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July 31, 2003
Rag: I’m not actually back home yet, but some things leave one too agog not to blog. In this morning’s New York Times, here’s the Vatican fulminating over the idea of granting gay people the same legal rights as anyone else:
The Vatican document, “Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons,” sets out a plan for politicians when confronted with proposed legislation granting homosexual couples the same rights as married heterosexuals.

It also comes out strongly against allowing gay couples to adopt, saying children raised by same-sex parents face developmental “obstacles” because they are deprived of having either a mother or a father.

“Allowing children to be adopted by persons living in such unions would actually mean doing violence to these children,” it said.

Yes, you read that right—letting children be raised by gay couples who love them would “actually mean doing violence” to them. Unlike, you know, raping them and covering it up. Definitely, these guys are just brimming with authority on the subject of “doing violence” to kids.

For an interesting counter-perspective, here’s journalist and Catholic Charles Pierce, writing in the letters section of Eric Alterman’s permalink-free MSNBC blog:

The hierarchical Church […] is in the worst shape it’s been in since the Reformation. It is not unfair to declare that, at least in the United States, the formal structure of the Roman Catholic Church exists as an ongoing conspiracy to obstruct justice. (And wait until they start looking at the missionaries in Africa and the South Pacific.) Nobody is listening any more to a bunch of bureaucrats in red beanies who seem to be heirs to the Colombos more than to the Apostles. Hence, as it always does, when the hierarchy feels its authority threatened, it asserts that authority even louder—in this case, through various secular surrogates, none of whom have been diddiling the altar help or covering up for those that have. This time, however, nobody’s listening. Which is why, when the Vatican tried to knuckle American Catholic pols over gay marriage this week, it was resoundingly ignored—having at this point as much credibility on any aspect of human sexuality as Sam Waksal does on the Securities Act.

[12:07 PM : 146 comments]

July 21, 2003
Cortico-thalamic pause. As threatened, I’m in Seattle for a week, teaching Clarion West. For that reason, posting is likely to be sparse to nonexistent, much as it has been for the past several days. For the same reason, I’m way behind on answering email. No, I’m not ignoring you…

[10:59 AM : 23 comments]

July 17, 2003
At a loss for a headline. I have very little to add to this post by Kevin Drum, or to this followup by Mark Kleiman, save to note that neither Drum or Kleiman are exactly given to attacks of political paranoia. Okay, this much: I agree with Kleiman in hoping against hope that the whole story is baseless. But you should drop what you’re doing and read both posts.

[07:04 AM : 180 comments]

July 16, 2003
Absolute power trivializes absolutely. “I am at the top and people like me hate people like you.” A Senate intern in an unguarded moment. Remember, just because you’re on their side…

[11:52 PM : 42 comments]

Airstrip One. David Leigh and Richard Norton-Taylor on the extent to which the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland has surrendered its sovereignity to the administration of George W. Bush:
[Home Secretary] Blunkett agreed that the UK would extradite Britons to the US in future, without any need to produce prima facie evidence that they are guilty of anything. But the US refused to do the same with their own citizens. The Home Office press release concealed this fact—out of shame, presumably. Why did the US refuse? According to the Home Office, the Fourth Amendment of the US constitution says citizens of US states cannot be arrested without “probable cause”. The irony appears to have been lost on David Blunkett, as he gave away yet more of Britain’s sovereignty. If we really were the 51st state, as anti-Americans imply, we would probably have more protection against Washington than we do today.

[11:23 PM : 12 comments]

First Minnesotan. Edward James Herrgott, killed by sniper fire outside the Iraqi National Museum on July 3.

His aunt has a few remarks.

“We have some issues with the fact that President Bush declared combat over on May 1. Combat is not over. We don’t even know who’s firing at us right now, and all of our soldiers are at great risk of being picked off as Jim was. And that’s a shame. And then President Bush made a comment a week ago, and he said, ‘bring it on.’ They brought it on and now my nephew is dead.”
(Via Nathan Newman.)
A memorial to Shakopee’s war dead sits in a park near the edge of town. The granite monument contains the names of 45 soldiers from Shakopee who have fallen since the Civil War.

Local American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars leaders say they can’t remember when the last name was inscribed on the monument. PFC Edward James Herrgott will be number 46.

[08:56 PM : 22 comments]

What imperialism looks like. Here’s a recent report from the Times of London (property, you’ll recall, of well-known liberal peacenik Rupert Murdoch):
Never again did families in Baghdad imagine that they need fear the midnight knock at the door.

But in recent weeks there have been increasing reports of Iraqi men, women and even children being dragged from their homes at night by American patrols, or snatched off the streets and taken, hooded and manacled, to prison camps around the capital.

Children as young as 11 are claimed to be among those locked up for 24 hours a day in rooms with no light, or held in overcrowded tents in temperatures approaching 50C (122F). […]

Every day, relatives scuff their way along the dirt track to reach the razor wire barricades surrounding Abu Ghraib, where they plead in vain for information about the whereabouts of the missing.

The response from impassive American sentries is to point to a sign, scrawled in red felt-tip pen on a piece of cardboard hanging on the barbed wire, which says: “No visits are allowed, no information will be given and you must leave.”

Some, like Ghania Hassan, sink to their knees in despair. She holds a photograph of her eldest son, Mohammed Yasim Mohammed, a 22-year-old student. She said that he was walking through al-Shaab market with friends when passing troops saw him eating biscuits from an American military ration pack and accused him of being a looter. Allegedly he was pushed face down on the street while his friends tried to explain how a soldier a couple of streets away had given them the biscuits.

A month later nothing has been heard of the young man. His mother showed a fistful of letters and petitions that she has collected from US officials, local magistrates and a Muslim cleric, but she and the rest of the complainants were told at gunpoint to move away from the prison gates. […]

An Iraqi exile who had been in Baghdad for only three days after living in Denmark for the past 27 years found himself caught up in an American swoop after a shooting in a street market. Not realizing that the man could read English, his interrogator made no attempt to cover up his case file, which described him as “suspected assassin.”

The man, who was held for more than 30 days, is afraid to give his name and says that he is now considering leaving Baghdad for good.

Funnily enough, the actual practice of empire turns out not to actually resemble an inspiring series of neoclassical tableaus.

Mostly, it’s hoods, manacles, midnight arrests, people soiling themselves, and hot, angry, frustrated soldiers holding a defenseless kid face-down in the dirt.

As Eschaton guestblogger Tresy remarks, “at this rate, the US motto in Iraq will soon be ‘Not as brutal as the last guy.’”

[03:02 PM : 34 comments]

July 15, 2003
Stuff I meant to blog. Still true, even if all the other weblogs did say so first.

(1) Threatened with cancellation by financially-strapped Michigan State University, the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Workshop has been urging people to write to MSU’s administrators. A good idea if you care about the ongoing conversation that is the SF world. If nothing else, Clarion and its institutionally-unrelated sibling Clarion West are surely, over the years, among the most successful workshops in the world at the task of successfully teaching people to write fiction that sells. (Disclosure: I was editor-in-residence at Clarion last year and will be teaching at Clarion West later this month.)

(2) Tom Tomorrow’s Great Big Book of Tomorrow is a full-throttle extravaganza of lefty cartoon goodness, featuring both words and pictures, color and B&W, and most importantly, wise-ass penguins and cute little dogs. Buy it from your favorite bookseller—or go directly to Mr. Tomorrow’s highly decorative weblog and buy it through his own Powell’s link, thus giving Brooklyn’s hardest-working cartoonist a modest additional stipend. No American bathroom should be without this highly browsable work!

(3) Finally, Crooked Timber is the latest and possibly greatest “superblog”, in which multiple stars of the weblog world (Chris Bertram, Harry Brighouse, Daniel Davies, Henry Farrell, Maria Farrell, Kieran Healy, Jon Mandle, and Brian Weatherson, in this case) pool their efforts to form a single, frequently-updated, and terrifyingly intelligent uber-site, with Ginger Baker on drums.

[01:41 PM : 4 comments]

Speaking of putting things delicately. Here’s this morning’s Washington Post:
President Bush yesterday defended the “darn good” intelligence he receives, continuing to stand behind a disputed allegation about Iraq’s nuclear ambitions as new evidence surfaced indicating the administration had early warning that the charge could be false.

Bush said the CIA’s doubts about the charge — that Iraq sought to buy “yellowcake” uranium ore in Africa — were “subsequent” to the Jan. 28 State of the Union speech in which Bush made the allegation. Defending the broader decision to go to war with Iraq, the president said the decision was made after he gave Saddam Hussein “a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn’t let them in.”

Bush’s position was at odds with those of his own aides, who acknowledged over the weekend that the CIA raised doubts that Iraq sought to buy uranium from Niger more than four months before Bush’s speech.

The president’s assertion that the war began because Iraq did not admit inspectors appeared to contradict the events leading up to war this spring: Hussein had, in fact, admitted the inspectors and Bush had opposed extending their work because he did not believe them effective.

In other words: he’s losing the plot. Hard not to sympathize. Keeping track of that many different lies at once is hard work.

[12:25 PM : 48 comments]

Whodunit. Michael Kinsley is up on the latest philosophical conundrums:
Once again a mysterious criminal stalks the nation’s capital. First there was the mystery sniper. Then there was the mystery arsonist. Now there is the mystery ventriloquist. The media are in a frenzy of speculation and leakage. Senators are calling for hearings. All of Washington demands an answer: Who was the arch-fiend who told a lie in President Bush’s State of the Union speech? […]

Linguists note that the question, “Who lied in George Bush’s State of the Union speech” bears a certain resemblance to the famous conundrum, “Who is buried in Grant’s Tomb?” They speculate that the two questions may have parallel answers.

Of course, we know George W. Bush’s answer: “No, you idiot! It’s Tony Blair!”

[08:11 AM : 3 comments]

Still delicate after all these years. The New York Times, in an article surveying the history of the Fugs:
The title of Mr. Sanders’s publication was a blunt profanity, with the more descriptive subtitle “A Magazine of the Arts.”

[08:00 AM : 3 comments]

July 14, 2003
Don’t bother me with the facts: Kevin Drum is on fire today, responding to the Wall Street Journal’s claim that “intelligence is supposed to be a tool of policy, not a determiner of it”:
It’s hard to understand the mindset of someone who would write something like this. To be sure, policymakers are the ones who direct intelligence agencies, but that’s not what’s at issue here. The question is, once they’ve been directed, and once they’ve come back with a judgment, and once they’ve thrashed everything out time and again and nonetheless stuck to their guns on that judgment97should policymakers then override them? Because that’s what happened in this case.

It’s almost beyond belief that the WSJ pretends that it’s the Bush administration critics who are politicizing intelligence in this case. That is, it would be beyond belief to anyone who’s unfamiliar with the daily assaults on intellectual honesty that make up the WSJ editorial page. After all, today’s editorial finishes up with this:

Especially after 9/11 and in a world of WMD, the U.S. needs intelligence analysts willing to question their own assumptions, as well as policy makers willing to help them do it.
How much plainer can they be? Policymakers unhappy with the truth need to be willing to “help” intelligence analysts question their assumptions. The Orwellian overtones are hard to miss.
UPDATE: Or, in the words of Busy, Busy, Busy’s Shorter Wall Street Journal Editorial, “The task of America’s intelligence agencies is not to provide policy makers with reliable data but to fabricate evidence in support of administration policies which the public would reject if it knew the truth.”

[02:26 PM : 83 comments]

It’s art, but only if the right people are doing it. According to the L. A. Times, this art installation may be found at the entrance to a show currently running at the Whitney, “The American Effect: Global Perspectives on the United States, 1990-2003”:
The installation by French artist Gilles Barbier, standing at the exhibition’s entry, features life-size representations of American comic book heroes renowned as the embodiments of invincibility and vigor. Here they are shown in a nursing home.

A feeble Catwoman reclines in front of a television broadcasting game shows; Captain America lies on a gurney attached to an IV; and an octogenarian Superman leans on a walker, feet shod in slippers and muscles drooping beneath his crimson cape.

For some people this will serve as yet another opportunity to trundle out their grudges against the perfidious French, with their sinister modern philosophies and their heavy white sauces. Novelist Debra Doyle, however, has a more interesting question:
What reason is there — other than genre snobbery, invidious pro/fan distinctions, and the desire of Big Entertainment Copyright Holders to count their trademark-infringement coups on the bodies of the small and the socially disregarded rather than on the prestigious and culturally annointed — for [this] high-art museum installation…to get a free ride, where a similar work done as a photomanipulated image on a fannish website cannot exist without running the risk of getting a cease-and-desist letter at the very least?
I suppose it’s imaginable that Gilles Barbier got permission from Marvel and DC to use their characters this way, but it sure doesn’t seem likely to me. Debra’s point isn’t that Barbier should be blocked from exhibiting his “installation”; it’s that what fannish websites are doing when they rework and repurpose pop images is “art” every bit as much as installations at the ever-so-cultural Whitney.

[01:17 PM : 22 comments]

July 11, 2003
Living history.
In 1968, when I arrived at Oxford as a gangling skinny Northerner with serious sexual identity problems, I went to a lot of political meetings. You could hardly not notice Hitchens—he was charismatic, and beautiful, and passionate in his denunciations of the Americans in Vietnam. You also ended up noticing a quiet bearded American called Bill something, who would periodically stand up and oppose the war, while defending his country’s better angels. My memory, which may be faulty, is that, on at least one occasion, I heard them speak at the same meeting.
Our old friend Roz Kaveney remembers Christopher Hitchens, Bill Clinton, and a long, terrible betrayal.

[11:16 PM : 40 comments]

July 05, 2003
One more. A day later, most weblog readers are probably OD’d on the Fourth of July, but Sisyphus Shrugged had a particularly fine rant that’s worth a look. Notable bit:
We may be the children of this country, but we’re also its parents.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from being a parent, it’s that it’s worth the effort to raise a child you can live with, because you’re going to have to live with the child you raise.

I’m reminded, not for the first time, of an observation made by Teresa eight years ago:
My own personal theory is that this is the very dawn of the world. We’re hardly more than an eyeblink away from the fall of Troy, and scarcely an interglaciation removed from the Altamira cave painters. We live in extremely interesting ancient times.

I like this idea. It encourages us to be earnest and ingenious and brave, as befits ancestral peoples; but keeps us from deciding that because we don’t know all the answers, they must be unknowable and thus unprofitable to pursue.

Or, to put it another way, “Work like you were living in the early days of a better nation.”

[03:25 PM : 6 comments]

July 04, 2003
A Design to reduce them.
[The Washington Post, July 4, 2003:] “President Bush designated six suspected al Qaeda terrorists as eligible for trial before military tribunals yesterday, bringing the United States to the brink of its first prosecution of enemy prisoners since the aftermath of World War II….

“The United States has turned to military tribunals to conduct the prosecutions in part because the proceedings can be held under extraordinary security, sometimes even with judges’ names withheld. The trials can be closed to the public when classified information is discussed, and, in contrast to federal criminal courts, the normal rules of evidence are relaxed. The rules generally favor the prosecution.”

She’s waiting for me when I get home from work
But things just ain’t the same
She turns out the light and cries in the dark
Won’t answer when I call her name
[Independent, July 4, 2003:] “Officials at the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba have begun planning for construction of court facilities and an execution chamber, since the tribunals may consider imposing the death penalty….

“Although Pentagon officials would not say where the suspects are imprisoned or where their tribunals might be held, legal experts said the trials likely would be at Guantanamo, where almost 700 Taliban and al Qaeda suspects are being held.

“The Pentagon officials also raised the possibility that the military might continue to hold the suspects even if they are acquitted by a tribunal….

“Any tribunal cases would be decided by a panel of three to seven military officers who would act as both judge and jury.”

She gives me her cheek when I want her lips
And I don’t have the strength to go
On the lost side of town in a dark apartment
We gave up trying so long ago
[Jim Henley, June 17, 2003:] “The question is not ‘Do terrorists deserve the same rights as ordinary criminals?’ The question is ‘Are terrorist suspects terrorists?’ That’s exactly congruent with the question ‘Are criminal suspects criminals?’ We have centuries of experience on what can go wrong trying to answer that question, and developed an elaborate system of rights and procedures to minimize the potential for disaster—depriving the innocent of the liberty, property and even lives….

“It was a really bad day, all right? Thousands died. Decent people who did nothing to deserve their fate. It was awful, just awful. Hate and scorn are the only emotions appropriate for the perpretrators, grief for the victims. But we cannot let ourselves be ruled by fear for the rest of our lives. It is not manly. It is not womanly. You would insist that your child face such fear down. Life is so much easier for the brave, let alone more dignified. Live and die like human beings or live and die like whipped dogs. We have that choice. We are making that choice, and at almost every juncture, making it wrong.”

On the stairs I smoke a cigarette alone
Mexican kids are shooting fireworks below
Hey, baby, it’s the Fourth of July
Hey, baby, it’s the Fourth of July

Whatever happened, I apologize
So dry your tears and baby, walk outside
It’s the Fourth of July

[“Fourth of July” by Dave Alvin]

[01:47 PM : 54 comments]

Let facts be submitted to a candid World.
“The means of defense against foreign danger historically have become the instruments of tyranny at home.”
(James Madison)

“They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
(Benjamin Franklin)

“Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.”
(William Pitt)

“We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness—That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its Foundation on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
(Congress, July 4, 1776)

“As word of the ruling spread in San Francisco, a group gathered at the corner of Castro and Market Streets, where a rainbow flag97a symbol of the gay movement for the last 25 years97had regularly flown. A small chorus of gay military veterans sang the national anthem as the rainbow flag was gently lowered, replaced with an American one.”
(New York Times, June 27, 2003)

[12:01 PM : 17 comments]

July 02, 2003
Someone’s awake. Regarding the astounding remarks of Mr. George W. Bush, quoted in the previous post, Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) had this to say:
“I am shaking my head in disbelief. When I served in the army in Europe during World War II, I never heard any military leader—let alone the commander in chief—invite enemies to attack U.S. troops,” said Lautenberg in a statement.
I dunno, maybe the cautious diplomats who run the Democratic caucus in Congress forgot to give old Frank the memo. Or maybe he’s taking the same vitamin supplements as Bob Byrd.

[05:19 PM : 119 comments]

Big talk. Actual news story. Not the Onion. Not an Imaginary Tale.
President Bush on Wednesday challenged militants who have been killing and injuring U.S. forces in Iraq, saying “bring them on” because American forces were tough enough to deal with their attacks.

“There are some who feel like that conditions are such that they can attack us there,” Bush told reporters at the White House. “My answer is bring them on…”

Adam Felber has more:
“…in fact,” the President continued, “I don’t think Iraqi militants have the guts to kill more Americans. I think they’re yeller.” Bush, who during Vietnam war bravely combatted an extremely inconvenient schedule, made his remarks a mere 6,211 miles from the front lines.

Military reaction to Bush’s words was joyous. “Finally,” said Lt. Pete Bundt of the Army 3rd Armored Division, “I was beginning to worry that the Iraqis might stop shooting at us and ambushing our convoys and wounding our men. Now we can be sure that there’ll be more action.”

[02:17 PM : 81 comments]

Truer words. Michael Kinsley, in a fine overview of the upcoming post-Lawrence argument about gay marriage, pauses to deliver a prediction that applies just as well to most of our culture-wide permacontroversies. In twelve words:
It’s going to get ugly. And then it’s going to get boring.

[12:46 PM : 7 comments]

Press releases we never finished reading.
With unparalleled stylistic terrorism, young Japanese writer Kenji Siratori unleashes his first literary Sarin attack. An unprovoked assault on the senses.
Not a submission—this was spam advertising an actual published book.

I realize that writing is a sedentary profession, and that pallid people who spend all their time at keyboards in small rooms often need to pretend that they live a life of action, striking blows, leading movements, and otherwise engaged in varieties of mortal combat. And, indeed, good writing and interesting conversations have sometimes emerged from this sort of thing.

On the other hand, if “terrorism” is just your word for a particular prose style, I can’t imagine what words you would use to describe, oh, say, terrorism. Having actually experienced terrorism, albeit from a couple of miles uptown, I can say with some authority that it has remarkably little resemblance to the experience of reading a young Japanese author’s post-cyberpunk novel, “unprovoked assaults on the senses” notwithstanding.

Most to the point, though, if you’re on the second paragraph of your press release and you’ve already cranked the amp up to 11, it seems a good bet that very little of interest is really going to follow.

[12:03 PM : 10 comments]

This could be you. If you have any doubt that our prison systems are out of control, contemplate this: California bans prisoners from receiving any information from the Internet even via hardcopy mail. Yes, that’s right; you may not mail a printout of an email message to a California inmate, much less a printed-out web page. If it’s information from the Internet, it’s out of bounds.

Notes an EFF attorney, Lee Tien: “Even the California Department of Corrections refers people to their website, although it is apparently off limits to California prisoners.”

Here’s some of the information that the State of California forbids its prisoners to see.

One of the bright lines dividing any society is that between people who worry about prisons, because with enough bad luck any of us might wind up in one; and those who don’t, because they’re convinced it’ll never happen to them. We often hear that “a conservative is a liberal who’s been mugged.” On the other hand, a liberal is sometimes a conservative who’s been arrested. Advice: Do some caring in advance. Life has surprises in store.

[07:39 AM : 51 comments]

Memory hole. Why has this editorial in the Army Times—previously available here—vanished from their web site?

[12:36 AM : 7 comments]