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May 27, 2004
Newspaper of record. “Now They Tell Us,” by Michael Massing, The New York Review of Books, February 26, 2004:
Before the war, for instance, there was a loud debate among intelligence analysts over the information provided to the Pentagon by Iraqi opposition leader Ahmed Chalabi and defectors linked to him. Yet little of this seeped into the press. Not until September 29, 2003, for instance, did the New York Times get around to informing readers about the controversy over Chalabi and the defectors associated with him. In a front-page article headlined “Agency Belittles Information Given by Iraqi Defectors,” Douglas Jehl reported that a study by the Defense Intelligence Agency had found that most of the information provided by defectors connected to Ahmed Chalabi “was of little or no value.” Several defectors introduced to US intelligence by the Iraqi National Congress, Jehl wrote, “invented or exaggerated their credentials as people with direct knowledge of the Iraqi government and its suspected unconventional weapons program.”

Why, I wondered, had it taken the Times so long to report this? Around the time that Jehl’s article appeared, I ran into a senior editor at the Times and asked him about it. Well, he said, some reporters at the paper had relied heavily on Chalabi as a source and so were not going to write too critically about him.

“Not Fit to Print,” by James C. Moore, Salon, May 27, 2004:
It turned out that the aluminum tubes were covered with an anodized coating, which would have been machined off to make them usable in a centrifuge. But that change in the thickness of the tube wall would have rendered the tubes useless for a centrifuge, according to a number of nuclear scientists who spoke publicly after [Judith] Miller’s story. Aluminum, which has not been used in uranium gas separators since the 1950s, has been replaced by steel. The tubes, in fact, were almost certainly intended for use as rocket bodies. Hussein’s multiple-launch rocket systems had rusted on their pads and he had ordered the tubes from Italy. “Medusa 81,” the Italian rocket model name, was stamped on the sides of the tubes, and in a factory north of Baghdad, American intelligence officers later discovered boxes of rocket fins and motors awaiting the arrival of the tubes of terror.

The probable source for Miller’s story, in addition to U.S. intelligence operatives, was Adnan Ihsan Saeed, an Iraqi defector Miller was introduced to by Chalabi. Miller had quoted him in a December 2001 report when Saeed had told her he had worked on nuclear operations in Iraq and that there were at least 20 banned-weapons facilities undergoing repairs. Of course, no such facilities have been found—meaning Saeed was either lying or horribly uninformed. […]

The Times plays an unequaled role in the national discourse, and when it publishes a front-page piece about aluminum tubes and mushroom clouds, that story very quickly runs away from home to live on its own. The day after Miller’s tubes narrative showed up, Andrea Mitchell of NBC News went on national TV to proclaim, “They were the kind of tubes that could only be used in a centrifuge to make nuclear fuel.” Norah O’Donnell had already told the network’s viewers the day before of the “alarming disclosure,” and the New York Times wire service distributed Miller’s report to dozens of papers across the landscape. Invariably, they gave it prominence. Sadly, the sons and daughters of America were sent marching off to war wearing the boots of a well-told and widely disseminated lie.

“Media Mix,” by Peter Johnson, USA Today, May 26, 2004:
Martin Kaplan, dean of the Norman Lear Center at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication, says that “for people who are serious and thoughtful, the Times is a gatekeeper of quality in terms of what’s credible and believable. When it published those pieces, it sent signals which legitimized our going to war and calmed people’s fears that we were rushing. It turns out that the Times was hoodwinked just like the rest of the country.”
Get Your War On:
Just so we could keep sitting at the tough guys table

[09:46 PM : 29 comments]

May 26, 2004
Of course, if he really had been a “detainee,” it would have been okay. A U.S. soldier at Guantanamo says he was ordered to pose as detainee for a training exercise—and then beaten so badly by his fellow soldiers that he’s now medically retired.
Sean Baker was a member of the Kentucky National Guard from 1989 to 1997. During that time, he served in the Gulf War. In the late 90’s, he got out of the Guard, but re-enlisted after September 11th.

In January 2003, Baker was a member of the 438th Military Police company in Operation Enduring Freedom at Guantanamo Bay, where he says he was “given a direct order by an officer in the U.S. Army” to play the role of a detainee for a training exercise.

“I was on duty as an MP in an internal camp where the detainees were housed,” said Baker.

Baker claims that he was ordered to put on one of the orange jumpsuits worn by the detainees. “At first I was reluctant, but he said ‘you’ll be fine…put this on.’ And I did,” said Baker.

Baker says what took place next happened at the hands of four U.S. soldiers—soldiers he believes didn’t know he was one of them—has changed his life forever.

“They grabbed my arms, my legs, twisted me up and unfortunately one of the individuals got up on my back from behind and put pressure down on me while I was face down,” said Baker. “Then he—the same individual—reached around and began to choke me and press my head down against the steel floor. After several seconds, 20 to 30 seconds, it seemed like an eternity because I couldn’t breath. When I couldn’t breath, I began to panic and I gave the code word I was supposed to give to stop the exercise, which was ‘red.’”

But, Baker says, the beating didn’t stop. “That individual slammed my head against the floor and continued to choke me,” he said. “Somehow I got enough air, I muttered out, ‘I’m a U.S. soldier, I’m a U.S. soldier.’”

Baker says it wasn’t until one of the soldiers noticed what Baker was wearing did the exercise stop. “He saw that I had BDUs and boots on.”

Nearly 15 months after that day, and countless medical treatments at Walter Reed Hospital, Baker is now medically retired from the military, but still suffers.

“I sustained an injury to my brain, a traumatic brain injury which has caused me to have a seizure disorder I deal with daily,” said Baker.

Baker’s traumatic brain injury is outlined in a military document in his possession, which says the injury “was due to soldier playing role as a detainee who was uncooperative.”

Nothing wrong with our military culture, though! Just a few bad apples.

(Via Looka!, which is full of much more cheerful posts about food and drink, all reminders that even among monstrousness life is worth living.)

[04:14 PM : 110 comments]

Central front in the war on terror. Newsday reports that Iraq is full of people who kidnap the innocent in order to blackmail their enemies.

Unfortunately, they’re us:

Her plight began on Jan. 30 at 2:30 a.m., when two U.S. Humvees pulled up to the door of her family’s house as an Apache helicopter circled overhead. The soldiers asked for her father, Abdullah, 66, an American-educated geologist. Moayad insists that she does not know what U.S. forces wanted from her father, whom she described as a low-level Baath party official.

Moayad told the soldiers that her father had gone to neighboring Jordan to undergo surgery for prostate cancer and she showed them his medical records. They arrested the only other man in the house: Moayad’s husband. As her mother and children started to cry, Moayad said the troops told the family that they just wanted to ask Ibrahim some questions and they promised to bring him back the next day. […]

On Feb. 17, Moayad said, a group of soldiers knocked on her door and delivered a handwritten letter from Ibrahim. It said he was being transferred from a U.S. base in Baghdad to Abu Ghraib prison “until the arrival of my father-in-law.” […]

Moayad has made the 40-mile roundtrip journey from Baghdad to Abu Ghraib 18 times. On most visits, she stood outside the gates with other family members waiting in vain for information about their relatives. One soldier who felt sorry for her looked up Ibrahim’s name on the prison’s computer system and told her that he was marked as a detainee with “intel value.”

Moayad, whose patchwork English is the legacy of her Texas childhood, doesn’t know what “intelligence value” means and how it might affect her husband’s status. But the Red Cross report documented a pattern of abuses—including humiliation, hooding and threats of execution—against Iraqi prisoners deemed to have an intelligence value.

“The American soldiers kept on telling me, ‘Bring your father, and you will get your husband back,’” said Moayad, her soft voice trailing off. “How can they say that he’s not a hostage?”

On May 15, her 18th visit to Abu Ghraib, Moayad finally got to see her husband. Ibrahim told her he was being well treated, but he said that military officials had forced him to write the letter pleading for his father-in-law to surrender.

When will the civilized world realize that there can be no compromise with those who practice terrorism?

[08:00 AM : 45 comments]

May 25, 2004
Why don’t we get together, and call ourselves an institute. Charles Kuffner reports that Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn (who, interestingly, turns out to be the mother of White House press secretary Scott McClellan) has reversed her department’s ruling that a Denison Unitarian congregation isn’t a real church.

In a related development, it has been brought to our attention that the state of Texas should probably not actually be “sawed off the mainland and pushed out to sea.” Electrolite regrets the error.

Elsewhere, Electrolite is entertained to find itself included in a list of scholars who blog. Electrolite is now entertaining suggestions as to what we’re a “scholar” in. Along with fellow scholar Avedon Carol, we will be setting up shop as a full-fledged academic movement just as soon as this question has been fully answered to our satisfaction.

[09:59 PM : 46 comments]

Faith and work(s). Jean-Paul Spiro remarks on the nonsense of David Brooks:
Brooks has faith—literally—in democracy: “if we muddle through in Iraq and some semidemocratic nation slowly emerges, it won’t be because of American skill. It will be because the democratic creed is so strong it can withstand the highest incompetence.” He believes in American democracy the way an evangelist believes in his religion—which is exactly how the American Founding Fathers didn’t believe in democracy. Brooks seems to be saying that if we can make democracy work, then it works because it didn’t need us to make it work. This, of course, doesn’t make any sense. Then again, it’s quite familiar. Imagine the professional athlete who trains his whole life and then wins the big game, only to turn around and say “I didn’t win this. God wanted me to win.” Um, no—you trained really hard. If you didn’t train really hard, you wouldn’t have won. God is rather irrelevant. Likewise, if democracy works in Iraq, it’s because everybody made it work.

I don’t think any idea is so good that “it can withstand the highest incompetence.” Jesus didn’t tell his disciples to sit around and do nothing: he gave them specific instructions and he told them that His message would only take hold if they made it work. Mohammed was the same. Faith is not enough. It may be well and good if your idea has transcendent validity, but in the end it will only appear transcendently valid if some very competent people put it into practice with skill and precision.

Work like you were living in the early days of a better nation.

[09:52 PM : 3 comments]

Unclear on the concept. Mark Kleiman “couldn’t care less” what anybody’s religious leaders think about Iraq policy, as Mark is at pains to explain in no uncertain terms.

Perhaps he’s got a point, but he kind of loses me here:

I suppose preachers have the same sort of general license to opine at random as bloggers do, but at least the bloggers don’t put out press releases about it.
Now, check me on this, but what exactly is it that bloggers do all the time?

[03:57 PM : 23 comments]

May 23, 2004
Our future. Being right won’t save us.

(Shorter David Neiwert: We can forgive those who have wronged us; we cannot forgive those whom we have wronged. That’s where fascism comes from.)

[11:30 PM : 38 comments]

Our future. They lie as they breathe.

[11:22 PM : 22 comments]

Ahem. Apropos of nothing, wouldn’t a married pair of busy book editors and bloggers who practically live in their email seem like excellent candidates for beta GMail accounts? You would think. I’m just sayin’.

UPDATE: Thanks to commenters Greg van Eekhout and Bryant, we now both have nifty new GMail accounts—and the “GMail: Threat or Menace” discussion has heaved over the horizon in the comment section. To your weapons!

[10:00 AM : 25 comments]

Open thread 7. Busy weekend. Comment on the sidebar links, or simply correct one another in order to be polite.

[08:40 AM : 28 comments]

May 22, 2004
May 18, 2004
Return of imitation tech blogging. If you use OS X, read this and do what Liz Lawley suggests.

Jay Allen has more. (Via Dan Gillmor.)

[09:46 PM : 8 comments]

And we’re proud of that pride, too. Via Julia, further evidence (free reg. req.) that Texas should be thrown out of the United States, if not sawed off the mainland and pushed out to sea:
Unitarian Universalists have for decades presided over births, marriages and memorials. The church operates in every state, with more than 5,000 members in Texas alone.

But according to the office of Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, a Denison Unitarian church isn’t really a religious organization—at least for tax purposes. Its reasoning: the organization “does not have one system of belief.”

Never before—not in this state or any other—has a government agency denied Unitarians tax-exempt status because of the group’s religious philosophy, church officials say. Strayhorn’s ruling clearly infringes upon religious liberties, said Dan Althoff, board president for the Denison congregation that was rejected for tax exemption by the comptroller’s office.

“I was surprised—surprised and shocked—because the Unitarian church in the United States has a very long history,” said Althoff, who notes that father-and-son presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams were both Unitarians. […]

Questions about the issue were referred to Jesse Ancira, the comptroller’s top lawyer, who said Strayhorn has applied a consistent standard — and then stuck to it. For any organization to qualify as a religion, members must have “simply a belief in God, or gods, or a higher power,” he said.

“We have got to apply a test, and use some objective standards,” Ancira said. “We’re not using the test to deny the exemptions for a particular group because we like them or don’t like them.” […]

Those who oppose the comptroller’s “God, gods or supreme being” test say that it can discriminate against legitimate faiths. For example, applying that standard could disqualify Buddhism because it does not mandate belief in a supreme being, critics say.

Opponents note that the federal government applies less stringent rules for federal tax exemptions, yet manages to discourage fraud and abuse. They also question whether the comptroller’s office has formulated excuses to discriminate against nontraditional groups, such as those that include witches and pagans. […]

Strayhorn vows to continue the legal fight to the U.S. Supreme Court, if necessary. “Otherwise, any wannabe cult who dresses up and parades down Sixth Street on Halloween will be applying for an exemption,” she said in a April 23 news release.

At which point milk would sour, dogs and cats would move in together, and Western civilization would fall. Oh, wait, that’s when gay people are allowed to marry. I get so confused.

This kind of story always provokes the suggestion that maybe nobody should get a tax break for calling themselves a church, which would have the salutary effect of getting the government out of the business of ruling on what is and isn’t religion. In the real world, however, that isn’t going to happen. Meanwhile, to the State of Texas in 2004, a money-making racket founded by a third-rate science fiction writer qualifies as a “religion” and the faith of Ethan Allen and Daniel Webster doesn’t. This is what barbarism looks like.

[08:15 PM : 109 comments]

May 17, 2004
Curbstone demographics. Henry Copeland’s Blogads.com, the outfit that manages the ads that appear on Electrolite and Making Light, is doing a survey of weblog readers; if you feel like participating, click here.

Blogads has been easy to work with; they give us complete control over which ads actually appear on our sites, and our share of the revenue gets PayPalled to us with welcome regularity. We’re not planning any round-the-world voyages based on the proceeds, but they have helped defray the costs of our growing traffic. So we encourage you to take their survey. Of course, in our increasingly privacy-free society, there’s always the chance that this data is secretly being diverted to shadowy world-government organizations for use by the orbital mind-control lasers, so don’t let us pressure you or fnord anything. Also, the answer to question #22 is “Electrolite and Making Light.” Thank you for your time, and one of our underground agents will be contacting you soon.

[01:29 PM : 13 comments]

Monday morning imitation tech blogging. Scribe, an extension for Mozilla Firefox, adds “Open Entry,” “Save Entry,” and “Save Entry As” options to the browser’s File menu. If you’ve ever typed several paragraphs into a browser form, only to lose it all to a power failure or a system crash, the utility of this should be evident. Yes, of course, we should always use a real text editor to write anything longer than a sentence, but it’s in the nature of blogging (and commenting on blogs) that we often set out to write just a sentence or two, only to see the post grow to much greater length.

Scribe is only at version 0.2, but it’s working for me on Windows Firefox so far. If it turns out to work on OS X Firefox as well, it may get me to switch from Safari. (Via Snarkout.)

[10:47 AM : 10 comments]

Welcome, newlyweds. John Scalzi has words for the newly hitched.

[12:26 AM : 25 comments]

May 11, 2004
How to be topp. As some of you are aware, I have basically no educational credentials. I stopped attending high school before my senior year, and I never went to college. I’ve done all right with my life anyway. I have no real complaints.

Still, I have to wonder: if I’d actually fitted myself out with a degree from a diploma mill, could I, too, have become an Assistant Secretary of Defense?

UPDATE: Mark Kleiman points out that it’s not like Assistant Secretary Abell is in charge of anything important.

[04:14 PM : 56 comments]

The moral clarity never stops. At today’s Armed Services Committee hearing:
Sen. Inhofe (R-OK): As I watch this outrage that everyone seems to have about the treatment of these prisoners I have to say and I’m probably not the only one up at this table that is more outraged by the outrage than we are by the treatment.

The idea that these prisoners, they’re not there for traffic violations. If they’re in cell block 1A or 1B, these prisoners, they’re murderers, they’re terrorists, they’re insurgents, and many of them probably have American blood probably on their hands and here we’re so concerned about the treatment of those individuals.

From the ICRC report:
Allegations collected by the ICRC indicated that numerous people had been handed over to the [Coalition forces] on the basis of unfounded accusations (of hostility against the CF, or belonging to opposition forces) because they were unable or unwilling to pay bribes to the police. Alleged ill-treatment during arrest and transportation included hooding, tight handcuffing, verbal abuse, beating with fists and rifle butts, and kicking. During interrogation, the detaining authorities allegedly whipped persons deprived of their liberty with cables on the back, kicked them in the lower parts of the body, including in the testicles, handcuffed and left them hanging from the iron bars of the cell windows or doors in painful positions for several hours at a time, and burned them with cigarettes (signs on bodies witnessed by ICRC delegates). Several persons deprived of their liberty alleged that they had been made to sign a statement that they had not been allowed to read. These allegations concerned several police stations in Baghdad including Al-Qana, Al-Jiran Al-Kubra in al-Amriyya, Al-Hurriyyeh in Al Doura, Al-Salhiyye in Salhiyye, and Al-Baiah. Many persons deprived of their liberty drew parallels between police practices under the occupation with those of the former regime.
Via Mark Kleiman, who points out that there’s no excuse for being unaware that our forces were being used as a tool in the cops’ protection racket—the ICRC report was submitted to the CPA three months ago.

Yet according to Senator Inhofe this morning, “If they’re in cell block 1A or 1B, these prisoners, they’re murderers, they’re terrorists, they’re insurgents.”

Not to put too fine a point on it, Senator Inhofe is a disgrace to the Senate, to his party, and to the United States of America.

[02:52 PM : 97 comments]

May 10, 2004
Nemesis For Dummies. Ogged at Unfogged makes a horribly good point:
What happened at Abu Ghraib is, in terms of America’s image in the rest of the world, worse than a massacre or systematic repression because it makes Americans seem gross. Of course wanton killing is shameful and disdainful, but it’s not weak and depraved in the way the Abu Ghraib torture is weak and depraved. Abu Ghraib is a new image of America, and it evokes neither respect nor fear.
Meanwhile, Roger “Not That One” Ailes reminds us that everything they’ve told you is a lie. William Saletan agrees.

[11:36 AM : 18 comments]

May 09, 2004
While you’re at it, don’t think of an elephant. Pentagon staff are being ordered not to read the Taguba report. Yes, that’s right, the same report that’s now been published all over the place.

As that left-wing peacenik publication Time Magazine observed, “it’s not exactly every day that the Pentagon warns military personnel to stay away from Fox News.”

Meanwhile, if you haven’t done so already, pour yourself a stiff drink and settle down to Seymour Hersh’s latest.

[11:05 PM : 33 comments]

To wound the autumnal Henley. Jim Henley answers a correspondent who asks “What suggestions would you have for someone who would want to try his hand at poetry? (And whose previous attempts were awkward teenaged belchings?)”
What would I recommend as far as “trying your hand?” Start by slavishly imitating poets you admire. This is the opposite of the standard advice that you need to concentrate on “finding your own voice.” Don’t take this wrong, but fuck your own voice. Your own voice will take care of itself as your craft matures. Your own voice will, if you’re going to have one, insist on emerging.
Or, in the words of TNH, “Style is what you can’t help doing.”

Is Jim’s advice applicable beyond poetry? Did two Brooklyn-based professional fiction editors and sometime workshop instructors break out in spontaneous applause and expressions of joy? You be the judge:

In the meantime, learn the craft. Learn the vocabulary and practice of meter. Learn rhyme schemes. Learn the ways that free verse gets written that yet contains music. Reread poets you admire, read about them and then read the poets they get compared to. Take a class, particularly a class in prosody. Pick an approach to poetry writing that you dislike and take a class in that too. Put every poem you write away for six months and then pull it out and look at it again. (Fun fact: I only settled on the word “gutters” in the last line of Friday’s poem when I opened it Friday morning. Before that it was “rises.” “Gutters” is so much better I can hardly believe I ever accepted the earlier choice, but six years gives you the time to think of this stuff.) When your completed poem drafts have sat around long enough that you have some distance on them, show them to people whose taste you trust. Not before. We’ll just piss you off.

Read Samuel R. Delany’s novel, Dhalgren, which has two poets in it, and contains the absolute best advice I know about how to handle other people’s opinions of your work. And it is without a doubt the finest novel about a crazy guy caught in a time loop who fucks a tree that I have ever read.

Above all, don’t worry about whether you “are” a poet. Just worry about poems. They’re what matters.

Excuse me, I need a cigarette.

[10:33 PM : 14 comments]

May 08, 2004
If we only had a press. Email from a friend with contacts among American troops in Iraq prompts me to wish some journalist would investigate reports that the military has ordered KBR, which provides net connectivity for US camps and bases in Iraq, to cut off all soldiers’ “inessential” access to email and the net for the next 90 days.

I understand that KBR also handles paper mail services to and from serving soldiers in Iraq, and that pickup and delivery are often little better than once a month.

I’d also like someone to investigate what our soldiers actually know about Abu Ghraib, both the events themselves and their political impact in the rest of the world.

If it’s true that the average soldier’s email is being curtailed, and if (as I suspect) many of them have only a patchy knowledge of the scandal and its impact, it would seem that many of our soldiers are about to lose a major lifeline to home without being told why.

(If somebody’s already on this story, of course, please don’t hesitate to post links in the comments.)

[12:15 PM : 42 comments]

May 07, 2004
“Just a Few Bad Apples” Watch. Remember, as George W. Bush insists, “the actions of those folks in Iraq do not represent the values of the United States of America.”
The man who directed the reopening of the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq last year and trained the guards there resigned under pressure as director of the Utah Department of Corrections in 1997 after an inmate died while shackled to a restraining chair for 16 hours. The inmate, who suffered from schizophrenia, was kept naked the whole time.

The Utah official, Lane McCotter, later became an executive of a private prison company, one of whose jails was under investigation by the Justice Department when he was sent to Iraq as part of a team of prison officials, judges, prosecutors and police chiefs picked by Attorney General John Ashcroft to rebuild the country’s criminal justice system.

(Via the New York Times.)

[11:54 PM : 15 comments]

Department of Headlines Somebody Should Have Reconsidered. From the New York Times:

Rumsfeld Accepts Blame and Offers Apology in Abuse

If so, I’m sorry I missed the show. Is this like playing the dozens? Can he say other things in abuse, too?

[10:31 PM : 11 comments]

Shorter Donald Rumsfeld. Courtesy Patrick Farley.
Dear Citizens of the Earth:

Please judge America by our ideals rather than our actions; and likewise, judge our enemies by their actions rather than their ideals.

Otherwise, we’ll fuck your shit up.

[05:47 PM : 10 comments]

May 06, 2004
Help wanted. Real job listing at CACI. (Emphasis ours.)
Interrogator/Intel Analyst Team Lead Asst.
BAGHDAD, Iraq

(Requisition #BZSG308)
Clearance: TS

Description:
Assists the interrogation support program team lead to increase the effectiveness of dealing with Detainees, Persons of Interest, and Prisoners of War (POWs) that are in the custody of US/Coalition Forces in the CJTF 7 AOR, in terms of screening, interrogation, and debriefing of persons of intelligence value. Under minimal supervision, will assist the team lead in managing a multifaceted interrogation support cell consisting of database entry/intelligence research clerks, screeners, tactical/strategic interrogators, and intelligence analyst.

Isn’t it nice to know that “Detainees, Persons of Interest, and Prisoners of War (POWs) that are in the custody of US/Coalition forces” are being “dealt with” by private industry under only “minimal supervision”?

Away with that old-fashioned, intrusive supervision! Hooray for entrepreneurial self-starters!

(Via BoingBoing.)

[06:06 PM : 31 comments]

More. Rivka reads the Taguba report for you.

Here’s the report in HTML with a few names redacted; here’s the complete report as a 53-page PDF. (Remember, this is the report from February that the President of the United States, the Secretary of Defense, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff couldn’t get around to reading until CBS broadcast the photos last week.)

There are more stories and pictures now.

And probably more to come.

Remember worldwide admiration for America? Pause a moment. You can feel the world change.

“No, it’s not fair. You’re in the wrong universe for fair. (John Scalzi)

PS: Rivka is writing the weblog I’d aspire to write if I had 48 hours in a day. Respectful of Otters is now in my opinion one of the best weblogs in the world, one of the six or seven I don’t go a day without checking into.

[12:06 PM : 20 comments]

May 05, 2004
How we get stupid. Never mind the specific argument about Ted Rall. (Of whom, an intelligent defense here.) What I like about this new post from Max is that it makes me realize that I like the idea of “epater le bourgeois” about as much as I like “things have to get worse before they can get better,” which is to say, not very much at all. Both are bromides by which liberal-minded people seduce themselves into treating other people as things, as mere means to an end.

Shock can be a legitimate tool. The photos from Abu Ghraib are shocking. The impact of that shock may punch through some complacency and do some good. That doesn’t mean that shock is always the appropriate tool, or the morally proportionate one. Unless you think that “bourgeois sensibility” is a transcendent evil on par with cruelty, exploitation, injustice, or oppression. I’d be interested to hear the argument, but my eyebrow is pre-raised.

Beyond all that, another thing about valorizing “epater le bourgeois” as a practice is that it becomes habit-forming, like angry righteousness. And an activist who’s developed predictable habits is an activist who can be gamed. David Horowitz was once the baker’s daughter.

[05:35 PM : 43 comments]

May 04, 2004
It’s a good life. Via Michael Bérubé, Jerome Bixby explains the Bush Administration.

[02:01 PM : 16 comments]

Sentences you don’t see on Electrolite every day. Check out this outstanding column by George Will.

No, I’m not just recommending it because Will is evidently beginning to notice that something’s going wrong with our efforts in Iraq. I’m also recommending it because Will is evidently beginning to notice that the fundamental moral and intellectual failure of this administration isn’t their failure to be liberals; rather, it’s their failure to understand and practice actual conservatism.

This administration cannot be trusted to govern if it cannot be counted on to think and, having thought, to have second thoughts. Thinking is not the reiteration of bromides about how “all people yearn to live in freedom” (McClellan). And about how it is “cultural condescension” to doubt that some cultures have the requisite aptitudes for democracy (Bush). And about how it is a “myth” that “our attachment to freedom is a product of our culture” because “ours are not Western values; they are the universal values of the human spirit” (Tony Blair).

Speaking of culture, as neoconservative nation-builders would be well-advised to avoid doing, Pat Moynihan said: “The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society. The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself.” Here we reach the real issue about Iraq, as distinct from unpleasant musings about who believes what about skin color.

The issue is the second half of Moynihan’s formulation—our ability to wield political power to produce the requisite cultural change in a place such as Iraq. Time was, this question would have separated conservatives from liberals. Nowadays it separates conservatives from neoconservatives.

Which is where Will gets it wrong. The question doesn’t “separate conservatives from neoconservatives,” because aside from a few well-meaning intellectuals and bloggers, there aren’t any real conservatives in modern American politics. From one end to the other, what modern “movement” conservatism actually offers is a bunch of variations on I’ve Got Mine and Might Makes Right. (With entertaining forays into It’s All Those Liberals’ Fault.) Actual conservative virtues like prudence, humility, and reluctance to tinker with long-established institutions, are barely in evidence. Instead, what you get is a lot of revolutionary fervor dedicated to forcing well-established social institutions to become much more overtly hard-assed; thus, a Presbyterian congregation is pressured to drop their organist of thirty years because he’s gay, or a school district is buffaloed into adopting “zero-tolerance” policies that lead to kids being expelled for giving someone an Advil. This isn’t “conservatism,” it’s an attempt at cultural revolution on a wide scale. It’s about as “conservative” as revolutionary Maoism, and not entirely dissimilar in its tactics and language.

The real fact of the matter is that in the absence of actual conservatives, it’s modern liberalism that has to act as the custodian of two valuable human outlooks—the reformist zeal of traditional liberalism, ready and willing to use the tools of politics to build a better world, and the careful modesty of conservatism, that knows that the flawed human institution you’ve got is often your bulwark against something much worse. This being the case, it’s no wonder national-level liberal politicians often sound wishy-washy. They’re having to be the only grownups in the room. You try it sometime.

[01:00 PM : 17 comments]

May 03, 2004
The rot. So much has been written about Abu Ghraib. Not by me. I doubt my reactions are much different from most of yours. Sick. Angry. Sad. Surprised. Not surprised. Surprised.

I will say that if you buy the “just a few bad apples” line, you haven’t been paying attention. Rivka has a few words about that. So does Seymour Hersh.

For don’t-miss weblog coverage, be sure to read Rivka, as well as Jim Henley and Billmon, all three of whom have been on fire for days. Kathryn Cramer also continues to be good on the shadowy business of “contract employees.”

Oh, and of course Juan Cole continues to make the case for actually knowing something about the Middle East, almost as if they had history and stuff over there. Yeah, I know, aren’t experts annoying? Who cares what they think.

Nathan Newman, another smart person, reminds us of the stakes at home:

The Bush administration wants not only the prisoners at Guantanamo but even American citizens they deem “enemy combatants” to be exempt from all judicial review of the conditions under which they are contained.

So who would then decide what conditions are acceptable? Military intelligence officers doing their interrogations.

And it is military intelligence officers who are accused of directing the torture of prisoners in Iraq.

In other words, This Could Be Your Next Vacation.

Oh, all right, one Jim Henley quote. Take it away:

The “right wing” critique of the sort of interventionism that has led to the current state of the Iraq war was always simply that it is incompatible with republican virtue. That case has been well and truly proved by events. We ship people to foreign countries to be tortured based on evidence extracted by torture in the first place. We torture foreigners in their own land, then carefully circumscribe the attribution of responsibility. We lock American citizens detained in the US away without counsel and maintain they should have no right to appeal or review. We excuse ourselves by saying we’re not as bad as some departed despot.

We used to have more pride than that, and it was justified. I want it back.

Last word to Ken MacLeod:
Something within you has become harder and colder this week. You’ve glimpsed the bestiality and the decadence, in the system’s nerves like a venereal disease. It’s sick, and there is something sexual in its sickness, something warped beyond therapy. The oiled skin of a gladiator, the lusty roar of the arena. A line from Cornford, whom you haven’t read for years, slides beneath the surface of your mind. ‘The painted boy in the praetorian’s bed.’ Camphor and pincers, piss and blood. You’re in this rotting system, you’re part of it. You pay the soldiers. Civis Romanus sum.

[03:44 PM : 79 comments]

May 01, 2004
Coalition of the, oh, never mind. I got your moral hazard right here.

[12:41 AM : 27 comments]