"The struggle against Islamist terrorism is neither the rosy success story painted by [Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad] Allawi and President Bush nor the disastrous free-fall described by John Kerry," writes my old boss David Ignatius in his Washington Post column today. "Instead, it is one unresolved battle in the long-term struggle summarized by the title of [French Arabist Gilles] Kepel's new book, The War for Muslim Minds."
Ignatius writes that according to Kepel, "the West has been misreading the aftermath of bin Laden's Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. He cites a December 2001 pamphlet, 'Knights Under the Prophet's Banner,' written by al Qaeda's key strategist, the Egyptian doctor Ayman Zawahiri. The jihadists should attack the 'faraway enemy' in the United States, Zawahiri urged, because it would help mobilize the Muslim masses to overthrow their rulers in the 'nearby enemy.' Instead, "the followers of Osama bin Laden have created chaos and destruction in the house of Islam" by murdering many of their fellow Muslims, causing Islamist regimes to weaken or fall, and alienating millions of moderate Muslims.
Kepel is "sharply critical of U.S. policies" in Iraq, writes Ignatius. "But that doesn't mean the jihadists are winning. Quite the contrary, their movement has backfired. Rather than bringing Islamic regimes to power, the holy warriors are creating internal strife and discord."
Among the jihadis' problems: "The Taliban regime in Afghanistan has been toppled; the fence-sitting semi-Islamist regime in Saudi Arabia has taken sides more strongly with the West; Islamists in Sudan and Libya are in retreat; and the plight of the Palestinians has never been more dire. And Baghdad, the traditional seat of the Muslim caliphs, is under foreign occupation. Not what you would call a successful jihad."
If you are going to have these very intrusive DUI checkpoints, you do not stop them just because they net people breaking other laws you prefer not to enforce.
Speaking of NPR [Gene e-mails to say it was some other morning news]... Gene Healy nails them for the grotesque use of the term "gun safety laws" to describe Washington D.C.'s handgun ban. I'm finding myself suddenly a little more emotionally involved in this particular issue, incidentally, because this weekend, some thug broke into my house. He crawled in the window of a housemate's bedroom and (while, unfortunately, the rest of us slept) threatened his life and robbed him before realizing there were others home who might wake up and bolting. The police arrived only a couple of minutes after being called—fast, but not fast enough to have done more than administer CPR if things had gotten ugly. The officers informed us that it's common in cases like this for the guy to return for a follow-up attempt within a few weeks. I'm keeping a fireplace poker handy in the event our friend the urban explorer decides to see what he missed the first time, but on the off chance that he's a little less law abiding than my housemates and I, I don't know how much good it'll do. But now that I think about it, maybe NPR got it right after all: The burglar must sure be enjoying his "gun safety."
Interesting story on Morning Edition this morning in which a Canadian journalist recounts being kidnapped by Iraqi insurgents. He says he was let go at least in part because he was able to establish his identity by getting the terrorists to look him up on Google. Some fairly disspiriting stuff about local support for the jihadis in there as well.
He made Mike Oldfield a star--can he pull off the almost as improbable task of reaching the actual stars? Multi-mogul Richard Branson of the Virgin empire announces his plan to offer commercial flights to space by 2007. He'll be working from designs based on Burt Rutan's SpaceShipOne, which might win the X-Prize ($10 million for first manned private craft to go into space and back twice in two weeks) by this time next week.
questions from media, students and the public in an open forum the night of--and just feet from--the first televised "debate" between the two-party candidates.
The debate will take place on Thursday, September 30, at 5 p.m., at the Holiday Inn Ballroom, 1350 S. Dixie Highway, in Coral Gables. Pacifica Radio will interview audience members and debate participants following the two hour debate. From 9 p.m. until 10:30, the candidates and audience will watch a live broadcast of the restricted, two-party debate after which Badnarik and Cobb will offer their rebuttals.
Independent candidate Ralph Nader, who has been invited to participate in the open format debate, has not yet accepted the invitation.
Full press release, quoted above, here. According to that release, they are charging for tickets--which seems a bit penny wise, pound foolish to me--$5 for students, $10 for others.
Set your TiVos: Reason Maximum Leader Nick Gillespie will be going head to head tomorrow night with Dennis Miller—the man E! calls a "thesaurus-wielding funnyguy"—on Miller's CNBC talk show.
Show: Dennis Miller
Time: Wednesday, 9.29: 6PM Pacific, 9PM Eastern
Joe hips us to this Tom Oliphant story suggesting Michael Badnarik may tip Nevada to Kerry:
For folks on the right who don't like the Bush administration's big government conservatism, be it federal spending or the Patriot Act, Bednarik is a credible, if marginal player in a state where "Leave Me Alone" is a slogan with resonance. With the presidential race either dead even (Democratic view) or showing a tiny Bush lead (Republican view), Bednarik's [sic] 3 percent in recent surveys comes into play more than Nader's even smaller numbers.
If you're concerned about what this means for broader political economy, have no fear: Oliphant still can't be bothered to talk to Badnarik or anybody from his campaign.
Me, I wish I were a more enthusiastic Bush supporter--or actually, any kind of Bush supporter--so I could send Badnarik one of those "Sorry, kid, this just ain't your year" open letters The Nation sends to Ralph Nader every election.
Here's Teresa Heinz Kerry rebutting a heckler:
During a question and answer session, a young man demanded to know why Kerry voted to give Bush authority to attack Iraq but voted against an $87 billion appropriation bill to support the war effort there.
"Is that the kind of thing he would do as president?," the man asked.
Heinz Kerry sharply asked the man whether he had read the legislation that was voted on.
When he said no, she told him that Kerry had supported $60 billion in military appropriations for Iraq, but would not vote for the full $87 billion because he considered it a "blank check." Kerry was one of 11 Democrats to vote against the bill.
"And we knew they'd already given Haliburton millions in no-bid contracts," she snapped, referring to the company formerly led by Vice President Dick Cheney.
"If you want to say (Kerry) flip-flopped, just say so, don't try to hide," Heinz Kerry scolded.
Whole story here. Red meat for the freakazoid Democratic zealots who love (or claim to love) Teresa's elbows-out style. More importantly, it's an actual response, one that not only depicts Kerry as consistent but shows him doing what legislators are supposed to be doing, particularly during wartime: guarding the public weal against spendthrifts, sweetheart deals and profiteers.
I'm sure it's all bullshit, but why can't Kerry himself come up with something similar, instead of the mealymouthed circumlocution he tends to serve up? The CW these days is that Kerry is finally finding his groove with strong statements about Iraq, while THK continues to keep voters away in droves with her "imperious sexuality" (Hubba hubba!). Color me unconvinced.
The DEA's war on hemp, reported last week by Valerie Vande Panne right here, has sputtered to an end. The Agency has allowed the appeal deadline to pass in HIA vs. DEA. Go out there and get your hemp pretzels, waffles, and beer.
And for God's sake do it before they outlaw pretzels, waffles, and beer!
Brian Doherty smiles on the decades-awaited debut of Brian Wilson's lost masterpiece.
According to a tracking poll conducted in battleground states by the Arab-American Institute and Zogby International, George W. Bush has slightly improved his standing among Arab-Americans--hitherto thought to be safely in the Kerry camp. Worse, John Kerry's ratings have gone down in recent months.
Here are some highlights:
* The percentage of Arab-Americans who feel Bush deserves to be reelected has risen from 24.5 percent in July to 31.5 percent in September;
* When matched against John Kerry, Bush's Arab-American support has risen to 31.5 percent in September (from 24.5 in July) while Kerry's numbers have slipped back to just below his April 2004 level, to 20 percent;
* In a three way Bush-Kerry-Nader race, Kerry still holds the lead (by 47 percent to Bush's 31.9 percent to Nader's 9 percent), but that has narrowed since July, when Kerry had 51 percent to Bush's 24 percent to Nader's 13 percent).
The pollsters conclude, among other things: "Overall, the most significant factor accounting for the change in President Bush's numbers is the consolidation of his support among Arab Americans who identify themselves as Republicans."
But also: "It appears that the President's upswing and Senator Kerry's slight decline can be attributed to the same factors that moved the rest of the US electorate: Bush's post-convention bounce and Senator Kerry's stalled campaign."
David Beito has dug up some wonderful historical artifacts: anti-New Deal cartoons from The Chicago Defender, the leading black paper in the 1930s. Today he posted one of them on the Liberty & Power site.
Damon Root explained why a black American might not care for Franklin Roosevelt's reforms in the October Reason.
A columnist unhinged in D.C., a lone gunman in Karachi, and mortgage thieves all over the country: this week's rogues' gallery in Reason Express.
Irked by Bill O'Reilly's jabs at the "stoned slackers" who watch The Daily Show, Comedy Central cites data indicating that Jon Stewart's fans are better-educated (and, by implication, smarter) than O'Reilly's. When Stewart appeared on The O'Reilly Factor, the Anti-Spinner remarked: "You know what's really frightening? You actually have an influence on this presidential election. That is scary, but it's true. You've got stoned slackers watching your dopey show every night and they can vote."
Stewart, who reportedly was taken aback (I didn't see the interview), himself often makes similar jokes about his audience, but I guess it's different when an outsider says it. Or maybe it was the way O'Reilly said it.
Stewart subsequently recovered his sense of humor. "This election is going to rely on the undecided," he told an A.P. reporter. "And who is more undecided than stoned slackers? Ice cream or pretzels? Ice cream or pretzels? What's it going to be?"
[Thanks to Jeff Patterson for the link.]
Cathy Young on the Democrats' Vote With Your Vulva campaign.
Wired.com reports on some recent moves on the Food and Drug Administration's part to approve clinical trials involving illegal psychedlics and empathogens. Currently, they report, Dr. Charles Grob is using psilocybin to try to treat anxiety in terminal cancer patients; Dr. Francisco Moreno is using the same drug, the most active ingrediant in psychedelic mushrooms, to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder; and the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedlics Studies is sponsoring MDMA (ecstasy) tests on post-tramautic stress sufferers, all with FDA approval.
Julian Sanchez on the obscene regulatory tricks cities use to bar sex clubs.
David J. Hanson and Matt Walcoff take a sober look at federal pettifoggery about teen drinking.
Writing in The New York Times Magazine, John Tierney describes the ongoing public-policy debate over cars, roads, and sprawl. It's a well-written introduction to the discussion, whether or not you agree with everything it says. And it should be a bracing tonic for anyone who's only heard one side of the argument.
Why are we back to the "pre-election" terror canard? Does anyone, anywhere know for certain what effect another attack on U.S. soil would do to the presidential race? Do we know for certain that al Qaeda prefers Kerry to Bush, or vice versa? What would be the strategic goal of such an attack then?
It is not as if Kerry has pledged to bring U.S. troops back from Iraq should he win. Continuing down the path of isolating the U.S. from its allies suggests not an attack on the U.S., which may well recreate the international support and compassion 9/11 produced, but an attack on another U.S. ally.
Am I missing something or should electors be very afraid? Anyone, anyone? Bueller?
I have to say that I like this John Kerry a lot better than the one we saw until last Monday. A reader complains that I should not have bought the Bush campaign's line that Kerry was a flip-flopper on Iraq, pointing me to a San Francisco Chronicle news analysis that sets out to refute this charge but in the end reinforces it. The piece closes with a quote from radio host Don Imus, who asked Kerry to explain how he could vote to authorize the use of force in Iraq, stand by the vote, yet oppose the war:
Kerry responded with a 324-word answer, including a discussion of no-fly zones and Iraqi tribal separatism.
The response left Imus--a self-described Kerry supporter--perplexed.
"I was just back in my office banging my head on the jukebox," Imus told listeners when the interview was over. "This is my candidate, and...I don't know what he's talking about."
The essence of the flip-flopping charge is not that Kerry actually keeps changing his mind but that he wants to have it both ways, which leads to the sort of obfuscation that befuddled Imus and to seemingly contradictory remarks, depending upon the audience and the circumstances. In the last week or so, however, Kerry has been clear, forthright, and consistent.
I don't know how long it will last, but the strength of this approach can be seen in the lameness of the Bush campaign's response to it. A campaign spokesman told The New York Times "John Kerry will say anything he thinks benefits him politically, regardless of its effect on our troops in the field and our allies fighting alongside them." In other words, anyone who criticizes the war is undermining the morale of our boys and should keep his mouth shut for the good of the war effort.
Given its congenital inability to understand alternate or emerging cultures, it's not surprising that yesterday's New York Times Magazine on blogging and the election basically ignored the actual political economy of cyberspace (read: ignored Reason's own convention wrecking crew). It was enough to check out the George Lois-esque cover of the mag, featuring sometime (read: one-time) Reason contributor Ana Marie Cox on the cover (full disclosure: Cox edited Suck for a while, which I used to write for).
The piece also gave a nod to the Roger Corman of blogging, Nick Denton, the impresario who created Gawker, Fleshbot, Wonkette, and (what I assume is) the relatively underperforming Defamer. Denton himself is worth an interesting profile sometime.
The object of Broder's rage? All the arrayed forces of madness (read: profits, da Internet) that have driven real journalists (read: hacks such as Dan Rather and Howell Raines) to sucking even worse than the fake journalists they are desperately trying to imitate. Got that? if not, have another drink and read on, McDuff:
My suspicion is that it [the terrifying expulsion from the Broderian Eden of good, clean, decent people doing good, clean, decent journalism] stems from a widespread loss of confidence in both the values of journalism and the economic viability of the news business....
When the Internet opened the door to scores of "journalists" who had no allegiance at all to the skeptical and self-disciplined ethic of professional news gathering, the bars were already down in many old-line media organizations. That is how it happened that old pros such as Dan Rather and former New York Times editor Howell Raines got caught up in this fevered atmosphere and let their standards slip.
Here's a bonus Melvillean moan: "We've wandered a long way from safe ground in the news business. Sometimes I wonder if we can find our way back." "O Bartleby! O Humanity." Whole spiel here.
A few quick points: Despite the flurry of exposed journalistic fakes (a decade-long flurry, if one throws in the usual suspects, including Ruth Shalit, Stephen Glass, Mike Barnicle, blah blah blah, along with Jayson Blair, the USA Today guy, the recent Rather boo boo, etc.), there's little reason to believe that mainstream journalism is any more corrupt than it ever was. Indeed, the only thing that has probably changed is that it's easier to get caught, which should be a good thing in anybody's book.
I don't think bloggers or other "Internet" journalists are a replacement for mainstream media; rather, they function as a supplement and, often, a corrective. When Broder writes, "Journalists learn to be skeptical -- of sources and of their own biases as well. If they are any good, they are tough on themselves," he's not simply mouthing empty platitudes (Hey Dave, we called your mother and guess what, she doesn't love you). He's ignoring precisely how Web-based brats have forced "real" journalists to confront their biases. That's what happened with the Trent Lott affair. Mainstream journalists found it completely unremarkable that the Mississippi senator indulged in a Confederate counterfactual because that kind of shit goes on all the time. It wasn't beauty that killed that beast (or at least forced his resignation as Senate majority leader). It was bloggers.
Broder is also missing a major but little-understood point about media in an age of proliferation: Media doesn't simply functin as a news or info source anymore, but as an affiliative community in some ways analogous to a sports team, alumni association, or social club. This isn't new--people have always read mags like Reason, The Nation, and National Review (or consumed radio and TV channels like PBS and NPR) to participate in imagined communities of like-minded folks. What's different now is that you can do that much more easily and efficiently now on the Web--witness Moveon.org, Swift Boat Vets, or even more relevant, sites such as Free Republic or Lucianne.com. The point of much of that sort of activity isn't delivering or even discussing news per se; it's to create a sense of solidarity and affinity.
One final point (if it is one): Based on the number of outlets, the range of perspectives, the ease of access, you name it, this is the best damn time for journalism ever. Which isn't to say its perfect. But it is a pretty crappy time to be a well-placed columnist, or editor, or publisher desperate to dictate the news cycle, what people are reading, and what people "should" be thinking.
Today's Washington Post includes a detailed demonstration of how the system works.
Back on September 24, I blogged a short item from the Washington Times (via Drudge) about a 1997 Crossfire show in which John Kerry reportedly stumped for unilateral, preemptive war by saying:
"We know we can't count on the French. We know we can't count on the Russians," said Mr. Kerry. "We know that Iraq is a danger to the United States, and we reserve the right to take pre-emptive action whenever we feel it's in our national interest."
Now the Times says that its source for the quote, Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), who had appeared on the same show with Kerry, gave them bad 411:
In reference to a U.N. Security Council resolution demanding access to Iraqi weapons sites, Mr. Kerry actually said: "I think that's our great concern [-] where's the backbone of Russia, where's the backbone of France, where are they in expressing their condemnation of such clearly illegal activity [-] but in a sense, they're now climbing into a box and they will have enormous difficulty not following up on this if there is not compliance by Iraq."
Later, referring to French and Russian reservations on the use of force, Mr. Kerry said: "There's absolutely no statement that they have made or that they will make that will prevent the United States of America and this president or any president from acting in what they believe are the best interests of our country."
Whole thing here.
One question worth pursuing, re: the journalism angle of it all: Why didn't the Times actually check out the tape of show which it said exists? If you're supposed to check it out when your mother tells she you loves you, a similar level of scrutiny should apply to political sources telling you exactly what you want to hear.
[Props to reader John Evans and others for pointing to the correction.]
Bowing to a barrage of complaints from Jewish groups, retail giant Wal-Mart Inc. on Thursday stopped selling "The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion," an infamous anti-Semitic tract long exposed as fake.
Jewish leaders had complained that the book, which purports to tell of an international Jewish conspiracy to take over the world, was being sold on Walmart.com with a description that suggested it might be genuine instead of a forgery concocted by the Czarist secret police in the early 20th Century.
The description, now withdrawn from the Wal-Mart Web site, said, "If ... The Protocols are genuine (which can never be proven conclusively), it might cause some of us to keep a wary eye on world affairs. We neither support nor deny its message. We simply make it available for those who wish a copy."...
Wal-Mart had no immediate response to questions on whether the company wrote the description of the book on the Web site or if it came from the publisher.
My question: How did Spiegelman make it to the year 2004 without learning to use a search engine? It took me less than a minute to plug a phrase from that description into Google and discover that the exact same language is on the book's Amazon site. Obviously it didn't originate with Wal-Mart.
Spiegelman does note that "Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com sell 'The Protocols' online but with strong disclaimers." So apparently he found the Amazon page, but didn't bother to scroll past the warning. If he'd done that Google search, of course, he would have learned that Amazon faced protests because of the exact same language four years ago, and that that's why the disclaimer is there.
When Michel Foucault's American admirers discuss his work, his enthusiasm for Iran's Islamist revolution doesn't get much attention. This is partly because most of his articles on the topic are not available in English, and partly because his fans just don't know what to make of such an unsympathetic position. It's usually written off as an aberration or a mistake.
Writing in the socialist journal New Politics, Janet Afary and Kevin B. Anderson -- authors of the forthcoming Foucault, Gender, and the Iranian Revolution: The Seductions of Islamism -- take a closer look at what Foucault said and how it fits his body of work. Rejecting the idea that his stance was an anomaly, they argue that "Foucault's Iran writings reveal, albeit in exaggerated form, some problems in his...one-sided critique of modernity." They also note that Foucault is not the only leftist to misjudge radical Islam -- an important point at a time when principled opposition to the war in Iraq sometimes morphs into sympathy for fundamentalist thugs.
[Via Doug Ireland.]
In the midst of the 60 Minutes hype, which tends to treat one corner of the blogosphere as though it were the whole thing, Virginia Postrel makes an important point about weblogs and the media:
Many of the best policy blogs have almost no media criticism, nor do they go looking for political scalps. They don't even constantly write about the superiority of blogs. That's why you almost never read about them. Reporters and media critics are bored, bored, bored by the very sort of discourse they claim to support (a lesson I learned the hard way in 10 long years as the editor of Reason). They, and presumably their readers, want conflict, scandal, name-calling, and some sex and religion to heighten the combustible mix. Plus journalists, like other people, love to read about themselves and people they know.
Hence, newspapers don't write stories about how blogs like Volokh Conspiracy elevate the debate over legal issues or how blogs like Marginal Revolution improve the public's understanding of economic scholarship. You won't read any articles about comparing the military policy discussions on Intel Dump and Belmont Club. Education blogs, science blogs, and foreign-policy blogs all engage in excellent issue discussions, but you'll never, ever hear them held up as examples of the blogosphere at work. Even Glenn forgets they exist.
Elevating the debate is not a story. News reporters do not write about the growth of good, analytical or explanatory journalism. Media critics do not praise such work. It does not get attention, and rarely wins the praise it deserves. That doesn't mean it's unimportant, however. Serious discussion does change people's minds and improve their understanding over time, and blogging has proven a marvelous source of "elevated" discourse. Fortunately, there are some great bloggers out there (many of them scholars using blogs to popularize otherwise academic debates) who don't seem to care whether they ever get invited to go on TV or whether Howard Kurtz ever writes about them.
One final comment about the 60 Minutes affair. This is hardly the first time a story in the mainstream media has been ruthlessly criticized online. More than half a decade ago, as CNN's Tailwind story unravelled, the best critiques I read of it were forwarded to me by a professor friend who taught the history of the Vietnam War and, as a result, was on an e-mail list with some very knowledgeable veterans and military historians. My friend is well to the left of center, and perhaps was predisposed to believe CNN's allegations. But he dismissed the story based on the criticism he was reading online; and, sure enough, the network eventually admitted that it was wrong.
The difference now is that those discussions aren't tucked away on e-mail lists anymore. They're more public, more widely trafficked, and much faster. And if they're partly being driven by true believers who have traded in one set of gatekeepers for another, they're also being advanced by the exceptional, independent-minded bloggers that Virginia describes. The fact that those sites don't easily fit into the Crossfire model of political debate may make it harder for the traditional media to recognize them -- but that, even more than the stonewalling at CBS, is a sign that the old way of doing journalism is being overwhelmed.
Via Andrew Sullivan, I see that a number of papers are either opting not to run Aaron McGruder's "Boondocks" strip this week or are running bowdlerized versions. The strip features a parody of The Apprentice in which candidates compete for a job with Russell Simmons called Can a N***a Get a Job? If your paper's one of them, you can always read it online. Since McGruder is himself satirizing not only reality shows but black-targeted entertainment he considers demeaning, the papers' squeamishness seems a little tone-deaf... like refusing to publish A Modest Proposal out of fear of offending the Irish.
Valerie Vande Panne explains how the DEA gave hemp producers their greatest ad campaign.
Jacob Sullum votes for a better explanation of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The Miami New Times has an interesting story this week about the uncanny world of Florida vote-counters and the activists who keep them under observation.
President Bush and Ayad Allawi say Iraqi elections will be held next January, and the State Department's Richard Armitage adds that they will be held all over Iraq: "We've got to do our best efforts to get in troubled areas. ... I think we're going to have these elections in all parts of the country."
So what does Don Rumsfeld do? He says: "Let's say you tried to have an election and you could have it in three quarters or four fifths of the country but some places you couldn't because the violence was too great. Well, so be it, nothing is perfect in life, so you have an election that's not quite perfect. Is it better than not having an election? You bet."
Who knows, Rumsfeld may be right (though the whole point of the elections is to unite Iraq, not divide it), but you've got to wonder how long this administration can continue to speak in so many tongues on Iraq, and still convince even the war's supporters (present company included) that this is how victory can best be achieved.
Over at Slate, Paul Berman gives two thumbs way down for the new Che Guevara film, The Motorcycle Diaries:
I wonder if people who stand up to cheer a hagiography of Che Guevara, as the Sundance [Film Festival] audience did, will ever give a damn about the oppressed people of Cuba--will ever lift a finger on behalf of the Cuban liberals and dissidents. It's easy in the world of film to make a movie about Che, but who among that cheering audience is going to make a movie about Raul Rivero?
Che, Berman notes, "was a totalitarian. He achieved nothing but disaster....Che was a mainstay of the hardline pro-Soviet faction....Che presided over the Cuban Revolution's first firing squads. He founded Cuba's "labor camp" system--the system that was eventually employed to incarcerate gays, dissidents, and AIDS victims."
Whole thing here.
But he sure cut a good-looking figure--good enough, noted Cynthia Grenier in her Reason commentary on Che's African diaries, that Mike Tyson even got a tattoo of the guy on his ribcage. Read all about it here.
More Reason on Cuba:
On CNN's Crossfire in 1997 (via Drudge):
"We know we can't count on the French. We know we can't count on the Russians," said Mr. Kerry. "We know that Iraq is a danger to the United States, and we reserve the right to take pre-emptive action whenever we feel it's in our national interest."
Making fun of Yusuf Islam, a.k.a. Cat Stevens, is safe as milk these days. The '70s superstar shares at least one trait with another formerly popular pop outfit from roughly the same period, the Bee Gees: both have been retroactively cast out by the very American listening audience that once loved them so.
Two recent pieces about Islam (the man, not the religion) give some interesting context about U.S. homeland security and Islam (the religion, not the man).
The Cleveland Plain-Dealer notes that while Islam was barred entry into the U.S. for "national security grounds,"
he was here as recently as May for a charity event and to promote a DVD. The White House confirmed he even met with its Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives "to talk about philanthropic work."
Which makes you wonder about the efficacy of no-fly and watch lists (if you weren't wondering already). Whole thing here.
And in The Weekly Standard, Stephen Schwartz, author of an excellent history of California a few years back, asks "Is Cat Stevens a Terrorist?" He answers no, basically, though he believes the guy shouldn't be let in the country. That conclusion is debatable, but Scwhartz's discussion of Wahhabism, "the state religion of Saudi Arabia," is really interesting:
Wahhabism, the state religion in Saudi Arabia, and the inspirer of al Qaeda, is especially known for its hatred of music. In Wahhabi theology, all music except for drum accompaniment to religious chanting is haram, or forbidden. For anybody who has had contact with Muslim civilization, this is a fairly shocking bit of information, since music is one of the great glories of Islamic culture.
Whole thing here.
The other day my daughter Francine, who's in the fifth grade at the local public school, brought home a worksheet that seems to be part of a "media awareness" unit (overseen, naturally, by the gym teacher as part of "health" class). The worksheet instructed her to analyze a magazine ad for "a toy or an athletic shoe," looking for what the worksheet called "hidden persuaders." I've got no problem with teaching kids to be skeptical of advertising (though a subscription to Mad magazine might be more cost-effective than spendng classroom time on it). But I object to the mystification and exaggeration represented by terms like hidden persuaders, which suggest that advertising is both more sinister and more powerful than it really is. According to the worksheet (though not according to Vance Packard), "hidden persuaders" include humor, the use of celebrities, the implication that a product is fun, and the suggestion that it is popular. I pointed out to Francine that there really is nothing "hidden" about these techniques. It's obvious that manufacturers use celebrity endorsements, for instance, to enhance the appeal of their products. "Like when Britney Spears did that ad for Coke," Francine said. Actually, it was Pepsi, which sort of proves my point about the limits of advertising.
The Indianapolis Star reports that state Rep. Trent Van Haaften plans to "introduce legislation--modeled after an Oklahoma law--that would place dozens of cold medicines behind [the] pharmacy counter. Anyone wanting cold and allergy medicines that contain pseudoephedrine would have to show identification and sign for it." Why? Because pseudoephedrine is part of the recipe for methamphetamine.
Pharmacists and other retailers object that such a system would be a pain in the ass for them and their customers. Drug companies are not too happy either, worried that the hassle will deter potential buyers.
But Van Haaften doesn't care. "There has to be a time when we start demonstrating the seriousness of this problem," he says.
Note that it's all about "demonstrating the seriousness of the problem"--i.e., sending a message--as opposed to actually stopping people from making meth. Critics note that speed cookers can always get their pseudoephedrine outside of Indiana.
[Thanks to Nicolas Martin for the link.]
In The Nation, leftoid journo Robert Scheer rains down hellfire on "moderate Republicans and "consistent conservatives" for supporting George W. Bush:
How else to explain their cynical support for this shallow adventurer, a phony lightweight who has bled the Treasury dry while incompetently squandering the lives of young Americans in a needless imperial campaign? If Al Gore had been knighted President by the Supreme Court and overseen this mess instead of Dubya, the rational remnant of the Republican Party would be rightly calling for his head.
Scheer's invective is somewhat puzzling--is Bush a phony lightweight or a real lightweight? But he may well be on to something. Certainly, it seems pretty likely that had President Gore marched into Baghdad, the GOP would have been less enthusiastic about the adventure. Whole thing here.
Of course, Scheer neglects to point out something else too: Why the hell do Democrats all the sudden hate budget deficits and humanitarian justifications for war? Could it have something to do with the fact that Bush is from the other side?
And speaking of "consistency," why won't The Nation ever say it's the right year for Ralph Nader--who clearly fits their ideology 1,000 times better than the Bay State's answer to the Frankenstein monster--to run for president?
You can almost see the fragrant steam rising off this preposterous letter in defense of the PATRIOT Act. The authors manage to establish what nobody has contested: that not every provision of the act provides cause for concern, and that some provisions are even beneficial. But it also scrupulously avoids discussing the provisions that civil libertarians have raised concerns about, except to aver, without backing up the claim, that objections consist of "inaccurate rhetoric."
Most hilarious line:
In passing the Act, Congress extensively debated the commonsense updates in the law and provided safeguards for civil liberties.
Yes, in the six weeks between September 11 and the passage of the final version of the 342 page bill amending 15 complex statutes, debate was extensive. I hear a few of the legislators voting on the bill had even read the whole thing. Or had their staffers read it. Or read the title, anyway. I mean, it's called the PATRIOT act; what more do you need to know?
Runner up honors go to the spectacular bit of post hoc ergo propter hoc reasoning evidenced here:
After the Act was passed, terrorist cells were dismantled in Oregon, New York, North Carolina and Virginia. Terrorists were prosecuted in California, Ohio, Texas and Florida. In other words, the Patriot Act's tools are protecting us.
And after sleeping with me, my girlfriend got over a cold. In other words, I have magical powers of sexual healing. I'd better send an open letter to Congress.
Juan Cole has post up projecting what it might look like if the U.S. were Iraq. Not entirely fair, since the relevant baseline is pre-occupation Iraq, but it does provide a fairly concrete image in light of which to view sunshine and fuzzy bunny talk from the Bush campaign.
David Weigel finds out what double secret probation really means.
Michael Young says it's time for Old Europe to jump in with the team for the big win.
The imminent release of Yaser Esam Hamdi, one of two U.S. citizens (that we know of) held as "enemy combatants," suggests how slight the justification for such detentions can be. "As we have repeatedly stated," the Justice Department says, "the United States has no interest in detaining enemy combatants beyond the point that they pose a threat to the U.S. and our allies." So the Bush administration expects us to believe that Hamdi was an unacceptable threat to U.S. security--presumably because he would head straight back to Afghanistan to fight alongside the Taliban--for nearly three years, up until the moment when the Supreme Court said the government had to back up that claim with evidence. Now there's no problem with letting him go free, as long as he goes back to Saudi Arabia. As ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero says, the decision "makes you wonder: Why was he really being held in the first place?"
A few echoes of the Arab world's own debate about its future:
Syrian academic Mundir Badr Haloum, who like many Arabs is revolted by the continuing wave of religious murder and terror, has published a powerful call for religious reform, linking it with the necessity of political reform. The translation of his piece, which originally appeared in a Lebanese newspaper, is posted on MEMRI's site.
"Islam is in need of true reform," writes Haloum. "Islam's need [for reform] -- or, to be precise, our need for Islam's reform -- is not less than the need for reform in the Arab political regimes... This is the need for people who are capable of fearlessly acknowledging that terrorism nests within us as Muslims and that we must exorcise it... Unfortunately, the meaning of delay is more death... The reform will take a long time and the price will be high, but it is the only path to our return to history as Muslims and not as terrorists...."
Finally, IraqPundit briefly notes some of the wary reaction in the Arab press to Ayad Allawi's "warm" handshake with Israel's UN ambassador.
Tomorrow night there are no fewer than two ways to punch out the obscure objects of your aggression:
An Evening with Reason Magazine
featuring Editor-in-Chief Nick Gillespie and Web Editor Tim Cavanaugh
Friday, September 24, 2004
7:300 - 9:00 PM
Emeryville Barnes & Noble
5604 Bay Street, Emeryville, CA 94608
Bay Area cred: "Reason is a constant reminder of the value of independent thought in fast-changing times. Choice brings the best of it together to mess with your ahead again, or for the first time. Either way, you'll think different."--Chris Anderson, editor in chief, Wired
For more about Choice: The Best of Reason, go here.
Meet the Author of This Is Burning Man
Reason Senior Editor Brian Doherty will read from his Los Angeles Times bestseller This Is Burning Man
2454 Telegraph Avenue
Bay Area cred: "Arguably the best prose ever written about the 18-year-old festival."--SF Weekly
For more on This is Burning Man, go here.
That's an old saying about the difficulty of even well-positioned businesses to dictate terms to customers.
And now on with the news:
Sony will now support mp3.
Like Sony had a choice....
P2p and file sharing are here to stay, locked in solid, and mp3s are the preferred modes of listening. That's it, plain and simple, highly expensive attempts by Sony and others to force people into adopting proprietary technologies notwithstanding.
Whole thing here.
British (Scottish?) historian Niall Ferguson, late of Oxford University and now a starting pitcher at Harvard, has penned a fascinating post mortem of the "special relationship" between Britain and the United States in London's The Spectator.
With the Iraq war as the backdrop, Ferguson wonders:
But now consider the special relationship from a British standpoint. What exactly have we gained or do we stand to gain -- besides applause in Washington and opprobrium everywhere else -- from our uncritical support of the Bush administration's Middle Eastern policy? After all, as Donald Rumsfeld so tactlessly noted, they could easily have got rid of Saddam without us.
The long and the short of it is "not much", Ferguson answers, with the only thing sustaining the bond today the shared religious values of Tony Blair and George W. Bush.
As he has made clear repeatedly, and most obviously in his speech to the Labour party conference in October 2001, Mr Blair relishes the American penchant to inject morality into foreign policy. Indeed, to him, war has become an instrument not of policy but of morality--a weapon to be used against wicked dictators in the name of 'freedom' and 'humanity'. When he talks in these terms, he can sometimes sound like an Anglicised Woodrow Wilson. But on closer inspection, Blair's foreign policy has its roots in Gladstone's idiosyncratic blend of High Church exaltation and evangelical fervour. It is, of course, precisely this that has enabled the Prime Minister to connect so successfully with two such different American presidents. For practically the only thing Bill Clinton and George Bush have in common is their Christianity.
Donald Rumsfeld once said that Americans don't 'do' empire, rather as Alastair Campbell once said that Downing Street didn't 'do' God. Yet Mr Bush's tacit imperialism--so much more resolute than that of his predecessor--has found its staunchest support in Mr Blair's private faith. On they march, these two Christian soldiers, each with a Bible in one hand and a bazooka in the other.
While one might want to differentiate Bush's and Clinton's brands of Christianity a trifle more forcefully, the moral of Ferguson's tale is that the relationship is only really sustained by the two leaders, but also by political, academic and business elites in both countries that hardly reflect the mass of their populations.
All this suggests that Tony Blair's devout Atlanticism may actually represent the special relationship's last gasp. For a strategic partnership needs more to sustain it than an affinity between the principals and the self-interest of a few professional elites. It requires a congruence of national interests. It also needs some convergence of popular attitudes. By both those criteria, the Anglo-American alliance is surely living on borrowed time.
True, but Ferguson downplays a factor, and it's not the perverse American fascination with Winston Churchill. Even as he notes that popular attitudes in Britain are moving far more toward Europe than America, there are some elite interests that perhaps can make for a more durable relationship than the last quote suggests: Britain can continue to cash in politically on its role as exalted middleman between the U.S. and Europe--a sort of good cop to America's bad. The great revolution in Europe is that it threatens to turn hitherto exclusive European powers increasingly into "just one of the boys." Britain can, occasionally and for a limited time, delay that thanks to the myth of the "special relationship", can it not?
Nuther terror attack on Manhattan? Not so much. Just corporatizing all the newsstands in the city.
McSweeney's sits down for breakfast with David Brooks.
It is with a heavy breast that I must announce that the King of the Nudies has gone to his reward. This appreciation by sometime collaborator Roger Ebert is probably the fullest recognition of Meyer's genius you're likely to read. Although I don't really want to recommend any single picture (I like all of them: Even the relatively stiff, dour, and actory Finders Keepers, Lovers Weepers has the familiar cutaways to car crashes), Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is the most celebrated and probably best place to start. Still, the other great Ebert script, Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens, is even better in my opinion, featuring an industrial-films style narrator, a weird dialogue combination of English major poetry and pseudo-Marxist rhetoric, the great Kitten Natividad as Lola Langusta ("hotter than a Mexican's lunch!"), and the inevitable appearance by Martin Bormann.
But you pretty much can't go wrong with a Meyer picture. Through more than 20 movies, he managed to be exploitative, hilarious, and over the top, without ever being campy. Beyond the excellent production values and the 100-percent-natural tits, I think it's no exaggeration to say movies like this could never be made again. Meyer's been in retirement for a long time, but it's still sad to see this great period of movie history come to an end.
First the South Beach Diet (a "good-carb" knockoff of Atkins' artery-clogging original) nearly kills former President Clinton. Now the maker of Twinkies and Wonder Bread is going bankrupt. Sure, the Official Story is all about oversized loans and an investigation into the reserve fund, but I know who's killing Interstate Bakeries Corp: a nation of wheat-phobic pansies afraid to chow down on the snacks that won World War II. J'accuse! And you too, Morgan Spurlock and John Banzhaf: When the Red Chinese raise their flag over D.C., I hope you'll take a bow.
Cathy Young takes the G and D out of G-d.
The Christian Science Monitor has a punditry roundup of reactions to President Bush's United Nations speech. No surprises: Most national and international media unimpressed, Washington Times and National Review impressed.
The Guardian, with comments on full autopilot, objects that the address "appeared essentially tailored for a domestic audience rather than foreign consumption." This may be true of the portions dealing—in the vaguest possible terms—with Iraq and Afghanistan, the recommendation to get tough on the Palestinians (who have thus far been living the life of Riley, apparently), or the joke about how human rights "are advancing across the world."
But the full text of the speech contains plenty of skylarking about a global fund for fighting TB and malaria, third world aid grants, the "Millennium Challenge Account," stronger laws against human trafficking, and a pan-African peacekeeping force. For all I know, these may all be fine ideas, but if The Guardian thinks this is stuff a domestic U.S. audience knows about, cares about, or in any other way pays attention to, then Americans aren't the only ones who don't know what's going on beyond their own borders.
My own feelings about the speech are... well, I don't know how to write "ZZZZZZ!" in a non-proportional font. Maybe it was better to hear than to read.
Charles Paul Freund on CBS and the isolation of network news.
On Monday California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill that allows the sale of needles and syringes without a prescription. The change, urged by the California Medical Association and Kaiser Permanente as well as the Drug Policy Alliance, is aimed at discouraging needle sharing, which spreads diseases such as AIDS and hepatitis. This is one "harm reduction" measure that libertarians can comfortably endorse: It unambiguously expands freedom, and it does not involve taxpayer money, as do government-funded "needle exchange" programs.
Philosophical objections aside, the latter have always struck me as the wrong approach strategically, seemingly confirming the canard that what critics of the war on drugs really want is subsidized addiction (a charge that drug czar John Walters hauled out in his recent National Review exchange with the DPA's Ethan Nadelmann). In this case, by contrast, the government is removing a legal barrier to sanitary injection practices by allowing over-the-counter sales of needles and decriminalizing their possession without a prescription.
Rockport, Massachusetts, a dry town for the last century and a half (except for a brief period right after the repeal of Prohibition), may go partly wet. At a town meeting on Monday, an overwhelming majority of the 1,000 or so attendees endorsed a petition asking the state legislature to approve a ballot measure that, if passed by local voters in April, would allow alcohol to be served in restaurants. Bars and liquor stores still would be banned.
A.P. reports that critics of the plan "say the sale of alcohol will erode the quaint New England character that gives Rockport its appeal." This is an odd complaint, since old-time New Englanders were big drinkers.
The Puritans--who, like most Englishmen, were leery of water as a beverage--brought beer with them on the Mayflower and started brewing their own within a few years; they also drank hard cider, wine, brandy, and rum. In colonial New England, settlers of all ages and both sexes drank alcoholic beverages throughout the day, and taverns ("ordinaries") were commonplace. The popularity of drinking during this period is reflected in the estimate (cited in Mark Edward Lender and James Kirby Martin's Drinking in America) that Americans in the late 18th century consumed something like six gallons of absolute alcohol per capita, compared to around two gallons nowadays.
There's little danger that allowing pre-dinner cocktails or wine and beer with meals will make Rockport that quaint.
[Thanks to Jeff Schaler for the tip]