Friday, July 26, 2002

Celebrity Culture and the self-importance of celebrities as a self-designated aristocracy discussed in a Hillsdale College Speech given by Pat Sajak. Don't pre-judge just because it's given by a guy in charge of wheel-spining antics on a game show, it's very telling.
Western Dhimmis: Folks who read the Nick Denton post that was linked to by Glenn Reynolds might want to check out this Bruce Bawer article in Partisan Review, which covers both the good (examples of assimilation to Western norms) and bad (examples of the converse), and in effect raises the question of whether there is intellectual and institutional support for the exact opposite of what Nick Denton asks for; in effect, the self-transformation in the name of tolerance of Western societies into the status of Dhimmitude to satisfy the non-assimilating Moslem immigrants, in the name of multuculturalism, and whether tolerant people are blind to the dangers to the toleration they value in being too accomodating to the practices of immigrants who are radical islamists that reject the social mores of the societies they're immigrating to. It's certainly a quandary for people, I'm sure. It's a well reasoned and thoughtful article, not an intemprate polemic, worth pondering. A key section states:
Among Muslims in Europe, it’s quite common for young people to be compelled by their parents to accept spouses they don’t want. Some women manage to escape these situations and seek protection in women’s shelters. In 1999 the Guardian published an article by Faisal Bodi, a British Muslim who complained about these shelters, which in Great Britain are called "women’s refuges." Charged Bodi, "Refuges tear apart our families. Once a girl has walked in through their door, they do their best to stop her ever returning home. That is at odds with the Islamic impulse to maintain the integrity of the family." (Bodi made certain to note–as if it definitively established the loathsome character of women’s shelters–"the preponderance of homosexuality among members and staff.") Citing universal Muslim belief in "the shariah, the body of laws defining our faith"–which he described, a bit unsettlingly, as "a sharp sword capable of cutting through the generational and cultural divide"–Bodi argued that British authorities must recognize the Muslim community "as an organic whole" and thus accord it a larger role in resolving conflicts over forced marriage. Bodi’s plaint was phrased with extreme delicacy, but the point was clear: when Muslim girls or women flee the tyranny of father or husband, the government should essentially hand them over to a group of Muslim men. In short, British law should effectively be subordinate to Muslim law. Group identity trumps individual rights.

Nothing, of course, could be more undemocratic. Yet time and again, governments in western Europe have shown themselves to be exceedingly susceptible to such arguments by Muslim leaders. The same is true of the mainstream media, whose main concern in such matters, it often appears, is to avoid offending Muslim sensibilities.
This kind of thing should trouble anyone who values personal liberty and the right of people in our societies to make life choices for themselves. The author makes the point this way:
If native Europeans and fundamentalist Muslims are to coexist in the West, the Muslims must temper their fundamentalism–period. The alternative is for Europeans to sacrifice the freedom, tolerance, and respect for individual mind and conscience on which Western civilization is founded. That cannot be allowed to happen–not just for Europe’s sake, but for America’s as well.
Why People Like Me should be more respectful of people like you, by Charles Krauthammer.
The Man who Pardoned Mark Rich is pointing fingers at others? A good Slate piece by Jack Shafer.
Free Iran is only a matter of time. Michael Rubin things so too.

Thursday, July 25, 2002

Is the US Air Force really turning to Wahhabis for Moslem chaplains? I'm not at all against moslem clerics being in the armed forces of America to minister to moslem soldiers, but, hey - we've been told over and over, by mainstream moslems, that Wahhabism should be seen as a fringe movement. It's definately the wing of Islam that is providing spiritual support and rationalization for the forces we're up against, our enemies. Why would we turn to them to provide clerics? It isn't as if there are no alternatives.
Wadda we fightin' fo?
Scholarly Bias in the Bush v Gore case is analized pretty accurately and calmly in this Wilson Quarterly article by Peter Berkowitz and Benjamin Wittes.
Eric Olsen has found out some interesting tidbits about how the Earle story got to Reuters, and the motivations of the piece's author.
That doesn't say anything one way or the other on Earle et al, but it is pretty damning, in my opinion, about how stories filter their way into the news, and whether these entities (papers, wire services) are careful (or not at all) in making sure that the people who get reporters by-lines in news stories (ok, the NY Post piece was more of an editorial anyhow) have axes to grind themselves or not.
I think this kind of thing goes on far more often than we think. No, not just the specific thing of people writing about musicians in order to try to get their foot in a door and get a label's attention, but people getting published in news media as reporters but acting out of some personal motivation that is not stated within the "story" and thus is hidden from readers.

Eric also posted part of an interview Earle gave last December, where he comes off a bit ignorant about the subject of Islam in particular, but also Christianity and Judaism (after all, I don't remember the chapter on the Buddha in either the Old or New Testaments. But I suppose it's intolerant to exclude him. Syncretism Lives! I guess I shouldn't be snide, but I can't help it).
Still, props to Eric for finding out about the motivation behind the author who submitted the pieces to Reuters and the NY Post. I suppose that, personally, my reaction isn't nearly as harsh towards Aly Sujo as it is towards the news editors of Reuters and the NY Post who are the people in charge of vetting stories and making sure that what they publish is kosher. Especially since I suspect that similar things happen far more often than we know. Eric ended up doing better reportage on this than any news editor apparently did.
The UN's Human Rights Comission: some thoughts on the year just past from Josh Muravchik. Much, by the way, has been made by the proposal of African nations to gain greater foreign aid in return for a promise to peer-review and pressure each other into better behavior, but the actions of the African nations on the Human Rights Comission make it hard to believe that they will really follow through on such pledges:
Although President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe had orchestrated a wave of racist violence in his campaign to cling to power, the African bloc, taking a page from China's book, pushed through a motion that prevented the Zimbabwe resolution from coming to the floor."
Someone, at Least has been following up on the connections between Iraq, Islamist Radicals, and the OK City bombing.
Concerns? I've Had a Few I'll also link to Glenn Reynold's latest column at Fox News which starts with a pithy paragraph on why one might have concerns itself.
Rubin and Enron I'll take the lazy way out and just link to this post of a letter on the topic that Andrew Sullivan found telling.
New York Pravda says that a growing number of conservatives have concerns about John Ashcroft. Andrew Sullivan is having none of it. Doesn't believe these people represent real constituencies.
I actually think the piece has a point, but I wouldn't personalize it to Ashcroft. There are a growing number of conservatives who are more than a little concerned about the direction ant-Terror measures are taking. The fact that Andrew Sullivan finds the representatives of conservative opinion quoted in the article as not representative of the conservative movement as a whole has a point, but more, shall we say, prominent conservative movement leaders, not quoted in the article because they haven't voiced concerns, may be lagging behind the "grass roots" in this - conservative constituencies (that is, conservatives broadly speaking) may have more concern and objection to many of the policies than the leadership (which could simply be falling into line behind an administration they see as representing "us" - the right, as opposed to the left).
My personal impression that this is the case is admittedly unscientific. There is also the factor that growing concerns doesn't necessarily mean that in all cases they've risen to the level of repudiating the administration. . .yet. Though some have.
But I'll ask a telling question that Ken Hamblin, a conservative radio talk show host asked. Sure, one might dismiss him as not representing large constituencies. But that doesn't make the question any less telling. That question is: what would our reaction be to many of these measures be if the administration was Democrat, instead of Republican? If the attorney general presiding over the identical policies were named Reno instead of Ashcroft?
I rarely have kind words to say about an article that appears in the NYT, but I'd say that their characterization that a growing number of people are, in the phrase they used, "deeply troubled", is an accurate one. And those people - well, speaking for myself at least - are not just members of the black helicopter crowd.
Now, I haven't put into words my own "growing concerns" on these web pages till now, mainly because a "growing concern" isn't one that has necessarily reached the level where I'm able to fully articulate it. There are also arguments on both sides for some of these policy anouncements that I haven't all sorted out yet. But it would be foolish to just salute and say "yes" to everything just because the guy in the oval office has an "R" next to his name now. I think if conservatives have concerns, that's a good thing and a sign the movement is healthier than it would be if we didn't raise questions, or just defended the policies because it's our guy and he's under attack (over the economy, at least) from "the other side". That's one of the things that Andrew, among others, found so unhealthy about most Democrats and Liberals in the last administration, and I'd be more worried if no one was voicing concerns than I am that at least some are. More on this as it develops, and I sort out my own reactions.

Wednesday, July 24, 2002

Those Wascally NeoCons: Jim Henley, noting my odd affinity for David Horowitz, was kind enough to send me this article on Horowitz.

Thanks for the link to Jim. I hope he doesn't mind me writing my reactions to it. I know that, as he wrote me, he doesn
't endorse everything the author of the piece believes, but he found his analysis of Horowitz and his ilk sound. So I'll preface with an acknowledgement of that.

Horowitz is slippery and disingenuous, but Chomsky merely fast and loose with his sources?

I remember going to a couple Chomsky speeches (once when I was in high school and once when I was in college. Both times I went to a Chomsky speech at the UW), Chomksy always tells his audience not to trust him, to go look up X himself (usually a NYT article) that will, he assures us, prove his point. Usually the problem is that this is a sleight-of-hand and more of a diversionary tactic (because information that refutes Chomsky's claims are available elsewhere). Often, though, Chomsky is simply lying and/or using sources that have themselves fabricated information or used data that proved to be false (and have been subsequently corrected), but Chomsky relies upon the falsehood long after he should be reasonably expected to know that the information is wrong, and asks his audience (readers, whatever) to rely upon it as well. This is in part because what Chomsky and some others leave out and elide over and refuse to take into consideration are at least as important in describing how and why things happen as the things they highlight. The art of half-truths may be persuasive to people who don't know any better, but once one learns more one stops going to Chomsky speeches and watching Chomsky documentaries (speaking for myself here), because the disembling and propaganda that he emblemizes gets exposed.

Chomsky isn't "intellectually inconsistent" - he's intellectually deceptive and disingenuous (to use that word again): when something ceases to be useful, he pretends he never believed what he said he believed (I remember in the Chomsky documentary movie, which I watched twice, he makes it sound like he was always against the Khmer Rouge, he was just upset that the East Timor situation wasn't getting as much attention, because of the "propaganda model". That's actually Chomsky practicing a propaganda model - because it's slippery and untrue).

This article is also more than a bit slippery, in that it on the one hand attacks Horowitz for not answering Chomsky in any fully developed way, but then seems to think it's somehow an argument or an excuse that a pamphlet by Chomsky shouldn't be taken as representative of Chomsky's views - but a two-part web-column no longer than a pamphlet is a failure because it doesn't answer book-length diatribes by Chomsky (the pamphlet was a concise expression of Chomsky's points and thus provided pithy quotes that a short work, such as a web article, needed). On the one hand we should cut Chomsky some slack because, well, a pamphlet is not where one can find fully developed articles, but on the other hand we should condemn Horowitz because a pamphlet-length rebuttal should have included fully developed counter-arguments (to the extent to which Chomsky makes arguments that are to be taken seriously and rebutted, rather than quoting the remarks a obscure PR flack made in the '20s, for example, and trying to convince people that's what the entire American establishment "really" thinks on issues of consent, they are covered elsewhere in book-length tomes).

As for the 2nd half of the article where the author attacks Neoconservatives generally and Horowitz specifically, he's engaging in no small part in the very practice he asserted Horowitz was to be faulted for: he sets up a sort of straw man. Rather than refuting specific points, he simply characterizes them (something the author assures us is a sin when he represents Horowitz as doing that). At least he gets his Acton right (most people leave out "tends". It's a pet peeve of mine).

If one asked Horowitz about his views of government power and the possibility of its abuse by those who hold it, one would get a quite different response from the characterization that the author makes of Horowitz' views. Similar with other NeoCons - if one has read, for example, Jonah Goldberg's columns, one will notice a very strong thread and theme in many of them about the need for limits on government, government power, intermediary institutions, the private sphere, and the vitality of people refusing to go along with whatever the government says. But because these (and other) NeoCons don't carry that over to reaching the same conclusion regarding the current war as Kevin Carson does, Carson prefers to mischaracterize their position on power rather than engage their arguments on matters of war, total or otherwise, or the historical actions of America (the same figures who the author cites, correctly, as leery of abuse of power, also sent ships and marines to Tripoli, and were not as adverse to "imperial" expansion as the author and other Buchananites tend to imply. America wasn't born out of 1789 as large as it is today, like Athena out of Zeus' head, fully grown; the author mentions 1914 as a dividing line but most of America's imperial expansion took place before then).

Similarly, to digress, I love Jerry Pournelle and I think it's probably fair of me to be presumptuous and assume that you're familiar with his "Republic and Empire" writings (which are very good by and large and I have been influenced by them), but the sort of spectre he (among others) raise, that an interventionist policy abroad inevitably brings loss of liberty at home just doesn't always apply (this is not in and of itself an argument for Empire or interventionism) - one can look at Britain at the dawn of its Imperial era, compared to Britain in the middle of it, and Britain towards the end of it. At each stage, the British people were more free, had more democracy (not less) and more liberty (not less) than they did in the earlier stage. Likewise, the people in British colonies became progressively freer, from the point of view of liberty. Places that Britain colonized for a longer time (like India, for example) have deeper attachment to (if not complete attachment to) concepts like the rule of law, federalism, and electoral democracy than places where British thought didn't have a chance to sink as deep (there one gets Mughabe, selected by people who haven't formed an adequate understanding of the whole Anglo-Saxon political philosophical tradition). Likewise, these places didn't have any of these things even in theoretical form before their colonial experience. Again, I don't make this as some sort of argument that colonial imperialism and empire is the way to go (that I would have to make elsewhere, in a more extensive argument, if I were to try to make it), just that the theory that it is always and everywhere destructive of liberty is not proven by history. Same with America's expansion (we had a more aristocratic system at the start, where only landed gentleman farmers, males, preferably white, were presumed to be thoughtful enough and with enough of a stake - in the form of property - to be granted the vote; letting non-propertied people vote was a potential threat, they believed, because the landless may try to expropriate the landed. Oops, they did turn out to be right on that score, at least, as we're experiencing after a fashion. But liberty and rights were extended, simultaneous with our expansion and growth). Carson seems to be a populist, who makes much of the founders of America's concerns about aristocratic government and people entrenched in power. But what he leaves out is, like what Chomsky leaves out in his explanations of things, at least as important. These people were at least as concerned with the people abusing power, voting themselves largess out of the public treasury (indeed, that concern was one reason why they initially excluded those without property from the franchise). Indeed, if one made a more objective analysis of how we've gotten to where we have, it would certainly include the demands and expectations of the voters on this score (Jerry Pournelle has, in his writings, not left this part of the process out). It's probably, indeed, the most powerful driving force (politicians want to retain power. As Walter Williams has pointed out when people have asked him why he doesn't run for office, he always responds "are you crazy? If anyone ran for office on the positions I take, telling the voters that if you elect me, I promise to give you nothing for free, he'd be run out of town on a rail" A proper analysis, like Williams has made, also includes reference to the "tragedy of the commons" and the drive for people to, if the situation is as it is, as rational actors, get their share because if they don't it won't mean they get their money back, it just means it'll go to Nebraska or Vermont instead. It's quite a pickle we're in, indeed, but it's not simply because some elites and their NeoCon guru's are manipulating things. Populism won't solve that, and there's a reason why Pat Buchanan has ran in favor of taxing to death my private transactions if they're with people in other countries, for example).

As for the merits or demerits of any given, specific military action or intervention, one of the things that underlays (but is not explicitly present) in the Carson article, if one wants to debate that I'll be happy to do so in later posts. Not all interventions are the same. Early America, for example, did find it necessary to intervene in the Middle East (just listen to the Marine Corps Anthem) and Latin America (dittoes).

Non Straussians have argued, rather compellingly, that the post Civil War amendments extended the protections of the Bill of Rights to include the States, not just the Federal government (and, well, if we want those rights protected and government power limited, we darn well want them protected at all levels of government, don't we? Don't get me wrong - I think one of the worst things to come out of the '60s was the total collapse, effectively, of the concept of States Rights and its de-legitimization. We have to be fair, though, and admit that it got discredited not only because there were interested supporters of centralizers who did their worst to work for that, but because those who made the most of states rights arguments misused them in the name of a cause that was disreputable); states rights, one can argue, received a heavy blow in the Civil War but they did persist afterwards; they got their coup-de-grace in the New Deal and (especially) the Civil Rights and Great Society. Straussians do have a certain point, if not an adequate one, in that the cultural milieu is important - these changes didn't come because there were amendments, but because cultural attitudes were shifted. One can argue why and how and the extent to which this was a good or bad or mixed thing, but it was.

The author also sets up a straw man on the Straussian attitude toward liberty (Horowitz, btw, is not to my knowledge much influenced by Strauss); I do not think it's fair that they believe liberty (or "Liberty") somehow excludes the right to be left alone in one's choices and private lives. Indeed, many NeoCons are among the most forceful in rejecting the precepts of the French Revolution's "Liberty, Egality, Fraternity" mindset and contrasting it with the legacy of the American Revolution, and preferring the very different conceptions of the latter view and fearing and calling for resistance to the spread of the concepts associated with the former, French-derived, interpretations.

I'd like to see where Carson gets from Horowitz the assertion that Horowitz would have stood against Burke. Or is this just a characterization rather than an analysis of Horowitz's views? I notice that even though Horowitz was able to actually quote Chomsky, Carson has no quotes whatsoever from Horowitz in this article to support his characterizations of Horowitz' position. Maybe they're to be found in other articles Carson has written, but since Carson doesn't cut Horowitz that kind of slack when it comes to his analysis of the "Sick Mind" articles, it is fair to not cut Carson that kind of slack, either.

Carson makes a point over how, in the past, in the French situation (I didn't think we were conserving the French revolution and the Estates General, I thought we were conserving the American experience? For some of the reasons Burke made when he came out against the French revolution in contrast to his support for the American revolution. But I digress, I suppose), those that the NeoCons consider on "the Right" sat on "the left". But anyone who has paid any attention to the world around them knows that in the time since then, things have shifted rather considerably (or, to paraphrase Burke, "institutions lacking the means of change lack the means of their preservation"). I won't make too much of this point, but it's a simple fact that many many people have found themselves on the Right because they no longer felt welcome on the left. I guess that makes Reagan, for example, a NeoCon, but what interests conservatives have in looking down on people who weren't "Right from the Beginning" as somehow disreputable for it has always been lost on me. The fictionalization of the Left where every tiny band feels they have to have their own separate Socialist Party because others aren't pure enough for them or for whatever other reason is not something I want to emulate. But I digress again.

Carson assails Horowitz for, in Carson's view, failing to take into account all of Chomsky's writings and their full development, but Carson feels free to ignore the range of Horowitz in his next claim, where he asserts that Horowitz has ignored the anti-statist Left. This is simply not the case; Horowitz has had exchanges with, for example, the Parecon anarchists (an exchange I didn't think Horowitz handled adequately, myself, but it did occur and Horowitz has not ignored the existence of such folks).

Fact is, truth to be told, I think too much is made of the "anti-statism" of the anti-statist Left. Marxism and anti-statism aren't really compatible (for reasons that were delved into by, among others, Hayek and von Mises. Or perhaps these are untrustworthy NeoCons because they had started as Left-Socialists and only converted to Conservatism later themselves), in multiple book length analysis of Socialism. Councils by any other name still stink, because communalization ultimately leads to certain conclusions (I once had some lively discussions with a anarchist/Parecon type, and probed deeper into how he envisioned things would work, etc. One started with work councils, then he worked up to councils to coordinate among the various individual councils so that each would get the goods they needed, then another council on top of that to plan things more and insure that in the aggregate the environment wasn't being degraded because of a lack of coordination and planning, etc. He eventually essentially rebuilt the Soviet Union's political model in every particular from the ground up, after having started from a position of anti-statism participatory economics. The logic of his position on things carried him forward, by logical extension, step by step to such conclusions when he was asked how things would work on given subjects in the society he envisioned. There is also the - lets call it problem - wherin, while many anarchists are willing to deal quite strongly and coersively against, say, Capitalists and the current structure when the revolution comes, when asked how they'd handle those among the Left who would be participants in the revolution who carried things farther than they would, most of the ones I have talked to have said something that amounts to "well, I wouldn't agree with that, but others might want to do that and it could happen" - their was no real principled opposition, in the sense of a willingness to prevent those with a harder line from carrying out more extreme measures from doing so. That's, I suppose, part of anarchism, but on the one hand it leads to inconsistancy because coersion isn't really prevented - indeed, many would be coerced. It's just that the "Lenninists" wouldn't find much of a barrier to action. One can see a form of this in the anti-globalization Left, where the non-violent elements of the movement really have a very hard time, and there is considerable controversy over, distancing themselves from the more violent elements. Those elements are probably a small minority, but the idea of not including that minority in the movement is something that is rife with angst and controversy. This would only be exacerbated, not lessened, in an actual revolutionary situation; again, Hayek among others explained why such a process is almost inevitable and the strongmen willing to do whatever is necessary to impose the vision would come to the fore).

Ultimately, some of what Carson says about Horowitz may have some merit (Horowitz himself has said that yes, he's an inflammatory polemicist – and given his reason for why he adopts the tone he does. Carson doesn't deal with Horowitz' reason. That reason may not be convincing, but Carson simply doesn't engage it at all). The lumping together of all NeoCons, btw, in an article that slams people for refusing to acknowledge subtlety of philosophical range and difference among ideological subsets is telling (for example, while some NeoCons embrace the "end of ideology" and "vital center" blather, at least as many have vociferously argued against those who hold such beliefs. Similarly, while some are Straussians, others are not, and even among those that are Straussian, there is a range of opinion. Carson has no room, apparently, for considering these possibilities). We all, I suppose, have our ideological boogiemen. Carson seems more upset that some conservatives ("NeoCons") don't share his boogiemen than that their shouldn't be such lumping together at all. He's all to willing, obviously, to engage in that very thing in a polemic against his demons.

I have come to believe that all do that to some extent. I know that most on the Left do that to most Conservatives (though there are a few exceptions), lumping them all in together. I know I do that (though as part of a practice of illustrating it - I notice that many who don't mind when the likes of Carvile or "MoDo" or the NYT generally do that to the right get all offended when it happens to them by some blogger on a page that advertises itself as a font of ranting screeds).

Or perhaps it is the case that those being characterized as NeoCons do all have one characteristic in common (that they don't share with others would otherwise share the definition of having come over to conservatism from New Deal liberalism - like Reagan - or Socialism - like Hayek, but who are not so characterized). But it wasn't any of the things that was stated in Carson's article (the assertions and characterizations I already discussed above). We'll leave it at that.
Daniel Pipes weighs in again on the crisis of the Iranian regime and the hopes for a democratic overthrow of it.
How do People in the Diversity Movement treat diversity of ideas when it includes those they disagree with? The examples are numerous and here's one of the latest.

Tuesday, July 23, 2002

Eric Olsen has pulled together much of the commentary on the Steve Earle thing. He has some kind things to say about what I wrote (even though he disagrees with much of it), and also this admonishment:
"There is nothing whatsoever wrong with calling attention to views expressed in art that we object to, let's just be clear that we are responding to art, to a position taken by a character in a song (poem, etc.) and not lose sight of the context.
Others have made similar points (and some others are also offended with calling a spade a spade). That's a good point and if, as Steve Earle has said, this turns out to be his "most pro-American album", then I'll eat crow (well, there's also - let's call it the "Katha Pollit Effect" - these things are a bit relative. The "most positive remarks Katha Pollit has made about the American Flag in years" still might be negative from an objective point of view). As for Earle's website statement that he's "not trying to get deported or anything" - well, he, not anyone else, is the one who raised the "depotion" issue. In a way that almost seems like after-the-fact butt-covering of the sort I wrote of (hey, it's just a joke, right?) Throw a bomb, stir up controversy, then say "what, me? Moi at the center of all this?" A common but not very brave tactic.
People, artists of whatever stripe (songwriters, literary authors, poets, etc) choose what sort of characters to portray and how they portray them (sympathetic, or satirical, noble or ignoble, sincere or snide, well meaning or driven by pathology or wickedness, etc). This isn't some external force. Artists of this stripe are simply not apolitical. Perhaps it's not a "position paper" but it's not a cucumber either.
Lets say some fatuous blowhard (Pat Buchannan, say) writes something that Steve Earle's defenders find objectionable. Do they pass it off in the way they want others to pass off what Earle wrote in a song? Probably more people will hear a song (even this one - especially with the controversy) than will read Buchannan's screed. Do they think about how everyone who knows Pat (even the African Americans and Jews) think of him as a nice, polite, personable guy when they're talking with him? Do they forget the context of his politics (which are, at best, borderline anti-semetic and racist), the way they think others ought to with Earle?
Many, many of the people who are saying that guys like Earle have a "prominent place" in their view of things also seem to be saying "hey, it's wrong to make a fuss of this!" That seems a tad. . .well, either the guy has a prominent role and thus isn't immune to criticism or it's beneith notice. It's not both. There is a certain sense that, with "progressive artists" only those who agree with "the message" or "the statement" should be allowed to take it seriously.
Lets be fair: John Walker Lindh is at least as old as many of the soldiers who made another choice. He's not just some misguided youth (he might be that as well, among other things). He has antipathy towards America - which is fair to call hatred - and has said as much. He said that he agreed with the Sept 11 attack. How many progressives are writing songs getting into the head of, say, Tim McVey (oh, wait: Gore Vidal, not in a song, but in a long article). Maybie it's hard to think of someone who's objected to America and/or bombed part of it that some people on the Left haven't found some way of...understanding. Most others on the Left haven't found such understanding objectionable (Christopher Hitchens and a few others are noted exceptions), while people on the Right have written long condemnations of Buchanan, to return to that example.
It's just a song, yes. Fine. It's just one song in a career (not a career without context). It's not "Copperhead Road" (and some find it objectionable for people to sneer at Earle's latest song but ok to sneer at "conservative weblogs". Fine. Again, what one identifies with does make a statement about where one's sympathies lay).
I'll certainly take to heart Eric's admonisment, and think about the stuff that other people have written. Perhaps it will prove that Steve Earle is getting a bum rap by some of us. But here's a closing question for Earle's defender's to ponder in return, while I ponder their points. Another country singer wrote a post-Sept 11th song, with his reaction to the whole thing (or that of a character who's persona he adopted in telling a story through song). He was scheduled to appear on PBS's Capital 4th program, but they told him he could not perform that song (something closer to censorship than any of Earle's critics have done, btw. Not that it was censorship - PBS does receive government money, but they have the right to air, or not air, whatever they chose). Still, they objected to the song on grounds of content and message. Earle's vocal defenders who think that those of us who are criticising him are somehow disreputable (which is not, btw, Eric), where were they in that one? Were they as viscerally and emotionally incensed? Did they call PBS out and say "hey, if parts are objectionable, it's just a song where the songwriter is adopting a persona"? Some of them may very well have. How many?
Who one stands up for also says alot about where one stands.

Update: Brian Linse finds views he disagrees with to be a threat to our way of life, writing:
"The type of hysteria that this story has generated, and it's potential effects on artistic expression, however, do pose a threat to our way of life."
So criticism is a threat to artistic expression? Using speech to counter speech is a threat to our way of life? Who's being hysterical here?

This attitude is a threat to free expression and our way of life, though: the type of reaction that implies that any form of vocal disagreement with something a progressive says, writes, or sings smacks of incipient censorship and thus Ought to not happen - not be said - be silenced, is a greater threat to free expression, artistic or otherwise, than any number of blogs expressing outrage at a song. Especially since so many people seem to mindlessly nod their heads when this type of argument is made.
Kind of lets us know who the would-be censors are, since no one that I am aware of has said anything remotely like that regarding Earle's expression (we just express our own opinion in disagreement. You might find that wrongheaded, but it's no more a threat to free speech than his song). His comments though seem to imply, or at least make it reasonable to infer, that if he had your way he'd cut off certain points of view on the grounds that they're a threat to our way of life and artistic expression. Reminds me of some articles that came out late last year and early this year by certain folks on the Left and Liberals complaining that Conservatives ought to be quiet because their rebutting, refuting, and Fisking of anti-War Leftists might have a "chilling effect" on speech, thus no one should voice their criticism of such hot-house flowers. Who was trying to chill speech they disagreed with, ultimately? This is one example of the very tactic I wrote about here and even right in the original post, with that not unimportant speech-related aspect having somewhat gotten lost in the focus on Earle himself. Thanks to Linse for providing an example of what my concern was.
Vegard Valberg has a reply to my below post.
I kind of figured he might know the origins of "Porphyrogenitus" (folks who are fans of Turtledove would have a good chance of knowing), but lots of people have been confused in the past so I took it as an opportunity to clear that up.
Yes, there are places where you can get into trouble for seriously claiming royal blood. But usually in most of those places having a game-name type thing along the lines of "Prince Whatsisname" or "UKing" (as a friend of mine in Britain goes by) won't land you in trouble. All bets are off, I suppose, in Saud-ruled Arabia and places like that, but that goes for a lot of speech related matters.
Luckily I live in none of those lands and can call myself Emperor of Earth and the Multiverse if I want to, won't land me in any trouble (though people will look at me as odd and perhaps insane with delusions of grandure). (And yah, I know we're being tongue in cheek about the whole thing). Btw, dk if SW: Attack of the Clowns has made it to Norway (I assume it has), but George Lucas has totally lost it and for Episode III should do what was done for Empire.
Anyway, like I said, if one is willing to go back as far as Chaucer and, say, Homer, one will certainly be able to rattle off a longer list of European authors and works that excell than one can for America. We weren't in the game at the time. Europe's been at it a lot longer and has that advantage. I also hope that Vegard didn't get the impression I thought he was bashing America or its artists/entertainers (a sport I happily engage in myself with little encouragement); like I said, I pretty much agree with him but was just adding a caviate (to clarify my own position if nothing else).
Sometimes it's not all that easy to make a clean distinction between who is an artist and who is simply an entertainer, either. Is comedian, writer, and filmaker Mike Meyers an artist or entertainer or both? His Austin Powers movies have some thoughtfulness behind them, but like he said when interviewed on Inside the Actor's Studio, he also has his character drink poop. Because one doesn't take oneself too seriously doesn't mean one isn't serious. And that's also a path to create not only creative works, but ones that aren't boring but are entertaining as well (a concern I probably share with Vegard is that often people in the "culture" business seem to believe that boring and government subsidized has more artistic merit, and thus even trying to be entertaining at the same time is avoided. So one gets lots of pretentious stuff that is best used as a cure for insomnia. IMO such stuff has far less artistic merit than is ascribed to it because no one can be bothered to care and no one will pay any attention to it five years from now, much less a hundred years from now. That's neither Tom Sawyer nor Mona Lisa, then. One of the qualities of art is that it has enduring value Stuff that comes out with great fanfare and is praised as artistic and intellectual but sinks quickly into obscurity lacks that virtue, which is one of the defnining qualities of true art).
Just because something is funny, even scatological, does not mean it necessarily is devoid of artistic merit (think Swift, for one example). But I'm blithering, I know. But at least this is a nice change of pace from purely current political discussions.
Charles Krauthammer on the EU's First War, the Parsley War, as quoted in Best of the Web Today, writes:
"Europe berates the United States for holding on to primitive notions of sovereignty at a time when the sophisticated Europeans are yielding sovereignty to Brussels, adopting the euro, wallowing in Kyoto and, most recently, genuflecting to the newly established International Criminal Court. Yet here they are lining up in lockstep to defend Spanish sovereignty over a piece of worthless rock that only dubiously belongs to Spain, by supposed attachment to the other dubiously claimed Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, that in turn are little more than colonial anachronisms on the coast of North Africa. This same Europe heaps scorn on the United States for defending an infinitely more serious sovereign claim--to democratic legal jurisdiction over its own citizens and soldiers rather than yielding it to the arbitrariness of the new criminal court."
Well, at least the EU did triumph over those six dangerous Moroccan soldiers holding the critically strategic island and endangering the lives of all those sheep. The EU is now undefeated, going 1-0, in unilateral wars.
Violent Left A legacy of support for violence and terror as a means to accomplish their ends. Especially important to remember exactly who fellows like Tom Hayden are.
Norwegian Blogger Vegard Valberg has some thoughts on American entertainers, including the Steve Earle controvercy.
As for me, I might listen to the song (and to the latest George Michael's tirades masquerading as music), but giving them the attention they crave is as far as I'll go in giving them anything of mine - I'm not planning on giving them (or their recording lables) my money by buying their stuff. The song may tank, as Vegard says, but still he (Earle) will probably sell far more records than he otherwise would have by creating controversy. That's how these things typically work. He just won't be selling one to me.

Which isn't to say I boycott liberal and leftist stuff (I went to Road to Perdition this weekend and it was ok. I pretty much agree with this review of it), or advocate a boycott of stuff based on the political views of those involved. Any conservative who did that would radically reduce their artistic and entertainment options (Leftists are much freer in indulging in such things). But neither does that mean rush out and buy any old thing with no regard for its ideological content. Especially if, as in this and the Michael's case, the ideological content isi the main point, not artistry. So it's not just twinkies for the mind, but bad entertainment. One can also have something that's ok politically, but a failure as entertainment and art.

I would also stick up (a bit - I don't press this too far. More on that in a bit) for American entertainers/artists. Even the Left/Liberal ones. Many of them do have substance and aren't as shallow as the stereotype common in Europe is, and they do more things of substance than they're given credit for. Yes, there's a lot of simple entertainment (nothing wrong with that). There are also, it is true, a large number of dingbats who think that if they latch onto some political cause they will be seen as having more intellectual strength than they otherwise would as "mere" entertainers. One can, with a bit of thought, think of several folks who are not only good at entertaining but seem to be very thoughtful. Often, indeed, the most substantive and astute entertainers put on the fewest airs and don't take themselves so seriously. I do agree with Vegard, also, in the sense that even when a celebrity/entertainer has something valuable to say (be it in their chosen form of expression or in a speech somewhere), their views shouldn't be given any additional weight simply because they're a celebrity. They shouldn't be dismissed as "a mere actor" (or songwriter, or whatever), but neither should folks give them more credence than they would anyone else expressing the same things. In celebrity-driven culture, however, people often do treat tripe and rotgut as pearls of wisdom just because a famous person utters them on Oprah or Barbara Walters instead of a guy on a stool next to them in a bar. In other words, I do tend to agree with Vegard, but with some caviates - there are exceptions and it's not all intellectual twinkies. They don't always present it in their entertainment medium (some of the smarter, better ones know the distinction between forms and forums). Even B-movie actors can have depths of intelligence that don't come out in their movies (I can think of one in particular, which is obvious to anyone who's read this book. Disagree with the ideas he expresses if one will, but they do show an active intellect able to express things well and concisely).

Sorry to say it, though, but Europe isn't immune to this kind of thing, either. A lot of actors, singers, and other "artists", especially the Left sort, love to go over there, where they're treated as intellectuals to a greater degree than they are here. One can mention many who feel they're treated with more respect and seriousness there than here (and I think we go pretty far in America in attributing to entertainers lots of other virtues for the simple fact that they're good at their craft).

Europe's certainly produced more art (they've been at it for 25 centuries, we've only been at it for a couple), and better (being at it for a longer time means they've had more opportunity to create excellent pieces. Bad stuff - even some good stuff - gets buried under the rubble because they're less reason to preserve the mediocre when one has a lot of great stuff). But if one thinks of the newest art forms, America is doing just fine in that. Music, film, and the like are just as much art as paintings and statuary. America has fine literary writers, especially in the latest literary styles (by "latest" I mean styles developed in the last couple centuries) - science fiction, like any art form, can produce shallow works and works with more pretention than substance to intellectual weight, but also very thoughtful and incisive works, as intellectually deep as traditional literature. Same with works in the fantasy genra (though there are probably fewer "deep" books and more entertainment). Many of the authors writing in those genra's who's works will likely last have been Americans. Innovations in music have been disproportionately American in the last century or so (and not all art has to be intellectual for it to be substantive and valuable aesthetically).

Asside: My webname, Porphyrogenitus, doesn't mean what some folks apparently interpret it as meaning. It's Byzantino-Roman nomenclature, meaning "Born in the Purple", the purple room of the Imperial Palace in Constantinople; as in "Constantine VII Makedonion, Porphyrogenitus". I suppose that claim could get one beheaded in some countries as well (les Majesty and all that), but not any that exist today (that I know of).
If anyone's still awake, I adopted it in my first "web presence" (a forum/message board for a wargame) and have just stuck with it since. It's not a boast about my. . .physical attributes (I'm not sure saying I've got a purple member would be a boast in any case).

Monday, July 22, 2002

Eric Olsen has some thoughtful remarks on the Steve Earle thing.

I'm not sure the fact that the same writer wrote a balanced report and a rabid one on the same subject is very damning - it's actually fairly frequent (so if it's damning, then a lot of folks, reporters and otherwise, get damned); different venues. The Post is more rabid by nature, while Reuters and ABC wouldn't be caught dead publishing anything rabid aimed at the left (but check out what they publish in the other direction)! Hell, a lot of bloggers will publish balanced posts and alternate with rabid rants. I know I do much of the latter. I know Eric has had the occasion to express his views. . .strongly, too.

Btw, Guthrie wasn't just a "populist and a radical". In his day he was an out-and-out appologist for Stalinism. I don't think that it's harmless to allow, shall we say, interested parties (of which I know you're not one, in this sense) to sweep their real position under the carpet so they can be romanticized. The same goes for guys like Steve Earle.

I agree with Eric in the sense that, yes, this guy is part of a tradition. A legacy. Something, indeed, that hopes to be the voice of a movement (as it once virtually was). Where we disagree, I suppose, is that I think that makes it more vital, not less, to counter stuff like this when it crops up. To highlight it, and argue against it. Take it seriously on its own terms. If Steve Earle was just a oddball, rather than part of a tradition (that in the '30s identified with Stalinism and against Western free-market Democracy, in the '60s identified with Mao and Ho Chi Mihn, and in the '00s writes about Johnny and the Taliban in a similar vein), then he'd be ignorable.

But, on the one hand these guys - the members of this tradition - often (when they're not feeling honest), when confronted and criticized, retreat to the "hey, it's just a song, man, don't read to much into it" but on the other hand, in other contexts, speak of "their message" and the importance of music as a way of reaching people, spreading the "progressive" viewpoint, energizing the movement, etc. Again, can't have it both ways: and this folk tradition was never one where a song was just a song. A song was always politics first - a way of reaching an audience that otherwise would not give these views the time of day. Folk has always had, if not intellectual seriousness, then pretensions to intellectual seriousnes.

Eric's into music himself, right? He knows its an entertainment form, but can also be very moving and have strong influence on people; music can make people feel, think, and the like. This can be for the good, but also for the bad. Bad ideas should be countered by good ones, and folks with good ideas cannot believe that their ideas will win out by just assuming things will work out in the end, without expressing them in opposition to the bad (this is different from censorship, lest anyone accuse Earle's critics of that. This is countering speech with speech). The good will only triumph over the bad if it's advocates speak out.
Eddie Guerro seems to have completely lost it, ranting (wonderfully) about his mullet.
Steve Earle II: Some folks (specifically Matt Welch and Ramesh Ponnuru) are saying Earle was just trying to get into the head of the Boy Taliban, and thus (in effect), it's ok. Or at least not getting worked up about. No big deal, really.
Isn't it. . .telling. . .though, the points-of-view that people adopt in this way, in a sympathetic fashion? Would Earle and like folks "get into the head" of, say, Dick Armey in a lyric that wasn't a snide cut, but an attempt to sympathetically understand?
One thing is true, and that it's possible to make too much of Earle. But it's also very possible to make too little of this kind of thing - shrug it off, let it go, no big deal, just the usual suspects doing the usual things, we're used to it. "Where's the outrage" indeed. We're not supposed to react to this at all seems to be the message.
In one sense that's fine: Earle and those like him want to elicit a response, provoke outrage ("see, I'm a provocative artist") and also, consciously or subconsciously, want it to be strong enough that they can claim to be persecuted for their beliefs or expression (see, mere criticism or expressions of disagreement with those on the left, especially the artist-types counts as persecution in their eyes. And they tend to revel in the image of the "persecuted artist"). This is, however, a whip that these folks use to silence criticism (and getting us to police ourselves - by adopting the attitude that, in essence, only rubes still get outraged by this stuff, while smart folks don't "let them win" by getting a rise out of us. "Nothing's stronger than the cop in your head" and all that) is one means that is used to spread "the message" in a subterranean fashion (Left artists from Allen Ginsberg through Rage Against the Machine have effectively used the "we'll get you through your children" tactic, proselytizing to the young in poetry, music, and art while de-legitimizing anyone expressing disagreement to their "message" or even shinning light upon it).
But still, the point remains: the types of points of view of people one is willing to get into the head of can be quite telling. Sure, Steve Earle isn't going to sign up to the al-Queda program. But he "understands" it, within the context of his own attitudes towards America and the West, and aligns with it in identifying more with its agents than with its enemies.
To pretend that, in effect, doesn't tell us anything about the attitudes of Earle and his kindred spirits and comrades is to delude oneself. It's possible to put the "poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world" thing too far, but do ideas matter, or don't they? Should we just be concientious objectors in the home-front propaganda war?
The State Department calls critics of the pro-Saudi "Visa Express" program McCarthyites and Neo-Nazis, but does this to a 9/11 widow. Disgusting. (Link via Instapundit).
The New Euro is a bit of a lively, sporting lad, not limpid like the old one.
Some Incisively Snide Comments on the Spain-Morrocco Rock Crisis from my friend Solmyr.
Iraq II:I mostly agree with this, especially the part about the logistics and timing of any action. Contrary to that Frenchman quoted in Ha'aretz saying it's a go for August, that's way too soon to get everything set up (heck, the Airborne guys just got back from Afganistan) and into position for an August attack. October is probably the earliest (but I'd still love it if Bush would get Congress to vote authorization for Iraq on Sept. 11th. Poetic justice and all).
I also think that Britain will provide more than token support and that, in the end, the French and Italians will probably commit something (this will be the token force) - while also complaining about it (hey, they weren't all that enthused about actually using troops in '90, either, but they went along because not going along would have been humiliating). The EU has delusions of grandure and I do think that, for that reason, they will want to be in - while, yes, criticizing from the outside. The need to have it both ways is very deep in the EU mindset. The Russians already, I believe, have assurances. That's why they've only, at this point, mouthed a few pro-forma objections to the idea but not anything very vocal, like one would expect. As for the House of Saud - yes, as MLD points out, they know that the end of Saddam and a free Iraq will effectively mean the end of their relationship to America, which has been based on mutual need rather than affinity. We won't need them anymore.
The domestic Left will probably be the loudest and most active opponents of war on Iraq, especially as it unfolds. They'll use events, like Chomsky and others used Afganistan, as a excuse to rail against the country and people they hate most in the world. Again. As always.
This is in part because of the thing that I'm really concerned about is the impact that Saddam's use of chemical (and possibly bio) weapons will have. I believe that, especially when his back is against the wall, he will use them.
I don't so much worry about their impact on our troops (or British or Turkish forces and whatever other regular militaries that might be involved). Regular military, such as ours, have equipment and training that will minimize casualties (though there will be some effect on performance - not enough to matter in the end). But if things go as they've been discussed, there will be a lot of Kurdish and other "irregulars" involved on our side. The impact on them could be far worse.
See, it's not just a matter of handing out gas masks to the Kurdish and Iraqi opposition forces and teaching them how to use 'em. Modern chemical weapons can be absorbed through the skin fairly easily. One needs an entire panoply, and training in how to put it on and - especially - how to take it off. The gear is only effective for so long (measured in hours), then one has to change out. There are decontamination proceedures that have to be gone through (involving tanker trucks full of fluids) and the like. I'm not at all confident that irregulars will be able to get the hang of this.
Similarly, civilian populations will be exposed. This means mainly Iraqi populations. Hopefully if Saddam gives such an order (not too far out; remember what Hitler wanted to happen to Germany when it was clear they lost), most if not all Iraqi commanders will refuse to obey, and hopefully we can use our advanced weapons to target and take out any that are a danger.
This is not something I throw up as an excuse to avoid action (far from it), especially since this matter will only get worse, not better, by putting things off again. This means worse for the region and the people involved, but also worse for more people beyond the area, as if time passes the Iraqi regime develops weapons with better range and lethality. Thus whatever casualties occur here (and they may be large compared to what we've become used to), in the long run lives will be saved by acting sooner rather than later (as Bush said early in the year, so long ago it seems like another era already, "time is not on our side"). This is the Patton view of the tragedy of war (going fast, getting the killing done quickly, saves more of your soldiers - more people in general - than hand-wringing, temporizing, and delay), rather than the Hawkeye Pierce perspective on things (where the only reason anyone dies is because our officers and leaders are mindless butchers. Sounds a lot like the Chomksy view of things, come to think of it).
Leftist Conclaves Critiqued: an annual Brecht Forum conference is once-overed in an WSJ article by Brian McGuire, and Robert Locke Fisks Yale professor Michael Wallerstein. Six months ago, when everyone was saying "everything changed" on Sept 11 seems like, so dated and stuff.
It's like deja-vu all over again.
Why Some European Countries will tag along in toppling Saddam, by Robert Kagan.
Some Thoughts on Law from Steven den Beste. Read through that first, then come back (because I'm not going to repeat what he wrote here, but extend upon it).
I've long believed, by the way, that the next term that will be targeted for corruption into meaning the opposite of what it really means is the phrase "rule of law". One notices that those defending the arbitrary administrative decision by a official to send a boy back to Cuba invoked the phrase to describe it (and here I'm not arguing the merits or demerits of that decision; reasonable people can disagree on whether the decision was correct or not - the point is, as was aknowledged at the time, that there was discretion to decide the matter either way, the matter was decided based on administrative fiat rather than command of law. That is not "the rule of law" properly understood), and now the phrase is used to describe the ICC (which has a body of "laws" that would be void for vagueness and rejected on the grounds that they're subject to arbitrary and capricious application, and that the institution is unaccountable to the people it presumes to preside over, if the treaty were presented before a legislature or high court operating under the true principles of the "rule of law").
Again and not for the first time it is not an accident that a term used to describe something with philosophical substance is being subverted and corrupted. The reason for this is for those doing so to operate under the cloak of respectabilitiy while simoultaniously discrediting institutions and practices that representative of the true substance of the term.
Some folks will consider this not worth bothering about. But, as Orwell knew, the language we use to describe things is important in conveying their meaning and substance. The words and their definitions are part of what upholds and undergirds the actual practice that they define. In other words, by allowing the meaning of terms to get distorted and transformed, so to does people's understanding of things. If one values the actual, substantive rule of law and wants people to understand the concept, then having the term used to describe activities that are the very antithesis of the concept (courts that are allowed to rule in such a way that people have trouble determining beforehand whether their actions will be declared illegal, for example), then we're surrendering the concept, ultimately. Because the young will grow up believing the term to mean other than it originally did.
This goes also with phrases that invoke the concept of accountability to the law (such as the accusation that America is acting "above the law" because it refuses to submit to arbitrary and unaccountable institutions that are contrary to our Constitutional - legal - process). Indeed, again, it would be more accurate to say the opposite would be the case: an American government that agreed to the ICC (or any other governing body operating in contradiction of America's Constitution) would be a government that considered itself above the law, going beyond what they are legally permitted to do (just one example: in America, an American citizen has a right to a jury trial. Will the ICC have juries? If not, it would be illigitimate for the American government to agree to having the ICC superceed American courts in the way that it is established - as a "high court". Similarly with double jeopardy, among other matters). So we see another concept ("no one is above the law") being subverted and corrupted by those who are in favor of international, unaccountable, and arbitrary institutions.
The New York Pravda is exposed for what it is by Andrew Sullivan.
Like I Said, that dude is dead. Perhaps his "movement" is dying, too.
Hellas: Cradle of Conservatism, according to Richard Poe, editor of Front Page Magazine.
If Anyone Still Thinks that no one on the Left identifies with every enemy of America, they ought to check out this story on singer-songwriter Steve Earle, and his new ode to Johnny bin Walker, Osama, and the Taliban, glorifying them as Christ-like figures.
It'll be interesting, in the months ahead, to see how the "mainstream" Left deals with figures like this. They are always shocked, shocked to be perceived as not opposing (much less supporting) the haters among them. So lets see if they not only "distance themselves" (a political reaction meant to preserve themselves within the system), but really combat them, intellectually, as Christopher Hitchens did against the Chomskys of the Left.
Liberals and Leftists who are sincere when they say that the Left isn't like that could do worse than use Hitchens as an inspiration. The fact that all too few have tends to make their claims ring hollow. Usually, instead of combating these elements, they just use diversionary methods - becoming more outraged at "a McCarthyite climate that would deny free expression" (no, this and other blowhards can spout off all they want - it's, in fact, illuminating to see what they really believe. But folks can use free expression to voice our disgust and condemnation of such rubbish, plus, just as these guys have every right to express what they feel, we have every right to abhore it). Usually, indeed, this tactic (and similar things like "you're questioning are patriotism!") are not really meant to defend free speech and free expression so much as silence it - it's a tool to cut off debate and an attempt to de-legitimize criticism one doesn't sympathize with.
So, indeed, such tactics also show the sympathies of those who employ them.