-- Lawrence of Arabia, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom (1922)
The terrible reductive conflicts that herd people under falsely unifying rubrics like "America," "the West," or "Islam" and invent collective identities for large numbers of individuals who are actually quite diverse, cannot remain as potent as they are, and must be opposed. ... Rather than the manufactured clash of civilizations, we need to concentrate on the slow working together of cultures that overlap, borrow from each other, and live together in far more interesting ways than any abridged or inauthentic mode of understanding can allow. But for that kind of wider perception we need time, and patient and skeptical inquiry, supported by faith in communities of interpretation that are difficult to sustain in a world demanding instant action and reaction.
-- Edward Said, preface to the 2003 edition of Orientalism
This week's featured post is "Terrorist Strategy 101: a review". Maybe ISIS acts like our worst nightmare because they want us to attack them.
This week everybody was talking about ISIS
The featured post is about ISIS, and how it needs America to play the Great Satan role. But lots of other people were talking about ISIS too, like satirist Andy Borowitz:
Arguing that his motto “Don’t do stupid stuff” is not a coherent foreign policy, critics of President Obama are pressuring him to do something stupid without delay. Arizona Senator John McCain led the chorus on Tuesday, blasting Mr. Obama for failing to craft a stupid response to crises in Iraq, Syria and Ukraine. “If I were President, you can bet your bottom dollar I would have done plenty of stupid stuff by now,” McCain said.
I won't go line-by-line through the op-ed McCain and Lindsey Graham published in the NYT, because Peter Beinart already did. Short summary: McCain/Graham push President Obama to combine stuff he's already doing (but they pretend he isn't doing) with stuff beyond the power of any president. ("Any strategy ... requires an end to the conflict in Syria, and a political transition there.") Then they sprinkle in lots of what Beinart calls "happy words" like acting deliberately and urgently, and make completely unsupported pronouncements like "ISIS cannot be contained."
Conor Friedersdorf asks the kind of question hardly anybody pursues: John McCain has a long record of foreign policy pronouncements. Is he ever right? And if not, why are we still listening to him?
Friedersdorf recalls this gem, from 2003:
no one can plausibly argue that ridding the world of Saddam Hussein will not significantly improve the stability of the region and the security of American interests and values.
That's why Iraq is such a rock of stability now, because we fought what McCain called "The Right War for the Right Reasons".
Peter Beinart had a second good piece this week, in which he recalled Walter Russell Mead's four-part typology of American foreign policy views:
- Wilsonians who export grand American visions like democracy, Christianity, or capitalism.
- Hamiltonians who defend the international trade our economy depends on.
- Jeffersonians who want the U.S. to stay out of international conflicts, for fear war abroad will damage liberty at home.
- Jacksonians who avenge insults to our national honor.
Beinart attributes the recent push to crush ISIS mainly to Jacksonians, who see those YouTube beheadings as unforgivable insults. Obama's "Don't do stupid stuff" mantra is mainly anti-Jacksonian, because "honor" is the only one of four values unrelated to any pragmatic interest.
Rand Paul continues to re-affirm my opinion about him: He is a lightweight who hasn't thought through the slogans he inherited from his Dad. If he looks like a threat to win the 2016 nomination when the Republican debates begin, sharper candidates like Ted Cruz or Chris Christie will tear him apart.
A couple weeks ago on Meet the Press, Paul sounded Jeffersonian:
I think that's what scares the Democrats the most, is that in a general election, were I to run, there's gonna be a lot of independents and even some Democrats who say, "You know what? We are tired of war. We're worried that Hillary Clinton will get us involved in another Middle Eastern war, because she's so gung-ho."
A few days later, AP quoted an email Paul wrote to supporters, which pushed a more Jacksonian line:
If I were President, I would call a joint session of Congress. I would lay out the reasoning of why ISIS is a threat to our national security and seek congressional authorization to destroy ISIS militarily.
In each case, it sounded good, so he said it. There's no coherent thought process behind either statement.
and naked pictures on the internet
You would think online pictures of naked women would be old news, but this week everybody was talking about new naked pictures: Upwards of 100 celebrities had their iCloud accounts hacked, resulting in the release of nude selfies of movie star Jennifer Lawrence, supermodel Kate Upton, and other famous women.
Against my usual policy, I'm going to comment without making any effort to examine the original source material -- and no, none of the links here will get you any closer to those pictures -- because that's kind of the point. This is a violation. It's like taking pictures through a keyhole or pulling down a stranger's bikini top at the beach. ("Why did she wear something that flimsy anyway?") This time you'll almost certainly get away with it. But seriously, is that the kind of person you want to be? Lena Dunham summed it up:
Remember, when you look at these pictures you are violating these women again and again. It's not okay.
Watching the online reaction to the photos has been like lifting up a rock and seeing verminous beasties that usually stay underground. It's amazing to read all the well-don't-take-nude-pictures-then and she-shouldn't-have-trusted-the-cloud comments that appear over and over in just about every comment thread. They're like the she-was-asking-for-it response to rape.
Part of the motivation is the usual human bad-things-won't-happen-to-me-because-I'm-smarter-than-most-people thing, which lost its charm for me when my wife got cancer. But there's also an undercurrent of misogyny, and what feminists call "the rape culture": the idea that women exist for men's amusement, and that once a woman has made any concession to male voyeurism, she's abandoned her right to draw a line anywhere.
Salon's Andrew Leonard and Jezebel's Mark Shrayber have collected and commented on the outrage expressed on Reddit as the site tries to restrict distribution of the photos. Some men apparently believe that if naked photos exist anywhere, they have a God-given right to see them.
Slate's Emily Bazelon makes a good legal point:
Every day, movie and TV producers succeed in getting videos that have been posted without their consent taken down from major websites. ... Yet in the days since Jennifer Lawrence and other celebrities discovered that their nude images were stolen, and then posted without their consent on sites like Reddit and 4Chan, the stars can’t get the images taken down. ... This is crazy. Why should it be easy to take down Guardians of the Galaxy and impossible to delete stolen nude photos?
Answer: Because Congress' top priority is protecting corporate profits. As with so many issues, the trail leads back to campaign finance reform.
Included in the release are pictures of Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney taken when she was under 18, so under the law they're child pornography. You really, really don't want them found on your hard drive.
For what it's worth, Apple says it's not their fault: Hackers brute-forced the passwords on the accounts rather taking advantage of some Apple software flaw. But they have announced new features to warn you when there are signs your account has been hacked. ("Here is a photo of your horse running away. Would you like to shut the stable door now?")
And finally, if you want to see racy pictures of Kate Upton, Sports Illustrated has gobs of them. They're shot in exotic locations by world-class photographers, and some of them are pretty hot. And here's the best part: Kate consented to have them published. So the only point in looking instead at pictures she wanted to keep private is to violate her privacy. If violation and lack of consent make pictures sexier to you, you need to have a long conversation with yourself.
and Governor Ultrasound's guilt
Ex-Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell was found guilty of corruption, and his wife was convicted as a co-conspirator. Rachel Maddow was the first national-news pundit to take this story seriously, and has been on it ever since, so her coverage of the verdict includes the most background.
Who he was and how he became governor in the first place was through the televangelist, hard-core, social conservative, family values power structure, in which he promised us that he would be the man to save marriage in Virginia, that his personal family values would become the public policy of the state of Virginia. He would remake the state's Christian morality in the image of his own Christian family and his own Christian marriage.
McDonnell's defense turned all that upside-down. Under the law, his wife wasn't a public official, so she could only be an accomplice to corruption; if he wasn't guilty, she couldn't be. So the defense was that it was all her fault. She was the one who solicited gifts from a Virginia businessman and implied he would get something from the governor in exchange. And their relationship was so strained they were incapable of conspiring.
Reportedly, McDonnell had previously turned down a plea-bargain deal that would have avoided a trial, kept his wife out of jail, and convicted him of only one count. Amanda Marcotte draws the lesson:
McDonnell has dedicated his career to the idea that women should sacrifice everything for the good of “family,” including bodily autonomy and personal safety, but the second he’s called upon to take on the responsibility of a good Christian husband to protect his wife, he ran away and tried to foist as much as the blame as he could on her. Turns out family values wasn’t about men and women sacrificing together for family, just a cover story to excuse male dominance over women.
and Democrats letting Independents carry the ball against right-wingers
Two similarly odd stories this week: Democrats withdrawing from a race so that an independent would have a chance to defeat a far-right Republican.
In Alaska, Democratic gubernatorial nominee Byron Mallott announced he and independent Bill Walker would form a unity ticket against Republican incumbent Gov. Sean Parnell. Walker will get the top spot and Mallott will run for lieutenant governor. Hard to say if this maneuver will work: Parnell had a 42%/42% approval/disapproval rating in a recent poll, and was winning the three-way race with only 37% support. I haven't seen any post-announcement one-on-one polling of the Parnell/Walker race.
In the Kansas Senate race, Democratic nominee Chad Taylor announced he was dropping out of the race in favor of independent Greg Orman in their race against Republican incumbent Pat Roberts. But Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach (already famous for his voter suppression efforts) says Taylor's name will have to stay on the ballot.
Again, it's hard to say if this will work, whether Taylor stays on the ballot (but doesn't campaign) or not. Nate Silver is skeptical of a pre-announcement poll that said Orman would win a head-to-head race, but he doesn't pretend to know that anything else will happen either.
Also unknown is what Orman would do if his vote were the difference between Harry Reid or Mitch McConnell becoming majority leader. If his vote is decisive, he promises only to "sit down with both parties and have a real frank discussion about the agenda they want to follow."
If I were Orman, I'd start answering that question with a complete fantasy: "I'll organize a controlling bloc of moderate senators on each side who are sick of gridlock and want to get something done."
and you also might be interested in ...
New stuff about the Michael Brown shooting. Two new witnesses tell a familiar story: Brown had his hands up and wasn't endangering Darren Wilson.
No witness has ever publicly claimed that Brown charged at Wilson. The worker interviewed by the Post-Dispatch disputed claims by Wilson’s defenders that Brown was running full speed at the officer.
“I don’t know if he was going after him or if he was falling down to die,” he said. “It wasn’t a bull rush.”
Also, the Ferguson police chief was lying about why he released the surveillance tape that seemed to show Michael Brown stealing cigars from a convenience store. Chief Thomas Jackson said he had to release the tape, because reporters had made FOIA requests for it. The Blot reports:
a review of open records requests sent to the Ferguson Police Department found that no news organization, reporter or individual specifically sought the release of the surveillance tape before police distributed it on Aug. 15.
Last month, TheBlot Magazine requested a copy of all open records requests made by members of the public — including journalists and news organizations — that specifically sought the release of the convenience store surveillance video. The logs, which were itself obtained under Missouri’s open records law, show only one journalist — Joel Currier with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch — broadly requested any and all multimedia evidence “leading up to” Brown’s death on Aug. 9.
Other records that would have been subject to Currier’s request, including 9-1-1 call recordings and police dispatch tapes, have yet to be formally released by the agency.
So the release was part of an intentional smear of Michael Brown, which Chief Jackson covered up by lying. Makes you wonder what else the Ferguson police have lied about.
NYC Police probably didn't know Chaumtoli Huq was a human-rights lawyer when they arrested her for standing outside the restaurant where her husband and kids were using the bathroom. They just knew she was a dark-complexioned person near a pro-Palestine rally.
Guess what? When your political system is based on money, foreign money has a vote. Sunday's NYT exposed how money from foreign governments influences think tanks whose research wields considerable influence in Congress.
As a result, policy makers who rely on think tanks are often unaware of the role of foreign governments in funding the research.
The WaPo's "The Fix" blog disagrees with my assessment of Hillary Clinton's statement on Ferguson (from last week), finding it "surprisingly bold" and "among the most substantive".
NY Review of Books' article "The Dying Russians" is both fascinating and horrifying. For decades, Russia has simultaneously had a low birth rate and an inexplicably high death rate. So it's de-populating in a way that has never been seen in peacetime absent some major plague.
Another major clue to the psychological nature of the Russian disease is the fact that the two brief breaks in the downward spiral coincided not with periods of greater prosperity but with periods, for lack of a more data-driven description, of greater hope.
Tuesday at Idaho State, an armed professor shot himself in the foot during class. Is this a great idea or what? That was on the sixth day of class. How long before one of these bozos kills somebody?
Meanwhile, in the I-can't-believe-we're-even-debating-this department, a gun control group is trying to get Kroger to take a stand against openly carrying firearms into its grocery stores.
Fast food workers -- from McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's and KFC -- demonstrated for higher wages and a union in several cities Thursday.
After years carrying water for Wall Street interests, Eric Cantor now has a $2-million-a-year job for an investment bank. It makes you understand why congresspeople have no fear of the voters.
The Obama executive orders on immigration we've been expecting ... well, wait until after the election.
Obama faced competing pressures from immigration advocacy groups that wanted prompt action and from Democrats worried that acting now would energize Republican opposition against vulnerable Senate Democrats. Among those considered most at risk were Democratic Sens. Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Kay Hagan of North Carolina. ... White House officials said aides realized that if Obama's immigration action was deemed responsible for Democratic losses this year, it could hurt any attempt to pass a broad overhaul later on.