Adventus

"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

"It is impossible for me to say in my book one word about all that music has meant in my life. How then can I hope to be understood?--Ludwig Wittgenstein

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Just to stay current

Here's what happened at Glasgow airport today:

The green Jeep barreled toward Glasgow's main airport terminal shortly after 3 p.m. Leeson said bollards _ security posts outside the entrance _ stopped the driver from driving into the bustling terminal, but the nose of the vehicle smashed the glass doors.

"If he'd got through, he'd have killed hundreds, obviously," he said.

AP photographs from the scene showed the car hit the building at an angle and was poking into the terminal. The Jeep struck the building directly in front of check-in counters, where dozens of passengers were lined up, police said.

Lynsey McBean, a witness at the terminal, said the driver kept trying to push the car forward after it got stuck, and "the wheels were spinning and smoke was coming from them."

She said one of the men then took out a plastic gasoline canister and poured a liquid under the car. "He then set light to it," said McBean, 26, from Erskine, Scotland.

Police subdued the driver and a passenger, both described by witnesses as South Asian _ a term used to refer to people from India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and other countries in the region. The previous round of terrorist activity in Britain, in July 2005, was largely carried out by local Muslims, raising ethnic tensions in Britain.

Witnesses said one of the men was engulfed in flames and spoke "gibberish" as an official used a fire extinguisher to douse the fire.

Rae said one bystander was taken to the hospital with a leg injury.
Really? Hundreds would have died if not for those "security bollards"? Those things are pretty common in Houston, especially in places where there is no curb (easier for people in wheelchairs and on crutches), so they're used to keep cars in the parking lot. The grocery store next door to where I'm presently sitting has four of them, shaped like fruits and vegetables. I guess we can say they've saved hundreds of lives by now, eh? As Larry Johnson said (link via Eschaton):

While I am not an explosives expert I am good friends with one of the world's foremost explosives experts. Propane tanks and petrol (gas for us Americans) can produce a dandy flame and a mighty boom but these are not the tools for making a car bomb long the lines of what we see detonating on a daily basis in Iraq.
Something about running a car into a security "bollard" and then pouring gasoline under it and lighting it, doesn't seem to have turned out much like a way to kill "hundreds". It usually works in the movies, of course, except it never kills Bruce Willis. But then, a lot of preposterous things work in the movies: like Jim Carrey ending up with Cameron Diaz.

Back to Larry Johnson:

We may be witnessing the implosion of takfiri jihadists--religious fanatics who are incredibly inept.
Sounds about right to me.

UPDATE:

"Al-Qaida has imported the tactics of Baghdad and Bali to the streets of the UK," said Lord Stevens, a former London police chief and Brown's terrorism adviser.
Sorry, but: really?

This is what the US and British forces face in Baghdad? People who pour gasoline under their car in a futile attempt to make it explode, and only end up in setting themselves on fire? That's the "existential threat" to both our countries, and to Iraq?

And why aren't we winning?

A(nother) Day on Which Absolutely Nothing Happened*

So I woke up this morning, and saw this staring at me in the mirror:
I knew this day would come.

"Old age that is tied to me as to a dog's tail."

"I grow old, I grow old, I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled."

"I can't go on. I'll go on."

"Someone left the cake out in the rain; I don't think that I can take it, 'cause it took so long to make it, and I'll never have the recipe again. Oh no!"

It's a real dustbin between these ears.


*very inside joke. Sorry.

Friday, June 29, 2007

"Exterminate the Brutes"

How do you get your head around this?

Almost six years after the worst attack ever on U.S. soil, special operations commanders believe that simply killing terrorists will not win a war against an ideologically motivated enemy.

That view is reflected in a series of transitions in special operations leadership posts. New senior officers are expected to give greater weight to an indirect approach to warfare, a slow and disciplined process that calls for supporting groups or nations willing to back U.S. interests.

Former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld turned special operations forces into a “giant killing machine,” said Douglas Macgregor, a former Army colonel and frequent critic of the Defense Department.

Now, with Rumsfeld gone and Navy Vice Adm. Eric Olson about to take control of U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), Macgregor anticipates a return to the fundamentals drilled into Army Green Berets, Navy SEALs and other specially trained troops.

“The emphasis will be on, ‘If you have to kill someone, then for God’s sakes, kill the right people,”’ Macgregor said. “In most cases, you’re not going to have to kill people and that’s the great virtue of special operations. That’s been lost over the last several years.”
I remember when the concept of "pest control" was simply: Eliminate the insects. Of course, by the time Rachel Carson wrote "Silent Spring" we began to figure out that wouldn't work. But this Administration seems to have missed that lesson, and the lessons of European Empire: you cannot control what you must destroy. If you're only option is "kill 'em all," then you have no options.

How hard is that to figure out?

It's becoming clearer and clearer this Administration's approach to every problem has been: extermination. Did Donald Rumsfeld really, seriously believe this was "Fortress America," and that we could eradicate all enemies and threats, that we could kill all our enemies? Did he really imagine that was a defensive posture? That's foreign policy via Tom Clancy video game. That's not serious; it's madness.

But apparently he did believe it. Why do we continue to consider these people intelligent? Why do we continue to think they even deserve the positions of authority they hold? Because we are, at bottom, afraid of the government?

The questions of theodicy are much easier to deal with than this. That field of inquiry just asks: "Why does God permit evil in the world?" The question here is: "Why was Donald Rumsfeld convinced evil would do good, and why did the rest of us let him get away with it?"

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Brown v. Board of Education: A Brief Personal History

When I started high school, there had been three high schools in my small Texas town: two white, one black. The year I started high school, 16 years after Brown v. Board of Education, a Federal Judge ordered the black school closed and the two white schools integrated. The school I went to was "Robert E. Lee," and the school mascot, not surprisingly, was the Rebel.

By the next year there was a small fight (we called it a "riot" at the time) which closed about half the school (it was during one of four lunch periods; few of the students in class knew what was going on) for the day, and engendered some very bad feelings that night at the football game, and generally left a bad taste in everyone's mouth. After that, the school gave up the Rebels, the giant Confederate Battle Flag, and all the "Dixie" insignias, including that song as the school fight song (although the school song still mentioned the school colors: "...the red is for courage, the white for purity." The word "white" was always shouted belligerantly by the whites at pep rallies and school assemblies when the school song was played). I don't know how things are now in that school, although when I moved to Austin ten years later, the Most Liberal Town In Texas was still struggling with the issue of integration (and far less successfully, I'm ashamed to say). Since then, I understand, Brown v. Board of Education has been waning as the law of the land (the school district I live in now has five high schools, one predominantly black, but that fact doesn't seem to bother Federal judges anymore); I know there has been much notice paid to the decline of that ruling, but that's beyond the scope of my knowledge here.

And so here comes the Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court, in one of two rulings handed down today:

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. authored the most important opinion of his two terms leading the court. He held that both plans, which categorize students on the basis of race and use that in making school assignments, violate the constitution's promise of equal protection, even if the goal is integration of the schools.

"The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race," Roberts wrote.
Now, to be fair, I haven't read the ruling, only the article about it, and this language may be mere dicta, Justice Roberts' personal opinion and not ruling law in any way. But I read that language, plucked out by the Washington Post as significant (and I don't disagree), and I think: "On what planet?"

It would be great, of course, to stop discriminating on the basis of race by not discriminating on the basis of race, but how, exactly, do you do that without freezing the status quo? The school district I live in now has, as I mentioned, five high schools. The "best" high schools (in terms of test scores) are in the whitest, wealthiest part of the district. The "black" high school is in the poorest, "darkest" part of the district. The schools are fairly evenly funded, I'm sure; but there's no question the "black" high school needs far more help, far more support, far more attention, than the "white" high schools get. Is it discriminated against? Not in the sense the black high school in my hometown was. There is no longer quite the same "seperate but equal" standard that once existed. But does that mean no discrimination occurs at all?

The very assertion is laughable. You know, we have a rather extensive history of racism in this country which hasn't been completely erased simply because Burger King runs an ad where Sean Combs rouses the white franchise operator from his house to open the local BK so Mr. Combs and his krewe can get burgers late at night. I know Clarence Thomas made a mockery of the concept with his allegations of an "electronic lynching" (what does that even mean?) during his confirmation hearins, but the lynching of black men was a public spectacle within the scope of the past century, and was not uncommon as recently as 40 years ago. So when the Chief Justice pens a groundless and pointless tautology that really signifies absolutely nothing, I have to wonder again:

On what planet?

It is a breathtakingly stupid comment. I know it's been paraded by know-nothing pundits and empty-headed reactionaries for a decade or more now. But to see it being offered in seriousness by a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court...well, I think I'd rather read Annie Dillard on theodicy ("Holy the Firm"). There is more comfort (and sense!) in her work than I am finding in the news. Time to turn it off and return to meditation. As Thomas Merton said of the Desert Fathers, when all human society is in chaos, sometimes the only response is to grab a bit of flotsam in the flood and hang on for dear life.

That's what I'm doing to do now.

Addendum: it just gets worse. The NPR story on this case when it was argued notes:

Her lawyer, Teddy Gordon, says that does not change the fact that the school board's race-conscious student assignment plan is unconstitutional. He claims it "is a pure quota," adding, "We've color coded children."
Which, of course, we did do, once. Now it's a matter of whose ox is being gored. Sorry, that argument doesn't pass the smell test. And then there's the reality of America post-Brown v. Board of Education:

PTA board member Mary Myers says the race-conscious assignment plan has ... equalized school resources. "My children do not have to sit next to a white child to learn," she says, "but they need the resources of that school," and under this system, "they all get the same resources."

What's more, she says, diversity is more than a word: "I just like to see that 'cause I'm 48 years old, and came from a segregated school system."

Haddad, the school board member, echoes that sentiment. "Children see other children differently than they saw back in 1975..." she says. "They like all the kids. They don't differentiate between them, and I think that is really, really important as they grow up into the real world."
That is very true. I grew up very aware of race, and of differences based on race. My daughter doesn't recognize the differences I did. That is what is important.

Chief Justice Roberts would return us to the world I grew up in. As the war protestors used to say in my childhood: "Hell, no! We won't go!" The other encouraging bit of this: the Supreme Court is very out of step with the country:

What the parents want is important, the school board says. It points to the fact that white students were fleeing the Louisville public schools by the thousands until the board adopted a plan in the mid-1980s that combined race-conscious student assignment with choice. Suddenly, school attendance stabilized.

Indeed, racial concentration in Louisville's public schools has decreased, in contrast to a rise nationally. A survey conducted by the University of Kentucky found 77 percent of Louisville parents favoring the guidelines, even though it means that a majority of the children are bused, often from one end of the sprawling school district to the other. The reason for the guidelines' popularity, says PTA President Paula Wolf, is that there are so many different programs and approaches to educating children offered throughout the district.
The people are far ahead of the "leadership" which would lead them backwards.

The Faith Delusion

Ed. note: I'm dragging this back up simply because I've been re-reading Annie Dillard's "Holy the Firm," in order to teach it in the morning. And that's left me full of beans. That, and I had to respond to ProfWombat.

You know, I come across something like this, and I realize there is no end of ignorance in the world. First, let's give the devil his due:

When it comes to arguing whether God exists, or whether she is a figment of the human mind, first-year theological students have it all over Richard Dawkins.

Review after review after review after review states this.

Only they never mention why our first-year theological student is correct and Dawkins is wrong. Or, if the [sic] do, it’s a point so peripheral and probably misinterpreted, that the end result is the same.

This is why Dawkins riles so many. Because, in essence, he is absolutely correct in his utterly logical condemnations of God and religion. And because he married Romana from Dr. Who, the lucky bastard.
Yeah. My problem with Dawkins is Leela Ward-envy. I guess somehow I knew they were married. And my other problem is, I'm obsessed with the question of God's existence, without even knowing it! Of course, what follows is peripheral to whatever "proof" Dawkins' submits as to God's non-exsitence, and it's probably misinterpreted, too. Well, misinterpreted by someone.

What is it about God's existence that so riles people? Maybe it's the Turing Test mentality of it: "existence" is known by experience. If I "chat" with you on a blog, then clearly we both have "existence." Right? But consider (again) Kierkegaard's answer to the issue: can I prove the existence of the prisoner in the dock, or can I only prove his identity as the criminal he is accused of being? Careful how you answer: the entire project of ontology, ontotheology, Western metaphysics, and phenomenology, are involved in the issue. The problem is, as I've pointed out before:

It is generally a difficult matter to want to demonstrate that something exists-worse still, for the brave souls who venture to do it, the difficulty is of such a kind that fame by no means awaits those who are preoccupied with it. The whole process of demonstration continually becomes something entirely different, becomes an expanded concluding development of what I conclude from having presupposed that the object of investigation exists. Therefore, whether I am moving in the world of sensate palpability or in the world of thought, I never reason in conclusion to existence, but I reason in conclusion from existence. For example, I do not demonstrate that a stone exists but that something which exists is a stone. The court of law does not demonstrate that a criminal exists but that the accused, who does indeed exist, is a criminal. Whether one wants to call existence an accessorium [addition] or the eternal prius [pre-supposition], it can never be demonstrated. We shall take our time; after all, there is no reason for us to rush as there is for those who, out of concern for themselves, or for the god, or for something else, must rush to get proof that something exists. In that case, there is good reason to make haste, especially if the one involved has in all honesty made an accounting of the danger that he himself or the object being investigated does not exist until he proves it and does not dishonestly harbor the secret thought that essentially it exists whether he demonstrates it or not.

If one wanted to demonstrate Napoleon's existence from Napoleon's works, would it not be most curious, since his existence certainly explains the works but the works do not demonstrate his existence unless I have already in advanace interpreted the word "his" in such a way as to have assumed that he exists. But Napoleon is only an individual, and to that extent there is no absolute relation between him and his works-thus someone else could have done the same works. Perhaps that is why I cannot reason from the works to existence. If I call the works Napoleon's works, then the demonstration is superfluous, since I have already" mentioned his name. If I ignore this, I can never demonstrate from the works that they are Napoleon's but demonstrate (purely ideally) that such works are the works of a great general etc. However between the god and his works there is an absolute relation. God is not a name but a concept, and perhaps because of that his essentia involvit existentiam [essence involves existence].
Johannes Climacus, Philosophical Fragments.

Basically, if we're going to approach this from the posture of a scientist (like Dawkins), we'd first need to establish what "existence" is, and to establish it as something falsifiable. Existence, of course, is merely a concept, even to the most hardcore empiricist. Can someone tell me the difference between a sleeping person and a corpse, except that one is "alive," and the other, purely by definition, is not? (If you doubt me, recall Poe's fears of "premature burial," in an age where recognizing what we now call "coma" was a serious medical issue.) Where does the "alive" come from, and where does it go? What is it that animates a body, that gives that body "existence"? Because surely, if someone is dead, they no longer have "existence". What, then is "existence"?

Nexus 6 wants to assert Dawkins falsifies the proposition that God exists by running rings around people like me, logically. Socrates, of course, would have a field day with anyone asserting "existence" is provable or unprovable, and by his relentless logic (and little else), he "proved" the existence of the immortal soul stoutly enough it is still an almost ineradicable part of Western culture (we argue against the proposition to this day, if we argue it at all; no one argues from the assumption the soul does not exist. Such is the one-sidedness of logic, eh?)

Not that you'd know any of that from people who call a reviewer for the Times Literary Supplement a "First year theological student." Speaking as a graduate of a theological seminary, I can confidently state that at no time did we have a class arguing or even studying the existence of God, or any of the many proofs thereof. (Of course, what do I know? Unlike Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris, or Dennett, or the blogger at Nexus 6, I've actually attended a theological seminary. Clearly those who are unsullied by the experience know better than I what goes on there. You want to know what seminary is like? I have an anecdote here that sums it up nicely.) We did have some lively discussions on the nature of God, and of metaphysics, and the faculty included people from traditional theists to process theologians (in terms of metaphysics, of which the subject of "existence" is primary theme, those two barely speak to each other.) . Although, as I pointed out in the post that caused Nexus 6 to include me in his/her/its ignorant diatribe, I've studied all the proofs for God's existence, and find all of them wanting. And for much better reasons than Dawkins managed to elucidate. And despite all that, I'm still an ordained minister and a confessing Christian.

Clearly, however, I'm not as well off as the ignoranti on this subject. Orwell was right: ignorance is bliss.

Google, which is my grate gud friend (N. Molesworth), popped up this link, which is another worthy examination of the topic of belief and biology. One serious question which is never explored as it should be is the simple, empirical one (via Karl Popper or David Hume; take your pick): is the concept of "belief," or "faith," for that matter, falsifiable? If not, it isn't subject to empirical analysis, and therefore, per Hume the uber-empiricist, we can't talk about it because it's nonsense. End of discussion. But, of course, that presumes the empiricism is the only way we can speak validly about anything. And if Christopher Hitchens, for example, only speaks of his politics or his wife and daughter in purely empirical terms, then, well, I'd be surprised (and sad for them). Even Hume didn't think such an end result of thought meant everything had been thought. He concluded it meant an end to philosophy, and a good excuse to take up sheep-herding.

Then along came Immanuel Kant....but that's another story, and another problem.

Because what really interests me here is the continued debate over God's existence, as if determining that argument would end all discussion. It's an atheist's canard, and I don't say that derisively but descriptively. The 19th century idea that, if we eliminated God (God's Funeral, A.N. Wilson called it), morality would cease, was not formulated by a hand-wringing theologian challenged by Enlightenment reasoning (I've yet to find any modern-day critic of religion who shows even a passing knowledge of theology, by the way), but by Friederich Nietszche, in Thus Spake Zarathustra. Atheists, you see, are forever setting up straw men and knocking them over. And then they are puzzled why all the world's believers don't explode like puffballs. Go figure.

The primary reason is, of course: Christians aren't worried about the question of God's existence. That has become a hot topic in the philosophy of religion and "Christian philosophy" (I'm not sure whether that's really a category of philosophy or not), and Heidegger critiqued such concerns as "ontotheology," claiming the issue confused Being with "a being," a position Tillich took up in describing God as the "ground of being" (as God transcends experience, Tillich argued, it is wrong to speak of God has "having existence.") Tillich also argued that everyone has an "ultimate concern," and so atheism is, strictly speaking, impossible. Given how many atheists wrap themselves around the question of God's existence, it's hard to argue against Tillich's point. But it's always atheists who bring this up as the "logical" demonstration that all believers are fools. It is a topic usually considered to have come from Christians, as the primary "proof" of God is usually considered to be Anselm's. Only problem is, it isn't so clear today that Anselm was engaged in apologetics (intellectual defense of the faith) when he crafted what Kant later labeled (and undermined) the "ontological proof." The argument of Anselm's proof (pace Charles Hartshorne) seems aimed more at providing intellectual (i.e., Greek rationalistic) support to a faith position already taken, rather than an argument for bringing the faithless to faith. Which brings us, mutatis mutandis, back to Kierkegaard:

The whole process of demonstration continually becomes something entirely different, becomes an expanded concluding development of what I conclude from having presupposed that the object of investigation exists. Therefore, whether I am moving in the world of sensate palpability or in the world of thought, I never reason in conclusion to existence, but I reason in conclusion from existence.
If I don't suppose God exists, in short, how am I to prove otherwise? If I do suppose God exists, why do I need proof? And so the whole obsession with God's existence is an obsession of the non-believers; not the believers.
Yes, yes, I know many Christians who worry themselves over the proof of God's existence, and it's still a lively topic among Christian philosophers (such as Alvin Plantinga's ontological argument from modal logic). But the argument as a form of apologetics is not the same as an argument for the necessity of faith (which is not to be confused with belief). In fact, that's the real problem, and the good Lord willing I'll return to it eventually (promise! promises!): the distinction that needs to be made between "faith" and "belief." Oh, and the problems of epistemology, Christian and otherwise.

I know you can't wait. I'll bring okra.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Life in Hell

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper
Forget Sen. Richard Lugar's speech. It isn't a sign of hope; it's a sign of complete insanity. In an interview on NPR this morning, the most decisive effort to end the war he could come up with was his own speech to an empty Senate chamber. Funding? "Support our troops." What could the Congress do? The most he could come up with was a "sense of the Senate resolution." Why? "Support our troops." The interview is a marvel of mendacity:

If we are not thoughtful and careful, the president may believe that he can simply continue on with or without the Congress, but I think he is wrong in that assumption. And my fear is that at some point we will have a withdrawal from Iraq that is very disorderly and not very well planned. That would be a tragedy for the troops, a tragedy for Iraq, a tragedy for us with regard to all of the neighborhood out there that could become very, very volatile.

If the president does not see things your way and continues on the same course, should the Senate and Congress in general force him to change?

I'm not certain how that occurs. I would just say that at some stage it will become apparent that the lack of support for the president not only in the Congress but with the public would command such a change. Even the president will understand that.
Notice the brilliant use of the passive voice. The President won't be responsible for ending the war. The Congress won't be responsible for ending the war. Apparently the fairies at the bottom of the garden will work their magic, and that will end the war! "Even the President will understand that."

If we have not reached that point now, when would we, given the lack of support for the war and the concerns that have been raised in Congress?
Indeed; if not now, when?
In the latest CNN-Opinion Research Corporation poll released Tuesday, 69 percent of those polled believe things are going badly in Iraq....Thirty percent of Americans polled say they favor the war, the lowest level of support on record. Two-thirds are opposed.
Well, not quite now:

Well, there is still very considerable support for certain elements of our activities in Iraq. This is a very complex business as opposed to just simply being in or out. That is why the president really has to enter a dialogue that is a more extensive one than the current one we have.
It is almost breathtaking the way Sen. Lugar manages to say absolutely nothing. This is more "complex" than "simply being in or out"? How so, pray tell? Speak to us, O Delphic Oracle!

And it doesn't get any better:

Given what you said, the next time there is an opportunity for you to vote on the war, would you be a vote against the war?

I'm not going to have a vote for or against the war, at least I don't conceive of how this would occur. Most likely debate will occur once again when we take up money for the troops, for the prosecution of Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. I think the majority of the Senate, regardless of how they feel about the prosecution of the war, are not about to cut off funds that would jeopardize our troops in any way. That will be probably an overlying proposition.

Which sounds like you're saying that this is not going to change your vote.

Not with regard to support of the troops. I'm going to vote for the authorization and the appropriations. But there are many, many ways in which the Congress ultimately can influence even the president with regard to this war and we'll have to think through the most appropriate one.

Give me one — before we let you go — one thing that Congress can do.

Well, Congress could offer at minimum Sense of the Senate resolutions. They do not have the effect of law, but they clearly indicate how the country feels through its representatives. And that we really have not come to do simply because we have not really wanted to be ambiguous as a nation with regard to our foreign policy.
Meanwhile, in Baghdad, people consider death by natural causes a blessing. Our troops are on extended tours of duty because the "surge" is impossible without leaving everyone there forever and a day. But Congress can't reallocate funds for the war because Congress has to "support our troops."

Think Progress has a nice collection of fine-sounding words, too. Voinovich comes closest to the matter, saying: "I think that many of us are going to look at legislation that will limit the number of troops," which is not exactly a ringing commitment for withdrawal. Jeff Sessions "agrees that troops levels should be reduced 'as soon as it is realistic to do it.'" And John "Warner said that he too feels the September reporting date is too long to wait to revise U.S. war policy." Not even sound and fury, but still signifying nothing.

Welcome to the insane asylum. We have to do the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result. To do otherwise would not support our troops.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Cleaning out the closets

I found this, from mid-May. I will admit I wasn't impressed with Tony Hendra's The Messiah of Morris Avenue (to each his own), but I am very impressed with this:

Why subversive? Because revenge, the opposite of forgiveness, makes the world go round. Individuals, groups, corporations, nations operate on the principle that pay-back is normal, that if you do ill to me, I am justified, even legally obliged, to do at least as much ill to you. But in truth revenge is self-destructively futile. Life is not an action movie where the good guys pay back the bad guys and live happily ever after. In the real world, no-one believes themselves or their cause to be evil; so no act of revenge goes un-revenged. The endless daisy-chain of payback, preaches the new Messiah - whether it's mass murder masquerading as national 'defense' or the legal murder of those who've murdered - must be broken.

Forgiveness is the only way to do that. But while the world believes forgiveness to be weakness, in truth it takes great courage. Just as killing those you feel threatened by is far easier than learning to live with them, payback is the weak and spineless option, the way out no-one will give you a hard time for. Forgiveness on the other hand takes true grit. (If for no other reason than that payback is big, big business. The Pentagon's new budget, almost three-quarters of a trillion bucks, will make it the tenth largest economy in the world. But I digress, because of course the Pentagon is not in the business of payback).

Subversive forgiveness may be, but, unfortunately, it's the core message of the guy from Nazareth. What's not to understand in the preachment: love your enemies? And even if the Aramaic (via the Greek and Renaissance English) is open to a slightly different translation, his choice not to defend himself against his enemies -- or even allow himself to be defended -- when they came to arrest him, is unambiguous. It's what defines Christianity against the other two Abrahamic faiths. You don't have to believe that the story's historically true; the example of its protagonist in the defining narrative of Christianity is unmistakable. Violence even in your own defense, is not acceptable. You cannot be a follower of Christ and kill your enemy; you cannot be a Christian and not forgive him. The history of Christianity is largely the history of grappling with this highly inconvenient truth and its manifold implications.
Hendra notes that "Mark Twain famously said: if Christ did return, the Christians would crucify him." I don't doubt it for a moment. But that's the point: forgiveness is subversive. He then connects the message of the man from Nazareth to Jerry Falwell:

I saw Jerry Falwell as an enemy. I believe he was America's enemy and for good measure Christianity's. (As his ilk still are). And I agree with that fine old atheist Samuel Clemens that if Christ had returned, FalIwell would have crucified him. And while Falwell's lies and distortions should have been combated by every non-violent means necessary, and the evil and hurt he caused, documented and remembered, that doesn't mean that the retribution Falwell sought to exact on others or threatened to, must be taken on him now, in any form. Which includes crowing that death has somehow found him out, or hoping that he went in pain or that he's up to his eyes in hot sewage in the Ninth Circle of hell or -- as was my intention -- dancing a triumphant two-step on his grave.

No, this is the moment for forgiveness. I hope that Jerry has met again and been reconciled with, the force of love and forgiveness that at some point in his life, he must have encountered. And while I never imagined I would ever write these words: may his turbulent and misguided soul -- however far it may have gone astray -- now find its way home and rest in peace.
If you still aren't sure forgiveness is subversive, check out the comments at Hendra's post. At least two rail against the idea of forgiveness for any reason.

It's all about the problem of power, and the problem of evil, and the problem of using power, any kind of power, to "fight" evil.

Here be Dragons

This is where the urge to argue, pontificate, and analyze (usually on slim evidence) begins to fascinate me, because it inevitably breaks down into projection, or at least mirroring the "enemy" you've worked so hard to identify, analyze, and pontificate on. And that, as I've said ad nauseum, is the problem with power. That is why there is no power without resistance; and resistance creates the conditions for power to operate.

Glenn Greenwald gives us one example (I'm sorry, but if that excerpt of his book is exemplary, he's no better than the George W. Bush he decries). Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Daniel Dennett are other prime examples: don't bother them with information about the subject, they are experts on fallacious reasoning! But Robert Wright understands all too well what is going on, especially when it's applied to the Middle East:

Still, seeing terrorist groups as rational actors is the first step to combatting a pernicious right-wing meme: the idea that terrorism is ultimately incoherent, grounded in pure religious zealotry or some supposed Arab irrationality or whatever. If you buy that meme, you're likely to think there's no point in even talking about serious territorial concessions in Palestine, or reconsidering American military deployment in Iraq or the Middle East broadly.
Of course, the people who decry "terrorists" as "those who hate our freedom" are also the people first in line to give up our freedoms. They zealously support whatever outrageous claim Bush makes, from wiretapping anyone's phone he chooses to eliminating habeas corpus for "dangerous persons" (read: "enemy combatants") to letting Dick Cheney call himself "not a part of the executive branch." Irrationality, of course, is the first step in demonization. Once the "other" is no longer human, no action taken against it is unjustified. I imagine the same process was used in World War II, where we began the war appalled that military force would be directed toward a purely civilian target (Guernica; London; Nanking) and later decided it was "necessary force" when dealing with a "ruthless enemy" (Dresden; Hiroshima; Berlin).

Wright's argument, drawn from the work of political scientist Robert Pape, is that the "insurgents" are fueled by military occupation. End the occupation, the insurgency ends. Far from 'following us over here' as Bush keeps claiming they will do, the fighters start cleaning up the place where they live. Pretty much what we would do, of course, if we were occupied and finally drove the occupiers out. What makes Wright's (and Pape's) argument more compelling is that it is based on some evidence: interviews with two would-be suicide bombers, conducted by Judy Miller. Much harder, as I've often said, to see the "other" as bestial and sub-human when you actually sit down and talk with them. The refusal to do that, of course, as Josh Rushing noted, is what keeps war and belligerence going. Much easier to fight an enemy you refuse to recognize as human, or as having a legitimate grievance.

We've been over this ground before, haven't we? And now, of course, it's moving into left blogistan. But let's leave it there, at least insofar as left blogistan is concerned. This is human nature. Dese are de conditions dat prevail. This is the "fallen state of Creation," as Niebuhr would observe. How far we have fallen is the interesting observation now. The other morning on NPR James Banford noted that we were all aghast in the '70's when it turned out the CIA was opening mail and running secret prisons. But now the CIA is running secret prisons all over the world, and the NSA is wiretapping potentially every American citizen in the country, and nobody seems surprised, much less outraged. And now we find out that, not only is an analysis like Wright's being ignored (that much has been obvious for years) but our leadership is actively deluding us in order to maintain, by hook or by crook, support for "their war". This is not news, either, but how they are doing it, is:

It's an interesting passage in that it essentially confirms the point made above -- that the only change here is one of labels, that the 'Sunni insurgents' and 'Baathist dead-enders' are now 'al Qaeda' merely by dint of blowing things up. But it also suggests that the change of labels isn't simply a matter of the US military and American journalists but also appears to be the norm among ordinary Iraqis themselves.

I'm skeptical of that claim. But it is also worth noting that it has long been claimed that the Iraqi government, like the US government, has systematically overstated the role of 'foreign fighters' and 'al Qaeda' since they too do not wish to see the insurgency as Iraqi and either inter-sectarian or anti-occupation in nature.
So add another piece of Wright's puzzle: we can decide who we are fighting, even if that decision contradicts the facts on the ground. It isn't only terrorism that is "ultimately incoherent, grounded in pure religious zealotry or some supposed Arab irrationality or whatever." As Nietszche observed: the man who fights dragons too long becomes a dragon himself. Certainly Cheney has decided the best way to walk through the valley of the shadow of death is to be the meanest SOB in the valley. But that makes all Americans SOB's, in the end.

The problem is with trying to fight the dragon, instead of understand what motivates the dragon in the first place (which, of course, is the practice of diplomacy, v. the practice of war). And maybe, with Sen. Lugar's speech, a few more people in the Congress are starting to understand that.

One of these things is not like the other

one of these things just doesn't belong:

President Bush was presented with a letter Monday signed by 50 high school seniors in the Presidential Scholars program urging a halt to "violations of the human rights" of terror suspects held by the United States.

The White House said Bush had not expected the letter but took a moment to read it and talk with a young woman who handed it to him.

"The president enjoyed a visit with the students, accepted the letter and upon reading it let the student know that the United States does not torture and that we value human rights," deputy press secretary Dana Perino said.

The students had been invited to the East Room to hear the president speak about his effort to win congressional reauthorization of his education law known as No Child Left Behind.

The handwritten letter said the students "believe we have a responsibility to voice our convictions."

"We do not want America to represent torture. We urge you to do all in your power to stop violations of the human rights of detainees, to cease illegal renditions, and to apply the Geneva Convention to all detainees, including those designated enemy combatants," the letter said.
First, of course, we don't torture, because we re-wrote the dictionaries. Maybe these young scholars would like a new copy. But compare their thorough scholarship with the President's reported response:

a) "We do not want America to represent torture."

b) "We urge you to do all in your power to stop violations of the human rights of detainees,"

c) "to cease illegal renditions,"

d) "and to apply the Geneva Convention to all detainees,including those designated enemy combatants"

And the answer is: "We don't torture." The rest of that stuff? We're gonna keep doin' it.

Dick Cheney must be so proud. Especially since the President took the words right out of his mouth:

In a radio interview last fall, Cheney said, "We don't torture." What he did not acknowledge, according to Alberto J. Mora, who served then as the Bush-appointed Navy general counsel, was that the new legal framework was designed specifically to avoid a ban on cruelty. In international law, Mora said, cruelty is defined as "the imposition of severe physical or mental pain or suffering." He added: "Torture is an extreme version of cruelty."
So, see, we don't torture. We're just cruel. Very, very cruel. But that's okay.

Cheney can be proud of his minion. The rest of us can only be proud of these fine scholars. They are the hope of America. Now if the Congress would just take their concerns seriously.

Monday, June 25, 2007

"You failed me in English."

When you hear that from behind the counter at Starbucks, you know it's time for one of two things:

a) return to parish ministry as fast as you can;

b) start saving to replace your home espresso machine.

Fortunately, someone else brewed the coffee....

The Military Commissions Act of 2006

I told you there was too much for one post. The suspension of habeas corpus is the least of the problems with that law:

The Military Commissions Act, passed by strong majorities of the Senate and House on Sept. 28 and 29, 2006, gave "the office of the vice president almost everything it wanted," said Yoo, who maintained his contact with Addington after returning to a tenured position at Berkeley.

The new law withstood its first Supreme Court challenge on April 2. It exempts CIA case officers and other government employees from prosecution for past war crimes or torture. Once again, an apparently technical provision held great importance to Cheney and his allies.

Without repealing the War Crimes Act, which imposes criminal penalties for grave breaches of Geneva's humane-treatment standards, Congress said the president, not the Supreme Court, has final authority to decide what the standards mean -- and whether they even apply.
But hey, they're furriners and terrists and they hate us for our freedom anyway, right?

"Nobody kills anybody in my place of business except me or Zed."

And you thought "Pulp Fiction" was just a movie. Dick Cheney thinks its a road-map for American foreign policy.

Quentin Tarentino is a Sunday School Teacher

Jack Bauer is a wimp.

There is so much in this article on Cheney it's hard to know where to start. But the announcement, recently, that there were plans to close Gitmo? Depends on who you're talking to:

A year after Bush announced at a news conference that "I'd like to close Guantanamo," plans to expand it are proceeding. Senior officials said Cheney, standing nearly alone, has turned back strong efforts -- by Rice, England, new Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and former Bush speechwriter Mike Gerson, among others -- to give the president what he said he wants.

Cheney and his aides "didn't circumvent the process," one participant said. "They were just very effective in using it."
And that information, is put in the context of David Hicks. Remember him? Australian citizen captured in a taxi in Afghanistan bound for Pakistan? He was, the article reports, "Detainee 002" in Gitmo,

arriving on opening day at an asserted no man's land beyond the reach of sovereign law. Interrogators questioned him under guidelines that gave legal cover to the infliction of pain and fear -- and, according to an affidavit filed by British lawyer Steven Grosz, Hicks was subjected to beatings, sodomy with a foreign object, sensory deprivation, disorienting drugs and prolonged shackling in painful positions.
Isn't this illegal? Not according to Dick Cheney:

The U.S. government denied those claims, and before accepting Hicks's guilty plea it required him to affirm that he had "never been illegally treated." But the tribunal's rules, written under principles Cheney advanced, would have allowed the Australian's conviction with evidence obtained entirely by "cruel, inhuman or degrading" techniques.
And why was Mr. Hicks finally released? Dick Cheney went to Australia to meet with John Howard. Howard faced a tough re-election campaign. Cheney returned from Australia, and a few days later, Mr. Hicks was allowed to leave Gitmo.

The deal, negotiated without the knowledge of the chief prosecutor, Air Force Col. Morris Davis, was supervised by Susan J. Crawford, the senior authority over military commissions. Crawford received her three previous government jobs from then-Defense Secretary Cheney -- appointed as his special adviser, Pentagon inspector general and then judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces.
Lovely government you've got here. Be a shame if anything were to happen to it.

Forget Jack Bauer

Hang it all, Antonin Scalia! There can be but one set of absolutes! But absolutes, and my absolutes?

The conservative jurist stuck up for Agent Bauer, arguing that fictional or not, federal agents require latitude in times of great crisis. “Jack Bauer saved Los Angeles. … He saved hundreds of thousands of lives,” Judge Scalia said. Then, recalling Season 2, where the agent’s rough interrogation tactics saved California from a terrorist nuke, the Supreme Court judge etched a line in the sand.

“Are you going to convict Jack Bauer?” Judge Scalia challenged his fellow judges. “Say that criminal law is against him? ‘You have the right to a jury trial?’ Is any jury going to convict Jack Bauer? I don’t think so.

“So the question is really whether we believe in these absolutes. And ought we believe in these absolutes.”
Funny how quickly we come back to questions of "faith" and "belief," isn't it? I tend to agree with r@d@r: belief in the kind of absolutes Scalia is defining is rather like saying you believe in the weather. Not that the US military is entirely comfortable with that.

TONY LAGOURANIS: Well, the problem was that when we were interrogating in Iraq in 2004, we were being told that Geneva Conventions didn't comply. So we didn't have training that informed us what to do anymore, because we were taught according to Geneva Conventions. So people were getting ideas from television. And among the things that I saw people doing that they got from television was water-boarding, mock execution, using mock torture. They wanted to hook up one of our translators to an electric generator and pretend that they were torturing him and allow prisoners to see that so that they thought that they would experience the same thing.
Nor that the CTU on "24" is entirely competent:

Actually, I doubt Scalia really is watching 24. If he were, he would know that the anti-terrorist agency CTU, where Jack Bauer works when he isn't being imprisoned, hunted, or tortured by Chinese/Arab/Russian thugs is:

A. Run by incompetent but well-meaning nincompoops who can't even secure their own building from terrorist infiltration through sewer lines and probably the front door,

B. Staffed by computer geniuses who can't tell when their system is breached, and don't notice when the terrorists they desperately seek have set up shop just blocks away from them

C. Constantly letting terrorists escape when the bad guys use techniques like the old, they-got-in-their-SUVs-and-just-drove-away trick.

In short, CTU is a pretty good approximation of FEMA, or the TSA. Or, of course, the Department of Homeland Security.
But, as Paul Simon said, "a man hears what he wants to hear, and disregards the rest." All in all, I suppose we can all be grateful Quentin Tarentino confined himself to words:

Marsellus: What now? Let me tell you what now. I'ma call a coupla hard, pipe-hittin' niggers, who'll go to work on the homes here with a pair of pliers and a blow torch. You hear me talkin', hillbilly boy? I ain't through with you by a damn sight. I'ma get medieval on your ass.
Tarentino, however, is more honest than we are willing to be; because that is what we are talking about. And now we are talking about it, not in some obscure store in a fictional L.A., but in the highest possible levels of government:

More than a year after Congress passed McCain-sponsored restrictions on the questioning of suspected terrorists, the Bush administration is still debating how far the CIA's interrogators may go in their effort to break down resistant detainees. Two officials said the vice president has deadlocked the debate.

Bush said last September that he would "work with" Congress to review "an alternative set of procedures" for "tough" -- but, he said, lawful -- interrogation. He did not promise to submit legislation or to report particulars to any oversight committee, and he has not done so.

Two questions remain, officials said. One involves techniques to be authorized now. The other is whether any technique should be explicitly forbidden. According to participants in the debate, the vice president stands by the view that Bush need not honor any of the new judicial and legislative restrictions. His lawyer, they said, has recently restated Cheney's argument that when courts and Congress "purport to" limit the commander in chief's warmaking authority, he has the constitutional prerogative to disregard them.

If Cheney advocates a return to waterboarding, they said, they have not heard him say so. But his office has fought fiercely against an executive order or CIA directive that would make the technique illegal.

"That's just the vice president," said Gerson, Bush's longtime chief speechwriter, referring to Cheney's October remark that "a dunk in the water" for terrorists -- a radio interviewer's term -- is "a no-brainer for me."

Gerson added: "It's principled. He's deeply conscious that this is a dangerous world, and he wants this president and future presidents to be able to deal with that. He feels very strongly about these things, and it's his great virtue and his weakness."
Did you get that? Is it real clear? Torture is a matter of principal. But even Jack Bauer knows its illegal. Dick Cheney is convinced its legal. Because he's the Vice President. Because we are at war. Because it's in defense of the American people. Jack Bauer does it for entertainment, in some fictional realm of the imagination where nothing is real and so "illegal but necessary" doesn't violate any laws of human society. Dick Cheney simply suspends those laws by some act of divine fiat that only he, apparently, can divine. And it's all okay, because he's doing it as a matter of principle! And surely the US government is more competent than the fictional CTU! Right? Right!?

Of course, we know even John Yoo wanted to draw the line at "threatening to bury a prisoner alive." I'm guessing that meant tossing the last shovelful of dirt in would be over the line; but I'm still not sure.

I'm not sure what we did to deserve such principled people in the highest levels of our government; but it must have been something really, really bad.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

This observation will be lost in the white noise, but, what the heck

The flap over Cheney's compliance with Executive Order is an interesting one not only because it reveals Cheney's machinations. It reveals the attitude of the President, too.

As Ron Elving noted on NPR this morning, Cheney's argument that he is the President of the Senate, and therefore not a member of the Executive branch under the meaning of the Executive Order, actually means Cheney is obligated to follow the laws governing the Legislative Branch as well as the Executive Branch. And the Executive Order is not law; it is regulation. The President has no power to pass a law; he has the executive power to administer them, which is why all agencies of the federal government, such as the National Archives, promulgate regulations which determine how the law is to be implemented. This regulatory power is overseen by Congress, who can change the law to change the regulations as it sees fit. Executive Orders apply only to the Executive Branch, but they do not override federal law.

So, when Dana Perino says: "that Bush, not the National Archives, was the 'sole enforcer' of the executive order relating to classified information," she's wrong. Bush does not have discretion as to the enforcement of that law; he only has authority to regulate compliance with the law, and even that authority is bounded by the parameters of the law itself. Bush & Cheney are not a mutually reinforcing fourth branch of government. But it may be this very small matter which makes clear to a majority of the American public that they believe they are.

Concluding Unscientific Postscript

As Murrow said: "This just might do nobody any good." But it's time to bring this matter to a close with a final observation.

Blogs serve two purposes, it seems. GWPDA says they're broadsheets. Fair enough. Except they've moved away rapidly from anything approaching Paine's "Common Sense" (no hidden snark there). Now they are settling into "communities." Which is both fine (who am I to complain?) and inevitable (Sociology 101). The pity is, they are communities of the like-minded and fit for political junkies (or food junkies, or diary junkies, etc., etc., etc.)

I didn't mean to offend anyone with my observations, nor to discount anyone else's experiences. But blogs as "the revolution finally realized," is pretty much done with. And I think the canary in the coal mine is the declining number of visitors I keep seeing mentioned on other small blogs. That and the fact that blogs are not taken seriously enough they are mentioned by Hannity and Limbaugh and bloggers have their own special interest group meetings, etc., etc., etc. At best, they have become just another special interest group: not drawing America into a virtual town meeting on line, but giving people too busy to be activists canvassing neighborhoods or organizing protests and demonstrations and mass mailings, an opportunity to be virtually active, too.

Which ain't a bad thing. But sadly, it's hardly revolutionary. To repeat the quote from Alicublog I buried in one of the longer and duller posts below:

Admittedly, not every blogger who goes mwah-ha-ha over what he or she imagines to be the corpse of the "MSM" is the online equivalent of the Simpsons' Cat Lady. But if we are tempted to believe that blogs represent some kind of massive paradigm shift that changes everything forever -- that is, if we forget how foolish that sort of triumphalist blather almost always turns out to be -- we should remind ourselves: Just because someone is using relatively new technology does not necessarily mean that he or she is the wave of the future. The screaming fellow with the Bluetooth earpiece may not in fact be connected; he may in fact be screaming to himself, only using technology to conceal his madness from the world.
Technology is just another way of doing things. But still, at the end of the day, it's just people, doing those things.

Same as it ever was.

Oh, and the new names for this blog now include consideration of:

In Praise of Okra

or

God Bless Okra!

Friday, June 22, 2007

Watch this Space!

I am going to be changing the name of this blog to:


"Wait. That Sounded Better Before I Said It."

That, or:

"The Desert Fathers Don't Really Care How That Makes You Feel."

I haven't decided yet.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The value of reading other blogs

NOW WITH MORE UPDATES! (Unless you've already seen them, in which case, there are no more updates, and I've disappointed you yet again....)

On a positive (?) note, Phila observes:

In an uncharacteristically lucid moment, Deleuze and Guattari observed that "it is precisely its impotence that makes power so dangerous." It's not just that we can't defeat this sort of enemy with technology; the larger problem is that our reliance on technology is itself a vulnerability.
Does this remind anyone else of anything?

I. The time will soon come when we will not be able to remember the horrors of September 11 without remembering also the unquestioning and economic optimism that ended on that day.

II. This optimism rested on the proposition that we were living ina a "new world order" and a "new economy" that would "grow" on and on, bringing a prosperity of which every new increment would be "unprecedented."

VI. The paramount doctrine of the economic and technological euphoria of recent decades has been that everything depends on innovation. It was understood as desirable, and even necessary, that we should go on and on from one technological innovation to the next, which would cause the economy to "grow" and make everything better and better. This of course implied at every point a hatred of the past, of all things inherited and free. All things superceded in our progress of innovations, whatever their value might have been, were discounted as of no value at all.

VII. We did not anticipate anything like what has now happened. We did not foresee that all our sequence of innovations might be at once overridden by a greater one: the invention of a new kind of war that would turn our previous innovations against us, discovering and exploiting the debits and the dangers that we had ignored. We never considered the possibility that we might be trapped in the webwork of communication and transport that was supposed to make us free.*

VIII. Nor did we foresee that the weaponry and the war science that we marketed and taught to the world would become available, not just to recognized national governments, which possess so uncannily the power to legitimate large-scale violence, but also to "rogue nations," dissident or fanatical groups and individuals--whose violence, though never worse than that of nations, is judged by the nations to be illegitimate.

IX. We had accepted uncritically the belief that technology is only good; that it cannot serve evil as well as good; that it cannot serve our enemies as well as ourselves; that it cannot be used to destroy what is good, including our homeland and our lives.
We still haven't learned these lessons of 9/11. We still accept all those beliefs. That was Wendell Berry, in 2001. From In the Presence of Fear, Three Essays for a Changed World, The Orion Society, Great Barrington, MA, 2001, pp. 1-3.

Change comes slowly indeed.


(*Ironic, no? I had no idea those words were in this essay until I looked it up after reading Phila's post.)


UPDATE: You'd think after years of preaching and having people hear what you didn't think you'd said, I'd have anticipated this reaction.

Yeah, you'd think. I'm beginning to feel like Wendell Berry after he published an essay in Harper's a few decades back about how he wrote everything on a manual typewriter so he wouldn't be using coal-powered electricity to produce his stories, essays, and poems. He got roundly slammed as a Luddite for that.

First, "blogging as therapy" is not really under challenge here. People who find friendships on blogs are welcome to them. My observations are not meant as personal critiques of how you spend your time or where you find your pleasures. (That's actually a separate issue, one that goes to identities and boundaries. You'd also think I'd recognize that people don't like having their source of identity messed with, and blogging clearly provides that for some people.) In fact, that's why I said, earlier:

I go to Eschaton because "expression is the need of my soul," and I find it far too easy to eat the peanuts of commentary (it's hardly ever a conversation) on the open bar there. Problem is, I can never eat just one...handful. I used to harangue my friends in long letters. Now I harangue anonymous strangers and stand on a soap box and sound my barbaric but well-educated and overly modulated and all too civilized "yawp" out to the rooftops. Over which it barely carries, it being so polite and tamed and all.
And why I said my point was critique, not criticism.

But true to form, it's being taken as criticism. Which, to me, is another failure of blogging, frankly. We've created a culture where, as we used to say in the "Politics" section of Table Talk at Salon, you don't stop at the red lights. There is a great difficulty at nuance in left blogistan which has bothered me for sometime. Pat Greene mentioned, in comments below, that:

Eschaton I read only as a marker for emerging stories; I admire your fortitude in wading into the comment section. I find it to be far too rough, with too low a signal-to-noise ration, for my taste.
and that:

some of the commenters at Eschaton strike me as being fairly divorced from reality.
I don't think that's entirely accidental, or entirely the result of who comments there. It's become a feature, not a bug. Commentary on most blogs is interpreted through a particular lens: snark and snideness and sharpness of commentary (that which draws blood, i.e.) are de rigeur and in fact highly prized. The other model is maudlinly personal. And I know already this is going to draw more howls of protest because I'm stepping on more toes, but: so be it. (In fact, let me explain this is an observation, not a criticism.)

We read comments, in other words, with a particular expectation in mind. An opinion that doesn't seem to conform to the normative one of the comments is immediately derided as "trolling" or suspect as "name-stealing." Why? Because we have expectations of what you mean, and because tone and nuance are damned difficult to get into print and distribute to strangers. As I mentioned before, I used to write long letters to my friends. My friends (with rare exceptions I still remember) knew what I meant when I wrote something, because they knew who was talking. Much as I appreciate exchanging ideas with ProfWombat or Thers or Phila, I wouldn't know them if they rang my doorbell, and I'd feel damned awkward inviting them in for coffee. Now part of that is just me: I'm a much shyer person than I imagine any of you realize. But part of that is: I simply don't know them, and they don't know me.

Tena mentioned, in comments in a thread far below, a commenter at Eschaton who made comments she couldn't agree with on blogs, but who was a generous, caring spirit in person. We make a mistake assuming what someone types is who that person is. At worst it's a literary form of the "pathetic fallacy," and while I thought that had been expunged from literary and textual analysis a generation or so ago, I don't think we'll ever be shed of it. So, on blogs, especially since we are talking (essentially) to strangers, they have to bring a set of expectations (a lens, if you will) with them through which they read what I, or you, say. And the more we conform to those expectations, the more we are expected to conform, until all conversation becomes: well, just saying the same thing over and over and over again.

That's part of it, anyway. The other part, as I say, is me, or rather, my background. I assume a position, of "Original Sin." At least I seem to more clearly assume that than some in my audience do. Think of it as the old "Between the Idea and the Reality/Falls the Shadow" stuff that Eliot was on about. I'm sure blogs have been good therapy or sources of friendship for some people, and that's fine. I enjoy them too, otherwise I'd just walk away from this. But blogs cannot engage in self-criticism? Really? Cause that seems to be the response I'm getting.

The Berry quote, for example, I found both insightful and, in the light of 9/11 and the subsequent "shock and awe" campaign and the debacle in Iraq (and the story on NPR this morning about how much time it will take to move just 150,000 troops out of hostile territory (v. the half a million we pulled from the friendly territory of Kuwait in Gulf War I), I think his insight a sound one: we depend on technology for meaning ("O machine! O machine!"), and a "virtual" community is especially dependent on that technology. The technology may be a shining hope, but "Between the Idea and the Reality...."

So don't mention that elephant in the drawing room either?

Pointing out these things is not condemning them. People use tools of all kinds for good and ill. Religion has been a force for good and a force for disaster. When Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris point this out, I don't decry them as violators of my sacred beliefs. I understand such thoughts exist, and to some extent such critiques are valid (not their critiques, necessarily, but there are valid critiques to be offered). Pointing out (as I only meant to do) that blogs are not the be-all and end-all of human existence, nor the next revolution (sorry, but anyone who thinks so is going to be as disappointed as the hippies who thought they were going to end all war everywhere, or the revolutionaries who thought they were going to usher in the new utopia) is not condemnation of blogs, or of the people who find them valuable. But I will admit: some of you find value there that I don't. So it goes.

Maybe it's just a question of the nature of salvation, after all. Which would be ironic, no?

Anyway, I stand by Berry: technology is not our salvation: human relationships to each other, and to the world, are. Blogs have established a new venue for human relationships, which I do not denigrate at all. Now, about our human relationships to this thing the Greeks called kosmos.....

FINAL UPDATE I SWEAR!

But when I question whether blogs are the cresting wave of the Information Revolution, I get hammered in my comments for stomping all over the value of blogs as Communities-of-Wonderful-Like-minded-People-Who-Are-All-Friends-So-There! Yet when Alicublog posts this:

Admittedly, not every blogger who goes mwah-ha-ha over what he or she imagines to be the corpse of the "MSM" is the online equivalent of the Simpsons' Cat Lady. But if we are tempted to believe that blogs represent some kind of massive paradigm shift that changes everything forever -- that is, if we forget how foolish that sort of triumphalist blather almost always turns out to be -- we should remind ourselves: Just because someone is using relatively new technology does not necessarily mean that he or she is the wave of the future. The screaming fellow with the Bluetooth earpiece may not in fact be connected; he may in fact be screaming to himself, only using technology to conceal his madness from the world.
It winds up on the front page of Eschaton.

I'll retire to Bedlam....

Just Making Sure the Horse is Dead

As if to underscore my point, Glenn Greenwald is releasing another book:

One of the principal dangers of vesting power in a leader who is convinced of his own righteousness -- who believes that, by virtue of his ascension to political power, he has been called to a crusade against Evil -- is that the moral imperative driving the mission will justify any and all means used to achieve it. Those who have become convinced that they are waging an epic and all-consuming existential war against Evil cannot, by the very premises of their belief system, accept any limitations -- moral, pragmatic, or otherwise -- on the methods adopted to triumph in this battle.

Efforts to impose limits on waging war against Evil will themselves be seen as impediments to Good, if not as an attempt to aid and abet Evil. In a Manichean worldview, there is no imperative that can compete with the mission of defeating Evil. The primacy of that mandate is unchallengeable. Hence, there are no valid reasons for declaring off-limits any weapons that can be deployed in service of the war against Evil.

Equally operative in the Manichean worldview is the principle that those who are warriors for a universal Good cannot recognize that the particular means they employ in service of their mission may be immoral or even misguided. The very fact that the instruments they embrace are employed in service of their Manichean mission renders any such objections incoherent. How can an act undertaken in order to strengthen the side of Good, and to weaken the forces of Evil, ever be anything other than Good in itself? Thus, any act undertaken by a warrior of Good in service of the war against Evil is inherently moral for that reason alone.

It is from these premises that the most amoral or even most reprehensible outcomes can be -- and often are -- produced by political movements and political leaders grounded in universal moral certainties. Intoxicated by his own righteousness and therefore immune from doubt, the Manichean warrior becomes capable of acts of moral monstrousness that would be unthinkable in the absence of such unquestionable moral conviction. One who believes himself to be leading a supreme war against Evil on behalf of Good will be incapable of understanding any claims that he himself is acting immorally.

These principles illuminate a central, and tragic, paradox at the heart of the Bush presidency.
Um....okay. Sure.

One little trick I like to use when reading something like this is to try to imagine Molly Ivins writing it. Or Joe Conason, if you prefer; or even Gene Lyons. Or, since we're talking about a fairly arcane and archaic branch of Christian theology and ecclesiastical history here, any competent scholar, theologian, or historian.

No; I can't imagine it, either.

The distinction is that Ivins, Conason, and Lyons were all journalists, and, like scholars (my own peculiar bias), they all knew that what you said about the world, had to be grounded in facts identifiable in the world. Let's start with Manicheism, shall we? Well, in fact, let's not; that's a whole subject of study in itself. Does it really boil down to: "the principle that those who are warriors for a universal Good cannot recognize that the particular means they employ in service of their mission may be immoral or even misguided"? I mean, what source of study of Manicheism, what document, what statement of Manichee or his followers, does Greenwald base that on? Where does this cartoon notion come from?

Just curious, frankly. He builds quite a bit of his argument on it, but it's pretty much the same argument George W. Bush uses to oppose Al Qaeda. It is, in fact, pretty much the same argument used by our military leaders:

AMY GOODMAN: Tommy Franks. You asked the general to start talking to Al Jazeera.

JOSH RUSHING: I did, yeah. I asked him. Actually, it was just simply to call on an Al Jazeera reporter first at a press conference, as kind of a sign of respect. And his response was, “Yeah, sure, right after I rip off his head and” -- well, I can’t say the word -- “I crap down his throat.” And then it kind of moved on. And he’s a four-star general, and I was a young lieutenant, and there’s not much I can say in response to that. But it clearly showed their attitude about, you know, engaging Al Jazeera. I mean, if you won’t even call on them first at a press conference, forget about giving their reporters any kind of access to senior leadership or, you know, to information, to empowering their reporters in a way that they could tell the CENTCOM story. Absolutely forget about that.
It is, as "the Left" likes to say (except I didn't learn it as a political ideal, but a philosophical/theological one, from Emmanuel Levinas while in seminary), the creation of the "other" which we can then demonize. I have to say, I'm having a real hard time distinguishing Greenwald from Bush at this point: both are so convinced they are fighting on the side of the angels that their opponent can only be painted in the absolute colors of Evil. What I mean is: is his premise itself even challengeable? Because in all those paragraphs, he gives absolutely no basis either for the terms of his analysis (is this his private and personal definition of "Manicheeism"?), nor does he give any hard and fast evidence that this is, indeed, the thinking of George W. Bush. What he offers are vague and glittering generalities which he asserts, by sheer force of rhetorical passion, are indeed true.

But has he ever interviewed George W. Bush? Has he studied his speeches, his public statements, investigated his life, is policies in Texas as governor? I know Molly Ivins did, and yet I can't imagine her writing such sweeping generalizations as this. Does Greenwald give us any facts in support of his claims, other than he read it in a newspaper/saw it on TV/found it in a blog somewhere online?

Not in these paragraphs, anyway.

Greenwald's schtick, it seems to me, is hyperbole; which is the bread and butter of "blogger-pundits." Froomkin quotes this from his book (which I don't find at the link Froomkin gives):

[T]he great and tragic irony of the Bush presidency is that its morally convicted foundations have yielded some of the most morally grotesque acts and radical departures from American values in our country's history. The president who insists that he is driven by a clear and compelling moral framework, in which the forces of Good and Evil battle toward a decisive resolution, has done more than almost any American in history to make the world question on which side of that battle this country is fighting. The more convinced President Bush and his followers become of the unchallengeable righteousness of their cause, the fewer limits they recognize. And America's moral standing in the world, and our national character, continue to erode to previously unthinkable depths.
Well, except there was that whole slavery thing in the 19th century, not to mention to wholesale slaughter of the natives across 2 centuries, not to mention the wars in the Phillippines (see, e.g., Twain, Mark), Bull Connor and "Bloody Sunday" and the Dixiecrats and George Wallace in the schoolhouse door, the assassinations in the 1960's (two Kennedy and MLK), not to mention Cuba, Mexico, Central America, South America, the whole dubious and sordid application of the "Monroe Doctrine," the "banana republics", the horrors of life in Central America as recently as the Reagan Administration as documented by people like Joan Didion and suffered by people like Oscar Romero and Ita Ford, Maura Clarke, Jean Donovan, Dorothy Kazel.

You get the point. "Previously unthinkable levels"? Depends on who's doing the thinking.

So, does this mean blogs are bad? No. They have their purpose. But if the hallmark of blogging is going to be rapid response correction, well...let the corrections begin.

"Meet the New Boss/Same as the Old Boss"

What Digby said.

No, I mean that literally. Follow that link, you will find "what Digby said." Which, frankly, was interesting, as far as it goes. But unlike most of left blogistan, I didn't find it particularly insightful. Maybe it's because I spend too much time reading Derrida and Proust and Trollope (or Richard Rorty or William James or Reinhold Niebuhr), or maybe it's because I've spent too many years in academia where "criticism" doesn't first mean "You suck!", but rather first means "careful analysis" (or at least it's supposed to; far too much of criticism in academia is, of course, "You're ugly and your mother dresses you funny, and your scholarship sucks!," just dressed up in nicer prose. Still....) I know it casts me as a person to be avoided, derided, or just flat out ignored, but: I'm not a fan of "Digby."

No particular reason; just not a writer of great interest to me. In truth, I don't know of a writer on blogs whom I truly admire as a writer, with the exception of Athenae. I admire Scout Prime because of her dedication to New Orleans. I admire Grandmere Mimi because of her devotion to the faith (one I share more than anything else I share with anyone else in left blogistan, but not something I necessarily share here). I go to Eschaton because "expression is the need of my soul," and I find it far too easy to eat the peanuts of commentary (it's hardly ever a conversation) on the open bar there. Problem is, I can never eat just one...handful. I used to harangue my friends in long letters. Now I harangue anonymous strangers and stand on a soap box and sound my barbaric but well-educated and overly modulated and all too civilized "yawp" out to the rooftops. Over which it barely carries, it being so polite and tamed and all.

I really should find my way back to writing to my friends.....

But do I have an animus toward Digby? No, not at all. "Digby" has come to represent left blogistan now, and, ironically, the fit is just about perfect. Start with Howard Beale, prominently displayed at Hullabaloo. I saw "Network" again recently, having not seen it since it was in the theaters. I'd forgotten what a caustic, cynical, honest piece of work it was. It was like a shot of raw whisky. And while we who saw it then, and everyone since, remembers the iconic shout "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not gonna take it anymore!", and maybe remember the quote at Hullabaloo was part of that scene. But how many of us remember that it was Howard Beale telling the people they were angry, and urging them to go to their windows, that got them to do it? And then what did they do?

Nothing. They sat down in front of their televisions and waited for Howard Beale to come on again. And his network, UBS, turned him into a media star, the ringmaster of a media circus. Until they finally shot him, on live TV, because of poor ratings.

Sic transit gloria.

So it's ironic (or it should be) that this is the image I associate with "Digby," a commenter still as pseudonymous (I have a face to associate with the name, but not a person. I no more "know" Digby than I know Atrios) as Howard Beale. The "real" Howard Beale was never real in that marvelous film. He was a character, a plaything of the network, a puppet on a string, the captive of "primal forces" as the head of the network so memorably intones. He never had a choice because he had been emptied out by the very system which gave him a voice in the first place. And the minute he stepped before those cameras dripping wet and urged his audience to get up out of their seats and go to their windows, he stopped being a journalist. Literally. From that point in the movie forward, Howard Beale never reports on another story, never reads another line of copy. He becomes the world's first video-blogger. He stands in front of a camera, and he pontificates. He swears and rants and raves and harangues, until he collapses on the floor in what always looks like an epileptic fit. Everytime he goes down you think: "That's it! He's surely had a stroke this time!" And the camera hovers over him, to get the shot just perfect, to show the prophet fallen to the ground, overcome by channeling the voices of the gods.

Which is not to say that Digby thinks of herself as a channel for the gods; or that anyone in left blogistan does. Digby herself says who she is:

I’m a blogger-pundit, a role for which I am eminently qualified since, exactly like pundits on television and in newspapers, I have opinions, I write them down, and a lot of people read them. Yes, that’s all there is to it. Sorry, Mr. Broder.
Which is fine, so far as it goes. But it's hardly revolutionary. It's hardly even "participatory democracy." It's just David Broder, without the media platform, and without the journalistic experience. Once upon a time, David Broder was a journalist (hard to believe now). So was Molly Ivins. I'd say the fairer comparison to Digby is actually George Will, a man whom, so far as I know, has never held a job as a journalist. Paul Krugman, either; and I very much admire Mr. Krugman's writings. Charles Krauthammer, I understand, is actually a psychiatrist (or is it psychologist?). You can run the list on and on; but it's very hard to find any "pundit" any longer, who has any journalistic background. Why do I mention this? For one simple reason: it's always seemed to me that people who are journalists and "rise" to the level of "pundit" are a bit better grounded to sniff out the details of a story. They don't have to rely on the regurgitated soundbites of TV talking heads and prominent journalists like Judy Miller or Jeff Gerth. They can assess things for themselves and even, from time to time, actually investigate the facts on their own. I listened, recently, to Molly's last collection of her columns, Who Let the Dogs In? Much of what she had to say about politicians, for example, came from talking to them, personally; from interviews, from being on the campaign trail, from following them around and talking to other people about them. When the Texas Legislature was in session, Molly could write about it because she'd covered it as a journalist for years. She didn't write about what she saw on Hannity & Colmes or heard on Rush Limbaugh or read in the Washington Post. She wrote about what she knew; not about what other people know.

And the prime complaint against David Broder is that he writes about what other people know, and claims it as his own knowledge. In academia, we call that plagiarism. And the reason we despise it so, is because it is so intellectually lazy, dishonest, and dishonorable. Besides, its stealing, and in the land of ideas, it's all we have to trade in.

So, does this mean Digby is our Broder? No, but in a sense she might as well be. Broder is the "Dean" of the DC press corps because he's so widely respected. Wasn't always so, of course. Tim Crouse wrote a wonderful book about a Presidential campaign back when Hunter Thompson inspired a whole generation of journalists to write what they knew, rather than what their editors expected. Maybe it's not coincidence Rolling Stone published both Thompson and Crouse. Anyway, in The Boys on the Bus, Crouse famously labelled Broder with the name every working journalist (it seemed) had for him, but never said to his face: "Bigfoot." A "Bigfoot," like Broder, was a journalist who had "risen above" the rank and file reporters who had to eat on the campaign trail and hear the same speech over and over and over, sleep on the bus and in plastic hotel rooms that never changed, no matter where they were. "Bigfoot" would join the bus as some convenient point (convenient to the pundit's schedule), take in "the speech" once, and then write a pontificating column on "what it was all about."

Sometimes, the only difference between "Bigfoot" and prominent bloggers is that the prominent bloggers don't even get invited onto the bus.

I was listening to Laura Flanders today, from a talk she gave in a bookstore in Boulder, Colorado about her new book, Blue Grit. She didn't talk about bloggers and pundits and the distortions of the media, except in passing (I'm not sure she mentioned bloggers at all, frankly. Never hear 'em mentioned on Democracy Now!, either, come to think of it. Aside from Jon Stewart, that's about all the news I listen to, save for NPR; so maybe I'm not getting out enough....). What she talked about was grass-roots organizing, was vote drives to get people registered, and more drives to get them to vote; was how activist groups have pushed mayors to make enough ballots and machines available to the people who want to vote (when the numbers go up and the number of ballots or machines doesn't, well....), and how many American cities with over 500,000 population have Democratic mayors (Bill White is not officially a Democrat, because Houston "officially" has non-partisan city elections, but he worked in Clinton's administration), and how Howard Dean's effort to make the Democratic party a presence in all 50 states was both effective and would eventually pay off. And in short, after 1 hour, I had more sense of hope in the political process than I've had from weeks spent grousing about Harry Reid and John McCain and the MSM. These are not stories about people blogging or even complaining about how unfair and one-sided the MSM is, or how obtuse and worthless the "Beltway crowd" is. These are stories of people actually making a difference in the political process. Ms. Flanders is convinced they are creating a real change in national politics.

Greil Marcus has a new book coming out soon. According to the publisher:

Marcus considers the birth of America as a New Jerusalem, a place of promises so vast that they could only be betrayed--and how from that betrayal emerged the nation's prophetic voice, the voice that calls America's citizens to self-judgment. Over the course of our history, Marcus finds that the prophetic voice has sounded less and less in the political realm--where it can be heard in the words of John Winthrop, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King, Jr.--and more in the work of individual artists, including Philip Roth, David Lynch, Sinclair Lewis, John Dos Passos, David Thomas of Pere Ubu, Allen Ginsberg, the band Heavens to Betsy, Bill Pullman, and Sheryl Lee.
Obviously I haven't read it yet, and the reviews at Amazon take a different spin than the publisher's puffery. But still, it's an interesting notion that we have a national voice that calls us to self-judgment. That seems to be where blogs stem from, oddly enough. I say "oddly enough" because the "call to self-judgment" is so clearly a religious one (Marcus apparently focusses on the work of two prominent American pastors, and only one politician), and left blogistan is often so allergic to any talk of religion at all. History, of course, is rife with such ironies. And maybe Marcus is right, maybe he's wrong; but I not one binding thread among the three figures he cites: they all had serious responsibilities for their positions in the real world. By "serious responsibilities," I mean they had obligations both to an abstraction (their faith, their political philosophy) and to other people; lots of other people. What obligations do bloggers have, beyond the ones they try to pin on people like David Broder, who in turn tries, in his columns, to pin those same obligations on politicians? An obligation to the "truth"? Hmmmm...the greatest abstraction of them all. Does blogging, then, reduce to Ezra Pound's exclamation: "Hang it all, Robert Browning, there can be but one 'Sordello'! But 'Sordello,' and my 'Sordello'?" Which truth, in other words, are bloggers to commit to? Even Digby doesn't know:

The netroots – the progressive blogosphere – consists of a very lively and disparate group of citizens who are political observers, activists, readers, writers, entrepreneurs, communicating and organizing via the Internet. We have opera-loving liberals from Georgia, NASCAR-loving progressives from Chicago, and Grateful Dead-loving Democrats from Florida. We are from everywhere, and our common tribal signifiers aren’t social status or professional authority or region.
It's an almost Whitmanesque catalog, but ultimately it means nothing. The only connective tissue she identifies is passion, and "in this era of Republican corruption, excess, and failure, that passion sometimes manifests itself as anger." All well and good, but as I've stated elsewhere, even that anger seems to be running its course. How long, after all, can you stay angry? How often can you return to the well of outrage without either blowing up, or giving up? As the Desert Fathers understood, passion may well lead you to the pursuit of your life, but sooner or later acedie sets in, and then what? Has left blogistan reached the point of acedie? If not now, it will; inevitably.

With only a center pole to hold up the big tent bloggers like Digby imagine the internet has cast over this vast realm of the passionately involved, the group itself gathers only around that pole and wraps itself more tightly and tightly against it, especially as the tent itself shrinks into the truest of the true believers. What is needed are many tent poles to hold the tent up in many places, but those poles come from a broader sense of purpose, and a greater appreciation of both history and tradition. Left blogistan has neither. I've yet to encounter anyone who appreciates the Democratic loss of 1972 in the contest of the Iraq war today, mostly because the majority of people I encounter on blogs weren't alive in 1972. Vietnam is a history lesson for them. The Cold War is as remote as the Middle Ages, and just as unimaginable. Which is not a criticism, but an observation. Left blogistan will gain some roots, some purpose, some value, when it gains a real sense of history, a real sense of reality. Journalists don't notably have a strong sense of history, but good journalists have a better grasp of causation, of connection, of what preceded and why, than columnists ever display.

Bloggers could learn a thing or two from that. If blogging is going to amount to anything, it's going to have to do the kind of work Laura Flanders describes, not ape the kind of work bloggers despise. So far, left blogistan seems to be better at knowing what it doesn't like.

It's not a lot to build on.

Does this mean, then, we swing to the other extreme: that blogs are useless because they aren't bodies in the streets or canvassers covering neighborhoods? No. Back to Richard Rorty, as interpreted by Robert Bauer:

Orwell's claim was (as Rorty interpreted it) more modest, holding that when we try to find our political footing, "we do so by talking to other people... [and] we hope that these others will say something to keep our web of beliefs and desires coherent," and steer us on a course toward progressive goals.
That's surely a worthy goal and laudable effort of blogs. In fact, Bauer links the two for me: the Bush Presidency, and blogging:

Reflecting on Rorty's views, it is hard not to see how this also marks out a crucial point of distinction between Bush and progressive politics. A conservative think-tank scribe, who has had quite enough of the current administration, once explained that in the Bush White House, there is no respect for argument. The president is a "decider": he governs by instinct, and he appeals to the public to accept that it is for the best because he means to do his best. In the last years, the death of argument within the Republican Party -- the attempted enforcement of orthodoxy, defined as a primal form of loyalty to presidential will -- has cost it and the country dearly.

This administration has not given up the form, the outward appearance, of argument. Its advocacy is tied to specific conclusions; it assembles "facts" toward judgments that are already made and not to be relinquished, except under irresistible political pressure. Here we have talking points, the message of the day, the execution of a game-plan. Richard Hofstadter eloquently captured the feel of this kind of argument; and his analysis is by no means limited to the "paranoid" argumentative style that he famously described. What Hofstadter exposed was a kind of argument mounted as a defense against genuine exchange: "a defensive act which shuts off his [the exponent's] receptive apparatus and protects him from having to attend to disturbing considerations that do not fortify his ideas. He has all the evidence he needs; he is not a receiver, he is a transmitter."

The death of argument has contributed, for this president, to a disfigured brand of conservatism. Rorty would have observed, too, that the conservatism that emerged from this dialectical void did not work. Rorty would urge that progressives avoid the same mistake, by embarking on vigorous, continuous and open argument, in the interests of conceiving, adapting and achieving a progressive -- and no less important, functional -- program to relieve unnecessary human suffering.
I must admit, I'm not sure what "necessary human suffering" would look like, but we'll leave that rhetorical examination for another time. I'm not, in other words, adopting Bauer's words here, so much as confiscating them to make my point. Bloggers like to draw a cause and effect relationship between their anger and the decline in the President's standing in opinion polls. It's always struck me as small beer at best, considering Congress seems as unimpressed with those polls as the Administration is, but let that pass. It's the causal link I simply don't see. Many who didn't live through Vietnam also imagine the anti-war movement ended that war. It did nothing of the sort, although, as Bauer notes Rorty acknowledged, it did help hasten the end of that war. But what ended Vietnam is also what is ending the Iraq debacle: the entire policy has been a complete failure. Vietnam was at least partically dedicated to the "domino theory" of the spread of Communism, an idea so vague and general it could never be proven nor disproven, except in disaster (which, ironically, is what finally disproved it). As Bauer points out, Bush's failure of argument, his refusal to countenance argument, is collapsing under its own weight. Perhaps in a monarchy he'd have fared a bit better, but in a democracy the failure to allow argument is always, ultimately, fatal. It's not the kind of end we'd like to give someone credit for, so much as the kind of end inevitable from the failed premises of the enterprise. We in left blogistan are not even in the position of slouching toward Bethlehem to give birth to something new; the entire structure is simply collapsing from design failure. The best we can do now is clear away the rubble and present new and better plans for the future. And recognize that, if we are going to be prophets calling America to self-judgment, we've got to have more going for us than internet access and opinions.

We've got to do things like organize voters; and get out the vote; and insist local bodies make the voting machines and ballots available to all of us who want to participate in this democracy; which, after all, is ours, not theirs. Whoever "they" are.