The Blogfather Strikes Back

After various rants by Andrew Sullivan, Glenn Reynolds decided to put the record straight:

ANDREW SULLIVAN seems to think that I should be blogging more about Abu Ghraib, and less about the Newsweek scandal. Well, I think he should be blogging more (er, at least some) about the worse-than-Tiananmen massacre in Uzbekistan, and perhaps a bit less about gay marriage. But so what? What people blog about is none of my business. Andrew seems to feel differently, and beyond that seems to have endorsed the “fake but accurate” defense of Newsweek‘s reporting.

I do confess that I think that winning the war is much more important than Abu Ghraib, and that viewing the entire war — and the entire American military — through the prism of Abu Ghraib is as unfair as judging all Muslims by the acts of terrorists. Andrew has chosen the role of emoter-in-chief on these subjects, and he’s welcome to it, though he would be more convincing in that part if he didn’t count wrapping people in the Israeli flag as torture.

As Mickey Kaus has noted, Andrew can be excitable. A while back he apologized to me for some of his criticisms during the election, and more recently he has apologized to his readers for his waffling and defeatism on the war last spring. Perhaps he’ll apologize for this at some point in the future. But, I confess, I find the question of what Andrew thinks less pressing than I used to.

I still read Andrew’s blog on a fairly regular basis, but like Glenn, I find Andrew less compelling of a read compared to his more steadfast days. As I’ve opined before:

Andrew’s tenacity in pursuing the tortue angle is much to be commended, but one suspects that he has already decided that America is guilty of the worst atrocities, and that only time will tell. This isn’t the first time Andrew’s gotten worked up about something and taken it far beyond what’s reasonable, but that’s just my own opinion.

As if in response, Andrew writes this sensible bit:

So we are left to ask whether to believe al Qaeda terrorists, trained to make such accusations, or American Pentagon officials. I know whom I’d rather believe.

Still, Andrew continues his skepticism, and cites the following as “abuse”:

At the same time, we know that other incidents as bad as the Koran incident have indeed occurred, including the truly bizarre one about female interrogators and fake menstrual blood.

We have evidence that detainees in Abu Ghraib and elsewhere were forced to eat pork and had liquor poured down their throats.

All of this, unfortunately, makes Andrew’s claims of whom he’d rather believe seem more like a token disclaimer, a sop to keep that part of his readership that isn’t freaking out about abuse the same way he is. Why? Because a nation that watches Fear Factor isn’t going to be very sympathetic to some of the claims coming out of the military prisons. Moreover, as Glenn wrote in another post:

I want to add that I don’t think there’s anything immoral about flushing a Koran (or a Bible) down the toilet, assuming you’ve got a toilet that’s up to that rather daunting task, and I think it’s amusing to hear people who usually worry about excessive concern for religious beliefs suddenly taking a different position. Nor do I think that doing so counts as torture, and I think that it debases the meaning of “torture” to claim otherwise. If this had happened, it might have been — indeed, would have been — impolitic or unwise. But not evil.

And anyone who thinks otherwise needs to be willing to apply the same kind of criticism to things like Piss Christ, or to explain why offending the sensibilities of one kind of religious believer is “art” while doing the same in another context is “torture.” If, that is, they want to be taken at all seriously.

Exactly. So while Andrew goes on bemoaning the fact that the Catholic Church isn’t giving him what he wants, he’s also unwittingly joining the ranks of those who think that somehow the religious sensibilities of terrorists deserve our solicitousness more than those of, say, Christian or Jewish traditionalists.

Still, give Andrew credit for raising the doubts. And hope that he pays more attention to readers’ e-mails like this one.

[Cross-posted at Between Worlds and A Western Heart]

An Historical View of the “Nuclear Option”

The inimitable Lee Harris weighs in on the filibuster issue going on in the US Senate lately. He sketches a history of the filibuster (showing that it is not the age-old, venerable institution that Democrats claim it to be), and in so doing puts things in a bit of context:

The Achilles’ heel of all democracies, and the explanation for why so many of them fail, lies in this ceaseless struggle. Each party, each faction becomes increasingly preoccupied with getting power or holding on to power. But because power comes from the rule of the majority, the trick to obtaining power is to get the majority of the population sufficiently worked up and disturbed over a “hot button” issue, and then to artfully channel their emotional agitation into support for a political candidate. But, obviously, such a policy, while beneficial to the interests of the parties that exploit it, is disastrous to the interests of the nation as a whole. Politics, instead of being the art of compromise, becomes the tactic of the demagogue, while politicians, instead of working to settle differences between opposing parties, devote themselves to inflaming their partisan passions, in order to exploit their quarrels for their own purposes.

According to Calhoun, the only defense against this fatal tendency within any democracy is to make it extraordinarily difficult for any partisan faction — even when the faction constitutes a numerical majority — to obtain control over the central resource of governmental power. And how else to achieve this goal than by setting up a series of obstacles on the path that leads toward the consolidation of central power, thereby lessening the odds that the citadel of power will fall into the hands of zealots out to impose their own will on the rest of society.

He summarizes by noting the following:

American politics has been repeatedly punctuated by the threats that constituted the nuclear options of their day. In addition to the impeachment of Judge Chase and the Nullification Proclamation of South Carolina in the 19th century, there is FDR’s threat to pack the Supreme Court in the 20th century; yet each of these threats, while failing to achieve their official purpose, ended up, nevertheless, by playing a decisive role in the working out of a generally desired compromise. The Supreme Court did get more liberal after FDR threatened to pack the court, just as the tariff of abominations was drastically reduced after the nullification threat. Each nuclear threat helped, in its own way, to bring about an acceptable compromise — and a compromise, it should be noted, that would probably not have been achieved if the nuclear option had not been threatened in the first place. Bluffing is often rewarded, precisely because bluffs are invariably fraught with the danger that they might be called.

If there is a sacred tradition in American politics, it is the willingness of otherwise prudent men to bluff their way up to the very brink of disaster, and then back down. We have done so over and over, and let us hope that we will do so again. The alternative, after all, is nothing short of a divided society, and an uncivil war in which the very political process itself is nullified by an excess of partisan passion.

Indeed. It is easy — perhaps too easy, in this age of instantaneous mass culture — to get caught up in the flames of partisan passion. However, we can hope that our political leaders have a little more sense, and that as individuals they are able to bear the pressures from their constituents and copartisans, and work something out. It has, after all, been reported that Senators Reid and Frist have been working on compromises behind closed doors. To date, nothing has been successful, and the two men often demonstrate that in their news conferences. Also clear from their addresses is that the Democrats are in the weaker position, and that the Republicans feel more confident of theirs. Finally, we can see the motivations behind each man’s political constituency: Those behind Reid are partisans for whom it would be acceptable, even a victory, to allow to pass (only) seven out of the ten nominees; those pressuring Frist not to compromise are partisan ideologues for whom nothing but unconditional victory would suffice. The weaker side is resorting to tradition, while the stronger side is appealing to fairness.

We’re fortunate to live in a society where politics can be treated as innocuous theatre. But it is a veil over the real work that needs to be done. So Honorable Ladies and Gentlemen, do us all a favor, sit down and get to work. Otherwise the people might just demand to shove you all into a Conclave with less and less rations each day until you get your jobs done.

(Hat-tip: Andrew Sullivan)

[Cross-posted at Between Worlds]

Coping with Modernity – Leftism and Islamism

From the beginnings of the steam engine in Scotland, to the semiconductor fabrication plants in California, human history over the last three hundred years has witnessed the unfolding of an inexorable trend and veritable explosion of material progress. The end of the Eighteenth Century saw the rise of portable firearms and the resulting obsolescense of traditional European set piece warfare; the discovery of the nature of electricity; and the development of the steam engine. The end of the Nineteenth Century witnessed the birth of mechanized warfare, conceived in the Crimean War, born in the fires of the American Civil War, nurtured through the Franco-Prussian War, and imitated in the Sino-Japanese War; the harnessing of electricity by the Wizard of Menlo Park; the development of the internal combustion engine; the rise of Darwinism as an explanation for natural history; and the building of an ever more sophisticated telecommunications network. By the end of the Twentieth Century, nuclear weapons were the ultimate military status symbols; electricity is taken for granted even in developing nations; gas engines were becoming hybridized with electric motors; the Human Genome Project was nearly completed; and the Internet was already old enough to drink, even in the United States, and web logs were already laying their seeds.

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Will Jacques Chirac have to face capital punishment when he leaves office?

Jacques Chirac and his friends have been suspected of corruption for many years, and his chums look indeed set to go to jail:

A major corruption trial has begun in France involving allies of President Jacques Chirac from his time as Paris mayor in the 1980s and 1990s.
Among the 47 accused are former Sports Minister Guy Drut, who is currently on Paris’ Olympic bid committee.
The trial centres on a system alleged to have been initiated by President Chirac’s Rally for the Republic (RPR).
Companies are accused of paying major political parties to win contracts to renovate schools around Paris.
Prosecutors argue that the RPR and its ally, the Republican Party, received donations worth 1.2% of awarded contracts, while the Socialists got 0.8%.
The arrangement allegedly lasted from 1989 to 1997.
Mr Chirac was the mayor of Paris for 18 years, until he was elected president in 1995.

The French political attitude is quite tolerant of corruption, but it seems that Chirac has gone way too far even by these lax standards. It is an open secret that he would have gone to jail if he hadn’t been elected as French President. He was very glad about his reprieve, but it looks now as if it might backfire badly. Patience with him has run out after all these years of evading justice, and now Émile Zola Jr, one of the most influential French writers, has penned a fiery essay, in which he is demanding impeachment and capital punishment for the Jacques Chirac, and even calls for a thoroughly renewed French republic:

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