Friday, September 29, 2006

Krauthammer's Law extended: we are all Jews now

Charles Krauthammer's column "Turning up Jewish" is both funny and serious. Funny because his thesis--that, scratch a politician these days, and you get a Jewish ancestor--though hyperbolic, is based on the odd but true fact that it's now a campaign plus to talk about Jewish roots, and such roots seem to turn up in the most unlikely of places. Serious because it reflects on two controversial points: the fact that Jews are high-achievers, overrepresented and illustrious in so many fields; and the phenomenon of the Jew who keeps the fact of his/her Jewishness (or Jewish birth) a secret, even from his/her children.

The last two points would each require a book--or a thousand books--to explain, or to attempt to explain. I'm not going to tackle them right now. But what of all those Jewish ancestors? I don't know what's made it something politicians want to talk about lately. But, given that they do, I don't think it's so very strange that so many are popping up. The fact is that most of us have far more variety in our ancestry that we believe. So if you're looking for such a thing, it's not all that hard to find.

Krauthammer states his law as follows: Everyone is Jewish until proven otherwise. He's talking about politicians, and he's exaggerating to make a joke. And the politicians of whom he speaks are mostly rather closely related to their secret Jewish ancestors, as it turns out. But if you go back in time long enough, perhaps everybody is Jewish. In fact, perhaps everybody is everything, or a tiny little bit of everything.

Go back only two generations and each person has four grandparents; one step further gives eight grandparents. Mathematically speaking, it doesn't take all that long to hit the big big numbers. In fact, I read a book ages ago (I recall it as The Tower of Names, although my efforts to look it up right now have failed me--both Google and Amazon have drawn an uncharacteristic blank) that asserted one only has to go back a surprisingly small number of generations and we all are related, because the number of ancestors expands and interrelates in some elegant mathematical fashion I no longer remember.

If any person looking for a single Jewish ancestor is willing to go back far enough, one wouldn't be all that hard to find, even though Jews themselves are surprisingly scarce, given their enormous visibility and the amount of hatred directed their way.

Geneology buffs--and I'm not one of them--are a bit like those who believe in past lives. That is, they tend to pick and choose among ancestors. Whoever talks about the ancestor who went to debtors' prison, or the past life in which one was a ragpicker? It's the illustrious or royal ancestors or lives we prefer to talk about. For geneologists, they are probably also the easiest to research, as well. But they are the tip of the iceberg.

The bottom of that iceberg is the far larger number of unknown and inglorious progenitors, and those of different ethnic origins. So if it's Jews you're looking for, you can probably find them.

Anger makes strange bedfellows: trolls and jihadis

I'm back from DC and naturally have a backlog of things to do, the way it always is when one goes away. So I wasn't online much today, and the troll commentary has managed to pile up on the previous thread. I've left it all there so far, although I may delete it later. As I know I've said before, sometimes I leave such comments up because they are so very instructive about the techniques and thought processes of a certain segment of the Left.

Why would trolls think such "argument"--amounting mostly to ad hominem attacks and insults--would convince anyone of the truth of their cause? On the face of it, that doesn't make sense. But the argument of a troll only masquerades as argument; it's not really meant to convince. It's meant to harass, and to strut a sort of macho aggressiveness (my strong sense, even if saying it is not PC, is that the vast majority of trolls are male).

Trolls exist to disrupt a blog. That's their entire raison d'etre. Trolling is a strange and sorry way to spend any of the precious hours of one's life, but there you have it.

It must have its own rewards for the troll. Every time a person responds to a troll, the troll feels good. Every time the blogger has to write a post like the one I'm writing now, the troll feels good. Every time a blogger has to change from one form of comments to another in order to increase banning capacity (as I've had to do previously, and will probably do again soon in a major reorganization of the blog when I get some time) the troll feels especially, exceptionally good.

It's interesting that the previous thread, the one that drew so many trolls (or so many sock puppets--take your pick; I don't even feel like taking the trouble to check who's who right now, although I can easily do that) was about the ubiquity and free-floating quality of Muslim rage. When you think about it, there isn't much reason that Leftists and jihadis should have much in common, although politics (and hatred of neocons) does make strange bedfellows. But one of the things both groups share is their rage, and their pride and even glee in expressing it.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Leaked intelligence report: what fuels jihadi rage?

Here's an interesting discussion of the reaction to the partially leaked report of the NIA, widely quoted in the media as saying the Iraqi War has fueled the creation of more terrorists.

It seemsto me to be a tautology that, with an ideology such as Islamist totalitartianism, attempts to fight back would not be expected to damp down terrorism, especially at first. The important fact is that the alternative--failing to fight back--doesn't discourage terrorism, either; it encouraged it.

If one considers each alternative, the realization is that neither works particularly well in achieving that goal in the short run. And right now, even though five long years have passed since 9/11, that only represents the short run in the war against Islamist totalitarianism, which is the current source of most terrorism today.

In fact, this is a war we've been fighting at least since 1979, the year of the Iranian revolution, whether we've acknowledged it or not. And the number of terrorists has continued to be fueled. It was fueled by Carter's pallid reaction to the hostage crisis. It was fueled by appeasing the terrorist Arafat. It was fueled by the 80s and Reagan's inaction. It was fueled by the 90s and Clinton's inaction. It was fueled by the sight of the burning WTC towers. It was fueled by the cartoons of Mohammed. It was fueled by--well, you get the idea.

Now of course it turns out that the leaked report didn't really say exactly what the press purported:

Here's the relevant bit:

The Iraq conflict has become the cause celebre for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of US involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement. Should jihadists leaving Iraq perceive themselves, and be perceived, to have failed, we judge fewer fighters will be inspired to carry on the fight.


Sounds pretty logical to me. Exactly what might be expected. In the short run, terrorists are energized by conflict and the chance to fight the Great Satan. In the long run, if we are victorious, they shouud be discouraged. At least, we think so.

Of course, one could also say that defeat breeds resentment, and that portions of the Islamic world have been brooding about revenge for the ignominy of defeat since their debacle at the Gates of Vienna. Or was it the Battle of Lepanto? Then again, we have the fall of the Ottomon Empire; I seem to recall Osama mentioned that in his post-9/11 vindication message.

The truth seems to be that Islamic totalitarian rage is extraordinarily versatile in its ability to find alternative fuels to stoke its fire.

Neo at the Press Club

I'm going to be posting lightly today, for two reasons. The first is some connectivity problems (I'm still in DC at a friend's place, and the signal goes in and out with total unpredictability). The second is that it's a travel day for me.

But here for your perusal is a photo that includes me, taken at the National Press Club event by the esteemed Baron Bodissey. The Baron is discreet.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Pajamas in Washington DC

I've been in DC since yesterday and busy, busy, busy, although one of the things I've not been busy with is writing and blogging. I should be returning to my regularly scheduled program of blogging shortly, but for now I'll just briefly describe the events.

One never knows how these things will turn out, but this one has been wonderful, although a bit of a whirlwind. So many bloggers and/or journalists in one room makes for a heady experience. The official panel discussion is the centerpiece, and last night's distinguished itself by being fascinating, substantive, and entertaining. But the panel was only part of what people come here for (they really come for the appetizers, of course--and these were not too shabby--and the bar).

No, the main deal is talking to other bloggers, and to the other assembled luminaries. Among the bloggers I got to meet for the first time were the mysterious Baron Boddissey, as well as Fausta, and the globe-hopping Michael Totten. Then there are literary and journalistic luminaries such as the petite and charmingly French Nidra Pollner, the petite and charmingly American Claudia Rosett, both of whose work I admire greatly; it was good to be able to tell them so in person. Likewise Michael Barone (looking exactly as he does on television--although that's what one expects, it's always a little bit unexpected, as well), the pajamas-clad (well, for part of the evening, anyway) and entertaining Richard Miniter, and the witty Cliff May.

There were so many wonderful bloggers there that it would become a tedious laundry list to mention even half of them. But there was nothing tedious about the experience of meeting them--or, in many cases, renewing what's now becoming an old acquaintance and even a friendship. As I've said before, blggers in person are a highly energized and intense bunch, and we sure can talk. And talk and talk and talk, into the wee hours of the morning.

I'm about to do some more talking--and a bit of sightseeing and eating as well. So I'll cut this short by simply recycling a piece I wrote from the last Pajamas meetup back in November of 2005.

The cast of characters is a bit different in its details--and another change is that Roger Simon no longer wears a fedora (the shaved head is the current look). But it's still true that:

I find it an extraordinary experience to meet people backwards: that is, to meet their minds first and their bodies second. You get to know people in a totally different way as, day after day, you read what they are thinking without ever having met them in the flesh.

You don't even realize how many preconceptions (and perhaps misconceptions) you are building up until you meet the person him/herself. Sometimes the meeting shatters those preconceptions utterly. Far more often, however, the person you meet is both similar and somewhat different from the one you had expected: younger, older; livelier, shyer; more fidgety, calmer; funnier, more solemn. Then you superimpose the new template on the old and merge the two, and now you know the person in a fuller, rounder sense.

And so it is that I am very happy to have met these and so many other old friends (and new), and to have made the pictures of them in my mind's eye more complete.

The ex-President's analysts

Forgive me for being so slow on the draw to post a link to the latest Sanity Squad podcast, but yesterday I spent the day flying to Washington, DC and then doing the Pajamas Media thing.

The Squad talks about President Clinton's interview with Chris Wallace, including the larger issues it raises: blame, responsibility, narcissism, strategy, and the behavior of ex-Presidents.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The spook who came in from the cold

Take a look at a new blog (new to me, at least)--and an interesting one--by someone who claims to be a former US military intelligence officer. I like the title: In From the Cold, paraprasing the John Le Carre novel (via Roger Simon).

The blogger's pseudonum is "Spook 86" (his age? the year he came in from the cold?) See what you think.

Light blogging day. I've been traveling--will fill you in later.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Parsing the Pope's words; having a "dialogue"

The Pope hosted Moslem leaders in a conference today, giving a five-minute speech that sounded conciliatory, at least from the short excerpts published (I can't find a full transcript). Although he didn't offer an apology for his previous remarks, the topic was working together to overcome historic enmities between the two faiths.

The feeling tone was good, too. The Pope "greeted [the envoys] one-by-one, clasping their hands warmly."

Iraqi Albert Edward Ismail Yelda seemed happy: "The Holy Father stated his profound respect for Islam. This is what we were expecting...It is now time to put what happened behind and build bridges."

Al Jazeera televised the speech in its entirety. The Vatican, in an unusual move, offered an Arabic translation of the text in its press releases.

So, according to Mohamed Nour Dachan, an Syrian-Italian-Moslem "The dialogue goes on....The dialogue is a priority for both Muslims and Christians."

Ah, that wonderful buzz-word, "dialogue." It's an article of faith that "dialogue" is the first step to understanding. And, of course, it can be; it's sort of like that well-known goal of all marriage therapists, "communication."

But both these things depend on other elements being present for their success. There's no doubt that some Christians and some Moslems do have common goals, and productive dialogue is possible between them. But for those Moslems who don't share those goals, all the dialogue in the world will not alter a thing. Islamist totalitarian Moslems are not interested; "dialogue" with other faiths tends, for them, to be a tool to stall for time or to trick the enemy.

And, in fact, moderate Moslems who are interested in such dialogue seem afraid of the Islamist totalitarians, as well they should be. They are their enemy, too, as well as ours. Note the following details in the article about the Pope's talk:

Nearly all the other envoys left without speaking to reporters. The embassies of Egypt and Turkey said their ambassadors would have no comment. The Iranian, Indonesian, Lebanese and Libyan embassies did not answer their phones.

It's interesting that the quotes showing approval of the Pope's speech were from the Iraqi and the Italian. They are free to speak. What about the others? And what would they say if they could speak? Because one of the main thrusts of the Pope's words was reciprocity in allowing religious freedom, and in the goal of ending religious intolerance.

Islam is a supersessionist religion. It prohibits proselytizing by other religions, and the punishment for Moslem apostates is still death. Those facts are not consistent with the Pope's words about religious freedom, try though we might to believe otherwise.

Could this change? Of course. Christianity changed in its supersessionist and even violent strains. But there has to be the will to do so, the time to do so before some sort of world conflagration, and enough of those famous "moderate Moslems" brave enough to do so in the face of the threats against them to make a difference.

Airport security: no nunchuks, no gellin'

Yes, it's official: now you can bring your beyond-the-checkpoint-purchased beverages on board the plane. What's more, you can bring little bottles of hair gel and face cream and all that good stuff, as long as they're small enough to fit in a quart-sized ziplock bag.

Toothpaste is now allowed, a relief when freshening up to meet the boyfriend/girlfriend, or even the spouse. Also that tube of Blistex, so handy during lengthy flights in the dessicating cabin air.

But the carton of yogurt, staple alternative to airplane food, is still not okay, even if purchased in the airport shop. And, sadly, there'll be no gellin' in the old airport tonight. No, gel shoe inserts remain banned.

But please, leave the cattle prods at home. Or, if you simply must have them, pack them in the checked luggage. Likewise the drill bits, ordinarily so diverting during those long flights. The nunchuks will have to go in the checked luggage as well. Not to mention the billy clubs.

And the dynamite and the hand grenades? Leave em at home.

Small scissors, however, are mysteriously still OK.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Fall ritual: closing the windows

Today is the first day of fall.

I never quite get that date right, because it drifts around in confusing fashion (here's a guidepost for those of you who care about such things). This year it also happens to be the beginning of the Jewish New Year Rosh Hashana (Happy New Year!), which also drifts about with even wider variation, based on the lunar calendar.

I've always loved fall. In fact, it's my favorite season, despite (or perhaps because of) its bittersweet qualities. It signals the end of spring and summer, the coming of winter and darkness. But it goes out in a blaze of glory, especially here in New England.

Why does the Jewish New Year begin in the fall? Actually--as I just learned through Google--it's one of four Jewish New Years .

But let's not complicate things too much; they're complicated enough already. It was once explained to me--and I don't know whether this is true or not--that, just as the Jewish day and all Jewish holidays begin in the darkness of sunset the night before, so the Jewish year begins in the darkness of fall, paralleling the Biblical account of the creation, where darkness preceded light. Whether true or not, it's nicely poetic.

By the time fall comes to these parts it's readily apparent that it's actually been here for some time already. The nights have gotten cold, often in the forties, and the yearly struggle about turning on the heat begins. It's a badge of honor in New England to be the last one to succumb to the terrible weakness of the need to be warm.

I'm not usually one of the final holdouts. But I do my best. I layer on the sweaters and the sweats as long as I can stand it.

Just yesterday I performed the ritual Closing of the Windows, the yin to the yang (or maybe vice-versa?) of the Opening of the Windows that occurs in late spring. Yes, my windows are all now firmly shut, probably not to opened again for many many months.

And yet the furnace is still set to "off." But soon, soon. And then watch those heating bills soar--

A fellow New Englander, Robert Frost, had something to say about the matter:


NOW CLOSE THE WINDOWS

Now close the windows and hush all the fields;
If the trees must, let them silently toss;
No bird is singing now, and if there is,
Be it my loss.

It will be long ere the marshes resume,
It will be long ere the earliest bird:
So close the windows and not hear the wind,
But see all wind-stirred.

Now that I have a new photo, should I have a talking avatar as well?

It costs a bit, but it might be just the thing to spruce up the old blog.

Then again, maybe not.

Friday, September 22, 2006

People keep telling me to lighten up, so I did

I'm gratified at the response to my new photo. Thanks! My feminine vanity is assuaged.

And to those who commented on the shrinking Granny Smith apple, it turns out that the one in the original picture was an instance of amazing serendipity: big, round, beautifully green, and astoundingly symmetrical. This year's are small and crooked (and, by the way, don't blame New England; Granny Smith's are not ordinarily grown here).

I searched high and low for one of the proper size and shape, but couldn't find any. I bought a nice assortment--and in this case, I get to eat my mistakes--but they were all flawed. Such is life. The point is that the greater relative exposure of my face was not planned.

Also, to those who have said the photo is dark: I've posted a lightened version. Due to the crochets of Blogger, it only shows up so far in the enlarged version, the one you see if you click on "View my complete profile." In a few hours it will show up on the main page of the blog. I'm curious to know whether the color on this new one is better than the old.

[ADDENDUM: I think the new photo seems to have shown up even as I posted this.]

Oh, to have been a fly on the Bush-Musharraf wall

As luck would have it, Presidents Bush and Musharraf conferred today, right after the news story broke that Musharraf alleged that right before the Afghan invasion the US had threatened to "bomb Pakistan back to the Stone Age" if he didn't cooperate.

Isn't diplomacy a wonderful thing? If you read the transcript of their statements about their present meeting, you would think all was sweetness and light. They had mutual talks about a variety of interesting subjects, yada yada yada.

And that was it until the first question from the press. You can probably guess what that first question was:

Q: Mr. President, after 9/11, would the United States have actually attacked Pakistan if President Musharraf had not agreed to cooperate with the war on terrorism? He says that the United States was threatening to bomb his country back into the Stone Age.

And, President Musharraf, would Pakistan have given up its backing of the Taliban if this threat had not come from Armitage?


Bush's response:

BUSH: First, let me _ she's asking about the Armitage thing. The first I've heard of this is when I read it in the newspaper today. You know, I was _ I guess I was taken aback by the harshness of the words.

All I can tell you is that shortly after 9/11, Secretary Colin Powell came in and said, President Musharraf understands the stakes and he wants to join and help root out an enemy that has come and killed 3,000 of our citizens.

Matter of fact, my recollection was that one of the first leaders to step up and say that the stakes have changed...I don't know of any conversation that was reported in the newspaper like that. I just don't know about it.


Note that Bush is careful to place the blame on Armitage. One wonders exactly what Armitage did say, and on whose instructions. Interesting that Armitage, who was recently identified as the real culprit in the Wilson-Plame brouhaha, was involved. The possibility that he was some sort of loose cannon cannot be ruled out.

What's the truth? Musharraf isn't telling. In the first instance I can recall of a press conference in which a head of state takes the Fifth on account of a book deal, Musharraf fudges as follows:

I would like to _ I am launching my book on the 25th, and I am honor-bound to Simon Schuster not to comment on the book before that day. So ...

And Bush responds as his agent:

In other words, Buy the book, is what he's saying.

Armitage, of course, denies the allegation, saying there was no explicit threat:

"We wanted to make sure they understood both the opportunities and the downside, but there was no threat.

Maybe Musharraf is lying, or maybe Armitage or Bush is. Or perhaps all three. Yet another possibility is that Musharraf's memory is playing tricks on him. It's likely that Musharraf was under an extraordinary amount of stress right before the US invasion of Afghanistan and, explicit threats or no, he must have felt plenty threatened, and on all sides. I well remember the televised speech he gave shortly after 9/11, in which he threw in his lot with the US invasion. I remember thinking then that he was a dead man; that he wouldn't last out the year.

Well, here he is, five years later--and with a Simon and Schuster book deal, as well. Will wonders never cease?

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Neo-neo-neo

As you know, this blog is all about change.

So, if you glance to the upper right of this page, you'll see that there's a new neo-neocon. Or, you might say, a neo-neo-neocon (neo cubed?)

The telephone wars: waiting for Godot?

Okay, I'll set the scene: I'm trapped in my house on a beautiful day, canceling all other plans in order to wait for the telephone repair people who may or may not come within the next three hours.

In addition, they may or may not call me on my cell phone to tell me when they are or aren't coming. They may or may not decide it's "safe" (a word they refuse to define) to come up my street because they may or may not want to drive around the detour set up by the guys working on the installation of the new sewer pipes, a task that has been going on since June, much of it directly in front of my house.

There, there, neo. Take a deep breath.

A little history: last night I discovered that my landline was playing tricks on me. I could make calls out, but no calls could come in. I did the requisite unplugging and replugging and testing of the phones, but none of them could receive calls; it seemed the trouble was outside.

Phoning Verizon (are you still with me, folks?) only elicited a long chain of interactions with an electronic person of unfailing politeness. She apologized for repeatedly failing to understand me--which is more than most people do ("I'm sorry, my error again...") when I said, with increasing vehemence, "I want to speak with an agent!" (It turns out, by the way, that just saying the word "agent" will do the trick. But I digress.)

The agent instructed me to go to the outside of my house, where there is a gray tester box, and to plug in my non-remote phone for testing. This could end up saving me a lot of money if the trouble was in the phone and not in the lines. The metal box was cleverly placed in the most inaccessible corner of the building, at about the height the average eight-footer could reach handily. The cover was securely fastened on for maximum convenience, requiring a screwdriver for removal.

But I was up to the task. Opening it, I found a little diagram of its innards, including a highlighted red spot which represented the opening where the jack was supposed to be plugged in. Only problem was--as so often is the case--the map was not the territory. There was no such spot in the actual box, which did not even remotely correspond to said diagram.

Oh, and then the guys in the street told me to move my car and park it further down the road because my driveway would be blocked for the afternoon. And oh, did I forget to mention that I left my cell phone charger at the home of an out-of-town friend the other day, and that, although it's been mailed to me, it has not yet arrived? So in order to charge said phone, I would have to get into my car and drive around, not only using up precious gas and money in the process, but abandoning my post waiting for the telephone repair guy. Which of course I cannot and will not do.

There. I feel better now.

[ADDENDUM: It's OK. I'm all right. Doing that diaphragmatic breathing stuff.

They never arrived. And at 6 PM, the deadline, when I called the Verizon repair line for the umpteenth time today and barked "Agent!" into the phone, the lovely lady who answered and then called the dispatcher came back and told me they weren't coming. I could make another appointment to wait in my house for four hours tomorrow. And oh, yes, I should have insisted when I originally called that I be put on the "pre-assigned" list. Although, as I pointed out, I only just now learned that little tip.

There's more, but I'll spare you--and myself--and skip it. However, I did get my cell phone charger in the mail, so I'm all set in that respect. And I did get a promise from the Verizon woman that if I stay within a fifteen-minute range of my house tomorrow--which covers everything I need to do--the repairmen will call me on my cell phone fifteen minutes before their arrival so I can hotfoot it back.

All will be well. I can feel it:

ESTRAGON:
You're sure it was this evening?
VLADIMIR:
What?
ESTRAGON:
That we were to wait.
VLADIMIR:
He said Saturday. (Pause.) I think.
ESTRAGON:
You think.
VLADIMIR:
I must have made a note of it. (He fumbles in his pockets, bursting with miscellaneous rubbish.)
ESTRAGON:
(very insidious). But what Saturday? And is it Saturday? Is it not rather Sunday? (Pause.) Or Monday? (Pause.) Or Friday?....
]

[ADDENDUM II: Oh, and then Blogger went down for scheduled repairs when I first attempted to publish this.]

[UPDATE 9/22/06 4:42 PM: Fixed. And it only cost the paltry sum of $100 for twenty minutes of work. The culprit was an old unused jack that some previous owner had placed in an outdoor location. Time and weather had wreaked havoc on it, and it affected the entire system.]

Just imagine

I'm not exactly sure what this is all about. Or what it has to do with GE. But I know I like it.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

A psychiatrist for Chavez: ¡Más rápidamente, por favor!

Yoo hoo! Calling Dr. Sanity! Calling Shrinkwrapped! Psychiatrist sought by world leader Hugo Chavez!

And, as Michael Ledeen would say in only a slightly different context: más rápidamente, por favor!

The most astounding case of Bush Derangement Syndrome ever was paraded before the UN today by the Venezuelan President, who addressed the General Assembly and referred to Bush as the devil. That's a step up in the evil sweepstakes from Hitler, the usual comparison.

The AP story I linked states that Chavez called Bush "the devil," and even spotlights that fact in its headline. But it still fails to give the full flavor of Chavez's remarks. Fortunately the blogosphere has come to the rescue in Musing Minds (via Pajamas Media), which provides a fuller translation.

Chavez's address read a bit like a piece in the Onion, as has happened so many times recently. But it's not. In it, Chavez waxes eloquent on the topic, complete with appropriate gestures:

Yesterday the devil came here. Right here. (crosses himself) Right here. And it smells of sulfer still today. This table that I am now standing in front of, yesterday ladies and gentlemen, from this rostrum, the President of the United States, the gentleman to whom I refer as 'the devil' came here talking as if he owned the world. Truly as the owner of the world.

Personally, I'm not much into people/devil comparisons. But if the words "the devil came here" had to be used to describe any appearance at the UN yesterday, they might better have been applied to Ahmadinejad.

It's no surprise that Chavez doesn't see it that way. After all, he's making a bid to become a powerful leader, defining himself in opposition to the US (or, as Chavez says, as "the voice of the Third World") and as allied with Iran, Syria, and Cuba.

In his speech, Chavez called for a psychiatrist. Unfortunately, it's not for himself; it's for an analysis of what motivates Bush:

I think we can call a psychiatrist to analyze yesterday's statement made by the President of the United States. As the spokesman of imperialism he came to share his nostrums. To try to preserve the current pattern of domination, exploitation and pillage of the peoples of the world.

Chavez then makes an interesting cinematic comparison:

An Alfred Hitchcock movie could use it as a scenario. I would even propose a title, 'The Devil's Recipe'.

I think Chavez hasn't been watching too many Hitchcock movies lately. They don't tend to be about devils emitting sulfuric fumes--or maybe, to give Chavez the benefit of the doubt, there's something wrong with the Spanish translations of Hitchcock, whose main theme--ironically enough--was that of an innocent man charged falsely and having difficulty defending himself.

In fact, in a famous Hitchcock movie of my youth, "North by Northwest," there's even a scene set in the UN itself. Cary Grant is the man who falls into a trap there: a diplomat is murdered by someone else while talking to Grant, and the crime is captured on camera by the press, making it seem as though Grant has committed a murder:



Of course, in Hitchcock movies, justice always triumphs in the end, although not without some mishaps along the way:



Hitchcock always cleared the innocents' names, and the guilty were identified and led away for punishment. Would that life mirrored art. Faster, please.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

New podcast: religion of the perpetually paranoid

Our new Sanity Squad podcast is up. This one's about the Pope's speech about reason and faith, and the unreasonable reaction of a great deal of the Moslem world towards his remarks.

What's behind France2's stance in the al Durah case?: the press and honesty

Wretchard at Belmont Club has a post about the France2 case, in which he asks the following question:

While the Press is probably honest in most things -- who won the NASCAR race, what the stock price is, who won a particular election, etc -- in certain areas more than others a kind of horrible distortion has crept into their coverage. And the question is why. Members of the press are not inherently evil. They are not very different from most white collar workers or academics. With their individual foibles to be sure, but no inherited large scale defects in character. The reason huge events, like the Ukraine famine, for example, and perhaps the recent war in Lebanon, can be so horribly misreported is a subject worthy of a whole book. I tend to think that the memetic cavalry of ideologies is drawn towards certain issues and makes certain they spin them. The effect is that in areas we care about most we have inaccurate coverage, but in areas we care about least (say the yearly production of Ipods) we have the most accurate coverage. Well, I'm not the one to write that book.

I'm not the one to write that book--or books--either. Others have done so before me, notably Bernard Goldberg and Peter Braestrup.

I utterly agree with Fernandez, as far as he goes. I would add that I think there really is a belief held by too many in the MSM that "fake, but accurate," is an okay stance to adopt, due to post-modern "truth is relative" thinking. Combine this with the strength of mindset and pre-existing belief systems in shaping our perceptions of events, and you have paved the way to this sort of media madness.

There are often personality factors operating, as well. Arrogance is one. In the France2 case, Enderlin was not only arrogant--and if you read Nidra Pollner's latest description of the trial proceedings, you'll see just how far that arrogance went--but, in addition, Enderlin had a decade-long relationship of trust with his cameraman, Talal. It was on the strength of that cameraman's word that Enderlin, who was not present at the scene in Gaza, spread the news about Israelis murdering the 12-year-old al Durah. And once an arrogant person has backed a lie and thrown his entire reputation behind it, it's very difficult to have the humility to face the truth and publically reverse yourself. There's humiliation involved, and also acknowledgement of betrayal by someone you once thought your friend and trusted colleague. Often, it's just too big and bitter a pill to swallow, and so it is spit out instead, sometimes with enormous consequences.

Uneasy lies the head that wears a turban?: armies, coups, and revolutions

I'm going to talk about Iran and regime change.

But first I'm going to take a detour for some news of the day. The latter may seem totally unrelated to the former, but please bear with me: though this be madness, yet there is method in't.

A military coup is going on in Thailand right now. For most of us who were not especially conversant with politics in Thailand prior to this--and I most definitely count myself among them--it's catch-up time. Reports indicate that the military has taken over from Thai's Prime Minister Thaksin, who was widely seen as corrupt. What's more, there's been unrest in the country for quite some time now; last April, after demonstrations against Thaksin resulted in a special election, the results of that poll were abrogated by the courts, leaving the country without a functioning legislature.

Now, there are those who might say that the phrase "functioning legislature" is somewhat of an oxymoron. But it does seem as though the situation in Thailand--a country which also faces a violent Moslem insurgency in its south--was ripe for change. The army took charge, as it often has in Thailand; there's a history of military coups there. Stability is provided by Thailand's 78-year old monarch Bhumibol, who has limited powers but has in the past used those powers, as well as his personal influence, to force compromise and allow Thailand to continue to function despite its history of coups.

This time the Thais are hoping it will happen again. Bhumibol, by the way, is the world's longest-reigning monarch, having been king of Thailand for 60 years (little- known piece of trivia: he was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts).

The fact that the military is behind the coup is not surprising. Not only does Thailand have a recent history of military coups, but coups are in general far more common around the world than revolutions coming from what Marxists like to call "the masses." That's especially true in countries where the people don't generally--or are not allowed to--bear arms, and in which the government is willing to gun down the opposition. Since those governments against which people might most want to rebel often have those two characteristics, that leaves those who would revolt (and those who would support them) in a quandary: how can it be successfully done?

Which brings us to Iran and regime change. Those who would like to avoid a repetition of the invasion of Iraq (and I think that includes virtually all of us) and who also consider the mullahs' fall a consummation devoutly to be wished (ditto), have puzzled over the conundrum of how such a change--which would amount to a revolution, or the undoing of a revolution that many in Iran now regret--could be accomplished.

Not only is it unclear how it might happen, but there's a sense that we're running out of time. Michael Ledeen's refrain "faster, please!" has taken on greater and greater urgency.

I was reading an interview with Ledeen recently. He's far from a warmonger, although he's sometimes portrayed as such; Ledeen believes in political change through encouraging the people of Iran to overthrow the regime. Although this may sound naive, he's no dummy. And as I read the interview, the following passage caught my eye:

How far would the regime go to retain power? Nobody knows. But the regime does not believe the army would kill large numbers of Iranians, and the regime has its doubts about even the Revolutionary Guards, whose leadership changes quite often. Today the regime is shutting down any publication that expresses even the vaguest criticism, which to me suggests the regime is insecure.

Because the military in the US has a tradition of absolute loyalty to whatever "regime" is in office, we often forget that the military constitutes a separate force in many countries, a loose cannon of sorts (in fact, I seem to recall that this was used as an argument against the all-volunteer military when the draft was about to end). Even the most repressive regimes have to keep their militaries in line, because the military represents a potential danger. After all, one thing the military does is to bear arms. And those arms can work against any regime in several ways: either by action, such as supporting a coup (as in Thailand); or by inaction, refusing to enforce the will of the leaders (as in Iran in 1979), or through some combination of the two.

Ledeen's commentary in the interview rang a bell for me. In one of my recent pieces on the 1979 Iranian revolution that got us into this mess in the first place, I wrote:

But as things escalated, and the Shah eventually lost the support of the army and the police (a turning point), few seemed to be prescient enough to predict what forces would replace his regime.

Hmmm. There's also this statement from commenter "ForNow" on the SAVAK thread on this blog:

...I had heard from an Iranian whom I knew back during Carter's presidency when the Shah was still in power...Back then, this Iranian said he was son of one of the Shah's generals, a claim which I was able by chance to corroborate...He said that all sectors of Iranian society hated the Shah and his secret police, and that his own father -- a general under the Shah -- hated the Shah...

When hatred of a ruler or rulers is so widespread that it has become rampant among those who would protect those rulers or enforce their edicts, then those rulers may be in big trouble, no matter how repressive and brutal they are willing to be to suppress dissent. Because they cannot do it alone; they must have a cooperative armed apparatus in place to enforce their will.

The 1979 revolution had a course that was not only difficult to predict, it also occurred rather swiftly once the Shah lost the support of those bearing arms. Could this happen now, with the mullahs? Faster, please.

[ADDENDUM: This is Thailand's 20th coup since 1932, when it established democracy over a previously absolute monarch. That's a lot of coups. And I seem to recall something about that absolute monarchy in Thailand (originally Siam); wasn't it the topic of the musical "The King and I?" This is not a joke, although it sounds like one; the lyrics to the song "Is a Puzzlement" contain a fairly serious discussion of the burdens and decisions an absolute monarch faces in times of cultural transition.]

Monday, September 18, 2006

Going gentle into that good night

The memorial service for the father of a good friend of mine was held at the retirement community where he and his wife had lived for the last couple of years. The place is one of those spectacularly lovely and well-designed "total life care" environments, independent living and assisted living and skilled nursing care in one facility, with movement from one section to another possible as time and health dictates.

My son is about the same age as this friend's children, and during the twenty-five years I've known her we've shared several Thanksgivings and Christmases and weddings. That's where I met her parents.

So I already knew that her father had been a great raconteur with a seemingly endless supply of funny stories, and a skilled craftsman who loved to build things around the house. But at the service I learned he'd been much more. As we entered the room we saw a display of photos of her parents and the family--parties and trips and good times, and several of her father when he'd served in the army with Patton during World War II. During the service I heard warm and loving recollections from his children and grandchildren, and from colleagues and friends.

But one person was mysteriously missing: his wife. They'd met at the age of thirteen and been married for sixty-six long and happy years. I looked around the room but could not find her. Then during the service, the minister explained that no, his wife would not be attending.

I'd known that she was in the middle stages of Alzheimer's disease. But I also knew that she'd been told about her husband's death, and since they'd still been living together in an assisted living apartment, surely she felt his absense, whether she could recall it or understand it. But the minister noted that experts in Alzheimer's had suggested that her attendance at a service such as this would be a pointless cruelty: she would only be saddened by it and yet would not remember it. It would reopen the wound of her husband's death freshly from moment to moment, to no purpose. And so it had been recommended she stay away, and come down only for the reception and luncheon, which would seem to her a sort of party.

And a sort of party it was, actually. When a 90-year-old dies after a rich full life, that life can mostly be celebrated, although of course there's grieving, as well.

My friend's mother looked very well when she arrived, greeting all with a smile, clearly happy to see the assembled crowd of relatives and old friends. Someone such as myself--a very tangential figure in her life--no longer was identifiable, although graciousness still ruled her behavior and she greeted me warmly.

But for now she still knows her close family and dearest friends, although that will fade, sadly enough. Throughout the luncheon her smile seemed genuine, seated next to her older sister on her right and her younger brother on her left, all looking far younger than their 90-or-so years. And even when, because of her Alzheimer's, she forgot to use her fork, and picked up pieces of her salad with her hand, her fingers grasped the lettuce leaf oh-so-delicately in a gesture that could only be described as polite and refined.

Gone are the days she used to hold forth with strength and vigor, speaking on many subjects, giving advice and counsel. Now she seems tentative and childlike, with a sweetness about her that makes everyone want to protect her. But protection can only go so far; although I hope it surrounds her to the end.

Years ago I read Dylan Thomas's famous admonition to his father to fight against the vagaries of age and the coming of death:

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.


Perhaps that way is best for some. But for others, perhaps it's best to try to say with Ecclesiastes:

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted.

A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;

A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance...

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Dennis Ross on The Missing Peace

What went wrong at Camp David? Read Pejman Yousefzadeh's review of Dennis Ross's exhaustive book The Missing Peace, a description of what led to the failure of the 2000 negotiations.

It's difficult to believe that it was only six short years ago that a negotiated peace in the Middle East seemed possible, around the corner, close at hand. Ross, who was Middle East negotiator for the US at Camp David and during the twelve years leading up to it, feels there's plenty of blame to go around.

But there's no doubt who the major obstacle was, and that was Arafat. According to Ross, Arafat simply could not countenance ending the conflict; his whole life was built on it as the foundation of his power, and, as Ross stated, to end the conflict is to end himself. So, no deal, no matter how reasonable the concessions, how hardworking and accommodating the diplomats.

Arafat himself is now ended, since no one is immortal, even supreme egotists and power-mad tyrants. But the conflict he refused to end--or to at least ameliorate--shows no signs of abating.

Senate report on Saddam and al Qaeda: more turtles?

If Saddam says so, I guess it must be the truth.

Next "change" post gone AWOL

No, I haven't forgotten my "A mind is a difficult thing to change" series, even though it might seem that way. I haven't posted a segment in quite a while, but that doesn't mean it won't happen. What it does mean is I'm a bit frazzled and overextended with everything else I've been doing (including intermittent but valiant attempts to "have a life").

So, although I make no promises, I want to acknowledge that I intend and hope to write the next installment within the next month or so.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Fallaci goes a few rounds with Khomeini

In honor of Oriana Fallaci, the fearless and uniquely outspoken correspondent who died yesterday in Florence Italy, I'm posting excerpts from her 1979 interview with Ayatollah Khomeini, which occurred not long after he came to power (these quotes appeared as part of a piece written by the New Yorker's Margaret Talbot that was published in June of 2006, just a few months before Fallaci's death).

The feisty Fallaci never pulled her punches, even with the grim Ayatollah:

Fallaci had travelled to Qum to try to secure an interview with Khomeini, and she waited ten days before he received her. She had followed instructions from the new Islamist regime, and arrived at the Ayatollah’s home barefoot and wrapped in a chador. Almost immediately, she unleashed a barrage of questions about the closing of opposition newspapers, the treatment of Iran’s Kurdish minority, and the summary executions performed by the new regime.

Fallaci kept pressing Khomeini with questions about the dreadful treatment of women under his regime, including ones about the chador. He replied, "If you do not like Islamic dress you are not obliged to wear it. Because Islamic dress is for good and proper young women.”

Fallaci knew an opportunity when she saw one; she thanked the Ayatollah and proceeded to dump her chador. Her little strip tease (at least, in Islamist terms) was the final straw for Khomeini--he ordered her out and fumed for a day or two before he deigned to resume the interview. But Fallaci was ready for him:

When Khomeini let her return, his son Ahmed gave Fallaci some advice: his father was still very angry, so she’d better not even mention the word “chador.” Fallaci turned the tape recorder back on and immediately revisited the subject. “First he looked at me in astonishment,” she said. “Total astonishment. Then his lips moved in a shadow of a smile. Then the shadow of a smile became a real smile. And finally it became a laugh. He laughed, yes. And, when the interview was over, Ahmed whispered to me, ‘Believe me, I never saw my father laugh. I think you are the only person in this world who made him laugh.’ ”

But a rare moment of affability displayed by the old tyrant didn't make Fallaci a fan. She told Talbot:

"...it did not take long to realize that in spite of his quiet appearance he represented the Robespierre or the Lenin of something which would go very far and would poison the world. People loved him too much. They saw in him another Prophet. Worse: a God."

Upon leaving Khomeini’s house after her first interview, Fallaci was besieged by Iranians who wanted to touch her because she’d been in the Ayatollah’s presence. “The sleeves of my shirt were all torn off, my slacks, too,” she recalled. “My arms were full of bruises, and hands, too. Do believe me: everything started with Khomeini. Without Khomeini, we would not be where we are. What a pity that, when pregnant with him, his mother did not choose to have an abortion.”

Fake but accurate: what if it's turtles all the way down?

Here's the joke:

A well-known scientist (some say it was Bertrand Russell) once gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the Earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the centre of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy.

At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: "What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise."

The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, "What is the tortoise standing on?"

"You're very clever, young man, very clever," said the old lady. "But it's turtles all the way down."


I thought of this story the other day, while discussing the France2 case with an exceptionally intelligent young man. He was open to the idea that France2 had been guilty of promulgating a lie in the al Durah affair, but asked me whether it really mattered so very much that it was a lie in that particular instance because, after all, Israel does target Palestinian children. The old, "fake but accurate" argument.

A brief discussion about the nature of collateral damage in asymmetrical warfare ensued, and he agreed that it's probably unavoidable no matter how careful a military is. But he insisted that Israel must purposely have targeted children in some instance or other, because it was such a well-known fact.

I asked the young man the following question: what if all the reports he'd read about Israelis purposely targeting children were based on lies? If enough reporters truly believed that "fake but accurate" was a reasonable way of reporting things, then what was to stop them from lying about this to make a point they felt to be essentially true?

In other words, what if--like the turtles--it's lies all the way down?

[NOTE: As a bit of background on journalistic standards for reporting about Israel, here's a point-by-point debunking of the famous and influential Chris Hedges Harper's article that alleged Israeli soldiers killed Palestinian children "for sport." And here's an excellent overview on the entire topic of the NY Times's distorted and misleading coverage of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, written by Tom Gross of National Review. The more I've learned about the media, the more I've come to believe that Hedges was operating under the "fake but accurate" rubric.]

Friday, September 15, 2006

Roya Hakakian and SAVAK: another changer

When I was writing about the 1979 Iranian revolution I asked the following question:

The Shah's secret police--SAVAK, usually referred to with an adjective such as "dreaded" or "hated" before the acronym--was active in Iran to stifle those who would oppose him. There is a great deal of controversy over just how dreadful SAVAK actually was in the larger scheme of things. Was it a wide-ranging and indiscriminate effort to track down, torture, imprison, exile and/or murder all those who dissented, or who even were thought to dissent, much like the operations of the Soviet KGB? Or was it far more benign, only dealing with those who would violently overthrow the government (such as Khomeini and his henchmen), and using torture only sparingly?

Recently I read the book Journey From the Land of No by Iranian-American writer and poet Roya Hakakian. She was raised in Iran in a Jewish family, and as a twelve-year old she experienced the 1979 revolution. Her book is a meditation on the profound dislocations of that time for herself, her relatives, and her friends.

Hakakian touches on her childhood memories of whispers about the dread SAVAK, which became a sort of boogie man to her. She writes:

Like God, SAVAK was ubiquitous and omnipresent in the national imagination...Dignity was what SAVAK deprived the nation of most...To escape its ominous attention, every citizen hid what was on his mind and learned to talk in a way that his true thoughts would not be obvious.

Certainly a frightening portrait.

Right before the Revolution she listened to a revered young woman friend named Bibi talk about the wonderful Ayatollah Khomeini (she refers to him as "Agha"). As in a fairy tale, he would make everything better:

Agha is the one who will set us free...Agha is the angel who'll chase the devil away...He'll not have cronies like the evil Shah...A revolution is on the way. Agha will make poverty history. We'll be free to say and write anything we want because when Agha comes, SAVAK will be history too.

A sensitive and literary child, Roya loved the renowned Iranian children's classic The Little Black Fish, which she read over and over. But Bibi told her a terrible tale of what had happened to its author:

SAVAK killed him...They snatch you away, torture you, even kill you if you say something against the shah. That's what they did to the writer of The Little Black Fish. They put his feet in a block of cement and dropped him into the River Aras in Azerbaijan.

Of course, as we now know--and Roya learned--the Revolution betrayed the trust of Roya's friends and family. Roya reports that by 1984, at the time of Iran's war with Iraq, she dreamt every night of murdering the Ayatollah. And by then the Shah's SAVAK had been replaced by the even more dreaded and intrusive SAVAMA, secret police of the mullahs.

And what of Bibi and her veneration for Agha? Kakakian meets an old friend who tells her the news. Just a few disillusioned months after the Revolution, Bibi had joined the People's Mujahideen, an opposition movement. She's written a protest essay and read it in class and was reported by a fellow student, imprisoned, and tortured.

Roya suggests visiting Bibi in prison and bringing her a copy of The Little Black Fish, a book they both had loved. But her friend explains that wouldn't be a good idea. It might depress Bibi too much, because of what she'd learned in prison, to wit:

[The book's author] Samad Behrangi had not been drowned. There had been no cement blocks. No cruel interrogation by SAVAK. A poor swimmer, he had drowned on his own. When news of the drowning reached several leading anti-shah intellectuals of the time, they saw it as an opportunity to pin it on the shah to fuel the public's resentment of him. One of the pivotal legends that had tormented a generation and ignited the revolution had been nothing but a hoax. A strategic maneuver! A little lie between revolutionary friends! What of it?

What of it, indeed? Fake but accurate, no doubt.

And I wondered what happened to those anti-shah intellectuals who'd thought up the brilliant deception. Did they end up like so many others, swallowed by the revolution they helped bring about, perplexed at the strange and horrific turn events had taken?

[NOTE: I tried researching the story of the death of author Behrangi to see if I could determine the truth. It was impossible to do so. Different versions are offered, depending on the politics of the writer. Perhaps Wikipedia summarizes it best:

Behrangi drowned in the Aras river. It is rumored that he was killed by the agents of the Pahlavi government of Iran, because of his outspoken manner regarding the corruptness of the regime, while others believe that his death was accidental.]

RIP, Oriana

The utterly unique and seemingly fearless Oriana Fallaci has died.

Charismatic, beautiful, outspoken, iconoclastic, articulate, fiery, controversial, in recent years Fallaci had been battling cancer, but she continued speaking out against Islam's violent incursions into Europe.

Fallaci never was one to pull her punches. Even though she didn't get quite as much press as the Pope for it, she was far harder on Islam.

[I will write more later on Fallaci.]

The Big Story, according to Google: the Gates of Regensburg

My home page is Google, which always contains a feature entitled "Top Stories," listing what Google considers the five biggest stories of the hour. Usually it has a variety--I've never seen it with the same story five times before. But right now it looks like this:

Fadlallah Demands Personal Apology from Pope Over Remarks on Islam
Naharnet - all 706 related »

Key excerpts: The Pope's speech
BBC News - all 706 related »

Muslims Enraged by Pope's Remarks on Spreading Islam by Violence
CNSNews.com - all 706 related »

Pontiff's quote on Islam draws criticism, anger
Minneapolis Star Tribune (subscription) - all 706 related »

Pope's remarks anger Muslims
United Press International - all 706 relate

So, what's new? That Moslems are angry? That Moslems are angry at someone suggesting their religion might have some flaws? That Moslems are angry at someone suggesting their religion might have some connection with the jihadist violence certain groups of Moslems commit in its name? Or is it the fact that it's the the Pope who made the remarks in question?

[Here are some excerpts from the Pope's controversial remarks about Islam, for those who aren't familiar with what he said.]

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Update: the wheels of French justice grind fine...

...and maybe not so slowly, after all.

Nidra Pollner's second report, this one focusing on the trial, sounds very, very promising:

It was a beautiful trial. It was held in an atmosphere of respect for justice...

And here is part of Richard Landes's post on the same subject:

Wow. French Republican values have scored a great first round victory today. This is the France that I fell in love with as a kid, and as a student reading Jules Michelet, and doing medieval history with intellectually vibrant people, the great souled people with wise and fair-minded institutions, and real ideals and commitment to integrity… the people of the Peace of God, and the early, heady days of the French Revolution.

Not to get too excited too soon…


Francophiles should be happy, and those who love truth and justice should be cautiously optimistic as well. The verdict will be delivered on October 19, and a few days later the second trial against the second defendant will begin--that is, if there is a second trial.

Of course, judges are notorious for their poker faces. It ain't over till the fat lady sings.

Dreyfus and the France2 case: history doesn't repeat, but it rhymes

The great Mark Twain wrote, in one of his pithiest and most insightful aphorisms:

History doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme.

Not all the rhymes of history are beautiful poetry, of that we can be sure. Case in point: the ongoing France2 defamation trial, which has resonance with the famous Dreyfus affair.

The current trial--or trials; there are three--is a story the MSM is virtually ignoring. So once again it falls to the blogosphere to publicize it. Nidra Pollner and Pajamas Media are attempting to emphasize the "rhyme" by channeling Emile Zola and the newspaper L'Aurore (The Dawn), respectively. Pollner's excellent first article on the case appears here.

The trial begins today. It manages to combine a number of huge issues in one seemingly small package: Palestinian fauxtography, the role of the mainstream press in promulgating it, how to distinguish between what is truth and what is propaganda, and the defamation laws of the French legal system. The overarching question, of course, is whether justice and truth will prevail.

Please read this previous post of mine and the linked Pollner article to get the details. But if that's too much for you, here's the briefest of recaps: in September of 2000, the French TV station France2 broadcast videotape allegedly showing the killing of 12-year old Mohammed al Durah by Israeli troops in a Gaza exchange of fire with Palestinians. The tape and the publicity that ensued were instrumental in inflaming international--especially European, and particularly French--public opinion against both Israel and Jews, and was heavily used by the Palestinians as justification for the bloody Second Intifada.

But it turns out the overwhelming evidence indicates the whole thing to be a hoax. What's more, France2 knew this early on, or should reasonably have known it. The station lied about other aspects of the tape as well, alleging there was even more footage--unshown because it was too graphic and upsetting--proving the death of Mohammed. But there was no such tape. In fact, the tape in question demonstrates quite the opposite: almost a half-hour of blatantly staged scenes, with only a minute of al Durah footage, the end of which catches the boy making voluntary hand gestures after he was supposedly dead.

In the sharpest of ironies, these trials are being brought by the French TV station and its employees under a law originally designed to shield individuals against defamation by the press. Philippe Karsenty, founding director of the online media watch enterprise Media-Ratings, is being sued for public defamation of the honor and reputation of an “individual"--that individual being France 2 and its employees Arlette Chabot and Charles Enderlin.

It's as though Dan Rather, acting as an individual, had sued Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs for Johnson's online debunking of the forged the National Guard memos. A French law designed to protect individuals against the power of false press accusations has turned the tables, looking-glass like, and enabled the press to sue online individuals for criticizing lies promulgated by the media itself.

Writers keep invoking the famous Dreyfus Affair, but I'm hoping the better parallel will be to the David Irving trial, in which Irving sued writer Lipstadt for defamation when she accused him of lying and Holocaust denial. He ended up the loser, with his reputation in tatters after the trial proved the truth of her charges against him.

The Irving trial was relatively brief and the verdict against Irving swift. Not so the Dreyfus case; although Dreyfus was exonerated in the end, it took twelve long years for his rehabilitation, and he endured a great deal of suffering along the way.

The Dreyfus Affair demonstrated, among other things, the power of the pen: writer Zola was instrumental in getting the case the public scrutiny that ultimately helped to release Dreyfus. The entire episode also caused a huge and lasting rift in French society and government. But Zola himself, in an example of uncanny "rhyming" with the present case, did not get off scot-free. He--much like the defendants here (and possibly under the same statute?)--was charged with libel in 1898, the same year in which he had written "J'accuse," his famous piece calling attention to the Dreyfus Affair.

What's more--and here I sincerely hope that history does not end up rhyming--Zola was found guilty, and forced to flee the country and take exile in England for a few months until granted amnesty.

There are two other famous quotations about history that spring to mind in relation to these matters. One was uttered by James Joyce's fictional character and alter ego Stephen Daedulus:

History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.

Yes, history has its horrors. But we are part of it, and it of us, and we ignore it at our peril. We can't change it; we can only try to learn from it. Which brings us to the second quote, by George Santayana:

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

Of course, even those who do remember the past are often condemned to repeat it, unless enough people remember it and act wisely on its lessons. Sometimes it's difficult to know what those lessons are. Other times they seem clear, and this is one of these times.

[ADDENDUM: I just came across Richard Landes's pretrial post, in which he mentions that Dreyfus was tried under the same 1881 law that is operating in this trial.]

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The sky of 9/11

On this past Monday, the fifth anniversary of 9/11, I noticed the sky was clear and blue. But the blue was an ordinary blue, nothing like the intense clarity of the sky five years ago. It's one of the things many people remember best about 9/11: the piercingly blue sky, so unusual in its intensity as to make the untouched photos seem Photoshopped.

I also recall that the day before 9/11, and for a day or two afterwards, the sky retained that unusual sharpness and essence of blue. I'd never seen it before, nor have I since. I wondered whether the hijackers considered it an omen, a sign that their mission had the approval of the deity.

I also seem to remember reading somewhere about what had caused the unusual sky, and an aviation term to refer to it. But now I can't find a thing about it. So, dear readers: can anyone help out with this?

Uneasy lies the head next to the head that wears a crown

I sense a theme here--two headlines spotted today in the supermarket checkout line, composing the entire front page of the tabloid the Globe:

Camilla Runs Back to Ex-Hubby

Laura Bush's Nervous Breakdown: "I can't take any more," she tells Prez

I assume "Prez" isn't Elvis Presley--last spotted, I believe, in my local Store 24.

The cycle of violence: revenge on the stingrays

When I first read this I thought it was from the Onion. But no, it turns out to be for real.

It appears that some person or persons in Australia are seeking vengence for naturalist Steve Irwin's death by killing stingrays. No, not that stingray--the one that stung him in the heart and was responsible for his death--but stingrays in general:

Up to eight stingrays were found with their tails removed on Sept. 11 on Dundowran Beach, near the Queensland tourist resort of Hervey Bay...

Then, again, perhaps it wasn't murder. Or maybe it's the motive that's in question.

There is no evidence that the stingrays were killed as an act of revenge following Irwin's death, Kirsten Phillips, a media spokeswoman for the department, said in a phone interview. Officers are looking into the possibility, she added.

I'm not sure how officers would investigate this particular crime. Forensic evidence would seem scarce. Hidden cameras? Informants? Moles?

[ADDENDUM: Singrays themselves look rather cloaked, spylike, and clandestine, not to mention sinister. Here's a photo:



As for moles, I nominate the eel.]

New Podcast

The latest Sanity Squad podcast is up at Pajamas.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Khatami, Cheney, whatever: misunderstanding freedom of speech

Last night I was talking to my fellow Sanity Squad members after taping this week's podcast (no, it's not online yet, but should be soon).

The session you hear is usually just the tip of the iceberg for us. As I've said before, we bloggers can talk, and after our tongues are loosened by the thirty or so minutes allotted to the taping, we usually go on--and on and on and on. And of course, we're even more fascinating--as well as sublimely humorous--with the recording device turned off, but you'll just have to take my word for it.

Last night we got into--among many other things--a post-taping discussion of Khatami's invitation to speak at Harvard. We all agreed that Harvard shouldn't have tendered the invitation; after all, why give him such an illustrious forum? I said that Harvard's argument in its defense is that all views should be heard in the marketplace of ideas, and that truth will out. We all were in agreement, however, that in that case he should at least have been invited to debate with someone on the other side. Netanyahu came to mind, or perhaps Dershowitz, but it could have been any number of people.

Of course, that wasn't done. Why not? Well, for one thing, Khatami probably would have declined the pleasure if he'd had to face an opponent. If there's one thing Khatami is about, I think we can safely say that it's not free debate in the marketplace of ideas.

Then today I came across this article by Caroline Glick that appeared in yesterday's Jerusalem Post. The subject is Khatami's invitation to speak at Harvard as compared with a visit by none other than Dick Cheney, who entered the Harvard Club through a back door to evade two hundred protesters who greeted him when he arrived to give a speech there recently.

Well, I happened to have been at the Khatami protest (forgot to bring my camera, folks, but here are Sol's shots) and although I'm not an expert at crowd estimation, I'd say there were a goodly number of protesters there, but that the number came in well under two hundred.

Ms. Glick also seems to feel that there may be more hatred for Cheney at Harvard than for Khatami. And in her article she makes the exact point the Sanity Squad was discussing in our off-the-record talk last night (could she have been overhearing us through some sort of Rovian wiretap?)--that, if Harvard's intent in inviting Khatami was to offer a free flow of ideas so that truth would emerge, it would have been good to have had an opposing side present at Khatami's speech. She agrees, however, that such an invitation would probably have put the kibosh on the whole shebang.

No, I'm not saying that every single speaker at Harvard has to have an opposing viewpoint presented at the same time. That would be ludicrous, for either side. But certainly for a speaker who represents such abhorrent polices as Khatami, it would be a good idea.

The bottom line is that there is no requirement that Harvard offer our enemies a bully pulpit, nor is there any prohibition on Harvard's doing so. It simply is a matter of the school's judgment and policy. And given the present state of relations with Iran--actually, the same state of relations we've had for virtually all the years since the Islamic revolution there in 1979--inviting Khatami to speak at Harvard is a bit like having invited Hermann Goering over to speak at Harvard during the late 30s. I haven't checked it out yet, but my guess is that it didn't happen. The Greatest Generation wasn't quite as stupid and self-destructive as we are.

One of these days I plan to write at greater length about the misconceptions many people have about freedom of speech (we'll see--I've got notes for several hundred as yet unwritten articles, so I've got my work cut out for me). But the summary version is that, when last I looked, the Bill of Rights states that Congress shall make no law abridging freedom of speech.

Freedom of speech is mainly concerned with prohibiting government intrusion into the right to speak out. It's not absolute, of course; there are always restrictions, most famously that the government has a right to prohibit the shouting of "fire" in a crowded theater. But there is no requirement that any non-governmental institution invite all comers to spout off from a podium. Of course, if Harvard chooses to do so, the government can't stop it. That's why Governor Romney, as a state agent, had no ability to keep Khatami away from Harvard. Instead, he was limited to refusing to supply Khatami with state support for the trip, such as an official state escort (the Federal government provided the main security) or state VIP treatment. The only other thing Romney could do was to use his freedom of speech to harshly criticize Harvard for offering the invite.

But somehow, for some people, the guarantees of prohibition of governmental restriction on freedom of speech has somehow morphed into the thought that one must actively provide an opportunity to speak for those who oppose you or are against you. No. Let them speak on a street corner. Let them publish a leaflet and distribute it in Harvard Square. And yes, of course, if you wish to provide them with a forum in your institution, I can't stop you. But I can exercise my right to freedom of speech by criticizing you for doing so.

The argument that having someone like Khatami speak at Harvard is a good thing because it furthers discussion in the free marketplace of ideas sounds good on paper (or on the computer screen). But in reality it doesn't always work that way; it's best to use some judgment about this. Here's the much-maligned Wikipedia (how's that for the marketplace of ideas?) on the subject:

A classic argument for protecting freedom of speech as a fundamental right is that it is essential for the discovery of truth. This argument is particularly associated with the British philosopher John Stuart Mill. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote that "the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market, and that truth is the only ground upon which their wishes safely can be carried out."...

This marketplace of ideas rationale for freedom of speech has been criticized by scholars on the grounds that it is wrong to assume all ideas will enter the marketplace of ideas, and even if they do, some ideas may drown out others merely because they enjoy dissemination through superior resources.

The marketplace is also criticized for its assumption that truth will necessarily triumph over falsehood. It is visible throughout history that people may be swayed by emotion rather than reason, and even if truth ultimately prevails, enormous harm can occur in the interim.


"Dissemination through superior resources" does seem to be the very definition of giving a speech at Harvard. So, why encourage Khatami in this way? Granted, he's not Ahmadinejad (is he next on the speaker invite list?) But he's bad enough.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Looking at 9/11, half a decade later

Does it seem as though five years have passed since that dreadful day of the stunningly blue sky, the orange flames, the plumes of grey-black smoke?

In some ways it seems a lifetime; one looks back at before-9/11 and thinks "never such innocence again."

But the New York skyline without its two huge exclamation points no longer seems so bereft. Yes, it happened, and somehow we have assimilated that fact, although we still haven't comprehended all its consequences nor divined its deepest meaning.

But it no longer seems impossible that such a thing happened. Now it seems surprising that it came as such a shock at the time, because the general pattern and the shape of things to come should already have been clear. There was Khobar Towers. The twin Embassy blasts. The Cole.

But the clearest foreshadowing of the event that would henceforth be known only by those numbers, "9/11"--as though words were somehow inadequate to describe it--was its most direct predecessor, the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. That earlier attack distinguished itself in audaciousness by being the only large-scale Islamist totalitarian terrorist attack within the boundaries of the United States prior to 9/11.

And it was every bit as serious in intent. The only reason it wasn't taken as seriously as it should have been was the seemingly Keystone Cops-like incompetence of its perpetrators. They would learn from their errors, and quickly. It would take us longer to learn what we needed to know.

Another thing that makes 9/11 feel more distant in time than five years ago is the dissipation of the unity that seemed to unite us in the first few months afterwards. I say "seemed" because there were always many dissenting voices, even from the start--voices that blamed the US for the attack, or said that the Jews had stayed home that day. Voices that suggested America deserved what it got. Voices that were against attacking Afghanistan, saying we would kill millions of people in that country.

Yes, 9/11 seems a long time ago. But in other ways 9/11 seems fresh and recent--and especially so on the anniversary, when documentaries revisit the pain and open old wounds. Last night I rewatched much of "9/11," the documentary film made by the Naudet brothers as they followed a downtown Manhattan fire company on a routine call that turned out to be adjacent to the World Trade Center on that fateful day at that fateful time. The brothers captured many startling images of 9/11, but the most horrifying thing in the movie was not visual. It was auditory: the harsh percussive sounds of the leapers hitting the pavement.

Viewing how events unfolded that day and knowing what we know now, the urge is to say: "Look out! Don't go to work! Run away, fast! Don't go up those stairs!" Or to think, "If only." If only the people on the first planes had known what was in store, for example, they could have united to stop the hijackers the way those on Flight 93 did. If only the FBI and CIA had been allowed to speak to each other. If only. If only.

I recall one of the most poignant "if only's" from a documentary I saw several years ago. A female air controller was monitoring flights that day, knowing what had happened at the WTC, helpless as the plane she was tracking (I believe it was the one that eventually hit the Pentagon) dropped and disappeared off the radar screen. She said that, ever since, she's had a recurrent dream. In it, she's watching that same radar screen. The "blip" of the plane is dropping again, and her heart sinks with it. But this time, instead of being helpless, she reaches into the screen with her hand and scoops the tiny plane out, rescuing all its passengers.

Magical thinking, of course. But very human. Many who were part of the rescue effort that day think they should somehow have done even more, despite the heroism they showed.

And of course we all somehow should have done more, both then and now. The problem, both then and now, is the same: figuring out what that "more" might be. Knowing how to interpret the past and the present in order to be able to foresee the future and act to forestall tragedy.

We can do that perfectly only in our dreams, and not even in all of those. But still we must try, to the best of our ability-- because history, like life, can only be understood backwards (if at all). But it must be lived forwards.

Assignment 9/11: Glenn Wilkinson, firefighter, father

I signed up with the 2996 Project, a tribute to the victims of 9/11. The idea was to get 2996 bloggers to volunteer, and to have each write a post devoted to one person who was killed by Islamist totalitarian terrorists on that day.

Name assignments were random, and I drew 46-year-old Glenn Wilkinson, one of the firefighters who answered the call to go to the burning World Trade Center to try to save lives, and who ended up losing their own.

Remembering the wonderful NY Times series "Portraits of Grief" that featured short, moving biographies of the victims, I searched at that website for Wilkinson. To my surprise, there was nothing about him. I had thought all the victims had been included, but it turns out that the Times only covered 1800.

There was, however, a little information about Wilkinson in a short article from Newsday, featuring this photo of Glenn, his wife Margaret, and their three children, taken a few years before 9/11:


The picture doesn't say everything there is to say about Wilkinson's life, of course. But I realized it still said an awful lot, and maybe it even shows the essence of his life. Because the two things that seem to have been most important to Wilkinson are there: firefighting and family.

Back when I was getting my degree in marriage and family therapy, I once did a project on how family photographs can reveal family dynamics. And now, as I looked at this photo, I couldn't help but notice Wilkinson's beaming face, his firefighter's uniform, his evident pride in his brood, and the warmth and ease of the interactions between them. Yes, the little girl looks a little shy, but see how her father stands protectively and encouragingly over her.

Here's the entire text of the Newsday article:

Fire Lt. Glenn Wilkinson had just ordered his company, Brooklyn's Engine 238, out of the lobby of the crumbling World Trade Center's Tower Two Tuesday morning when he took a roll call and discovered someone was missing.

"He gave a mayday and he ordered his company to move to a safe location and he returned to the building," Wilkinson's widow, Margaret, recalled yesterday. "And he didn't make it back."

The body of the 46-year-old Bayport resident and father of three - a 14-year veteran of the New York City Fire Department - was recovered early Wednesday, ending a day of uncertainty for Margaret, whose first fears watching the news on television that morning were only for other victims and for the horrors her husband would have to bring home with him.

"My thoughts were, 'They are from Brooklyn, they can't possibly be in the midst of it,'" she said Friday, standing in a house full of family and neighbors who had come to bring food and run errands and keep the three Wilkinson children from thinking too much about what had just happened to their family.

Margaret Mackey Wilkinson, a teacher's assistant in special education at Blue Point Avenue Elementary School, worked all day Tuesday and came home to an answering machine with 16 messages on it. "I skipped and skipped and skipped through them hoping to hear his voice," she said. There were no messages from him.

But there will be plenty of memories of bike rides and basketball and father-daughter dances to comfort Wilkinson's children, Kelsie, 13, Craig, 12, and Kevin, 8, as they grow. Wilkinson jogged regularly and the boys had recently started to join him on his runs, his wife recalled. When he came home at night, he'd be summoned to the bedroom of straight-A student Kelsie and be on the rug helping her work out math problems.

"He was very, very loving," Margaret said. "The thing he loved best in life was being a dad."


You can see it in the photo, and hear it in his wife's words.

And I think he must have loved his job, even though it was hard, very hard. That last day, it must have been exceptionally hard. But firefighters do that--they go against every instinct built into us to run, screaming, as fast as we can, away from burning buildings, not into them. And not only do they go into burning buildings, they go--as Wilkinson did--back into burning buildings, to save those as yet unaccounted for.

Wilkinson was only one of the 343 active and 3 retired firefighters who died on 9/11, by far the single most dreadful day in the history of a profession that has known its share of mass death and tragedy. Prior to 9/11, the highest death toll of firefighters in New York in a single incident had been twelve. And the total number of firefighters lost on 9/11 was greater than the total number of New York City firefighters who'd died on the job since WWII.

I recall hearing the news of the shockingly high number of firefighter deaths late in the afternoon of 9/11, after a day of ever-escalating horror. Even then, after we'd heard so much, the numbers seemed unbearable. It was unimaginable that so many firefighters had died at once; and yet it was sadly, and most terribly, true.

I wrote that Wilkinson was "only one" of the firefighters who died. But there's really no "only" about it. Each and every one of them was a hero--an overused word, but an appropriate one in this case--a hero not only on that day, but on every day they came to work.

9/11: the watershed

[On this fifth anniversary of 9/11, I am reposting the following. It is part of my "A mind is a difficult thing to change" series, and deals with the events of 9/11 and my reaction to them.]

INTRODUCTION

Although I've written in my "About Me" section that I was "mugged by reality on 9/11," that's really just a convenient and probably misleading shorthand description of a much more complex reaction, one that began that instant but emerged only slowly, over a period of several years. It's probably still in the process of evolving and changing.

But the beginning wasn't slow. Not at all.

It began in an instant, the instant I heard about the 9/11 attacks. Like most of you, I remember exactly where I was at the time and how I learned the news. My story isn't a particularly dramatic one. I don't tell it for that reason. I tell it to learn more about the process by which a mind is changed--sometimes, as in this case, through a sudden and dramatic event that sparks intense feelings and begins a cognitive process by which a person tries to make some sort of sense of that overwhelming event and those chaotic feelings.


9/11

I was having trouble sleeping that night. I don't know why--I wasn't in pain, I didn't have a stomach ache, nor was I anxious about anything in particular. But I lay awake in bed for hours in a sort of unfocused but nevertheless unpleasant and restless agitation, until I finally fell into a fitful sleep from about 5 AM to 8 AM, and then woke up again.

I was visiting with friends, so I wasn't in my regular bed. My work didn't force me to get up early, so I tried to relax and sleep a bit more. But the strange wakefulness continued, and at about 10:15 I finally gave up and went downstairs.

My friend was at her job, but her husband John works at home in a basement office. Since he was nowhere to be seen, I figured he was down there working at his computer. I grabbed a yogurt for breakfast, and I was engaged in eating it a few minutes later when John appeared in the kitchen.

John is one of the calmest people I know, almost preternaturally so. I've never heard him raise his voice, and never even seen him look agitated, despite the vagaries of raising two teenagers and assorted pets. Nor did he appear particularly distressed that day. He seemed to be looking through some piles on the countertops for something--a pen? some notepaper?--when I caught his attention and started to ask some casual question.

John stopped shuffling through the stacks, and gave me a look I can only characterize as quizzical. He seemed to be studying me. And what he said next are words that are burned into my brain, a phrase I never want to hear again, not ever: "You don't know what happened, do you?"

I write it as a question, but it didn't really have a rising inflection at the end. It was more of a statement, an expression of intense wonderment that anyone could be so ignorant of something so obvious. It was as though he'd said "You don't know the sky is blue, do you?"

No, I guess I didn't know what had happened, I said, and waited for him to tell me.

What did I suppose it might be? I had already sensed, somehow, that it was nothing good. But in the split second of innocence I had left to think about it, I might have thought John was about to say that there had been an auto accident, a bus collision, or a fire, an upsetting but ordinary and generic tragedy of some sort or another.

But instead, John's calm words came out in one long run-on sentence, although their content was anything but calm, or calming.

"Two planes just crashed into the World Trade Center, and the towers have fallen, and then another plane crashed into the Pentagon, and a fourth one is missing, and a few others are missing, too" (the final destination of Flight 93 was unknown as yet, and a mistaken report had been issued that there were further planes still unaccounted for).

If John had told me that Martians had landed in Central Park, or that an asteroid was on a doomsday course towards earth and we had only a few hours to live, I could not have been more surprised. My body reacted instantly, before my mind did--my legs felt shaky, my mouth went dry, and something inside my gut was shaking, also.

I knew immediately and intuitively that a watershed event had occurred. I didn't know the exact parameters of it, nor any details of the direction in which we were headed, but I knew that this moment felt like a break with everything that had gone before. Assumptions I hadn't even known I'd held were dead in a single instant, as though their life supports had been cut. I didn't know what would replace them.

What were the main assumptions that had died in that instant for me? They had to do with a sense of basic long-term safety. Some utterly fearful thing that had seemed contained before, although vaguely threatening, had now burst from its constraints. It was like being plunged into something dark and ancient that had also suddenly been grafted onto modern technology and jet planes--Huns or Mongols or Genghis Khan or Vlad the Impaler or Hector being dragged behind Achilles' chariot--a thousand swirling vague but horrific impressions from an ancient history I'd never paid all that much attention to before.

I remembered having read articles within the last couple of years that had told of terrorist plans and threats, but managing to successfully surpress my rising fear and reassuring myself that no, it wouldn't actually happen; it was just talk and boasting bravado. The nuclear nightmares of my youth now came to mind: the fallout shelters, the bomb drills, the suspicion that I wouldn't live to grow up. I had suppressed those, too, especially in recent years when the fall of the Soviet Union had removed what had once been the likeliest source of the conflagration. It now felt like one of those horror movies where the heroine is chased by someone out to do her harm and then she gets home, feels safe, closes the door and breathes a sigh of relief--and then the murderer leaps out of the closet, where he'd been hiding all the time.

But all these thoughts and images weren't fully formed, they were a jumbled set of apprehensions that hit me almost simultaneously with John's news. In the next instant, I had a sudden vision of the two WTC towers toppling over and falling into the other buildings in downtown New York, crushing them as in some ghastly game of giant dominos. So the first question I asked John when I could get my suddenly dry mouth to function was, "How did the towers fall? Did they fall over and smash other buildings?

John didn't know the answer. The reason he didn't know was that the family television set had recently been unplugged and stored away, deemed too distracting for the kids, who'd been having some trouble in school lately. This meant that John had no visuals, and so he couldn't answer my question.

And then John left to get his daughter, and I was left alone with my thoughts.

I had always been glad I'd been born after World War II because I had a sense that the stress of those horrific war years would have taken a terrible toll on me. I had often wondered whether I could have handled such a lengthy time of deep uncertainty about whether the forces of good or evil (not that I really thought in those terms ordinarily, but WWII did seem to present a stark choice of that type) would triumph. I wondered about the sense of impending doom and personal danger that a worldwide war with so many casualties would have entailed, especially in those early years when it wasn't going very well for the Allies.

I'd known war, of course--most particularly, Vietnam. But as much as that war had affected me personally by affecting those I loved, and as much as I'd been upset by all the killing and struggle, the actual fighting had been far away "over there," and in a relatively small area of the globe.

From the very first moment that John had told me the news of 9/11, there had been no real doubt in my mind that the attacks had been the work of terrorists. There had also been no doubt that this was something very different from what had gone before.

But why was that difference so clear? After all, there had been terrorist attacks before that had killed hundreds of people at a time. There had even been a previous attack on the World Trade Center, and I had known that the intent of the terrorists back then had been to bring the building down. So, why this feeling of something utterly new?

Each prior terrorist attack had contained elements that had allowed me to soothe and distance myself from it, and to minimize the terrorists' intent. Most of the attacks had been overseas, or on military personnel, or both. Or, if the attack had been in this country and on civilians (both were certainly true of the previous WTC bombing), the terrorists had seemed almost comically inept and bumbling. Each attack had been horrible, but the presence of one or more of these elements had kept knowledge of what was really going on at bay.

Those planes that had crashed into the towers and toppled them on 9/11 also had smashed the nearly impenetrable wall of my previous denial. These attacks had been audacious. I could not ignore the fact that the intent of the terrorists was to be as lethal and malicious as humanly possible. The change in the scope and scale of the project made it seem as though they did indeed want to kill us all, indiscriminately, and it gave their motives even less grounding in any sort of rational thought that I could fathom, or any real strategic end. The creativity of the attacks (and I do not use that word admiringly, but the attacks were indeed an instance of thinking outside the box) made it seem that anything was possible, and that the form of future attacks could not be anticipated or even guessed at. The attacks had imitated an action/adventure movie far too well, the type of thing that had always seemed way too improbable to be true. But now it had actually happened, and the terrorists seemed to have become almost slickly competent in the split-second timing and execution of the attacks.

After John had left the house, I did a few practical things. I called my family in New York, who were all safe, though very shaken (my sister-in-law had witnessed the second crash from her balcony, and their small yard was covered with ash and papers). I managed to get to a television set and watch the videotapes, and it was then that I learned that the towers had fallen neatly, collapsing onto themselves like a planned demolition.

And then I did something impractical. I went to the ocean and sat on the rocks. It was the loveliest day imaginable. I had been alive for over fifty years at the time, and I cannot recall weather and a sky quite like that before. It added to the utter unreality of the day and my feelings. The sky was so blue as to be almost piercing, with a clarity and sharpness that seemed other-worldly. It made it feel as though the heavens themselves were speaking to us; but what were they saying?

All this clarity and purity was enhanced by the fact that there wasn't an airplane in the sky. There were boats of all types on the bluest of oceans, the sun beamed down and made the waves sparkle, and it all seemed to have a preciousness and a beauty that came with something that might soon be irretrievably lost.

I thought there might be more attacks, bigger attacks, and soon. So I might as well enjoy the sky. I wondered whether I should go ahead with a house purchase I was about to make. I wondered whether it mattered. But most of all, I wondered why the attacks had happened.

I'd studied human behavior for a good many years, but I can honestly say there was a tremendous and unfathomable mystery here. I had always been a curious person, but the amount of time and effort I had spent studying world history or political movements had been relatively minor. I'd been more interested in literature and art, psychology and science.

Now, and quite suddenly, I wanted to learn what had happened, why, and what we might need to do about it. In fact, I felt driven to study these things, in the way that a person suddenly faced with the diagnosis of a terminal illness might want to learn everything possible about that disease, even if they'd had no interest whatsoever in it before. Samuel Johnson has written that the prospect of being hanged focuses the mind wonderfully. A terrorist attack on this scale had focused the mind wonderfully, too. That was, perhaps, its only benefit.

Even on that very first day, as I sat on the rocks overlooking the beautiful ocean that I loved so much, I thought we had entered a new era, one which would probably go on for most of my lifetime however much longer I might live. The fight would be long and hard, and there would be many many deaths before it was over. Perhaps it would result in the end of civilization as we knew it--yes, my thoughts went that far on that day. This war would encompass most of the globe. I had no idea how it would work out, but I knew that we were in for the fight of our lives.

The legal actions of the past--the puny trial after the first World Trade Center attack, for example--no longer seemed like an effective response. It seemed, in retrospect, to have been almost laughably naive. The situation didn't even seem amenable to a conventional war. Something new would have to be invented, and fast. And it would have to be global. It would have to have great depth and breadth, and it would probably last for decades or even longer.

So for me the day began with an emotional intensity--a stunning shock that very quickly was matched by a cognitive intensity as well. It now seemed to be no less than a matter of life and death to learn, as best I could, what was going on. I knew it wasn't up to me to solve this; I had no power and no influence in the world. But still something drove me, with a force that was almost relentless, to pursue knowledge and understanding about this event. The pursuit of this knowledge no longer seemed discretionary or abstract, it seemed both necessary and deeply, newly personal.


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