“Ay, and build the future with its ruins”

G.B. Shaw visits Baghdad and the Fray.

Caesar to Theodotus: “Let it Burn”: Remembering George Bernard Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra, LegalCodger parallels the burning of the Royal Library of Alexandria with the looting of the National Museum and Library in Baghdad here. The excerpt from the play: 


What is burning there is the memory of mankind.

A shameful memory. Let it burn.

Will you destroy the past?

Ay, and build the future with its ruins.
IraqNoPhobia makes direct reference to Alexandria here and attempts to place Baghdad in context with other historic sackings. Major_Danby feels that “we are Napoleon shooting off the nose of the Sphinx, but to the hundredth power,” while Thrasymachus laments that “the Bush Administration, not surprisingly, contains no Cordell Hull.” Hull served as FDR’s Secretary of State and is believed to have persuaded the powers-that-be to spare pristine Kyoto as an A-bomb target. On the other side, EarlyBird “can imagine the letter from the commanding officer to the widow: ’… Just know that your husband died like a soldier: while defending a 3,000 year old bas relief of the Sultan of Ur,’ ” here. Zathras points out that “no Iraqis in a position to prevent damage to the Museum and Library appear to have anticipated the looting either.” PaulB and others remind the Fray that it was Iraqis doing the looting: “If the Iraqis weren’t concerned enough to put their lives on the line for their cultural treasures why should any American soldier be expected to do otherwise?” And mikkyld speculates:
Had they been so placed, I can just imagine the hilarity with which such a move would have been greeted by the US media. Or worse, the anger that would have targeted the administration if it were perceived that a soldier lost his life in such duty.
Your Word Against Yours: Engram, here, returns to a William Saletan piece following the September 11th attacks, titled “Bum Rap,”  in which he says, essentially, that hindsight is 20/20. Engram writes, “It’s simply disingenuous to knowingly claim that the disastrous museum events were obvious in prospect. Or can someone point me to Meghan O’Rourke’s article that emphasized this obvious risk of the impending war?” And in light of Slate’s “The Case for Looting,” JCSNY asks “how can Slate run the Landsburg article of earlier this week, that so glibly approached the looting that was going on, and turn around and present this latest article?”Finally, Nike is choked up: “It sucks that all the treasure is gone all the same, some people are gonna be disappointed. Jeb was supposed to get that bust of Sargon the Great on the right of your screen, Rummy was supposed to get the Ninevah emeralds.” … KFA10:15 a.m.

Thursday, Apr. 17, 2003

Syria ‘round: They’re after Chris Suellentrop in Assessment Fray for on-ramping the Road to Damascus. Betty_The_Crow wastes no time in asking, “Was there any actual content to this article?” in a post titled “Suellentrop’s Forrest Gump Impression.”

One needn’t sympathize with Syria to see that nothing short of abandoning Lebanon, Hamas, Hezbollah and chemical weapons would have removed the country from Washington’s shit list. Doing all that would almost certainly get Assad killed by his own people, whereas he has at least some chance of surviving the administration; no one in the region would support an attack on Syria and even US voters might balk at the notion of using Iraq as a base to launch yet another and considerably more speculative preventive war on a Middle Eastern country. All of which is to say that Suellentrop’s article does absolutely nothing to cast light on Syria’s situation or Assad’s competence.

Pear-la-lu piles on here, and in this postJames pays Suellentrop a backhanded compliment, “Suellentrop may have botched every substantive point he intended to make, but he is on to one thing: movies and comic books have conditioned Americans’ ability to perceive and process world events.”

To be fair, TheBrewmaster takes aim at the whole roster of Slate political reporters, citing the catalog of stories in recent days here. ShriekingViolet concurs, “Sure, Slate’s writers aren’t lusting for blood like the staff at the Weekly Standard, but by treating war with Syria as a legitimate subject for discussion they are playing the hawks’ game.” BML asks:

Why am I being pushed into deciding about war with this country? And what could be possibly be gained sending troops into Damascus? We’ll still read Slate if we don’t go to war, or if you never predicted war in the first place. So don’t rush me into what seems like an excessively silly conflict.

The_Slasher-8 takes up for Suellentrop here, and expands on Syria’s possession of chemical weapons, which have “no value in terms of any ability to change the geopolitical situation, but it does make the other side think before acting.” … KFA3:15 p.m.

Partly Cloudy: ShriekingViolet takes tongue-out-of-cheek in reference to the self-effacing title The Dismal Science, calling Economics “pure guesswork” in contrast to “weather forecasting” which has “gotten more accurate over the years due to analysis of historical patterns.” Violet is reacting to Robert Shapiro’s analysis that economists have been navigating the mild recession and weak recovery in the theoretical dark because the factors introduced in the current cycle are unprecedented in breadth and scope. Shapiro explains, “Don’t blame the business-cycle theorists for missing so much. Economic change has been so rapid and far-reaching lately… that no model can hope to take account of it.”

Is Violet anti-intellectual? DeaH appreciates the comparison between meteorology and economics here, and claims that “economists have learned a lot from studying the math of weather predictions. What they haven’t seem to learn is the most important lesson – what to do about” the financial Hurricane Hugos. Truth_Teller isn’t so generous, “Changes in business cycles are always unforeseen. Sometimes a pundit gets lucky, but that is just what it is… Luck!” TT fires a salvo at the good folks in Oslo here, “giving a Nobel prize in economics makes about as much sense as giving one for phrenology.”

While we’re knocking professions: Chris Suellentrop makes mention of Bashar Assad’s training as an ophthalmologist. Clearly, usmin01 has had one too many bad experiences in that Clockwork Orange vise chair:

As a rule, trainees who select a career in ophthalmology are too prideful and greedy to be internists and too lazy to train in true surgical subspecialties. In contrast to future gynecologists who share similar qualities of sloth, ophthalmology registrars are frequently among the better educated of their peers. That being said, smart yet lazy in combination with arrogance and/or greed does not bode well for a leadership position in a Third World nation.

Fraywatch won’t touch the gynecological reference. If you’d like to, respond hereKFA9:00 a.m.

Wednesday, Apr. 16, 2003

Cat Fight: The Fray is staging a two-front attack on the “viral marketing” infection, with MatthewGarth as field general. First, in the Ad Report Card Fray, Matt (can I call you Matt?), takes on Rob Walker’s Monday piece, “Blogging for Milk.” Matt offers a commentary on swag (as anyone who’s ever attended a conference and/or film festival knows, swag = free shit, usually dispensed in logo-plastered tote bags) and Raging Cow as “legal liquid marijuana for tweens: a gateway drink on the way to Mountain Dew Code Red” here. Ang_Cho, conspiracy theorist, comes in with the ol’ Mix, Mingle & Play Microsoft/Schwepps promotion, coyly suggesting that, “Considering Schweppes (parent company of Dr. Pepper)and Microsoft (parent company of Slate) have partnered together in the past, might not Slate and Rob Walker be infected with this insidious viral marketing bug?”

The fun starts, though, with A_C’s meta-spiral:

After all, mentioning a blog that mentions the ad is as good as having a blog that mentions the ad.

Oh wait, which means that since I am mentioning the mention of a blog mentioning the ad…

falling, falling, all is going dark….

Matt then takes it up a notch Tuesday, raising the bar on Walker’s piece on the source-unknown Puma ad:

Rob says that the Puma “ad” qua ad is tedious, but doesn’t elaborate. I will. It’s tedious because the logo is redundant—there are at least two too many of them—and the vignette is implausible—there is no way that Puma sneakers can help encourage a woman to perform oral sex on a man, especially if she’s already got a pair. In the scarce economy of the hunt for the hummer, the straight man might think “It’s gotta be the shoes,” but that would only prove how stupid straight men are when they’re thinking with their branding irons.

The battle moves over to the Fraywatch Fray, where BenK (yeah, that’s 3 times in 4 days…a broken clock is right thrice a week) goes Camille Paglia on Matt, “He has some unique points about the multiplicity of logos, but he never addresses the possibility that the woman may  be really enjoying what she’s doing. It says something unfortunate about his love life, I’m afraid.” Matt answers adeptly here, a response replete with [cue Joe Millionaire sound effects]. Baseball America has MatthewGarth ranked as the organization’s number one star prospect…KFA1:30 p.m.

Shi’i for Brains: The way Mickey Kaus sees it, “There’s nothing inherent in government-by-imam that would necessarily produce terrorism or otherwise be horribly inimical to U.S. interests, and it has the virtue of being home-grown rather than imposed by us.” WVMicko squawks, “I guess you’d have to ask an Ayatollah to know for sure.” DirectHex belives that “we don’t understand Shi’ism” and that “the Shia Clerics are extremely well organized with structured levels of authority akin to the levels in the judicial structure of any Western state” and are capable now of walking precincts from Karbala to Qaladze if an election were held tomorrow. His informed thread begins here. Meanwhile, the rest of us try our creative hands at headers working off of “Shiite” puns.

A Crypto-Schlafly Production: Despite all the fuss over the pollutant of reality programming undermining our values system, BenK debunks the notion that the recent Fox schlockfest, Married by America, is futzing with our collective rectitude, commenting that “…on Fox, even for money … it’s hard to get a couple to make a mockery of the institution.” Andkathleen credits Ben with an “interesting take on the show,” but ultimately disagrees, “Conservative values had absolutely no toehold on this show … unless you count hypocrisy as one of them.” Virginia Heffernan’s review of the show is here. … KFA7:50 a.m.

Tuesday, Apr. 15, 2003

Alto Loot: As Steven E. Landsburg lays out the economic and moral arguments in support of looting, many Fraysters wonder if he’s being facetious, certifiable, or rhetorically thorny. BenK reminds us that apart from the redistribution claim, the sum of looted items collectively are worth far less as disparate pieces than as a whole entity:

Then comes the argument drawn from biology, of coadapted complexes. The rearrangement of wealth may seem like no big deal until you realize that some combinations of things are actually worth more than the sum of their parts. A fully functioning hospital may require a generator, for example (this taken from the news, directly) and may not be able to function when its generator is ‘reappropriated.’ In an aesthetic realm, matched furnishings may be more pleasant together than when all looted by various parties. Museum collections work the same way. Thus, by disassembling things, problems are created. This is especially true when the infrastructure is pillaged, and copper wires from power distribution, for example, are removed (and probably cut and damaged in the process).

Landsburg’s argument relies on the premise that the looted items were acquired improperly by the Baathist regime in the first place; therefore looting is just a process whereby items are being returned, in effect, to their rightful owners. Major_Danby disagrees, “Once we toss in ‘income taxes are theft’ to the ‘property is theft’ ideology, Landsgerg offers the recipe for an interesting, if somewhat Hobbesian, society.” Along the same lines, veblen puts forth that “the problem with the argument is that the origins of any kind of property begin to look suspicious when you look at them too hard.” He cites some cogent hypotheticals:

How much of the current wealth of the U.S. came from the illegitimate exploitation of slaves? How much from Andrew Jackson’s immoral ethic cleansing of the Southern Indians? How much of the current Rockefellers’ wealth came from illegitimate business practices? Should the former shareholders and employees of Enron be allowed to loot Kenneth Lay’s and Jeffery Skilling’s houses?

RogerFancyguess takes the other side, stopping short of supporting the museum raids:

I agree with him that these costs could be “small potatoes” compared to what already has been imposed on the Iraqi people. I’ll go a step further and say that perhaps the brunt of these “small potato” costs are probably being carried by Saddam loyalists who exploited other Iraqis during the regime while the lion’s share of the benefits of the looting are probably being enjoyed by those who were exploited in the first place. … [T]here’s a lot of wealth which was held by Republican Guardsmen and Saddam himself being spread around too. I’m not for looting the museums … but who better to loot the Presidential palaces and Baath party buildings then the exploited Iraqi people themselves? I’d rather see them get the wealth there then have coalition governments secure it and sell it off as they see fit.

Atlanticblue and omnibus1reader lay the blame at the feet of the coalition forces for not securing order in Baghdad and preventing pillaging, as stipulated under international law (granted, after victory is officially declared). Their thread is here

In regard to his more liberal friends, locdog finds it ironic that many of the people who, after the Rodney King verdict, professed that rioters weren’t “stealing from their own shops and business, they [were] expressing their discontent with a hopelessly inequitable society” are the same people now who fell that “now looters are a bunch of degenerates who aren’t capable of handling democracy and pulling Saddam’s wise and steady hand out from them was the worse thing we ever did. Funny how the times have changed.”

Defrocking: In Jurisprudence, Dahlia Lithwick chronicles a once-in-a-blue-moon event—Anthony Kennedy taking off the robe and functioning as a public figure with thoughtful opinions on the issue of judicial confirmation. Lithwick admires Kennedy for his openness. “[H]e made the best case I have heard thus far for limiting the Senate’s ‘advise and consent’ role to something that falls short of a veto based on ideological litmus tests.”

JWorth sees nothing wrong with ideology playing a role in the confirmation process:

Ideology has increasingly become a crucial factor used by administrations in deciding who to nominate in the first place. If judges are being nominated largely because of their right-wing (or left-wing) credentials, how can the senate properly vet them … without taking ideology into account? Is Lithwick saying that “advise and consent” should merely act as a competence filter, and that beyond that limited standard, administrations should simply get to fill all the openings without limit? That would certainly solve the judicial workload problem, but it would be a pretty dramatic constitutional revolution (and would probably result in an ever more polarized judiciary…). Alternately, maybe we’re just in a transition period, where the executive branch is still testing the limits of the nomination power, and hasn’t yet learned that you can get more appointees approved if they tend closer towards the center of the political spectrum. It takes … two to make a traffic jam.

HLMencken-2 sees a certain irony in Kennedy as messenger. “Justice Kennedy became a justice because of the increasing politicization of the Supreme Court. At best he is a mediocre man who rose to the court because he had little ‘paper trail’ upon which to criticize his nomination. If my memory is correct, he was nominated after the defeated Bork and the drug challenged Ginsburg.”

Parlor Games: Then, for our amusement and diversion, comes the age old game of to-appropriate-or-not-appropriate, initiated by Biffjerky. In Jurisprudence, oddly, he throws out the Norquistian hand grenade, “If two men want to have anal sex then so be it. But when they contract or pass on AIDS to each other then they should be denied medical treatment. Why should someone have to wait for a kidney or heart transplant and a homosexual can go to any hospital and get treated for AIDS? It’s a waste of taxpayers’ money.”

The fun gets started with the follow-ups. BernardYomtov tosses out:

If someone wants to eat lots of fatty foods, and never exercise, and smoke, then so be it. But when he has a heart attack he should be denied medical treatment.

Neff wastes little time:

Hey, this is fun! Okay … If someone wants to drive a half-ton vehicle at faster than the posted speed limit, so be it, but if they roll over and pin their legs in a heap of twisted metal, then they should be left by the side of the road to cry in pain and bleed slowly to death to set an example for passing motorists.

FrayEditor encourages participation … KFA7:55 a.m.

Monday, Apr. 14, 2003

A Graham of Flesh: Steven Waldman is skittish about the prospect of Franklin Graham and his humanitarian organization, Samaritan’s Purse, going over to Iraq to aid the relief effort and, in the process, signing up a convert or two. Graham is an unequivocal Islam-basher, having referred to it as a “a very wicked and evil religion.” 

Both secularists and devout evangelicals take to the Fray and exchange barbs, though a few posts explore finer points. Thomas sees a trace of paternalism in Waldman’s premise:

What’s more offensive—the idea that the president should dissuade certain Americans from relief efforts because he believes that they have the wrong religious beliefs, or the idea that the Iraqis, liberated from Saddam, should be treated like children and protected from any view that they might find disagreeable?

JackD responds to Thomas:

Is it really offensive to suggest that the timing of a Christian missionary effort might be better re-considered? There is a hugely Muslim population that has just undergone and is continuing to undergo major trauma. There are Muslim clergy who are skeptical of our motives, at best, and convinced that Bush meant it when he used the word, “crusade”, at worst. Everything turns on establishing order and transitioning to some sort of participatory government amidst tribal and ethnic tensions. Save them later; not now.

Following a similar line of thinking as Thomas, LukeWhite facetiously writes:

They’re certainly not sophisticated enough to distinguish between a foreign nation and a foreign religion, and so it’s better we just leave them alone. … Perhaps Mr Waldman might consider the possibility that the bulk of Arab resentment comes not as a result of being faced with complex and contradictory ideas, but just the opposite: Arabs nations have been patronized by their big brothers who have claimed for fifty years to know what was best for them. It was fashionable up until about two months ago to say that Arab nations were incapable of democracy, and Mr Waldman is just extending the argument: not only can they not handle democracy, but they also shouldn’t worry their little heads about religious dialogue.

Mangar believes that Waldman doesn’t consider the ramifications of the argument’s flip side:

Sure, having Graham in Iraq could (okay, would) piss some people off. It might be easy to spin as “anti Muslim”, even though Bush did nothing but the status quo; you let private aid organizations do as they wish. However, what if Bush goes OUT OF HIS WAY to STOP a Christian, humanitarian mission from going to Iraq? What happens then? I’ll tell you what…people would call him anti-Christian and anti-humanitarian. Plus, they’d have a lot stronger case than the other way around.

Thrasymachus points out that “so long as Graham’s primary mission is humanitarian, it’s a classic ‘faith-based initiative.’ ” Tharasymachus is more interested in the motives behind the Bush administration’s ultimate decision and suggests that “a case could be made that an Islamic faith-based initiative would be vastly more effective. … [L]ook for at least a couple of Islamic groups to point that out, and ask for massive infusions of funds. How the Administration reacts to them will be interesting as well.” Meanwhile, Tara-J points out that “Grahams followers are evangelicals not fundamentalists” and proceeds to offer an instructive delineation between the two terms, which have been tossed around the Fray interchangeably. 

Arguing that detaching the religious element from Graham’s endeavor would be detrimental to its overall humanitarian effort, BenK writes:

Now, the people who give to Graham’s Samaritan’s Purse may be wrong, but they think they are doing the best thing, because the spiritual needs are a minimum co-equal to the physical needs. They would probably fund a purely spiritual service preferentially over a purely physical service, because they feel they are doing the best thing for the people. As a result, forcing Graham to separate the two, he wouldn’t be effective in raising the money even for the physical needs.

Finally, BenK regards humanism as a religion in its on right, “You’d be asking for people to put aside their truly good and noble impulses and to address the world as if it were purely materialistic … or even worse, purely humanistic. That would be enforcing a religious view on them. … [T]hat’s a big problem with liberal humanists in public policy. They don’t know they are practicing religion.” Topos disagrees: “Humanism is an ideology rather than a religion. It is a belief system, as is religion, but without the belief in gods or the supernatural as required by most definitions.” Iseult asks accordingly, “So any opinion is religious?”

I.Q.: In War Stories, Fred Kaplan offers three central attributes to the United States’ military efficiency. While he lists as one of the three a “combined-arms operation,” whereby more than one branch of the armed services works in tandem with another, he doesn’t explicitly rank intelligence as a pivotal factor. WVMicko takes exception:

Hard to believe that Fred Kaplan doesn’t talk about intelligence much. … [F]or all the vaunted accuracy of Gulf War weapons, the fact remains that the bulk of Iraqi forces were destroyed in ground actions. The incredible kill-ratio in Gulf War ground actions occurred not because of the tactics Kaplan describes … but because American troops had trained long and hard at locating the enemy while denying the enemy the ability to locate us. … I expect that the explanation is fairly simple: between technology and training, we’ve gotten very, very good at spotting the enemy before he can spot us. After that, it makes little difference whether you use a PGM rapier or a carpet-bomb bludgeon. It’s the intelligence battle that’s decisive.

The_Bell adds intelligence to his list as well, and “not the tactical intelligence gleaned in the field that Mr. Kaplan mentions but rather covert intelligence.” He cites the targeting and Saddam Hussein on two occasions as evidence of such acuity:

It is my understanding the intelligence for the first attack was provided to the military by the CIA among other sources. While I am not clear about the specific source(s) for the second attack, I read the other day that multiple intelligence sources were confirming their beliefs that Saddam was in the building at the time we attacked it. This means that not only is there greater coordination between the branches of the military, as reported by Mr. Kaplan, but also greater coordination between military intelligence and other domestic and international intelligence agencies. I surmise this greater cooperation resulted from reforms put in place as a result of the investigations into how the U.S. failed to predict the attacks of September 11.

RPI Rankings: Though the U.S. armed forces did a number on Iraq, a host of Fraysters wonders how these strategies would be employed against a tougher opponent. Zzyzx comments:

North Korea or China? Would it bear the same results as Iraq in as little time? I seriously doubt it. Not taking anything away from the expertise of the coalition forces in an excellent job being well done and hopefully just about over, I believe N. Korea would prove to be more formidable and much trickier. Special Ops would have a much harder time blending in. N. Korea has a functioning air force and from what I understand a formidable submarine fleet, not to mention the sheer number of ground forces at their disposal. I believe the same strategy would work. However the time frame for each phase would take much longer. I seriously believe N. Korea would have to be softened up considerably with missile attacks first (maybe for several weeks)from the Navy well out at sea before any major ground and /or air offensives.

The Enrichment Program: When President Bush goes up on Iraqi television and calls the nation’s citizens “good and gifted people” while Arabic subtitles dash across the screen, William Saletan ponders the semantic code. The president’s usage isn’t lost on maryk either, who dissects the language this way:

I don’t think that GWB mean gifted in any way other than perhaps the way a parent would speak to a child. I tell my children that they are special often … and they are … but they still need my guidance, rules and influence so they can grow up and be active, intelligent, rational adults and participate in our society. Perhaps Iraq, like a child being let out to play, needs to learn how to play in the sandbox and they need a Yard guard to protect those that don’t know how to play yet from those that do.

For this, The_Slasher_8 responds, “You have described what Saletan meant by calling Bush’s words condescending far more perfectly than I ever expected. You must be very gifted.” WVMicko thinks Saletan is “making a mountain out of a molehill!” He continues: ” ‘Good and gifted’ sounds to me like what it was probably intended to be: a flattering platitude for a people celebrating the end of a dictatorship.” … KFA7:40 a.m.