Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Nihilogism Watch

Another week, another couple of words get chucked into the nihilogism machine that is the Bush administration. Before long, the much-vaunted "compromise" over terror trials is going to have more asterisks than Barry Bonds' career stats sheet.

Here's the good news:
  • The new bill would reaffirm the United States' commitment to Common Article 3 of the Geneva convention, which prohibits torture*
  • It would specifically prohibit cruel treatment**
  • The infliction of severe physical pain or suffering*** and severe mental pain or suffering**** would be banned
Gosh, with a bill like this, we can't lose! We'll be the darlings of the international community and we'll be able to sleep at night. It's guaranteed*****!

* Except that no prisoner (whether a citizen or not) would be permitted to invoke the Geneva Conventions in a court of law
** The definition of "cruel treatment" is not to include waterboarding, sleep deprivation or many of the other "alternative techniques" practiced by the CIA
*** Suffering that carries a "substantial risk of death", that is. Prohibition not to include beatings or lacerations (or any other frat-boy tomfoolery) that do not cause disfigurement or impair organ function
**** Unless it doesn't do permanent mental damage
***** Not a guarantee

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Islam and Irrationality

As good as Andrew Sullivan is on torture, that's how bad he is on Islam.

I know he's a smart guy and I try to give him the benefit of the doubt, but when it comes to comparative religion, he's not even making the effort. He has come out early and often in favor of Pope Benedict's recent statements about the need for rationality in Islam (as if virgin births, resurrections and transubstantiations are the model of pure reason). In this post, he buttresses the Pope with the ever-so-deep argument that while Muhammad was a warrior, Jesus never killed anyone. Therefore Christianity is somehow less violent. He failed to mention the bit about the lakes of fire and Jesus returning with the sword to cut down all of wicked humanity, but that's sort of beside the point, isn't it?

A couple of days later he seconds Sam Harris in calling Islam a "pestilential theology". Well, not all of Islam, of course. Only the Islam practiced by "devout Muslims". Nothing offensive there.

Then, in a post about Iranian president Ahmadinejad, he says this:
In a religion like Islam, where reason has been eclipsed for a very long time, the absence of oxygen for the doubt that makes faith both real and reasonable is acute.
Now, apart from the absurd use of "reason" in the same sentence as "religion", Sullivan manages to say that the Muslim faith is neither real nor reasonable. I'll back him up on the second point (if he concedes Christianity, too), but to say that the faith of Muslims is not "real" is unbelievably offensive and, worse, patently condescending.

Not content to let that gem be the final word, Sullivan chimed in yesterday with a grotesque quote from a sermon by a Hamas religious figure that seems to threaten the Pope's life (although, ever quick to judge, Sullivan never considers the equally plausible interpretation that Benedict's cruel fate lies in the next world). After a few paragraphs of blather from the Hamas cleric, Andrew sums it up with his now-all-too-typical sneer:
Ah, yes, a threat of murdering the Pope with scriptural backing. But Islam is all about peace, right?
Let me let you in on a secret, Andrew: No religion is the religion of peace. How naive are you? And how can you hope to have that deep discussion about religion and society you want to have when you're so busy spouting off ignorant one-liners?

Now, Hamas is a well-known extremist organization. If the results of the Palestinian election are any indication, they represent the views of 44% of the 3.5 million (to be generous) Palestinians. That's about 1.5 million, if you're counting. Is it reasonable, do you think, to say that the views of 1.5 million people—people who live on and are routinely crushed by the fault lines where Islam and politics meet—fairly represents those of all the Muslims the world over? No, but fairness isn't what Sullivan's after, despite his great appeal to rationality.

Just yesterday morning, as luck would have it, NPR ran a long story (audio available here) on a rare interview granted by the Aga Khan, the spiritual leader of the Ismailis. The Ismailis are the world's 2nd-biggest sect of Shiite Muslims, with between 15 and 20 million adherents. Andrew Sullivan has written about Hamas dozens of times on his blog. He has, as best as I can determine, never once written about the Aga Khan or the Ismailis. Is it because he doesn't know who they are, or because they don't fit into the hang-the-Pope mold Sullivan wants to promote?

As luck would have it (again), the Aga Khan's topic was ignorance of Islam. We are not in a clash of civilizations, he said, but a "a clash of ignorance". And how does he hope to promote the positive understanding of Islam in the world? "The answer lies in the expanding role of civil society." That would be music to Sullivan's ears, if only he could hear it. My fear is that he's just not listening for those moderate voices he so claims to want to hear. Do yourself a favor and listen to the whole story (linked above).

I'm not for a moment suggesting that there aren't horrendous elements in Islam today, but I'm pretty sure the way to address it is not to have the most prominent leader of the Christian world spouting off about how bloodthirsty Muhammad was. The best way to foster the kind of dialog the Pope says he wants and Andrew Sullivan champions is to engage the moderates. Unfortunately, you can't do that if you convince yourself, against the available evidence, that they don't exist.

What Sullivan does, essentially, is to throw up his hands because Hamas, of all people, just won't listen. How rational, to use his pet term, is that? You're not going to start there. You need to marginalize the wackos. In America, would you try to convince Pat Robertson to mend his ways or would you instead support the alternatives to his odious theology and hope to convince regular people not to buy into his brand of extremism? The same thing needs to happen in parts of the Muslim world, and the best thing people in the West can do is lift the veil of ignorance that shrouds us like a comfortable blanket of cultural superiority.

Generally speaking, the religious extremism of an area is in direct proportion to how screwed up it is socially and politically (that's probably playing a little fast and loose with anthropology, but it's not all wrong). There's a reason why people from Iceland and Scandinavia tend toward moderate Christianity and the bulk of weeping Virgin Mary statues and Jesus-shaped edibles come from less advantaged locales—and it's not all culture. It's economics and politics as well. For a similar mix of reasons, Islam is expressed differently in Saudi Arabia and, say, Indonesia. Our first mistake would be to assume there's no difference. And our second would follow directly from the first.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Quelle Surprise!

How depressing is this? It's a screenshot (edited slightly to remove extraneous information) from the SiteMeter page for this site, giving details on one of my readers and how he/she/it got here.

Somehow, I'm not surprised that the guy searching Google for "Jews are a pain in the ass" is from France. Virulent anti-Semitism is just part of their charm, I suppose. Like Gauloise cigarettes and Serge Gainsbourg.

For the record, my blog comes up as a hit under these search criteria for entirely innocent reasons. The link on Google is to an archive page which includes some of my many anti-Mel Gibson posts plus another post that uses the phrase "pain in the ass" (unrelated to Jews).

Vive l'intolérance!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

My Favorite Things

The Truffle was kind and/or evil enough to tag me for one of those list things, so here's more than you probably want to know about me:

Things I'd like to do before I die
1. Return my overdue library books
2. Visit South Dakota
3. Perform a medely of "Magic Man" by Heart and "Immigrant Song" by Led Zeppelin (that's right, go have a listen) to a drunk but forgiving crowd

Things I cannot do
1. "Feel your pain"
2. Get no satisfaction
3. Hold two contradictory beliefs simultaneously and fervently believe both

Things I can do
1. See cleary now the rain is gone
2. See all obstacles in my way
3. Plan my revenge against that bastard Johnny Nash

Things that attracted me to my significant other
1. Brains
2. Beauty
3. Pheromones

Things I like to say
1. "The great thing about me is..."
2. "As it were"
3. "What's wrong with being sexy?"

Books I like best
1. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
2. My Name Is Red by Orhan Pamuk
3. Anything in the Left Behind series

Movies I like to see
1. This Is Spinal Tap
2. Gilda
3. Anything in the Left Behind series

I, in turn, tag Beep Beep, It's Me (you never said 'no tagbacks') and Vanity of Duluoz.

Touch & Go Block Party Pix

There's a fantastic photo gallery on Flickr of all 25 bands that played Touch & Go Records' 25th Anniversary festival in Chicago last weekend. Thanks to newzeroeurope for posting them, and thanks to Captain Waffle for pointing it out.

Several years of my not-mispent youth went to working at T&G, so there's a warm, fuzzy feeling, even though I couldn't make it to the show.

Congrats to Corey and Ed and damn! I wish I'd been there to see the Big Black and Scratch Acid reunions. Alas.

Nihilogism Watch

Rev. Louis P. Sheldon, of the Traditional Values Coalition cares about language. That's why he wants to "clarify" the language of the Geneva Conventions, which is political shorthand for making certain forms of torture legal. Never mind that he nihilogizes the word "traditional" in the process.

That a group purporting to represent "traditional values" could come out in support of torture—an act which the U.S. has a long and proud tradition of not practicing—is more than a little ironic. That is, unless "traditional" has been redefined to mean "right-wing Christian conservative". I suppose we could ask our gay friends about that.

Here's some of the press release from the TVC:
"We need to clarify this policy for treating detainees," said Rev. Sheldon. "As it stands right now, the military and intelligence experts interrogating these terrorists are in much greater danger than the terrorists....

"Our rules for interrogation need to catch-up with this awful new form of war that is being fought against all of us and the free world. The post-World War II standards do not apply to this new war.

"We must redefine how our lawful society treats those who have nothing but contempt for the law and rely on terrorizing the innocent to accomplish their objectives. The lines must be redrawn and then we must pursue these criminals as quickly and as aggressively as the law permits.

"And since this debate is, at its very core, about preserving the traditional value of prosecuting injustice and protecting the innocent, TVC will score this vote in both the House and the Senate. We encourage all of our supporters and affiliated churches to contact their elected representatives and let them know we support President Bush's efforts to update our methods of interrogating terrorist detainees in order to provide greater protection for our troops and the innocent."
And what about the traditional value of protecting the wrongly accused, or due process, or fairness and honesty, or honor? Not in this world view, where supporting the president—a president who has turned up his nose at nearly every tradition of government he's stumbled across, by the way—is indistinguishable from defending "traditional values".

Death to the Spinfidel?

In a recent ABC interview, Bill O'Reilly claimed he was on an Al Qaeda "death list". Talk about job security! He's made a much-more-than-comfortable living railing against Americans who, he claims, sympathize with the aims of Al Qaeda. Now he's just increased their numbers a thousandfold.

A Basic Question

If the U.S. wants Syria to shape up and stop being such a brutal, undemocratic nation, why are we sending innocent terror suspects there to be tortured? Just asking.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Irony Watch

Workers at the Directorate General for Religious Affairs in Turkey are calling for the arrest of the Pope during his upcoming visit to the country.
They said the Pontiff had violated Turkish laws upholding freedom of belief and thought by "insulting" Islam and the Prophet Mohammad.
Now that's what I call freedom.

Undefining 'Torture'

In 1946, George Orwell observed that the "great enemy of clear language is insincerity." That explains the fog that enshrouds my brain when I hear President Bush declare that "the United States does not torture."

On its face, that statement is a blatant lie. Not only did and does the U.S. torture, the president is actually trying to get Congress to legalize the so-called "alternative set of procedures" that were all the rage at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and the secret network of CIA prisons. So how can Bush stand up and say, essentially, that the sky is not blue? The insincerity is not in the declaration, but in the language itself.

A week or so ago Andrew Sullivan drew an important connection: the United States does not torture in the same sense that Bill Clinton did not have sexual relations with that woman.
Bush's statement is true in his own private universe, and the criterion of his version of truth depends entirely on what the meaning of the word "torture" is.... Both statements are semantic evasions to avoid a direct lie. Each man is using a private dictionary to redefine a word otherwise clear to any other rational person.
Since we're playing fast and loose with language, I think I'll get into the game. I would like to propose a new word to describe these terms that populate the private dictionaries of the likes of Bush and Clinton.
nihilogism — n. 1. a word used in such a way as to deliberately undermine, negate or destroy its traditional meaning 2. A new word or phrase designed specifically to drive another word or phrase from the lexicon. From Latin nihil- "nothing" + logos "word"
Bush is deliberately trying to redefine the word "torture" so that it no longer connotes things like mock drownings, staged executions and induced hypothermia. What's worse, he's trying to give that de-clawed definition the force of law. The same principle was at work when the Schmidt Report concluded that the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo was "humane" in mid-2005.

A nihilogism is one step beyond a euphemism. While the latter seeks to disguise the ugliness of reality with a word or phrase that sounds nicer (it comes from the Greek for "good speech"), the former aims to turn reality entirely on its head. It's no coincidence that the natural habitat of the nihilogism is political speech and writing, which, even in Orwell's time, consisted of little more than the "defence of the indefensible".

The nihilogism is nothing new, but it has become prevalent enough to merit a neologism of its own. You can't sit through a political debate nowadays without hearing that favorite bipartisan nihilogism—"working families"—uttered at least a dozen times. It's possible to argue that "working families" is merely a euphemism for the pinko-commie "working class", but it has so completely subverted the latter's role in all but the most fringe political discourse as to have effectively killed it. "Working families" also embodies a core characteristic of the nihilogism: it's utter nonsense. Unless the kids are off working down at the mill or in Kathy Lee's sweatshop, that is.

As Orwell was acutely aware, language is nothing to trifle with. An unchecked nihilogism, like President Bush's use of "torture", threatens first to change the way we talk about the issue, and, ultimately, the way we think about it. Accepting the president's linguistic violence would do much more that just cheapen the language. It would amount to selling out one of the quintessential American values that make this country great. And no amount of security—real or imagined—is worth that.

"Political language," wrote Orwell, "is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give the appearance of solidity to pure wind." The nihilogism is a powerful tool in the arsenal of the enemies of truth and honesty. The degree to which we're willing to fight for the legacy of America is the degree to which we deserve to inherit it.

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Ejicater

According to an AP headline today, President Bush believes that education is the key to democracy—and he's living proof. After all, it is this mediocre thinker—who reaped the rewards of "gentlemen's Cs" at Yale and has long ridden the gravy train of his father's legacy—who has presided over the most callous consolidation of power to the Executive Branch in recent memory. Power From the People, y'all!

The Islamo-Fascist Octopus

I was flipping through George Orwell's essay "Politics and the English Language" for another post (forthcoming) when I came across this pithy sentence: "The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies 'something not desirable'".

As a child of the new, New Left, I'm all too familiar with what Orwell means. If it was true in 1946, boy how it's true today. When I was in college, a "fascist" could loosely be defined as anyone who played by rules we didn't like, including the dining hall employee who wouldn't dish up that third helping of hash browns.

Once the preserve of the left, fascism has seen a resurgence among right-wingers. The use of the term, that is. How's that for unclear language? That's not un-like the very thing Orwell was complaining about in his not un-influential essay. Clear writing and clear thinking are essential to honest political discourse.

That's why the term "Islamo-fascism" bothers me so much. I'll admit, I used the term once myself (back in early 2005, before it was cool, man), but its appeal has definitely waned. And it's not because I'm worried that Muslims will think that all of Islam is being called fascist (this is clearly untrue) but because it's just such a lazy phrase. As Orwell writes, "[the English language] becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts."

"Islamo-fascism", simply put, is a foolish thought. Like banalities such as "post-modernism" (was it really that hard to come up with an original name?), the phrase speaks chiefly to a lack of imagination among the intelligentsia who coined it. Sure, certain things about Al Qaeda-style "Islam" could be called fascist, but it feels too much like an old-fashioned word being duct-taped onto a new phenomenon.

As it is generally understood, fascism consists of authoritarianism coupled with brutality and the suppression of freedom. In this sense, Al Qaeda and the pre-9/11 Taliban fit the model well. But fascism is more than just the enforced lack of freedom. Or it was. And, to be honest to the language, it still should be.

Fascism is characterized by extreme centralized authoritarianism, but it is also defined by chauvinistic nationalism, ethnic bigotry, collusion between the state and corporations and suspicion of religion (or any other possible competitor for loyalty). Understood as "something not desirable", fascism fits perfectly with the violent Islamism of Bin Laden and his kind. But dig any deeper than that and the comparison falls apart.

The "Islamo-fascists" are certainly interested in establishing authoritarian power over the Muslim world, and Bin Laden's caliphate would be worse news for them than it would be for us. But there's no state structure. There's no appeal to nationalism. There's little evidence of any economic aspect to the aspirations of the "Islamo-fascists".

I'm not for a moment arguing that these guys aren't as bad as they seem. I just think that we shouldn't be lazy about how we describe them. Is a recycled European ideology from 70 years ago really the best we can do? Shouldn't we be a little more precise in defining what promises to be a grave threat to Western and Muslim societies alike for the foreseeable future?

The threat of Islamic terrorism is relatively new and unprecedented. It deserves a new term, just as combating it demands a new approach. Only then can we make the Islamo-fascist octopus sing its swan song.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Action Painting 2.0

Check out this fun Jackson Pollack Simulator. Left-click to change colors.

Here's my first masterpiece:

Via Effing the Ineffable.

Friday, September 08, 2006

The Torture Lexicon

Yesterday President Bush used the phrase "alternative set of procedures" to describe how Al Qaeda suspects were interrogated in secret CIA prisons. The word "alternative" here has the same general meaning it had in the music industry after about 1992: a torturous affront to good taste and basic human decency.

Faith and Black Helicopters

I don't know quite what to make of all the 9/11 Conspiracy TheoristsTM out there. In much of the Muslim world, clearly, an anti-American sentiment blended with a wish that the attacks had not been carried out by co-religionists results in rejection of the official version of events. In Europe, an intense dislike of the Bush administration specifically, and of American power in general, leads many otherwise sane people down the tinfoil-hat road.

Certainly some of these traits are shared by American 'skeptics', such as the 9/11 Scholars for Truth (and one should strongly consider scare quotes for both Scholars and Truth in this case). One thing all these groups have in common is a basic unfamiliarity with Occam's Razor: entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem.

So many of the conspiracy theories require the coordinated actions of shadowy government agencies (such as the one that couldn't manage to invade Cuba or keep it's network of secret prisons a secret) and what would have to be described as covert American operatives from the Middle East who, while they have plenty of connections to anti-American jihad movements, have no demonstrated ties with the Men in Black. The proposition that our inept government was able to perfectly execute their plan without getting caught and without talking about it or slipping up in any way afterwards puts too much strain on credulity.

The fact remains that there are things about the 9/11 attacks and the mechanics of the collapse of the World Trade Center that leave unanswered questions. And mystery, as always, opens the door to fantasy. What strikes me most about the conspiracy theorists is their religious fervor. Not only because they demonstrate the wide-eyed certainty of the recent convert, but because they exhibit traits of genuine religious belief.

Throughout history, gods have been mechanisms to fill in the gaps of human understanding and have served as mythical repositories of our awe. What's that volcano that threatens our town? It's an angry god, of course. We better be good. 9/11 conspiracy theorists are decidedly uncomfortable with the unexplained. What they show is a need to develop a theory that encapsulates all the data they have gathered and erases all of the question marks. To what do they turn? A god (and this is one of those old-fashioned gods of thunder) in the form of an omnipotent, omniscient 'shadow government' that acts with impunity and leaves no trace that could ever amount to proof of its actual existence.

That takes a faith that I just can't share.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Ahmadinejad's Americanism

I know it can be hard to relate to Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He's the political head of a vast Islamic theocracy devoted to anti-American and anti-Israeli rhetoric. He's much shorter than any American leader our enlightened electorate would ever allow. But his policies aren't all alien.

First, there was the much-reported episode in which Iranian bakeries started calling Danishes "Rose of Muhammad pastries" in response to the cartoon scandal, recalling the Republicans' childish obsession with Freedom Fries. And now we have Ahmadinejad's education policies.

Just like Daniel Pipes (Campus Watch) and David Horowitz (author of Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America)—not to mention our friends at FOX News and the Rush Limbaugh program—President Ahmadinejad would like to see liberals purged from the universities in order to strengthen the country's "cultural revolution". You see, Iranian universities are stuck in a morass of secularism and liberalism that threatens to derail the country from its divinely-ordained path.

And to show this comparison is not just a mirage, there's this nugget from the AP:
Ahmadinejad's call was not a surprise — since taking office a year ago, he also has moved to replace pragmatic veterans in the government and diplomatic corps with former military commanders and inexperienced religious hard-liners.
Does that remind you of anything?

Now, I'm not making a wholesale comparison between the U.S. and Iran (that would be absurd) but it is worth noticing where our paths cross. We have no problem seeing this kind of extremism for what it is—when it's happening to someone else.

The Problem With American Newspapers

They would never write, as Lucy Sweet did in a recent article for the Daily Record of Scotland, a brilliant opening line like this: "Baby Suri, the most elusive Scientologist since Kirstie Alley disappeared under a huge blanket of lard, is to make a public appearance."

Monday, September 04, 2006

Happy Labor Day

It's time for our annual reminder that Senator McCarthy just didn't take things far enough. Sure, it's not May 1st, but come on. Labor Day? Why not just call it Karl Marx Day and be done with it?

President Reagan showed those striking air traffic controllers who was boss, and I, for one, expect to see every Republican and anti-union type at work bright and early this morning to show their solidarity with the Gipper. It's the least they can do.

Otherwise, the socialists terrorists have won.

Art That's, Like, Hot

My new favorite artist is named Banksy (you heard me, Vincent Gallo). He's a self-styled "guerrilla graffiti" artist who has put 500 doctored versions of Paris Hilton's new CD in record stores around Britain.

Banksy's cover features a digitally altered photo of Paris topless. I know. Where did he ever find a picture of her boobs? I guess part of art is the mystery. The song titles on the back cover have been replaced with "Why am I famous?", "What have I done?" and "What am I for?"

The best part is that Banksy has replaced the original CD with his own composition, featuring "40 minutes of a basic rhythm track over which Banksy has dubbed Ms Hilton's catchphrase 'That's hot!' and other extracts from her reality TV programme The Simple Life."

Brilliant. This is even better than Daniel Edwards' masterpiece Suri Cruise's First Poop (which the AFP archly described as "more doodoo than Dada").

One bright note for Hilton: this stunt will undoubtedly spike sales numbers for her less than commercially impressive debut. And that would be hot.

Update: Robert Sharl has a Flicker photoset of all of Banksy's 'improvements'.


I just read on the wires that Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter of Animal Planet fame, is dead.

Apparently he was killed in a freak stingray accident while filming a documentary at Bat Reef in Australia. That's not to say that other fatal accidents caused by stingrays are run of the mill, I suppose.

I'm sure there are a million jokes I'll hear later today, but it's never funny when a young guy with a wife and two little kids (one of whom he caught crap for dangling over a croc enclosure during a performance) dies. I guess you cheat death enough times and death gets pissed off about it.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

The Good Kind of Martyrdom

Jon Swift has a devastating and funny post up under the title "Kidnapped Fox Newsmen Let Us Down by Not Dying" in which he bursts the bubble of haughtiness surrounding so many right-wing bloggers who think Steven Centanni and Olaf Wiig should have taken a bullet, literally, for Jesus. And I thought martyrdom for religion was supposed to be a bit creepy.

Willing to protect Canada, and Jesus, from the jihadis

Now Canadian theater critic-turned pundit and Conrad Black comrade Mark Steyn has written a ridiculous screed in the pages of the Chicago Sun-Times entitled "Why abduct us? We cede our values for free".

Much like the moral and intellectual midgets Mr. Swift quotes, Steyn is content to sit back in his overstuffed chair (perhaps with a hockey game on in the background?) and pass judgment on real journalists who actually took risks and found themselves in danger.

Since real-world peril is apparently alien to Mr. Steyn, he can only resort to fiction to elucidate the moral mettle he so esteems. He brings up an episode in Arthur Conan Doyle's novel The Tragedy of the Korosko in which some European tourists have been kidnapped by Mahdists. They are given the choice to convert to Islam or die.
Yet in the end, even as men with no religious convictions, they cannot bring themselves to submit to Islam, for they understand it to be not just a denial of Christ but in some sense a denial of themselves, too. So they stall and delay and bog down the imam in a lot of technical questions until eventually he wises up and they're condemned to death.
How brave of these fictional characters in a fictional predicament. And how noble. As everyone knows, denying Christ is the worst thing possible and no good could possibly come after committing such a crime against the divine. Saint Peter denied Christ three times—all in one night—for the base goal of saving himself. And I'm pretty sure he never went on to do anything worthwhile after that.

Steyn's main concern is not for the souls of our weak-willed friends at FOX, however. He's worried that their capitulation sends the wrong message to the Muslim world.
[The conversion video] confirms the central truth Osama and the mullahs have been peddling — that the West is weak, that there's nothing — no core, no bedrock — nothing it's not willing to trade.
Nice to see that Mark Steyn and Osama bin Laden agree on something. It's strange that conservatives would be so concerned over what the rest of the world thinks about this, when they don't give half a damn what message we send to the "Arab street" when we torture prisoners or rape and murder their women. It's an interesting change of heart.

Of course, the feeble FOX journalists converting to Islam is just a symptom of something much worse.
The larger problem, it seems to me, is that much of the rest of the Western media have also converted to Islam, and there seems to be no way to get them to convert back to journalism.
Strange. During the Muhammad cartoon crisis I missed out on the pro-Islam Western press. I must have just been reading the wrong papers. It's certainly worth noting that Islam is somehow antithetical to journalism. I doubt that the Anglican Mr. Steyn would say the same of Christianity. Go figure.

But we haven't even gotten to the really strange part of the article yet. Steyn wouldn't miss a chance to engage in a little homophobia at the expense of Andrew Sullivan.
...attempting to reconcile his sexual temperament and his alleged political one, Time magazine's gay Tory Andrew Sullivan enthuses, "By letting go, we become. By giving up, we gain. And we learn how to live — now, which is the only time that matters." That's almost a literal restatement of Faust's bargain with the devil...
Oh, is Sullivan gay? I barely noticed both of your references. And what on earth does that have to do with the matter at hand? Not a thing. Except, I suppose, to make a connection between homosexuality and Satan. Well done, Mr. Steyn.

In fact, the quote, which Steyn pulled out of Sullivan's new book on conservatism, is slightly off topic. Sullivan is talking about self-imposed guilt. He's not talking about Islam at all. It's certainly odd, to say the least, for Steyn to lecture us on "journalism" when he evidently doesn't know the first thing about it. Taking a quote wildly out of context to make your "point" and simultaneously score a cheap shot is a bit of a journalistic no-no.

But, then again, so is choosing life over execution at the hands of Muslim fundamentalists. Don't they teach that in j-school?

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Outstanding Achievement: Jon Swift

Jon Swift is the inaugural recipient of the quasi-periodical (parenthetical remarks) Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence Award. Unfortunately, unlike the C. Montgomery Burns version, there is no $2,000 cash prize. Sorry.

Full of proposals, both modest and im-, Mr. Swift's blog rises to Colbertian levels of faux-conservative satireishness with an enviable consistency. It's well worth a regular visit for the spectacle of Yahoos being thrown to the Brobdingnagians.

Congratulations, Jon. You're really on your way now. Below is your award certificate, which you can print out and place on your mantelpiece or mount above you writing desk—wherever you look for that spark of inspiration.

Update: 100,000 visitors in your first seven months? How very nice for you. Jerk.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Thanks for the Meme-ories!

Beep Beep tagged me for the "Book Meme". Even though I think "meme" is the most annoying word since "trope", I'll give it a go.

A book that changed my life
Honestly, The Hardy Boys 1-110 changed my life because that's where my love of reading was born. Plus, who doesn't love Chet?

A book I've read more than once
I've read Catch-22 probably half a dozen times, and 1984 at least that many. Cheery stuff, no?

A book I would take with me if I were stuck on a desert island
The Collected Works of William Shakespeare, or maybe How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman. Each one definitive in its own way, and either could also be used as a weapon.

A book that made me laugh
The No Spin Zone by Bill O'Reilly is pretty hilarious, but I don't think that's the point of the question. I would say Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, for sentences like this: "The ships hung in the air in much the same way that bricks don't."

A book that made me cry
Going Places by E.D. Hill

A book that I wish had been written
Chicken Soup for the Death Row-Convicted Soul

A book I wish had never been written
I could say the Bible, but I'm less concerned with it having been written than by the fact that it's so widely (mis)read. So that leaves anything by David Eggers or David Foster Wallace. I think Ethan Hawke wrote a novel, too. Also, Mein Kampf kind of sucked.

A book I've been meaning to read
Seeing by Jose Saramago, the 'sequel' to Blindness

I'm currently reading
I Hate Myself and I Want to Die: The 52 Most Depressing Songs You've Ever Heard by Tom Reynolds

There, that was fun. Now I'm supposed to tag five other bloggers. Here are the chosen ones:

Circle Jerk at the Square Dance
The Truffle
Ignorant Hussy
The Center for Random Rantage
Left-Wing Nutjob

MTV Get Off the Air!

The MTV Video Music Awards have gone post-modern. Starting off with a long-winded gag about how bad previous "galas" have been, host Jack Black managed to lower the bar and usher in the worst.episode.ever. And they say irony is dead.

The fact that "My Humps" by the Black Eyed Peas took home an award for something other than "Best 'Meditations on the Decline of Western Civilization' Causing Single" tells you all you really need to know.

Of course, how good could program be that started out with a live performance of "SexyBack", Justin Timberlake's answer to those HeadOn commercials. Here's a sampling of the lyrics:
Go ahead, be gone with it
Go ahead, be gone with it
Go ahead, be gone with it
Go ahead, be gone with it
Go ahead, be gone with it
Go ahead, be gone with it
Go ahead, be gone with it
Go ahead, be gone with it
Go ahead, be gone with it
Go ahead, be gone with it
Go ahead, be gone with it
Go ahead, be gone with it
Go ahead, be gone with it
Go ahead, be gone with it
Go ahead, be gone with it
Go ahead, be gone with it
Yes, 16 times. Kind of makes me want to apply a shotgun directly to the forehead.

Another favorite bizarre moment was when Lou Reed joined the Raconteurs for an embarrassingly bad rendition of "White Light/White Heat" that undoubtedly prompted MTV's target demographic to wonder aloud why someone from the Munsters was performing with that White Stripes dude.

Considering the post-modern approach, I think the programming gurus at MTV may have actually hatched a brilliant little scheme to promote their other worthless programming. 10 minutes in to the MTV Video Music Awards and you'll practically be begging for a "Room Raiders" marathon.

Turns out that Jello Biafra was right all along.
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