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Sunday, October 31, 2004

Sunday morning

God spoke to me this morning, and He said, “Michael, you better not say anything snarky or dismissive about that article in today’s New York Times Magazine about American evangelicals who are establishing Christian businesses, performing faith healings in banks, conducting Bible study in the Centers for Disease Control, praying with real estate clients that they get a good price for their home, and so on.” God also said, “you know, it’s not at all weird that so many people think that I speak directly to them.  In fact, if you read the article carefully, you’ll find that ‘some workplace Bible-study groups . . . feature training in how to distinguish between God’s voice and random thoughts.’ So it’s not as if people are just making stuff up and attributing it to Me.”

I said, “But God, if You’re really God and not some random thoughts in my head, don’t You already know if I’m going to say anything snarky or dismissive about these people?”

He smote me then, and let me tell you, that “smiting” is some serious shit.  It’s way worse than “smacking around” or “walloping,” that’s for sure.

So I’m not going to say anything about these people or their businesses or their beliefs.  I just have an innocent question about the inspirational painting on the office wall of Riverview Community Bank president Duane Kropuenske, which is reproduced on the Magazine‘s front cover.  The painting is titled “Unending Riches” (you can check it out here for a better view) and it’s a portrait of Jesus standing with two businessmen in what is clearly an executive office.  In the background is a generic cityscape, framed in a large window.  The businessman on the right seems to be introducing the businessman on the left to Christ, who’s shaking hands and wearing white robes.

OK, so check out what’s on the wall behind the shoulder of the guy on the left.  It’s another inspirational painting of some kind!  Have you ever seen anything like this before?  A piece of inspirational workplace art that includes, in a mise en abyme, another piece of inspirational workplace art?  It’s too weird. And more important, why would this particular office need an inspirational painting in the first place?  I mean, Jesus Christ Himself works for them!! They’ve already got the power of the Almighty right there, standing behind the desk with the laptop-- what more do they need?? Are you trying to tell me that even the firm that employs the Son of God has to festoon its office walls with “motivational” posters?

I just think that’s blasphemous.

Posted by Michael on 10/31 at 09:50 AM
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Friday, October 29, 2004

Slightly newer republic

I’m two days late on this, but that’s all right-- I’ve had other things to do.  But now I’ve gotten a chance to look at the overwhelmingly underwhelming endorsements of Kerry at Slate, and I just want to point out two things about the phenomenon.

First, let’s look at the contributions of senior writer Timothy Noah and editor Jacob Weisberg, who are generally sane, honest, and sensible folk.  Noah:

Sen. John Kerry is the least appealing candidate the Democrats have nominated for president in my lifetime. I’m 46, so that covers Kennedy, Johnson, Humphrey, McGovern, Carter, Mondale, Dukakis, Clinton, and Gore. McGovern, Mondale, and Dukakis get the worst press in this bunch, but I liked all three of them and still do. I can’t pretend to like John Kerry. He’s pompous, he’s an opportunist, and he’s indecisive. Although I’m impressed by Kerry’s combat record in Vietnam, I can’t suppress the uncharitable suspicion that what drew him there wasn’t patriotism so much as a preppy passion for physical challenge and the urge to buff his future political resume.

He can’t suppress that uncharitable suspicion, huh?  Even though he was about eight years old when Kerry signed up for Vietnam, and-- like me-- has never faced the question of whether to serve in the armed forces during wartime, he thinks he has the cojones to cast aspersions on the guy’s motivations, and he thinks he has the right to speak about Kerry’s enlistment today as if it were some kind of cross between trying out for the lacrosse team and working as a summer clerk at a Brahmin law firm?  Mother of Jesus, talk about pompous.

Now Weisberg:

I remain totally unimpressed by John Kerry. Outside of his opposition to the death penalty, I’ve never seen him demonstrate any real political courage. His baby steps in the direction of reform liberalism during the 1990s were all followed by hasty retreats. . . .  At a personal level, he strikes me as the kind of windbag that can only emerge when a naturally pompous and self-regarding person marinates for two decades inside the U.S. Senate.

You can already see the contours of Slate forums two years from now:  is Kerry pompous, or is he naturally pompous?  Our editors debate! Here again, the sneering remarks on the “personal” level; here again, the impugning of Kerry’s “courage"-- as if Kerry never testified against the Vietnam War and earned the eternal hatred of the ghoulish Nixon and his ghoulish minions; as if Kerry did not go after Iran-contra at the height of the Reagan junta’s morning in America; as if Kerry didn’t dig into BCCI and earn the eternal hatred of the ghoulish Bushes and their ghoulish minions.  What does “real political courage” mean here, you wonder?  The giveaway is that reference to “baby steps in the direction of reform liberalism,” which really means, “Kerry didn’t go far enough in abandoning liberalism.” You know, he’s still too beholden to those old liberal constituencies and special-interest groups-- we won’t name them here, but you know who they are.

OK, so here are the two things I want to point out.  First, as many of you already know very well, these are precisely the terms under which the major “liberal” media work.  I haven’t reproduced here Noah’s and Weisberg’s denunciations of Bush, but they’re significant and severe.  Still, the governing premise is:  I may despise Bush, but rest assured I look upon Kerry with disdain!  Really--he’s not my cup of tea at all! And despite what Noah says about Democratic nominees since 1960 (and personally, I think Kerry is on the upper end of that bunch), this is very much the attitude the liberal media took toward Carter, Mondale, Dukakis, Clinton, and Gore in turn.  It’s the same damn note every time:  I consider myself a liberal, but of course I don’t think much of the Democratic candidate.  He lacks charisma, he is opportunistic, he has profound character flaws, he is a weak leader, he does not inspire confidence, but . . . sigh . . . I suppose I can make do for now.

Second, and more important, this is what President Kerry’s press pool will sound like.  Think of Slate as The New Republic West, or as The Slightly Newer Republic.  It can be quite good, just as The New Republic publishes some terrific stuff every now and then.  But make no mistake.  There will be no real enthuasiasm for Kerry’s successes, and plenty of carping-- even opportunistic carping-- every time he has trouble mopping up one of Bush’s hideous messes or every time the DeLay/Frist Congress screws him or every time he goes too “soft” on one of those traditional liberal constituencies.  There might even be a story or two about his haircuts or his wife or his odious pomposity.  You never know.

So I wouldn’t worry too much about what will happen to liberal and progressive bloggers after November 2-- or after the last legal challenge has been beaten back sometime in December and Kerry has finally been declared the winner over the feral howls of the wingnuts.  I assure you that we’ll have plenty of fodder for snarky and outraged commentary well into the Kerry Administration.  And that’s why this once-humble but now pompous-and-opportunistic blog proudly endorses the Rude Pundit’s endorsement of John Kerry for President, and hopes that the Rude Pundit will keep raging rudely on.

Posted by Michael on 10/29 at 01:18 AM
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Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Red Sox Nation

You good people might be just a few hours away from your first World Series since . . . well, since you know when.  It’s time to look into your hearts and ask, do we really want this?  And in a sweep, of all things?  Don’t you think it would be better-- better for baseball, better for your souls-- if the Cards won the next three, throwing the entire sporting world into paroxysms?  Can it happen again-- twice in one post-season?  Is it the Curse of the Bambino? And then you all can win game seven in dramatic, nail-biting fashion.  Wouldn’t that be a lot more fun?  I mean, come on-- you’ve lived with agonizing anxiety for decades.  Wouldn’t three straight losses (with games four and five going into extra innings) be more satisfying right now, in both a narrative and a spiritual sense?

And surely some of you must regard victory itself as a prize of dubious worth.  Until tonight, your team was legendary, and their legend shaped and defined your self-identification as fans.  If you win the World Series, you win the World Series-- and you become kin to the 2002 Angels and the 1980 Phillies.  You will be elated (and drunk!) for a couple of days, sure.  But then the championship will begin to sink in, and while some of you will say, as did a New York Rangers fan in 1994, “now I can die in peace,” others among you will be plunged into existential crisis.

Just letting you know.

Posted by Michael on 10/27 at 12:14 PM
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Dream-Based Community

Josh Marshall has been all over the Al-Qaqaa story in the past few days, and he’s done an amazing job.  He’s especially delightful on the sorry (if ancillary) spectacle of CNN getting rolled by Drudge.  (Remind me again why any “news” organization runs with material from Sludge?) In fact, his stuff has been so good that I didn’t think I needed to weigh in at all, since I don’t think I have too many readers who don’t already know about TPM.

But lately, the flaws in Josh’s reality-based method have become all too apparent.  Marshall is alternately bewildered, outraged, and bemused by the Bush Administration’s feverish series of spins on the weapons cache:  first it was Administration officials saying “they cannot explain why the explosives were not safeguarded,” then it was the Iraqis’ fault for not guarding them (damn, they let us down again), then it was that the explosives were not a “proliferation risk” (presumably because they’ve already proliferated?), then it was that the White House didn’t know about Al-Qaqaa until October 15 (oh, that’s an airtight defense right there), then it was that the weapons aren’t such a big deal because they represent only a tiny fraction of all the explosives in Iraq (I’d hate to have to write that letter home to the families-- “we regret to inform you . . . but there is some consolation in knowing that your son or daughter was killed by only a tiny fraction of all the explosives in Iraq"), and most recently it’s that the weapons were already gone when we got there (except that they weren’t).

And Josh thinks that all this is further evidence of the Bush junta’s characteristically frantic lying and criminal incompetence.

But that just shows you why reality-based reporting is inadequate in situations like this, in which the Bush Administration is merely sound asleep and dreaming.  As Freud famously pointed out, the unconscious is indiscriminate in such matters:  in the dream-based community, one can say, “the kettle I borrowed from you was fine when I used it; besides, the holes were already there when I borrowed it; and what’s more, I never borrowed a kettle from you,” and there is no contradiction.  Thus:  I don’t know how the RDX and the HMX got out of the kettle, they’re not that important anyway, it was your fault for not putting a lid on the stuff, only a little bit leaked out, and the kettle didn’t have any RDX or HMX in it when you gave it to me.

Which is why, in the end, reality-based reporting needs to be supplemented by outlandish theoretical speculation.

Posted by Michael on 10/27 at 02:24 AM
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Must reads:  fair and balanced edition

One fine item from the Reality-Based Community (more specifically, Daniel Benjamin and Gabriel Weimann, writing in today’s Times), offering a Reality-Based Assessment on the situation in Iraq:

There has been a drastic shift in mood in the last two years. Radicals who were downcast and perplexed in 2002 about the rapid defeat of the Taliban in Afghanistan now feel exuberant about the global situation and, above all, the events in Iraq.

For example, an article in the most recent issue of Al Qaeda’s Voice of Jihad - an online magazine that comes out every two weeks - makes the case that the United States has a greater strategic mess on its hands in Afghanistan and Iraq than the Soviet Union did in Afghanistan in the 1980’s. As translated by the SITE Institute, a nonprofit group that monitors terrorists, the author describes how the United States has stumbled badly by getting itself mired in two guerrilla wars at once, and that United States forces are now “merely trying to ‘prove their presence’ - for all practical purposes, they have left the war.”

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian terrorist now wreaking havoc in Iraq, sees things in a similar way. “There is no doubt that the Americans’ losses are very heavy because they are deployed across a wide area and among the people and because it is easy to procure weapons,” he wrote in a recent communiqué to his followers that was posted on several radical Web sites. “All of which makes them easy and mouthwatering targets for the believers.”

Clearly, the president’s oft-repeated claim that American efforts are paying off because “more than three-quarters of Al Qaeda’s key members and associates have been killed, captured or detained” - a questionable claim in itself - means little to jihadists. What matters to them that the invasion of Iraq paved the way for the emergence of a movement of radical Sunni Iraqis who share much of the Qaeda ideology.

Among the recurrent motifs on the Web are that America has blundered in Iraq the same way the Soviet Union did in the 1980’s in Afghanistan, and that it will soon be leaving in defeat. “We believe these infidels have lost their minds,” was the analysis on a site called Jamaat ud-Daawa, which is run out of Pakistan. “They do not know what they are doing. They keep on repeating the same mistake.”

. . .

It seems clear that, while the administration insists that we are acting strongly, our pursuit of the war on terrorism through an invasion of Iraq has carried real costs for our security. The occupation is in chaos, which is emboldening a worldwide assortment of radical Islamists and giving them common ground. The worst thing we could do now is believe that the Bush administration’s tough talk is in any way realistic. If we really think that the unrest abroad will have no impact on us at home - as too many thought before 9/11 - not even a vastly improved offense can help us.

Now, I’m not exactly helping this argument find a wider audience.  But I do want to point out one important feature of the Reality-Based Community:  we actually think that the “judicious study of discernible reality” (you remember that phrase) involves knowing what the other side thinks about us.  No, not the wolves.  The actual people, people. Because of our doggedly empiricist approach to the world, we think it’s important to know what the other side is doing and saying, and we think it’s perfectly all right-- not flip-floppy at all-- to respond to the news of the day.  So when a Bush campaign flack charges that John Kerry is “basing his attacks on the headlines he wakes up to each day,” we think, ah, that would be nice-- a President who reads the news!

BUT IN THE INTERESTS OF FAIRNESS AND BALANCE, we can’t let the Reality-Based Community have the last word.  So, then, this once-humble but now increasingly self-aggrandizing blog turns you over to Ken Mehlman, who recently sent the following letter to my friend and colleague Charlie Bertsch:

Dear Charlie,

I am appalled.

In Missouri, a flyer shows a photograph of a young black man under a fire hose in the 1950s.  The flyer tells African-Americans this is an example of how Republicans have kept voters from the polls.  In Colorado, Republican voters got calls telling them their family members in Iraq had died.  The callers claimed that call would be real unless Kerry was elected.

In these final days, we can only expect more of this filth.

I urge you to turn on your answering machine.  If you get a call from an unknown number, let the machine pick it up.  It may be the latest campaign of smear, fear and lies from our opponents.

If you get one of these disgusting calls, or an outrageous flyer or mailing, save the message, call our hotline and let us know.

1-888-610-8170

Just a few weeks ago we saw a Kerry campaign manual that told their staff to allege intimidation even if no evidence existed.  Now their allies have begun an incredibly dishonest and disgusting campaign of shadowy calls and misleading flyers.

We need to know immediately if you get one of these calls.  We need to know the lies, threats, and distortions those allied against us are spreading.

With very few days left, we need you to be our eyes and ears on the ground. 

Call our hotline at 1-888-610-8170 if you get any suspicious messages.

Thanks for all you have done, and all you continue to do.

Sincerely,
Ken Mehlman

Now, let’s admit this much-- if any Missouri Democrats are circulating flyers like that, they need to get with the program.  Republicans did not even begin to suppress the black vote until black voters started to vote Democratic, and of course the 1950s would be way too early for that in the major fire-hosing states.  But aside from that, I think we should read this letter as the second part of a two-part strategy:  first, the little Karl Roveans in the Non-Reality-Based Community wage a dishonest and disgusting campaign of shadowy calls and misleading flyers (attributing them, as is their wont, to Democrats), and then they follow up with an outraged letter asking their supporters to report these calls and flyers.

So Charlie suggests:  “Call the number and report the sort of verifiable facts that the Kerry campaign has been hammering Bush with, like numbers on the budget deficit etc. Claim it must be a terrible lie. See what happens.”

Posted by Michael on 10/27 at 01:18 AM
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Monday, October 25, 2004

Down to the wire

As we enter the final days of this epochal contest, October has given us one surprise after another-- but none quite so surprising as this:  a dark-horse candidate has come out of nowhere and surged into the lead. 

Camille Paglia!

What, you thought I was talking about the election?  Screw the election!  I’m bored with the election.  Besides, the election has been so over ever since Bush landed on that aircraft carrier, or ever since Saddam was found, or ever since the Republican convention, or ever since that devastating ad showed Americans that John Kerry would not defend us from the Minnesota Timberwolves.  It has been over over and over again, people.  And it just happens to be one of those “ironies” that I’ve lost all interest in the election on the very day Kurt and I finally got around to displaying that “best political blogger nominee” tile from Rox Populi.

No, I’m talking about my own special contest, my “I am the Back End of a Horse” Award.  After three and a half weeks in which Townhall, Tech Central Station, the Corner, and various Professors of Law have battled mightily for the coveted hindquarters, Camille Paglia comes roaring into the lead with this recycled gem.  She recently told Reason that her “most embarrassing vote” was for

Bill Clinton the second time around.  Because he did not honorably resign when the Lewinsky scandal broke and instead tied up the country and paralyzed the government for two years, leading directly to our blindsiding by 9/11.

(Via Slate.)

It’s a twofer:  Clinton was responsible for 9/11, sure, we knew that, but he tied up the country and paralyzed the government as well, thereby preventing those brave, vigilant House Republicans from disarming al-Qaeda.

Now, because Camille has said similar things before, this month’s Back End of a Horse Award-- should Paglia remain in first place at the end of the week-- will be more like a recognition of lifetime achievement.  Two years ago, on Sullivan’s Daily Dish, Camille could be found saying, “I blame the media as well as the superstructure of the Democratic party for the appalling delusionalism of the Monica Lewinsky episode, which began in 1998 and consumed the news for two years.” (What is “delusionalism,” you ask?  The end result of delusionalization, of course.) No question, Al Gore would have been given a long honeymoon by the Freepers, the Isikoff-Fineman crew, and the Congressional GOP-- except that four years ago, Professor Paglia could be found in Salon, repeatedly ridiculing and lying about the very guy she believes should have taken office in Clinton’s stead-- Al Gore, who, she now says, would have prevented 9/11 had he won in 2000.

And six years ago, when Clinton ordered missile strikes against al-Qaeda in response to the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, what was Camille saying?  Funny you should ask!  Why, she was saying this:

The missile attacks Clinton ordered from Martha’s Vineyard this summer were similarly oddly timed to coincide with politically embarrassing events in Washington.

So in 1998, there was Clinton trying to take out bin Laden with a couple of cruise missiles while the House Republicans were making their little origami-diorama replicas of Lewinsky’s kneepad performances in the Oval Office, and there was Paglia, sneering that the missile strikes were diversions from Monica, only a couple of years before she decided that the Democrats were to blame for letting Monica divert us from bin Laden.

I used to refer to Camille as the Howard Stern of academe-- occasionally good for a little amusement amid the outrage, and certainly more savvy about media and celebrity than most of her critics.  But the truth is, she’s not nearly as bright as Howard.  “Incendiary,” yes; “provocative,” I suppose; “voluble,” no question.  But really not very bright, in the end.

This award isn’t wrapped up-- anything can happen, especially in those swing states, and the floor is still open for nominations-- but right now, Paglia is the leading Back End of a Horse.  Remember, only one week left!

Posted by Michael on 10/25 at 09:20 AM
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