Press release in my inbox just now:
Atheist Alliance International (AAI) has launched the 'God Does Not Exist' campaign to draw attention to the case of Alexander Aan, the Indonesian atheist attacked and arrested in January 2012 after posting 'God does not exist' and articles and cartoons about Islam on Facebook. Aan was convicted by an Indonesian court on 14 June 2012, sentenced to two years and six months jail and fined Rp100 million (c.US$10,600).
AAI urges people to exercise their freedom of expression by tweeting messages of support for Aan with the hashtag #goddoesnotexist and posting 'God Does Not Exist' on their Facebook page.
I mention this, because in similar cases in which people have been persecuted or prosecuted for making drawings of Mohammed, lots of folks on the "clash of the civilizations right" have been eager to show solidarity—and, not incidentally, insult Islam—by also drawing Mohammed. I understand the urge to blasphemy, but decided awhile back that it was mostly wrongheaded. The glee suggested to me that the intent of many Mohammed depicters was to blaspheme somebody else's faith more than to defend free speech. Their right, of course, but one that struck me ... distasteful.
I somehow doubt most folks who draw Mohammed will be moved to show solidarity with Aan this time by posting a statement—'God Does Not Exist'—that is general enough to implicate religions beyond Islam, to offend religious believers of a wider variety.
Alexander Aan shouldn't be in jail, period, for his expressions of unfaith. Are we willing to be just as vigorous—and offensive—in defending him as we are in other situations? I'm skeptical, but willing to be proved wrong.
|A perfect image.|
When 'Mad Men' premiered a few years back, one of the things that its fans celebrated was the show's old-fashioned sense of adulthood: Don Draper smoked, drank, dressed well, and only occasionally seemed to notice that his children existed. "Remember when men were men!" we barked, and if nobody actually said those words, well, that's what a lot of people seemed to mean.
We've all expected the show to depict the rise of youth culture as the '60s wore on, and that theme was indeed explicit in the just-finished Season Five. We witness Don being out of his element at a Rolling Stones concert, befuddled by a Beatles record, chafing at his wife's out-of-office ambitions. It's in his marriage to Meagan, though, that we see something that doesn't get talked about a lot: Yes, the older generation hated the Peter Pan frivolousness of the Baby Boomers. But that older generation really helped create and nurture that frivolousness, as well.
Don's job, after all, is to create fantasies. And fantasies are often, in the end, the realm of childhood—a way of dreaming about "someday" and "what could be" instead of what actually is. (In some ways, too, Draper is a fantasy, dreamed up by a guy named Dick Whitman.) And the younger generation finds itself increasingly unable to tear itself away from those fantasies.
Take Meagan. When we saw her at the end of Season Four she was young, yes, but clearly a woman, even maternal with Don's kids. That's why he asked her to marry him. But as Season Five progressed, Meagan seemed to regress—from an adult who worked and dressed like an adult, back into a teen whose fashion choices were barely discernible from that of Don's adolescent daughter, till finally she ended up dressed like a princess, playing make-believe in her final scene of the season. This, after she pouted at her mother for not getting everything she wants.
And Meagan was playing princess, incidentally, in a commercial—a fantasy—constructed by Don Draper.
It was, in some ways, the saddest and most melancholy scene of the season—ranking right up there with Lane Pryce's suicide. (Er, spoiler.) Contrast that with one of the most joyful and fun scenes of the season: Don and Joan's trip to a local bar. (Giving us the near-perfect pop-cultural image above.)
Yes, there's an element of fantasy there, too. But what makes the scene satisfying is not that two incredibly sexy people flirt. It's that they don't do anything about it. They have responsibilities, to their business, to their loved ones, and they behave—ultimately—like self-possessed adults.
Maybe that's the fantasy these days, that we can all act like grownups. God knows, I'm about Don Draper's age, yet I feel adolescent next to him. But if Don's generation is grumpy with the immaturity of the kids who came after, they shouldn't feel too self-righteous. They created the fantasies, and made the promises they couldn't keep.
Cross-posted from Cup O' Joel.
Today is the 27th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Grenada, which is apparently a holy day for those who worship at the Shrine of Reagan. I'm not sure if the Grenada triumphalism has always been part of the conservative victory parade, or if that's a relatively recent development, but it's embarrassing either way. The story of Grenada is this: Our big military defeated Grenada's tiny military to control an island of no strategic importance on a flimsy pretext. It wasn't difficult, it wasn't necessary, and it didn't deserve the Clint Eastwood treatment. It was a way for Ronald Reagan to look tough without the dangers of quagmire. Pride in that "victory" is a bully's pride, hollow and a little bit shameful.
Three thoughts about "The Quick and the Dead":
* Sam Raimi's 1995 film is clearly a riff on the old Clint Eastwood "Man With No Name" spaghetti westerns with Sergio Leone -- encompassing everything from the credited name of Sharon Stone's character ("Lady") to the Ennio Morricone-light soundtrack. And I'm really fine with that: Hollywood westerns are basically American mythmaking, anyway, so revisiting and tweaking those myths to put (say) a woman at the center of the action is fine by me. No, it's not history. But it can be fun -- as this flick mostly is. Still, Clint Eastwood never cried in his westerns; I wish Sharon Stone hadn't cried in hers.
* Then again, Sharon Stone -- though she was a producer on the film -- may not have been quite up to the acting level of her compatriots in this film: Gene Hackman, Russell Crowe, Leonardo Dicaprio, Gary Sinise, Keith David and a bunch of other character actors whose faces you'll certainly recognize. It's a powerhouse cast, and that unfortunately makes Stone's line readings a bit more noticeably thin.
* Then again, while it's a really entertaining film -- and I'm kind of shocked nobody turned it into a "Street Fighter" video game -- there are some real howlers in the script-writing department. TQATD's final line is this: "The law has come back to town." Delivered, I believe, without any awareness of irony. But it is, unfortunately, hilarious. But Raimi directed, and he knows a thing or two about hilarity in extreme situations, so maybe I should give the benefit of the doubt. It is, however, Sharon Stone, so maybe I shouldn't.
* BONUS THOUGHT: Her persona has long since overwhelmed our notions of Sharon Stone, but I sometimes forget: She really was an extraordinarily beautiful woman back in the day.
Three thoughts about Clint Eastwood's "Space Cowboys":
* I'm shocked that Eastood and Tommy Lee Jones could appear in the same movie without Hollywood imploding under the weight of all that laconic.
* The movie was pitched to the public as an action-comedy, but it's a Clint Eastwood action-comedy. This means, among other things, that the movie is somewhat gently paced: It doesn't hit you with the gag-every-five-seconds pace of today's films. It also means, of course, that somebody sympathetic dies at the end. But it's a fun film, so it's a good death. Oh, Clint Eastwood.
* I think I prefer out-and-out science fiction and fantasy to movies set in the real space program. My mind keeps picking out discrepancies between Hollywood-NASA and real-NASA. Too distracting for an old space nerd like me.
Still, an enjoyable flick. Three out of four stars.
As always, Karl Rove's career in punditry requires amnesia to take seriously. He writes about Democrats' poor prospects during the forthcoming midterm election:
Given this dismal picture, Democrats believe they have only one option: a thermonuclear assault on their GOP opponents, which means raising questions about their character, distorting their views, and making outlandish claims.
Such a strategy, he writes, "will further besmirch the reputations of the Democratic Party and its leader, Mr. Obama."
I'm no fan of negative campaigning. But Rove has zero credibility on such matters. You'll remember what he did, prior to his entry in national politics, to an Alabama judge seeking re-election:
Some of (Mark)Kennedy's campaign commercials touted his volunteer work, including one that showed him holding hands with children. "We were trying to counter the positives from that ad," a former Rove staffer told me, explaining that some within the (Rove)camp initiated a whisper campaign that Kennedy was a pedophile. "It was our standard practice to use the University of Alabama Law School to disseminate whisper-campaign information," the staffer went on. "That was a major device we used for the transmission of this stuff. The students at the law school are from all over the state, and that's one of the ways that Karl got the information out—he knew the law students would take it back to their home towns and it would get out." This would create the impression that the lie was in fact common knowledge across the state. "What Rove does," says Joe Perkins, "is try to make something so bad for a family that the candidate will not subject the family to the hardship. Mark is not your typical Alabama macho, beer-drinkin', tobacco-chewin', pickup-drivin' kind of guy. He is a small, well-groomed, well-educated family man, and what they tried to do was make him look like a homosexual pedophile. That was really, really hard to take."
And yet Karl Rove has a cushy gig writing for the Wall Street Journal editorial page. To be fair, though, that's not proof his reputation wasn't besmirched.
|Jonah Goldberg's debating partner.|
Toward the end of an otherwise-modest column on the government's plan to assassinate an American citizen affiliated with Al Qaeda, Jonah Goldberg stacks the deck:
Some civil libertarians seem to think we can never, ever kill an American citizen without a trial by jury (and perhaps not even then). That would have been silly during the days of conventional warfare. Now it's plain crazy.
Perhaps "some" civil libertarians believe that, but it's not the position of the ACLU, which has brought the lawsuit challenging the government's plan. In its complaint (PDF) asking for an injunction, the organization acknowledges there are times when due process will be skipped:
Outside of armed conflict, both the Constitution and international law
prohibit targeted killing except as a last resort to protect against concrete, specific, and
imminent threats of death or serious physical injury. The summary use of force is lawful
in these narrow circumstances only because the imminence of the threat makes judicial
In other words, you can kill your enemy on the battlefield, when he's also trying to kill you. Not even the ACLU is against that.
That's not what the government is doing. It is reserving to itself the right to kill an American citizen who -- for all we know -- might be sitting peacefully in a kitchen somewhere in Yemen, presumably able to be captured if he's spotted. And that's where, at the very least, the government wanders into gray area. The ACLU, noting that the "right to life" is fundamental for U.S. citizens under the Constitution, wants that area to be a little less gray.
The government’s refusal to disclose the standard by which it determines
to target U.S. citizens for death independently violates the Constitution: U.S. citizens
have a right to know what conduct may subject them to execution at the hands of their
own government. Due process requires, at a minimum, that citizens be put on notice of
what may cause them to be put to death by the state.
The weird thing is, that's not so different from Goldberg's own conclusion. "So, let's have Congress and the president come up with some clear, public rules," he writes. "Better to start the debate over an easy case than a hard one." Sure. So why knock people who share your position? Can there never be a cease-fire in the war against liberals?
I'm pretty much on record that I find gun ownership the most ambiguous of all the civil rights. It's not that I dispute the meaning of the Second Amendment -- that debate, I think, is for all intents and purposes over -- but, let's be frank: Guns are instruments of violence. Period. I'm not at all certain that the Second Amendment is always and everywhere a good thing.
But I like civil rights a whole bunch, and it seems to me that if I call on folks to defend them when they don't like it, I should do the same thing. That's why I find this story in the Philadelphia Daily News so disturbing:
In the last two years, Philadelphia police have confiscated guns from at least nine men - including four security guards - who were carrying them legally, and only one of the guns has been returned, according to interviews with the men.
Eight of the men said that they were detained by police - two for 18 hours each. Two were hospitalized for diabetic issues while in custody, one of whom was handcuffed to a bed. Charges were filed against three of the men, only to be withdrawn by the District Attorney's Office.
Read further into the story, and you'll hear tales of men arrested after they offered their legal permits to carry the weapons to officers -- who either didn't know the law well enough to accept the documentation, or, because of other issues, couldn't independently verify those permits in a quick and reasonable.
In such cases, it seems to me, the call goes to the person who is exercising their rights. If police can't prove you're violating the law, they shouldn't be able to arrest you or confiscate your property. But that's not really the case in Philadelphia, at least. Enter Lt. Fran Healy, a "special adviser to the police commissioner," and this somewhat chilling statement of values:
"Officers' safety comes first, and not infringing on people's rights comes second," Healy said.
That sounds reasonable enough on the surface -- and certainly, nobody wants to see any cop dead -- but: Spend any time in a courtroom, like I have, and you'll realize that "officer safety" is the loophole to end all loopholes. As a general rule, police have to have "reasonable suspicion" -- evidence derived from their observations or witnesses -- to stop you, to frisk you, to arrest you. Under the guise of "officer safety," though, officers can frisk you to (wink) make sure you don't happen to have a weapon. And if they happen to dig criminal evidence out of your pockets -- evidence they wouldn't have had the right to collect otherwise -- well, that's just what happens in the course of things.
Sometimes, you end up with innocent men in state custody for 18 hours because the police can't or won't get their act together.
Like I said: I do want Philly cops to be safe. And guns make the city scary, at times. But I want the police to operate on the presumption that they honor the rights of the citizens they serve. Stories like today's don't offer me comfort.
Byron York prints plenty of disturbing details from the police complaint against Al Gore, but this is the one I find most infuriating:
Finally she got away. Later, she talked to friends, liberals like herself, who advised against telling police. One asked her "to just suck it up; otherwise, the world's going to be destroyed from global warming."
To that "friend" let me offer up a piece of advice: Go to hell.
Snarky folks at The Corner are treating this revelation as being run-of-the-mill Democratic politics, but honestly the problem here -- as is often the case -- is of power generally. You can see an almost carbon-copy dynamic at play when people angrily defend the Catholic Church against accusations of widespread child molestation. Victims are urged to hush up, to go away, because their truth threatens The Mission of whichever person or movement or institution is involved.
And while it's often true that sacrifices must be made in order to advance a worthy cause, you can easily tell the difference in the worthiness of those sacrifices by asking one simple question: Is the dignity of the individual who made the sacrifice enhanced by that sacrifice? Or is it diminished?
If the answer is the latter -- if a woman is obliged to be silent about a sexual assault -- than the person, or movement, or institution is almost certainly unworthy of the sacrifice. I don't want the allegations against Al Gore to be true -- but that's mostly because I don't want the woman in question to have been victimized. Shame on her supposed friends for valuing her dignity so cheaply.
If I hadn't deleted my Twitter account, I'd give Zaius 140 characters of what-for. Instead, I'll point you to this tweet of his:
RT @HeartlandInst: Northwestern U. study: raising the min wage doesn't help low income workers. Who wld have thought? http://bit.ly/c6KfZH
Who indeed? But somebody might as well point out that it's not a study -- but a theoretical model. That model might well be correct. But if you read all the way to the last couple of paragraphs of the link...
So far, the model remains a theoretical pursuit. “It screams for empirical testing,” Swinkels says. “We hope that it will excite empirical activity by people better qualified at that than ourselves.”
Well, uh, I'm going to go ahead and wait for some of that empirical testing before I draw much in the way of conclusions. Besides, it's worth noting that the model doesn't really account for the "minimum wage" writ large -- it instead looks at those jobs where employees receive some combination of minimum wage and "incentive pay" -- tips and commissions. There are lots of minimum wage jobs that don't fit those conditions. So even if the model proves correct, its application is limited.
This story in today's New York Times is more than a little disturbing. Apparently educators and adults are working feverishly to keep kids from having ... best friends.
Most children naturally seek close friends. In a survey of nearly 3,000 Americans ages 8 to 24 conducted last year by Harris Interactive, 94 percent said they had at least one close friend. But the classic best-friend bond — the two special pals who share secrets and exploits, who gravitate to each other on the playground and who head out the door together every day after school — signals potential trouble for school officials intent on discouraging anything that hints of exclusivity, in part because of concerns about cliques and bullying.
“I think it is kids’ preference to pair up and have that one best friend. As adults — teachers and counselors — we try to encourage them not to do that,” said Christine Laycob, director of counseling at Mary Institute and St. Louis Country Day School in St. Louis. “We try to talk to kids and work with them to get them to have big groups of friends and not be so possessive about friends.”
“Parents sometimes say Johnny needs that one special friend,” she continued. “We say he doesn’t need a best friend.”
As somebody who felt -- in junior high, particularly -- on the wrong side of the line of cliquishness and bullying, I've got to say: This is profoundly stupid. It's a weird attempt to create a socialism of friendship -- everybody is everybody's friend! -- that has nothing at all to do with the real world those children enter as adults.
Here's the truth: People gravitate to some people more than other people. I like books, you like books, but Johnny's more interested in football. So you and I hang out, and Johnny finds himself a football-loving buddy. The solution to cliquishness and bullying is not to keep people from sharing interests and sharing time bonding over such interests -- the solution is to teach those kids not to be jerks to people who don't share those bonds.
Because this practice is so at odds with the way people form relationships in real life, I can't help but feel that it's not aimed at reducing cliquishness and bullying so much as it is designed to reduce the amount of time and energy that educators have to spend dealing with cliquishness and bullying. On one level, I can't blame the authorities for that. But on the other, it's very Pink Floydian. Outlawing close friendships at school? You can't have any pudding if you won't eat your meat!
That's a question we've wrestled with from time to time here at Infinite Monkeys -- sometimes heatedly (yes, I was the heated one) -- and as it happens, The Atlantic this month has a profile of Paul Romer, who advocates kind of a colonialist approach. Citing Hong Kong as an example, he advocates that underdeveloped countries turn over a swath of land -- a "charter city" -- to a rich country that would provide low taxes, enlightened rules and the security to make it all happen.
It's an intriguing idea, and Romer nearly got the chance to put it into practice in Madagascar. But not quote.
Even as Romer was meeting with Ravalomanana, the president’s main political opponent was sniping at the proposed lease of farmland to Daewoo, and the idea of giving up vast swaths of territory to foreigners was growing increasingly unpopular. The arrangement was denounced as treason, and public protests gathered momentum, eventually turning violent. In late January 2009, protesters tossed homemade grenades at radio and TV stations that Ravalomanana owned; looters ransacked his chain of supermarkets. In February, guards opened fire on marchers in front of the presidential palace, killing 28 civilians. At this, units of the army mutinied. Soon, Ravalomanana was forced out of office.
The first action of the new government was to cancel the Daewoo project, and Romer’s plans in Madagascar were put on hold indefinitely.
I don't know that this is an apples-to-apples comparison to the kind of enlightened imperialism that's been casually advocated around here. But it does signal some rather unsurprising challenges to such a project, doesn't it? No one wants to see their country under some other country's thumb -- even if it's for their own good.
I've got nothing against blasphemy -- in fact, I kind of love it.
I love "South Park," enjoyed "The Last Temptation of Christ" more as a novel than as a movie, think "Dogma" is overrated but enjoyable and, generally, like to see sacred cows nudged a little bit. I think it's wonderful, essential and necessary that we can do such poking in America -- and it pisses me off, frankly, when the "South Park" guys come under threat for depicting Mohammed. Or, looking abroad, when European cartoonists face violence, threats and censorship for doing the same.
Still, I didn't draw Mohammed today. And I won't be publishing any of the cartoons. At least, not for now.
Why? Simple. I have Muslim friends and acquaintances -- at least one of whom, I know, is very offended when Mohammed is drawn or otherwise depicted. Not to the point of threatening or undertaking violence, thank goodness, but still: It's an act that wounds her.
And that, I think, beyond strength in the face of censorship and threats, is part of "Draw Mohammed Day" is supposed to be about: Offense.
Some more hawkish and conservative types have pointed out -- rightly -- that Comedy Central, "South Park" and other American institutions have skewered Christianity for years without facing death threats. But I can't help but notice that many of the people who make that observation have also gotten the vapors -- or are closely allied with those who get the vapors -- about having their religious sensibilities trampled upon. And that many of those people are very, very gleeful about the chance to offend Muslims en masse today.
So yeah, there's a double standard. But I suspect the double standard goes both ways.
Me? I admittedly feel more comfortable blaspheming Christianity because, well, Christianity is mine to blaspheme: I grew up in it, was immersed in it and (yes) fell away from it. Even at a distance of nearly a decade, its rhythms and habits are still etched in my bones. And my own adventures in blasphemy were part of rebelling against a culture that had dominated my outlook and behavior.
But Mohammed was never my prophet. Between that and the fact of my friends' sensibilities, a day devoted to angering his followers seems ... rude. It seems too easy to me, even a little bullying, to blaspheme against somebody else's god.
And I'm weird: I've always felt my principles must be balanced and shaped by the impact that they have on real people. Right now, I don't think I have enough cause to hurt my friends.
Make no mistake: I still find the threats and censorship despicable. There may come a time when I feel that committing a little blasphemy against Islam's sacred cows is necessary. That day isn't today. I won't draw Mohammed.
This Ralph Reed -- remember him? -- post at The Corner, about Elena Kagan's radical tendencies, deserves a thorough fisking. But there's one point in particular that I found interesting. And by "interesting" I mean "dishonest."
In response to questions during her confirmation as solicitor general, Kagan argued the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms, like freedom of speech, enjoys “strong but not unlimited protection.” This is a dangerous view of the law when it leads to the creeping erosion of the Bill of Rights.
Why is this dishonest? Because if you check what Kagan said at her solicitor general hearings, it's clear that she was citing DC vs. Heller, the 2008 case that upheld gun rights. This is a fuller and untruncated quote of what she said:
Once again, there is no question, after Heller, that the Second Amendment guarantees individuals the right to keep and bear arms and that this right, like others in the Constitution, provides strong although not unlimited protection against governmental regulation.
Is that really "a dangerous view of the law?" Consider this: Kagan was basically echoing the Heller decision in making her statement about the limits of the Second Amendment -- a decision written by Justice Antonin Scalia. Scalia wrote:
Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited.It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose: For example, concealed weapons prohibitions have been upheld under the Amendment or state analogues. The Court’s opinion should not be taken to castdoubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms byfelons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.
Is Ralph Reed really going to say that Antonin Scalia -- about as solid a Second Amendment absolutist as you'll find on the court -- has a "dangerous view of the law?" Of course not. So if he's saying the same view of the law is dangerous when held by Elena Kagan, well, you can be sure he's doing so in the service of dishonest hackery. Ralph Reed isn't telling the truth.
Christopher Hitchens almost makes sense with his defense of the French burqa ban:
The French legislators who seek to repudiate the wearing of the veil or the burqa—whether the garment covers "only" the face or the entire female body—are often described as seeking to impose a "ban." To the contrary, they are attempting to lift a ban: a ban on the right of women to choose their own dress, a ban on the right of women to disagree with male and clerical authority, and a ban on the right of all citizens to look one another in the face. The proposed law is in the best traditions of the French republic, which declares all citizens equal before the law and—no less important—equal in the face of one another.
Hitchens appeals to my humanist-slash-libertarian side here, briefly, by casting the proposed burqa ban as a blow for women, letting them cast off their subjugation by forcing them to remove the veil from their faces. But that's not what the proposal does -- at least, not entirely.
Instead, the proposed burqa ban substitutes one set of restrictive authority -- you will always hide your face! -- for another -- you will never hide your face! Women who are forced by husbands or male family members (or, more or less indirectly, by their co-religionists) to cover their faces are given no more choice in how they express themselves through dress than women who are forced by the state to make a precisely opposite decision. Either way, women are treated almost like playthings in the broader Culture Wars/Clash of Civilizations/War on Terror or what have you. It's not about letting them make their own choices; it's about deciding their choices for them in advance.
That's still not any kind of meaningful freedom.
Indeed, the New York Times story that serves as the basis of Hitchens' column hints at this a little bit:
Fewer than 2,000 women in France wear a version of the full veil, and many of them are French women who have converted to Islam. The full veil is seen here as a sign of a more fundamentalist Islam, known as Salafism, which the government is trying to undercut.
It is impossible to know the story of every French woman who converted to Islam and started wearing the veil, but it certainly seems as though many of those women freely made their choices. It's not a choice I would've made, nor would I have made it for them -- but that's not really the point point, isn't it?
There are, of course, separate questions about the veil and the public's right to safety in public places -- and that is a debate that deserves to be hashed out: It's certainly not a debate contained to France. But the feminist argument advanced by Hitchens -- and French President Nicholas Sarkozy -- rings hollow. You don't free women by making choices for them.
But a couple of data points interested me more than the others:
Empowered Iran in Iraq and region. The Islamic Republic of Iran is the primary strategic beneficiary of the U.S.-led intervention in Iraq. The end of Saddam Hussein’s regime removed Iran’s most-hated enemy (with whom it fought a hugely destructive war in the 1980s) and removed the most significant check on Iran’s regional hegemonic aspirations. Many of Iraq’s key Iraqi Shia Islamist and Kurdish leaders enjoy close ties to Iran, facilitating considerable influence for Iran in the new Iraq.
Stifled democracy reform. A recent RAND study concluded that, rather than becoming a beacon of democracy, the Iraq war has hobbled the cause of political reform in the Middle East. The report stated that “Iraq’s instability has become a convenient scarecrow neighboring regimes can use to delay political reform by asserting that democratization inevitably leads to insecurity.”
In the absence of WMD, of course, creating US-friendly democracies in the Middle East became the backup rationale for the American invasion. Turns out there were no WMDs ... and that our invasion might've throttled whatever nascent democratic spirit existed in that region. The Iraq War, simply put, is never not going to be a disaster for us.
That 1,000-point drop on Wall Street today? Guess how it happened?
In one of the most dizzying half-hours in stock market history, the Dow plunged nearly 1,000 points before paring those losses in what possibly could have been a trader error. According to multiple sources, a trader entered a “b” for billion instead of an “m” for million in a trade possibly involving Procter & Gamble [PG 60.75 -1.41 (-2.27%) ], a component in the Dow.
That set off a chain-reaction panic on trading floors. As Daniel Foster at National Review noted:
P&G's 37 percent nosedive was only responsible for 172 points of the 992.60 the Dow lost in the slump. The rest was market reaction — and part of that was computerized and automated.
You know, capitalism and free trade generally make a lot of sense. But our current method of allocating capital -- Wall Street being the big mover in that process -- keeps finding new ways to make itself look dangerously insane. Terminator was about how computers and robots set off an apocalyptic attack on humanity; turns out they don't need nuclear weapons to do that, just mindless programming instructions to start selling if somebody else is selling -- even if that sale is the result of a "fat finger" typographical error. Holy crap.
That's the theory floated by Sports Illustrated writer David Epstein, in an interview with neuropsychologist Dr. Jordan Grafman -- Roethlisberger, after all, has suffered four concussions on the football field during his NFL career.
According to Grafman, two particular behaviors are endemic to people with moderate or severe frontal lobe injury, or to people with more mild but repetitive injury: 1) violating social rules by saying inappropriate things, and 2) saying appropriate or typical things in an inappropriate context.
"If you're married and you're flirting with another woman in an elevator with your wife next to you," Grafman says, "that's the kind of clearly inappropriate behavior." Roethlisberger is not married, but one man told me that Roethlisberger had asked out his wife while the man was present.
Granted, as Grafman notes, "we all say inappropriate things sometimes," but "it's the frequency with which it happens, and the unawareness. When you have a frontal lobe injury in particular, you often become unaware of your inappropriate behaviors. The observations usually come from wives or children." A typical situation in my reporting last week was something like this: I would hear that Roethlisberger had, for example, said inappropriate things to waitresses at a restaurant or walked out on a bill, so I would call the establishment. "I don't know if he walked out on a tab here," would be a typical response from whoever picked up the phone, "but he was really rude to my friend after he invited her over to his table." Tales of indecorous acts abounded.
Or it's possible that Roethlisberger is, you know, a colossal jerk. He wouldn't be the first multimillionaire athlete with dangerous delusions of entitlement, would he? Didn't we all kind of hate the jocks in high school?
And yet: If Epstein's onto something here, the morality of the NFL itself gets trickier and trickier to defend. There's already substantial evidence that playing professional football destroys the bodies and minds of the men who play it. If also it transforms them into moral monsters -- as a natural, organic byproduct of the game -- how could you possibly watch another game in good conscience? What redeeming value is left?
Here are Frederick W. Kagan and Kimberly Kagan -- Iraq war boosters if there ever were -- reporting on current goings-on there. I'll skip to the important part, about the unresolved Iraqi election:
If upheld, these decisions would give Maliki's bloc more seats than Allawi's. If Maliki's list gained four seats, it could potentially form a government with the other major Shiite bloc, the Iraqi National Alliance, excluding both the Kurds and Sunnis. That result -- surely disastrous for U.S. interests -- would position Maliki as a potential authoritarian ruler, empower the anti-American Sadrists and their Iranian-backed militias and alienate Sunnis while marginalizing the Kurds. If Sunni seats are transferred to Maliki's Shiite list this way, Sunni Arabs would justifiably feel that Shiites had stolen the election.
No WMDs in Iraq, remember. But at least we planted the seeds of democracy in the Middle East!
If the press had unified, as they do on so many other political and policy issues, and stood up to the ever-growing radical Islamist speech veto in the West, we could be well on our way toward a cultural victory in the war. Instead, we continue to cave. The last place I thought I'd see such caving was at Comedy Central — a channel dedicated to the iconoclasm of almost everything religious and everyone political. Now, even chief iconoclast Jon Stewart is defending the veto, or censorship, on his network.
Interestingly, Leibsohn links to this New York Times blog post titled: "Jon Stewart Takes On Comedy Central’s Censorship of ‘South Park’." That doesn't sound like a defense.
And here's the video the NYT post is about:
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c|
|South Park Death Threats|
To me, it's clear that Stewart's not too happy with the censorship -- though he acknowledges that Comedy Central has the right to do so. But certainly somebody who was afraid of incurring militant Muslim wrath wouldn't bring their commentary to a culmination with a rousing gospel rendition of "Go F**k Yourself" aimed at the group in question. Would they?
At National Review, Rich Lowry is grumpy:
Over at PowerLine, John Hinderaker makes a great catch: CNN describes the Arizona immigration law as "polarizing." John asks why the health-care bill was never described that way, even though it too brought protestors into the streets and was actually, in contrast to the Arizona bill, opposed by most people? To ask the question is to answer it.
I sent Mr. Lowry a note:
A Google search for "health care bill polarizing" gets 476,000 results.
A GoogleNews search for the same term gets more than 600 results.
You say that "to ask the question is to answer it," but trying to answer it might've provided you a different result.
The Weekly Standard has a new piece out, shocked! that the Obama White House is using the office of "faith-based initiatives" to mount a campaign against climate change. It quotes Jim Towey, a former director of the office, decrying the efforts.
The use of churches and congregations to advance the administration’s climate-change agenda, Towey says, “looks a lot like this is simply a political outreach initiative.” He adds: “The faith-based office was supposed to be a common-ground effort with Republicans and Democrats working to assist the poor—and that’s just long gone.”
Oh yes, it's awful to use a government-church partnership to advance a political agenda!
I'm not going to defend this. I'm just amused that Republicans, who were warned and criticized during the Bush Administration about the problems inherent in establishing church-state partnerships, are suddenly on the side of critics now that Democrats are in charge.
It's not as if politicization of the office of faith-based initiatives is new. Remember David Kuo, who served in the office when Bush launched it? He wrote a book about the experience:
Kuo alleges that then-White House political affairsdirector Ken Mehlman knowingly participated in a scheme to use the office, and taxpayer funds, to mount ostensibly “nonpartisan” events that were, in reality, designed with the intent of mobilizing religious voters in 20 targeted races.
Nineteen out of the 20 targeted races were won by Republicans, Kuo reports. The outreach was so extensive and so powerful in motivating not just conservative evangelicals, but also traditionally Democratic minorities, that Kuo attributes Bush’s 2004 Ohio victory “at least partially … to the conferences we had launched two years before.”
None of this, of course, is in the Weekly Standard story -- no hint that maybe the whole idea of a government office of "faith-based partnerships" is always problematic, prone to abuse by whoever holds the reins of power. Of course it is! But in the Standard's view, it's the Democrats who are really the bad guys. Of course.
Hundreds of Sunni men disappeared for months into a secret Baghdad prison under the jurisdiction of Prime Minister Nouri Maliki's military office, where many were routinely tortured until the country's Human Rights Ministry gained access to the facility, Iraqi officials say.
The alleged brutal treatment of prisoners at the facility raised concerns that the country could drift back to its authoritarian past.
It increasingly looks like the United States traded one human-rights abusing no-WMD strongman for another in Iraq. Only this one is beholden to Iran. As bad as the war has been, it might be years or decades yet before we know the true magnitude of the disaster we unleashed.
Over at Freedom Pub, Dr. Zaius is once again trying to claim the great sci-fi flick Serenity for conservatism -- his vehicle this time is a video he made for that site. Nifty editing job on Z's part:
Z and I have a longstanding disagreement about the politics of Serenity. He obviously sees it in line with the Tea Party critique of Obama-style tyranny at home; I've made the case that given its release date -- 2005 -- that it might more properly be seen as a critique of U.S. "meddling" in Iraq, via our unprovoked invasion of that country.
I think, on reflection, that we're both right -- although I'm more right than Z. Whedon's politics definitely fall on the leftward side of the scale, though he doesn't seem to be all that active. There's also this interview Whedon gave in Europe when Serenity was released there. This is after George W. Bush's re-election, remember:
Well, you know, for me, the Alliance is what just got elected for a second term. But everybody can see it their own way – the Alliance, you know, wasn’t just supposed to be this terrible government, it was a good system which, like many good systems, became powerful, became arrogant and overreached. That’s what this is. ...
It isn’t that “Serenity” is saying… you know, some people could say: Gosh, it’s like Iraq. Well, some people are going to say: Iraq is going to be better off. Some people would say: No, it’s not. We can have that argument, but one thing’s for sure: A lot of people living in Iraq had their lives turned upside-down and will never be the same and were not asked. So in some senses the Alliance is America…
So there's that.
But obviously, it isn't just that. If Serenity was just a narrow critique of the invasion of Iraq, probably nobody would care about it anymore. Farenheit 9/11 made tons more money at the box office when it was released a year before -- but Serenity is the movie we still watch today and will be for decades to come. Michael Moore's documentary is more a relic of its time and place. It's already the past, gathering dust and rotting slightly.
Why? Because the theme of Serenity at its core is one of freedom and rebellion and not letting those who know better run your life -- a theme that liberals and conservatives, in their differing ways, both do heartily embrace. Here's another Whedon interview.
And one of the things that strikes me about the show is that, in terms of both gender and personal politics, "Firefly" and "Serenity" have one of the more diverse fan bases I've ever seen. The show's been written up in progressive and conservative journals….
Yeah. I would say about the movie that it is very political, but it's not partisan. And I think the curse, right now, of the politics of our nation is that a line has been drawn down the middle of our country -- and that's not actually how the human mind works.
Well, the problems are hugely complicated infrastructural problems, and we're trying to solve them with bloodsport. David Foster Wallace said that.
Yeah. It's not useful. The political statement that "Serenity" makes is very blatant -- but it can be embraced by someone who's extremely conservative or someone who's extremely liberal. That's not the point. The point is: It's a personal statement.
What "Serenity" and "Firefly" were both about is how politics affect people personally. And the personal politics are the only politics that really interest me. I'm not going to make this big, didactic polemic -- I'm just going to say, "When there are shifts in a planet, those tiny little guys are the ones who are affected. So let's hang out with them -- not the Federation heads or the Jedi Council."
I doubt we'll see Joss Whedon at any tea parties today. I'm not sure what he'd make of his film being put to use in the tea party cause. But maybe that doesn't matter so much. I think most of us who engage these debates and the process are fighting for freedom in the best way we know how. And if that means we all embrace Serenity, but do so in varying ways ... well, that's OK.
From today's New York Times' poll on the Tea Party movement:
They do not want a third party and say they usually or almost always vote Republican. The percentage holding a favorable opinion of former President George W. Bush, at 57 percent, almost exactly matches the percentage in the general public that holds an unfavorable view of him.
When talking about the Tea Party movement, the largest number of respondents said that the movement’s goal should be reducing the size of government, more than cutting the budget deficit or lowering taxes.
But in follow-up interviews, Tea Party supporters said they did not want to cut Medicare or Social Security — the biggest domestic programs, suggesting instead a focus on “waste.”
There are undoubtedly many sincere small government conservatives among the Tea Partiers. But it appears that many hate Big Gubmint, except when it benefits them. And the fact that the majority still love George W. Bush -- he of the Medicare drug benefit, the original bank bailout and the early stages of the car company bailout -- suggests that (for the movement as a whole) what really makes them mad are not violations of principle, but the fact that a Democrat is president.
Taxpayers earning less than $200,000 a year will pay roughly $3.9 billion more in taxes — in 2019 alone — because of healthcare reform, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation, Congress' official scorekeeper for legislation.
The new law raises $15.2 billion over 10 years by limiting the medical expense deduction, a provision widely used by taxpayers who either have a serious illness or are older.
Taxpayers can currently deduct medical expenses in excess of 7.5 percent of their adjusted gross income. Starting in 2013, most taxpayers will only be allowed to deducted expenses greater than 10 percent of AGI. Older taxpayers are hit by this threshold increase in 2017.
Once the law is fully implemented in 2019, the JCT estimates the deduction limitation will affect 14.8 million taxpayers — 14.7 million of them will earn less than $200,000 a year. These taxpayers are single and joint filers, as well as heads of households.
"Loss of this deduction will mean higher taxes for 14.7 million individuals and families making under $200,000 a year in 2019," Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) told The Hill. "The new subsidy for health insurance would not be available to offset this tax increase for most of these households."
A little more math here is helpful, though: 14.7 million taxpayers will lose the deduction; they'll get hit with a collective $3.9 billion in new taxes in 2019. That means each taxpayer (and taxpaying household) will see an average tax increase of ... $26.
Clearly, socialism is bringing confiscatory tax rates to America.
Funny, though, Foster's excerpt skipped The Hill's line right after the Grassley quote:
The healthcare law contains tax breaks for individuals purchasing health insurance, but the breaks phase out for those making $88,000 a year.
So: The average tax increase of $26 a year will apply to families making between $88,000 and $200,000 a year. Even if you're on the low end of that scale, that average $26 increase will consume roughly three-tenths of one percent of your income!
I suppose that technically, this violates Obama's promise not to raise taxes of people making less than $250,000 a year. In reality, I'm not sure they'll notice it all that much. Unless organizations like The Hill continue to force readers to do the math to put these things in context -- and let Republicans needlessly scare the middle class.
UPDATE: The back of the envelope is no match for a calculator. I failed to carry a "zero" somewhere: Actual numbers are a $265 a year increase for those 14.7 million people. That's a bigger and more-noticeable number, to be sure. Still three-tenths of one percent of the $88,000-a-year income though. (How the hell did I make that mistake?)
Some of my more thoughtful conservative friends have criticized President Obama's bigger initiatives -- like the health reform law -- from a "first principles" argument that economic liberty is the foundation of, well, liberty liberty. Any governmental act that interferes with the rights of individuals to their property or profit is a reduction of liberty and thus potentially a step down the slippery slope to tyranny. I think it's an insightful argument, but I also think it's got limits.
And I think those limits might be demonstrated by the Heritage Foundation's 2010 Index of Economic Freedom. What's notable is that the two "countries" ranked highest on the index -- Hong Kong and Singapore -- might be great places to make cash, but they're not what most Americans would think of as substantially "free." (The United States ranks ninth.) Hong Kong might be listed as a separate "country" for the purposes of the index, but it's ruled by Chinese Communists; it might be more free than the mainland, but there are still rather significant concerns about freedom of expression. And Singapore? It's the authoritarian government that gave us caning and ranks 133rd in the World Press Freedom Index.
Heritage's index, obviously, doesn't take those things into account. Instead it ranks each country on a list of 10 criteria, including property rights, business freedom, government spending and "labor freedom." Weirdly, Canada -- with its big socialistic health care system -- ranks ahead of the United States.
I don't think my thoughtful conservative friends would assert that countries with libertarian policies only for corporations and not for citizens are truly free. Nor would I want to suggest that the ability to express yourself freely is the only criterion for liberty; economic liberty is an important component. But it appears that low taxes and free trade are no guarantee of freedom; I suspect it probably follows that a more-regulated health system isn't the end of our Republic.
Cross-posted from Cup O' Joel.
I'm not a Catholic, but I can't help be fascinated (and horrified) by the unfolding sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church. I don't really know how much Pope Benedict is directly responsible for allowing horrific situations to continue and how much the self-protecting bureaucracy of the church -- like any bureaucracy -- is to blame. I strongly suspect that any of the former has its roots in the latter.
That said, I appreciate what Peggy Noonan has to say about the matter in today's Wall Street Journal:
In both the U.S. and Europe, the scandal was dug up and made famous by the press. This has aroused resentment among church leaders, who this week accused journalists of spreading "gossip," of going into "attack mode" and showing "bias."
But this is not true, or to the degree it is true, it is irrelevant. All sorts of people have all sorts of motives, but the fact is that the press—the journalistic establishment in the U.S. and Europe—has been the best friend of the Catholic Church on this issue. Let me repeat that: The press has been the best friend of the Catholic Church on the scandals because it exposed the story and made the church face it. The press forced the church to admit, confront and attempt to redress what had happened. The press forced them to confess. The press forced the church to change the old regime and begin to come to terms with the abusers. The church shouldn't be saying j'accuse but thank you.
This seems exactly right to me. But watching from the outside, it has appeared to me that the response of the Church has been largely to A) lash out at the "bias" of journalists who have uncovered the story and B) defend the Church by noting that other sectors of society have also had problems dealing with child abuse. As though the Church shouldn't be held to a higher standard. I'm reminded of a saying about removing the log from your own eye before telling your brother to remove the speck from his. Who said that again?
At its best (which isn't always) the Church has offered a powerful moral example even for those of us who do not share in its communion. I suspect it can retain that moral authority only if it follows Noonan's advice -- and its own teachings -- and offer up a full, real confession accompanied by appropriate penance. Such activities, I understand, usually take place in private. The Church doesn't have that luxury.
A federal judge on Wednesday ruled that the National Security Agency’s warrantless surveillance program was illegal, rejecting the Obama administration’s effort to keep shrouded in secrecy one of the most disputed counterterrorism policies of former President George W. Bush.
The ruling by Judge Walker, the chief judge of the Federal District Court in San Francisco, also rejected the Justice Department’s claim — first asserted by the Bush administration and continued under President Obama — that the charity’s lawsuit should be dismissed without a ruling on the merits because allowing it to go forward could reveal state secrets.
The judge characterized that expansive use of the so-called state-secrets privilege as amounting to “unfettered executive-branch discretion” that had “obvious potential for governmental abuse and overreaching.”
In 2008, Congress overhauled the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to bring federal statutes into closer alignment with what the Bush administration had been secretly doing. The legislation essentially legalized certain aspects of the warrantless surveillance program.
But the overhauled law still requires the government to obtain a warrant if it is focusing on an individual or entity inside the United States. The surveillance of Al Haramain would still be unlawful today if no court had approved it, current and former Justice Department officials said.
God bless activist judges. You know: the ones who uphold the rule of law.
I'm trying not to use more than my share of valuable Infinite Monkeys bandwidth, so I invite you over to my place for a discussion of Lamar Alexander and his belief that the new student loan law makes America more like the Soviet Union. My question:
Why can't Republicans criticize Barack Obama without invoking the Soviet Union at nearly every turn? They do understand the difference between nationalizing all private industry with an accompanying program of killing/jailing/exiling everybody who disagrees and changing the method by which U.S. government money gets to students, don't they?
My conclusion: Lamar Alexander -- like a lot of people who invoke the USSR in these arguments -- is either a liar or supremely stupid.