Talk the Casbah

News Scoop! Snooping on the Scooter suit

If you’ve been reading with fascination Slate’s gang coverage of the Scooter Libby trial (replete with insider drama!) you might want to check out BTC News, a Frayster production with its own correspondent in the courtroom.

For the rest of you, consider Iran. They’ve got strategic interests. They’ve got an implacable opponent. And they’ve got another thing coming. courtneyme109 is ready to invade:

America will build a coalition of sorts and launch a massive blitz on the top 20% of Iran’s ruling clerics using cruise and conventional missiles, attack aircraft and old school special ops. […] While Iran’s rulers have some redundancy in their command and control posts, these are actually quite few in number as are the few calling the shots. […]

Make no mistake, Iran is WEAK, the regime is hated and with a figleaf coalition in place, the only flak America would catch would be from other weak despots who see their number rise up on the hit parade.

Militarily, Iran is still a basket case. Iran banged on the gates of Basra for six years and never made it in during the horrible Iran Iraq war. Traditionally, troops don’t serve despots so valiantly and it will be so here.

So, don’t get played by all this jazz about America is helpless - that’s the bait for our enemies. Cheer up, that plan and the one turning Iraq into a giant sucking killing machine for our enemies is working.

If GreenwichJ has it right, we could just drown them with the Strategic Petroleum Reserve:

The Saudis, as they have threatened to do publicly, are quietly depressing the global price of oil to bankrupt Iran.

Some 85% of Iran’s export revenue comes from oil. The Saudis, who in theory also like high oil prices, are doing nothing to stop them sliding down from last year’s highs.

By the way, anyone who gets alarmed by the Iranian president’s rhetoric should reflect on what happens to oil prices whenever he threatens to wipe out Israel. That’s right, they go up, enriching Iran in the process…

In doodahman’s eyes , it’s ’Oui, détente,’ that’s the only thing he wants:

The primary, and in fact the only material, danger arising from an Iranian nuclear arsenal is the effect on Israel’s nuclear monopoly. There is no credible theory which would support any expectation that Iran would engage in any first strike option. Iran has no history of such aggressiveness. Its political elite clearly does not wish to initiate such hostilities and with good reason– right now, Iran sits in the catbird seat, with more ability to influence and control the region without resort to overt war like tactics. It is only Israel and its puppet show of bought and paid for US office holders which talk about such options. An opponent with everything to lose and virtually nothing to gain by brinkmanship is, virtually by definition, an opponent who is safely deterred. […]

If Israel truly fears a nuclear exchange, then the only reasonable means of preventing it is mutual disarmament. One might support a nuclear free zone throughout the Middle East. If that were the stated objective, rather than simply disarming one potential belligerent while leaving the other with an estimated 200 nuclear warheads, it might make sense to impose sanctions and issue vague military threats against either party who fails to negotiate in good faith.

A balanced and objective evaluation of both the Israelis and the Iranians would tend to show, I believe, that Israel is by far a greater risk for initiating a nuclear conflict. They are the ones who talk and act with exaggerated desperation; it is they who have invaded and occupied their neighbors. It is they who built and maintained their nuclear weapons program in secrecy and outside the regime of international law. If I were an Iranian, I would not feel at all safe so long as Israel had a nuclear arsenal and Iran did not.

Degsme would respond with a strong dose of introspection:

American Exceptionalism tells us that while the British lost the Revolutionary War because of the zeal and beliefs in independence of the local peoples, the same applied neither in Vietnam, nor applies in Iraq, nor when Khomeini booted our beloved Shah, nor will it apply when we bring down the “corrupt” government in Iran today.

It tells us that the 2000 elections in the USA were somehow different than the most recent elections in Iran. […]

Sorry, it just doesn’t wash. If anything is a common thread as to what gets US Foreign Policy into a cluster in the Middle East, it is the inability of American politicians to see beyond American Exceptionalism.

Keep a lookout for switters,  sneaking out the back of the discussion:

Dang. Looks like somebody forgot to tell us that you can create something in a vacuum, namely, an insurgency. If only we’d seen this coming 4 years ago. Who would’ve thought?

We don’t have to choose sides. Let’s just let them blow each other up. Clearly American G.I.’s have left center stage as the targets of choice. So we just gradually sneak out. It’s like when you’re at a party and you start a conversation, and the conversation gets a little heated and more and more guests join in and start to disagree dramatically. Pretty soon lines are demarcated and sides chosen and nobody even remembers who started the conversation in the first place because they’re too busy arguing about the conversation itself. And that’s when you slip out the back door through the kitchen (after having grabbed a six-pack out of the fridge on you’re way out, of course).

Let’s do that. Let’s slip out the back door through Kuwait (after having grabbed a six-pack of barrels of oil).

Have you already arrived at  The Big Idea? If so, there’s another party going on in the Libby Dispatches. All-comers welcome. GA3:35am PST

Monday, Jan. 29, 2007

A darkness has descended upon David Plotz’s superb series, Blogging the Bible. In his latest entry, Plotz confesses that the prophet Jeremiah “is not the jolliest way to spend an afternoon.” He goes on to explain why:

I finally recognized why Jeremiah bugs me so much. He’s a Quisling, a Tokyo Rose! Jeremiah feels no loyalty to his land or his people—he’s so traitorous that he’s prodding them to surrender to their mortal enemy! […]The lesson in his betrayal of his country is this: All our quotidian bonds—to family, nation, and tribe—are nothing compared with our connection with God. But this doesn’t comfort me! I am not strong enough in my faith to set aside family and country for God. And I don’t want to be. Jeremiah is a righteous prophet, but I can’t help feeling that he’s also a terrible traitor.

There aren’t many criticisms of this interpretation among the sensitive and erudite readers of our Blogging the Bible Fray. This is, after all, the prophet appointed to wage a one-man war against his native land:

I have made thee this day a defensed city, and an iron pillar, and brazen walls against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, against the princes thereof, against the priests thereof, and against the people of the land. And they shall fight against thee; but they shall not prevail against thee.

HLS2003 is sharply crtitical of Plotz’s ambivalence towards Jeremiah’s central message:

I’ll give credit where it’s due – Plotz flat-out admits that his faith is weak-to-nonexistent, that he has placed other gods ahead of God, that he does not trust God, that he wants the benefits of God without the obedience, etc. In short, all the same sins that Plotz has, in the past, recognized that the ancient Israelites had committed for centuries. Good for him on the honesty there.

But then he blows his honesty points by engaging in a curious form of doublethink. He accuses God of being unjust for punishing Israel (and, by extension, himself) even though he has just admitted that he (and they) have committed all the sins that God told them not to commit, breaking the covenant non-stop. If you acknowledge that you (and Israel) are covenant-breakers, then how can you simultaneously consider it injustice to have the benefits of the covenant revoked? It’s like a murderer who (1) acknowledges that murder is wrong, and (2) acknowledges he committed the murder, but then simultaneously complains that it’s not fair to put him in jail.

Sometimes Plotz’s alleged confusion in his blog entries raises hard questions. I can’t see how his doublethink here does. He admits he is unfaithful, but wants the benefits of faithfulness. He admits the Israelites broke the covenant, but wants them to retain the benefits of the covenant. That doesn’t sound like confusion or justified doubt; it sounds like self-deception, whining, and an adolescent feeling of ultimate entitlement.

For MarkEHaag this spiritual conflict has contemporary political dimensions:

David Plotz asserts that Jeremiah is a traitor for his continual harping on Judah’s imminent destruction at the hands of Babylon.

That seems a little one-sided. Jeremiah is prophesying a punishment for the Chosen People. […] Their apostasy and incorrigibility are especially grievous, as they have enjoyed blessings bestowed on no other people. […] In the dialectic of suffering and remorse and self-regard that governs the G*d/Israel relationship, it is precisely the divinity’s extraordinary malice toward His Chosen People that marks them out as the recipients of special grace.

Plotz, of course, isn’t really talking about Israel. He’s talking about America. And his understanding of what it means to be “patriotic” is peculiarly American: one must do everything in one’s power to make one’s country and one’s fellow citizens feel good about themselves, to encourage them to think of themselves as better than their opponents, to drive them on to with the game of geo-political pre-eminence. Suffice it to say, in other times and in other places, true patriotism was understood not as a simple willingness to help one’s country feel good about itself as it is, as it currently subsides in the present earthly moment, but to try to improve it morally and eschatologically, to raise up one’s land and one’s folk, through sublime horror if need be, to a higher level, to make of it something more awe-worthy, grand and eternal, above any petty human sort of merely political competition. That is, something that might truly merit a raging G*d’s prickly, somewhat self-absorbed attentions … .

On a lighter note, miateredhead ties the conversation back to last week’s  discussion of spanking, imagining a God who spares the rod:

OK, Sodom and Gomorrah, you are in time-out!

Worshipping that calf again! I told you…give it to me! Now! You may not worship it again for a whole week, and I mean it!

Adam, Daddy understands how tempting that apple was, especially with that mean old serpent egging you on. You won’t do that again, will you honey?

OK, I’m going to count to 10, and everybody who’s going with Noah had BETTER be on that ark!

There’s a lot of good reading and good discussion to be found in Blogging the Bible Fray. Check it out.  GA10:00pm PST

Friday, Jan. 26, 2007

If the songs of Madonna and Britney Spears affirm the virtues of a good spanking from time to time, the idea of corporal punishment has become decidedly less vogue in the arena of childrearing. The trend towards pacifism found its ultimate expression this past week in a California bill to outlaw spanking by parents altogether. Widely dismissed as an excessive manifestation of the liberal nanny state, the proposed law receives a rare defense from Emily Bazelon.

Many cast a skeptical eye on the supposed link between child behavior and discipline in the first place. “There are so many things going on societally” points outchadosaurus, among them “parents … being lazy, short sighted, concerned more with being best friends than parents, selfish” that it’s impossible to cite spanking as “either the problem or the solution.” Isonomist- chalks up the escalating rate of juvenile misbehavior and violence to the disintegration of the two-parent household since the 1960s. Taking the interrogation of such a link further, Vepxistqaosani3 laments the general lack of respect shown superiors:

If the argument that spanking is ineffective be true, then it follows that American children should be better behaved today than in the past.

But friends and relatives who teach in the public schools assure me that this is not the case; that children today are far more disrespectful and unruly than ever. Who among us over forty can remember even the most notorious juvenile delinquent mouthing off profanely and obscenely to a teacher? But that is not even unusual today.

unempirical attacks the proposed spanking law as overly broad, and therefore prone to abuse by overzealous prosecutors. wolfmann questions the basic enforceability of yet more statutes aimed at regulating behavior within the home. Inquisitor14 blasts Bazelon’s article as “the worst kind of irresponsible indefensible social theory … especially as the author admits that there is not a preponderance of evidence on either side here.”

An advocate of the occasional smack to the backside, kjm rails against the underlying ego psychology of modern parenting:

Just follow a badly misbehaving kid thru a store while his mother is busy telling him, “Mommy said for you to stop that,” Mommy said for you to be quiet,” Mommy said you won’t get a candy bar if you don’t behave,” ad nauseum, and you pray they will pick the kid up and deliver two quick smacks to the backside.
A couple of swats on the hind end thru layers of clothes (the classic definition of spanking) teaches a child that he owes you and others around him respect and good manners and that, as a parent, it is your obligation to see that he learns this valuable lesson so that others will like him.
Letting a child grow up thinking he is the center of the universe, which many unspanked children seem to feel, is a disservice and poor parenting.

janeR agrees: “A sting to the behind is better than letting the child go beserk in a tantrum or run out into traffic if they don’t get their way.” Arkady makes a compelling argument for preserving parental authority in matters of discipline:

In short, there’s almost no reward or punishment that someone couldn’t see as doing a terrible disservice to the child. The “ban spanking” crowd wants to prevent other parents from using one tool that they don’t approve of, but they don’t seem to have considered that they could as easily have taken from them the tools they consider appropriate. Each parent decides what rewards and punishments to use. To the maximum reasonable extent, I’m in favor of leaving those calls to them, since they know their children best.

OskarS, a “25 year-old Swede who has never been spanked,” writes in to register strong opposition to any form of corporal punishment:

Since I grew up in a world were harming your child was illegal, this whole discussion is completely baffling to me. To say that you can’t raise a kid without spanking is so absurd that I can’t believe what I’m hearing…Now, you might say that I’m extremely pacifist, or that I’m too much of a bleeding heart liberal, that I’m out of the norm. I’m really not. Every single parent of small children I have ever known (quite a number of them) would say the exact same thing.

We don’t grow wilder or out of control, we don’t grow up to be criminals. For those of us who do it’s not because they weren’t spanked, it’s because of bad parenting. And having a lousy parent spank you would not help a whole hell of a lot.

Ouch. Ouch. Geoff, stop that! More in Family Fray. AC5:19pm PST

Sunday, Jan. 21, 2007

Information wants to be free. Labor wants to get paid. Is it any wonder nobody’s satisfied these days?

The American worker is sick of getting dumped on, judging from responses to Daniel Gross’ articles on Unwilling Americans who won’t do any Dirty Work. Sarvis, the Fray’s resident Upton Sinclair, expresses the prevailing anger most succinctly:

The government is more than happy to intervene in the “free market” for wages at the low end by allowing a steady supply of low-expectation immigrants to come in, by union busting, by disempowering labor wherever they can, by changing the rule on overtime, etc.

Meanwhile, at the upper income levels…. oh wait, they pretty much intervene there too - by enforcing immigrant quotas at the top end, by blocking out qualified competition for doctors and lawyers via licensing rules, by keeping the rules lax for executive pay accounting and disclosure, by keeping shareholders weak, etc.

The government works very hard to keep low wages low and high wages high. So, the next time you hear some nincompoop neocon bleat about “free markets” feel free to haul off and kick their teeth out.

Revrick, the Fray’s resident William Jennings Bryan, lays out his own critique of 21st-century capitalism:

In the grousing of CEOs and their political friends about the supposed shortcomings of American workers, we hear strong echoes of the pornographic mind at work. In the imaginings of these CEOs and their political mouthpieces, labor should be compliant and submissive always willing to give access to their bodies in service of their capitalist desires. And, if need be, any resistance should be beaten out of the laboring masses, using whatever threats or coercions are necessary to win their conquest.

Having served a working-class congregation, where I’ve heard union workers describe the wage and benefit cuts demanded by bosses as ‘getting reamed,’ with its thinly veiled allusion to homosexual rape, there is a primitive, but real understanding that this is not just a matter of dollars and cents, but also of violence done to bodies in service of abstract capitalist goals.

I can recall reading in the local paper on an almost weekly basis, the fatalities which occurred in the Pittsburgh area steel mills: the falls from catwalks; the carbon monoxide poisonings in furnaces being relined with bricks; the burns from molten metal.

Closer to home, the son of one of my church’s members used to earn his paycheck collecting trash until one foggy morning a driver pinned him against the garbage truck, severing his leg.

Who would willingly perform such work without substantial compensation for the risk? Who would willingly endure loss of fingers and repetitive motion injuries in meat-packing without a pay and benefits package worthy of the risk? Who would descend into mines or break their backs harvesting tomatoes without wages to match the suffering?

In the pornographic mind of CEOs there is a compliant and submissive work force eager to throw their bodies into serving their goals. Illegal immigration is the product of that pornographic mind, because now there is at ready-hand a vulnerable, easily threatened and coerced population which will let the bosses have their way.

A good share of the discussion focuses on the travails of specific trades. Arlington2 looks at the changes in his local construction industry, where “carpentry, framing and roofing are no longer trades that pay living wages.” I’ve written an overflow column  to do justice to the debate on the contemporary trucking industry.  My favorite post of the discussion comes from therealFerdinanda, who looks at the comparative state of American farm workers:

If you want to talk about why Americans won’t work farm jobs […] the real question is, why are we allowing human beings to be treated this way? Backbreaking work, low pay, poisonous chemicals probably every day. It’s obscene. We *should* be paying more for our food. […]

Farm workers get dumped on because they have no power, NOT because they have no skills. This economist idea that people get paid what they’re “worth” is what we call a partial truth. It’s only true if people have the power to organize, and even then it’s still only part of the story. […]

Social networks, higher education, references – all of these things are socially rationed, ie, given only to the rich or connected. […] This is a form of labor organizing too, we just don’t think of it that way because we’ve all been brainwashed by the right. […]

In contrast, in many places there is no freedom to organize, and that’s one of the reasons “globalization” is screwing Americans. People in China and many other places are not free. Therefore, it is not free trade. And it’s not fair trade either. Willingness to work one’s way into an early grave should not be viewed as a “comparative advantage,” but rather as proof of injustice. They don’t call it the dismal “science” for nothing.

With all these populist firebrands flying, will nobody stick up for the big guy? Leave it to rob_said_that, with his glowing tribute to Budweiser’s August Busch III, “a one-man mechanized army.”

I’m not personally worried about the labor situation in the United States. I hear there’s call-center work to be had in India, so I’ve got something to fall back on. But for the rest of you suckers, get in on the debate in our Moneybox Fray. Your livelihood could depend on it. GA3:15am PT

Thursday, Jan. 18, 2007

Christopher Hitchens’ latest on Patrick Cockburn’s account of the “calamitous mismanagement of the Iraq War” inspired a very detailed and thoughtful semantic parsing of the terms commonly used thus far to characterize the conflict.

For TJA, to call the war “mismanaged” overlooks the fact that “the initial idea was so flawed that such mismanagement was likely if not certain.” cwg agrees that “the mismanagement, though disastrous, should be seen as secondary to the hubris and hypocrisy of the invasion itself, which was executed without significant political opposition or analysis by the MSM.” By jerseyman’s definition, however, all wars are inevitably mismanaged to some degree, making this criticism so broad as to be useless:

Every campaign, by every general; every war, by every nation; all of them have been an accumulation of errors, disasters and fiascos.

As the great Lombardi said of football: “the side that makes the fewest mistakes wins”.

US forces, since the end of WW2, have been fighting under the twin burdens of politically correct rules of engagement and instantaneous criticism driven by electronic media 24 hour coverage.

Could the American Military “beat” the insurgents? For that matter could the US military wipe out the Islamic radicals? With a free rein and no concern for collateral damage I’d say obviously.

In place of concrete, measurable benchmarks of progress, the Bush strategy has been one of perpetual deferral, claimsO_Hellenbach:

My particular favorite line in the administration’s ongoing obfuscation and denial about the situation in Iraq is the one that goes, “the next three [or six] months will be critical.” The idea that something is critical means that at the end of the period some kind of resolution has been reached, or some kind of result will occur or not occur that will allow somebody to make some kind of judgment about it. Yet it never does. The phrase simply becomes a way to put off answering any questions. Since the occupation began, we’ve passed any number of supposed critical three-month periods without comment or even any memory that somebody said that the critical period had passed–much less with any resolution or conclusion or evaluation.

Varian fires back forcefully at O_Hellenbach’s “Are we there yet?” approach that

represents … all the impatient, largely irrelevant questions which should be answered in [times of] war: “as long as it takes.” You’ve bought into your own antiwar propaganda to an extent that you don’t realize that people like Hitch think that friendly control over the key state in the Mideast and hanging what may be an insurmountable defeat on the jihadists is well worth a few years and a few thousand troops (as much as we regret the loss of each one). That’s what some of us commit to when we support a war. We don’t expect every war to be a 6-week air campaign followed by 100 hours of ground fighting before we declare “victory.”

The above is but an excerpt of the fiery volley between O_H and V. The full version can be found in the Fighting Words Fray. AC4:27pm PT

Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2007

Amidst the rush of current events and social trends, it’s easy to overlook one of Slate’s finest departments—Robert Pinsky’s weekly Poems selection. Its corresponding Fray suffers doubly from unjust obscurity. Throughout the week, its regular contributors swap verse and run an ongoing poetry workshop. Most valuably, this merry band of literary die-hards do an excellent job of examining and explaining the merits of Pinsky’s often challenging selections.

Uncharacteristically for the Fray, some of the strongest writing emerges in praise of the featured authors. Take Ted_Burke’s appreciative critique of this week’s poem, Death’s Doorman, by Daniel Bosch:

It’s a scene any introspective sort will recognize or feel empathy for; one is alone in a cold, dark room, staring out of the window, gazing at the stares and the spectral clouds passing over the face of full yellow moon, contemplating what there is beyond this existence. Is there something one goes to and finds an ironic eternity tailored by one’s decided deeds on earth, or is there only dust, silence, a blank slate of non-being?

This isn’t comedy for self-infatuation by default, but exactly the kind of exercise the mind plays at when there isn’t the opportunity to engage with the world beyond one’s own skin, and it’s not uncommon to wonder, once one is done with the cerebral gymnastics to sort through their obsessions, loves and losses, to finally ask the variations on The Question: when does this all end? What will I say if there is someone /something waiting for me? What legacy will I leave? What will the consequences of what I chose to do and refused to do? […]

Death’s Doorman by [Daniel] Bosch, turns this theme into a two voice theater piece, and it works, surprisingly enough, for such a gimmick-tending conceit. I well imagine the introspective sort I described earlier in the bathroom, late at night (although a sunny mid afternoon would do just as well) staring at the mirror , envisioning all sorts of after life scenarios, asking every question , poetic or merely dumb, that he or she can muster, trying to arm themselves with a knowledge where an unavoidable fate can be made tolerable. It’s as if the interlocutor is trying to reserve the best seat on the last plane out of Hicksville. What returns , we see, are one word answers, like echoes coming from a long, deep cavern, warbling refractions of what he or she had just asked, the keywords distorted and changed. […]

This becomes a brief and bitter comedy, and is something Samuel Beckett would have written as one of his radio plays, the usual scenario of a character frozen in habit or ritual, redundantly trying to revive some earlier sense of coherence from situations or things. Bosch’s second voice offers no inside information, provides no clues, but rather deflects the inquiries with accidental puns. This is a piece that doesn’t so much end as stop, cold. It seems that this inquiry could go on indefinitely, right to the grave, as the peculiar narcissistic loop provides just enough variation in the malformed responses, the echoes, that one can proceed with it forever as if they were indeed closer to a Big Secret. Bosch is wise to leave the scene when he does, leaving us with a funny, if minor dramaturgy. One can, of course, seize upon any of the questions and their responses and find layers of implication and hence unearth every deferred meaning, but I think that’s part of what makes the poem work so well. Bosch plays on the human brain’s insistence on making utterances contain more than surface references, and it is a nice trick he’s pulled. The character, the interlocutor , is trapped in infinite regress with his questions, and the reader, as well, might be compelled to parse each pun and skewed return. This might, then, be a comedy with two acts performed simultaneously.

MaryAnn zeroes in on the poem’s blend of technique and impact:

I especially like how the sound of the truncated, abrupt short lines of the doorman throws me off balance, how it echoes the harsh reality of what he is saying.

I don’t understand all of the “stanzas,” but then death (and his doorman) are not comprehensible, are they? If anything, I would have preferred some scatological language from this smart-mouthed doorman. After all, isn’t death ultimately an obscene thing? […]

This poem did have an emotional impact on me. It reminded me, in a very hard-nosed, postmodern poem, that there is no explanation for death, no way of learning about it except to push pass the doorman and go through the door.

Sometimes, the strongest responses are also the simplest, as with richrd’s free-associative reply:

I once knew a doorman for a very chic club.
He’d get me in even though I was on the c minus list.
But he spoke with a heavy Irish brogue and I most of
the time I couldn’t make head or tail of what
he was trying to say. Anyway he got fired and I lost my “in”.
This poem reminded me of him.

If you’re an amateur writer looking to unearth the secrets of readin’, writin’, and rhythm tricks, consider spending some time in the Poems Fray. It has all the virtues of a writers’ workshop, minus tuition and compulsory attendance. GA12:42am PT