonstrate this. For understandable but regrettable reasons, they shrunk from their moment of truth. I love Hamilton College, but today they have severely disappointed me.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

 

Down the memory hole

Brilliant post from No More Mister Nice Blog
This is where it gets Orwellian -- not in the sense of systematically rewriting the news archives, but in the sense of subtly trying to rewire our memories ("Four legs good, two legs better"). Here's David Brooks today:
These Iraqis are people who ... have spent their lives in hell and cannot have been unaffected by it. They have touched pitch and witnessed or participated in man's capacity for violence and treachery. They must be both damaged and toughened.

They lived most of their lives under the dense evil of Saddam's regime - the mass graves, the rape rooms, the chemical attacks, the wars against Iran. Totalitarian cruelty on that scale was bound to get into their heads.

As the U.S. toppled the Baath regime, the Iraqi writer Kanan Makiya wrote about one of his countrymen who had lost his brother and been imprisoned by Saddam. "Try to imagine the worst and still you will not come close to the physical pain this man has suffered. ... This is the human raw material you want to build democracy for."

And from the dense evil of Saddam, these people were thrust into the haphazard evil of the terrorists and the occupation. The Zarqawi terrorists commit murder in a mood of spiritual ecstasy, while the old Baathists feed their addiction to sadism and domination. These new monsters brought beheadings to the country, bombs in crowds of children and people with Down syndrome sent off to become unwitting suicide bombers.
Notice what's missing in this catalog of suffering? That's right -- the war. In Brooks's view, the war was apparently not part of the ongoing traumatization of Iraqis.

Brooks invokes the war merely to set up a quote. He uses the word "occupation," but he doesn't mention any of its effects -- Abu Ghraib, the destruction of Fallujah, and so on; he doesn't acknowledge the U.S. failure to prevent anarchy.

This is how the Right wants you to remember the recent history of Iraq: a savage named Saddam gave way seamlessly to a savage named Zarqawi. Nothing else happened until, on January 30, the sun came out.
"Don't mention the war!" You'd think Brooks would be proud of the sacrifice of all those brave American kids from the Red States whose fructifying exurban parents are pumping out more eventual cannon fodder at the expense of their careers. But bringing that up might detract from the man whose triumph this really is - George W. Bush.

It might also remind people that we invaded Iraq not to free the Iraqi people but to keep Saddam from giving weapons of mass destruction he did not possess to terrorists he was not in contact with.

Meanwhile, our ally Pakistan is selling nuclear weapons all over the damn world. As well as not finding the "hiding" Osama Bin Laden.

And our allies Saudi Arabia and Egypt are emphatically not democratizing.

But don't mention the war!
 

Be fair to geeks bearing gifts

Good, funny stuff from Mighty Matt on TAPPED:
ABOUT THAT WORKER-RETIREE RATIO.

Max Sawicky's gotten his hands on the apparently copyright-infringing GOP master document (PDF) telling legislators how to flack for the elimination of Social Security. There will be a lot to say about this over the coming days, but I thought I'd note one Republican talking point that seems to support our side's case:
In the 1950s, there were about 16 workers paying for every beneficiary. Today, there are about three -- and eventually, there will be only two workers to support each person on Social Security.
Right. Social Security survived the transition from a 16:1 worker/retiree ratio to a 3:1 worker/retiree ratio and now the Republicans expect us to believe that moving from 3:1 to 2:1 is impossible? The answer to the riddle, of course, is the magic of productivity growth. One worker circa 2005 -- armed with his higher median level of education, five decades of additional capital accumulation, massive technological improvements, and Flynn effect-driven increases in raw intelligence -- can produce the goods and services of many workers circa 1955. Similar trends will continue into the future and sharply mitigate the adverse demographic trends. That's to say nothing of the intelligent robots who'll be doing our work for us by the time the supposed crisis is upon us, giving us years of solvency in the time before they overthrow their masters.
Of course, assuming that all change in the future will be good is not necessarily justified. This kind of logic can just as easily be wrong as right.

However, one of the things about the future is that it is exactly that: stuff that hasn't happened yet. We can't predict, but we can project. And one way we project is to consider trends from the past to the present and then think what would happen if those trends continue. Productivity has never receded, it has only increased. It is, of course, possible that this trend will suddenly reverse itself, but there's no way to know how or when.

When you combine all the projections from people who are paid to make them, the idea that Social Security is in any kind of crisis, now or at any time in the foreseeable future, becomes just an infuriating lie. But it's a lie that is very difficult to refute without actually just coming out and calling Bush a liar, which, for some reason, most people resist. I mean, a president would never lie, would he? (Snort.)

Under these circumstances, ridicule may be the best way to dismiss the whole vile idea.
 

Why we have to stop discouraging women scientists

It's sad that some of the blockheads mentioned below could not at least be polite!
For Some Girls, the Problem With Math Is That They're Good at It

By CORNELIA DEAN

A few years ago, I told Donald Kennedy, editor of the journal Science, that I wanted to write an essay for his publication. It would say, "Anyone who thinks that sexism is no longer a problem in science has never been the first woman science editor of The New York Times."

I never wrote the essay. But the continuing furor over Dr. Lawrence H. Summers's remarks on women and science reminds me why I thought of it.

For those who missed it, Dr. Summers, the president of Harvard, told a conference last month on women and science that people worried about the relative dearth of women in the upper ranks of science should consider the possibility that women simply cannot hack it, that their genes or the wiring of their brains somehow leave them less fit than men for math, and therefore for science.

Dr. Summers has since said clearly that he does not believe that girls are intellectually less able than boys. But maybe his original suggestion was right. If we ever figure out exactly what goes on inside the brain, or how our genes shape our abilities, we may find out that men and women do indeed differ in fundamental ways.

But there are other possibilities we should consider first. One of them is the damage done by the idea that there is something wrong about a girl or woman who is really good at math.

I first encountered this thinking as a seventh grader who was scarred for life when my class in an experimental state school for brainiacs was given a mathematics aptitude test. The results were posted and everyone found out I had scored several years ahead of the next brightest kid. A girl really good in math! What a freak! I resolved then and there on a career in journalism.

I encountered the attitude again shortly after I became science editor, taking up a position I was to hold from 1997 to 2003. I went to the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a convention that attracts thousands of researchers and teachers. My name tag listed my new position, and the scientists at the meeting all seemed to have the same reaction when they read it: "You're the new science editor of The New York Times!?"

At first I was deluded enough to think they meant I was much too delightful a person for such a heavy-duty job. In fact, they were shocked it had been given to a woman.

This point was driven home a few weeks later when, at a dinner for scientific eminences, a colleague introduced me to one of the nation's leading neuroscientists. "Oh yes," the scientist murmured, as he scanned the room clearly ignoring me. "Who is the new science editor of The New York Times, that twerpy little girl in short skirts?"

Dumbfounded, I replied, "That would be me."

A few weeks after that I was in another group of scientific eminences, this one at a luncheon at the Waldorf. The spokeswoman for the group that organized the event introduced me to one of the group's most eminent guests, a leading figure in American science policy.

"Oh," he said kindly but abstractedly, "you work for The New York Times. How nice." The spokeswoman explained, again, that I was the newspaper's science editor. "An editor," he said. "How nice." The woman explained again, but again he could not take it in. "Oh, science," he said, "How nice." At this point the spokeswoman lost patience. She grabbed the honored guest by both shoulders, put her face a few inches away from his and shouted at him - "She's it!"

But the memories of the seventh grader are still not funny. Neither is it amusing to reflect on what happened to a college friend who was the only student in her section to pass linear algebra, the course the math department typically used to separate the sheep from the mathematical goats. Talk about stigma! She changed her major to American civilization.

Another friend, graduating as a math major, was advised not to bother applying for a graduate research assistantship because they were not given to women. She eventually earned a doctorate in math, but one of her early forays into the job market ended abruptly when she was told she should stay home with her husband rather than seek employment out of town.

Experiences like hers - the outright, out-loud dashing of a promising mathematician's hopes simply because of her sex - are no longer the norm. At least I hope not. But they are enough, by themselves, to tell us why there are relatively few women in the upper ranks of science and mathematics today.

If I wanted to address the relative lack of women in the upper reaches of science, here is where I would start. By the time these problems are eliminated, maybe we'll know what really goes on inside the brain and inside the chromosomes. Then it will be time to wonder if women are inherently less fit for math and science.
This morning I was having breakfast with a friend, a woman about 10 years older than me. She related tales of her mother, who was one of the few female lawyers in Brooklyn in the 1940s and 1950s, and how she had to deal with the blatant sexism of the other lawyers and the judges. My mother was an amazing person, and I doubt she would have permitted anyone to condescend to her, but she didn't try to enter any of the so-called male professions (law, medicine, academia, etc.)

It's a bit dispiriting to those of us who truly believe in equality to think that such sexism still exists today; what, aren't we civilized yet? And, from a practical point of view, the problem in America is not just that women are still discouraged from pursuing careers in science, mathematics, and engineering, but that far too few Americans of either sex are pursuing such careers. It's like gays in the military - kicking them out is profoundly stupid because we need every talented person we can get. Failing to entice women to enter science and math - let alone actively deterring them - is idiotic because our entire power and prosperity depend upon our leadership in science and math.

We are almost as dependent these days on foreigners for our scientific and technical researchers as we are on them to buy our Treasury Bills and finance our budget, trade, and foreign exchange deficits. For a country that so prides itself on its total self-sufficiency and independence, as the tub-thumping "We're Number !" "USA! USA! USA!" wingnuts so loudly proclaim, to be so dependent on the willingness of foreigners to make up our own deficiencies, is ridiculous and ultimately self-destructive. We need all hands on deck, of all races, sexes, etc.

There's never a defense for racism or sexism, from a moral point of view or - perhaps more influential politically - from a cold, calculating, self-interest point of view.
 

Ivan Noble passes away

Ivan Noble, the BBC journalist I wrote about last week, has passed away from a brain tumor at the age of 37.
BBC writer Ivan Noble dies at 37

Ivan Noble, the BBC News journalist who has been writing about his treatment for a brain tumour for the past two years, has died aged 37.

Thousands of users of the BBC News website followed regular accounts of his cancer, which last year included a second period of remission.

In November, however, his tumour began to grow again and last month he was admitted to a London hospice.

Ivan died on Monday and leaves a wife and two children.

Ivan started writing a column about his cancer not long after he was diagnosed in August 2002. There was a huge response from readers, some of which was published with each entry.

Many readers sent comments saying that Ivan's openness had helped them come to terms with their own cancer or that of relatives, and Ivan established a close affinity with some of them.

He appreciated the support of readers, saying: "It's incredible and humbling that people are interested in me - and it does me an awful lot of good because it takes me out of myself and makes me think about the job that I do."

In his final column, which he wrote late last year in anticipation of being too ill to continue writing, and which was published last week, he said the feedback people had given him had helped him survive as long as he had.

Following his diagnosis, Ivan had three brain operations, radiotherapy and chemotherapy. He also got married and, while in remission, took the decision with his wife to have a second child, who was born in July last year.

In his columns, however, he jealously guarded the privacy of his family, never referring to them by name.

A collection of his diaries is to be published later this year by Hodder. Proceeds will go to charity.
37. And with a wife and two children. Sheesh.

As I said last week, "God grant me Ivan Noble's grace and courage when my time comes, please. Baruch dayan ha-emet."
 

"Ours is much less"

Does this not tell you everything you need to know about George W. Bush's approach to foreign affairs?
U.N. Finds Crimes, Not Genocide in Darfur

By WARREN HOGE

UNITED NATIONS, Jan. 31 - A United Nations commission investigating violence in the Darfur region of Sudan reported Monday that it had found a pattern of mass killings and forced displacement of civilians that did not constitute genocide but that represented crimes of similar gravity that should be sent to the International Criminal Court for prosecution.

In a 176-page report, the five-member panel said that its finding that genocide had not been committed "should not be taken in any way as detracting from the gravity of the crimes perpetrated in that region," and that "international offenses such as the crimes against humanity and war crimes that have been committed in Darfur may be no less serious and heinous than genocide."

The commission was appointed by Secretary General Kofi Annan in October to determine whether genocide had occurred in Darfur, in Western Sudan, where about 70,000 villagers have been killed and 1.8 million driven from their land.

It was also asked to determine how anyone convicted should be punished, and it answered by saying it "strongly" recommended that the Security Council refer the Darfur crimes to the international court in The Hague. It said the crimes in Darfur met the jurisdictional terms of the 1998 treaty creating the court.

That course of action is favored by most members of the 15-member Council, but the United States has said it will vigorously resist because it objects to the court.

Among the violations of international law and crimes against humanity the commission found were indiscriminate attacks by government forces and militias on a widespread basis "including the killing of civilians, torture, enforced disappearances, destruction of villages, rape and other forms of sexual violence, pillaging" and displacement."

The commission dismissed government claims that its actions were counterinsurgency military moves. "It is clear from the commission's findings that most attacks were deliberately and indiscriminately directed against civilians," the report said.

The Bush administration has repeatedly pushed for action against Sudan's government, saying its involvement in a campaign of violence against black African villagers amounted to genocide. At the same time, the administration has objected to referring the atrocities in Darfur to the International Criminal Court, a tribunal it has opposed from its inception on grounds that the court could bring politically motivated actions against American personnel abroad.

Mr. Annan has said the court is the "logical place" for Darfur crimes to be tried, and on Monday Australia, Canada and New Zealand circulated a letter endorsing such a move.

The administration proposed last week that the Darfur charges be sent to a new tribunal to be run jointly by the African Union and the United Nations and to be based at the war crimes court in Arusha, Tanzania, which is trying suspects in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Pierre-Richard Prosper, the United States ambassador at large for war crimes, briefed major countries at the United Nations on the American alternative, explaining afterward, "We don't want to be party to legitimizing the I.C.C."

Several Security Council ambassadors objected to that plan immediately, citing unnecessary duplication and the additional cost of starting a court instead of using one already in existence. Addressing that on Monday, Richard A. Grenell, the spokesman for the United States mission, said, "If you're going to talk about funding, about how much it would take for what we call the S. court, the Sudan criminal court, don't forget that there's funding of what it would take on the I.C.C. We're relatively confident that ours is much less."
In other words, the United States has no intention of permitting any international process that it does not own and control. Those arrogant, insular bastards. What the rest of the world wants is entirely of no importance whatsoever. Including our own allies. It's all about us, what we want. But when the rest of the world learns the only possible lesson and starts to assert themselves, what they want, this administration calls foul.

But, as Budd Schulberg wrote, "You can't eat your brother and have him." We are contributing to the growing jungle-ization of the world. Except, the world is eventually going to decide that it can do without us and start making decisions on its own. At which point, we can either use our great military power to be, not the world's only superpower, but merely the world's biggest rogue state. Or we can grow up and accept that our mission is to use our strength to serve the world, not to try to boss it around.

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