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Monday, July 31, 2006
A Cirque Du Soleil Of Paranoid Wingnuttery
The wingers have been twisting and turning to find a way to absolve Israel for the aeriel strike that killed 50 civilians in Qana over the weekend.

They started out by saying that the civilians should have known better than to have been sheltering in that building. Then they said that maybe the blast was caused by Hezbollah ordnance hidden in the building's upper floors.

Now they've abandoned those lines of attack and have cooked up one humdinger of a conspiracy theory: are you ready?

Hezbollah, we're told, faked the whole thing.

Confederate Yankee (via The Corner) provides evidence, of course. The kooks always have evidence. It's right up there with the evidence of the faked Moon landings, the faked airplane that "supposedly" crashed into the Pentagon, and that whole faked "Holocaust" thing.

The Death Throes Of The Birth Pangs Of The New Middle East
If you thought that three years of blood and chaos in the Middle East has forced the Bush administration out of its neocon dreamland and back into the reality-based community, think again.

The President and his foreign-policy team apparently still believe their own press releases. They genuinely see the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict in southern Lebanon not as a crisis, but as an opportunity:

The president hopes the crisis will ultimately help him rally world leaders against Iran's nuclear program. Even as the U.N. Security Council today considers a peacekeeping force for Lebanon, it may vote on a U.S.-backed resolution to threaten sanctions if Iran does not suspend uranium enrichment in August.

"There's no question that this is going to stiffen up in the long run the resolve of the Europeans in dealing with Iran," said Henri J. Barkey, a former State Department official who teaches at Lehigh University. "Even if they don't like what Israel is doing," he said, they will recognize that Iran "is a menace."

This might be charitably described as "wishful thinking"; or more accurately described as "delusional".

Israel's response to the Hezbollah attack has proven to be disastrous. It has not achieved its short-term objective -- crippling the offensive capacity of Hezbollah -- and therefore all the long-term objectives that were to flow from that cannot be achieved. Furthermore, Israel, which had every right to respond militarily to an attack on its own soil and against its own citizens, looks once again like the bad guy because of its insistence on going after every Middle East mosquito with a shotgun. When Israel is accused of targeting civilians, it responds that, well, Hezbollah targets civilians, so why don't you go criticize them?

The difference is that Israel also bills itself as a bulwark of civilization against the barbarian hordes. That's where taking on the tactics of barbarians erodes your moral authority.

Israel and the United States believed that a campaign of punishing airstrikes in southern Lebanon would drive Lebanese public opinion against Hezbollah. The opposite has happened. We might be creating what Secretary Rice calls a "new Middle East" from this crisis, but I suspect it's not one we're going to like.

Thursday, July 27, 2006
I Will Now Make Ramesh Ponnuru Weep Like A Little Girl
Admittedly, making Ramesh Ponnuru weep like a little girl isn't that hard. Anyone can do it. Andrew Sullivan does it all the time. Just put up post not lauding the guy as a genius, and he bursts into tears.

But you better watch out, because in Ramesh-World, there are consequences. Make the little fella cry, and the gloves come off. Recently, Ramesh was bloviating away in a panel discussion about the current state of conservativism, in his squeaky, Michael Jackson-esque voice, and he stated -- oh so forthrightly, with oh so much conviction! -- that Andrew Sullivan couldn't possibly be a conservative. Why not? Well, Sullivan is against torture, isn't he? He wants equal rights for homosexuals, doesn't he? Come on! Ramesh didn't see that as conservative, and he stated -- quite confidently -- that no serious conservative he knows would count Sullivan as one of them!

Well! Take THAT, Sullivan! When Ramesh Ponnuru excommunicates you, baby, kiss yer right-wing ass goodbye.

Truth is, Ramesh has become obsessed not only with Sullivan's opinion of him, but the blogosphere's opinion as well. Today he posted a deeply weird lament that Technorati wasn't showing the blogosphere to be aflame with controversy over his latest snoozer on the Hamden decision

I checked a few times yesterday to see if anyone had written a substantive response to my article on Hamdan. Technorati didn't show me any. Someone emailed me just now to let me know that Emily Bazelon posted a response to me yesterday. I'll work on a rejoinder this afternoon, and post it either then or tomorrow morning (depending mostly on Kathryn's preferences). In the meantime, I am so disappointed in technorati.

Maybe he forgot to file his Technorati Profile?

Aw, don't worry so much, Ramesh. Anyway, who's to judge what a "substantive response" is?

Oh, that's right -- you are.

Stop Him Before He Goes "Yeeeeargh!" Again
The question of whether DNC Chairman Howard Dean is insane has just been answered.

Yesterday Howard visited Florida, where the Senate campaign of emotionally unstable Bush shill Katherine Harris has suffered one mammoth implosion after another.

Harris seemed to be doing a very good job derailing her own campaign, but Howard decided he would get in there and mix it up:

DNC chairman Howard Dean gave a fiery speech in Florida yesterday, with at least one zinger aimed at Rep. Katherine Harris that's sure to rile up her weary supporters in the GOP base. "This is not Russia and she is not Stalin," Dean told a crowd of Democratic supporters Wednesday, comparing "Pink Sugar" herself to the infamous autocratic Soviet leader who was responsible for the deaths of millions.

That line gave the Harris campaign what's sure to have been a refreshing change of pace -- a chance to comment on how crazy someone else is.

Dean's enthusiasm has never been in doubt, but his sanity has been in question for some time. This is not the best year for the Democratic party to discover that it's chosen as its leader a gibbering lunatic, but that seems to be the case.


Wednesday, July 26, 2006
The Sun Must Be Destroyed
I have never trusted the Sun.

I don't tend to trust early risers, and the Sun is the worst offender. Look at it, so bright and happy, acting like it belongs there up in the sky, just passing through, presiding over picnic lunches and softball games. Always fitting in, always ingratiating itself to us. "Hi, I'm the Sun. Oh, nice day, isn't it? Not a cloud in the sky." Like that wasn't planned.

It's good at that sort of thing, isn't it?

And now this: the World Health Organization has exposed the Sun as a serial killer. 60,000 people a year are cruelly murdered by this glowing yellow menace.

Thank God we discovered the truth in time.

I suppose there are a few namby-pamby do-gooders out there who will want to arrest the Sun and put it on trial.

Well, believe me, it'll do no good: the Sun has been around for a while and knows how to game the system. Jury selection alone will take thousands of years. And we'd probably have to move the trial to another solar system because of pre-trial publicity.

And all the while, the Sun will be just sitting there, snickering at us.

No. We must take matters into our own hands. We've gotta take the Sun out. I figure the best time will be at night, when the Sun is sleeping. We'll gather at my house.

Tonight. Around midnight.

Pass the word.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006
PBS, You Done Melanie Wrong, Part 2
Just an update on my previous post about Melanie Martinez, the suddenly unemployed host of PBS Kids Sprout's "Good Night Show": the story has now been picked up on CNN, although it describes the parody PSAs as having been done "before she landed the children's show job".

The story didn't mention it was seven years before.

Nevertheless, it's good to see the story is getting some traction. Bring Back Mel has linked to a very smart Howard Gensler piece lambasting PBS for its inexplicable decision. And we've learned, the bizarre press release was penned by none other than Sandy Wax, the President of Sprout. Let Sandy know how you feel by writing to info@sproutletsgrow.com. I'd recommend against contacting the PBS ombudsman; this isn't an issue about PBS journalism standards. You're better off contacting your local PBS station, which you can find here.

Sunday, July 23, 2006
Can We Finally Have World War III Now?
World War III is the war that just won't arrive. All my life we've been hearing about it. It dangles out there just beyond our reach. World War III was supposed to be a real humdinger, with A-bombs and mysterious superweapons that would crack whole continents apart. Alas, that romantic vision was denied us. Instead, all we got was a crummy Cold War. Forty years of military foreplay, and no wargasm.

This week, with the Israel - Hezbollah - Probably Lebanon - Maybe Syria and / or Iran war boiling over in the Middle East, some people have been arguing that, yep, this is it, it's WWIII!

Not so fast, says The Desert Rat:

The Desert Rat was around for WW II an can tell folks how to know a world war if one shows up. To start off with if ya kin git all the gas you want down at the fillin station, no matter what it costs ya, you're not in a world war.

In WW II folks on the home front did without an was proud to do it. Gas was rationed and ya had to have coupons to buy any. Tires for yer car was rationed too and the speed limit was set down to 35 miles an hour. If ya see cars racin along at 80 miles an hour, it aint a world war.

Lots a things was rationed, the shoes on yer feet and the food for yer belly. Ya couldn't buy a new car or a fridge cause they switched over to makin jeeps, tanks, planes an guns. So if ya see that happenin and everybody 18 to 45 bein called up to the army, you probly got a world war on yer hands.

Don't know if refrigerator availability is a good yardstick for worldwar-dom, but if I see Jonah Goldberg drafted into military service, then Desert Rat's probably right. It'd be a world war then, no question.

Saturday, July 22, 2006
PBS, You Done Melanie Wrong
There's been quite a buzz lately about the CIA employee who got fired for blogging about the war in Iraq. An outrage, say some. A travesty, say others. A blow to freedom of speech, some opine.

Nuts, I say. I know of a threat to free speech that's worth two of that. And unless you have a two-year-old, you will probably never hear about it.

I'm talking about the bizarre firing of Melanie Martinez, the cheerful and preternaturally perky host of PBS Sprout's Good Night Show.

For the last year, Melanie has been my daughter's evening companion. In our house there is a routine and it must be slavishly followed each night (just for clarification, the routine is insisted upon not by me, but my daughter): put on pajamas; brush teeth; watch The Good Night Show; read two stories; sing "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star"; tuck her in with the striped snuggle blanket, the blue knit blanket and the quilt, in that order, regardless of the temperature.

What do you know, Melanie became part of my evening routine as well.

Melanie is not perfect. She is only a passable singer. Her sense of fashion is questionable. She absolutely cannot dance. She shows innocent children how to produce some truly hideous crafts (the spider snacks still give me nightmares).

But she grew on me. And, I suspect, a lot of other parents as well.

The other night, Melanie disappeared. Her segments -- normally sandwiched between episodes of Thomas the Tank Engine and Angelina Ballerina and Berenstain Bears -- were gone, replaced by a witless disembodied voice reading material that had clearly been scripted for the suddenly absent host.

Where had Melanie gone? I wondered. My daughter was too young to ask, but she clearly missed Melanie -- she fidgeted, she wandered around the room, and seemed oddly distracted. The glue that had held the show together was gone.

A quick visit to the PBS Kids Sprout web site yielded this enigmatic post:

A Notice To Parents Regarding
The Good Night Show

Late last week, Melanie Martinez, host of The Good Night Show, alerted us to the internet posting of an independent short film that she appeared in seven years ago. PBS KIDS Sprout has determined that the dialogue in this video is inappropriate for her role as a preschool program host and may undermine her character’s credibility with our audience. As a result, PBS KIDS Sprout has decided that she will no longer appear as host of The Good Night Show. Melanie has been an important part of our network and we are disappointed that we had to make this difficult decision.

PBS KIDS Sprout’s foremost priority is to do what is best for our young viewers and their families. We remain committed to The Good Night Show, which debuted last year, as a valuable tool for parents to help children wind down after a busy day. Regularly scheduled programs within The Good Night Show (e.g. Dragon Tales™, Bob The Builder™, Thomas & Friends™) will continue to air in their designated time slots with new short-form content replacing Melanie’s segments. We are developing plans to launch a new season of The Good Night Show with a new host in late 2006.

I smell a rat, boyo. I know what a bullshit press release looks like -- God knows I've written enough of them.

I don't know what the toddlers think, but most rational adults are able to grasp the fact that Melanie doesn't really live in a giant birdcage where she makes crafts and shows cartoons 24 hours a day. She's an actress. She was fired because of an "independent short film"? From seven years ago? Unless the film depicts her being gang-banged by a group of lesbian vampires in Satan's boudoir, what's the issue?

I tracked down the "film" (there were actually two) and was decidedly underwhelmed. We're talking about two thirty-second parody PSA's, promoting a mythical abstinence web site called "technicalvirgin.com". One PSA depicts an innocent-looking college student talking about the dangers of premarital sex and the risks of pregnancy, and offering a solution: anal sex. "Sure, it hurts a little," she confides, "and I walk funny for a day or two". In the other PSA the young woman's mother, worried that she'll engage in premarital sex, gives her a vibrator.

Shakespeare it ain't, but this ain't internet porn, either. No nudity. No dirty words. Just the sort of parody commercial you might find on Mad TV. Are they worried my two-year-old is going to find this on Ifilm?

PBS did Melanie Martinez wrong. They either got spooked and overreacted, or they used this "controversy" as a cynical excuse to throw her overboard.

Cowardice or mendacity: which is it, PBS?

Diplomacy! Hunh! Good God, Y'All!
For the Bush administration, it appears that "diplomacy" is indistinguishable from "public relations". Just as Condi Rice prepared to visit the Middle East (read: Israel) in a belated and distinctly half-hearted effort to quell the violence along the Lebanese border, it was revealed that the US is delivering laser-guided missiles to the Israeli front:

The US is rushing a delivery of precision-guided bombs to Israel, in a move likely to anger Arab governments and a sign there will be no early end to Israel's bombardment of Lebanon.

The shipment comes as US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice prepares to visit Israel, which is massing troops on its border with Lebanon after the 11-day bombardment that has failed to stem waves of deadly Hezbollah missiles landing on its territory.

Although Israel said its troops were conducting only "limited thrusts" into Lebanon, the Israeli move gives rise to speculation that the war is about to enter a bloodier phase.

For many years, the U.S. has been a close friend and supporter of Israel, but has still managed to retain credibility in negotiating Middle East crises, mostly because it was genuinely interested in containing conflicts, and less interested in who started them. While Hezbollah precipitated this current crisis, Israel has escalated it; and as has been true in this region for many years, no one is entirely blameless.

The question of who-started-it, of course, is the fuel that makes ancient religious and ethnic conflicts go. That's why diplomats don't generally spend a lot of time jabbering on about the question: it does nothing to help break the chain of hatred and retribution.

That the U.S. is actively re-supplying Israel in the midst of a conflict is odd enough (how much credibility will we now have in criticizing Iran and Syria for re-supplying Hezbollah?). But Team Bush really does think that shouting "they started it" will absolve them of all responsibility to show restraint, and they also seem to believe that Secretary Rice will step up to the negotiating table and command instant respect and admiration.

To this gang diplomatic credibility means nothing, because they do not respect diplomacy. They believe diplomacy is for appeasers and suckers. They only respect the use of force. And assume everyone else feels the same way.

Friday, July 21, 2006
Gil Waves The White Flag Of Surrender
The other day a WaPo article noted that Congressional Republicans are shifting their stance on Iraq -- an Iraq that stubbornly continues its slide into anarchy, despite all the happy talk coming out of the administration.

One of the born-again critics of the Iraq war is Minnesota congressman Gil Gutknecht, who up until now has been a rock-ribbed supporter of the administration. Now Gil not only sees problems with the administration's handling of the war, but he wants the US to begin withdrawing troops now:

During a debate last month, Gutknecht intoned, "Members, now is not the time to go wobbly." This week, he conceded "I guess I didn't understand the situation," saying that a partial troop withdrawal now would "send a clear message to the Iraqis that the next step is up to you."

"If we don't take the training wheels off, we will be in the same place in six months that we're in today," he said.

You will remember that when Jack Murtha said essentially the same thing a few months ago, the GOP went berserk. Murtha, we were told, was a coward, a tool, a traitor. But what has been the reaction from the GOP on the Gutknecht comments?

No reaction. Not a peep. Not a whisper. Nothing.

In this morning's White House press gaggle, reporters had this exchange with Tony Snow (via Polinaut):

Q Can I ask you about Iraq? A Republican Congressman, Gil Gutknecht from Minnesota came back from a trip last week to Iraq, an official trip, and came back and said he believes the conditions on the ground are worse than the administration has been telling the public. And he's also now calling for troops to start coming home. What's the White House reaction to that?

MR. SNOW: The White House reaction is that, number one, we understand that there is a real attempt, especially in and around Baghdad, to create violence, create havoc, and weaken the government. And the response to that is not to run away, but to figure out how best to deal with the terror elements so that the Maliki government is going to be able to operate effectively.

And I guarantee you, that's going to be one of the key things that the President and the Prime Minister talk about next week.

Q But when John Murtha and other Democrats called for troops to come home, Karl Rove and others have said that this is cutting and running. Here you have a Republican Congressman in a tight re-election. He's saying troops should come home, and that the conditions on the ground are not as you're saying.

MR. SNOW: Well, we also disagree with him.

Q Is he waving the white flag of surrender?

MR. SNOW: No. He's expressing his opinion.


Q Thank you, Tony. Two questions. First, following up on the question of --

MR. SNOW: Actually, Mark, you'll have to ask him. Ask him. That's the best way to get the good answer.

The fighting between Israel and Hezbollah has pushed Iraq off the front pages for now. Republicans seem to be taking advantage of the situation, creeping to their fallback positions while nobody's looking. But I have a feeling it's not going to be that easy for them to change their tune. Conservative voters will be angered that they've gone wobbly, while moderates and liberals will see it as an election-year ploy. Which, of course, it is.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006
The Impeachment Game
In spite of my best intentions, I've been offline for a week. This is frowned upon by the High Priests and Priestesses of the Blogosphere. Bloggers who post infrequently see their hits-per-day totals plummet. And it's hell to build those numbers up again. For a blogger there is nothing worse than that . Nothing.

So be it. Consider the blogosphere as a gigantic shopping mall, with big anchor stores (Kos, TPM, The Corner, etc,) the ends. Middling blogs have premiere placement near the anchors (Instapundit, Andrew Sullivan,
Firedoglake, Kevin Drum, etc) and a few break-even operations occupy the dark and obscure corridors where shoppers rarely venture (Echidne,Shakespeare's Sister, et al) .

Where in this mall will you find the Lost City? The answer is: you won't. We're somewhere between the mall's back entrance and the freeway on-ramp. I don't pretend to be part of the Big Conversation. And I don't labor under the illusion that you, gentle reader, hang upon my every word..

No: I have been offline for a week. I've been in New Mexico for the last week, visiting my dad. He recently retired to Roswell, UFO capitol of America.

Seems appropriate for my Dad, who was almost as conspiracy-minded as the late lamented Nemo.

I'll post more in the coming days about the eccentric and thoroughly delightful town of Roswell, but let me focus right now (or try to focus; I'm writing this from a bar in the Albuquerque airport) on a conversation my dad and I had over breakfast the other day.

Dad asked me, "Do you think Bush should be impeached?"

I've heard a lot of people ask this question, and I've thought about it a lot. So I didn't hesitate when I replied, "No."

When he asked why not (afraid that his greatest fear -- his son becoming a Republican -- had been realized), I said this:

There is no question that George W Bush is an idiot without anything resembling a clue. He might well be the worst president in American history.

But the real problem here isn't just Bush; it's Congress. Bush's plots and idiocies, well-documented as they are, have been tolerated and even encouraged by a Congress that has actively encouraged him to do whatever the hell he wants.

We like to think that the Consitution guarantees the separation of powers, but it doesn't. It's just a piece of paper. It provides for the separation of powers. It's the three branches of government that must guarantee it. Every President, every member of Congress and every Supreme Court justice holds up a right paw and swears to "preserve, protect and defend" the Constitution of the United States.

If one branch of government breaks that oath, it usually precipitates a constitutional crisis. But what happens if more than one branch breaks that oath? Who's to blame then?

The answer is: we all are. The President has overreached and in response, the Congress has yawned. The re-election rate of House members is over 90%. You do the math.

To me, the beauty of democracy is that it guarantees not that people get the best government possible, but only the government they deserve. The President has exercised illegal and unethical use of his Constitutional powers only because the Congress -- whose power derives from the electorate -- has allowed him to do so, and has in every way abrogated its responsibility to act in the best interests of the American people. There is a price to be paid for this, but it will not be paid through impeachment. We're not going to get off that easy.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006
If You Reward Certain Blog Posts, You Get More Of Them
Mark Levin, who has done for American jurisprudence what Don Knotts did for the American space program, weighs in on today's announcement that the Bush administration would extend the protections outlined in Geneva Conventions to all "enemy combatants":

What the courts, Congress and, alas, the administration have now done by applying the Geneva Conventions protections to unlawful enemy combatants is to ensure that more and more warfare will involve terrorism since the rules of prisoner treatment apply to everybody, regardless of their behavior — which means there are no rules of war. The result will be more horrific attacks on citizens, more wanton slaughter, and more terrorism. Like anything else — if you reward certain behavior, you get more of it. We are now rewarding terrorism by extending lawful protections to its practitioners.

Well, who knew?

Apparently there is a heretofore unknown cadre of fanatical terrorists lurking around, ready to spill the blood of Americans and slaughter untold number of innocent civilians -- but whose hands have been stayed by the knowledge that, if captured, they wouldn't be protected by the Geneva Conventions. Now that the Supreme Court has ruled in the Hamdan case, they're smacking their lips and are ready for action! "Ha ha!" they are no doubt crowing in triumph. "NOW I feel sufficiently protected by your weak American laws to attack you, Infidels!"

As silly as this argument obviously is, it does point to a fallback meme being floated in the wingnutosphere. As the situation in Iraq continues to disintegrate, it is becoming clear that the Pentagon is going to draw down forces -- by simply not replenishing homebound divisions. Barring a miracle, that will doom Iraq to a long, bitter period of complete anarchy, one that will play itself out on American televisions for years.

Armchair warriors like Levin know that someone will have to take the blame for that. And as we all know, it can't be them.

Monday, July 10, 2006
The Hunt For Mark Levin's Brain
Mark Levin is a wingut of such verve and dedication that you really want to like him. You want to write an ode to his sputtering, over-the-top malfunctioning brain. Something like:

Mark's brain! Mark's brain! Burning bright

Among the simpletons of the Right

You've built a stack to reach the sky,

Of witless, half-assed wingnutterie.

(I promise to leave the poetry to William Blake from now on.)

One thing I particularly admire about Levin is the fact that he is utterly impervious to facts or reality. It's really quite breathtaking. Just make shit up, Mark, nobody who reads National Review cares anyway. Here, for example, is the most recent post on his blog, And Another Thing:

Andrew Sullivan considers himself an opponent of torture. But he's not. He's against the war in Iraq, which has ended a great deal of state-sponsored torture, not to mention state-sponsored rape, state-sponsored executions, and all the other inhumanity unleashed by maniacs like Saddam Hussein.

Uff da, what a wanker.

Andrew Sullivan, of course, was a strong supporter of the war, who has more recently been critical of President Bush's incompetent handling of it. Nevertheless, he is still a supporter of the war.

Sullivan has been an extremely vocal opponent of state-sponsored torture; he's against it no matter where it happens. It's amusing that Levin carefully qualifies his statements; the ouster of Saddam has ended "a great deal" of state-sponsored torture. The remainder, presumably, is now being practiced by the United States, who Levin trusts to only torture the people who deserve it.

But the war in Iraq wasn't sold as a crusade to eliminate torture, rape and executions in Iraq. It was sold as a necessary pre-emptive action against a country that was said to be planning an imminent attack of some kind against the United States, using weapons of mass destruction. The administration claimed that it had the evidence, even though it was classified. The "smoking gun may turn out to be a mushroom cloud" Condoleeza Rice warned ominously.

Guys like Levin carried that banner proudly. Trust the government, they said. They know what they're doing. And now that it's all fallen apart, they want to blame guys like Andrew Sullivan -- one of the only conservatives left who can tell the different between success and failure, between American ideals and un-American impulses, between bitter truth and comforting lies.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006
My Favorite Headline Of The Day
"Study: Fat People Not More Jolly"

Imagine writing up the grant proposal for that one.

We'll be studying the relative jolliness of fat versus non-fat members of our study cohort. Along the x axis you can see our relative scale of fattiness, starting out with "big-boned", proceeding through "tubby", "fatso", "lard-ass", "beached whale" and ending with "ten pounds of shit in a five pound bag" (figure 1). The y axis represents our jolliness scale. From the low end of the scale we proceed through "suicidal", "despondent", "morbid", "sad", and "philosophical", to end with "bemused", "mirthful", "happy", "jolly", and "holly-jolly" (figure 2).

We anticipate that we will need a staff of five full-time and two-half time clinical workers to proceed with the study, and that we expect to conclude our work within two years.

I would like to thank the Foundation board in advance for their consideration of this funding request.

A Happy Fourth Of July
Independence Day was a great time at our house. I always have a great time on that day. It's perhaps the most lovable of holidays, a day I always look forward to.

Other holidays, not so much. Christmas Day leaves me feeling battered, shopped out, exhausted by the constant barrage of TV ads interrupted by mawkish appeals to "remember" the true meaning of Christmas. Valentine's Day is a mess: a sticky, saccharin-soaked marketing ploy tricked out in store-bought sentiment.

But ah, the 4th of July -- like Election Day -- makes me feel renewed and hopeful for the future.

Thirty years ago, when I was a wide-eyed kid, I stayed up all night watching the silly Bicentennial ceremonies from around the world on NBC, full of parades, and fireworks shows, and Vegas-style dance routines in TV studios, and resolutions read out in the parliaments of distant lands, and it all culminated in a re-enactment (at 4:00 am) of the bombing of Fort McKinley. The whole extravaganza was hosted by -- of all people -- Ed McMahon. It was dumb and mawkish and garish, but beneath all the kitsch and the junk there was an exuberance and an optimism that was uniquely American.

As I got older I became more cynical about my country, in much the same way that I became cynical about my dad. But just as I realized in time that Dear Old Dad was a good person with flaws and blind spots, so I came to realize that my country is a good but imperfect place.

Since the beginning of the Bush administration my love for this country has grown, not diminished: because it angers me to see my country treated so shabbily by the crooks and cynics who held up their right hands and swore to defend its constitution. Because things seem more precious to us when we feel in danger of losing them.

Monday, July 03, 2006
There's Nothing Special About "Equal Rights"
It should come as no surprise that in its latest editorial, the National Review huffs and puffs industriously over the Supreme Court's decision in the Hamdan case. According to the big brains at NR, the Hamdan decision amounted to:

...a one-sided compact wherein the United States gives elevated due process to al Qaeda’s terrorists while they continue slaughtering civilians and torturing their captives to death

That bit alone is worth the price of admission. What, exactly, is "elevated due process"? Is it a legal term of some sort? I've never run across that phrase before, and feel reasonably sure that it is the invention of the NR editors.

It reminds me of a phrase I would hear conservatives bandy about in the 1980s: "special rights".

In those halcyon days, there was much talk about equal rights for gays. Gay marriage, of course, was not an issue back then; instead, the debate centered around whether an openly gay person could be dismissed from a job for -- well, for being gay.

Seems silly now, but it was a big deal then. Conservatives believed, for instance, that it was right and proper for a school district to fire a teacher for being gay. After all, we don't want one of them teaching our children, do we? So when I would argue against firing teachers for being gay, conservatives would accuse me of a double standard. "You want to create special rights for gays," they'd say.

But that idea fell by the wayside, as such ideas do, because when exposed to the light of day, when exposed to reason, when exposed to actual thought, it simply evaporated.


Perhaps because most Americans are fair; and because a liberal, democratic society stands or falls on the idea that everyone gets treated equally under the law. Equal treatment under the law doesn't mean special treatment under the law.

President Bush and his compatriots in the wingnutosphere clearly believe there should be a two-track justice system: due process for those whom the administration favors, and secret kangaroo courts for those whom the administration doesn't. It must be satisfying for the right wing to think this way, because they have always been suspicious of due process. Like democracy, due process is messy, chaotic, and unpredictable. If only we could be certain of the outcome in advance!

For all their protestations to the contrary, wingers have little patience in squishy-soft notions like democracy and the rule of law. And for all their denunciations of Islamic terrorists, they seem to admire Osama bin Laden's ability to get things done.

But it is precisely bin Laden's authoritarian impulses that makes me love the chaos and uncertainty of democracy and the rule of law more. When we capture one of the zealots who killed nearly 3,000 people on 9/11, zealots who had no regard for the suffering and deaths of innocents, the last thing I want to do is reward them with the same sort of savagery they believe in. If those zealots can make us abandon our principles, what were those principles ever worth?

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