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Archive for the ‘Current Affairs’ Category

The Incredibles

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Hard not to notice a strange ramping up in the terms of attack egalitarianism and education swirling around the Randian kids flick The Incredibles. See, for instance, John Tierney’s article in the Week in Review today.

It feels as if the release of this movie has opened the door for folks to tell us how they really feel, stop speaking in euphemisms and keywords and cut right to the point. Here’s the opening of the article…

The Incredibles is not just an animated adventure for children, at
least not to the parents and teachers who have been passionately
deconstructing the story of a family of superheroes trapped in
suburbia. The movie has reignited one of the oldest debates about
child-rearing and society: competition versus coddling, excellence
versus egalitarianism.

Is Dash, the supersonic third-grader
forbidden from racing on the track team, a gifted child held back by
the educational philosophy that "everybody is special"? Or is he an
overprivileged elitist being forced to take into account the feelings
of others?

Is his father, Mr. Incredible, who complains that the
schools "keep inventing new ways to celebrate mediocrity," a visionary
reformer committed to pushing children to excel? Or is he a reactionary
in red tights who’s been reading too much Nietzsche and Ayn Rand?

And take a look at the end as well, where we turn to the director Brian Bird:

The movie never quite resolves the issue. In the end, Dash is
allowed to race but is coached not to get too far ahead of the pack.
The writer and director, Brad Bird, offered a less ambiguous answer in
an interview. "Wrong-headed liberalism seeks to give trophies to
everyone just for existing," he said. "It seems to render achievement
meaningless. That’s a weird goal."

He sounded very much like
Professor Colangelo, who says that children want to compete and can
cope with defeat a lot better than adults imagine. "Life hurts your
feelings," Mr. Bird said. "I think people whine about stuff too much.
C’mon, man, just get up and do it."

At the risk of running afoul of Godwin’s Law, let’s just turn for comparison’s sake to a document that Atrios linked to yesterday (if a very different context) – a pamphlet that "seems to have been intended primarily for members of the SS, though the copy I am working from carries the stamp of a school library."

The most dangerous opponent of our worldview at present is Marxism, and its offspring Bolshevism. It is a product of the destructive Jewish spirit, and it is primarily Jews who have transformed this destructive idea into reality. Marxism teaches that there are only two classes: the owners and the property-less. Each must be destroyed and all differences between people must
be abolished; a single human soup must result. That which formerly
was holy is held in contempt. Every connection to family, clan
and people was dissolved. Marxism appeals to humanity’s basest
     drives; it is an appeal to subhumans.

We can’t say we haven’t been warned. The interest of a movie like the Incredibles is that it seems to legitimize a certain line of discourse – a seemingly "innocuous" object (a cartoon for god’s sake) that tints the slippage into another level of critique of egalitarianism with the hue of banality, ordinariness…

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November 21, 2004 at 11:26 am

Posted in Current Affairs

But who asked?

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Funny thing about language. Always gives us away, our deeper preoccupations, our bad conscience (or consciousness). Our guilt.

For instance, it seems to be impossible to write about the Marine shooting the Iraqi prisoner without bringing Margaret Hassan into it. The equation gives the game away, time and again. For instance, this one on Slate, whose subtitle suggests that it will be a consideration of whether the shooting meets the definition of a war crime: "The shooting of an unarmed Iraqi was a tragedy. But was it a war crime?" It’s like the author can’t help himself. Midway through:

On the same day as this story, the tragic news
broke that CARE International worker Margaret Hassan had been executed
by her captors in Iraq. Already, there have been cries of moral
equivalence. One Iraqi told the Los Angeles Times: "It goes to show that [Marines] are not any better than the so-called terrorists." Al Jazeera fanned
these flames of anti-American sentiment by broadcasting the shooting
incident in full while censoring Hassan’s execution snuff tape. (U.S.
networks refused to air actual footage of both killings.) There is a
simplistic appeal to such arguments because both events involve the
killing of a human being and, more specifically, the apparent execution
of a noncombatant in the context of war.

Yet it is the
differences between these two killings that reveal the most important
truths about the Marine shooting in Fallujah. Hassan was, in every
sense of the word, a noncombatant. She worked for more than 20 years to
help Iraqis obtain basic necessities: food, running water, medical
care, electricity, and education. The Iraqi insurgents kidnapped her
and murdered her in order to terrorize the Iraqi population and the aid
workers trying to help them.

By contrast, the Marines entered a
building in Fallujah and found several men who, until moments before,
had been enemy insurgents engaged in mortal combat. A hidden grenade
would have changed everything, and the Marine would have been lauded.
As it turned out, the Iraqi was entitled to mercy, but Hassan was truly
innocent. There is no legitimate moral equivalence between a soldier
asking for quarter and a noncombatant like Hassan.

There is
another key difference that reveals a great moral divide between the
Marines and insurgents they fought this week in Fallujah. The
insurgents choose the killing of innocents as their modus operandi and
glorify these killings with videos distributed via the Internet and Al
Jazeera. They recognize no civilized norms of conduct, let alone the
rules of warfare. The Marines, on the other hand, distinguish
themselves by killing innocents so rarely and only by exception or
mistake. Collateral damage is part of warfare, and civilians will die
no matter how many control measures are in place. Yet the U.S. military
devotes a staggering amount of resources to ensuring that civilian
deaths do not happen, from sophisticated command systems that control
precision bombs to staffs of lawyers at every level of command to vet
targeting decisions. And when such breaches do occur, as they
apparently did on Saturday, U.S. military commanders act swiftly to
punish the offender, lest one incident of indiscipline blossom into
many. (Indeed, one Army captain currently faces charges for killing a wounded Iraqi after a firefight and pursuit through the streets of Baghdad.)

may be hell, but no honorable warrior likes to spread the hell
unnecessarily. Killing Hassan, regardless of any attenuated argument
the insurgent apologists may make, was both unlawful and amoral—and
beneath what any warrior would do. Killing the insurgent in a split
second because it was instinctual, on the other hand, was a tragedy,
not an atrocity.

If I got this as a paper in the course I’m teaching now, I’d mark the student down for running away from their thesis statement, for "argument drift." I’m pretty sure that the Geneva Conventions don’t stipulate that, in order to determine the legality of an action, look around and see if there’s anything worse going on. If there is, no crime.

And what exactly does the word "tragedy" mean in this context? Who is the protagonist of this tragedy? The "insurgent," the Marine, the United States, or the entire world?

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November 19, 2004 at 11:06 pm

Posted in Current Affairs

“Well, he’s dead now.”

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So there’s another tape today… A marine killing an injured
Iraqi “insurgent” (?), apparently in retribution for feigning death….

What do we make of the distinction between the
“deliberateness” of “their” video releases – from 9/11 through Daniel Pearl to
the OBL videos to the most recent beheadings – and the “inadvertent” nature of
ours? The shock-and-awe decimation of

the fraternity initiation rites at Abu Giraib, and now, this? On our side, an
archive of “collateral damage,” the “cost” and/or “fog” of war. On theirs, staging…


Something to think about, the intentional vs. the
inadvertent. Is this yet another factor in the logic of “asymmetrical warfare”?

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November 16, 2004 at 11:37 pm

Posted in Current Affairs

Teamster Pensions and Yours

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Fantastic opener for an article on the failure of the Teamster pension fund at the hands of Wall Street – a fund which survived its time as the mob’s stash of capital… (Hint: think about this when wondering whether privatizing SS is such a fantastic idea…)

In the 1960’s and 1970’s, the Teamsters’ huge Central States pension
fund was a wellspring of union corruption. Tens of millions of dollars
were loaned to racketeers who used the money to gain control of Las
Vegas casinos. Administrative jobs were awarded to favored insiders who
paid themselves big fees. A former Teamster president and pension
trustee was convicted of trying to bribe a United States senator.

for nearly half a million union members who are expecting the fund to
pay for their retirement, those may have been the good old days.

1982, under a consent decree with the federal government, the fund has
been run by prominent Wall Street firms and monitored by a federal
court and the Labor Department. There have been no more shadowy
investments, no more loans to crime bosses. Yet in these expert hands,
the aging fund has fallen into greater financial peril than when James
R. Hoffa, who built the Teamsters into a national power, used it as a
slush fund.

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November 15, 2004 at 9:34 am

Posted in Current Affairs


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Just a few paragraphs from the Times today… Reminder of where exactly we are:

First, the last sentence from an article entitled "Rights Experts See Possibility of a War Crime," which reports that US Troops sent refugees back into Falluja – a violation of the Geneva Conventions.

Because the United States has refused to take part in the International
Criminal Court, it is unclear whether American troops could be held

Next, the explanation of one Ohioan who voted for Bush despite her apparent sense the economy’s not fairing very well. (From "In an Ohio Town, Same-Sex Marriage Ban Brings Tensions to Surface")

"Many Democrats I know are fearful about the economy, but I feel that
if you go back to the basics, things will fix themselves," said Marla
Krak, a mother of three who said she believed that homosexuality was a

Finally, from a report on the gleeful meeting of the Federalist Society this week in the wake of Bush’s victory.

Mr. Ashcroft had many in the crowd rapturous when he criticized
judges who, he said, refused to recognize that they did not have the
power to limit the president’s authority to conduct a war against

"The danger I see here," he said, "is that
intrusive judicial oversight and second-guessing of presidential
determinations in these critical areas can put at risk the very
security of our nation in a time of war."

Mr. Ashcroft did not
identify any judges or courts, but his complaint suggested criticism of
Judge James Robertson of the Federal District Court here. On Monday,
Judge Robertson halted a war-crimes trial before a military commission
at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, invoking the Geneva Conventions as one reason
for doing so. The government appealed on Friday.

Just so we remember where we’re at, and where we’re headed.

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November 13, 2004 at 9:58 am

Posted in Current Affairs

Mazen Al-Tomaizi

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Watching CNN tonight, and we get the latest report from the front. A Bradley Fighting Vehicle was attacked in Baghdad, disabled, burst into flames. (We are informed that all US personnel were successfully evacuated…)
And then this.
A crowd of people gather around the empty burning APC. Some are celebrating, some appear to simply be hanging about, watching… An Al-Arabiya reporter – a young, handsome guy – is reporting from the scene. And then, in the characteristic temporality of our time – out of nowhere comes concusion, smoke, fire. The reporter suddenly doubles over as the smoke fills the shot. A US Apache helicopter had opened fire on the crowd.
The cameraman reports later the last words of his co-worker, Mazen Al-Tomaizi:
“Seif, Seif! I’m going to die. I’m going to die.”
I rewind the program and watch it again (I have a DVR – I can do this sort of thing). I notice two things:
1) None of the people crowding around the Bradley, even standing on top of it, are visibly armed. No guns anywhere that I could see.
2) Immediately after the rocket lands, two, maybe three, drops of Al-Tomaizi’s blood dot the camera lens, my television screen. Tiny, almost invisible.

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September 13, 2004 at 11:11 pm

Posted in Current Affairs


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My grandma once got me a subscription to MacLean’s for my birthday.macleans
Thinking about re-upping.

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August 29, 2004 at 11:58 pm

Posted in Current Affairs


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Did the big protest today in New York, which was much better managed than the anti-war march back at the beginning of the year. Didn’t see a single equesto-cop. Was never penned in, which is a huge improvement, especially when you have to take a leak.
I was just about there for the only silly pseudo-violent incident that went on:
We’d just turned the corner from 7th ave to 34th street. Sirens, kids running, a big old puff of smoke. And that was all. They chased down a single kid and arrested him…
Most interesting t-shirt on the other side: small group of right-wingers between 32nd – 34th street, pro-lifers of course, but then a weird crew of pro-war folk (and I mean pro-war), a couple sporting the following slogan across their chests:
Watching the reports on tv this afternoon and tonight, got what I should have expected. Near silence. 200 K – 400 K show up for something, and it gets third or fourth billing. But what do I expect?
I guess somebody will have to do something violent to break into the stream of propaganda we’re being fed on the tube. If I were a betting man, I’d bet something will indeed happen… Just a guess…

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August 29, 2004 at 11:56 pm

Posted in Current Affairs

NY Hiroshima

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Nice bit of news to hear today in Kristof’s column:

Graham Allison, a Harvard professor whose terrifying new book, “Nuclear Terrorism,” offers the example cited above, notes that he did not pluck it from thin air. He writes that on Oct. 11, 2001, exactly a month after 9/11, aides told President Bush that a C.I.A. source code-named Dragonfire had reported that Al Qaeda had obtained a 10-kiloton nuclear weapon and smuggled it into New York City.
The C.I.A. found the report plausible. The weapon had supposedly been stolen from Russia, which indeed has many 10-kiloton weapons. Russia is reported to have lost some of its nuclear materials, and Al Qaeda has mounted a determined effort to get or make such a weapon. And the C.I.A. had picked up Al Qaeda chatter about an “American Hiroshima.”
President Bush dispatched nuclear experts to New York to search for the weapon and sent Dick Cheney and other officials out of town to ensure the continuity of government in case a weapon exploded in Washington instead. But to avoid panic, the White House told no one in New York City, not even Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

I mean, I guess in retrospect they were right… panic etc… And, ultimately, there was no bomb. But also, ahem, a little cavalier sounding… Like if they get super credible information that somebody’s got a nuke in a parking lot somewhere in Manhattan during the RNC, they’ll just Saigon ’75 out the VIPs and cross their fingers???
Also interesting to know now in retrospect what was ultimately perhaps behind the general level of insane freakout we were all feeling back in Oct 2001.

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August 11, 2004 at 10:13 am

Posted in Current Affairs