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"We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life, when all that we need to make us happy is something to be enthusiastic about."
"Plot is a literary convention. Story is a force of nature."
(--Teresa Nielsen Hayden)
"Just because you're on their side doesn't mean they're on your side."
(--Teresa Nielsen Hayden)
"Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die."
"You will never love art well, until you love what she mirrors better."
"They lied to you. The Devil is not the Prince of Matter; the Devil is the arrogance of the spirit, faith without smile, truth that is never seized by doubt. The Devil is grim because he knows where he is going, and, in moving, he always returns whence he came."
(--Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose)
"Details are all that matters; God dwells there, and you never get to see Him if you don't struggle to get them right."
(--Stephen Jay Gould)
"For every complex question, there's a simple answer. And it's wrong."
(--H. L. Mencken)
"History is the trade secret of science fiction."
Some weblogs I look at:
Pigs and Fishes
The Null Device
Follow Me Here
World New York
Talking Points Memo
Red Rock Eater
Arts and Letters Daily
Tuesday, September 25, 2001
After skipping an issue in deference to the events of September 11, the Onion is back, and I have rarely laughed harder or more painfully. When these guys phone it in, it's entirely evident. This issue, on the other hand, has the quality of truly great humor, which is to say, it hurts like hell.
American Life Turns Into Bad Jerry Bruckheimer Movie:
"I always thought terrorists blowing shit up would be cool," Martin continued. "Like, if the Pentagon was bombed, I figured they'd mobilize a special elite squadron of secret-agent ninjas, and half of them would be hot babes. How could I ever think that? This is actually happening, and it's just not cool at all." [...]
"There are Air Force jets flying over Manhattan and warships in New York harbor, but none of it is exciting or entertaining at all," said Wall Street broker Irwin Trotter, 47, among the lucky ones who walked away from the destruction. "If the world were going to suddenly turn into a movie without warning, I wish it would have been one of those boring, talky Merchant-Ivory ones instead. I hate those movies, but I sure wish we were living in one right now."
U.S. Vows to Defeat Whoever It Is We're At War With:
"When this task force's investigation is complete, America will know this guy's mother's favorite flavor of ice cream," U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm (R-TX) said. "We will also know who he is."
Gramm said that the U.S. has already learned a great deal about the details of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, and that a rough psychological profile of its mastermind has been constructed.
"For example, we know that the mastermind has the approximate personality of a terrorist," Gramm said. "Also, he is senseless. New data is emerging all the time."
God Angrily Clarifies "Don't Kill" Rule:
"Look, I don't know, maybe I haven't made myself completely clear, so for the record, here it is again," said the Lord, His divine face betraying visible emotion during a press conference near the site of the fallen Twin Towers. "Somehow, people keep coming up with the idea that I want them to kill their neighbor. Well, I don't. And to be honest, I'm really getting sick and tired of it. Get it straight. Not only do I not want anybody to kill anyone, but I specifically commanded you not to, in really simple terms that anybody ought to be able to understand." [...]
"I'm talking to all of you, here!" continued God, His voice rising to a shout. "Do you hear Me? I don't want you to kill anybody. I'm against it, across the board. How many times do I have to say it? Don't kill each other anymore--ever! I'm fucking serious!"
Upon completing His outburst, God fell silent, standing quietly at the podium for several moments. Then, witnesses reported, God's shoulders began to shake, and He wept.
Too weird for words: Joshua Micah Marshall's fine Talking Points Memo reports that according to a variety of reasonably reputable overseas newspapers (here, for instance, is a link to a story in the India Times), one of the major investors in young George W. Bush's oil company, Arbusto Energy, was...Salem bin Laden. Oldest brother of, yes, the very same.
Meanwhile, as the Village Voice reported just a little while back, for quite some time the unofficial ambassador of the Taliban in this country has been an unassuming young woman name Laili Helms...niece by marriage of former CIA director Richard Helms.
Enough to keep squadrons of Mae Brussellses firing for decades, really. But in an SF Weekly piece, John Mecklin goes into some detail about the Bush-bin Laden connection, explaining that it appears to have been through a mutual friend, a Texas entrepeneur named James Bath whose specialty was hooking Saudi money up with Texas money. Mecklin continues:
[I]f I am not suggesting a direct or nefarious connection between George W. Bush and anyone named bin Laden--and I truly am not--there is a reason I've written today about obscure facts from 11 years ago. I recount these facts because you will be hearing a lot in coming weeks and months about people, organizations, and entire countries with "links" and "connections" to Osama bin Laden. Those with such links and connections may well be marked out for arrest, or abduction, or annihilation.
But proving, with a reasonable degree of certainty, that such linkage amounts to aid for terrorism takes time and money. The tangle of financial and other relationships that characterizes al Qaeda, the shadowy movement headed by bin Laden, is complex beyond the general imagination. As investigation of the World Trade Center and Pentagon atrocities continues, the arc of relationship between enemies will, at times, veer oddly--even ironically--close to friends, or to those who may dislike U.S. policy in the Middle East but would never countenance the slaughter of innocents.
For example: It is no particular secret that at least some of bin Laden's financing has come from wealthy Saudis. It is regularly speculated in the international press, in fact, that Saudi businessmen are essentially paying his organization to refrain from targeting the Saudi kingdom and its royal family. Is paying protection a "link," or an understandable reaction to threats from a madman with a worldwide following? Is knowing about such payments, but not moving to stop them, a "link"?
Tony Judt, increasingly one of my favorite American political writers,
writing the "New York Diarist" column in this week's New Republic:
On Tuesday morning, September 11, from my window in lower Manhattan, I watched the twenty-first century begin. Of that I am certain. What I don't know is how to convey what I saw: two commercial aircraft slam into the World Trade Center, followed by the conflagration and collapse of the buildings. Where there was once something--elegant, soaring, confident--there is now nothing. The twin towers, symbol of the world's capital, are a void, filled as I write with billowing smoke from the rubble. We have been offered a glimpse into a possible future.
In the twentieth century, war was made on civilians. In the twenty-first century, war will be made by civilians. It will be the definitive "faith-based initiative," requiring neither guns, tanks, ships, planes, nor missiles. Like other faith-based initiatives it will bypass the conventional state. All it will need is planning skills and a willingness to die for your beliefs. Everything else-- machinery, technology, targets--will be furnished by civil society, its victim. The point of such warfare will not be to achieve an objective, much less win a final victory. It will be--it already is--simply to make a point. [...]
On Tuesday evening, Republican Senator John Warner, of the Senate Armed Services Committee, stood in the Pentagon and declared: "We call upon the entire world to step up and help." And so it will--as most of the rest of the world well knows, we are all in this together. But American officials have spent the last few months denouncing treaties, promising a U.S. retreat from crisis zones, and explaining that the administration plans to put "U.S. national interests" first. It is good to hear conservative American politicians acknowledge that American national interests and those of the rest of the civilized world are utterly intertwined. But it would have been better if they had reached this conclusion a little sooner.
We live in a globalized political era. It is not just the financial markets that know no frontiers (and it was not without significance that terrorists targeted the World Trade Center, whose very name they took as a standing challenge and reproof). American national interests have no meaning in isolation. Alliances, treaties, international laws, courts, and agencies are not an alternative to national security--they are its only hope. The rest is showy hardware and vain boasting. Will the present administration grasp this uncomfortable truth? I don't know, but I fear that it won't. It may be left to a future American leader, even to a new generation, to seize the full measure of this national disaster. There is a frightening, rubble-strewn emptiness where those proud towers stood just yesterday. A new era has begun.
It's the way a really significant number of young people talk--all over the world? With a persistent inflection at the end of every sentence? No matter whether it's a question or not? By 2100, we'll probably all talk like this? It has a name now? It's called Uptalking?
Christopher Hitchens, lefty provocateur, sobers up. First,
he writes from America for Britain's Independent:
[...E]ven as people were partially retreating into a bunker mentality, they were none the less managing to act as if they had learnt from previous panics. The single most impressive fact about the past few days has been the general refusal to adopt an ugly or chauvinistic attitude towards America's most recent and most conspicuous immigrants: the Middle Eastern ones. The response of public opinion has been uniformly grown-up and considerate. As if by unspoken agreement, everyone seems to know that any outrage to multiculturalism and community would be an act of complicity with the assassins. And in rather the same way, no one chooses to be very raucously in favour of hitting just anyone in "retaliation" overseas.
(I'm glad someone else is saying this. What keeps striking me about the Current Situation isn't that we're seeing outbreaks of violence and bigotry from pinheads; it's that everyone with an IQ above room temperature seems to be aware of the need to be robustly on guard against this stuff. After a moron in Mesa, Arizona, killed a Sikh in the parking lot of a gas station, three thousand people turned out for the Sikh's memorial service in downtown Phoenix, and it was front-page news all over Arizona. Not that it did poor Balbir Singh Sodhi any good, but you wouldn't have seen anything like this in late December, 1941.)
But that's just a warmup for "Against Rationalization," in this week's Nation:
In one form or another, the people who leveled the World Trade Center are the same people who threw acid in the faces of unveiled women in Kabul and Karachi, who maimed and eviscerated two of the translators of
The Satanic Verses and who machine-gunned architectural tourists at Luxor. Even as we worry what they may intend for our society, we can see very plainly what they have in mind for their own: a bleak and sterile theocracy enforced by advanced techniques. [...]
I was apprehensive from the first moment about the sort of masochistic e-mail traffic that might start circulating from the Chomsky-Zinn-Finkelstein quarter, and I was not to be disappointed. With all due thanks to these worthy comrades, I know already that the people of Palestine and Iraq are victims of a depraved and callous Western statecraft. And I think I can claim to have been among the first to point out that Clinton's rocketing of Khartoum--supported by most liberals--was a gross war crime, which would certainly have entitled the Sudanese government to mount reprisals under international law. (Indeed, the sight of Clintonoids on TV, applauding the "bounce in the polls" achieved by their man that day, was even more repulsive than the sight of destitute refugee children making a wretched holiday over the nightmare on Chambers Street.) But there is no sense in which the events of September 11 can be held to constitute such a reprisal, either legally or morally.
It is worse than idle to propose the very trade-offs that may have been lodged somewhere in the closed-off minds of the mass murderers. The people of Gaza live under curfew and humiliation and expropriation. This is notorious. Very well: Does anyone suppose that an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza would have forestalled the slaughter in Manhattan? It would take a moral cretin to suggest anything of the sort; the cadres of the new jihad make it very apparent that their quarrel is with Judaism and secularism on principle, not with (or not just with) Zionism. They regard the Saudi regime not as the extreme authoritarian theocracy that it is, but as something too soft and lenient. The Taliban forces viciously persecute the Shiite minority in Afghanistan. The Muslim fanatics in Indonesia try to extirpate the infidel minorities there; civil society in Algeria is barely breathing after the fundamentalist assault.
Now is as good a time as ever to revisit the history of the Crusades, or the sorry history of partition in Kashmir, or the woes of the Chechens and Kosovars. But the bombers of Manhattan represent fascism with an Islamic face, and there's no point in any euphemism about it. What they abominate about "the West," to put it in a phrase, is not what Western liberals don't like and can't defend about their own system, but what they do like about it and must defend: its emancipated women, its scientific inquiry, its separation of religion from the state. Loose talk about chickens coming home to roost is the moral equivalent of the hateful garbage emitted by Falwell and Robertson, and exhibits about the same intellectual content. Indiscriminate murder is not a judgment, even obliquely, on the victims or their way of life, or ours. Any decent and concerned reader of this magazine could have been on one of those planes, or in one of those buildings--yes, even in the Pentagon.
7:30 PM:I've been trying to explain to some friends outside New York that the explosion of American flags in this city doesn't mean everyone here is now a warmongering superpatriot. An Observer writer named Ed Vulliamy does a better job.
Flying the flag in New York last week said many things. First, it expressed bitter grief, it was a flag of mourning. There were no black flags, no black ties or ribbons - they were included in the Stars and Stripes. The flag of the United States was a way of saying that the city was aware, every waking second, of its 5,000 inhabitants buried in a mass grave beneath the rubble of two iconic buildings that had vanished from the skyline; that New York had tried to imagine what it must have been like on those stairwells when the world collapsed; that--and it was no exaggeration--nothing would be the same in New York again.
'The flag is the way we say we'll never forget who's inside that smoke,' said Susan Gillespie from Harlem, cutting her painting of the Stars and Stripes into the shape of a heart, with the twin towers drawn in the middle. 'For me it's instead of going to church. One of my neighbours is missing and there's been no funeral, but putting out a flag is like having one. They'll never find her now--she's called Beverley--but you get to mourn her.'
7:20 PM:Gregory Palast, left-wing American columnist living in London, writes:
I have a request for Britain's Left. Today, George W. Bush is beating the war drum against Osama Bin Laden, a killer created in our President's very own Cold War Frankenstein factory. During the war in Vietnam, thousands filled jails (including me) to resist it - we may have to again. It would help those of us Americans ready to stop the killing machine if Europeans would stop the lecturing.
In a sickening but not unique commentary, The Guardian's Seumus Milne wagged his finger at Americans still gathering corpses. "They can't see why they are hated." He demands, as do too many of my otherwise progressive colleagues, that Americans must 'understand' why O'Neill and Davis were the targets of blood-crazed killers. Hey, if your government backs Israel, well, just get used to it, baby. [...]
Commentators like Kabbani and Milne have a great advantage over me. While Bin Laden hasn't returned my phone calls, they seem to know exactly the killers' cause. We have to "understand" that the terrorists don't like America's foreign policy. Well, neither do I. But I also understand that the bombers are not too crazy about America's freedom of religion nor equality of women under the law. And they're none too happy about our reluctance, despite televangelists' pleas, that we cut off the hands of homosexuals.
On my journalistic beat investigating corporate America, I've heard every excuse for brutality and mayhem: "We met all the government's safety standards," "We never asked for the military to use force on our behalf." The excuses and bodies pile up.
Maybe I just have to accept that killing is in fashion again, for profit, for revolution, to protect American interests or to take vengeance on American interests.
Baroness Thatcher thinks we should understand Pinochet; the Bush family ran their own little jihad against Communism I was supposed to understand; now some Britons - sadly, the ones I like and respect most - want us to understand a new set of little Pinochets with beards.
Palast also makes the point that, far from being symbols of some kind of unbridled American capitalism, the Trade Center "was a symbol of American socialism. These towers were built by New York State in the 1970s, when 'government-owned' became quite unfashionable in Britain. One tower, still owned by Davis' employer, the Port Authority, generates the revenue which pays the bonds which keeps the city's infrastructure--subways, tunnels, bridges, and more--out of the hands of the ever-circling privatizers. Convincing capitalists that publicly-owned operations are as good an investment bet as General Motors fell to government securities market-makers Canter Fitzgerald (100th floor, 700 workers, no known survivors)." It's one of those pieces of writing that's so good and right that I want to quote all of it, rather than just quoting altogether too much of it. Go read the whole thing.
7:05 PM:Ziauddin Sardar, a Muslim writing in the Observer:
Muslims are in the best position to take the lead in the common cause against terrorism. The terrorists are among us, the Muslim communities of the world. They are part of our body politic. And it is our duty to stand up against them.
We must also reclaim a more balanced view of Islamic terms like fatwa. A fatwa is simply a legal opinion based on religious reasoning. It is the opinion of one individual and is binding on only the person who gives it. But, since the Rushdie affair, it has come to be associated in the West solely with a death sentence. Now that Islam has become beset with the fatwa culture, it becomes necessary for moderate voices to issue their own fatwas.
So, let me take the first step. To Muslims everywhere I issue this fatwa: any Muslim involved in the planning, financing, training, recruiting, support or harbouring of those who commit acts of indiscriminate violence against persons or the apparatus or infrastructure of states is guilty of terror and no part of the Ummah. It is the duty of every Muslim to spare no effort in hunting down, apprehending and bringing such criminals to justice.
If you see something reprehensible, said the Prophet Muhammad then change it with your hand; if you are not capable of that then use your tongue (speak out against it); and if you are not capable of that then detest it in your heart.
The silent Muslim majority must now become vocal. The rest of the world could help by adopting a more balanced tone. The rhetoric that paints America as a personification of innocence and goodness, a god-like power that can do no wrong, not only undermines the new shift but threatens to foreclose all our futures.
7:00 PM:This weblog, like much of life and conversation in New York this month, is pretty full of the Current Situation. Nonetheless, there are silly and pleasant things in the world, like Bembo Zoo.
And less pleasant things, though certainly interesting. Gary Farber, aware of my interest both in Garry Wills and in Catholic complicity in European antisemitism, brought my attention to this Wills review of a book by one David I. Kertzer called The Popes Against the Jews: The Vatican's Role In the Rise of Modern Anti-Semitism.
The Popes Against the Jews [...] traces, over a stretch of two centuries, the Vatican's endorsement of things like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, or the guilt of Alfred Dreyfus or the charge that Jews regularly commit ritual murders of Christian children. Pope John Paul II's document on the Holocaust, "We Remember," said that the Catholic church in the past objected to Jews only on theological grounds, not racial ones. Kertzer easily destroys this falsehood. To quote again Oreglia's article, cleared by the Vatican secretariat of state: "Oh how wrong and deluded are those who think Judaism is just a religion, like Catholicism, Paganism, Protestantism, and not in fact a race, a people, and a nation!...For the Jews are not only Jews because of their religion...they are Jews also and especially because of their race."
Kertzer has done a staggeringly thorough job of tracing Catholic statements on the Jews, and in using the Vatican archives to show what support was given to the people making these statements. From this he argues that the debate over what Pius XII might have done during the Holocaust is a distraction from a more important question -- what did the Catholic church do to help bring on the Holocaust in the first place? It did a great deal. The anti-Semitic campaign against Alfred Dreyfus, the French military officer convicted of treason in 1894 on forged documents, was largely driven by a fanatical band of Catholics denouncing Dreyfus for his perfidious Jewishness. The Assumptionist Fathers made this a special mission of their daily newspaper, La Croix. Owen Chadwick, the author of the excellent History of the Popes: 1830-1914 (1998), says of this campaign that it "was the most powerful and extreme journalism ever conducted by an otherworldly religious order during the history of Christendom." Pope Leo XIII, though he criticized the paper for other reasons, never objected to this rabid effort. He said in 1899, "I love La Croix." And no wonder. His own official newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, had also prejudged Dreyfus's guilt. Later, it defended anti-Semitic mobs resisting a r
eversal of his rigged conviction: "The Jewish race, the deicide people, wandering throughout the world, brings with it everywhere the pestiferous breath of treason." Kertzer brings the story down to the late 1930's, when Pius XI's attempt at writing an encyclical condemning Nazi anti-Semitism was sabotaged by the superior general of the Jesuits (a Polish aristocrat) and the editor of Civilta Cattolica. For that matter Pius XI himself, who served as a papal diplomat in Poland during World War I, dismissed reports of pogroms there as inventions of Jewish propaganda. He wrote to the Vatican secretary of state: "One of the most evil and strongest influences that is felt here, perhaps the strongest and the most evil, is that of the Jews."
[...] In 1867, [Pius IX] canonized Peter Arbues, a 15th-century inquisitor famed for forcible conversion of Jews, and said in the canonization document, "The divine wisdom has arranged that in these sad days, when Jews help the enemies of the church with their books and money, this decree of sanctity has been brought to fulfillment." (Kertzer somehow misses the story of this St. Peter -- it can be read in Chadwick's "History of the Popes.") Pius IX not only gave the Cross of Commander of the Papal Order to a man famous for a book endorsing the myth of Jewish ritual murders, but established the feast of a boy "martyr" who was supposedly the victim of such a rite. In 1871, addressing a group of Catholic women, Pius said that Jews "had been children in the House of God," but "owing to their obstinacy and their failure to believe, they have become dogs" (emphasis in the original.). "We have today in Rome unfortunately too many of these dogs, and we hear them barking in all the streets, and going around molesting people everywhere." This is the pope beatified by John Paul II in 2000.
A sample of Kertzer's book can be read here. Another excellent book on this subject is James Carroll's Constantine's Sword: The Church and the Jews. And of course Garry Wills's own Papal Sin can't possibly be recommended frequently enough. Anyone, believer or not, who cares about the present-day church or, for that matter, European civilization, needs to know this stuff. And anyone who thinks it's just a matter of religious people being crazy, and that we can just shed the poison by walking away from the religions, needs to look again. Yes, particularly now.
|Monday, September 24, 2001|
8:00 AM:More photographs from the day, beginning in Brooklyn and then walking into lower Manhattan. And some photos taken first from the financial district, then while fleeing over the Brooklyn Bridge.
I'm fascinated by these sorts of photos--not the mass-media's disconnected, iconic images of the towers being struck, burning, collapsing, but rather pictures of and from identifiable spots in Brooklyn and lower Manhattan, taken as the calamity progressed. During these hours I was in midtown at first, then I walked with friends to the Upper West Side. I missed experiencing how it looked and felt in my "home" neighborhoods, to which I didn't get back until about 6 PM.
Like most New Yorkers, even now I haven't actually set eyes on Ground Zero--although the plume and the dreadful absence are constantly visible. Probably this also contributes to this need to look at pictures like this, to make the connection between the event in the sky and the specific, particular streets below.
6:55 AM:Nicely-done and very detailed map of which buildings are damaged, and how badly.
12:30 AM:A. M. Homes in the New York Times:
The phone rings. People call from all over the city, from around the world. Attendance is being taken, and some of us are absent, missing.
"I'm O.K., I'm alive, aren't I? And you?"
"I'm worried I'm not feeling enough, not feeling the right things. I feel like I'm not doing anything. I should be doing something."
"We all saw it," another one says.
[...] Those twin towers were my landscape, my navigational points, my night lights. I write staring out the window, depending on the fixedness of the landscape to give me the security to allow my thoughts to wander, my imagination to unfold. Now I am afraid to look out the window, afraid of what I might see. I've been sent somewhere else in time, to a different New York, a different America. Today we are all war correspondents.
|Sunday, September 23, 2001|
11:40 PM:Wal-Mart Bans American Flags:
Las Vegas, September 17, 2001: While Wal-Mart boasted record sales of American flags from its stores, workers at Sam's Club 6382 (a Division of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.) in Las Vegas, Nevada were forced by managers to remove American flag stickers from their name badges because the stickers were given to the associates by a Union.
Meanwhile, who's making all those American flags we're seeing everywhere?
At the Shanghai Mei Li Hua Flags Co., office director Wu Guomin has received orders for more than 500,000 flags from customers in the United States in the week since the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. "I guess because we make so many of these things you could say we feel a little closer to the situation there," Wu said as he fingered an American flag. "We're working day and night."
The Jin Teng Flag Co. in neighboring Zhejiang province reported orders of 600,000. "It's crazy and very, very sad," said Jin Teng, the factory owner. "Everyone is on overtime trying to satisfy demand."
11:15 PM:Who is writing this stuff?
When I lived in Sacramento, California some of the closest friends I had were from the Middle East. They were Arabs - they were Americans. And they have experienced no joy in any of this.
There are dangerous undercurrents right now from people saying that anybody with a Muslim name or Muslim-looking face, anybody with Muslim customs or clothing, needs to be profiled, targeted, and somehow restrained, at least when it comes to their freedom.
We must not tar all Muslims, just as all conservatives should not be tarred and feathered with the words of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. There are Palestinians and Muslims who have been in this country for generations. They are just as devastated, saddened, and shocked as you and I. And they too, have been personally touched, with the loss of loved ones, colleagues and friends.
Now, this is what I was talking about last week when I expressed concern about the future of our
freedoms and liberties in exchange for security. This is going to require a lot of vigilance, and it's going to be a huge test that we're all going to have to face. We're going to have to be very mature about this, and fight the visceral anger that results any time an event like this takes place.
For the most part this terrible event has brought out the best in Americans. Citizens of all walks of life have come closer together. But there are some, unfortunately, in which this disaster has brought out the worst. Religious broadcaster Pat Robertson and the Reverend Jerry Falwell are two such individuals.In both cases: Rush Limbaugh. Moral progress is possible!
Last week Falwell appeared as a guest on Robertson's daily 700 Club program. He said that in addition to the terrorists who launched the attacks, others were also responsible. He elaborated by suggesting that it was the feminists, gays, abortionists and the ACLU who had angered God to the point that God allowed this to happen to the United States of America. Robertson, in turn, apparently agreed with him.
Suggestions of this kind are one of the reasons why all conservatives get tarred and feathered with this extremist, bigoted, racist, sexist, homophobic label or image that isn't true. The words of Robertson and Falwell are not the words of all conservatives - they are the words of Robertson and Falwell.
[...] All I can say is I was profoundly embarrassed and disappointed by their comments. They can try to take them back all they want, but the bottom line is that their words are indefensible.
11:00 PM:Islam. A sixth of of the world. Get to know my neighbors--and yours.
Two informative introductory sites. (Sectarian nuances not endorsed or even, probably, noticed by the immense research staff of Electrolite, i.e., me.) Discover Islam. And Al-Islam.org.
From the Los Angeles Times, Muslim in LA:
Shortly after 9 a.m., Shuaib finally drives to the mosque and sees some of his fears coming to pass. At the building's front, a 30-ish woman clutches an oversize Magic Marker with which she scrawls the word MURDERERS in huge letters on the white marble. When she spots Shuaib, she begins screaming. "Murderers! Go back where you came from, Palestinian murderers!"
While another mosque official calls the police, Shuaib attempts to talk the woman down. "Ma'am, look at me," he says. "Do I look like a Palestinian?" The woman stops shouting long enough to stare at him. Shuaib is a black-skinned man who was born in Ghana. He is also humorous, intelligent and possessed of the charm of a natural storyteller. "It's true," he continues, hoping the woman isn't armed with anything worse than the marker, "Palestinians come to pray here. We also have Egyptians and Pakistanis and Arabs and Africans and Sudanese. The whole United Nations comes to pray here." The woman starts to shout again, but Shuaib keeps on talking. "The thing is, I am as upset as you are because I have family in New York and I have not been able to speak to them. But I'm also terrified because, unlike you, I can be a target."
By the time the police arrive, Shuaib has talked the woman's fury into remission. Nonetheless, the officers search her car and find cartons of eggs plus a pile of stones. They ask Shuaib if he wants to press charges. He shakes his head no. Her anger spent, the woman turns sheepish and asks if she should clean the wall.
"That's okay," Shuaib says wearily. "We'll clean it up ourselves."
10:40 PM:A clearer picture of Ground Zero than I have previously seen.
If this wasn't taken from the same building my friends Eleanor Lang and Greg Costikyan live in (on the second floor; none of their windows are broken), then it's close enough to throw a Nerf ball.
8:30 PM:Ian McEwan in The Guardian:
The mobile phone has inserted itself into every crevice of our daily lives. Now, in catastrophe, if there is time enough, it is there in our dying moments. All through Thursday we heard from the bereaved how they took those last calls. Whatever the immediate circumstances, what was striking was what they had in common. A new technology has shown us an ancient, human universal.
A San Francisco husband slept through his wife's call from the World Trade Centre. The tower was burning around her, and she was speaking on her mobile phone. She left her last message to him on the answering machine. A TV station played it to us, while it showed the husband standing there listening. Somehow, he was able to bear hearing it again. We heard her tell him through her sobbing that there was no escape for her. The building was on fire and there was no way down the stairs. She was calling to say goodbye. There was really only one thing for her to say, those three words that all the terrible art, the worst pop songs and movies, the most seductive lies, can somehow never cheapen. I love you.
She said it over and again before the line went dead. And that is what they were all saying down their phones, from the hijacked planes and the burning towers. There is only love, and then oblivion. Love was all they had to set against the hatred of their murderers.
Last words placed in the public domain were once the prerogative of the mighty and venerable--Henry James, Nelson, Goethe--recorded, and perhaps sometimes edited for posterity, by relatives at the bedside. The effect was often consolatory, showing acceptance, or even transcendence in the face of death. They set us an example. But these last words spoken down mobile phones, reported to us by the bereaved, are both more haunting and true.
They compel us to imagine ourselves into that moment. What would we say? Now we know.
Pretty close to what it looked like from our house. In fact, these appear to have been taken from the elevated Smith-and-9th-Street stop on the F line, which is about a half mile south-southwest of where we live.
Jeff Faux, "Three Things We Learned," in The American Prospect:
For two decades, politicians of both parties have celebrated the pursuit of private gain over public service. Shrinking government has become a preoccupation of political leaders through deregulation, privatization, and cuts in public services.
One result is that the U.S. is the only major nation that leaves airline and airport security in the hands of private corporations, which by their very nature are motivated to spend as little as possible. So the system was tossed in the lap of lowest-bid contractors who hired people for minimum wages. Training has been inadequate and supervision extremely lax. Turnover was 126 percent a year and the average employee stayed in airline security for only six months. Getting a job at Burger King or McDonald's represented upward mobility for the average security worker. In an anti-government political climate the airline corporations were able to shrug off the government inspections that consistently revealed how easy it was to bring weapons on board. The competition for customers sacrificed safety to avoid any inconvenience. How else to explain the insane notion that a 3-1/2 inch knife blade is not a weapon?
Private provision of public services has been the dominant philosophy of government in our time. Only natural, the economists told us. People were motivated by money. It's human nature. "Greed is good," said the movie character in the send-up of Wall Street -- a sentiment echoed by politicians of both parties. "Collective solutions are a thing of the past . . . The era of big government is over. . . . You are on your own." Public service was "old" economy, just for losers. A teacher in New York City schools starts at $30,000. A brand new securities lawyer starts at $120,000. Does anyone believe that this represents sensible priorities?
And does anyone believe that the firefighters who marched into that inferno did it for money? Does anyone think that people working for a private company hiring people for as little as possible would have had the same motivation -- would have been as efficient? At the moment when efficiency really counts?
When the chips are down, where do we turn? To the government's firefighters, police officers, rescue teams. To the nonprofit sectors' blood banks and shelters. And to Big Government's army, navy, and air force. During his campaign, the president of the United States constantly complained that the people knew how to spend their money better than the government did. Overnight, we just appropriated $40 billion for the government to spend however it sees fit. Who else would we trust?
Ronald Brownstein in the Los Angeles Times notes the sudden change in sensibility regarding the wicked old Federal Government:
Business lobbyists joke that the scariest words in the English language are: "I'm from the federal government, and I'm here to help you." Maybe those weren't the scariest words for survivors stumbling out of lower Manhattan on Sept. 11.
[...I]n the attack's dizzying aftermath, where did almost all Americans turn for answers if not to the federal government? That instinct extended far beyond the actual physical defense of the nation--a responsibility that almost all Americans, left, right or center, accept as a legitimate function for Washington. More telling has been the instant push in both parties for the federal government to replace the airlines in providing airport security. As soon as Thursday, a bipartisan coalition led by Sens. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) plans to introduce legislation to make that shift. "It is the most efficient and effective way of guaranteeing the security you want," Kerry says.
Consider that a moment. For decades, the message to the public from much of the media and political system has been that Washington is awash in waste and corruption, especially when compared with the sleek efficiency of private industry.
Yet given the critical responsibility of safeguarding the skies, private companies apparently have cut corners and cut costs as they inevitably balanced concern about the general welfare with their need to generate a profit. Now, the widespread assumption is that the federal government, unconcerned with profit, will provide a more thorough and effective defense against hijackings or bombings.
7:15 PM:Carved into the esplanade at Battery Park City:
A hundred times I have thought: New York is a catastrophe,
and fifty times: it is a beautiful catastrophe.
That's also the epigraph to "New York's World Trade Center: A Living Archive," a very interesting web site that was set up before the calamity of September 11, 2001.
|Thursday, September 13, 2001|
9:15 PM:The consistently wonderful boingboing.net posts a link to an editorial which ineluctably reminds me of far too much of what I've been reading online lately:
Many people will use this terrible tragedy as an excuse to put through a political agenda other than my own. This tawdry abuse of human suffering for political gain sickens me to the core of my being. Those people who have different political views from me ought to be ashamed of themselves for thinking of cheap partisan point-scoring at a time like this. In any case, what this tragedy really shows us is that, so far from putting into practice political views other than my own, it is precisely my political agenda which ought to be advanced.Not only have I read variations on this rather too many times in the last 48 hours, I suspect I've also posted some.
Not only are my political views vindicated by this terrible tragedy, but also the status of my profession. Furthermore, it is only in the context of a national and international tragedy like this that we are reminded of the very special status of my hobby, and its particular claim to legislative protection. My religious and spiritual views also have much to teach us about the appropriate reaction to these truly terrible events.
|Wednesday, September 12, 2001|
4:25 PM:As usual, Phil Agre makes large amounts of sense.
Although I want the attackers caught as much as anyone, I'm concerned by some of the language I'm hearing, including some nearly fascist rhetoric about America being "soft". I was happy to hear George Bush emphasize that civil liberties will be protected. If you understand the attack as an assault on freedom, then it hardly makes sense to diminish freedom as a result.
We do need to improve security, but we should not understand the need for heightened security in a broad, vague way as a cultural imperative. We do not need a police state, and we should not militarize our society. Rather, we should view security as a design problem. We have an opening now, a brief window when the airlines cannot undermine improved security in their own commercial interests. Maybe we can also force Microsoft to design its products in a secure way, rather than exposing us to the severe information security problems we've seen in the last few months with its fundamentally shoddy architectures. We should take advantage of this opening to redesign our aircraft, buildings, software, and institutions in a rational way.
Several thoughtful, concrete examples follow. Read it.
3:25 PM:Thanks to Wagner James Au on the Well for pointing out an Atlantic article that makes a terrifyingly convincing case for the argument that our intelligence services are just about as inept as we fear they are:
In other words, American intelligence has not gained and will not gain Pakistan's assistance in its pursuit of bin Ladin. The only effective way to run offensive counterterrorist operations against Islamic radicals in more or less hostile territory is with "non-official-cover" officers--operatives who are in no way openly attached to the U.S. government. Imagine James Bond minus the gadgets, the women, the Walther PPK, and the Aston Martin. But as of late 1999 no program to insert NOCs into an Islamic fundamentalist organization abroad had been implemented, according to one such officer who has served in the Middle East. "NOCs haven't really changed at all since the Cold War," he told me recently. "We're still a group of fake businessmen who live in big houses overseas. We don't go to mosques and pray."These kinds of people have been running our intelligence operations, and bossing around our foreign policy, for over fifty years. Before we flush what remain of our civil liberties down the toilet, perhaps we could pause and ask ourselves what a well-designed intelligence service would look like, what kinds of skills it would entail, and what sorts of people it might put to useful work. I suspect we'd surprise ourselves with the answers to all these questions and more.
A former senior Near East Division operative says, "The CIA probably doesn't have a single truly qualified Arabic-speaking officer of Middle Eastern background who can play a believable Muslim fundamentalist who would volunteer to spend years of his life with shitty food and no women in the mountains of Afghanistan. For Christ's sake, most case officers live in the suburbs of Virginia. We don't do that kind of thing." A younger case officer boils the problem down even further: "Operations that include diarrhea as a way of life don't happen."
2:30 PM:World New York is one of the best weblogs anywhere, and never more so than today. Go and drink deep.
2:25 PM:First things first. We're all stressed out, and it's very helpful to read about this kind of stress, and realize that it's a known, mapped, understood phenomenon. We can live through it. It sucks, but we can live through it.
|Monday, September 10, 2001|
9:00 AM:More about anti-PR activist John Stauber:
"If somebody just heard me speaking, if they were unaware of the documentation...I would forgive them for thinking that I sound like a raving conspiracy theorist," Stauber says. "But indeed there is a hidden, secret power dedicated to invisibly manipulating public opinion and public policy on behalf of the powerful. And in fact, we name it: It's the public relations industry, and we document precisely how it works and what it does."
Here's Stauber's own web page.
Excuse me, sir, your pants are afire: Jon Carroll on the not-unrelated fact that we have become habituated to constant public lying:
It is taken as a given by all parties that really first-rate negotiation involves lying. [...] Facts aren't facts; they are lies. They are numbers for hire, facts for purchase. Reality belongs to the person with the most money. Foundations, liberal or conservative, are factories producing nicely packaged lies for every occasion.
|Sunday, September 9, 2001|
9:50 PM:"Aliens, Bucketheads, and Polar Bears": a walking tour, in photographs, of the remarkable trompe l'oeil murals of one Greg Brown, in Palo Alto, California.
9:45 PM:Beautifully-rendered historical maps of Europe, designed and drawn by Christos Nussli.
9:15 PM:Since "the ability to understand current drug-related street terms is an invaluable tool for law enforcement, public health, and other criminal justice professionals who work with the public," those helpful folks at the White House have posted an extenstive database of those terms.
Those helpful folks at Brunching Shuttlecocks have posted a Web page translator based on the White House database. Simply enter your favorite site's URL to discover the dope argot hiding behind its seemingly harmless facade. (I was personally fascinated to read about "Tor SF & GHB" and our affiliation with St. Martin's Cocaine.)
|Saturday, September 8, 2001|
10:05 PM:Ace political reporter and weblogger Joshua Micah Marshall has an almost indecent amount of fun today discussing "the bum's rush Texas Republicans are giving to departing Republican Senator Phil Gramm." Now that Gramm has announced his intention to retire when his current term ends next year, it's occurred to the young bucks of the Texas GOP that this creates an excellent opportunity to get a conservative Hispanic into that seat, thus advancing a whole bunch of agendas at once. However, being Republicans, they are naturally disinclined to count on anything as unpredictable as an election. Their idea is that Gramm should pack it in right now and let Republican Governor Rick Perry appoint a suitable Hispanic, who would then go into the 2002 election with all the advantages of incumbency. As Marshall puts it:
What's really striking about this situation is just how publicly a handful of relative upstarts within the Texas GOP (Bush, Perry, Bonilla) is telling Gramm to get the hell of out of town. President Bush met with Perry at the White House on Wednesday to discuss ways to get Gramm to resign and at least one Texas Republican media consultant with close ties to Bush has publicly told Gramm to pack it in.
Coming from a sitting president of Gramm's own party the message Bush is sending to the too-slowly departing senior Senator comes through pretty clearly as: GET THE *#$& OUT! Go! Be Gone! LEAVE! Enough with you! Go Away forever! NEVER COME BACK!!!
Discussing this very story today, Avedon Carol remarked, "I just hope that when they're done putting their aged on ice floes, they go ahead and eat their young."
9:30 PM:Slate's Daniel Menaker with a thoughtful review of what is easily my favorite album of the year so far, Gillian Welch's Time (The Revelator):
In this album, it's time that reveals its own meanings and purposes. Using compositions that range from a ditty to a slow romantic waltz to a slurry blues moan to a hypnotic 15-minute-plus Philip Glassy imagistic tour de force, the album assembles an alt-country "Wasteland," with quotes from and references to and nods toward scores of events and songs and people in the nation's and the singers' lives. Casey Jones, Elvis Presley, John Henry, Gram Parsons, Abraham Lincoln--all of whom, mythical or real, played a role in some greater or smaller musical or political or social transition, at the cost of their own lives--occur in the lyrics here and often recur in later cuts. Lincoln's assassination and Elvis Presley's death and the sinking of the Titanic keep turning up like bad pennies. After listening to this CD again and again, I hope April 14, which Welch and Rawlings call "ruination day," is not your birthday. I believe I detected lyrics quotes from Gene Autry ("Back in the Saddle Again"), Presley ("All Shook Up"), the Delmore Brothers ("Gonna Lay Down My Old Guitar"), folk music ("Five Hundred Miles," "John Henry"), gospel music ("Ezekiel Saw De Wheel"), Bill Justis ("Raunchy"), James Brown ("Poppa's Got a Brand New Bag"), etc. [...] Time (The Revelator) makes it clear that like all real musical artists these two [Welch and her guitarist/producer/life partner David Rawlings] have adopted the work of their predecessors, adapted it to their own uses, and made it into new patterns with passion, skill, and an occasional sly wink about what they're up to.
9:10 PM:Discussing the Bush administration's plan to wink at a new Chinese nuclear buildup in exchange for tacit Chinese acquiescence in their revived "Star Wars" scheme, Arianna Huffington makes alarming amounts of sense:
They must be smoking some potent ideological crack in the White House these days. One can only imagine the late-night binge that produced this latest bizarre result: "I got it," Rummy must have cried out. "China currently has fewer than two dozen miserable nukes. If this number is increased tenfold, and we make sure that we share whatever technology they need to make them top-of-the-line nukes, can't you just see how absolutely necessary our shield will be?" "It's brilliant," echoed W. "We overcome Chinese objections by letting them arm themselves to the teeth, and then we overcome domestic objections by sounding the alarm about the Chinese!"
It's as if a condom maker were encouraging the spread of gonorrhea, hoping that, given time, it would spark demand.
9:00 PM:Russell Baker in the New York Review of Books on one of my favorite writers, the great Joseph Mitchell:
The Tribune sent him up to Harlem to cover police stories, and he found himself sitting in a swivel chair in the doorway of the Theresa Hotel watching the passing parade on Seventh Avenue. In Harlem he found his calling, and it was not political reporting. Harlem fascinated him. He had grown up white in the South during a stifling and benighted racist era, and the freedom he found in Harlem seems to have been exhilarating:
I was alternately delighted and frightened out of my wits by what I saw at night in Harlem. I would go off duty at 3 AM, and then I would walk around the streets and look, discovering what the depression and the prurience of white men were doing to a people who are "last to be hired; first to be fired."
He might "drop into a speakeasy or a night club or a gambling flat and try to pull a story out of it. I got to know a few underworld figures and I used to like to listen to them talk."
His New Yorker stories are told in great rivers of talk to which Mitchell seems to have listened so intensely that the talker couldn't resist talking more, and more, and more. He had the gift of listening, but what made him special was his knack for finding people worth listening to. In My Ears Are Bent, he discussed how to find them:
The only people I do not care to listen to are society women, industrial leaders, distinguished authors, ministers, explorers, moving picture actors (except W.C. Fields and Stepin Fetchit), and any actress under the age of thirty-five. I believe the most interesting human beings, so far as talk is concerned, are anthropologists, farmers, prostitutes, psychiatrists, and an occasional bartender. The best talk is artless, the talk of people trying to reassure or comfort themselves, women in the sun, grouped around baby carriages, talking about their weeks in the hospital or the way meat has gone up, or men in saloons, talking to combat the loneliness everyone feels.
8:45 PM:The US Treasury Department has fined Ry Cooder $25,000 for going to Cuba to make Buena Vista Social Club. I'm certainly sleeping better at night knowing that the Bush administration is on guard against the sinister vocals of Ibrahim Ferrer, to say nothing of the subversive piano of Ruben Gonzalez.
("You mean," Teresa said, "you mean, they're fining him $25,000 for going to Cuba and getting a bunch of forgotten but talented old geezers into a recording studio to make happy music? The best thing that happened to any of them since before the Cuban revolution? Potentially one of the best pieces of propaganda anyone could possibly hope for?" Yes, that's what for.)
8:25 PM:More on the copyright industry and its project to fundamentally change the nature of our civilization. Anupam Chander, on Findlaw, writes a good summary of the Sklyarov case so far. You remember Dimitry Sklyarov--he's the unfortunate programmer who found himself in jail for a thought crime. That'll teach him to visit the United States. Elsewhere, the Association of American Publishers weighs in, characterizing librarians who insist on the desirability of loaning materials for free as "radical factions, like the Ruby Ridge or Waco types." This helpful observation was offered by Judith Platt, official spokesperson for the Association. Meanwhile, Salon has a piece about how a British business, Huntingdon Life Sciences, has successfully used the provisions of DMCA to take down two American web sites that criticized it. I'm just back from the World Science Fiction Convention, where I heard more than one SF writer talk approvingly about the new intellectual-property regime we're moving into and how good it will be for writers to be protected from the menace of teenagers who bootleg their texts on Usenet. Sure it's a police state, but it's a police state on our side! Sure it is.
7:45 PM:Does it seem like the bullshit gets worse and worse all the time--the lies more elaborate and all-encompassing, the elaborate duplicity more intricate and shameless? You're not wrong. As in every other field of human endeavor, as the practitioners work at it, they get better. The field in question is, of course, "PR," the science of lying effectively on behalf of the powerful. It's a great deal of what's running the world. John Stauber is a writer who takes the PR industry as his subject. Here's an interesting profile of him.
7:25 PM:Immediately-useful web tool: Daypop, a search engine for news and current events.
7:15 PM:Digital face recognition is a reality right now. The decisions we make about this technology will affect us for the rest of our lives. Phil Agre magisterially sums up the facts and the arguments in a piece called "Your Face Is Not a Bar Code."
If face recognition technologies are pioneered in countries where civil liberties are relatively strong, it becomes more likely that they will also be deployed in countries where civil liberties hardly exist. In twenty years, at current rates of progress, it will be feasible for the Chinese government to use face recognition to track the public movements of everyone in the country.
|Saturday, September 1, 2001|
1:00 PM:From 1964 to 1973, the United States dropped 500,000 pounds of bombs on rural Laos, attempting to disrupt North Vietnamese assistance and to prevent local communists from coming to power.
Many of these cluster bombs didn't detonate on impact. Instead, they've exploded over the next several decades, mostly killing farmers and their families. They continue to do so.
Who's helping Laos find unexploded bombs and defuse them, helping heal the injured and comfort the survivors? You'd think this would be a great opportunity for the US to look good. After all, we dropped the damn bombs.
Alternately, you'd think it would be an excellent grandstanding opportunity for energetic protestors of overweening US military projection.
Then again, there's just not much juice in this for either side. Vietnam is over, man. Who cares what Laotian farmers think? Whose parties do they go to?
So who's actually doing anything? The Mennonites.
8:45 AM:The Associated Press mildly misquotes Teresa in a predictably dopey article about the Worldcon, the main thrust of which appears to be that there are now women in science fiction fandom. Say, and I also hear that some of that new "rock and roll" music has lyrics about society and alienation and stuff. Do you suppose?
The Philadelphia Inquirer does a considerably better job, using the Worldcon as an opportunity to spotlight editor guest of honor Gardner Dozois, getting pretty much everything right in the process. One might even come away from the Inquirer's coverage with the impression that the several thousand people at the Worldcon read books from time to time, in marked contrast to the AP story's nearly-exclusive focus on Hollywood movies.
12:55 AM:If my comments on Mike Godwin's copyright piece [August 31, 10:15 PM] strike you as alarmist, read about this person's real-life experience, which nicely dramatizes the way that the "Digital Millennium Copyright Act"--now (with the support of Disney, Microsoft, AOL Time Warner, etc) the law of the land--institutes a regime under which those accused of violating certain copyrights are legally treated as guilty until proven innocent.
No, you say, that can't be. It's obviously unconstitutional. It's obviously unfair.
But it is. And it's the law. And it's being supported by some of the very writers and intellectuals who, in any other circumstance, would be the first to lead a charge against such a travesty--because, I guess, they think that in this case, if they side with the big dogs, the big dogs will remember them with fondness.
But just because you're on their side doesn't mean they're on your side.
And you may think you're just defending yourself against smartass hackers who pirate your texts on Usenet. But when you rearrange the basic legal structures that undergird society, it's not actually likely that the consequences are going to be limited to those you happen to find satisfactory. We are trading an old civic and civil model of intellectual property for a strange, ruthless new thing, red in tooth and claw. And its next victim won't be hapless hackers who pirate Harlan Ellison stories on Usenet. Its next victim will be people like you. And you. And you.