Friday, September 30, 2005

Our need to know--the ACLU and Abu Ghraib

Let's see if I've got this straight: US District Court Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein has ordered the release of more Abu Ghraib photos to help the ACLU prove that prisoners have been abused, and it's OK because the terrorists don't need those photos in order to hate us, they can do it very well for no reason at all.

And to think I used to give money to the ACLU.

This article from about a month ago makes the situation even more puzzling. Apparently, back then, Judge Hellerstein seemed to be very hesitent to release the photos because of the national interest involved. Why the change in one short month?

I haven't found an answer, but the article explains why the ACLU is so hot to have these photos splashed all over the cable news networks and the newspapers: they're only thinking of us:

ACLU lawyer Amrit Singh argued that release of the pictures was necessary for the public to assess the scope of the abuse and whether it could have been carried out without the knowledge of military leaders.

Thanks a lot, ACLU. I really, really appreciate it. I'm sure that once I look at those photos I'll instantly know how high up the responsibility goes--no doubt, one of them features Rumsfeld holding a naked prisoner on a leash.

The underlying basis of Judge Hellerstein's decision appears to be compliance with the Freedom of Information Act. Apparently, the present rule is that information should be released under the act unless "disclosure would be harmful."

Our legal system ordinarily requires that a rape victim's name not be released because it might be harmful to her. A juvenile's court records are sealed because it might be harmful to the minor in question. The potential harm in both situations trumps the public's right to know.

In the present case, the public has seen photos of Abu Ghraib ad nauseum, so seeing a few more is hardly likely to give the us needed and vital information. The only effect such release is likely to have is to harm us, our soldiers, and our country still further.

Whether or not the terrorists need such information to hate us is hardly relevant; they could certainly use it.

I'm with Dickens--the law is an ass (not to mention the ACLU).

[ADDENDUM: I didn't see this when I wrote the post, but in the NY Times article on the subject, it mentions that, when the photos are to be released, the rights of the detainees to privacy will be protected:

Judge Hellerstein ordered that the images be edited to hide the faces of the Iraqi prisoners, to avoid violations of their privacy under the Geneva Conventions. He concluded that one videotape sought by the A.C.L.U. could not be adequately edited, and that it not be released.

So, to recap: a certain videotape will be surpressed because the right of the detainee to privacy overrides our need to see still more and more and more photos of abuse that has already been more than adequately covered in the press. But the rights of our servicemen and women to be protected from further inflammatory publicity on the matter, and our own right to be protected against increased rage in the Islamicist world, are both less powerful than that detainee's right to privacy. I'm in awe.

It's certainly possible that this decision makes perfect sense, if I were to read the entire transcript of the judge's ruling. Sometimes learning the details of a case makes all the difference in the world. But from what I've read in the press so far, this one seems misguided.

It's being appealed; it will be interesting to see what ultimately happens. But I think cases like this are an excellent example of why the public has become more dissatisfied with the judicial system in general.]

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Martha Gellhorn on press censorship during WWII

After reading Martha Gellhorn's remarkably prescient
1961 Atlantic Monthly article
about the Palestinians, I wanted to read more of her work. I recently and serendipitously happened upon a copy of her Travels with Myself and Another (the "other" being short-term husband Ernest Hemingway), and have been slowly savoring it.

Gellhorn had a mordantly witty and idiosyncratic approach to travel in some very out-of-the-way places--in fact, the book is devoted to what she calls "horror journeys." She throws herself into adventure with the reckless abandon worthy of a Hemingway heroine, although she herself was angry that her biographers tended to focus on her brief marriage to him. Despite the fact that this is a travel book--although it's a travel book like no other--it was as a war correspondent that she made her name.

Gellhorn began her war reporting with the Spanish Civil War and ended it in the 80s with the fighting in Panama, and spent a long time arguing passionately against the Vietnam War (and those of you who have read my Vietnam essays here know that I now have some disagreements with that point of view).

In the following passage, Gellhorn is looking back on the outset of WWII. Though a seasoned war correspondent, she accepts the necessity for press censorship at the time:

During that terrible year 1942, I lived in the sun, safe and comfortable and hating it. News reached us at regular hours on the radio and none of it was good. But we didn't understand how bad it was; piecemeal and (I now see) wisely censored, the news gave us no whole view. The only war I understood or could imagine was war on land and that was enough to shake the heart with the Germans moving like a tidal wave into Russia and Rommel rampaging in the desert. I think my ignorance was typical; the general public, which is most of us, did not realize that the fatal danger was on the sea. We would have lost the war if we went on losing ships at the appalling rate of 1942.

To Gellhorn, and to other Americans, censorship was a question of survival. Her words remind me of Sandlin's essay on the chaos of WWII as it was actually lived through in real time, discussed here. That Gellhorn, a woman dedicated to getting the truth out during war, came to realize that it was necessary to block the terrible news of the first year of WWII in order to sustain morale on the home front, was an admission of the extreme importance attached to winning that particular war, the "good war."

I'm not suggesting we go back to generalized censorship of war news. I'm not even so sure it could be accomplished any more, global communications being what they are. But it sometimes seems nowadays as though we've gone to the opposite extreme, and that the news is skewed to the worst rather than the best. It's almost as though the goal were to demoralize those at home.

Will someone please inform this woman how time zones work?

Rand Simberg has a wonderful fisking of unrependent CBS producer Mary Mapes' self-serving new book. Mapes' head is bloody, but unbowed.

Simberg's post is very very funny. Mapes herself, on the other hand, makes me very very sad, and very very angry. Her statements are so illogical that she makes me wonder whether any sort of critical thinking at all is required for a job as a producer with CBS. Perhaps not.

Mapes writes, among other things:

I was told that the first posting claiming the documents were fakes had gone up on Free Republic before our broadcast was even off the air!

Anyone who has followed the story knows that the theory of the early posting has been totally discredited by the fact that it involves a confusion between time zones. So Mary either doesn't grasp the time zone concept, or she is disingenuous in using the covering phrase "I was told." Either way, not good.

Mapes also writes:

There was no analysis of what the documents actually said, no work done to look at the content, no comparison with the official record, no phone calls made to check the facts of the story, nothing beyond a cursory and politically motivated examination of the typeface. That was all they had to attack, but that was enough.

Yes, Mary, let me try to explain it to you: ordinarily, when a document is proven fake, that fact automatically discredits its contents (some of the comments on the Simberg thread are hilarious along this vein). Mapes seems unable to grasp that simple concept--or perhaps she hopes that we will be unable to grasp it.

Is Mapes stupid, or is she ignorant--or is she banking on the fact that we are stupid and ignorant?

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The varieties of pacifism: (Part I)--Gandhi's absolutism

While researching this post on the phrase "speaking truth to power," I discovered that it originated among Quakers, and I promised that I'd write something soon about Quaker pacifism. I had planned that this post would be that "something."

But my Quaker post will have to wait a little longer, because I got sidetracked when doing my research--one of the perils of Google. There are many varieties of pacifism, and although the Quaker version is an interesting, complex, and multifaceted one, today I'm going to write about a more absolute and extreme form of pacifism, that of Gandhi.

I had grown up hating and fearing war. As a woman, I knew I'd never be forced to fight one. But at the same time I certainly knew that I would and could (and, during the Vietnam War, did) have loved ones who would probably eventually fight in one.

The dilemmas inherent in deciding whether a war was just or not became familiar to me, both in the abstract and personally. How did I resolve them? You might say that, originally, when quite young, I had a sort of pacifist ideal; I just wanted us to "all get along."

But even back then I realized there was a flaw; I hadn't a clue as to how that might actually happen. The United Nations of my early youth was an early hope, but I soon began to realize that it was at best impotent (and later, at worst, counterproductive). It could not prevent conflict after conflict from happening. I was a post-WWII child, and it seemed clear to me that Hitler could not have been deterred by any human forces known to me--whether it be the power of love or that of the international courts--and those who thought otherwise seemed hopelessly, naively, and dangerously foolish.

Absolute pacifism--the most extreme form--eschews war in any guise. And what would absolute pacifism have suggested as a response to the Holocaust? Many years later I came across Gandhi's answer, in an essay he wrote in 1938 advising the Jews on the subject of what to do about Hitler. In it, he sets out the case in unequivocal terms; and clearly, he understands that the Jews face grave dangers:

...the German persecution of the Jews seems to have no parallel in history. The tyrants of old never went so mad as Hitler seems to have gone. And he is doing it with religious zeal. For he is propounding a new religion of exclusive and militant nationalism in the name of which any inhumanity becomes an act of humanity to be rewarded here and hereafter. The crime of an obviously mad but intrepid youth is being visited upon his whole race with unbelievable ferocity. If there ever could be a justifiable war in the name of and for humanity, a war against Germany, to prevent the wanton persecution of a whole race, would be completely justified.

So, Gandhi recognizes that, if ever a war would be justified, this is the war. And here is the Gandhian pacifist answer, that of the absolute pacifist--a non-negotiable and rigid faith that makes such justification impossible:

But I do not believe in any war. A discussion of the pros and cons of such a war is therefore outside my horizon or province.

So for Gandhi, whatever the question, "war is not the answer."

And what is? He wrote:

Germany is showing to the world how efficiently violence can be worked when it is not hampered by any hypocrisy or weakness masquerading as humanitarianism. It is also showing how hideous, terrible and terrifying it looks in its nakedness.

Can the Jews resist this organized and shameless persecution? Is there a way to preserve their self-respect, and not to feel helpless, neglected and forlorn? I submit there is...If I were a Jew and were born in Germany and earned my livelihood there, I would claim Germany as my home even as the tallest gentile German may, and challenge him to shoot me or cast me in the dungeon; I would refuse to be expelled or to submit to discriminating treatment. And for doing this, I should not wait for the fellow Jews to join me in civil resistance but would have confidence that in the end the rest are bound to follow my example. If one Jew or all the Jews were to accept the prescription here offered, he or they cannot be worse off than now. And suffering voluntarily undergone will bring them an inner strength and joy which no number of resolutions of sympathy passed in the world outside Germany can. Indeed, even if Britain, France and America were to declare hostilities against Germany, they can bring no inner joy, no inner strength. The calculated violence of Hitler may even result in a general massacre of the Jews by way of his first answer to the declaration of such hostilities. But if the Jewish mind could be prepared for voluntary suffering, even the massacre I have imagined could be turned into a day of thanksgiving and joy that Jehovah had wrought deliverance of the race even at the hands of the tyrant. For to the godfearing death has no terror. It is a joyful sleep to be followed by a waking that would be all the more refreshing for the long sleep.

When I read this passage of Gandhi's, I experience a profound weariness. I have long felt that religions focusing on the transient nature of life on earth and emphasizing instead the glory of the world to come, although giving much comfort and joy to their adherents, run the risk of exhibiting just this sort of thing: a callous disregard of suffering in the here and now (not that they inevitably fall into that trap, of course).

Here Gandhi, with what I believe were the best intentions, does just that. He is casually suggesting the Jews use his method of satyagraha (which he developed and honed against the far milder British) against the Nazis, an example of an attitude that can at best be called naive, and at worst, fatally flawed. The transformative power of nonviolent non-cooperation was something Gandhi had, quite literally, staked his life on, and it was an article of faith to him that it could (and should!) be applied universally. If it could save the Jews, fine. But if not, then at least they would be massacred while doing the right thing. It almost sounds as though, to Gandhi, one result would be nearly as good as the other,and that makes me shudder.

A belief that powerful can't be argued with; it simply is. This is the case with absolute pacifism; it lies beyond the realm of logic and argument, and is an article of faith. But if one tries to imagine that somehow, all six million Jews--men, women, and children--had somehow complied with what Gandhi suggested, what would have been the result? He says their action would either have wakened the respect of the Germans and they would have been spared, or it would have stirred up German anger and they would have been killed on the spot. My guess is that German reaction would have resembled the latter far more than the former, although there is no way to know for certain.

However, it's a moot question, and not just because the Holocaust is over and done with. It's a moot question because no people on the face of the earth could be expected to sustain that sort of response in the face of such danger. So Gandhi's premise would be impossible to test. His suggestion shows a profound lack of understanding of human nature, and is an example of where idealism can take us--to what appears to be an absurdity, and a dangerous one at that, well-meaning though it may be.

All great visionaries are extremists, and Gandhi was no exception. By the sheer force of his personality he managed to hold together a movement against the British that ended up with a measure of success in terms of winning Indian independence. But that initial success was followed by the unleashing of internal forces of violence of such an extreme nature that they dwarfed any outrages the British had committed in India. When partition (which Gandhi had opposed) occurred, the country was already on the brink of a turmoil that erupted into a series of massacres which killed at least a million or more, although the true figures will never be known. Gandhi's methods were utterly powerless against the violence between Moslem and Hindu, as opposed to his relative success against the British colonial authorities.

Gandhi was not only extremist, he was utterly consistent as well. I was shocked to learn that what he had earlier recommended for the Jews in the face of Hitler, he also applied to his own people on partition: that they surrender themselves to death. In this article by Dr. Koenraad Elst, a Belgian scholar on India, the author discusses a number of mistakes he feels Gandhi made. Elst writes:

Gandhi refused to see the realities of human nature; of Islamic doctrine with its ambition of domination; of the modern mentality with its resentment of autocratic impositions; of people's daily needs making them willing to collaborate with the rulers in exchange for career and business opportunities; of the nationalism of the Hindus who would oppose the partition of their Motherland tooth and nail; of the nature of the Pakistani state as intrinsically anti-India and anti-Hindu.

In most of these cases, Gandhi's mistake was not his pacifism per se...The Khilafat pogroms revealed one of the real problems with his pacifism: all while riding a high horse and imposing strict conformity with the pacifist principle, he indirectly provoked far more violence than was in his power to control. Other leaders of the freedom movement, such as Annie Besant and Lala Lajpat Rai, had warned him that he was playing with fire, but he preferred to obey his suprarational "inner voice".

The fundamental problem with Gandhi's pacifism, not in the initial stages but when he had become the world-famous leader of India's freedom movement (1920-47), was his increasing extremism. All sense of proportion had vanished when he advocated non-violence not as a technique of moral pressure by a weaker on a stronger party, but as a form of masochistic surrender...

During his prayer meeting on 1 May 1947, he prepared the Hindus and Sikhs for the anticipated massacres of their kind in the upcoming state of Pakistan with these words: "I would tell the Hindus to face death cheerfully if the Muslims are out to kill them. I would be a real sinner if after being stabbed I wished in my last moment that my son should seek revenge. I must die without rancour. You may turn round and ask whether all Hindus and all Sikhs should die. Yes, I would say. Such martyrdom will not be in vain." (Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, vol.LXXXVII, p.394-5) It is left unexplained what purpose would be served by this senseless and avoidable surrender to murder.

Even when the killing had started, Gandhi refused to take pity on the Hindu victims, much less to point fingers at the Pakistani aggressors. More importantly for the principle of non-violence, he failed to offer them a non-violent technique of countering and dissuading the murderers. Instead, he told the Hindu refugees from Pakistan to go back and die. On 6 August 1947, Gandhiji commented to Congress workers on the incipient communal conflagration in Lahore thus: "I am grieved to learn that people are running away from the West Punjab and I am told that Lahore is being evacuated by the non-Muslims. I must say that this is what it should not be. If you think Lahore is dead or is dying, do not run away from it, but die with what you think is the dying Lahore..."

This is absolute pacifism run amok; as Elst writes, "a form of masochistic surrender." There is an ancient Talmudic saying: "He who is kind to the cruel ends up being cruel to the kind." The fact that in Gandhi's efforts to stop violence "he indirectly provoked far more violence than was in his power to control" is a good example of that principle in action.

Gandhi is venerated by peace activists worldwide. I wonder whether they have studied his actual words, or the real-world consequences of his actions. If they did, would they still emulate and revere him?

[ADDENDUM: I decided to move this passage of mine up from the comments section. I wrote it in response to a commenter who asked what would have happened had the Jews resisted the Nazi roundups:

If you study the history of what the Nazis actually did, they practiced all sorts of clever deceptions to make sure the people they were rounding up did not know what was happening. There were told they were being relocated, and to pack bags, and many believed them. The entire roundup apparatus was geared to maintaining the deception to the bitter end, including the false showers at the death camps, in order to forestall any chance of rebellion. In additon, as many have pointed out, there were many women, children, and old people involved, and the populace, unlike that of the US, was not armed. Furthermore--and this is also of the utmost importance to remember--where would they have gone, even if they had been successful? Remember that Jews who managed to flee were turned back in droves, into the arms of the Nazis. Most of Europe would not accept them, nor would the US, and they were not even able to go to Israel (see the film "Exodus," which contains a fictionalized version of some real incidents of this nature where ships were turned back to certain death). This fact is one of the main reasons the world later allowed the founding of Israel.

One likes to think there was a way out. It would have required 20/20 hindsight, perfect organization, knowledge, arms, and a safe haven--none of which were possible. As for awakening the German conscience--another nice dream, I'm afraid. Although the Germans (like the Jews) were not especially aware of death camps at the time, they witnessed and participated in terrible persecutions of Jews on a daily basis, mostly with no pangs of conscience whatsoever. It is hard and painful to look back and see how truly evil the behavior was, even without the death camps, but it was.]

[ADDENDUM II] Go here for the next post in the series, Part IIA, about the Quakers.]

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Al Qaeda as media source

Captain's Quarters reports, (via this Washington Post article) that al Qaeda is now skipping the media middle man, and debuting its own internet video news site. I guess even al Jazeera isn't good enough for al Qaeda--everyone seems to be dissatisfied with the media these days.

I'm not sure why al Qaeda isn't more pleased with its coverage, though. Here, for example, is today's Reuters report on the killing of Abu Azzam, said to be Al Qaeda's second in command in Iraq, by combined US and Iraqi forces (and how that combination would have seemed an unbelievable pipe dream just three short years ago!).

In the Reuters article, writer Luke Baker is very careful not to crow too much about Azzam's capture. A goodly portion of the article is devoted to "balancing" the good news: coalition statements are couched in the language of "US and Iraqi forces said" rather than of established fact. And al Qaeda statements on the killing are treated almost as respectfully, although Reuter's does at least mention that the Al Qaeda's sources' authenticity could not be verified--that is, Reuters isn't sure the speakers are actually from Al Qaeda.

Baker is quick to bring more "balance" to the story, which cannot be allowed to be limited to what seems to be an unequivocal US and Iraqi forces victory. Much of the article is devoted to downplaying the possible effects of the capture, and of course the obligatory "but things are still awful" appears fairly early on:

But attacks continued unabated.

In the latest act of violence, a suicide bomber...

I've often wondered why two stories such as this can't be separated into--well, into two stories. But they almost never are.

Not the media's finest hour--reporting urban legends as fact

When I first heard the stories of widespread rape, murder, and other carnage at the New Orleans Superdome and Convention Center after Katrina, I was horrified.

Horrified, but skeptical. The last couple of years have taught me, as never before, that many newspapers are not especially keen on fact-checking or substantiating the veracity of their sources. What they do seem to be keen on, in this hotly competitive 24-hour news cycle, is getting the story out quickly--the more sensational, the better.

So I took those stories with some hefty grains of salt, since they sounded for all the world like urban legends. And now, with the passage of time, as the fog of Katrina has lifted, it turns out that most, if not all, of those stories appear to have been rumors (via Clive Davis):

Orleans Parish District Attorney Eddie Jordan said authorities had confirmed only four murders in New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina - making it a typical week in a city that anticipated more than 200 homicides this year. Jordan expressed outrage at reports from many national media outlets that suffering flood victims had turned into mobs of unchecked savages.

"I had the impression that at least 40 or 50 murders had occurred at the two sites," he said. "It's unfortunate we saw these kinds of stories saying crime had taken place on a massive scale when that wasn't the case. And they (national media outlets) have done nothing to follow up on any of these cases, they just accepted what people (on the street) told them. ... It's not consistent with the highest standards of journalism."

No, it's not consistent with the highest standards. But it's consistent with the usual standards.

And, in fact, if you read the entire article, it's hard even for a media-basher such as myself to blame the media entirely. The rumors were so rampant and so global that even the Mayor and the Police Superintendent were fooled. Authorities who recently came into both venues searching for bodies were prepared to find scores or more, based on these reports.

There is no doubt that conditions were abominable; everyone agrees on that. But civility seems to have reigned for the most part. The number of rapes may be impossible to ascertain, but the evidence indicates that the reports of rapes were probably greatly exaggerated as well. The situation was rife for rumors of horror to spread: huge numbers of people under extreme conditions of fear and privation.

Reporter Gary Younge of the Guardian (another surprise--the Guardian?) has been skeptical of the reports for quite some time. In an article he wrote back on September 6, Younge was already questioning the veracity of the reports. An excerpt:

New Orleans police have been unable to confirm the tale of the raped child, or indeed any of the reports of rapes, in the Superdome and convention centre...New Orleans police chief Eddie Compass said last night: "We don't have any substantiated rapes. We will investigate if the individuals come forward." And while many claim they happened, no witnesses, survivors or survivors' relatives have come forward.
Nor has the source for the story of the murdered babies, or indeed their bodies, been found. And while the floor of the convention centre toilets were indeed covered in excrement, the Guardian found no corpses....

"Katrina's winds have left behind an information vacuum. And that vacuum has been filled by rumour.

"There is nothing to correct wild reports that armed gangs have taken over the convention centre," wrote Associated Press writer, Allen Breed.

"You can report them but you at least have to say they are unsubstantiated and not pass them off as fact," said one Baltimore-based journalist.

"But nobody is doing that."

The best thing one can say about these stories is that some journalists themselves seem abashed that they were taken in. The remedy, as the unnamed "Balimore-based journalist" states, would have been to have stated that the stories were unsubstantiated rumors.

But that doesn't sell newspapers, does it? (Not that too much else does, these days.)

Monday, September 26, 2005

An ode to baseball--and invalids

As an inveterate Red Sox fan, last year was really the pinnacle--it just couldn't get any better than that.

So I have to confess that, although the Red Sox are doing fine this year, I haven't paid all that much attention. After all, they don't need me any more to sweat it out, to leave the room and pace and wring my hands when things get tight, to turn off the TV for a few minutes when things get really tight. Fellow Red Sox fans will understand what I mean; others might think I'm quite loony, but this is standard operating procedure in Red Sox Nation.

I said after last season that if the Sox didn't win for the rest of my lifetime, it wouldn't bother me, because the curse was lifted in such dramatic and overwhelming fashion--first, by the record-setting and historic reversal against the dread detested Yankees, of all people; next, by the cakewalk in the Series itself. Wins are no longer necessary for many years to come, although they still would be nice.

Those of you who are not baseball fans (and I used to count myself among you) can't understand what the fuss is about. It's such a slow, boring, game, after all, isn't it? I used to think that, too, until two things happened. The first was that my son played Little League (now, there's a slow, boring game). The second was that I sustained a back and arm injury about fifteen years ago and was very limited for quite a while in what I could do.

The Little League games taught me the rules of baseball, in a venue in which I couldn't help but care--watching my son's rise and fall on the field. I came to appreciate the beauty and grace of the game, the extreme tension produced by slowness punctuated by moments of great drama, the sequential spotlighting of each individual within a team.

Then when I became injured, baseball was there for me--as, I learned, it is for many people facing health problems. Baseball's season is long, and a game occurs virtually every day. Someone cooped up and housebound can have a daily appointment with something outside of his/herself, an activity that lasts a number of hours and becomes engrossing, when there are precious few other activities that fit that bill.

Baseball features players who look relatively "ordinary," despite the fact that they are highly honed athletes. They are neither freakishly tall, as in basketball, nor hulking behemoths, as many are in football, but men who look deceptively like anyone you might meet on the street, although a bit more fit. Their faces and bodies are exposed, unlike in ice hockey or football, games in which helmets and equipment cover and distort to a certain extent.

Watching the same baseball team day after day (or evening after day), the viewer gets to know each player very well--how he moves, his facial expressions, his nervous tics (Nomar Garciaparra was famous for them; for instance, he had a ritual with the hands and the gloves that had to be seen to be believed, but it wasn't magical enough to keep him with the Sox for the World Series win). And it's not totally incidental--at least for women fans--that baseball players tend to be young, good-looking men.

When one is in chronic pain, the mind finds it hard to focus. Things that formerly were fascinating, like books, can sometimes require too much concentration and effort. Baseball's pace seems just right. It kept me sane while I recuperated, which took a long time. But baseball's got the time--one of the few things in this high-paced world that still does.

Kerry: stick a fork in him, I'm afraid he's done

John Kerry just can't get no respect these days. Even Michael Crowley of the New Republic tells him--and none-too-gently, either, that his time is up.

Not surprisingly, the peculiar offness, narcissism, and tone-deafness that Kerry exhibited during his Presidential campaign have followed him into his post-campaign campaign. He doesn't seem to understand that, according to polls quoted in the Crowley article, his popularity has dived precipitously.

As Crowley writes:

...while the political world hangs on every word from Hillary Clinton's mouth, and Joe Biden seems to be getting more airtime than Anderson Cooper, no one appears terribly interested in what John Kerry has to say anymore.

Anymore? Who ever was terribly interested in what John Kerry had to say? Yes, in the 2004 election campaign people were paying attention to his words in order to see whether he would succeed in countering their arch-enemy, Bush. But, listening to him for its own sake? I don't think so.

If, at the time, Kerry hadn't been the only game in town in a position to defeat Bush, he would have stirred up about as much interest as he has for most of his political life since the its high point, the 1971 Senate hearings on Vietnam--which is to say, none to speak of.

Sunday, September 25, 2005


Took the day off today--back tomorrow!

Saturday, September 24, 2005

"Truth to power": deconstructing a phrase

It's a popular phrase on the left, used here by Dan Rather, of all people (courtesy Roger Simon): "speaking truth to power."

The expression, which has been around for quite a while, is brilliantly parsimonious. In just four simple words (really only three, since one of them is "to"), it succinctly encapsulates the left's view--both of itself, and of the way the world works.

First, there's "truth." One of the hallmarks of much leftist thought is the idea of their own moral (not just doctrinal or analytic) superiority. The left's definition of "truth" often seems to be that it consists of whatever they believe to be true. Ergo, whenever they "speak" (word three), it's "truth" by definition; they certainly don't need no steenking facts cluttering up their truth (as in the pesky Memogate).

Next, there's "power." The left is all about power differentials. Third-world countries or those perceived as powerless are always right (i.e. "truthful"); powerful countries are always wrong. It's not, of course, just about international relations and countries, it's also about people and economics: poor people=good (powerless), rich people=bad (powerful).

Want to know the origins of the phrase? I did; it turns out it has to do with Quakers and pacifism, (see this), a subject I plan to tackle some time in the not-too-distant future.

If Rather sees himself and CBS as an example of "truth," particularly after Memogate, I'm not exactly sure what falsehood would be. The MSM and CBS are certainly also examples of power, too; hasn't Rather ever heard of the expression "The pen is mightier than the sword?" (I know, I know; CBS doesn't use pens much any more--or typewriters either, for that matter, unfortunately for CBS. But the expression is metaphorical anyway).

[ADDENDUM: In an attempt to head off possible misunderstanding, I will add that I am not talking about liberals here, I'm talking about the left. And I'm not saying Dan Rather is an example of the left; that's why I was a bit surprised to read that he'd used the phrase.]

Friday, September 23, 2005

The Holocaust: was it unique?

Norman Geras is a man who has thought long and hard about the Holocaust. Recently, he tackled the controversial question of whether the Holocaust was, "in some significant moral sense, singular or unique in the long catalogue of calamities that human beings have inflicted upon one another."

Norm has anticipated many possible objections to the discussion and responded to them convincingly. He anticipates and deals with the question of whether the Holocaust stands in some mysterious way outside the realm of such inquiry, whether the discussion of singularity is meaningless because all events are unique, whether the Holocaust must have had one absolutely unique feature to be called unique, and whether the question of uniqueness is ill-advised because it places one group of sufferers above all others.

This last question is one that especially interests me. In attempting to deal with it, Geras places the focus squarely on the acts of the perpetrators rather than on the suffering of the victims:

...the consciousness that developed in Nazi-occupied Europe and in the decades after the Second World War that what the Nazis perpetrated was something historically new and exceptional was not based on any historical computation of the suffering of the victims in relation to other groups of victims. It was a judgement about the nature of the crime. So, at any rate, I propose. It was not some particularity of Jewish suffering, or of the suffering of the other targets of Nazi barbarism - gypsies, Russian prisoners of war (of whom some 3 million died in German captivity), gay people, Jehovah's Witnesses, the disabled, Poles, and so on - but a particularity of the Nazi offence, an offence against humanity itself, that stood out.

Norm makes it clear that the Holocaust was not uniquely terrible because it was perpetrated primarily against Jews; it was uniquely terrible for other reasons. He uses the language of Nuremberg to describe the crime as one against humanity. The Holocaust was indeed also a crime against the Jews, but its uniqueness does not lie in its choice of victims, it relies in some qualities inherent in the offenses of the perpetrators.

Norm sees this uniqueness as having three characteristics, all of which acted together in a vile synergy to create an evil that was singular: (1) the industrialization and bureaucratization of death, using the full resources of a modern state; (2) the comprehensiveness of intent, in which the aim was to wipe out an entire people for no practical reason; and (3) spiritual murder, a devotion to destroying the humanity of the victims before killing them, a sort of blanket impulse to sadistically humiliate and dehumanize.

Geras does not suggest that we ignore the fact that the Holocaust targeted Jews, nor the long history of persecution of Jews throughout the millennia. His point is simply that the identity of the victims is not what makes the Holocaust unique.

I've been thinking of adding a possible fourth element to these three elements of uniqueness. The fourth is related to the second element on Norm's list (and perhaps is only a subset of it), comprehensiveness of intent. I would call this fourth element "global scope" or "comprehensiveness of reach." By that I am referring to the fact that, in any other genocides or mass murders that come to mind, the boundaries of the geography involved were far more limited, either because the people who were targeted lived in a single region, or because the perpetrators only controlled a certain area. The Turks, for example, did not pursue the Armenians around the globe to hunt them down in countries to which they had emigrated.

If the Nazis had rounded up and murdered only the German and Austrian Jews, for example, it would have been a terrible crime indeed, but it would not have been the Holocaust. Instead, the Nazis were geographically expansionist in their genocide, because the Jews were widely scattered throughout Europe. In each country the Germans conquered and occupied, one of their most basic goals was to get the cooperation of the local populace in rounding up its own Jews and helping the Germans to eliminate them from the face of the earth. In this activity, most of Europe was compliant and cooperative, with only a few notable exceptions, among them Denmark and Bulgaria.

So some of the unique horror of the Holocaust is therefore the wide geographic reach of the genocide as well as the international cooperation involved. The Nazis were in charge, but they had many willing and eager collaborators in a large number of countries. The Holocaust was not just a murderous impulse, a question of marching into a country and slaughtering people indiscriminately; it required an intense effort of picking, choosing, and sorting out .

The Nazis lost the war. But they accomplished one of their major goals: the virtual elimination of the Jews of Europe. Before the Holocaust, the majority of the Jews of the world resided there. Afterwards, only a tiny fraction remained. Two out of every three Jews in Europe were murdered during the Holocaust, and most of the rest emigrated. This is part of the unique horror of the Holocaust, as well: that it succeeded almost completely in its audacious and seemingly impossible goal of making Europe Judenfrei.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Stalemate: the German elections

To Americans, the finer points of parliamentary systems are, quite literally, foreign territory. So the recent German election results, murky and confusing to begin with, seem even murkier and more confusing to us Yanks.

One thing is clear, though: the elections have resulted in at least a temporary hiatus in which there is no real victor, and a jockeying for position in which no viable coalition has yet emerged. Jim Rose (via Willism's Carnival of Classiness) has as lucid (and entertaining) an explanation of the German situation as I've seen. And Will himself offers an analysis of the German equivalent of a Red/Blue split in the election--in this case, a Pink/Pinker split--that clearly follows the old West/East lines of Germany's literally divided years.

Why does it matter? It doesn't bode well for the US or Europe if Germany continues to postpone decisions. As Will points out, and as David Frum has written:

German voters have just elected a parliament that will not address the country's most important problems, that cannot make strong decisions and that will put off until tomorrow actions that desperately need to be taken today. That's bad news for Germany's five million unemployed. It's bad news for Europe as a whole, slumped in economic malaise. And it's bad news for North Americans, who are facing a future in which the democracies of Europe will matter less and less--and an aggressive and possibly hostile China will matter more and more.

About seventy years ago, the German parliamentary system faced a similar situation in which no party had emerged as leader and coalitions were hard to form. What was the result? Nothing less than the rise of Hitler.

No, I'm not suggesting that a new Hitler is about to emerge from the German stasis. In fact, one of the few encouraging signs in this election was that support for the neo-Nazis (whose strongest support is in the former East Germany, by the way) seems to have shrunk, and it was very small to begin with (I want to note that, in a masterful piece of understatement, the article says that the German far-right has mainly lacked a single charismatic leader since 1945).

Most of the many complex conditions that came together in a dance macabre to bring Hitler to power are--fortunately for us and the world--not present in the current crisis. But one condition definitely is, and that's an election in which there is no clear winner and shaky coalitions must be formed.

It's often forgotten that, although Hitler came to power through legal means, he and the Nazis did not do this by receiving over 50% of the votes; they were still a minority party at the time. The Nazis' ascension to the leadership of Germany was the terrible fruit of an election in which their actual share of the vote was almost exactly that of today's two leading parties in Germany: 36%.

What appears to my inexpert eyes to be an excellent summary of Hitler's rise to power can be found here. Knowing what we now know about Hitler, it is a tremendous and bitter frustration to see how lucky he was in being the beneficiary of a number of unlikely events which happened to come together to allow him to grab power, and how unlucky we all are that they did so:

Between 1931 and 1933, vicious power struggles would break out between rival political parties. The power brokers in these struggles were Hindenburg and Schleicher. The problem during this period was that no party even came close to achieving the majority required to elect its leader Chancellor. Coalitions were either impossible to build, or were so transient that they dissolved as quickly as they formed. Ambitious leaders from every party began maneuvering for power, striking deals, double-crossing each other, and trying to find the most advantageous alliances. Hitler himself would ally the Nazis to the Nationalist Party. "The chess game for power begins," Joseph Goebbels wrote in his diary. "The chief thing is that we remain strong and make no compromises."

In 1932, hoping to establish a clear government by majority rule, Hindenburg held two presidential elections. Hitler, among others, ran against him. A vote for Hindenburg was a vote to continue the German Republic, while a vote for Hitler was a vote against it. The Nazi party made the most clever use of propaganda, as well as the most extensive use of violence. Bloody street battles erupted between Communists and Nazis thugs, and many political figures were murdered.

In the first election, held on March 13, 1932, Hitler received 30 percent of the vote, losing badly to Hindenburg's 49.6 percent. But because Hindenburg had just missed an absolute majority, a run-off election was scheduled a month later. On April 10, 1932, Hitler increased his share of the vote to 37 percent, but Hindenburg again won, this time with a decisive 53 percent. A clear majority of the voters had thus declared their preference for a democratic republic.

However, the balance of power in the Reichstag was still unstable, lacking a majority party or coalition to rule the government. All too frequently, Hindenburg had to evoke the dictatorial powers available to him under Article 48 of the constitution to break up the political stalemate. In an attempt to resolve this crisis, he called for more elections. On July 31, 1932, the Nazis won 230 out of 608 seats in the Reichstag, making them its largest party. Still, they did not command the majority needed to elect Hitler Chancellor.

In another election on November 6, 1932, the Nazis lost 34 seats in the Reichstag, reducing their total to 196. And for the first time it looked as if the Nazi threat would fade. This was for several reasons. First, the Nazis' violence and rhetoric had hardened opposition against Hitler, and it was becoming obvious that he would never achieve power democratically. Even worse, the Nazi party was running very low on money, and it could no longer afford to operate its expensive propaganda machine. Furthermore, the party was beginning to splinter and rebel under the stress of so many elections. Hitler discovered that Gregor Strasser, one of the Nazis' highest officials, had been disloyal, attempting to negotiate power for himself behind Hitler's back. The shock was so great that Hitler threatened to shoot himself.

But at the lowest ebb of the Nazis' fortunes, the backroom deal presented itself as the solution to all their problems. Deal-making, intrigues and double-crosses had been going on for years now. Schleicher, who had managed to make himself the last German Chancellor before Hitler, would eventually say: "I stayed in power only 57 days, and on each of those days I was betrayed 57 times." It's not worth tracking the ins and outs of all these schemes, but the one that got Hitler into power is worth noting.

Hitler's unexpected savior was Franz von Papen, one of the former Chancellors, a remarkably incompetent man who owed his political career to a personal friendship with Hindenburg. He had been thrown out of power by the much more capable Schleicher, who personally replaced him. To get even, Papen approached Hitler and offered to become "co-chancellors," if only Hitler would join him in a coalition to overthrow Schleicher. Hitler responded that only he could be the head of government, while Papen's supporters could be given important cabinet positions. The two reached a tentative agreement to pursue such an alliance, even though secretly they were planning to double-cross each other.

Meanwhile Schleicher was failing spectacularly in his attempts to form a coalition government, so Hindenburg forced his resignation. But by now, Hindenburg was exhausted by all the intrigue and crisis, and the prospect of civil war had moved the steely field marshal to tears. As much as he hated to do so, he seemed resigned to offering Hitler a high government position. Many people were urging him to do so: the industrialists who were financing Hitler, the military whose connections Hitler had cultivated, even Hindenburg's son, whom some historians believe the Nazis had blackmailed. The last straw came when an unfounded rumor swept through Berlin that Schleicher was about to attempt a military coup, arrest Hindenburg, and establish a military dictatorship. Alarmed, Hindenburg wasted no time offering Hitler the Chancellorship, thinking it was a last resort to save the Republic.

On January 30, 1933, Hitler was sworn in as Chancellor.

It's too long to quote more here, but please read the whole thing. It is of particular interest today to note the role that terror played in Hitler's further consolidation of power--basically, he intimidated the opposition into cooperation through violence and the threat of violence.

In the end, when Hitler was trying to get the two-thirds majority he needed to abolish the Reichstag and become dictator under a ruling meant to give a leader increased powers during a national crisis, he used terror tactics quite worthy of today's "insurgents":

In attempting to secure the votes, the Nazis made heavy use of terror, blackmail and empty promises. The Social Democrats adamantly refused to vote for the Enabling Act, but Hitler was able to win crucial support from the Catholic Center party, by lying to them about future concessions. On March 23, 1933, the Enabling Act came up for a vote. Nazi storm troopers encircled the Reichstag, and legislators had to pass through a ring of tough-looking, black-shirted Nazi thugs to enter the building. While legislators considered the vote, they could hear the storm troopers outside chanting:

"Full powers -- or else! We want the bill -- or fire and murder!"

To paraphrase Churchill: they were offered a choice between the bill, and fire and murder. They chose the bill, and they got the fire and murder as well.

As did we all.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Lucy and the football: North Korea

A couple of days ago the news sounded good--or at least what passes for good in the seemingly interminable attempt to talk North Korea out of developing nuclear weapons:

North Korea agreed Monday to stop building nuclear weapons and allow international inspections in exchange for energy aid, economic cooperation and security assurances, in a first step toward disarmament after two years of six-nation talks. The chief U.S. envoy to the talks praised the breakthrough as a "win-win situation" and "good agreement for all of us."

I'm no North Korea expert. But it didn't take an expert to have grave reservations on hearing the news, and I had reservations so grave as to amount to total disbelief. The history of North Korea's dance with disarmament is a timeline to give the most hopeful of optimists pause. It's a record of so many blatant lies, broken promises, bluster, and bombast as to belong in the realm of the pathological rather than the diplomatic.

There is no rational actor or honest broker in the government of North Korea. There is only, as astute commenter "veryretired" at Austin Bay put it, a government that:

...will say anything, promise anything, agree to anything in order to obtain the aid it needs to continue for a little longer. However, none of the promises or agreements mean the NK regime will actually carry through with whatever they were supposed to do. In time, they will claim that the US violated some aspect of the deal and demand further aid in order to be coaxed back into the negotiation process. The only point worth remembering in this endless courtship dance is that the NK regime is composed of psychopaths who have no shame, no inhibitions about lying, no ethical standards other than remain in power by whatever means for as long as possible.

Unfortunately, I think this states the case succinctly and exactly. North Korea reminds me of nothing so much as Lucy and the football in the venerable "Peanuts" cartoon. Over and over, Lucy persuades dupe Charlie Brown into believing that this time---this time, for sure!--he can trust her. Then, at the eleventh hour, she inevitably foils him once again.

So when North Korea demanded that it be given its reactors first, before any of its nuclear weapons are dismantled, it really was no more a surprise than Lucy's recurrent excuses to Charlie Brown.

Of course, North Korea (Lucy) is not the only player here. In this case it's China that appears to really hold the cards--or the football. When the six-nation talks reconvened two years ago it was China, in its role as sponsor of the sessions, that had a stake in not being made to look bad if the talks fell through yet again. But the economic leverage (stopping the flow of oil, for example) that China could exercise to turn the screws on North Korea has not been used, for reasons best known only to China, which no doubt is playing its own very complex game.

How does one negotiate with a psychopath, Kim Jong-il? Very, very carefully, and very, very skeptically. The usual concerns of a leader for the well-being of his/her citizens are absent here, so it's hard to know what sort of pressure would be likely to reach him. For anyone wishing further elucidation on the personality with which we are dealing in Kim Jong-il, I suggest reading Philip Gourevitch's powerfully ominous biographical essay "Alone in the Dark", which appeared two years ago in the New Yorker. Articles such as that one are the reason I have no intention of canceling my subscription any time soon.

Impeachment: in the Technorati top ten

The other day as I was driving around my blue-as-blue-can-be town of nearly-disappeared anti-Bush bumper stickers, I glimpsed one of the last holdouts: a Volvo proudly emblazoned with a whole bunch of them. The one that particularly saddened me was a slogan I'd seen many times before, "Bush is not my President."

It's one thing to hate Bush, but it's quite another to declare a personal secession from the Union. As even the Washington Post said today, in an editorial about Reid's announcement to vote against Roberts' confirmation: This country has only one President at a time. But just try telling that to the bumper sticker lady.

In a related phenomenon, whenever I've ambled over to Technorati lately to check on some topic buzzing around the blogosphere, I've noticed that one of the top ten most searched-for subjects there is consistently "impeach Bush." It moves around in the ranks, sometimes higher and sometimes lower, but it is virtually always somewhere in that top-ten list.

It makes me wonder when impeachment became the preferred remedy for dealing with a Presidency one doesn't like. Perhaps Watergate, which seems to have been the beginning of so many negative trends in American life. I remember the first Presidential impeachment bumper stickers (Earl Warren doesn't count) appearing during that era.

Then, by the time Clinton was elected, impeachment had become almost a standard remedy. Clinton's many enemies seemed to be salivating for it almost from the start of his Presidency. Of course, with his execrable behavior during the Lewinsky affair, he kindly cooperated by giving them nearly enough rope not only to impeach him but to hang him (they thought he actually had given them enough to hang him, but history proved them wrong).

This is certainly not the first era, however, in which impeachment is a political tool. Perhaps it always has been: see this. Despite the early establishment that political differences are not proper grounds for impeachment (the Justice Chase case in 1805; see previous link), it's been tried before, and probably will be tried again.

But even during the darkest days of the Vietnam War, when LBJ and later Nixon were considered by the left to be war criminals, I don't recall seeing bumper stickers that took the impeachment line. They were Presidents of us all (hate them though many of us did), right up till the moment the first one bowed out of the 1968 race and the second one was forced to resign in ignominy. Ever since then, so many on both sides have been desperately hoping for a repeat.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Pajamas presents: moi

I noticed that my Pajamas profile is up today--so welcome, Pajamas Media readers and Roger Simon readers.

Since I had no control whatsoever over the editing process, it was interesting to observe just what parts the profile included of a rather lengthy--perhaps half-hour--interview in which I was speaking, not writing. Will you believe me when I say that I was positively flowing with extraordinarily articulate and insightful statements, all of which were left out? No? I guess I wouldn't, either.

If you are here for the first time, and want to learn what the site is about, I recommend that you take a look at anything on the right sidebar under the heading "Best of neo-neocon." The heart of this blog, if you have a bit of time to read more, is my "A mind is a difficult thing to change" series, also found on the right sidebar.

As far as my profile goes, I have a couple of mild corrections to make. The first is: did I really say "shocking" that many times? If so, I find it quite shocking--must correct that tendency. Also, the Howard Johnson's piece I referenced was historical and nostalgiac; HoJo's is not presently a part of my life. Next: when I'm quoted as saying, "you step outside the circle and you see the emperor's new clothes" I believe I actually said, "the emperor has no clothes (I know, picky, picky). Lastly, as I state in my FAQs, although I do have training and background as a marriage and family therapist, I am not currently practicing but have plans to open a private practice within the next six months to a year.

There you have it--accuracy in media.

"Second Draft" spotlights Pallywood: watching sausage being made

It'll be like having a look behind the curtain in the Wizard of Oz.
--Richard Landes, originator of Second Draft, in an interview at Solomonia.

By now you may have heard the buzz about Second Draft, a new media watchdog website (I was originally alerted to its existence by Daniel in Brookline).

Second Draft is a site that needs to be publicized and visited by as many people as possible, and so I'm trying to do my part. It shows what the internet can accomplish in opening up and expanding our ability to get at truth, and evaluating the honesty of what we read in the MSM and elsewhere, a topic I've discussed (perhaps ad nauseum) on this site.

Here's a quote explaining Second Draft's mission:

This website is devoted to exploring some of the problems and issues that plague modern journalism. In this age of globalization, the media has unprecedented influence on the way we see the world. And yet, whether out of misplaced good intentions, unconscious agendas and predispositions, or unwarranted faith in false information, they can get the story dramatically wrong. Therefore, we want to revisit and critique journalism's "first draft of history", and hopefully produce a more accurate second one. In our current investigations we present the story the way the mainstream media initially told it, introduce further evidence, and let you decide what you think really happened.

Right now, founder Landes, a professor of history at Boston University, has been concentrating on the work of what he calls "Pallywood." It's an ironic pun on India's "Bollywood" film industry--but Pallywood, unlike Bollywood, is not for entertainment purposes.

Here is Second Draft's explanation of Pallywood:

The material we show here constitutes a tiny fragment of a much larger phenomenon, raw footage from Palestinian photographers working for major western media outlets. From this material, our news agencies prepare news reports that shape our perceptions of what is happening in the Middle East Conflict.

We think that a close analysis of this material defies all expectations of what such footage should resemble, and suggest that Palestinian photographers do not at all share the same production and journalistic values espoused by a free press. We leave the experience and the judgment to you...

We feel that the material you are about to see bears witness to a failure of our MSM culture comparable to that of the Emperor and his court when he paraded naked in front of his public. Moreover, that error is kept from us only by our media's refusal to let the public see their sources. Only the chance circumstances that brought this material to a few people's attention, and the existence of an open internet where we can post the material, makes it possible for the public to consider this costly media embarrassment.

Future projects are to be announced; the site will not be limited to Pallywood and the Palestinians, or even the Middle East.

How and why did Landes take on this project? His background as a historian seems to be part of it, as well as in interest in the history of communications, and in the ability of experts to be duped by forgeries. Landes, who self-identifies as a leftist in this must-read Solomnia interview, sounds like a thoughtful man who doesn't mince words when describing his current view of the MSM:

Look, everybody says that journalism is the first draft of history, but in this case, the first draft is so wrong that as a historian I feel like I need to step in and say Hey, wait a minute you guys. Even as a first draft, this stinks! [laughs] As a professor of history, I've got to say that if a graduate student wrote a first draft that was as credulous in its use of sources as the media has been in the case of the "second intifada," then I'd say he wouldn't make it through the first semester of grad school.

Solomon asks Landes whether, in his opinion, the the press was "duped, or did they play along with it? Were they willing participants?"

Here is Landes' reply:

We want the web site to raise these questions and let people make their own judgments. Now, we think we have some answers, but we're post-modern enough to think there isn't only one answer. So for instance, in answer to your question, if we were to take a pie and slice it up, there would be a slice of journalists just out to make their living by providing their bosses in the West with action footage, another slice of people harboring some sort of bad faith or resentment -- some kind of strong anti-Jewish feelings -- then you've got another chunk of it who are people who really believe they are helping the Palestinians by recycling their propaganda. There's this great line by Bob Simon [of 60 Minutes], 'In the Middle East, one image can be worth 1000 weapons.' I think that there's a prevalent view in the press that since the Israelis have most of the weapons, the media can "level the playing field" by giving the Palestinians the media victory.

Solomon asks Landes whether he will be considered a conservative for the stance he's taken on this issue, and Landes replies like an old-fashioned liberal, one of Norman Geras' "principled leftists":

No, it's a liberal issue! Look it's...the thing people don't understand is that 'our' conservatives - the people like George Bush and Ariel Sharon - are so far to the left when you place them in the framework of say Arab politics that it's a joke...OK? There's no Arab leader that would tolerate the kinds of attacks that George Bush has tolerated without making sure that the people who did it were severely punished for their effrontery. The Arab Michael Moore who exposed the lies told by the Palestinian media that Arafat used to dupe the Palestinians into a losing war would never have survived long enough to show it.

Landes understands the potential for the blogosphere to change things. He turned to the internet because the MSM, not too surprisingly, wasn't especially interested:

I teach the history of communications revolutions. I know the impact that the printing press had on the sort of imbedded manuscript culture that came before it. The internet will be in the 21st century to print media what the print media was to manuscript in the 16th. That's why I'm going to the web, to the blogosphere. In the mainstream media, busy covering its naked ass, I can't get the time of day. As one guy at ABC who admitted he was convinced by my material put it -- "I'm not sure how much appetite there is for this stuff here."

So I'm doing my best to show the ABC guy that the appetite is strong for viewing original sources and letting the reader be the judge.

Perhaps the MSM doesn't understand the force of allowing the reader access to original footage and source material. Or perhaps it does, and that's the problem. It could be that many in the MSM have the attitude that making news is like making sausage--they fear that if they let you see how it's actually made, you might lose some of your taste for it.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Honoring Commodore Levy: Jews in the military

When I studied history in grade school and high school, it was my least favorite subject. Dry and dull, a parade of disjointed dates and battles, all the juice had been squeezed out of it--which is a shame, because it needn't be that way. History is not only exciting, it's essential to know if we are to have even a hope of avoiding a repetition of our mistakes. What's more, history features real--and usually very fascinating--people.

You wouldn't think reporters would make the same errors as my old history texts. But sometimes, it seems they do.

Take this, for example, a rather ordinary article I spotted today in the Boston Globe. Originally written for the Washington Post, it's a serviceable but uninspired piece about the opening of the Commodore Uriah P. Levy Center and Jewish Chapel at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis. The gist of the story is that although it took quite a while--longer than it should have--now

..Jewish midshipmen finally will have their own place on the campus to express their faith...The 35,000-square-foot center includes the 410-seat chapel, which will be used only for Jewish services, as well as a character learning center and fellowship hall for midshipmen of all faiths...With today's dedication of the center, the Naval Academy will become the last of the three US military academies to provide Jews with their own worship space.

Later in the story the following sentence appears:

The chapel's architect, Joseph Boggs, led visitors on a tour Thursday, showing them a pavilion at the chapel's entrance that was modeled after Thomas Jefferson's home at Monticello and a nearly 45-foot-high wall that is a replica of the Western Wall of Jerusalem.

Sounds nice; Monticello and the Western Wall. The Western Wall part makes sense--but what about that Monticello reference? That one's a bit mysterious, is it not? After all, it's not as though Jefferson had all that much to do with the Navy or with Judaism--although he did champion the cause of religious freedom.

The key to Monticello's presence in the chapel lies in the background story the Globe/Post article leaves out, that of Commodore Uriah Levy, the man after whom the new building is named. Therein lies a colorful tale; Levy is a character well worth knowing about.

It turns out that Commodore Levy (1792-1862) ("Commodore" being the highest rank in the US Navy at the time Levy held the title) was, among other things, a Jefferson buff, and was responsible for buying and restoring Monticello, which had fallen into disrepair after Jefferson's death. And, in fact, one of Jefferson's well-known letters concerning religious freedom was penned to Mordecai Noah, who just happened to have been a cousin of Levy's (they shared maternal grandfather Jonas Phillips, a Revolutionary War soldier of some renown. The Levy family in general appears to have had a propensity for distinguished military service).

The initial saving and restoration of Monticello was only one of Commodore Levy's claims to fame. Another was that he was the man most responsible for the Navy's abandonment of the practice of flogging.

The irrepressible Levy's life reads like something out of a picaresque novel. One of my favorite details is that he ran away from home at the age of ten to become a cabin boy, returning a few years later to Philadelphia, his home town, for his Bar Mitzvah (when Levy made the traditional declaration "now I am a man" to the congregation, I would imagine they were inclined to agree with him rather more than is usual at a Bar Mitzvah). He shipped out again a few years later and spent most of his life in the Navy, rising up in the ranks in a career not without its setbacks, although he took a few years out to amass a generous fortune in real estate.

Among Levy's setbacks were what may have been a record number of court-martials for a single person: six. Levy was hot-headed and proud, and some of these court-martials concerned fights, many of them occasioned by insults to his religion (in fact, in one of these duels he killed a man). Whether or not he was a Dreyfus-like figure being persecuted for religious reasons is not entirely clear, although he apparently thought so. At any rate, he had a phoenix-like ability to rise from each court-martial to even greater heights than before, and spearheaded the successful anti-flogging drive.

Here's one of my favorite incidents in a life loaded with them:

In March of 1825 Levy joined the "Cyane" as the second lieutenant. While on the "Cyane," Levy became very popular after saving the life of an American who had been impressed into the Brazilian Navy. The Emperor of Brazil, Dom Pedro, was struck by Levy's courageous act and ordered that no U.S. citizen ever again be impressed into the Brazilian Navy. Pedro then offered him the rank of captain in the Imperial Brazilian Navy. Levy declined, exhibiting his patriotism by stating, "I would rather serve as a cabin boy in the United States Navy than hold the rank of Admiral in any other service in the world."

Here's another chapter in an improbable life:

...Levy returned to America, and, with the start of the Civil War, Levy offered his military services as well as his entire fortune to save the Union. Instead, Lincoln installed him on the Court-Martial Board in Washington, despite his six courts-martial.

Six court-martials, and he ends up on the other side of the bench.

Levy's life is fascinating. But Levy was just one man who served proudly in the US Navy. Levy is not alone, of course. It turns out that Jews have long had a significant presence in the Navy and in the military. You may be surprised (as I was) to find that at times their participation has been slightly higher than their percentage in the US population as a whole:

Block [a 1961 Annapolis graduate] said the Jewish chapel's presence will correct "the general perception that we don't serve in the military. People think that all Jewish boys do everything they can to avoid going into the service." In fact, out of 16.3 million U.S. military personnel who served in World War II, an estimated 550,000 were Jewish. Today, there are about 100 Jews out of 4,000 midshipmen at the academy.

It would be hard to imagine a more appropriate choice than that of Commodore Uriah Levy for the name of the new Annapolis chapel. Levy was dedicated to the Navy, his country, the Jewish faith, and the cause of religious freedom, and this chapel combines them all.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Family day

I'm taking today off to be with family. My son is visiting (the one who convinced me to start the blog).

But I wanted to thank everyone for the kind words on my blogaversary (sp?). They mean a lot to me, you can be sure.

See you tomorrow--

Saturday, September 17, 2005

One year* anniversary

It's my one-year blog anniversary. Sort of. Kind of.

Why the asterisk? Although the first day I ever posted on this blog was nominally almost exactly a year ago--September 16, 2004--I wrote very little for the first five months.

To tell the truth, starting the blog wasn't even my idea. I'd been reading blogs and commenting on them for about two years, and that was more than enough for me. But when my son was up for a visit he suggested I start a blog of my own, since I was already spending so much time writing comments and letters to other blogs.

My first reaction was a vehement "No way." I craved neither the spotlight nor the amount of work it would take. But my son said it was really easy to set one up; he'd even do it for me. And I didn't have to ever actually post on it--but it would be there waiting for me, just in case.

He went to Blogger and showed me the templates, and to humor him (and to shut him up) I chose one. It was all done in a minute or two, and when he asked me what I wanted to call it I thought of "neophyte neocon." But he pronounced that too long (I agreed) and suggested "neo-neocon." So "neo-neocon" it was.

I didn't much care. It was all quite irrelevant, since of course it would only be seen by me and by him and perhaps one or two other people on earth.

Here's my first post, in its entirety: A test to see whether everything's in order, blogwise. I didn't post again for twelve days, and in those first few posts I'd not even figured out how to do a link. In September there were a grand total of two posts, in October a whopping four, then one in November and two in December (the election had exhausted me). I had a huge surge in January with six.

Then in February something happened. I'm not sure why, but suddenly I was writing more. I had installed a sitemeter during the last week of January, and it was sobering to see the tiniest of trickles. In late February it occurred to me that if I was doing this anyway, why not experiment and see if I could actually get some readers?

Despite the casualness of my start, I did have an idea for my blog, even from the first. I was determined to tell the story of my political change, the tale that my friends and family didn't want to hear. I wanted to provide a forum for people who had similar stories to come and compare notes. I wanted to write about whatever else I wanted to write about.

So in late February I sent out a couple of e-mails introducing myself and my blog to a very small group of bloggers I considered simpatico.

I immediately was on the receiving end of kindness and got a couple of links. The traffic started climbing, the links kept coming, and the rest is history, of a sort. There are so many people to thank along the way that it's probably easier to say thanks to 75% of my blogroll rather than to list them all--but a special thanks to Dr. Sanity, Vietpundit, and Norm Geras, who, whether they know it or not, I consider my original blogmother and blogfathers. Then there are Roger Simon and Austin Bay and and Michael Totten and Clive Davis and Dean Esmay and Dymphna and the Baron and...well, as I said, take a look at my blogroll.

And of course I want to thank all of the readers and commenters here. I've been very gratified at the uniformly high caliber of the comments--I think it's worth coming just for those alone. After all, I know I'm not everybody's cup of tea--for one thing, I tend to specialize in the long essay rather than the short and snappy, and for another thing, well--I'll just reiterate that I'm not everybody's cup of tea (or, as one commenter here famously wrote, "one of the most painfully boring blogs of all times").

Writing this blog has been hard work, but it's been wonderful.

One of the best things about blogging is seeing readers come here from all over the world. I hadn't known what tales a sitemeter could tell until I had one of my own, so it was wondrous to me when I first saw sights such as this typical one, representing a random snapshot of the time zones of recent readers :

or this one, of the countries of recent visitors:

So welcome to my blog, and welcome to my first anniversary party. The cake will have to be virtual, but at least it won't be fattening:

Friday, September 16, 2005

On the kindness of strangers: the aftermath of Katrina

I know Bush must have given an excellent speech last night because a liberal friend of mine pronounced it "moving" and "inspiring" in somewhat awed and surprised tones. Something he said, or perhaps the way he said it, touched her as nothing he'd ever done before.

My friend is also a barometer that tells me that the media may have overplayed its Bush-bashing hand on Katrina, big time, because she added that it's unreasonable to expect Bush could have done much to have changed things; she thinks the local authorities were most at fault. And all this from a women who until now has not had a kind word to say about the man.

So first there was Katrina itself, and then there was the reporting on Katrina. Now there is the initial aftermath of Katrina as the actual facts are becoming more widely known, and the more slowly-evolving secondary aftermath. In these later aftermaths there are some stories that can only be described as heartwarming.

Betsy's Page led me to this article that appeared in yesterday's Washington Post. It is a tale of renewal and hope for three men made homeless by Katrina:

For Henry, Smith and a third evacuee, Vylandrus Dupree, who is now being housed at a resort in Arkansas, the unimaginable disaster has led to an unimaginable gift. Through a series of chance encounters and random decisions made by relief workers, these young African American men find themselves in parts of the country they had never seen before, and each believes there is no going back.

In the Tenessee Williams play "A Streetcar Named Desire," set in New Orleans, the character Blanche Du Bois, abused and driven to madness, utters her famous line "I've come to rely on the kindness of strangers" as she is taken away to an insane asylum. The line is powerfully ironic in the play, but in post-Katrina reality it is delivered straight:

[Katrina evacuees] just got on a plane only knowing they were going to be taken somewhere for shelter, and they ended up happening to come to Battle Creek," said Capt. Aaron Jenkins, a spokesman for the Michigan National Guard. "That's what happened to a lot of people."

When Henry got off the bus at the base, people were holding signs saying "Welcome" and "I love you."

Henry said he was glad to have been given a way out of New Orleans. He talked about the violence and drugs that had surrounded him there, the "harassment by police" and "false promises" by politicians.

"The Lord was telling me it was time for a change," he said. "I am going to take this opportunity to change my life and start a new beginning."

Henry has found a new life in Michigan, a place to which he'd never been before. Another New Orleans resident, Cash Smith, found himself whisked off to another far-off place he'd never imagined going:

Chad Ladov and two of his friends in Denver had watched the unfolding disaster in New Orleans as had millions of other Americans. One of the friends, Andrew Hudson, worked at Denver-based Frontier Airlines, and asked his company whether it could fly New Orleans evacuees to Denver free. When the company agreed, the trio immediately left for Houston, where thousands of evacuees were being housed at the Astrodome...The three friends canvassed the Astrodome, putting up signs and posters about their Denver proposal. That's when they came by Cash Smith.

"Hey, dude, do you want to come to Denver?" Smith recalled them asking...

"I have no money," Smith replied.

The group told him the airline ride to Denver was free. They promised him help in finding a job and getting on his feet.

"Why not give it a try?" Ladov said.

Smith decided to take a chance. After all, he was surrounded by strangers in the stadium; why not trust these three?

"I have lost everything else," he said he thought to himself. "What do I have to lose?"

Smith and his family will stay in Denver.

And another man who fled New Orleans in the path of Katrina, Vylandrus Dupree, found himself in another unexpected and undreamt-of place:

Volunteers helped Dupree enroll at the University of Arkansas. "It's a big opportunity," he said. "I would have been a fool not to take it."

Dupree said a clergyman he had met at the Red Cross facility had helped him find a job at a Walgreens drugstore.

There was no question of going back to New Orleans, Dupree said. "It's beautiful up here."

Some telling statistics: for two-thirds of those people whom Ladov and his friends flew to Denver, it was the very first time they'd ever been on an airplane. And all of those evacuated to northwest Arkansas were given the following choice: stay in that part of Arkansas, move back to New Orleans, or relocate elsewhere. Ninety-five percent chose to stay in Arkansas, an extraordinary percentage.

Sometimes relying on the kindness of strangers seems a good bet.

[ADDENDUM: Apparently these three are hardly the exceptions; many evacuees do not plan to return. Via Captain's Quarters, the Washington Post reports the following poll results:

Forty-three percent of these evacuees planned to return to New Orleans, the survey found. But just as many -- 44 percent -- said they will settle somewhere else, while the remainder were unsure. Many of those who were planning to return said they will be looking to buy or rent somewhere other than where they lived. Overall, only one in four said they plan to move back into their old homes, the poll found.]

Thursday, September 15, 2005

David Brooks on the Roberts hearings

I had no idea David Brooks was a comedian, but this column
of his is pretty funny stuff (of course, he had some awfully good material to work with).

Is it possible that David is any relation to Albert or Mel? (And yes, I know, I know--Albert's real name is actually Albert Einstein.)

The Palestinians: the more things change, the more they.....

A reader recently alerted me to an astounding article by Martha Gellhorn which appeared in the Atlantic Monthly in October of 1961, forty-four years ago.

Gellhorn was quite a story in herself. Beautiful, brilliant, brave, she was the third wife of Hemingway (a fact she wanted biographers to omit when writing about her) and a well-known journalist and author.

The article is entitled "The Arabs of Palestine," and it was the result of a series of interviews Gellhorn had with residents of Palestinian refugee camps, and talks with Israeli Arabs, as well. The article is long, but well worth reading in its entirety, although it is available by paid subscription only. I will quote some excerpts, but I suggest you try to obtain it and read it to get its full flavor.

At the time of Gellhorn's article, the various refugee camps she visited were under the jurisdiction of Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon. Keep in mind, also, that she was describing conditions that existed long before the 1967 war that resulted in Israel having jurisdiction over some of the areas Gellhorn visited. Therefore nothing Gellhorn writes about Palestinian attitudes towards Israel could possibly be the result of an "occupation" that hadn't yet occurred.

Here are some of her opening salvos:

Although no one knows exactly how many refugees are scattered everywhere over the globe, it is estimated that since World War II, and only since then, at least thirty-nine million non-Arab men, women, and children have become homeless refugees, through no choice of their own....The world could be far more generous to these unwilling wanderers, but at least the world has never thought of exploiting them. They are recognized as people, not pawns. By their own efforts, and with help from those devoted to their service, all but some six million of the thirty-nine million have made a place for themselves, found work and another chance for the future. To be a refugee is not necessarily a life sentence.

The unique misfortune of the Palestinian refugees is that they are a weapon in what seems to be a permanent war. Alarming signs, from Egypt, warn us that the Palestinian refugees may develop into more than a justification for cold war against, in the Middle East, you get a repeated sinking sensation about the Palestinian refugees: they are only a beginning, not an end. Their function is to hang around and be constantly useful as a goad.

They have certainly preserved that function, haven't they? Over forty years after Gellhorn wrote these prescient words, the Palestinians are still hanging around as refugees, and still a goad.

The camps, then as now, were administered by UNRWA. Gellhorn visited eight, along with a Palestinian translator, and talked to many of the residents.

UNRWA is running a world, simply, a little welfare state. It makes villages, called camps, and keeps them clean and free of disease, feeds, educates, trains teachers and technicians and craftsmen, operates clinics and maternity centers, sends out visiting nurses, encourages small private enterprises with small loans, distributes clothing, soap, kerosene, blankets, provides hospitalization, footballs, youth clubs, mosques...

Gellhorn describes an UNRWA camp in Lebanon which was inhabited by Christian Arabs:

The camp consisted of little cement or frame houses rambling over the hillside, a village of poor people, disorderly and beflowered and cheerful. School was letting out for lunch; troops of children, dressed in the pinafore uniform that small boys and girls wear in Italian schools, meandered home, shouting bye-bye at friendly, giggling length. They are Roman Catholics here, but the young teachers are refugees, not priests. They have to teach the children about Palestine, since most of them have never seen the country and even the oldest cannot remember it. The children are taught hate, the Garden of Eden stolen from them by murderers; their duty is to live for Return and Revenge.

Gellhorn speaks to the camp leader there and has one of the first of what she calls "Mad Hatter conversations":

It went like this:

"The Arab countries invaded Israel in 1948 to save the Palestine Arabs from being massacred by the Jews."

"Were there massacres? Where?"

"Oh, yes, everywhere. Terrible, terrible."

"Then you must have lost many relatives and friends."

This, being a tiresome deduction from a previous statement, is brushed aside without comment.

"Israel overran the truce lines and stole our country. We left from fear. We have a right to our property, which brings in 47 million pounds a year in income. If we had our own money, we would need nothing from UNRWA. Our own money is much more. We do not have to be grateful for the little money spent on us. We should have our own."

"Then, of course, you want to return to your property and to Israel?"

"Not to Israel. Never to Israel. To our own country, to our own part."

"But didn't the Jews accept Partition, while the Palestine Arabs and the Arab governments refused?"

"Yes, yes. And England protected the Jews. An Arab was arrested if he carried a pistol only to defend himself, but Jews could go through the streets in tanks and nothing happened to them. Also, England told the Arab states to attack Israel."

The principal of the school then spoke up. "In our school, we teach the children from their first year about their country and how it was stolen from them. I tell my son of seven. You will see: one day a man of eighty and a child so high, all, all will go home with arms in their hands and take back their country by force."

When Gellhorn and her guide leave the meeting, the guide astonishes her by showing surprising reasonableness--in private (he seems to have possibly been one of those mythical "moderate Palestinians" about which we've argued so much):

"It can all be solved with money," he said. "Now the people have nothing in their mouths but words, so they talk. Money fills the mouth too. If every man got a thousand dollars for each member of his family, for compensation to have lost his country, and he could be a citizen in any Arab country he likes, he would not think of Palestine any more. Then he could start a new life and be rich and happy. And those who really do own something in Palestine must be paid for what they had there. But those are not many. Most had nothing, only work."

Gellhorn describes Gaza almost forty-five years ago, when it was administered by Egypt:

The Egyptian government is the jailer. For reasons of its own, it does not allow the refugees to move from this narrow strip of land. The refugees might not want to leave at all, or they, might not want to leave for good; but anyone would become claustrophobic if penned, for thirteen years, inside 248 square kilometers. A trickle of refugees, who can prove they have jobs elsewhere, are granted exit visas. The only official number of the departed is less than three hundred, out of 255,000 registered refugees. It seems incredible. Rumor says that more refugees do manage to go away illegally, by unknown methods.

These locked-in people--far too many in far too little space--cannot find adequate work. Naturally, there is less chance of employment than in the other "host countries." Meantime, they are exposed to the full and constant blast of Egyptian propaganda. No wonder that Gaza was the home base of the trained paramilitary bands called commandos by the Egyptians and Palestinians, and gangsters by the Israelis--the fedayin, whose job was to cross unnoticed into Israel and commit acts of patriotic sabotage and murder. And having been so devastatingly beaten by Israel again, in 1956, has not improved the trapped, bitter Gaza mentality; it only makes the orators more bloodthirsty.

When one reads that passage, the previous speaker's point becomes even more poignant: if the Palestinian "could be a citizen in any Arab country he likes, he would not think of Palestine any more." Ah, but Palestinians can't become such citizens--and there's the rub.

Gellhorn has an interview with the Palestinian leader of a camp in Gaza:

First the camp leader told me how rich they had all been in Palestine and how miserable they were now and how much land they had all owned. I do not doubt for one minute how much land some of them owned, nor how rich some of them were, and I did not point out this subtle distinction: if everyone owned the land claimed, Palestine would be the size of Texas; if everyone had been so rich, it would have been largely populated by millionaires...

Then he spoke of Jaffa, his native town. The Jews surrounded the city, firing on all sides; they left one little way out, by the sea, so the Arabs would go away. Only the very old and the very poor stayed, and they were killed. Arab refugees tell many dissimilar versions of the Jaffa story, but the puzzler is: where are the relatives of those who must have perished in the fury of high explosive the infallible witnesses? No one says he was loaded on a truck (or a boat) at gun point; no one describes being forced from his home by armed Jews; no one recalls the extra menace of enemy attacks, while in flight. The sight of the dead, the horrors of escape are exact, detailed memories never forgotten by those who had them. Surely Arabs would not forget or suppress such memories, if they, too, had them.

As for those Arabs who remained behind, they are still in Jaffa--3000 of them--living in peace, prosperity, and discontent, with their heirs and descendants.

"The Jews are criminals," the camp leader continued in a rising voice. "Murderers! They are the worst criminals in the whole world."

Had he ever heard of Hitler?

He banged his table and said, "Hitler was far better than the Jews!"

"Far better murderer? He killed six million Jews as a start," I observed.

"Oh, that is all exaggerated. He did not. Besides, the Jews bluffed Hitler. They arranged in secret that he should kill a few of them--old ones, weak ones--to make the others emigrate to Palestine."

"Thirty-six thousand of them," said the Secret Service man, proving the point, "came here, before the war, from Central Europe."

"It's amazing," I said. "I have never before heard anywhere that the Jews arranged with Hitler for him to kill them."

"It was a secret!" the camp leader shouted. "The documents have been found. Everyone knows. It was published. The Jews arranged it all with Hitler."

Everywhere Gellhorn goes she has similar "Mad Hatter" conversations. At the time these talks must have seemed most odd indeed, but these are ideas with which we have now become all too familiar. The rot in the Palestinian world apparently set in long before the "occupation," long before Arafat became its corrupt and corrupting leader.

I disagree with a few things Gellhorn says (in particular, she accepts in its totality the Palestinian version of Dir Yassin), but I think she gets the big picture right.

Back then, the outlook actually seemed marginally more hopeful--for one thing, the Palestinians had only been in this situation for thirteen years. It is far worse now that time has passed, and after Oslo allowed Arafat to drain the Palestinian coffers while preaching ever more hatred.

But any quibbles I have with the article are minor; Gellhorn's piece could practically have been written today in terms of the conversations and the patterns of thought she describes.

Here is part of her summation of the situation as she saw it then:

I had appreciated and admired individual refugees but realized I had felt no blanket empathy for the Palestinian refugees, and finally I knew why...It is hard to sorrow for those who only sorrow over themselves. It is difficult to pity the pitiless. To wring the heart past all doubt, those who cry aloud for justice must be innocent. They cannot have wished for a victorious rewarding war, blame everyone else for their defeat, and remain guiltless....

Arabs gorge on hate, they roll in it, they breathe it. Jews top the hate list, but any foreigners are hateful enough. Arabs also hate each other, separately and, en masse. Their politicians change the direction of their hate as they would change their shirts. Their press is vulgarly base with hate-filled cartoons; their reporting describes whatever hate is now uppermost and convenient. Their radio is a long scream of hate, a call to hate. They teach their children hate in school. They must love the taste of hate; it is their daily bread. And what good has it done them?

There is no future in spending UN money to breed hate. There is no future in nagging or bullying Israel to commit suicide by the admission of a fatal locust swarm of enemies. There is no future in Nasser's solution, the Holy War against Israel; and we had better make this very clear, very quickly.

Well, it's way too late to make this very clear very quickly. Forty-four years have gone by. Nasser is long dead, and even Arafat; but the Holy War against Israel lives.

But it's still not too late to make it very clear--if only the world agreed to do so.

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