Tuesday, February 28, 2006

They're not just cartoons

Via Instapundit, David Warren at Real Clear Politics vindicates me in the latest dinner-table debate:

The cartoons themselves were a red herring from the start -- a fake issue, trumped up by fanatical Muslims seeking grievances to abet a confrontation, and thereby extract concessions from the West. It is a fire, still being stoked around the world by radical “Islamists”...

The husband and I go round and round on this subject, he mostly saying, "They're just cartoons" and I mostly objecting, "No, they're a shot across our bow - if we're not willing to stand up for a value as fundamental to our society as free speech, what are we willing to stand up for?" I take no joy from Warren's confirmation; I don't want the kind of conflict that appears to me to be looming. (And, let me be more clear: the husband doesn't trivialize the issue - he just sees a different starting point from mine, at the violent responses to the cartoons rather than at the initial and apparently carefully fostered outrage and the furious backpedaling efforts of some - too many - in the West.) But it is what it is. There's a strain of Islam that does want this conflict. Whether it's a sign of a Final Battle like Armageddon and thus a desired outcome among certain of the devout, like the red heifer breeding project among some fundamentalist Christians1, or a more secular spoiling-for-a-fight thing whereby some Islamists recognize a widening crack in the West's armor that they're eager to exploit, I don't know. The difference in motivation does matter; religious fanatics are generally thought to be harder to convince to lay down their arms than mere power-seekers. But either way, this time looks more and more like the world between the wars.

Bloggers are enjoined not to throw around the N-word - no, not that one (well, yes, that one too, but on the grounds of civility rather than stifling debate); "Nazi" is the word that triggers Godwin's Law. But because that group was so successful at rising from the "nothing" of an unhappy populace to within a few bad decisions of European domination, it's worth a look, because so many of the elements are similar: the very real disparity between the downtrodden group and the world they can see outside their reach; the perception, perhaps justified, perhaps not so much, that their downtroddenness comes as a result of that outside world's deliberate actions; the handy scapegoat; the emphasis on ideological (in this case) purity; the conviction that any who don't conform to that standard of purity are inferior, but are not just to be ignored - rather destroyed; a tendency here in that outside world to feel a bit (or a lot) guilty about that same disparity and to attempt to assuage our own guilt by (another word that comes dangerously close to invoking Godwin) appeasement; an arms race; the actual - not virtual - stifling of dissent; a continual racheting-up of protest from marches to flag-burnings to kidnappings to - what? Kristallnacht? Or have we been there already?

If I were a relatively powerless fringe group who desperately wanted power, I could do worse than to look to that group for strategy and tactics. I could draw the simple lesson "Don't go mad" from the leader of that group and reasonably believe that I could sidestep their defeat. Most importantly, I could push my case as far as possible as quickly as possible, so that the sweet convention that that group May Not Be Named could effectively do my debate-stifling for me for a while - and when the West awakens, they may be surprised at how much I've accomplished during their nap.

I'm simultaneously gratified and saddened to learn that Mark Steyn agrees.

1It's possible to read Revelations in such a way that certains Signs and PortentsTM point to an imminent Armageddon. (In my own faith tradition, we tend to go by the "You know not the day nor the hour" verse instead.) One of these signs is the birth of a red heifer in Israel. There's at least one fundamentalist Christian group out there that's trying to take the timing into its own hands by undertaking a project to breed that red heifer predictably from parents who will then be transported to Israel. In my opinion, this project is misguided in so many ways I don't know where to start - but conceptualizing God as a kind of garbage-in-garbage-out Black Box will do as well as any other starting point. But please note that because (a) I'm not in or of the group, and (b) I first heard about them on the pretty much hostile-by-definition NPR some years ago, I may be wrong about both their motives and their methods.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

What we have here is a failure to communicate

Austin Bay is looking at captured al Qaeda documents; he's been doing so for, oh, a couple of weeks. I haven't posted on them so far because they frankly weren't very enlightening to me; they revealed a committed, ideology-based, well-organized, but misled cadre - nothing we didn't already know. The translated documents can be found here, on the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point website.

However, the post to which I linked in the first paragraph is interesting, because it points up two new, or newish, bits of information: first, that al Qaeda's private thoughts about Saudi Arabia are considerably different from its public pronouncements - more in a moment; and second, that al Qaeda considers (or did at the time this document was written, at any rate) the oil spot strategy, starting in Saudi Arabia, its best bet for global jihad. The second point is interesting mostly because of the irony: the oil spot strategy is what Krepinevich was talking about last year as our best chance of success (with a good bit of rueful head-shaking about how the Bush administration just didn't see it and was therefore failing miserably - a piece of typical realpolitik shortsightedness that failed to take into account that Iraq is the oil spot). So it's perhaps not surprising that al Qaeda, that bunch of ultra-realpolitniks in spite of their driving ideology, should adopt the same strategy.

More important is the disconnect between al Qaeda's public and private expressions about Saudi Arabia. From the synopsis of the al Qaeda document given by Austin Bay, at the same Austin Bay link as above:

The fight against the Americans (Jews and Crusaders) is characterized as a series of battles; the struggle with Saudi Arabia is a war. An oil spot strategy must be pursued against Saudi Arabia, with the goal of expanding the circle of jihad through successful operations that break down the fear barrier which keeps Mujahideen from fully engaging the Saudi state.

Note that this is a translation of al Qaeda's words, not Austin's. Contrast this statement with bin Laden's from 1996:

"The ordinary Saudi knows that his country is the largest oil producer in the world, yet at the same time he is suffering from taxes and bad services…Our country has become a colony of America…Saudis know their real enemy is America" (UPI Intelligence Watch, March 21, 2005).

...as it appeared here. Now, bin Laden, as a Saudi himself, obviously draws a distinction between his kind of Saudi and the House of Saud and its sympathizers - but examine this disparity in message through the prism of the recent attack on the Golden Mosque in Samarra: al Qaeda in Iraq is part of the so-called "insurgency." Their goal in Iraq, however, is larger than an actual insurgency's goals, which would be to bring about the end of an American presence and to take on political power in Iraq. These insurgency goals are indeed what the Ba'athist insurgents in Iraq want, for obvious reasons: they were in the catbird seat under Saddam and want that seat back. The way for this now significantly minor (rather a non-sequitur of phrasing, but the synapses aren't clicking all that efficiently this evening) minority to achieve those goals is to foment a civil war and to be the last ones standing. That's the only way they can reclaim power, now that the Shi'ite majority has discovered its power and the Kurds have been able to enjoy theirs.

So why was the Golden Mosque bombed? It doesn't advance the aims of al Qaeda, which (according to this source, center on driving Americans out of all Muslim lands, particularly Saudi Arabia, and displacing Western-style democracies throughout the Middle East (with destroying Israel and reestablishing the caliphate in there for good measure). The way to drive Americans out of Iraq, much less the Islamic world, is not to create a need for more and longer-lasting American military presence with two years to go in Bush's term; the way to bring down the fledgling Iraqi democracy, much less to quell democratic movements elsewhere in the Middle East, is not to give a government only just vigorously drying behind its ears a chance to appear statesmanlike and to exert control while still well supported by the United States (better in both cases to wait until more American troops had been withdrawn, and Americans were accustomed to an ongoing orderly disengagement). al-Zarqawi is on record as wanting to see a bloody war between Shi'ites and Sunnis, and indeed al Qaeda under his leadership claims responsibility for the Golden Mosque bombing. But was it strategically supported? Or was he acting outside his role as leader of al Qaeda in Iraq? Or, was he taking an opportunity to claim credit for a devastating attack carried out by Sunni, perhaps Ba'athist, insurgents? Is bin Laden even now slapping his forehead and saying, "Why again did I let that numbskull pledge fealty to me"?

Heck, I don't know. What strikes me, though, is that there's less consensus in al Qaeda than they need in order to accomplish their goals. In Iraq they've miscalculated again and again, galvanizing the population against them so that every month brings more informants and fewer safe havens. In Saudi Arabia, where Wahhabism is actually a main stream of Islam rather than a narrow tributary, will al Qaeda be similarly fragmented in its approach? The attempted-but-failed attack by al Qaeda on a Saudi oil facility last week suggests that it may be so: if al Qaeda were to succeed in toppling the House of Saud by destroying the Saudi economy, the job of rebuilding what they had destroyed without help from the West could (it seems to me would) be more than they could handle.

Not that I want to give advice to the enemy. But as even Juan Cole says, "By siding with the narrowest sliver of Sunni extremists, he [bin Laden] denied himself any real impact." I can't resist the urge at this moment to point out that making Howard Dean chairman of the DNC was a similarly head-scratching move - but as I've tried to point out repeatedly in the past few weeks, that's neither here nor there; the Democratic Party either will or won't carry on in its current often inexplicable vein and neither outcome threatens real national unity, nor is the divide between Left and Right in this country so great that it can't be bridged when necessary - whereas bin Laden and the rest of al Qaeda are in a struggle for their own lives and, if they can survive, for any slightest whiff of political power. You'd think they would decide on a message that would further their struggle, rather than one that only chips away at (if not outright decimates) any coalition-building they've managed so far.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Compare and contrast

I think I'm like a fine wine.

(Thom, I swiped the picture from your site because I don't have a scanner for my own yearbook. Do you want a link back?)

"Think of how we feel..."

I've been looking all over for a transcript of a little "think-piece" by NPR's Daniel Schorr that my husband heard yesterday. (A brave man, he - my husband, not Schorr - also listens to Air America at times.) Apparently, it went something like this (please note that there isn't a real quote in this whole post; I'm setting apart the paraphrase so it's clear that it isn't me, that's all):

Some people have been saying that the news media have acted like spoiled children over Cheney's hunting accident and the delay in notifying them. Think of how we feel: most Vice Presidents throughout our history have clamored for press coverage and complained when they didn't receive enough. After all, most have been poised to run for President as a successor to the incumbent. Dick Cheney is a notable exception, Not only is he completely uninterested in running for President, but he's also the most powerful and the most secretive Vice President ever. I guarantee that there isn't a Vice Presidential desk at any major news outlet, five years into this administration, because as [someone or other] quipped, "That desk would be like the Maytag repairman!"

"Stop the tape!" as my sole source of hard news, Rush Limbaugh, says (heavy-handed irony alert). Apparently, according to Schorr, the response of the intrepid members of the Fourth Estate to a secretive and powerful (and distrusted - by them at any rate - and not well-liked) high elected official is to shrug and wander off, dejected, rather than to follow him around, keep on calling his staffers, and basically be journalists rather than stenographers.

The upshot of the piece, and again I apologize for not having an actual transcript and going from my husband's notoriously imperfect memory, appears to be that we should understand and feel sorry for the White House press corps, because they abdicated what they so often claim as their right on behalf of the American people but I think would be more accurately termed their job to dig out true stories and report them. Let me repeat: faced with an unusually powerful and secretive vice president - recall that Teddy Roosevelt was originally stuck in the Veep seat by his own party to sideline him, since the position was considered about as powerful as that of a queen who's already produced the heir and the spare - the press corps packed up their Vice Presidential desks and resigned themselves to Four More Years! of doing little besides attending the Monday morning press briefings and the occasional cocktail party.

Oh, I understand, all right. Nice work if you can get it.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Born (or happy) in the USA

Try this on for size:

Why is this newspaper published in the language of a tiny island on the other side of the earth? Why does Australia have an English Queen, English common law, English institutions? Because England was the first nation to conquer infant mortality.

By 1820 medical progress had so transformed British life that half the population was under the age of 15. Britain had the manpower to take, hold, settle and administer huge chunks of real estate around the planet. Had, say, China or Russia been first to overcome childhood mortality, the modern world would be very different.

What country today has half of its population under the age of 15? Italy has 14 per cent, the UK 18 per cent, Australia 20 per cent - and Saudi Arabia has 39 per cent, Pakistan 40 per cent and Yemen 47 per cent. Little Yemen, like little Britain 200 years ago, will send its surplus youth around the world - one way or another.

Put that in your pipe and smoke it. Mark Steyn, Columnist to the WorldTM, is writing for an Australian audience, but let's consider the American numbers:

According to the Census Bureau, there were 60,253,375 kids under 15 in the United States in 2000, with a total population of 281,421,906. That's just under 21.5%. Better... but still too low.

This organization, ironically an arm of the Sierra Club with a "vision for environmentalism [that][...] includes educating women worldwide to achieve lower birth rates, lowering consumption levels in industrialized and developing nations, and protecting national parks and the world's remaining wild spaces from exploitation and development [as well as][...] support[ing] the fight to unseat President George Bush from office along with all other politicians hostile to preserving the environment[,]" cites this information:

[In 2000,] the average number of children born to women over a lifetime is at 2.03 - slightly below replacement level.

There's the datum - 2.1 is replacement level, FYI. It took me four or five "click-throughs" to determine that the above was being presented as a (relatively - apparently the number represents an uptick from prior years, which is negative in their paradigm) positive datum. Finally, I found, on another page of their site:

[The Sierra Club's policy of an "integrated and international approach to the global need for slowing population growth"] implicitly assumes that if global population can be stabilized, the influx of people into the U.S. will decline and U.S. population can be stabilized. Unfortunately, this grossly oversimplifies complex social and demographic forces.

Today's current world population harbors millions - if not billions - of people who are eager to enter the U.S. This degree of immigration would devastate our remaining open spaces and ecosystems and place an unacceptable burden on our infrastructure.
Thus, while we support the Sierra Club's current global policies designed to stabilize world population, we urge the Sierra Club to return to the roots of the environmental movement that encompass U.S. population - to preserve and protect our own environment for the benefit of future generations.
Unfortunately, the Sierra Club has abandoned its previous position for sustainable levels of immigration in favor of a less politically controversial policy that still threatens the environment. Therefore, SUSPS calls for the Sierra Club to readopt its policy in favor of sustainable levels of immigration. SUSPS does not call for an end to immigration to the U.S. That would deny Americans the benefit of many talented immigrants who wish to contribute to our society. Instead, SUSPS calls for a return to sustainable levels of immigration.

The underlying and unspoken principle is that if everywhere on Earth becomes as sought-after a place to live as the United States, we won't have to worry about so many people coming here - and the point is well taken - but note the methodology: the SUSPS wants to level the playing field by emphasizing "open space and ecosystems" over human opportunity, as if it's our national park system that causes immigrants to flood our borders. It's a NIMBY argument that, if implemented, would only accomplish "keeping a brutha down" by not allowing entry to people who want to come here to try for their version of the vaunted American Dream, not creating an open-space utopia in which all humanity can frolic together in low-density harmony. Side note: all right, who are the racists? "Many talented immigrants" indeed. I encourage readers to visit the source document; I've selectively quoted here, and some of what I left out is even more inflammatory than what I've included.

Let's return to Mark Steyn for a moment. His piece in The Australian, cited above, is a salute to Danna Vale, a backbencher in the Australian Parliament who asked whether abortion is in Australia's interests when the demographics are what they are, or, "Can a society become more Muslim in its demographic character without also becoming more Muslim in its political and civil character?" (The quote is Mark Steyn's; I don't know to what extent he was paraphrasing Ms. Vale.)

I would posit that the goal, for us in the United States, is to ensure not so much "every child a wanted child" (which seems to me to be at least as much of a problem of parents as of their apparently unwanted children) but "every American an American who is happy to be here." I, unlike SUSPS, am not advocating a return to prior, "sustainable" levels of immigration. I do want immigration to take place in orderly and legal fashion, but as the descendant of fairly recent immigrants myself and as the mother of children half of whose ancestry consists of very early European immigrants to this land, I'm all for immigration. And I have no argument with immigration of Muslims, either, or Buddhists or Hindus or animists or any other -ist you'd care to name, except those -ists who are not happy to be here and want either to eliminate "here" altogether or so change the character of "here" that I can no longer be happy to be here.

Tortured construction... but what it comes down to is this: the Bush Doctrine is the SUSPS Doctrine turned on its head: both acknowledge that the United States is THE Premier Destination for many in the Third World. (The Bush Doctrine also acknowledges that some people respond to the disparity not by wanting to come here but by wanting to punish us for living at the tail of the curve, or by claiming that what we are and what we represent are anathema rather than the most tolerant, stable, prosperous culture the world has ever spawned.) But SUSPS wants to shut the doors now that "we" are all inside, while Bush wants to make "outside" more like "inside," so that people can choose from a less skewed set of options (or, alternatively, be considerably less envious of "inside" and dissatisfied with "outside").

I don't have a good wrap-up and I have to get my daughter to a playdate; blogging is heck, some days.

Update: I just read another Steyn piece here. As Inigo says, "Let me explain. No - it's too complicated. Let me sum up:"

Mark Steyn has been nattering on about demographics for a good few years now - he says since 9/11 caused him to take sudden note of a demographic group that hadn't seemed especially noteworthy before. It was not, he said, the people flying the planes who disturbed him; it was the people dancing in the streets afterward. He started digging into the numbers for the West versus the Muslim world and concluded, as he puts it, that:

"The West," as a concept, is dead, and the West, as a matter of demographic fact, is dying.

That's a mighty short quote to set apart that way, but it's a mighty important one. In this OpinionJournal piece, Steyn is wordier than I've ever seen him, making and remaking the point that Europe-as-we-know-it is on the brink of death - he says, "Europe by the end of this century will be a continent after the neutron bomb: The grand buildings will still be standing, but the people who built them will be gone."

Is this tragedy, or just life? Well. If the people poised to take over those grand buildings were like-minded to the Europeans they'll replace, it'd just be life, and Europe would live on as the great dream it's been since the Enlightenment. But what Steyn sees in the near future is A Handmaid's Tale wrought by Muslim, not Christian, hands. He notes:

We fret about McDonald's and Disney, but the big globalization success story is the way the Saudis have taken what was 80 years ago a severe but obscure and unimportant strain of Islam practiced by Bedouins of no fixed abode and successfully exported it to the heart of Copenhagen, Rotterdam, Manchester, Buffalo . . .
Can a society become increasingly Islamic in its demographic character without becoming increasingly Islamic in its political character?

This ought to be the left's issue. I'm a conservative--I'm not entirely on board with the Islamist program when it comes to beheading sodomites and so on, but I agree Britney Spears dresses like a slut: I'm with Mullah Omar on that one. Why then, if your big thing is feminism or abortion or gay marriage, are you so certain that the cult of tolerance will prevail once the biggest demographic in your society is cheerfully intolerant? Who, after all, are going to be the first victims of the West's collapsed birthrates? Even if one were to take the optimistic view that Europe will be able to resist the creeping imposition of Sharia currently engulfing Nigeria, it remains the case that the Muslim world is not notable for setting much store by "a woman's right to choose," in any sense.

What we are, what we stand for, is important. For the moment I'm going to put aside cultural relativism utterly and say, it's better than Wahhabism, Islamism, Islamic fundamentalism, or pick your term - the form of Islam that strives for cultural purity and rejects Western liberalism - in its classical sense - as decadent and even more basically wrong, and that embraces jihad as its means to these ends. We ought to - we must - demand that our liberal values prevail, as long as we consider them valuable. We ought to - we must - resist this post-modern urge to be the ones who set our own Alexandrian library alight in the name of multiculturalism: if bringers of a new Dark Age want to break through our ranks, let them try, but while we can defend what we are, let us do so.

I've quoted extensively, I know, and I've carried on at great lengths even for me, but I've also found my summing-up:

One-way assimilation or death.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Sixteen candles

Today marks the sixteenth anniversary of my first date with my husband. He made me spaghetti. Out of a package, it's true, but it was good, it was surprising, it was served on actual china in a dining room free of his four roommates, and it was prescient. For sixteen years, he's been good, surprising, considerate, and mindful of my sensibilities. He's given me - no lie - the best years of his life so far, three terrific kids, a huge amount of patience, and the honor of his trust. I've tried to give him the same - not as successfully, I'm sure, since I'm patience-challenged, but the intent has always been there.

Husband, it's been a good sixteen years. I hope you're up for another round.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Why can't we be friends?

It's about the Danish cartoons again.

Based on the comments I received for this post, I'm going to have to assume that among the handful of readers I enjoy there's a sadly high proportion who may not know what's going on in the world. No offense intended to those who do; please, keep up the good work. The great advantage we have over our philosophical parents and grandparents is that we can inform ourselves so much more completely than they could. But for those who aren't "up" on the story, here we go:

The original cartoons were published in September 2005 in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten. You can see them here - and I'm linking to Michelle Malkin's site both because she, unlike the New York Times and unfortunately so many others, had the cojones to show the images, and because I know she's a tremendously polarizing figure, as they say. In other words, for fun.

The paper invited Danish caricaturists to draw Mohammed to make the point that non-Muslim Danes felt "chilled" by the disproportionate and often violent responses of European Muslims to perceived cultural or religious slights. There is a proscription against portrayals of Mohammed in some Muslims traditions (but not all - see for instance Omar's comments here on IraqTheModel); this proscription was the pretext for - eventual - widespread demonstrations, riots, arson, and deaths. However, it's come out that the means of distribution of these cartoon images wasn't what we might expect - a genuine grass-roots Internet-fueled viral-meme campaign wherein Danish Muslims told their coreligionists elsewhere, and they told two friends, and so on, and so on... (If you're too young to remember the reference, it's a shampoo commercial.) Instead, sometime in December 2005 or so, a group of Danish imams created a pressbook including these cartoons and others, including three particularly egregious images of diverse origins (one of them was a bad photocopy of a French contestant in a pig-squealing contest, who, in a burst of high spirits, donned a pig nose - this image was passed off as an insulting caricature of Mohammed). The imams toured the Middle East with this dossier, but (in spite of the cartoons' appearance in an Egyptian newspaper as early as October 2005, which appearance resulted in verbal denouncements but no violence) failed to stir up a lot of publicity until January 2006...

...when, suddenly, they were the spark to the tinder and the fundamentalist fraction of the Muslim world took to the streets. Most American newspapers and as far as I know all British newspapers to date have refused to publish the images; the BBC showed them briefly; some European newspapers I wouldn't have expected to show spines have shown spines and republished. The competing values to be balanced at those journalistic organs that have not republished the images are, as Andrew Sullivan says not "risible"; they're justifiably concerned about their staffs' safety. But the mass walkout of the editorial staff of the New York Press when the paper's owner refused to allow the republishing of the cartoons is a sign that not all journalists - indeed, I hope not even most journalists - would find that their own safety overbalances the scales against informing their reading or viewing public about this issue.

And at last we've reached the point where my title comes in: if there's one issue on which the American Right and the American Left ought to be united, it's press freedom. We do share this value. We also share the frustration of not always having it work in our favor - which we all recognize is par for the course when freedom of expression is at issue. We rail against some instances of free expression, we sometimes demonstrate to protest them, we write angry letters, make placards, march, lobby, and get all ticked off - but can we not agree that that fraction of the Muslim world that flew right the heck off the handle here was wrong to do so, by the standards of modern civilization?

Because if we can't find common ground here, perhaps there's no common ground anywhere for us. I fully support the right of Muslims who feel so inclined to demonstrate peacefully, to record their disgust and send it to the editor, to march for more "sensitivity" on the parts of newspaper editors. But. But. My support stops when the match is lit. We must not allow freedom of speech and the press to be chilled by the threat of violence.

In the United States, where by and large violence does not accompany angry protests against disrespect of one religion or another, it is possible, appropriate, and often wise for the media to be "sensitive" to their viewers; take for instance the Will & Grace episode that was slated to appear on Good Friday this spring, in which Britney Spears was to play a Christian TV chef making "cruci-fixin's," for some reason. (Pause: whew. That was a stretch.) The episode, I understand, has been pulled because it's singularly insensitive to Christians on the most solemn day of the Christian calendar. It would have been perfectly legal to air the episode - but I'm guessing the show's sponsors decided they didn't want to lose quite that much business. However, the self-censorship, if you will (and no doubt some will), of that episode can be assumed to spring from a different motive from the self-imposed media blackout on the Danish cartoons, where it's occurred, because fundamentalist (and other) Christians who would doubtless be offended by Will & Grace's tasteless joke at their expense were not about to saw any heads off over it, and everyone on both sides of the table knows it; we have no such assurance concerning the Islamist/Wahhabist/fundamentalist Muslim groups fomenting violent riots. To be silent on the issue of the cartoons is tacitly to admit that free speech is a value for us only so long as our own ox isn't gored. Or our own editor isn't kidnapped. It's not a decision to make lightly - but it is a decision to make, not to softsoap and avoid and couch in terms of "nuance."

So, I salute you people of the Left who are not sitting squarely on "sensitivity" but rather standing up for this proud, secular, foundational principle that we share - freedom of the press, without which there is no America. I hope that you realize, believe, and perhaps even are willing to acknowledge right out in public that we do indeed share it.

Ball's in your court.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Sheesh, Ann

OK, I admit it: I often find Ann Coulter funny. But not today:

With Ann Coulter you should only expect a bad stand-up comedian with a conservative schtick. That's what CPAC attendees got today. My expectations were low, yet she proceded [sic] to go below them. She referred to Muslims as "ragheads."

Sigh. Thanks, Ann. Any other thoughts? Keep them to yourself, will you? Stop doing us "favors." And as is so often the case, thanks, Instapundit, for the point to the site.

Update: Of all the things I've written about since starting this blog, I never dreamed for a minute that I'd get my longest comment thread out of an eye roll at Ann Coulter.

So. Addressing some of you in the comments, beginning with my buddies and high school classmates from long ago, the Kirby brothers: Thom, I've got to get over to your blog to indulge in some cussing! And Gary, yes, I know some might read this post as ammunition; I chose to write it anyway. You're correct, I think, that the Left won't self-police and won't acknowledge self-policing efforts on the Right, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't do what we know is right. In my ever-so-humble opinion, of course.

On to the rest of yez. I am indeed a fiscal conservative and I'm not at all pleased with Federal spending at the moment. However, I don't make the mistake of attributing the "Clinton surplus" to Clinton when he was the beneficiary of the so-called "peace dividend" (which, recall, led to comments like Rumsfeld's infamous but absolutely true "You have to go to war with the army you have," along with outrage from the Left that we ought to have delayed going to war while we built up our military, while our enemies would presumably have been leaning on their guns and trimming their nails, maybe having a smoke) and the dot.com bubble. And I likewise find it utterly clear that in order to have a Federal budget, you have to have a Federal government, which implies a nation, so national defense takes precedence over a balanced budget for me. A more descriptive and accurate statement about my fiscal policy, such as it is, is that I favor fewer and smaller government programs but recognize the fact of certain "natural monopolies," such as an army, without which a nation cannot function well, or at all.

I was and am a classical liberal: a devotee of and believer in the individual, his rights, his responsibilities. The term "liberal" has been long hijacked by some on the Left who act and talk as if they believe it means "dedicated to the premise that 'social' justice, as opposed to justice, ought to be the preeminent goal of society." I favor tolerance (but not preference nor a "right" not to be offended); equality of opportunity (but not efforts to create an impossible level playing field); equality under the law; freedom of speech, of the press, of religion, of assembly; I believe in freedom from unreasonable search and seizure - but also that the word "unreasonable" means something different from "any"; I believe in the right to keep and bear arms and in the responsibility of those who choose to do so to train and protect themselves and those in their household to avoid tragic accidents (and I point out that a pool is much more dangerous, statistically, than a gun); I believe that the Constitution is a "living" document in the sense that its words and ideas should and do continue to direct and inspire Americans, and speak hope and defiance to oppressed people around the world, but not that it's a "living" document in the sense that contextual reinterpretation ought to trump original intent. And finally (for purposes of this discussion), I'm absolutely thrilled that I didn't have to fight my way across the world, learn English laboriously as an adult, and undertake to become a citizen by dint of effort and commitment in order to enjoy the rights, liberties, opportunities, and responsibilities that devolve on American citizens generally. In short, I believe that being born American is the single luckiest thing ever to happen to Americans (beyond being born in the first place).

Does that clear anything up? I'm not a Democrat and have never been a Democrat (all right, I admit I was campaign manager for the "Democratic" candidate in my high school's mock election in 1984 - thanks a lot, Kirbys, for showing up and making me refer to those bygone days so much here) - but there are a whole lot of Democrats out there who, by their words and behavior, can't honestly be called "liberal" in this sense. "You keep saying tha' word; I do no' think it means what you think it means." Ditto "progressive," but I have no particular affinity for the term (I'm not convinced that progress for progress's sake is necessarily good), so I won't muddy the waters by amending my description of myself to include it.

When do I find Ann Coulter funny? When she says something like this:

The Democratic Party has decided to express indignation at the idea that an American citizen who happens to be a member of al Qaeda is not allowed to have a private conversation with Osama bin Laden. If they run on that in 2008, it could be the first time in history a Republican president takes even the District of Columbia.

or this:

Andrew Jackson, the father of the Democratic Party, may have had some unpalatable goals, but at least they were big ideas. Wipe out the Indians, kill off the national bank and institute a spoils system. Love him or hate him, he never said, "I'll be announcing my platform sometime early next year." The Whigs were formed in opposition to everything Jackson stood for.

The Republican Party emerged from the Whigs when the Whigs waffled on slavery. (They were "pro-choice" on slavery.) The Republican Party was founded expressly as the anti-slavery party, which to a great extent remains their position today.

Having won that one, today's Republican Party stands for life, limited government and national defense. And today's Democratic Party stands for ... the right of women to have unprotected sex with men they don't especially like. We're the Blacks-Aren't-Property/Don't-Kill-Babies party. They're the Hook-Up party.

I do not find her funny when she refers to Muslims as "ragheads." At moments like those, I find it appalling and inexplicable that she could say such a thing while apparently sharing a number of other principles and beliefs with me, which is pretty much the point of this post. Lindata, by "eliminationist" language do you mean "racist" or something similar? Coulter certainly uses insulting language about liberals frequently, but not generally in this vein; otherwise I wouldn't read her at all. Insult comics have a long and - well, not glorious, but at least storied tradition; racist comics went out with the Polish joke. Ann Coulter again crossed a line that she's crossed on a few occasions in the past (I hated her comments culminating in "now more than ever" about converting all Muslims to Christianity, for instance, while, as a Christian myself, acknowledging that Christianity appears to me to have a much better claim to the term "religion of peace" than Islam, based on both the teachings and the recent behavior of adherents of each), but as an entertainer, not as a spokesman for me.

So. Thanks for the spurious congratulations on "discovering" my "limits." Let me offer my congratulations on your exposure, willy-nilly, to the fact that the Right, while no more monolithic than the Left, is perhaps something different from what you thought it was.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Moderates speak

A group of moderate Muslims has started a website: We Are Sorry. Unfortunately they don't identify themselves, but what they do say is that not only the violence of the radicals (which has included several embassy-burnings and at least one kidnapping) but also the across-the-board boycott of all Danish products was inappropriate in response to the depictions of Mohammed last September. As it happens, I of course agree about the violence, but if the world's Muslims decide not to buy Danish for any reason or none, that's their own business.

Let me say that the reaction from some in the blogosphere, to initiate a "contest" to produce the most offensive image of Mohammed, is also inappropriate, but as a matter of free speech, permissible - if just barely, since it skates mighty close to the edge of incitement.

It remains to be seen whether the attempts of either side to elicit a hotter, larger, and more immediate conflict than we're already experiencing will succeed. I'm enough of a peacenik to hope that the conflict can be contained and limited, but not enough of one to believe that it can be solved by all parties' "just sitting down [why is sitting down always a part of these formulations?] and talking"; it's a part of Islam we're at war against, the faction that rejects the "internal struggle" interpretation of jihad in favor or the "infidels must convert or die" version, and the rest of Islam is going to have to choose a side eventually. The question is, will they choose on principle, or wait until the outcome is clear? If they choose now to side with the modern world, or if they wait until we win, the result is the same though our level of trust would be significantly lessened in the former case. If they choose now to side with the radical element, I believe we'll still win, but at greater cost to both sides as we're forced to recall and replay our own bloody history from times when our existence was similarly under assault.

This is a crummy post. I'm far more involved in reading about what's happening than in opining on it at present, but lest this page grow cold and dark, I'll keep trying to put something up regularly.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

And back to business

I have next to nothing to say about the State of the Union Address that hasn't been said in timelier and more complete fashion, more assiduously, and more hilariously (but you might have to backtrack a bit to the Protein Wisdom Conceptual Series to get some of it) by others. (OK, OK, I have to give you a little of Jeff's: "Alito, wearing robe, enters the hall. Instinctively, Amanda Marcotte clenches her vaginal muscles to protect her uterus.") I shared in the disbelief when the Democrat side of the hall rose to congratulate themselves on not only blocking Bush's effort to reform Social Security but not coming up with any alternatives for it, as well as when they stayed resolutely seated at various moments when Bush posited an America on the side of freedom, democracy, and self-determination. Mmm-hmmm.

Some other notes:

  • Buy Danish! In case you've missed the story, protests have been occurring at various places in the Middle East and elsewhere because a Danish newspaper printed twelve caricatures of Mohammed, who is traditionally not pictured (though the tradition is not always observed - thanks to Michelle Malkin, who also reproduces the cartoons, for the link to the Mohammed Image Archive). Europe appears to be taking an unprecedented-in-recent-times stand with the Danes, so bravo to them. Me, I'm going to buy some Havarti today. Maybe some ham. And I hope I still have the email address of my Danish friend from college, so I can ask her how to make - ahem, phonetic-ish spelling to follow - röt gröt mit flutheh, a red-berry pudding with cream that she served at her wedding dinner. Oooh, oooh, I know: I'll do Smørgåsbord for our Super Bowl party!
  • Read this for an eyewitness account of the situation on the ground in Iraq and with our troops. Note particularly:
    Our occupation of the Philippines after the Spanish-American War is a closer example of what we face in Iraq; we fought an extensive insurgency there for years, then remained in the country for nearly a century, with very positive eventual results.

    [...]in the latest scientific poll of the Iraqi public, released December 12 by Oxford Research International[:] Asked how things are going for them personally, 71 percent of Iraqis now say life is “good,” compared to 29 percent who say “bad.” A majority insist that despite the war, life is already better for them than it was under Saddam Hussein. By 5:1 they expect their lives will be even better one year from now. Seven out of ten Iraqis think their country as a whole will be a better place in one year.

  • This lengthy piece (thanks to the inimitable Instapundit for the link) discusses reconstruction efforts in Iraq. The part Glenn Reynolds highlights is the discussion of electrical supply: under Saddam Hussein, rolling blackouts in the north (Kurdish area) and south (Shi'ite area) were routine, in order to keep Baghdad powered 24/7. Now, rolling blackouts still occur, and little or none of the country has adequate electricity, but the total amount of power generated and supplied exceeds the total under Saddam - it's just more equitably distributed.
  • As if it needs to be said, Cindy Sheehan has demonstrated again that she's moved from grieving mother to shameless grandstander. I'm sorry for her loss; I can't imagine the pain of losing a son (quick sign of the cross and knock on wood, covering all bases). But, just as it was inappropriate for Dave Delp to wear a rude anti-Clinton t-shirt to the Senate gallery during Clinton's impeachment hearings, and just as Rep. Young's wife acted inappropriately by wearing a "Support the Troops!" t-shirt (she was also escorted out), while Cindy Sheehan has the same freedom of speech as any American, she has no intrinsic right to a national audience, particularly when the forum is held for another (and Constitutionally-required) purpose. Apparently the Capitol police have apologized for their actions in removing both women; they were following what amounts to an etiquette rule of very long standing at the Capitol, but they've now knuckled under to "free speech" advocates who apparently have no sense of decorum. [Query to self: if Sheehan or Young had worn a tasteful suit with the same message embroidered on the jacket, would that have been acceptable? Hmm... nope, not as far as I can see. The rule both women broke is reasonable, and equitably applied, it seems. Why the backpedaling?]

I'd say that's enough to go on with.

Important omission to be corrected: Please note that I do not advocate dissing any religion's peaceful tenets! There's no virtue in mocking Islam or Muslims, any more than there is in mocking Judaism or Christianity or their adherents. But these drawings were typical editorial cartoons, far less disrespectful of Islam and Muslims than pretty much any European picturing of Israeli Jews and their allies (that'd be us, folks). Where they blended the image of Mohammed with the actions of fundamentalist Muslims (or Islamists, as I'm following the lead of many in calling them), the blending was factually accurate. My objection to the reaction of Islamists is that they appear to believe that we "infidels" are as bound by Islam as they are themselves, and they're willing to back up their belief with blood.

Unfortunately for them, if the sacrilege of picturing Mohammed is a life-and-death value for them, a free press has long been rather a life-and-death value for us. We now have the clash of civilizations out in the open: first, Palestinians overwhelmingly elect Hamas to lead their would-be nation, and then Islamists burn Danish flags and threaten Danish lives over some line drawings. It's been quite a week, hasn't it?

I'm whistling in the dark; this is terribly serious.