The west in general, and the US in particular, is in a crisis of decision-making.
The west in general, and the US in particular, is in a crisis of decision-making.
Sugary excerpt of the day from Claude S. Fischer:
Social psychologists have demonstrated how anomalous is the Western, especially American, view of autonomous selves. For example, Americans are likelier than others to explain what happens to people as a result of their individual traits and choices, to perform better when we are allowed to choose our own tasks, to get upset if we sense a lack of personal freedom, and to care greatly about our self-esteem. Psychologists Joseph Henrich, Steven Heine, and Ara Norenzayan synthesized much of this work in a well-received 2010 article, “The Weirdest People in the World?” They conclude that, yes, Americans are the weirdest; they are most likely to “conceive of themselves primarily as self-contained individuals . . . as autonomous agents,” rather than as “interpersonal beings intertwined with one another in social webs.” Americans, for example, seem unique in assigning babies their own rooms. That such fundamental cross-national differences persist after centuries of Western colonialism and a hundred years of American cultural hegemony testifies to the historical oddity of the libertarian premise.
When I close my eyes and think of America I think of the infinite Powell’s bookstore in Portland, the crazy fountain show outside the Bellagio in Las Vegas, of eating pastrami in a New York deli, of roadside diners, of hash browns and ranch sauce and root beer, of driving along interstates and skateboarding along a sidewalk in Baltimore, of art deco Miami, of the most staggering art collection in the world at MOMA, of riding Eliot’s bike (with ET in the basket) as an eight year old at Universal studios, of late night swimming in a cheap motel with my father. In America, they are willing to see the best in you, because they see the best in themselves. That isn’t arrogance, it is optimism.
So yes, my love remains undimmed. America, you are infinitely complicated, and you have more than enough issues to warrant therapy, but I could still explore you for ever and not even begin to get bored any more than you can get bored in dreams.
Loving America as it is is hard and requires rigorous intellectual analysis. It is what makes it worth it.
I agree with Dan Drezner on this:
At best, George W. Bush was a well-meaning man who gave the occasional nice speech and was thoroughly overmatched by events. At worst, he was the most disastrous foreign policy president of the post-1945 era.
Much of the decline in fertility correlates with the development of poorer countries, increasing literacy and education of women, a migration from the country to the city, and a collapse in infant mortality rates with the arrival of modern medicine. All good things. But as Last describes, a population that is both shrinking and increasingly elderly leads to stalled innovation and other serious economic and political problems.
Everyone should be welcome to live life as they choose, remaining single or childless if that suits them. Freedom really does matter. But at the same time we ought to be thinking hard about how to make our society and our culture more child-welcoming. It’s a matter of life and death.
Kill me now! Why should humans be eternal?
From Paul Barrett:
The reason why we can’t learn much in a practical sense from other countries is that we’re not other countries, and we’re not going to become other countries. We’re not going to have Australia’s society with Australia’s values and Australia’s attitudes toward firearms.
If your desire is to have a society that is more like that, it would be much easier for you to move to that society than to transpose that society onto this 300 million-person, 3,000 mile wide, incredibly complex, culture-of-many-cultures country.
Well d'oh or may be not!
Pertinent stuff from James Blitz:
In May 2011, many believed the global jihadist movement had been dealt a decisive blow with the killing of Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan. Now, jihadist threats have emerged on two new and significant fronts. Whether AQIM in Mali and Jabhat al Nusra in Syria turn out to be movements with broad ambitions and which challenge western interests remains to be seen. What cannot be doubted, however, is that the toppling of Gaddafi, who was ultimately the west’s ally in the fight against regional jihadist groups, is a factor in their rise to prominence.
Unfortunately thoughtfulness and patience are not essential qualities in the elaboration and enactment of foreign policy of countries too worried about their power to focus on results instead of actions and reactions.
Great stuff from Katherine Franke:
I wish Franke hadn't used Tom Friedman to ake such a poignant point.
In an ironic sort of way, sex and sexuality have been collateral victims of recent advances in the rights of gay people to the extent that their claims have been framed as a right to family, not a right to sexual freedom. Whether by design or by accident, some of the advocates of marriage equality who have defended and celebrated the sanctity, dignity and special-ness of marriage have fortified the rather conservative notion that sex outside of marriage (whether it be adultery or hook ups with people you find out the internet) is somehow indecent and worthy of reproach.Thomas Friedman famously observed that “9/11 made us stupid” – well, sex, it seems, makes us even stupider. At precisely the moment when gay people’s right to marry seems to be reaching a positive tipping point, sexuality is being driven back into the closet as something shameful and incompatible with honor (in the case of Petraeus) or decency (as in the case of Clash). How did we get to this curious place, a place with a politics that would be almost unimaginable to the sexual freedom fighters of Stonewall?
Interesting stuff from Tim Parks:
America is very much a net exporter of literature. Its novels are read and translated worldwide, where readers generally accept miles and Fahrenheit, pounds and ounces, AM and PM and indeed have grown accustomed to these old-fashioned, American oddities (when it comes to doing science, of course, Americans use the more practical European systems). In Germany, for example, where around fifty percent of novels are foreign works in translation, Roth’s and Franzen’s characters are not obliged to discuss distances in kilometers.
Conversely, America imports very little—only three to four percent of novels published in the States are translations—and what it does import it tends to transform as far as possible into its own formulas and notations, in much the same way that Disney has turned every fable and myth worldwide into a version of Mickey Mouse. This situation is a measure of American power, but brings with it the danger of mental closure and inflexibility. Speaking recently at a conference in Milan, the Italian literary agent Marco Vigevani, lamented that fewer and fewer American editors are able to read novels in Italian, French, and especially German, and this inevitably has reduced their enthusiasm for publishing foreign literature, since they are obliged to rely on external readers for advice.
From Danilo Breschi:
In America, the matrix of individual freedom is "republican," and it is older than equality. It creates, within American democracy, devices of self-government decentralizing the exercise of sovereignty: freedom of speech and of the press, "jury," the idea of law as a duty to partake in public affairs.
In Europe, equality is imposed before individuals develop awareness of their own freedom and independently of any practice of the latter. The matrix of the continental idea of equality is absolutist and is ensured by the royal gaze. In The Old Regime and the Revolution, he wrote that "this kind of love for independence grows out of certain particular temporary mischiefs wrought by despotism, and is never durable; it passes away with the accident which gave it birth. What seemed to be love for liberty turns out to be mere hatred of a despot." For Tocqueville a "habit of despotism" was ingrained in the French people, becoming a sort of widespread popular culture.
Another reason to read Tocqueville.
The sentence of the day is from Dan Drezner:
(...) I still think Americans are awful at empire-building.
Americans are awful at empire-building because they view themselves or rather their country solely as a benevolent and reluctant empire devoid of any 'selfish' self-interest.
I agree strongly with Corey Robin on this:
Only a country steeped in myths of innocence would find the most conventional and boring kind of realism about politics to be the trumpet blast of Truth, Brave Truth.
We see these quicksilver shifts, from innocence to cynicism or realism, in the culture all the time, especially its more elite sectors—though sometimes they go in the reverse direction. Think of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, how the wise-cracking cynic Jean Arthur becomes a true believer. Or Dave, where the Sigourney Weaver character makes the same pilgrimage. (Interestingly, in both cases it’s a woman who loses her cynicism and discovers her innocence via falling in love with a man.)
But whether it’s the cynic discovering or recovering her innocence, or the innocent losing his innocence, the story of politics among cultural and political elites in this country is always the same, toggling back and forth between two positions that are little more than the competing wisdom of juveniles.
Oh America, I have news for you even innocence can be sinful dirty complicated. As a matter of fact, in America, innocence is a way to fight the terrifying realization that purity in the modern world is impossible.
All this reminds me of the awfully good movie Agnes of God with Jane Fonda in which a young and yes innocent nun gets pregnant and there is throughout the strong suggestion that she had sex with God, which makes it more than ok, not an exploitation, not a perverted act or a worse not one of a sexual discovery and empowerment but a religiously wonderful occurrence for the Mother Superior (Anne Bancroft ) declares solemnly and fanatically in the end of the movie that to be innocent is to be god's victim.
From a fascinating BBC article on the American cult of the General by Daniel Nasaw:
With Gen Petraeus' public downfall, the American public can begin to grapple with why after 11 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan "we haven't won anything", [Andrew] Bacevich says.
The consequences of the myth of "the great heroic general" have been dire, he says.
"It's an excuse to not think seriously about war and to avoid examining the actual consequences of wars that we have chosen to engage."
Andrew Bacevich is too optimistic. The American public doesn't want to think seriously about war or about politics, economics, race, gender, sex for that matter.
From Rosa Brooks :
It would be fair to say that the military still has something of a woman problem. Although most military jobs are now open to women -- the exception being certain combat jobs -- women still make up only a small minority of all military personnel (about 15 percent) and a still-smaller minority of senior officers (no surprise, given that today's senior women officers joined the military, by definition, in an era in which even fewer jobs were open to women).
The military remains plagued by allegations of sexual harassment and assault, and a number of studies by the Defense Department and the Department of Veterans Affairs have concluded that women in the military face higher rates of sexual assault than do civilian women. Here again, no big surprise: The military remains an overwhelmingly male -- and overwhelmingly macho -- institution. Women are outnumbered and often rendered nearly invisible in a culture in which nearly all senior officers are male. (...)Here's something I worry about: Will the fallout from the Petraeus scandal make it even tougher for military women to rise to senior rank? In the military as in the civilian world, career advancement often has as much to do with informal mentoring relationships as with formal education or qualifications. No one bats an eye when the (male) boss goes out running or drinking with his (male) subordinates, but post-Petraeus, how many male senior officers will do the same with female subordinates? Not a lot -- and though such risk-aversion may reduce any appearance of impropriety, it will also reduce the odds that women will get the crucial mentoring that is provided so freely to their male colleagues.
Well, the military is one of the best reflections of America and Americana, which means in short that it is America that has a woman problem not just its military.
I agree with Joanna Weiss on this:
The bigger question is why it took a sex scandal to get the nation to treat Petraeus as a human being.
In fact, when it comes to public figures, media coverage tends to swing between two conflicting narratives. On one hand, there’s the “let’s find out what’s wrong with the guy” school: a watchdog mentality, abetted by opposition research, that largely afflicts people running for office.
But we have a parallel tendency toward hero worship, an inclination — particularly when it comes to people who take admirable risks with their lives — to pick someone generally good and paint him as virtuous beyond compare.
Well America as a nation which believe religiously in its own uniqueness and greatness needs to remake people in its own image.
From Walter Russell Mead:
We are simultaneously the most licentious and sexually open society since Nero was fiddling around in Rome, and the most uptight and rigid country this side of Saudi Arabia. Our social judgements and tolerance about sexual behavior swing back and forth between the views of the Marquis de Sade and those of Cotton Mather depending on complex and ever changing calculations.
As far as I can make out, the authorities American society listens to most on the subject of sex are Hugh Hefner and Gloria Steinem. We combine, somehow, a pleasure seeking hook up culture with a feminist puritanism that takes us back to the 19th century bluestockings, and the line between the libertine and the bluestocking in our culture is constantly shifting and highly politicized.
My take on the subject is that America has no problem with sex as long as it remains a form of entertainment, which doesn't shake the foundations of its society.
Sex in America can't be about solely pleasure and amorality. That's why Americans have less of a problem with Porn stars whom it believes just work the money than it does with cheating/sexually adventurous politicians whom it believes are just bad people.
From Ana Marie Cox:
The No 1 force moving America forward is the inertia of tiny gains. But, by golly, those add up: there's a black man in the White House – and that can never ever be undone.
Ahh the soft bigotry of little dreams and symbolic nothings as George W. Bush might have said!
Sentence du jour from Jacob Funk Kierkegaard :
American youth have fewer education and training opportunities than in Europe — especially following the dramatic cuts to U.S. state and local government education budgets during the crisis.
The sentence of the day is from Clive Crook:
Venezuela is a worked example of the use of anger and intolerance to concentrate power--democratically.
So is the The United States and France for that matter. A few years ago, I assert dismissively that Hugo Chavez wasn't Che Guevarra, the sobering and aching truth is that he doesn't have to be, just like Obama doesn't have to be Martin Luther King and Francois Hollande Léon Blum
One of the dumbest things I have heard this fall from Fergus Downie:
Europe does not have enough of the inherited religious value fat required to sustain an ideological front against Islamism in the way that America occasionally looks like it might – and a scrupulous Weberian legalism is probably the best option available for a continent allergic to the cultivation of strong passions and the fanaticism of principle.
America's remembrance of 9/11 demonstrates that politics ruins memory.
The more time, since September 11, 2001, passes, the less potent it becomes in American politics for it has been transformed in a symbol used to justify the unsavory and the unjustifiable.
In short, although I will never forget where I was on September 11, I will also always lament the fact that American politicians never rose to the occasion to assert at the very least that America and its ideals were worth dying for.
La phrase du jour from Michael Goldfarb:
American society is in crisis and the political journalism aggravates this crisis because at this moment it is—I could try and write something clever but I need to say it simply—it is just awful.
Pankaj Mishra on everlasting imperial fantasies in the 'West':
Even before 9/11, Tony Blair was ready to tend, with military means if necessary, to, as he put it, "the starving, the wretched, the dispossessed, the ignorant" around the world. His apparently more intellectual rival Gordon Brown urged his compatriots to be "proud" of their imperial past. Sensing a sharper rightward shift after 9/11, many pith-helmet-and-jodhpurs fetishists boisterously outed themselves, exhorting politicians to recreate a new western imperium through old-style military conquest and occupation of native lands.Embracing such fantasies of "full-spectrum dominance", American and European policymakers failed to ask themselves a simple question: whether, as Jonathan Schell put it, "the people of the world, having overthrown the territorial empires, are ready to bend the knee to an American overlord in the 21st"? After two unwinnable wars and horribly botched nation-building efforts, and many unconscionable human losses (between 600,000 and one million in Iraq alone), the "neo-imperialists" offering seductive fantasies of the west's potency look as reliable as the peddlers of fake Viagra. Yet, armour-plated against actuality by think tanks, academic sinecures and TV gigs, they continue to find eager customers.
I agree with Mishra with some reservations for I wonder whether Empire is just a 'western' fantasy; in short I feel increasingly uneasy as I get older about the separation of the world between the West and the rest and I hate with a passion the term 'postcolony.' Oh well, I am a marginal eccentric.
Sentence of Sunday from Scott McLemee:
A portion of the adult population is prepared to believe that any given social change will cause the second coming of the Third Reich, this time on American soil. (Those who do not forget the History Channel are condemned to repeat fairly dumb analogies.)
True, there is no way we can defend ourselves against insane shooters. But I suspect Australia, England, Germany and Canada have about the same percentage of crazy people that we do. It's just that they can't get their hands on firearms so easily. Nor do they sell assault rifles over the counter in those nations.
You know what? The hell with it. I'm tired of repeating the obvious. I know with a dread certainty that I will change nobody's mind. I will hear conspiracy theories from those who fear the government, I will hear about the need to raise a militia, and I will hear nothing about how 9,484 corpses in a year has helped anything. That is a high price to pay. What depresses me is that half of my fellow countrymen are prepared to pay it.
The trouble with Roger Ebert's view point isn't that it is wrong, but rather it ignores the singularities of America. For most Americans, it is those singularities that make America America.
Gun control is not at the center of American politics precisely because Gun control advocates refuse to believe that the issue isn't about reason, safety, common sense and what is sensible in the rest of the world, but rather about Americana, identity, emotionality, the need for Americans to remain faithful to what they consider the ideals and the ‘being’ of their nation. The point isn't that guns are as American as apple pie, but rather than the NRA (National Rifle Association) has been more effective than its adversaries in making Americans fee that it is and in making guns part of the American imaginary and of their way of life.
I've learned the hard way that the surest way to lose a political debate in America is to compare the American way of life with the ones of the rest of the planet because Americans don't like to their country to be compared to others for they believe that comparisons diminishes its exceptional nation and its greatness .
You don't compare Michael Jordan unfavorably to Steve Nash when you want him to listen to you or to convince him that you are right .
(....)he [Camus] was preoccupied by what he thought of as the “American tragedy.” The tragedy of the students was that they lacked a sense of the tragic. For Sartre the tragic was the mechanization and objectification of the human. For Camus, the tragic was something more elusive: whatever it was, it was missing in America. (...)
The clash between Sartre and Camus would come to be defined by their political divergence in the ’50s, crystallized by the publication of “The Rebel” by Camus. But already, in their different reactions to the United States — and particularly New York — we have the ingredients of a philosophical schism. Sartre, on his return to Europe, recalls above all America’s racism and practice of segregation, the inevitable counterpart to its drive to conformity. (...)
Camus, on the other hand, begins to sound more like Samuel Beckett. While Sartre after the war was more than ever a self-professed “writing machine,” Camus was increasingly graphophobic, haunted by a “disgust for all forms of public expression.” Sartre’s philosophy becomes sociological and structuralist in its binary emphasis. Camus, all alone, in the night, between continents, far away from everything, is already less the solemn “moralist” of legend (“the Saint,” Sartre called him), more a (pre-)post-structuralist in his greater concern and anxiety about language, his emphasis on difference and refusal to articulate a clear-cut theory: “I am too young to have a system,” he told one audience. And it is this anti-systematic aspect of America that he retains and refuses to clarify: “After so many months I know nothing about New York.”
Sentence of the day from Louis René Beres :
The American democracy’s real enemy remains a pervasively unphilosophical spirit, one that insistently demands to know nothing of truth.
Sugary excerpt of the day from Mychal Denzel Smith about America and its pointless conversations about race:
A national conversation on race is pointless if we have to keep starting over. We won't settle the issue in a two-week span of op-eds, cable-news specials and one-off discussions with our favorite black pundits. Doing so requires constant engagement and active listening on the part of those who have benefited from centuries of racism. This isn't about being able to see the world through the eyes of the oppressed; rather, it's about paying attention when the oppressed tell their own stories and believing them. But privilege means never having to consider that anyone experiences the world differently from you.
It allows Jonah Goldberg to write in the Los Angeles Times that racism currently exists only in "pockets," Ann Coulter to compare calls for justice in Trayvon's death to a lynch mob and Pat Buchanan to refer to this situation as an "exacerbation of and the exploitation of racial conflict." To honestly believe any of these assertions requires cultural blindness and a deep misreading of history, one in which the lives of marginalized people do not exist unless they serve the self-aggrandizing agenda of the controlling group.
When racism exists only in the extreme in the dominant historical narrative and the public imagination, it's not difficult to understand why the conversation becomes stalled. We understand racism as the domain of slaveholders and violent segregationists, cross-burning members of the Ku Klux Klan and ignorant Southerners. Racists possess cold, black hearts and eyes that become engorged with blood and hate at the sight of skin that differs from their own. And they can be defeated only by the good-natured and colorblind folks who believe in one race: human.
Of course, that isn't true in the slightest. Racism doesn't require vicious hatred -- only passive acceptance of an idea of human hierarchy based on mostly arbitrary differences. It is internalized beliefs about the inferiority of one group that in turn grants power and privilege to another. Racism is not a battle of good vs. evil, of individual actors of a heroic or demonic nature determining the worth of people. It is a story of subjugation, exploitation, resistance and the messy complexities that make humanity so intriguing. We would know that if we bothered to study.
As I assert too often on this blog, the issue here is that 'race' in America isn't about 'race' and that America/Americans don't know how to have a conversation. Talking to one another instead at one another would involve listening to all viewpoints and actually accept the possibility of not winning the debate that would follow because of the increasing divide among Americans and their deculturation.
To put it bluntly, the one thing that the Trayvon Martin case and all America's conversations about race show is that America is still a prisoner of its history and that hysteria is necessary to nationalize any issue because of its brittle togetherness.
Because I'm so thankful that it's Friday, just a sentence from Michael Walzer to make a potent point:
[...] when God is king, what need is there for human politics?
God is omnipresent in American politics and that it explains in part why it is so inhumane.
I agree with Frank Furedi on this although I would phrase the same point differently and for in my opinion there isn't such a thing as 'Western culture':
In fact, the way that society responds to acts of individual terror represents a far greater threat than the destruction caused by the lone wolf himself. The inflation of the threat empowers the lone wolf, who may conclude that relatively modest acts of terrorism are likely to achieve a disproportionate impact. The best example of this was the Washington sniper in the summer of 2002, who literally managed to terrorise the capital city of the most powerful nation on Earth for some considerable time. Constant live television coverage and political discussion of the shootings unconsciously fuelled a palpable sense of fear and anxiety, and served as an invitation to be terrorised - they empowered the shooter, making him into a mighty threat to the capital of the United States.
From time to time – fortunately very rarely – the lone wolf succeeds in causing great physical damage. But it is not the scale of this damage that endows the lone wolf with such significance. They are not simply a physical but also a cultural threat. They serve as symbols of a society that is not quite at ease with itself, one that feels culturally fragmented and atomised. In the end the lone wolf works as a metaphor, with the emphasis on the sensibility of being isolated and alone. The image of a socially disconnected young man sitting in front of a screen, lost in the world of online confusion, is one with which society is all too familiar. Disconnected from us but not immune to the virus of radicalisation, they become people whose behaviour can easily become unrestrained and uncontained by social norms. That is the threat they pose. It is the insecurity that surrounds Western culture that has encouraged officialdom’s dangerous dramatisation of the lone wolf.
Back from my long hiatus with this sugary excerpt from Julian Baggini's article on Atheism in America:
America is the well-known exception to the rule that the wealthier and better-educated a country is, the less religious its population.
One word comes to my mind: laïcité for I think secularism is too impotent for America.
The Economist's Democracy in America blog on the Wall Street protests :
HERE's my two cents on the Occupy Wall Street protests: Woo!
Maybe that's one cent. Anyway, I am not by disposition a joiner, but I'm nevertheless inclined to smile upon attempts to stick it to the man, even if the attempt is quixotic or confused and the man in the end remains unstuck. The Burkean horror of social upheaval is fine in its place, but there is no apparent danger of upheaval. And who among us doubts that the man deserves a good sticking to? So why not try?
I don't find the whole Occupy Wall Street stick compelling for the simple reason that it seems to me that the idealists willing to come to New York to protest against corporate greed are the same who fell in love with Obama in 2008 and who, instead of holding him responsible for his actions, are looking elsewhere to blame for the state of the American economy and society.
In short, the Occupy Wall Street movement represents a unsettling manifestation of identity politics for as in the Salem Witch Trials, the priority is to stick it to certain people while refusing to acknowledging the responsibility of the others who look/think/feel as the 'occupiers' but never take a definite stand by acting and fighting back.
I agree with this:
The Europe and America we live in are powerful and prosperous confederations built out of a series of successive legislative and institutional compromises that don't always make obvious textual sense, but that did what political leaders needed to do at the time. We should have arguments about whether or not expansions of centralised authorities are bad for the polity. But they should be argued on their own terms, not in terms of what was in the hearts of the people who signed the original treaty a long time ago.
Interesting stuff from John Holbo:
(...)I persist in thinking there’s a strong, quite stable, and really quite distinctive cognitive dissonance that has characterized American conservative thought since at least the 1960’s. I don’t think anyone – including me – has ever really pinned down it’s distinctive characteristics. It’s not right to say it’s just hypocrisy, or lying. (There is that, of course. But it’s not just that.) It’s self-serving double-think, to be sure, but its double nature is of a fairly high philosophical order. The self that is consistently served illegitimate double-portions is not just the electoral self, that wants to win or get paid, but the philosophical self, that wants to be right, in principle. It’s a status thing. An amour propre thing, in Rousseau’s sense.
Holbo's point is well taken except that it can be said about American liberalism for after all, what else than amour propre can characterized an ideology that cares more about knowing the good than doing the good?
I 'm going to munch on this assertion from Kevin Jon Heller all weekend, but that's because I agree with him even when I'm trying desperately not to:
Indeed, for too many American international-law scholars, particularly conservative ones, it is meaningless to distinguish between the lex lata and the lex ferenda — international law is simply whatever the U.S. says it is.
I can't wait to see what Professor Anderson has to say (he has said something, but not on this point). I have a feeling that he will say that an American interpretation of international law isn't in itself wrong, because it is American, and may indeed be right. However is that the issue?
Sugary excerpt of the day from Glenn Greenwald:
Yes, the 9/11 attack was an atrocious act of slaughter; so were many of the violent, horrendous crimes which executed convicts unquestionably (sometimes by their own confession) committed. In all cases, performing giddy dances over state-produced corpses is odious and wrong.
The conclusion of Christopher Hitchens's article on the upcoming anniversary of 9/11:
The battle against casuistry and bad faith has also been worth fighting. So have many other struggles to assert the obvious. Contrary to the peddlers of shallow anti-Western self-hatred, the Muslim world did not adopt Bin-Ladenism as its shield against reality. Very much to the contrary, there turned out to be many millions of Arabs who have heretically and robustly preferred life over death. In many societies, al-Qaida defeated itself as well as underwent defeat.
In these cases, then, the problems did turn out to be more complicated than any "simple" solution the theocratic fanatics could propose. But, and against the tendencies of euphemism and evasion, some stout simplicities deservedly remain. Among them: Holocaust denial is in fact a surreptitious form of Holocaust affirmation. The fatwa against Salman Rushdie was a direct and lethal challenge to free expression, not a clash between traditional faith and "free speech fundamentalism." The mass murder in Bosnia-Herzegovina was not the random product of "ancient hatreds" but a deliberate plan to erase the Muslim population. The regimes of Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong Il and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad fully deserve to be called "evil." And, 10 years ago in Manhattan and Washington and Shanksville, Pa., there was a direct confrontation with the totalitarian idea, expressed in its most vicious and unvarnished form. Let this and other struggles temper and strengthen us for future battles where it will be necessary to repudiate the big lie.
Hitchens states the obvious (which may be virtuous, but more often than not unproductive when the goal is to refuse that even stout simplicities lead to uneasy complexities) in an ideological manner. He does it to avoid posing the tough questions, and be on his high horse when he refuses to acknowledge that in life, politics or in any aspect of life being on the right side, fighting 'evil' doesn't make things simpler, but more complicated because it means that there is a duty to act as if only the final result matters for the other side is evil.
Hitchens fails to understand the question is never in the characterization of evil as evil, but in the uncomfortable notion that stating it doesn't solve anything and does make things simple.
In short, 9/11 did make life, the world easier, it make it more complex because the 'evil' of the act was so obvious that reflexion and the morality of political acts mattered more tha ever before.
The sugary excerpt of the day is from Alex Massie who has the imagination to come up with great similes even though they are not always on point:
Owning a newspaper is rather like running for the Presidency of the United States of America: the desire to do so is usually enough to demonstrate that the candidate or would-be tycoon should not be allowed anywhere near their dreams.
I agree almost completely and for different reasons with Amanda Marcotte on this:
We’re in the throes of a cultural bout of misogyny, and its focus is on sex. And the people who pay the highest price are women whose access to abortion and contraception is threatened by this national game of “Shoot the Slut”.
The word 'slut' is in need of a re/definition and an explanation of why being a slut is the worst thing that a woman can be.
On point analysis from Charlemagne:
It is not just the fate of Libyans that is in the balance in the war against Muammar Qaddafi, but the commitment of Europeans to maintain - and, when necessary, deploy - serious military forces. Responsibility to protect requires, first and foremost, the means to protect.
The Europeans failed the Libyan test because they didn't give themselves the means to succeed; they were obsessed with the fear that Libya might become their 'Iraq' or 'Afghanistan.' In short, one of the EU's major problems is that it knows that it has a parent, the US, who may have many children and who may sometimes be irritated by it, but who feels closest to it, most of the time(that closeness will change with time).
I have to admit that I don't care about the Anthony Weiner's story. I don't even find it titillating and having to see clips of another public apology by an American politician succumbing to the child-like need that Americans have to believe that their leaders are cleaner/purer than them is creepy. I'm happy that Weiner didn't resign. He shouldn't have to for that would be enabling an American public that doesn't vote, that is apathetic to real politics and make it feel good about its ability to have the political class it wants without working for it, without getting involved.
In short, America should grow up, hopefully not into France when it comes to politics and sex, but into a mature country where lying about sex isn't the worst thing that a politician can do and where what matters isn't purity, but rather political deeds and principles. Anthony Weiner lied about sex and honestly, I don't have the energy to care about that. As long as his conduct wasn't illegal and that the two adjectives to describe his behavior are stupid and destructive, he should remain a congressman. Jerks and flawyed people have the right to be politician as long as they do their job effectively and don't break the law.
The personal isn't always political and the fact that it is int the US gives America a poltical class that isn't up to par with its greatness.
Paul Berman needs to revise his French, but that said he makes a decent point on the impact of the DSK affair on the French-American relationship when he says this:
The more he is defended, the thicker and chillier will be the trans-Atlantic fogs, in the future. Dear champions of DSK, réflichissez-vous! But no one is going to reflect. Anyway, a bit more caution on the part of his loyalists would scarcely help, at this point. The ocean-liner of American justice and the ice floes of French conspiracy theories are already bobbing in one another’s direction, and nothing is to be done about it, and, oh dear, has anyone figured out what to do next, post-collision?
Since my bet is that DSK is going to be acquitted , I think that it will become only more obvious how different France is from America, even from Obama's America and there is as Jean Daniel of the Nouvel Obs would say a 'civilization gap' between America and France, which is essentially created by both countries's fanatical beliefs that their way is not only the best, but the only way to civilization. I'm still wondering why being part of an older county makes one more civilized or less barbaric.
Quote of the week from Noam Chomsky:
We might ask ourselves how we would be reacting if Iraqi commandos landed at George W. Bush’s compound, assassinated him, and dumped his body in the Atlantic. Uncontroversially, his crimes vastly exceed bin Laden’s, and he is not a “suspect” but uncontroversially the “decider” who gave the orders to commit the “supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole” (quoting the Nuremberg Tribunal) for which Nazi criminals were hanged: the hundreds of thousands of deaths, millions of refugees, destruction of much of the country, the bitter sectarian conflict that has now spread to the rest of the region.
There are times when I wonder whether Chomsky isn't too smart for his own good to understand that the world isn't a MIT classroom. That's said what he affirms isn't irrelevant, he just went again too far.
I agree with Mick Hume on this:
Today, over Libya, NATO stands exposed as an empty shell, an alliance in name alone. The US no longer exercises global leadership through NATO. Instead it has effectively withdrawn from the Libyan conflict and pushed NATO forwards in its stead. Yet no other NATO member has the wherewithal or the will to take the lead. For all their pretensions to playing an independent role, even the French government is now reduced to complaining that the Americans should do more.
When the US, French and British leaders published their joint call to arms on Libya earlier this month, it looked less like a collective show of strength than an exercise in buck-passing, each trying to hide behind one another and the paper shield of NATO. It was striking that no NATO members responded to the request to send more warplanes to bomb the Gaddafi regime – not even US president Barack Obama. Lacking leadership and direction, the NATO states are now like longstanding members of a club who still begrudgingly pay their dues, but take little active part in its activities, while grumbling about one another’s habits and especially about the self-aggrandising committee members.
Just one question, no two : why does NATO still exist? And why did Sarkozy thought it was a brilliant idea for France to reintegrate NATO''s military command? The answer to one of these questions is pretty obvious.
Sugary excerpt of the weekend from Ervin Staub:
In difficult times like today, people need a vision or ideology that gives them hope for the future. Unfortunately, groups often adopt destructive visions, which identify other groups as enemies who supposedly stand in the way of creating a better future. A constructive, shared vision, which joins groups, reduces the chance of hostility and violence in a society.
A serious failure of the Obama administration has been not to offer, and help people embrace, such a vision. Policies by themselves, such as health care and limited regulation of the financial system, even if beneficial, don’t necessarily do this. A constructive vision or ideology must combine an inspiring vision of social arrangements, of the relations between individuals and groups and the nature of society, and actions that aim to fulfill the vision. A community that includes all groups, recreating a moral America, and rebuilding connections to the rest of the world could be elements of such a vision.
I'm not sure that I agree with Staub. I don't that America is suffering from a lack of constructive vision by its political leaders, but from the fact that they believe that vision, which is nowadays another for express ideology is everything.
Interesting point from Roger Ebert:
In America there is an ingrained populist suspicion of fats cats and robber barons. This feeling rises up from time to time. Theodore Roosevelt, who was elected as a Trust Buster, would be appalled by the excesses of our current economy. Many of the rich have a conscience. Andrew Carnegie built libraries all over America. The Rockefeller and Ford Foundations do great good. Bill Gates lists his occupation as "philanthropist."
Yet the most visible plutocrat in America is Donald Trump, a man who has made a fetish of his power. What kind of sick mind conceives of a television show built on suspense about which "contestant" he will "fire" next? What sort of masochism builds his viewership? Sadly, I suspect it is based on viewers who identify with Trump, and envy his power over his victims. Don't viewers understand they are the ones being fired in today's America?
I don't think that Americans care about being fired as much as they care about the possibility to still have the faith conviction that one today they will be the one doing the firing and being in the top one percent of Americans "now taking in nearly a quarter of the nation's income every year."
I agree with Glenn Greenwald on this:
One thing is for certain: right now, the Democratic Party is absolutely correct in its assessment that kicking its base is good politics. Why is that? Because they know that they have inculcated their base with sufficient levels of fear and hatred of the GOP, so that no matter how often the Party kicks its base, no matter how often Party leaders break their promises and betray their ostensible values, the base will loyally and dutifully support the Party and its leaders (at least in presidential elections; there is a good case that the Democrats got crushed in 2010 in large part because their base was so unenthusiastic).
In light of that fact, ask yourself this: if you were a Democratic Party official, wouldn't you also ignore -- and, when desirable, step on -- the people who you know will support you no matter what you do to them?
Well to paraphrase David Mamet, that is in part the reason I am no longer a brain-dead liberal and I have decided to be an independent. Politics should never be about loyalty or to be more accurate partisanship but about thought and action.
John Quiggin has a take on Greenwald's post that makes me wonder why politics has become about good and evil and about saying that the others are scarier and therefore should be kicked to the curve. More people should fight the talibanisation of American politics by refusing to make it about good and evil and solely about actions and no empty words such as hope and exceptionalism.
I agree mostly with Eric Posner on this:
Thanks to Bush, Obama enjoys the legal authorities he needs to conduct the conflict with Al Qaida—and so, until our next crisis, we don’t know how Obama would have acted under similar circumstances. The Obama lawyers are certainly less inclined to bloviate than the Bush lawyers were but again where it counts—have Obama’s lawyers ever stopped him from going beyond the edge of legality?—we have little information and some reason for skepticism. Obama has vigorously expanded the drone program, taken the war into Pakistan, robustly defended his right to kill American citizens abroad, and opposed litigation that could expose secrets about the treatment of detainees. What is most interesting is that there is currently little comment on the left about Obama’s extensive uses of executive power. There are some outliers who were celebrated during the Bush administration for their attacks on the presidency and who have persisted in their views now that Obama is in office, but who today are ignored. The only public apology from the left for the Obama administration’s executive branch jurisprudence that I am familiar with is this one by David Cole, who starts off vigorously enough but ultimately falls back on legalisms and ends up undercutting his defense in the second half of the article, where he laments Obama’s dependence on secrecy, which raises the question how we know what to make of Obama’s actions as an executive if we don’t know what they are. And that was before the Libya intervention.(...) On Congress’ tomb should be inscribed this epitaph, courtesy of a democratic congressman: “They consulted the Arab League. They consulted the United Nations. They did not consult the United States Congress.” As for the Republicans, with some trivial exceptions, they range from complaining that Obama did not communicate with them (nothing about consultation let alone a vote of some sort) to complaining that he did not act aggressively enough!
Isn't comforting to realize that Obama is as American as George W. Bush in his exercise and consolidation of executive power? Somebody should tell Charlie Rose and others that spending a few years in Indonesia as a child and having a Kenyan father who was never around don't necessarily make a 'full blooded American male' (he spent most his life in America) so different that he gets foreigners intuitively without the need of knowledge and give him peculiar views of America and of power.
In short, as I like to say often with smugness, Obama is what he does and he is for all intents and purposes an Imperial American president.
Back in the days when the cause of humanitarian intervention was on the rise, during the argument over Bosnia policy, Madeleine Albright (in Colin Powell's telling) encapsulated the thinking in a pithy phrase: "What's the point of having this superb military you're always talking about if we can't use it?" Mr Powell wrote in his memoirs that he "almost had an aneurysm"; the military was not a toy to be used because we had it sitting around. But basically, Ms Albright was right: the United States inherited the world's strongest military because of the Cold War, and if in the post-Cold War world there were no longer any plausible uses for that military, there really was no point in having it. Mr Powell, in fact, presided over dramatic cuts in the size of the defence establishment. It was the embrace of humanitarian intervention in the cause of promoting democracy, first in Kosovo, then (after the September 11 attacks) in Afghanistan and finally Iraq, that provided the new justification for a military buildup.
The fact that the debate on Libya in America and elsewhere has become about intervening and not doing alarming. It simplifies a complex issue. Few seem to have learned the lessons of the past, which isn't that humanitarian interventions are futile, but rather that they can't be done in a vacuum and motivated solely by noble, and self-indulgent sentiments. The point isn't that the US, France, and others are powerless, but that what is happening shouldn't become about them. The Obama administration's position irks me because it is timid and the fear of failure has crippled its imagination in the time when decisiveness is needed. Military might means nothing without vision and the audacity not of hope, but of originality and action.
One comment: I don't think that enough Americans want to 'overcome;' (my point here isn't just abou 'race') too many want to hang on and to never let go because their past defines them. I'm still waiting for John McWhorter to define what he means by postracial because when he was supporting Obama, it seemed to mean something elses that it means now.