Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Now That's What I Call Torture!

South Park kicked Tom Cruise's smug ass a few days back. Now let's see what it can do to Saddam Hussein.

According to Yahoo UK, the marines guarding the ex-Butcher of Baghdad are repeatedly showing him South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, in which Saddam plays a prominent role as Satan's gay lover.

I could be wrong, but I'm guessing Saddam doesn't like the movie as much as I did. As the saying goes, one man's torture is another man's treasure.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Harris Flaunts Faith, Falters

Remember Katherine Harris, the Cruella De Vil-esque Florida Attorney General who presided over the 2000 election recount debacle and helped George Bush 'win'? Well, she's back, makeover and all, in a bid to unseat the incumbent Democratic Senator Bill Nelson.

Here she is reaching out to her base:
Separation of church and state is "a lie we have been told," Harris said in [an] interview [with Florida Baptist Witness], published Thursday, saying separating religion and politics is "wrong because God is the one who chooses our rulers."

"If you're not electing Christians, then in essence you are going to legislate sin," Harris said.
Not everyone was pleased. Most notably, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Shintos, Bah'ais, Wiccans, Zoroastrians, Taoists, animists, agnostics, atheists and anyone who's not an insufferable bigot.

My question would be: If God chooses our rulers, what does it mean that Harris is trailing in the polls by around 30 points? And, since the Supreme Court actually chose our ruler in 2000, does that make the high court God? How will that sit with theocons in the Republican Party, or "Party of God"? "Party of God" is "Hezbollah" in Arabic, in case you've got a penchant for translation.

Also, if Christians are immune from sin, then why does she stand accused of taking illegal campaign contributions from an indicted defense contractor? Perhaps Christian politicians are allowed to make questionable moral choices so long as those actions further the greater good of establishing the theocracy they dream of. You know, I think I'm going to stick with the Arabic translation.

To put it bluntly, anyone who believes the things Katherine Harris believes has no business holding elected public office in the United States of America. Period. She exhibits an appalling lack of understanding of what this country is all about and she obviously has utter contempt for many of her would-be (but are never gonna be) constituents.

"E pluribus unum" is more than just something to fill up the empty space on the back of our coins. The fact that many in the theocratic wing of the Party of God don't understand this is more than a little disturbing. I'm pretty sure it means they hate America. Perhaps John Gibson will devote a chapter to them in his next book.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Storm Clouds Gather

A writer and producer for The Ali G Show strikes a serious note. F'real.

Final Thoughts on Paleo Pat

Alex left a comment on my latest post about Pat Buchanan's forthcoming anti-immigration screed, State of Emergency: The Third World Conquest of America, in which he points out a quote from the Time magazine interview that I inexplicably failed to include as proof of Pat's less-than-honorable views.

Here's the passage:
What do we have in common that makes us fellow Americans? Is it simply citizenship? Or is it blood, soil, history and heroes?
Alex draws our attention to his curious usage of "blood and soil", which, as it turns out, is far from innocuous. In German, "blood and soil" translates to "Blut und Boden", a phrase used extensively by Adolf Hitler to remind his fellow anti-Semites that Jews were "a race without roots or native land". Is Buchanan unaware of this connection? I doubt it.

Even if he is, the locution still exposes the fact that his concept of America is grounded in ethnicity. It would be preposterous to suggest that "true" Americans share a bloodline, but that's Pat for you. And his insistence on the connection to American "soil" can only be relative, seeing as how it's been "borrowed" from another sort of native.

My grandfather was born in England (full points on Buchanan's ethnic scale), but his side of the family only set foot on our soil around 1910. Was he somehow less American than descendants of black slaves brought to American soil in the 1600s, and whose blood mingled with Northern European stock only unwillingly? And what of the Chinese who arrived to build the railroads many decades before my grandfather left Manchester? It becomes clear that, taken innocently, Buchanan's use of "blood and soil" is nonsensical. Which leaves us with the other option.

His use of "history and heroes" is no less problematic. Americans—all of them immigrants save for the Indians—have always brought history with them. Much of the Irish immigrant experience, for example, was informed by a shared memory of horrible treatment at the hands of the British. Their Americanness was in part formed by this pre-existing bond that was not shared by other American immigrant groups. Does that make them less American? Considering that at least a quarter of the blood coursing through Buchanan's patriotic veins is Irish (and another quarter if you count Scots Irish), one would think not.

Despite what Pat thinks, America is unique precisely because there is a constant intermingling of Old World and New World history. The history of America consists of a million different pasts and a million different presents forged into a vibrant and fluid experience that is at once common and unique. Pat Buchanan would like to unravel that version of America. He would like to draw a line in the quicksand between the acceptable immigrant experience and the unacceptable. Any such effort can't help but be arbitrary.

As for American obeisance to common "heroes", if it means I'm going to have to share Pat's love for Richard Nixon, then I'd just as soon move to Canada.

And I don't much care for hockey.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Hezbollah Wags the Dog?

Zombietime.com has an insanely detailed and fairly plausible exposé of how the much-trumpeted deliberate Israeli missile attack on two Lebanese ambulances was actually an anti-Israeli hoax. Kind of 9-11 Conspiracy Theory-ish, but with less "wack" and a lot more "oh".

If they're right, then a whole lot of prominent international journalists who covered the story would be guilty of uncritically regurgitating questionable 'facts'. If that comes as a surprise to you, then you just haven't been paying attention. One might further wonder, considering the Reuters photographer who actually Photoshopped his pictures to make Israel look worse, if some of these reporters might have wanted the story to be accurate.

This would also signal an increased savviness among Hezbollah supporters, who have come to recognize the importance of PR. Clearly, if there is a perception of victory against Israel, it doesn't matter whether it's really true. The same would go for war crimes. Just make people think they did it, and, for all intents and purposes, they did. What you can't win on the battlefield, you win in the arena of public perception.

Let's not forget, though, that he sole MO of PR is to convince people that BS smells A-OK.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

No Backtrack on Pat

The proprietor of The Lone Wacko Blog was kind enough to leave a comment on my previous post about Pat Buchanan's new book State of Emergency: The Third World Conquest of America. He accused me of "mischaracterizing Buchanan's views" and linked to a post he wrote attacking people who disagree with the extreme views on immigration he and Mr. Buchanan share.

I'm happy to report that I most certainly did not mischaracterize Buchanan's views. Time magazine features a brief interview with Pat that vindicates everything I said, and then some.

Buchanan starts off with a tip of the cap to the late Slobodon Milosevic, of whom he was inordinately fond, by claiming that the American Southwest "could become a part of Mexico in the way that Kosovo is now a part of Albania." I suppose he would have preferred it to be part of Serbia, and cleansed of all those awful Albanians, too.

But Buchanan waxes nostalgic about more than just a brutal dictator. He hearkens back to an idealized American past that never existed.
America will no longer be one nation but more like the Roman Empire—a conglomerate of races and cultures held together by a regime. The country I grew up in was culturally united, even if it was racially divided. We spoke the same language, had the same faith, laughed at the same comedians. We were one nationality.
Sounds swell, but it's blatantly false. In fact, as recently as 1960, many in America were unsure whether they could support a Roman Catholic candidate for president on account of his supposed allegiance to the Pope. Surely, as a Roman Catholic himself, Buchanan can't have forgotten this.

When Buchanan was born, this country was certainly more culturally divided than it is today. Not only was there a gaping chasm between the north and the south, Jim Crow laws served to enforce a brutal cultural and racial divide in the south. That Buchanan would yearn for the days of his childhood—of Jim Crow and anti-Catholic bigotry and anti-communist witch hunts—tells you all you need to know about the man.

Clearly, Buchanan is worried about all those strange "races" bringing their alien "faiths" to America. There's no other way to look at it. But rather than make the assumption, let's allow Pat to say it himself. Here he is on how conservatives can win the culture wars:
I think you would need a reconversion of the country to a traditionalist, Christian point of view...
Never mind, as I've mentioned before, that all those icky Hispanics he so fears are, in fact, Christians themselves. America is not a Christian country. Or a white country. It is a great country founded and nourished on the principle that it doesn't matter where you're from or who you pray to.

The greatest strength of America is that we aren't narrow-minded and xenophobic like much of the Europe Buchanan so clearly envies. We are, at our best, inclusive and welcoming and diverse and, yes, always changing. Nations and populations that can't change are doomed to ossify. Pat Buchanan is their spokesman.

We Need Security, Dammit!!

A blueprint for American intelligence services. Pissed off, sure, but still kicking ass. Why can't life be more like TV? The good stuff starts about a minute in.

South Park Wins!

We know that 'auditing' and 'e-meters' can cure postpartum depression. The new question for 'Scientologists' is: can they cure schadenfreude?

Proof that there may well be a god—and it's definitely not L. Ron Hubbard—came down the other day when Paramount announced that Tom Cruise had jumped on one too many couches and his 'acting' services would no longer be required. Praise Xenu!

On the same day, Paramount inked a two-picture deal with Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park fame, who recently fought a battle with Paramount parent corporation Viacom over an episode of the show that cut Mr. Cruise and his 'religion' down to size (more so). Score one for the good guys.

For the record, an egomaniacal nutjob pain in the ass blowhard/shill for a powerful religious cult/corrupter of Dawson's Creek heroine feels the wrath of the Hollywood power elite. Meanwhile, Mel "The F**king Jews are Responsible for All the Wars in the World" Gibson feels the wrath of Rob Schneider. Go figure.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Strange Death of an Imaginary America

I've never been much of a anti-immigration hawk, but I'm increasingly alarmed at certain specimens of anti-American riffraff allowed to sojourn unmolested on our fair shores. Take Pat Buchanan, for example.

According to a Drudge Report exclusive, Buchanan hyperventilates about immigration in his new book, bombastically titled State of Emergency: The Third World Conquest of America. The looming threat? No less than the "death of the West".

According to Drudge, Buchanan casts President Bush as undoing the work of President Polk by effectively ceding the American Southwest back to Mexico. Not that the Democrats are any better. Apparently "both parties are paralyzed by guilt over American past racial sins." And this stands in the way of the good, old-fashioned ethnic cleansing that Pat would like to see.

To Pat, "West" is synonymous with "white" or, more precisely, "Northern European", and we just need to stop letting all these brown people into our tidy country. No matter that the vast majority of Hispanics are the direct product of Spanish and Portuguese colonialism and, as such, are indisputably "Western" by any definition that's not asinine. Pushing that aside, Pat's solution is to deport all the illegal immigrants and to declare a 10-year moratorium on all legal immigration above a baseline of 150,000-250,000 per year. Plus he wants a 2,000-mile fence between the U.S. and Mexico (apparently Canadians willing to trade in superior health care for superior professional football are white enough to not provoke his racialist ire).

A true child of the Vietnam era, Buchanan supposes we can save America by destroying it. Strip out copious and diverse immigration—the fundamental ingredient that has shaped our unique culture over the past several centuries—and we'll somehow save that culture. To hell with the dynamic and vibrant melting pot of America; the country's much better off as a museum exhibit of an old grump's idealized childhood. It's true, Pat Buchanan and logic have never been on very good terms.

At the base of it, Buchanan's quarrel with immigration is built on reactionary nativism and race fear. The barbarians are at the gates and Pat is going to stand and fight for his imaginary white-bred America. It's worth noting that this exact same fear was used to whip up nativist sentiment in the 19th Century against Irish and Chinese immigrants, who were seen as fundamentally alien to American culture. Here's a political cartoon from those heady days of Buchanan-esque race hatred that shows an Irishman and a Chinaman devouring Uncle Sam. Does that ring a bell?

It goes without saying that Chinese and Irish Americans (amongst others) have gone on to make enormous contributions to American society (Buchanan, who is half-Irish, being the exception that proves the rule). The same will undoubtedly prove to be true of today's immigrants. We will certainly reach a point in our future when it will be impossible to imagine the durable fabric of America without it's so-called 'third-world' immigrants.

Buchanan's vile bigotry is nothing more than an anachronism, and all it proves is that he has no respect for what America's really about.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Terror and Charity

Much has been made in recent weeks of the supposed humanitarian activities of Hezbollah and Hamas. And let's be clear: both groups do fill gaping holes in the social service networks of their respective countries and their charity work is undeniable.

That said, it's impossible to look at the military functions of these groups as a mere sideline to this more wholesome work. Undoubtedly, both Hezbollah and Hamas (prior to Hamas actually becoming the government) take full advantage of the weakness and failure of the Lebanese and Palestinian governments, and their "humanitarian" work serves to win supporters among the down and out—people so grateful for the sustenance they receive that they would never dare bite the hand that feeds them even when it means countenancing, say, a salvo of missiles into northern Israel or the immolation of a pizza parlor in Tel Aviv.

As can be seen in the recent war between Israel and Hezbollah, the latter group exacted payment for their support of the southern Lebanese Shiites by using the very people they provide medical care for as human shields. Hamas operates under a similar philosophy in the Palestinian territories.

But, even putting aside the callous treatment of their own supporters, neither Hezbollah nor Hamas could ever be fairly described as a "humanitarian" organization. And that would be true no matter how many hospitals or kindergartens they build for their suffering people.

Simply put, you can't simultaneously be a humanitarian and wish for the destruction of an entire country and its people. There is nothing humane about wishing harm on fellow human beings, and no amount of charity work will ever make up for the carnage that results from putting that philosophy into action.

The tendency is to look at groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah as mixtures of good and bad—taking care of their people while wreaking havoc across the borders. This is a deeply dangerous and misleading point of view.

It is quite easy, for example, to imagine groups in the Palestinian territories and southern Lebanon wholly devoted to social service, and propped up by their petro-rich brethren in the Gulf to that end. It is impossible, however, to imagine the opposite: paramilitary organizations supported by the largess of outside powers wholly devoted to terrorism against Israel. It becomes clear that the charity work of Hamas and Hezbollah is simply a means to achieving their actual, bloody goals. Without it, the native Arab and Muslim populations would never tolerate their presence.

The fact that so much support flows to these groups from Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria and elsewhere is proof of bad intentions. If the Muslim powers at large wanted to give humanitarian aid, they would do so. By supporting Hamas and Hezbollah, they merely show that while they understand the importance of the carrot, they're ultimately only interested in the stick.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Quote of the Day

It's a doozy:
Mr Cheney, you're an incompetent wimp who didn't have the will to win in Iraq, or the integrity to uphold American values while fighting a deadly foe. You have thereby made us all less safe, and stained the reputation of America for decades. Your incompetence and brutality have made us both less feared and more despised in the world.
Conservative blogger Andrew Sullivan, today.
But how do you really feel?

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

When Weakness Is Strength

The Bush administration is in a bit of a quandary. They want to win in Iraq—to save face, to live up to their promises, to not appear weak—and they want to placate their base. Unfortunately, these two aims are in conflict.

According to the New York Times, the US military discharged 10% more people in 2005 than in 2004. For being gay. This at a time when morale is at a low ebb, both in Iraq and at home.

Andrew Sullivan focused on the administration's preposterous purge of homosexual Arabic linguists on Monday, and asked this pertinent question: "How Serious Is Bush About The War?"

When a president allows the dismissal of people absolutely vital to the war effort (there is a critical shortage of linguists in the military—more so thanks to this stupid policy) to kowtow to the bigotry and homophobia of the Republican base, the answer is obvious: Not very.

For all the nonsense that Bush talks about being strong and making hard decisions (he's "The Decider", after all), you'd think he would take a tough stance on measurably weakening the armed forces during war time. You'd be wrong. And we're all worse off for it.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Sullivan's Damage Control

Andrew Sullivan finds himself in the all-too-familiar position of having to clarify remarks he made about Islam and Muslims that have been, he says, misinterpreted. At issue is an August 11 post called "Quote for the Day", in which he discusses one of the would-be terrorists in the alleged plot to blow up airliners using liquid bombs. Here's the paragraph that's causing all the fuss:
...what does it say about the state of Islam that one of its young believers believes that the best way of "standing up for his community" is not to make arguments, or proselytize, or campaign - but to murder innocent civilians he has never met. There is something terribly sick within the Muslim mind at this moment in history. It is Nietzsche's ressentiment, but with God re-attached. We should indeed fear these people for the hideous carnage they can wreak for the sake of their God. But we should never let our fear overwhelm our contempt for them - their sickness, their evil, their petty insecurities, their inability to live meaningful lives and their attempt to assuage this by murdering others in God's name. Yes, they evil [sic]. But they are also pathetic, miserable excuses for human beings. (emphasis added throughout)
Sullivan starts out by talking about an individual "he", and then broadens the scope to refer to "them". The only sentence between this switch is the one about the sickness of the "Muslim mind". The problem is that he never defines who "they" are.

There are two likely choices: other terrorist Muslims like the "young believer", or Muslims in general. Take the former point of view, and there's nothing to argue with. Take the latter and you've got an ugly slander against over a billion people. Unfortunately, Sullivan sets himself up for a fall by generalizing about the "Muslim mind" without clarifying what he means. Obviously, the "Muslim mind" refers to the faith as a whole. But is the sickness universal? He doesn't say, so the only reason we have to assume he didn't intend the latter is that it would be such a bestial thing to say. Undone by grammar, as it were.

Sullivan has a long history of letting his emotions run ahead of him when it comes to writing about Islam. I wrote a number of posts on this subject in the thick of the Muhammad cartoon incident. With the emotions several steps ahead of the intellect, Sullivan tends to dash off sloppy posts about Islam, and this is a perfect example. It's clear that he didn't realize how what he wrote could (and, arguably, should) logically be interpreted.

His first clarification is really little more than defensiveness. After claiming that his post was misinterpreted and he doesn't think Muslims are universally evil, he writes this to a Muslim reader who says he was "emotionally devastated" by Sullivan's piece:
I'm sorry if the truth hurts. But I'm not interested in writing lies. If more Muslims were as "emotionally devastated" by the carnage wrought in their name as the words on a blog, Islam would have a much healthier future.
Normally, the best way to distance oneself for the appearance of over-generalization is not to make more sweeping generalizations. From this response, it's clear that he doesn't quite understand how his earlier post could be interpreted.

In fact, this "clarification" was so unsatisfying that he had to revisit the topic a day later.
I hope my postings did not conflate all Muslims into the bad category. I am sorry if they unintentionally did. My intent was the opposite: to clarify the sickness that is there and encourage the healthy within the Muslim world to combat it.
Fair enough. I've read Sullivan enough to know that he's a serious, thoughtful guy, and this clarification is sincere. But the defensiveness is still there:
The problem is, in part, however, the touchiness of the healthy. They shouldn't immediately suspect every Western criticism of Islamism and Wahhabism of being criticism of Islam as a whole.
Looking at the original post, Sullivan is in no position to dress anyone else down for "touchiness." His sloppiness resulted in a number of people thinking he was making a criticism of Islam in general. Now, if a reader has justifiably interpreted his post thus, it's disingenuous to then accuse him of overreacting to a criticism of "Islamism and Wahhabism". The whole point is that the reader thought the criticism was of Islam in general. Given that interpretation, it's not at all touchy to take offense at all the adherents of a religion being called "evil" and "pathetic, miserable excuses for human beings."

The error was in Sullivan's writing, not in the reader's interpretation. That's what he still fails to realize. I believe him when he says his conflation was unintentional, but it takes a good track record to be given the benefit of the doubt. When it comes to his writings on Islam, the track record has been spotty at best. Emotion is essential to good writing, but it can't stand alone. A few more minutes proofreading with the intellect and things will be fine.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The Future of Iraq

Ned Lamont's Senate primary victory over Joe Lieberman sends a clear message that Democratic voters—at least in Connecticut—are guided by their opposition to the Iraq war. So much so, that they're willing to unseat an enormously powerful Senator—and former vice presidential candidate—to underscore that point.

Clearly, battle lines are being drawn in the fight over the future of the Democratic party. This fight will in all likelihood determine the future of Iraq as well. If the Lamont victory is any indication, the Democrats may sweep to power in 2008 with a strong mandate to pull American troops out of Iraq.

I'll make a confession: I have no idea if that would be a good thing.

Clearly the Iraq war has gone badly. Massive incompetence and shortsightedness from the top echelons of the Bush administration have seen to that. Everything, it seems, was underestimated: the number of troops necessary, the tenacity of the insurgents, the underlying ethnic divisions of the country. The only thing Bush overestimated, apparently, was the patience of the American voter.

Would the Iraqi people have been better off had we not invaded? In the short run, purely from the perspective of body count, definitely. In the long run, it's impossible to say. Still, the question's moot. We did invade and our policy on Iraq must be based on that fact and not on a wish to turn back the clock.

The crucial question is: Would Iraq be better off if we pulled out now?

Some people argue that it doesn't matter. We've lost too many soldiers and we just need to act in America's self-interest. I can't possibly accept that reasoning because we have a moral responsibility, having screwed up the country, to do what we can to piece it back together.

The main fear is that by pulling out, we would doom Iraq to an epic and bloody civil war. Of course, by some accounts, that's already happening. And it might be our fault, at least in part. We didn't create the ethnic divisions in Iraq, but our ham-handed invasion and occupation certainly exacerbated them.

Furthermore, much of the insurgent violence in Iraq is happening precisely because we are there. Unfortunately, there's no crystal ball to tell us if violence would subside or increase with a US pullout. Would a pullout mean abandoning the country to al Qaeda, or would it lead to greater stability? Would Iran be emboldened to increase their already considerable influence in the country? Basically, we find ourselves in a huge quandary.

I firmly believe that the decision to leave Iraq should not be a political one. The government there needs to be stable enough and powerful enough to go on without the prop of American influence. But there is the distinct possibility that American involvement contributes to that government's unsteady footing.

As we go forward into 2006 and 2008, I hope that our politicians do the difficult thing and base their decisions on something more than ballot box pressure. Doing the wrong thing could easily lead to a (bigger) humanitarian disaster. Now they just need to figure out what that actually means.

Here's where that crystal ball would help.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Williams Tirade Prompts Rehab

According to the AP, "funny" man Robin Williams has entered rehab to deal with a drinking problem. While the article makes vague references to his desire to tend to his personal well-being and the well-being of his family, it leaves out a few salient facts.

According to patrons at Spago in Los Angeles, Williams was seen drunkenly berating a sous chef last night. "F**king Mel Gibson," he shouted. "Mel Gibson is responsible for all the tabloid covers in the world. Are you Mel Gibson?" He allegedly then called a waitress "butter buns" before slumping into his wine cooler.

L. Brent Bozell III swiftly issued a statement condemning Williams for anti-Catholic bigotry because of his "vile and unprovoked" attack against Gibson.

Fisking the Gibson Apologists

Friends, contrarians and fellow-travelers are out in force, defending the good name and sexiest-man-aliveness of Mel Gibson in the national and international press. Whether out of pure motives or not, the message is clear: Mel ain't so bad (and hey, he might just be on to something about those Jews).

Hollywood Responds

The LA Times ran a silly puff piece on Hollywood's reaction to the Mel Gibson ScandalTM, choosing to focus largely on his friends and well-wishers.

The author, Mary McNamara, tilts a little to Mel's side, too, referring to the anti-Semitic tirade accompanied by (but by no means caused by) mild intoxication as a "life changing bender." Now, Merriam-Webster defines "bender" as a "spree", which is further defined as "an unrestrained indulgence in or outburst of an activity...; also: a drunken revel." As Gibson's .12 blood alcohol level indicates, he had one too many cocktails. He was most certainly not on a bender, or wasted, or "sozzled" (see below). So, McNamara's opening gambit tips her hand as to the direction of the piece.

The article includes quotes from schlock producer Dean Devlin, a friend of Gibson's who met the anti-Semitic actor while co-producing The Patriot.
"The day this happened, my wife had gotten this long letter from Mel full of congratulations [for the birth of the Devlins' first child] and talking about the joys of being a parent," Devlin said. "She's Jewish. I'm Jewish. If Mel is an anti-Semite, then he spends a lot of time with us, which makes no sense. But he is an alcoholic, and while that makes no excuse for what he said, because there is no excuse, I believe it was the disease speaking, not the man."
So, we're asked to believe that Mel Gibson is not an anti-Semite because he makes nice with a Jewish movie producer with whom he's worked in the past and, as an actor, might possibly derive career benefits from such association. But that's just Devlin being naive. The last part is where he gets really dumb. Diseases don't speak, sorry to say. And Mel Gibson's particular disease doesn't happen to be Tourette Syndrome, so that tosses out the "shouting random crap" theory. No, what he said came from the man. Perhaps it was the mild inebriation that allowed him to speak his mind freely in public, but that doesn't mean he hasn't privately harbored such thoughts for a long time (yes, even while smiling at your pregnant wife, Dean).

In fact, it hasn't even really been private. He's just skated around the border of what anybody who's given it a moment's thought already knows. Previously, he'd managed to mask his Jew-hatred behind the cloak of artistic license or fealty to his father. This time, he left himself no out. That's the only difference.

Actress Jodie Foster carried some hot water for Mel as well.
"Is he an anti-Semite? Absolutely not," Foster said. "But it's no secret that he has always fought a terrible battle with alcoholism....

Like Devlin, she does not believe that drunkenness excuses hurtful remarks, but she bristles at accusations in the media that Gibson is using his alcoholism as a "get out of jail free" card from charges of anti-Semitism.

"It is a horrible disease, and it affects everyone differently," Foster said. "I do not have personal experience with addiction, but I have seen it take many paths in people I know. For some, it is a soft slide off the barstool, and some experience true psychotic episodes."
Translation: drunkenness doesn't excuse hurtful remarks, but drunkenness excuses hurtful remarks. Rather than believe what's right in front of her nose, she retreats into psychobabble about addiction and "psychotic" experiences, as if that explains away a lifetime of involvement with anti-Semitic fringe groups. If she did know anything about addiction, she'd know that one of the 12 steps is taking responsibility for your actions.

McNamara then lets us in on an interesting fact:
Even at 50, friends acknowledge, Gibson has a seemingly physiological inability to filter his remarks even when sober; about 14 years ago, he apologized to the gay and lesbian community for homophobic remarks.
So, the problem is not his obscene belief system, but the inability to filter its expression. Just keep it to yourself, Mel, and everything will be just fine. But if you do go off on a rant about the Jews or the fags, don't worry, we know it's just a physiological problem. A few meds might let you keep that hate all bottled up inside where it belongs. It does bear mentioning that Mel's inability to filter out his dark side, even when sober, scuttles the whole "he was just drunk" argument.

A Voice From Right Field

According to L. Brent Bozell III, founder of the right-wing Media Research Center and the Parents Television Council, what does the Mel Gibson ScandalTM reveal? Why, an anti-Catholic bias in Hollywood, of course. Sure, he writes in his syndicated column, Mel was a bad boy, but his accusers are so much worse. Why? Because they didn't speak out vociferously against the Da Vinci Code, Dennis Leary, South Park, Penn and Teller or Judging Amy.
The examples of anti-Christian, anti-Catholic bigotry in Hollywood are seemingly endless. Each and every one is uglier, more mean-spirited than anything Mel Gibson said....

Gibson's statements were awful, and deserved condemnation. But the anti-Catholic bigotry raging in Hollywood is far worse.
I hate to burst L. Brent's bubble (I think it's bulletproof anyway), but anti-Catholic bigotry is not far worse. No one ever tried, using the same reasoning Mel Gibson spouted to the LAPD, to exterminate the Catholic 'race'. Nor did they nearly succeed. There are no Holocaust museums or pogrom memorials devoted to Catholic genocides because none were perpetrated against them. The Catholic Church, however, has apologized for its
long and storied history of Jew-baiting and even in turning a blind eye to the Holocaust.

An attack against the Catholic Church is an attack against a theology—an idea. An attack against Jews is an attack against an ethnicity. There is no comparison and Bozell should be ashamed for suggesting these is, and doubly ashamed for deciding that anti-Semitism is preferable.

Hot Air From the Windy City

Mary Laney used her forum in the Chicago Sun-Times to scold the country for, amongst other things, its rampant anti-Irish bigotry. Really. But first, the obligatory:
This bit about "in vino veritas" doesn't hold water. There is little truth that comes out of a drunk. It isn't what they think; it's what they're feeling at any moment in their haze of booze—and, often times, the next day they have no memory of it.
.12! .12! Not a blackout. Not even a stumble-about. Mild intoxication, is all. Gibson's haze comes from hatred, not the booze.

Then Laney gets indulgent.
Yes, it was wrong to say what Gibson said, including the alleged sexual insult he made to a female officer, but he has apologized sincerely, said the words do not reflect what he truly feels, and has asked for help to overcome any demons he may have inside.
The problem here is that even the most mildly curious person can learn that Gibson does in fact truly feel what he said. He can say he didn't, but that doesn't make it true. Why does defending Mel necessitate abandoning all critical faculties?

Now we get to the good part.
We've all witnessed prejudice. You may be guilty of it as well. Oh, you doubt it? You say you've never said anything prejudicial in your life? Ask yourself this: What do you call the large police vehicle that hauls away multiple people police arrest? Do you call it a squadrol? Or do you call it a paddy wagon? If you are among those who call it a paddy wagon, you are guilty of using a very prejudicial term.

"Paddy wagon" turned up in the lexicon many years ago—during the time when signs were up in Chicago that said, "Irish need not apply."
This is an almost unspeakably stupid comment, but before getting to my main objection, I have a few quibbles. First of all, while "No Irish Need Apply" signs were commonplace in England, there's next to no evidence that such signs were ever used in America. So, what we have is a hotly debated matter among historians being passed off as fact by Laney.

Secondly, the term "paddy wagon" dates from the 1920s or 1930s, well after the golden age of discrimination against Irish immigrants. If NINA signs were ever in use in the United States, they were unlikely to have survived to this late date (and evidence of their existence would be much easier to come by).

Most importantly, Laney's etymology of "paddy wagon" is suspect. While the actual origin is unknown, Wikipedia lists three common theories. The most likely of which is that the "paddy" referred not to the passenger in the back of the vehicle, but to the driver. The term originated in either New York or Philadelphia, where the police forces were peopled largely with Irish Americans. The "paddy", therefore, was the cop behind the wheel. Not the most PC locution, but certainly less offensive than the author's faux-definitive explanation (which is option two). The third theory is that "paddy" refers to the padding in the back of the truck, which strikes me as an unsatisfying explanation. Still, to make her case, Laney has offered up her interpretations of history as if they're fact, despite actual experts in the field who can't say for certain.

After chronicling the horrors of the Irish immigrant experience in America, she climbs up onto her high horse:
Do the Irish protest when they hear this term used by the media, or by a prominent person? No, but perhaps it is time to stomp it out. It is a squadrol. Call it that or you'll be insulting every American of Irish heritage.
This brings me to my central objection to Laney's thesis. Assuming what she says is in fact accurate, very few people know any other word for the "paddy wagon" or are even remotely aware of the origin of the term. For me, prior to reading her article, to say "paddy wagon" would not have been prejudicial in the least. Prejudicial means to pre-judge (obviously), and judgment is not possible if you're totally unaware of the context of the phrase, as most people are. Perhaps one could call it ignorance, but it's a very common form, indeed.

Now, to refer to the "f**king Jews" as being responsible for all wars on earth falls into a slightly different category, I hope you will agree. Laney's comparison is so inapt as to be insulting. I don't mean to minimize the dark years of Irish-American discrimination—one of many black marks on this nation's history—but seriously, are you kidding? If Laney wants to pit the Irish Americans against the Jews in a game of identity-politics chicken, she's going to lose.

The Irish may have had a bad start, but they are now essentially fully-integrated into the fabric of American society. And were, to a large degree, when FDR was sending boatloads of Jewish refugees back to die in Nazi Germany—in part to counter the criticism from prominent American anti-Semites who claimed the New Deal was in fact the "Jew Deal." One of the more well known scoundrels promulgating this slander was Father Charles Edward Coughlin, a Catholic priest of Irish origin who had a popular radio show in Detroit.

For Laney to compare the plight of Irish Americans to Jews is unforgivably cavalier. To make her case for the equal oppression of the Irish, she dredges up distant history and chooses an obscure linguistic vestige to "prove" her point. She is forced to do so, of course, because she really doesn't have a point. Anti-Semitism is not a vestige, unfortunately. It's real and it's ugly and it's widespread. For Laney to come out and say we should just forgive Mel Gibson because, hey, what's the big deal?, just proves that she has no clue what she's talking about and has no sense of history or proportion whatsoever.

Voices From Across the Pond

The Brits, bless 'em, are getting into the act as well. First, let's look at an editorial in the Guardian called "Why are we crucifying Mel Gibson?" This odious piece was written by one Mary Riddell and was published in the Aug. 6 edition. She wags her finger at bad old Mel, too, but she ultimately couches the whole thing in terms of freedom of speech. But first, she indulges in the most common lie of the Mel Gibson ScandalTM:
As the roster of the dead in the Middle East lengthened, the outburst of a sozzled zealot was elevated to a global catastrophe.
Again, with a .12 blood alcohol level, Mel Gibson was mildly buzzed, not "sozzled". I was impressed, though, with Riddell's subtlety as she managed to sneak in a reference to the Middle East. Why focus on the anti-Semitic rantings of Mel Gibson when we can look at Jews killing people, which is not to say that Mel's right, but I thought I would just bring it up. Randomly, as it were.
It is understandable that some Jewish people feel disinclined to champion Gibson. But the uninsulted who cried for his work to be outlawed or banned should ask themselves whether they would have been cheering if the author of the Sikh play, Behzti, had apologised for writing such a shocker. Would Britain be better if Jerry Springer: The Opera had been driven from the stage by Christian protesters dispensing the pique of God? Clearly not.
Name one prominent person calling for Mel Gibson's work to be "outlawed or banned". I've yet to hear that demand. What I have heard is people disinclined to give him the benefit of the doubt (since there's precious little of that) and unwilling to see another one of his movies. The self-righteous often forget that choosing not to listen to something is freedom of speech, too.

Riddell goes on to discuss responses to "blasphemous art" as if an altercation with a police officer during a DUI stop qualifies as performance art. She's so busy condescending to her readers about free speech that she's totally unaware that she's missing the point entirely.
But causing offence is an over-rated sin, especially when free speech is so threatened. Remember the fight to water down the insidious incitement to religious hatred bill. Remember, too, how some imams whipped up global riots over the Muhammad cartoons and the rightful unease in Britain at an Austrian court's jailing of the Holocaust-denying historian, David Irvine.

Free expression should have some limits, but so should outrage. The tut-tutting over Gibson, euphemised as political correctness, is actually a subscription to the fundamentalism that forms the global faultline of the 21st century.
Translation: if you're not behind Mel Gibson, you're with the terrorists. Imagine! Not excusing the bigotries of Mel Gibson's ultra-fundamentalist Catholicism means that we're fundamentalists ourselves. (I wonder if the same theory apples to ultra-fundamentalist Islam.) And this person gets paid to write for a living. Astonishing.

This has nothing whatsoever to do with freedom of speech. Mel Gibson is free to curse the Jews from dawn til dusk if he wants to. All the better to have it out in the open than to have to tease it out of the subtexts of his films. At issue is whether we want to condone bigotry and ethnic hatred. Riddell's apparent position is that we must. Causing offense is fine—an art form, even. Taking offense is something much darker. It's what those Muslims do, after all. (Never mind that Europeans routinely take offense at the proclamations, ideas—even the mere existence—of Muslims.) Yet again, the trope is that cursing the Jewish race in words that echo Adolf Hitler is just no big deal. Suck it up.

Another apologia for Gibson appeared a few days earlier in the Daily Telegraph under the title "Mel Gibson deserves pity, not pillory". In the article, Andrew O'Hagan takes a stab at contextualizing Gibson's tirade.
Dangerously worded as it was, Gibson's drunken comment was, it could reasonably be argued, a statement against the arrogance of the Israeli military: "They started all the wars in the world." Isn't it that which is making America call for his head?
I'm afraid that "f**king Jews" cannot be reasonably argued into anything resembling a coherent idea. By prettifying Mel's outrageous bigotry, by softening it into the modern-chic hatred of Israel, O'Hagan is doing more than defending Gibson, he's actually agreeing with him. If not in word, then in sentiment.

He goes on to engage in a little sophistry about racial and ethnic identity.
[Hollywood's] response is overbearing and slightly hysterical: if black or Hispanic or Asian people sought action every time a ludicrous remark was made against them by a drunkard, the world would fall to pieces.

We live in a country that, not 50 years ago, used to have signs in many boarding-house windows saying: "No Blacks. No Dogs. No Irish". [God, what is it with the oppressed Irish? -ed.] Nobody liked it, and some took action, but if Irish or black people (or Asians, or Poles) took to heart everything said against them in pubs, our jails would be crammed to the gills with name-callers, even today.
Here, O'Hagan is simply wrong. First off, it's ludicrous to say that racism was widespread in England but "nobody liked it." Somebody sure as hell liked it, or it wouldn't have existed. Just ask the BNP. That's just a pathetic cop out, like saying all of America agreed with the Civil Rights movement in the 60s. (If that were true, then we wouldn't have needed the Civil Rights movement, would we?)

Second, what's this about jails? Both O'Hagan and Riddell are hung up on this idea that people somehow want to imprison Mel Gibson for anti-Semitism. If anything, he'll go to jail for drunk driving. I don't know what they do in England, but we don't jail people in America for being idiots (heck, look at our government officials). Disapproving of someone isn't the same thing as jailing them.

Finally, if Mel Gibson (or any other prominent person) went on a tirade about "f**king n***ers" or some other racial group, of course people would have flipped out. Especially, say, if he had previously written and directed a film about how blacks deserved slavery. The only difference is that writers for prominent British newspapers wouldn't come out and defend him because they know that would be totally out of bounds. Jews, however, are fair game. Especially for European journalists.

Bearing that in mind, it's amazing what O'Hagan comes up with next:
There's a problem here. Jews, and by extension Israelis, are un-insultable in ethnic terms, though everybody else is. I know it's hard to tell a people who saw six million of their number murdered to turn the other cheek, but turn the other cheek they must, unless they want to present themselves as the great unimpeachable race apart.
To quote Kyle Broflovski's mom, "what, what, what?" In O'Hagan's utopia, apparently, all ethnic slurs are welcome. It's simply bizarre to argue that such insults are ok, except for against the Jews. Go to any liberal PC campus in America (or the General Assembly at the UN, for crying out loud) and you'll quickly learn that Jews are about the only ethnic group that it's safe to hate anymore (with the possible exception of white males). That, in and of itself, should be a warning sign. (Extra points to O'Hagan for using an explicitly Christian image to tell the Jews how to act.)

Instead, O'Hagan sees the work of the "thought-police" wherever he looks. And, like his compatriot, he falls back on the specious freedom of speech argument.
Gibson's absurd remark should be like water off a duck's back, but no: in the eyes of American Jews, it is a sin against nature, and he must be punished to within an inch of his life....

Hollywood Jews, in the last century, were often the very people who fought for liberal freedoms—of speech, of thought, of political complexion—and their recent oversensitivity to insult puts them in the seat of their former enemies, the McCarthyites who once sought to silence so many of them.
Perhaps now is an appropriate time to introduce a quote from another prominent anti-Semite. "The personification of the devil as the symbol of all evil assumes the living shape of the Jew." Yes, Adolf Hitler was more eloquent than Mel Gibson, but he makes the exact same argument. It is this idea—that the Jews are responsible for the evil and suffering of the world; that they are diabolical instigators—that led to the slaughter of six million human beings in the heart of civilized Europe slightly more than 60 years ago. And this is the very same idea that came spewing out of Mel Gibson's mouth. And this is the idea that Mel Gibson's theology—his whole life—endorses.

It is not a minor insult. It is not a trifle. It is the most serious slander against the Jewish people possible. It is the fuel that once stoked the flames of a great holocaust and, wherever it is encountered, it must be disputed with a ferocity that matches the hatred from which it emanates.

The Jews of Hollywood (or anywhere else, for that matter) are not McCarthyites. They're not abusing the power of the United States government to fight against liberal freedoms. Mel Gibson has been visited by no thought-police and his liberty is imperiled only by his choice to endanger the lives of motorists on the Pacific Coast Highway.

But his affront to Jews—and by extension, to a concept of humanity that transcends ethnic enmities—is very real and very dangerous. Those who seek to minimize or explain away the horrible idea he expressed are complicit in perpetrating this ancient and deadly myth. I hope it's due to their underestimation of what he expressed. I fear it's not.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Lanny Davis: Missing the Boat

There's an atrocious editorial by Lanny Davis, former special counsel to President Clinton, in today's Wall St. Journal. Writing under the title "Liberal McCarthyism", Davis takes on what he calls "the hate and vitriol of bloggers on the liberal side of the aisle," which he experienced during his stint stumping for Joe Lieberman in Connecticut.

I'm blissfully unaware!

As the title makes obvious, Davis compares liberal bloggers to Senator Joseph McCarthy. That's Senator Joseph McCarthy. It beggars belief that there could be any apt comparison between the actions of a very powerful man near the top of electoral politics in this country and a blogger (liberal or otherwise). Perhaps bloggers should take this vast overestimation of their power as a compliment. The only problem? Davis isn't really talking about bloggers. Read on:
The far right does not have a monopoly on bigotry and hatred and sanctimony. Here are just a few examples (there are many, many more anyone with a search engine can find) of the type of thing the liberal blog sites have been posting about Joe Lieberman:
  • "Ned Lamont and his supporters need to [g]et real busy. Ned needs to beat Lieberman to a pulp in the debate and define what it means to be an AMerican who is NOT beholden to the Israeli Lobby" (by "rim," posted on Huffington Post, July 6, 2006).
  • "Joe's on the Senate floor now and he's growing a beard. He has about a weeks growth on his face.... I hope he dyes his beard Blood red. It would be so appropriate" (by "ctkeith," posted on Daily Kos, July 11 and 12, 2005).
  • On "Lieberman vs. Murtha": "as everybody knows, jews ONLY care about the welfare of other jews; thanks ever so much for reminding everyone of this most salient fact, so that we might better ignore all that jewish propaganda [by Lieberman] about participating in the civil rights movement of the 60s and so on" (by "tomjones," posted on Daily Kos, Dec. 7, 2005).
  • "Good men, Daniel Webster and Faust would attest, sell their souls to the Devil. Is selling your soul to a god any worse? Leiberman cannot escape the religious bond he represents. Hell, his wife's name is Haggadah or Muffeletta or Diaspora or something you eat at Passover" (by "gerrylong," posted on the Huffington Post, July 8, 2006).
  • "Joe Lieberman is a racist and a religious bigot" (by "greenskeeper," posted on Daily Kos, Dec. 7, 2005).
Certainly these are odious quotes. There's no disputing that. But Davis is trying to pull a fast one here. He attributes each quote to an author and a prominent liberal blog (HuffPo or Kos, in this case), but this editorial is misleading because it asks the reader to assume that the authors are bloggers for HuffPo and Kos. They aren't. Davis has taken quotes from the wingnut gallery—the comments section.

These are comments made by readers of these blogs, not the actual blog posts themselves. That makes a huge difference. For example, I'm a coherent, level-headed guy and, as such, I rarely write anything too outrageous. That doesn't mean that some jackass can't come on to my blog and write a stupid comment. Just last week I was called a "fickin liberal jew" by an idiotic commenter who likes Mel Gibson and obviously failed to glance at my last name. I left it up there because I made fun of the person for his/her stupidity and nothing makes you look smarter faster than winning an argument with a moron.

Sure, I could have deleted the comment, but I choose to let most everything stand. Now, Kos and Huffington get thousands of comments a day. There's no way for them to effectively weed out every jackass and miscreant who comes on there to hurl feces at the wall.

The issue I have with Davis' editorial is that it's either woefully ignorant or deliberately misleading. He writes about "emotional outbursts by these usually anonymous bloggers", but he never tells us that he's not actually talking about the bloggers in question. Does he even know that? The only blogs he mentions are not at all run by anonymous writers. In fact, both blogs take their titles from the actual names of the site owners (Arianna Huffington and Markos Moulitsas Zúniga).

Just to hammer in the fact that Davis has no idea what he's talking about, here's his hard-hitting closing paragraph:
Mr. Lamont and all other liberal Democrats should remember the McCarthy era and not fall into the trap of the hypocrisy of the double standard—that it's not OK when Ann Coulter dispenses her venomous hatred, but it is OK when our side's versions of Ann Coulter do.
All true, of course, but totally beside the point. While it might inflate the egos of "rim" and "gerrylong" and "greeskeeper" to hear it, they are not the left's versions of Ann Coulter. They're vile and idiotic, but they're only commenters on popular blogs. They're probably 13.

A useful piece on the disease of anti-Semitism on the left could (and should) be written. This isn't it. Mr. Davis should remember the Technology era and not fall into the trap of building his lofty argument on a gigabyte of nothing.

The Satin and Velvet Revolution

The Playboy Mansion denies that Hugh Hefner, 80, has fallen ill.

Just as a precaution, however, access to the master bedroom and the jumbo bottle of Viagra has been transfered to Hefner's younger brother, Chet, who is 76.

Experts on the Playboy regime have expressed uncertainty at the official announcement and some believe that ُEl Hefner's condition may be much more serious than the mansion is letting on.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Drudge: Man of Science

What with the obvious weather porn addiction, you'd think Matt Drudge would be a little savvier when it comes to science. But there's something—perhaps it's that far right tilt of his—standing in the way of him grasping even the simplest scientific concepts. To illustrate my point, here's a screen shot of part of Friday's Drudge Report:

The clear implication is this: despite the horrible heat wave gripping much of the country, there were a few days that were hotter in the distant past, so global warming is obviously a crock.

Of course, actual scientists were quick to point out that no one heat wave or other weather event is proof in itself of global warming. The most compelling evidence of global warming is based upon measuring the average surface temperature of the world from year to year. Sure, there may have been a hot day in 1922, but recent years have been much warmer on average, which is what matters.

Most of the hottest years in recorded history have occurred since the mid-1980s, with the past 4 or 5 years all falling in the top 10 warmest ever. I linked to a chart that shows this alarming trend in an earlier post.

In Related News: Pat Robertson has opened up another right-wing front in the war on global warming by announcing that the summer heat wave has made him a believer in the phenomenon, thus invalidating the concept for countless millions.

Friday, August 04, 2006

(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love & Understanding?

Politics, it's often been said, creates strange bedfellows. True enough, but that only scratches the surface of its strange alchemy. Political ideas, calcified by years of reflexive insularity, appear capable of even changing the chemistry of the brain, resulting in a condition we may as well call 'selective compassion'. There's no better example of this today than in the conflict between Israel and the two-headed beast of Hezbollah and Hamas.

When armchair pundits manned the virtual barricades for the latest crisis in the Middle East, they came armed with the well-oiled weapons of pat ideology. They know one side of the coin so well, but they never dare flip it for fear that they might land on 'tails' (naturally, both sides assume ownership of 'heads').

A Lebanese man mourns the death of a friend in an Israeli airstrike

For a clamorous contingent on the left, Israel is the US-client rogue state in the region, raining down death on innocent Arab children. Of course, there are elements of truth in this depiction. Certainly, for example, the Israeli army is far better equipped than their enemies, which makes their bombs much more likely to hit their targets. Israel also has a tendency to answer every attack with a response many times more devastating than than the original provocation.

Many on the left dwell upon this fact without thinking critically about the actual threats faced by a Jewish state virtually surrounded by Muslim nations that would like nothing better than to wipe it off the map. The tendency is to remove Israel from its geopolitical context and to see it only as an actor against Muslims, be they Palestinian or, more recently, Lebanese. As such, the temptation is to dismiss Israeli casualties as unimportant, especially when compared to the greater number of Muslim deaths.

Israeli soldiers mourn a fallen comrade

On the right, the tendency is reversed. Israeli casualties count more because the Muslims in the area basically have it coming. For example, the aptly-named John Hawkins of the blog Right Wing News recently wrote that the Palestinians "deserve anything and everything that happens to them short of genocide."

Again, there are kernels of truth in this perspective (although Hawkins' bizarre formulation takes things well beyond the pale). The Palestinians, after all, did elect a terrorist group to head their parliament, and the threat from Hezbollah, who have taken over southern Lebanon, is not imaginary.

The problem is that both sides, regardless of the merits of their argument, display a selective compassion for their team while remaining shockingly dismissive of suffering undergone by the other. In theory, I'm certain that these people believe they are champions of humanity; in reality, they're callous to the point of being inhumane.

Israeli citizens, regardless of what one may think of their government, do not deserve to live under the constant barrage of Katyusha rockets and suicide bombers. Furthermore, since their army is based upon universal conscription, it's not even appropriate to argue that their soldiers deserve to die in the southern suburbs of Beirut.

While it's true that the Palestinians voted in a Hamas-led government, the tendency is to believe that these virulent haters of Israel enjoy near-universal support. That view is mistaken. Hamas won a majority of seats in the parliament thanks to 44% of the vote. Fatah, their main rival and the heirs to Arafat's legacy, won 42% of the vote. Hardly a landslide. I don't think anyone would argue that all Americans support President Bush, who won in similar fashion.

It must also be remembered that people vote for a variety of reasons. Fatah, known for widespread corruption and failure, certainly represented a poor alternative to Hamas, and many Palestinians may have just done what plenty of Americans are keen to do: vote the bastards out. It's also hopelessly naive to look at the Palestinian election as though they had a choice between Hamas and some sort of liberal democratic party of peace and love. Palestinians are in a desperate situation and their options are severely limited. It would be disingenuous to place the blame for this situation on the collective shoulders of the Palestinian people, as if their views are indistinguishable from the military wing of Hamas.

Similarly, it's insane to claim that the Lebanese (many of whom, for the ethnically-motivated, are Christians and Druze, not Muslims) deserve their recent cruel fate. Yes, Hezbollah basically owns the southern part of that country, but Lebanon is not a typical nation. They have, since the bestial assassination of former prime minister Hariri in 2005, been trying to eradicate Syrian influence from their country, and their current government, while encouraging, is far from stable. They're certainly not powerful enough to sweep out both Syria and Hezbollah simultaneously and on their own.

Many Lebanese despise the influence of Syria and Hezbollah in their country and its politics. Those who do support Hezbollah, mainly the Shi'ite minority in the south, do so for a variety of reasons that are complex and point to a larger religious and ethnic divide in the Muslim world. To say that the Lebanese en masse deserve the wrath of Israel is to simplify a highly complex problem to the point of absurdity. If the problems of the Middle East were really as simple as some people think (Israel is evil; Muslims are bloodthirsty), then they'd be solved by now.

I want to be clear that I'm not arguing that it's impossible to make distinctions in this case or in other Middle East conflicts. I'm just weighing in against the kind of intellectual laziness that prevails these days. Fine lines of distinction can be drawn without stripping away the complexity of the situation and certainly without denying the humanity of the people put in harm's way. It's inevitable that civilians die in modern warfare, whether by accident or by design, but there is no calculus of death. The people dying are people with families and friends who mourn their loss.

This grief exists outside of politics. We'll need to recover our humanity to realize this.

Quote of the Day

Well, it was the other day, but close enough. Here's what a caller had to say on a KMOX call-in show about a town in Missouri that wants to ban official documents in any language other than English:
This is a country where people speak English and we shouldn't have to make special allowances for people who doesn't.
Sublime. What was it Mark Twain once said? Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Hitch Fillets Mad Max

Christopher Hitchens says it better than I ever could. After running through the evidence for Mel Gibson's rampant anti-Semitism, he leaves us with this sane appeal:
But there was another touch of in vino veritas when he tearfully told the cops that "my life is f---ed", and this inadvertent truth ought to be remembered in all charity as the last words we ever want to hear from him.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

In Vino Veritas

I can't believe that there's actually any doubt out there that Mel Gibson is what he in fact appears to be and, if you've been paying any attention at all, has appeared to be for a good long time.

As an astute commenter pointed out earlier, his blood alcohol level was .12—too high to be driving, for sure, but just about the right level to bring out the wit at a cocktail party. Certainly Gibson, an admitted alcoholic, wasn't plastered with a .12 blood alcohol level. In fact, if I'm not mistaken, that's only .02 above the legal limit in some states.

No, .12 is enough to loosen the tongue, but it's far from enough to sever it's connection to the brain and it doesn't free anyone from responsibility for what gets said when that tongue gets to flapping.

So, to sum up: Mel Gibson is on record making anti-Semitic comments, he's the author and director of a well-known anti-Semitic film, and he refuses to disown or even mildly disagree with the views of his father, a prominent anti-Semite and Holocaust denier. What's to debate?

As Andrew Sullivan writes, "What we just found out for sure was always hiding in plain sight." Or, to put it another way, Mel's confirmed the true 'passion' that dwells in his heart, and it's far from 'brave'. (You can insert your own Lethal Weapon one-liner here.)
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