Saturday, September 07, 2002

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QUOTH HE

Rod Schaap has a bunch of nice quotes to warm any good lefty's heart. All you righties, unless you want to get really, really huffy, I wouldn't go near them.
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THERE GOES THE JUDGE

The US Senate recently rejected the Bush Administration's judicial nominee to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, Priscilla Owen. Australian lawyer and blogger, Ken Parish, has said: "the Senate Democrats' refusal to confirm President Dubbya's nomination of Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla R. Owen to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit is inappropriate. The US Constitution requires Senate ratification of all federal judicial appointments and, at least until the early 1990s, there was a convention that qualified nominees would be endorsed on a reasonably apolitical basis." Although he also quite rightly points out that, "the Republicans were just as bad as the current Democrat majority when they controlled the Senate during the Clinton Presidency," I think the whole issue raises another important question.

The question is this: if you are to require (in this case) the Democratic Senate to apply the standard of "apoiltical appointment", shouldn't you also expect the (in this case) Republican Administration to apply the same standard to its nominations? Why should one side "apolitically" endorse nominees that the other throws up "politically"? And it seems Owen was a particularly political appointment. As the always astute Talk Left informs us: 'even President Bush's own White House Counsel, Alberto Gonzales, charged Owens (in a dissenting opinion) with engaging in "unconscionable . . . judicial activism."' The rest of the post is also interesting.

On the other hand, Kevin Raybould at Lean Left has an interesting argument with Jeff Cooper, and takes the position that politics shouldn't be left out of considerations: "As long as the President is not passing over vastly superior candidates, or not nominating obviously unqualified candidates, then the President should base his choice on what a Justice believes the Constitution means. How can the President think that a candidate is qualified if he thinks that the person in question interprets the Constitution or the law incorrectly?...The same question applies to the Senate." Also worth a read.

It will be interesting to see how the Howard Government handles the replacement of Justice Mary Gaudron after her recently announced retirement from the High Court of Australia.
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FROM ARSE LICKER TO NAIL BITER?

Our Prime Minister once wanted to be the "deputy sheriff" to the US in our region. Seems he's pulling back from the brink and taking a position a lot of lefties have been urging for quite some time, to much abuse, needless to say. Now Deputy Dawg is urging, "caution", "UN inspections", resolution "without military
action"
, and "if action was needed, it should be initiated by the UN in a multilateral force rather than a US-led first strike."

The article even says this, which I think is a bit of major revelation, isn't?: "[A] spokeswoman for the Prime Minister said Mr Howard and Mr Bush were now in accord that it was desirable for the UN to become involved."

Bush has said this out loud?

UPDATE: Interesting exercise in media analysis in looking at how The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald framed this story. BTW, not such a major revelation.
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N.O.A. M.C.H. O.M.S.K.Y

It nearly fits to the theme music. Seems the marginal Prof. Chomsky has got a gig on the Disney Channel. Les Dabney has the news.
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PROFESSOR POT AND PUNDIT KETTLE

As I probably made clear in the post below about Chomsky, I'm not his biggest fan. Still, Tim Blair is in funny territory when he derides Chomsky as "a marginal figure in the US, mocked even by many on the Left." Geez, Tim, sounds like you in Australia.

Friday, September 06, 2002

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SOME of the PEOPLE SOME of the TIME

There's an ad on telly at the moment for IBM where a bunch of execs are sitting around a conference table, speaking to two members of a rock band, asking them to write a song for them. The rockstars want to know why they want the song and the execs start saying things like, we're a lousy company, our servers are always down, we give rotten service. The rock stars say, and you think a song is going to fix that? and then burst out laughing.

Cut to this BBC story (via the strange but true Sassafras): "The US State Department is due to host a conference on why there is so much anti-American sentiment in the world....A former Madison Avenue advertising executive, Charlotte Beers, was drafted in last year to sell the US brand, just as she used to market Uncle Ben's rice. Amongst the new initiatives, an Arab language radio station has been launched which mixes pop music with news and comment sympathetic to the US. But it does not seem to have made much difference."

At which point the rock stars start laughing.
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WATER, WATER EVERYWHERE NOR ANY DROP TO PRIVATISE

Well, soon anyway. Alex Robson (another new addition to the blogroll) makes a reasonable case regarding water usage and the problem of under-pricing, but the solution isn't necessarily, as he suggests, only to be found in the establishment and enforcement of private property rights. He then wonders out loud if the IMF's bete noir, Joseph Stiglitz, has had anything to say on the topic. The only reference I can find is this piece where, perhaps as Alex would predict, Stiglitz argues: "While I believe that it does make sense for government to get out of areas, like steel, for which there is no obvious role for government, in areas like water,electricity, transport, and gas, in which government will, in one form or another, have to play a major role, the problems of regulation, and deregulation, that have come to light in California and the U.K., and in a myriad of concessions in Latin America, demonstrate that privatization is no panacea, and may actually make matters worse."
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OH SAY CAN'T YOU SEE?

From AAP: Some of the fundamental changes to Americans' legal rights by the Bush administration and the USA Patriot Act following the terror attacks:

* FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION: Government may monitor religious and political institutions without suspecting criminal activity to assist terror investigation.

* FREEDOM OF INFORMATION: Government has closed once-public immigration hearings, has secretly detained hundreds of people without charges, and has encouraged bureaucrats to resist public records requests.

* FREEDOM OF SPEECH: Government may prosecute librarians or keepers of any other records if they tell anyone that the government subpoenaed information related to a terror investigation.

* RIGHT TO LEGAL REPRESENTATION: Government may monitor federal prison jailhouse conversations between attorneys and clients, and deny lawyers to Americans accused of crimes.

* FREEDOM FROM UNREASONABLE SEARCHES: Government may search and seize Americans' papers and effects without probable cause to assist terror investigation.

* RIGHT TO A SPEEDY AND PUBLIC TRIAL: Government may jail Americans indefinitely without a trial.

* RIGHT TO LIBERTY: Americans may be jailed without being charged or being able to confront witnesses against them.
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NOAM CHOMSKY TELLS AUSTRALIANS TO BE PROUD

I once asked Chomsky, via the Znet discussion forums, whether he'd ever made a mistake. It went down like a cup of cold sick. It was as bit of unfair of me in that my real target wasn't Chomsky but the fawning goofs who asked him questions like, "how did you get to be so perfect?" The forum was often filled with those-obviously-in-awe and it wasn't a good look. Anyway, I got slapped down and probably rightly so. Of course, baiting and bashing Chomsky is a favourite rightist past-time, and most of them fail miserably. A reasonable critique is offered by Kevin Carson, but he takes down more righties in the process than ever lay a glove on Chomsky.

One of the other regular features of questioners on the Znet discussion forums, oddly, is the number of Australians (and others) who write in and try and get him to slag off Australia. It is surprising (to me, anyway) that he always declines (apart from the odd pointed word about the occasional government action or ministerial statement). The latest example is this guy who (eventually) asks about Australia's recent role in East Timor:

...But then again if we accept Horta's logic it would be easy for an Australian foreign policy analyst, many of
whom spoke out against Australia's change of policy on East Timor in 1999
quite disgracefully especially ANU members of the Jakarta lobby, to say that
Suharto's Indonesia and Washington had to have been Australia's "closest
possible allies" thus requiring that Canberra should put "pragmatism ahead
of human rights" what the Whitlam government in internal memo's described as
"Kissingerian realism"? I think "Kissingerian realism" lives on in Australia
especially when you look at Canberra's support for "the war against terror"
and its support for a possible invasion of Iraq, second only to Israel I
think. But "Kissingerian realism" is defended basically along the same lines
as Horta defends it: it is said that in a world ruled by force Australia
must go along with whatever Washington wants because Washington is
Australia's "closest possible ally". But actually is it not in Dili's and
Canberra's interest to have a world governed by at least some semblance of
what Hedley Bull called "international society"; such a world, although by
no means perfect, would be better than a world ordered by "Kissingerian
realism" in other words Canberra, and Dili, is actually pursuing a foreign
policy against their long term security interests?


Again, Chomsky doesn't take the bait:

I agree with your point about "countries like East Timor having
to find a living in a world whose operative norm is might makes right; in
which case it is incumbent upon us in the west to change the pattern of
world order for which we are responsible." That seems to me the heart of
the matter. ET has to live with that, Australia does too. Of course, ET
has far few options than Australia. Australia has a substantial range of
independence in its choices; ET very few. That makes all the difference in
the world. In the case in question, Australia had a very definite choice
between "Kissingerian realism" vs. paying its enormous debt to the Timorese
by refusing to tolerate the Indonesian invasion, and to even give de jure
recognition to it. That was a criminal choice. Australia did, however,
make the right choice -- and was almost alone in that -- in insisting that
Indonesia withdraw in September 1999 and that they would lead a
peacekeeping force to try to reconstruct something from the ruins. Vastly
too late, but very important, and something about which Australians can
feel genuine pride.


I think such sentiments are still hard for the Australian left to swallow, endorsing as it (the Chomsky piece) does John Howard's efforts. They shouldn't have this problem because, as Chomsky points out, Howard does deserve credit. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that the Australian left lost their place after two major events: the Howard Government's role (and a decisive role at that) in the liberation of East Timor, which had always been one of the banner issues of the Australian left and on which the Labor Party had consistently let them down; and the loss of the Republican referendum, which was a mighty symbolic blow and since which Howard has not looked back. Going further, I'd say these issues combined gave Howard the moral force and the popular will to make the running on the asylum seeker issue. At the very least, there is a complex calculus to be made of such events that is generally overlooked when the left "blames" Howard's 2001 victory on the asylum seeker issue alone.
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AUSTRALIA INVENTS THE GRAND PIANO: TWICE

Fascinating little story about two Australians who have reinvented the grand piano (separately and in different ways) but are having a little trouble muscling in on the Steinway monopoly. Sounds like a possible subject for one of those quirky little Australian films to me (like Spotswood, fr'instance). I add, tantamount to nothing, that Mark Joffe, the director of Spotswood, once offered to break into the Crawford production studios in Melbourne and make a television commercial on the cheap for a video shop I used to own.
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BLOGGING ME, BLOGGING YOU.........AH HAAA

I've been meaning to mention more fulsomely the excellent ArgMax blog. Now seems as good as time as any as John Irons has this interesting rumination on the many-tendrilled blogbeast itself. Go for that article, but stay for the million-and-one other wondrous stories scattered throughout his always-growing site. (PS: Not sure why the link to this page has an asterix. John?)

Incidentally, John Quiggin traces similar questions in regard to the same Krugman article and finds, amongst other things, that the Cato Institute might be stuck with a bit of a Sophie's choice.
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THE GAME'S AFOOT

So Congress is promising to hold weeks of hearings on whether to level Iraq. As if the decision hasn't already been made. I see no reason to change my view, posted below:

What in fact will happen is that this non-debate will go on for a while, polls will be watched and results will be spun, the rightwing think tanks and shock jocks will present their cases, each carefully targetted for their particular demographics, behind the scenes pressure will be brought to bear on allies, whoever actually makes the decision to invade Iraq will make it, someone else--or a team of someone elses--will write the President a speech which he will deliver glove-puppet like during a special network broadcast, and Congress and the media will fall into line because now we're at war and he's the commander in chief, and we will bomb the crap out of Iraq.

And there was Howard Fineman on TV last night running the same line about the open, cautious and in-control George W, weighing, listening, learning, considering. Yeah, right. The fix is in.

The over-rated Instapundit (see MaxSpeaks' great ass fact-checking piece of Insta) cites this "scoop" which purports to show that the Bush Administration has updated satellite evidence of, well, I'm not quite sure what. Quoting from the article:

An Internet web site run by the U.S. Department of State and established in the waning days of the Clinton Administration demonstrates how shot-from-space pictures are utilized to make the point that Hussein must be replaced....Numbers of satellite pictures are used on an Internet site, produced and maintained by the U.S. Department of State's Office of International Information Programs (IIP). The IIP was created from elements of the U.S. Information Agency when it merged with the U.S. Department of State on October 1, 1999....The report, Saddam Hussein's Iraq, was first released in September 1999 and subsequently updated...."It makes the case that Saddam is a bad man, building while everybody is starving," said Tim Brown, senior analyst with GlobalSecurity.org - a military watchdog group.

Like, we needed satellite photos to figure out Saddam is a bad man?

Anyway, whatever they show, it is as well to be reminded of other uses to which satellite photos have been put, as in this CS Monitor article:

When George H. W. Bush ordered American forces to the Persian Gulf – to reverse Iraq's August 1990 invasion of Kuwait – part of the administration case was that an Iraqi juggernaut was also threatening to roll into Saudi Arabia....Citing top-secret satellite images, Pentagon officials estimated in mid–September that up to 250,000 Iraqi troops and 1,500 tanks stood on the border, threatening the key US oil supplier...But when the St. Petersburg Times in Florida acquired two commercial Soviet satellite images of the same area, taken at the same time, no Iraqi troops were visible near the Saudi border – just empty desert...."That [Iraqi buildup] was the whole justification for Bush sending troops in there, and it just didn't exist," Ms. Heller says. Three times Heller contacted the office of Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney (now vice president) for evidence refuting the Times photos or analysis – offering to hold the story if proven wrong....The official response: "Trust us." To this day, the Pentagon's photographs of the Iraqi troop buildup remain classified.

But who cares, right? Ends and means and all that.
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IMMIGRATION UNAPPEALING

Some ammunition for the right of Australian blogworld - seems the US is "cracking down" on asylum seekers too. Talk Left (whom I have just added to the International Republic of Blogs) links to this Legal Times' article about changes to The Board of Immigration Appeals.

As TL puts it:

The largest outcry is against the reduction of judges. "[The board's] legitimacy in the eyes of the public and among the immigrant community is based on its ability to act in an independent and fair-minded way," says T. Alexander Aleinikoff, a professor at Georgetown University Law Center and former INS general counsel. "If the attorney general uses his authority to pack and stack the board with members who tend to agree with the immigration service, that is not impartial justice."

But there is more, so follow the links.


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MORE COERCION in the NAME of FREEDOM, by the LOOKS OF IT

Thanks to Zem for pointing out this article about the Victorian Government's proposals to set up a new commission to investigate organised crime. Predictably, this is not just about creating a new dedicated service of law enforcement; it is also about granting said body new powers. Zem has the details.

Thursday, September 05, 2002

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NO COMMENT

This is getting annoying. Although you can read comments already posted in the Haloscan comments box, it seems no new ones can be added. If you are trying to post a comment, copy it to your clipboard before hitting 'okay' as it has a nasty tendency to disappear when you click.

This is the only message they have on their site:

HaloScan.com is Temporarily down.
The main server began experiencing a Denial of Service attack a while ago. After, the main server went down, the backup server on another connection was automatically activated but that also experienced the same attack and we have now taken both servers down till the attack stops and connections become stable.

Update #2: We got hit a second time but will have this sorted and be back up soon.

We apologize for the downtime and are working hard to resolve the problem.


Very helpful. All we can do is wait, I guess. Or perhaps bomb Iraq. Or maybe even shoot political scientists.
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ALL the WORLD LOVES a CLOWN -- AND the RIGHT is WILLING to SUPPLY THEM

We're not allowed to be unhappy anymore. It's forever Comedy Central in the Western World. There are not only no grounds for criticism or lament or gloominess, there are no excuses for it either. No guilt (fuck the Indians, the Aborigines, the Africans, the Eskimos, the whoever-the-fuck-they-ares, we beat 'em fair square PROVING we're just smarter and better), no remorse, no compensation, no sympathy. Just ask the right. We're the bloody west and we're the bloody best and even if things aren't exactly perfect here then they're a whole lot worse everywhere else and if you say or think any different then you're cry-baby, over-indulged, backward-looking, self-hating, lefty, psycho-babbling whinger.

We're the middle class right: we don't do sad.

There is one exception to this rule. You are allowed to be angry at the left. Or at anyone who would dare mention anything at all that might put a bit of crink in your day. The glass is half full, even when it's empty. So you can't get too concerned about third world hunger, but you can sure blow a foofer valve if some do-gooder lefty dares to mention it. You can't point out that there might be good geo-political reasons that America gets attacked by terrorists and that if we could address them they mightn't get attacked by terrorists so much, but you can sure get angry, indignant, hurt, angry, angry, angry if anyone says something so insensitive.

This attitude pervades the media, including the blogs. In a mild version, there's Ken Parish hassling Rob Schaap for daring to mention that US economic figures might hide some potential downsides. This is not a reasonable--bordering on obvious--comment. This is unacceptable pessimism. Quoth Ken:

Just about the only useful thing Richard Nixon's equally corrupt Vice-President Spiro P. Agnew ever did was give the world the delightful expression "nattering nabobs of negativism". I was reminded of it this morning when I read Rob Schaap's blog titled Lose, Lose Scenariorrheoa. Now, Rob seems like a lovely bloke, and his pieces are always thoughtful and worth reading. But he seems to share that typical leftist psychic compulsion to always look on the worst side of everything. For Rob, the glass is eternally half-empty, and what's more the water in it is probably polluted by toxic chemicals emitted by evil multi-national corporations.

No grumbling. Be happy or you'll be hanged by neck till you cheer up, to quote someone else who told us to always look on the bright side of life.

Or there's this goose in the LA Times whinging that the left isn't funny enough and his brother goose in Slate agreeing. Gotta be funny. You just gotta laugh. What else are you gonna do? Overcome your "psychic compulsion to always look on the worst side of everything." (Though might I suggest to him that instead of looking for jokes in The Nation that he try The Daily Show or something?)

And then there's this piece by someone who is really very cross. She's really cross that cross people are being so gloomy when she's a girl and she just wants to have fun:

Want to know what I'm tired of? I'm tired of the America Sux thread that keeps coming up in progressive commentary. Much of it is made by people living right in the heart of Evil Amerikkka, parasitically living off the safeguards we have here for freedom of speech and the press while reviling the bulk of their neighbors as crass, jingoistic, racist, fat, McDonald-eating, Little Children™-hating, fascist, polluting, materialistic -- whatever comes out of the Standard Handbook for Dissing the Bourgeoisie. Some more is written by mandarins of the elites of countries close to us in culture and lifestyle and (on the surface anyway) politics. None of these tirades were written in blood on discarded scraps of indie-newspapers, passed carefully from hand to hand by the secret Freedom Underground Press; they were most likely typed out on a computer. Computers are not hand-carved from recycled oak after having the Sacred Earth Chant said over them either. They were invented here, in Evil Fascist Amerikkka.

Yeah, love it or leave it, buster. The pursuit of happiness; it's in the friggin' constitution.

And she strikes a chord - all the angry white happy people write in and tell her how clever, brilliant, smart, funny, cheering she is:

Oh my, yes. Consider me an adoring fan...

Posted by: Andi on September 3, 2002 06:54 AM
Excellent, dear.

Now THAT'S a rant. I am in the presence of greatness.

Posted by: Colin on September 3, 2002 10:55 AM
Lileksian in its beautiful screedness.

Posted by: Jim on September 3, 2002 11:34 AM
I want to add you to my blog roll.

I enjoyed the rant, sir.

Posted by: Jim (MadLib) on September 3, 2002 11:41 AM

Posted by: Jim (MadLib) on September 3, 2002 11:48 AM
Now that is a rant. You're in fine form today.

I'M NOT WORTHY! I'M NOT WORTHY!

Always looking forward to more of the good stuff from you.

Posted by: Dave on September 3, 2002 12:02 PM


Oh, bravo! I want *you* to be in charge. :)

Posted by: Sekimori on September 3, 2002 01:19 PM
Beautiful, Andrea. BEAUTIFUL.

Posted by: Emily on September 3, 2002 01:33 PM
Well said. I'm an insta-fan.

Posted by: Brandon on September 3, 2002 01:39 PM
Awesome rant. When I get THAT mad, I can't even speak, much less write. Thanks!

Posted by: Dean de Freitas on September 3, 2002 02:04 PM


And for god's sake don't mention tolerance. What's tolerance got to do with western liberal democracy? Thus Janet Albrechtsen in The Australian is particularly upset at her very own invention, Multicultural Man:

With great irony, Multicultural Man taught us to see anti-Westernism as the last acceptable prejudice. "Western culture" was clamped by quotation marks to signal its distasteful colonising, imperialist past. Our self-loathing gave terrorists a licence to ratchet up their anti-west sentiment to murderous proportions. Many of us woke from our reverie on September 11. But not the Left. Bipartisan outrage lasted all of three weeks. After that, the Left resuscitated Multicultural Man who said America's sins caused those terrorist attacks.

Yes, that's what caused 911. Multiculturalism. What an irony. If only we hadn't wasted any time trying to be understanding, fair or tolerant of other cultures and had just asserted our bloody superiority from the start, lorded it over them and bombed them first. That's the way to world peace, security at home and abroad. Anyway, never too late to start.

When are you going to get it through your head?: there is nothing wrong with the world that the market, the bomb, and the USA and its acolytes can't fix.

As Jason Soon says, in the name of individuality, we should all be the same. Moving from a reasonable condemnation of the stoning of a Nigerian woman, he suddenly morphs into conformo man, in almost precisely the way his idol Hayek warned was inevitable with socialist thinking: "Many have had their minds poisoned by the ideology of anti-imperialism and radical multiculturalism. There are arguably more on the mainstream right nowadays who have picked up the mantle of championing Liberal Universalism while a subset of the academic left, at least, retreat into their incommensurabilities, their sensitive political correctness and their anti-imperalism. This must end...The Roman Empire, the Austro Hungarian empire and the British empire arguably made things a lot better for many of the societies they conquered - and left behind societies which were better off than before...Some cultures and beliefs are worthless sewers and this will always be so - it is a betrayal of the interests of people living under such cultures to be 'culturally sensitive'.

Don't find fault: get with the reprogram. A bit of cultural genocide is all we need, as Jason continues: "It is a betrayal of the interests of one's fellow human beings not to argue the obvious - that the sooner the Rest is like the West the better."

And if you're wondering who gets to define this wondrous beast "The West" then you are probably already a beyond-the-pale lefty who sees half-empty glasses everywhere you look, is mired in concern for others and is beyond the reach of western reason and reasonableness. Get over it. Go to a Seinfeld concert. He's a funny, rich guy. That's what we're aiming at. Not a worry in the world.
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ME AND MIKE

Seems New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg concurs somewhat with what I said below about the street hawking going on around the World Trade Centre site. The Sydney Morning Herald has this brief story:

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg today described people who buy and sell September 11 souvenirs as "despicable" but said laws were limited in cracking down on street hawkers....Commenting on a growing trade in curios and graphic photographs of the World Trade Centre site before and after the terrorist attacks, Bloomberg said there was no legislating for taste...."I find a lot of it tasteless, but that's my personal view," he told reporters...."I don't know whether I find the people who sell some of this junk or the people that buy it more despicable. It's not what I think should happen," he added....Many of the souvenirs are sold from stalls near the "Ground Zero" site, although hawkers have set up in other areas of the city frequented by tourists....Some street sellers say they have been harassed by police, but Bloomberg made it clear that only those without licences would face problems...."We are trying to enforce the rules and regulations and sometimes the law doesn't work as well as you would like. It is a free country," he said.

I wouldn't even go so far as to call it despicable. Inevitable is more like it, in a culture that is used to seeing everything in market terms.

Interestingly, the Mayor at the time, Rudolph Giuliani, has a similar view about the site in that he believes it should be left as a memorial and not developed at all in a commercial sense:

In his official farewell address last month, at St Paul's Chapel, New York former mayor Rudolph W Giuliani made headlines, calling for a memorial at the former World Trade Centre site and a call for art before business...."I really believe we shouldn't think about this site out there, right behind us, right behind us right here as a site for economic development" he said. "We should think about a soaring, monumental beautiful memorial that just draws millions of people here, that just want to see it. If the memorial was done correctly you'll have a all the economic development you want, and you can do the office spaces in a lot different places", R Giuliani.

He also wrote an article in Time about it.

I'd tend to agree - when you see the site, you realise that it isn't so big a space that the City would lose much by keeping it as a monument.

But consider: even Giuliani's idea is predicated to some extent on the commercial possibilities, as he recognises that a good monument will be good business. If that's the case, if there is no way of taking commercial considerations out of the equation (and some people, like Gareth, even seem to believe that it's kinda naive to want to), then maybe the best memorial is a shopping mall. Let the people pay tribute by buying holographic now-you-see-them-now-you-don't cards or twin-tower t-shirts. Let them remember the people who leaped to their death by buying some of the window decals of New York's skyline that are already available from the street hawkers. Why the hell not?

In which case, maybe the idea posited by bad analysis is the way to go (no permalink - scroll down to 'wtc redevelopment'.)

Wednesday, September 04, 2002

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BIGGER than HARRY POTTER

For some reason I get an inordinate number of sci-fi and fantasy fans visiting this site (and given my expectations of getting readers from such a demographic, ONE would be an inordinate number to my way of thinking). Is it the vaguely utopian (more vague than utopian) cast of my blog title that lures them from the far reaches of the gallaxy? Is it my deft mix of fact, fiction and complete and utter bullshit that reels them in? Perhaps it is the magical crystal thingy I have embedded deep in my cerebellum that sends out invisible waves of attraction through the world telecommunications network that does it (I hope so, cause you would not believe what trouble I had finding that thing, let alone getting it embedded in the old cerebellum).

Whatever the reason, now that I have you all here, allow me to let you in on a little secret: Simon Brown. Australia has many well-kept secrets (the ancient Aboriginal rock drawings in Nth Queensland, Manuka Beach in Canberra, the secret cave somewhere under the Great Barrier Reef where you can find the odd magical crystal thingy if you have the right map, or at least part of the map and an eye for adventure).

Simon is a fine writer of both science fiction and fantasy. His latest work is a fantasy trilogy called The Keys of Power (all three books good and fat) and they are about to be released for the first time in the United States. They won't be available until October, but start hassling your suppliers now. As he is also my deep personal friend, if you need the odd lock of hair, skin sample or perhaps his first child as a keepsake, let me know.
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CAN'T SHAKE those STEREOTYPES

Teresa Fels replies to my post about her post and this is another post in which I reply to her new post (blogging: what you do when you're sick of ingrown toenails). She thinks I was offended by her comments but I wasn't. I just thought she was wrong. She points out that she didn't mention left and right but I didn't say she did (I was framing, la de da). She says I don't think production should occur where it can be most efficient, but I didn't say that either (there was a proviso). She ends by saying, "Maybe WTO etc would make better decisions if there were most concerted obbying for truly free trade rather than people campaigning against 'globalisation'," (hey, we all rush writing posts sometimes, give her a break) which is precisely the sort of strawperson construction I was suggesting that undermines any point she might wish to make. So once again I fail to make my point. And now I must die.
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WHAT A LAUGH

This guy reckons the left isn't funny. Is too.
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GOD'S OWN COUNTRY

Anybody who has taught a class, at whatever level, has a story to tell about something, um, unexpected a student has said. One of my favourites was a schoolteacher I know back home, teaching plural formations to a remedial English class, who asked the class: "What is the plural form of 'leaf'?" To which a student replied, "Tree." Which is actually brilliant.

Another to add to the list is this one from the latest Harper's Magazine (no link). It's from an article by Mark Slouka:

"Some years ago, at the University of California...a young woman raised her hand in the middle of a seminar I was then teaching on the first century of Rome and the dawn of the Christian Era. She seemed genuinely disturbed by something. 'I know you're all going to think this is crazy,' she said, 'but I thought Jesus was an American.'"

The rest of the article is bound to piss off most of the right.
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AN AGENT of INFLUENCE

Scott Ritter, the former UN weapons inspector in Iraq, has been a powerful and virtually unassailable refuter of many of the reasons given by the Bushies for the necessity of levelling Iraq. He says things like this to Congressional hearings:

"But the reality is that, from a qualitative standpoint, when you judge Iraq's current weapons of mass destruction capabilities today, they have none."

"In terms of missile production facilities, which were associated with the production of long range missiles, these facilities have either been destroyed, dismantled, or prior to the American military action in 1998 under strict monitoring by the weapons inspectors. The same holds true with chemical weapons."

"The same holds true for biology. The same holds true for nuclear. So when we talk about Iraq's current weapons of mass destruction threat, the answer is there is no weapons of mass destruction threat."

"The point is today there are no weapons of mass destruction of any meaningful scale in Iraq and should United Nations weapons inspectors be brought back into Iraq and an effective program of monitoring put in place, monitoring which includes export-import control regimes as envisioned by the Security Council in Resolution 1051, Iraq will not be able to reconstitute these weapons."


Like a lot of people, Ritter is not saying there shouldn't be an attack, he just asking that there be a good reason for one: ""It's just insane to talk about an Iraqi capability unless you can substantiate that they have reacquired a manufacturing capability, and no one's done that yet...Short of hard fact, we don't have a national security threat here."

It's as well to remember too, that since "defecting" from UNSCOM, Ritter's loyalty, sanity and integrity have been put under constant scrutiny, as in this interview with his old boss, Richard Butler:

"Now, UNSCOM was particularly hurt by Scott Ritter's carrying on. We can argue about what influenced the decisionmakers—there are different versions. But when you claim to be in the room when you weren't, when you claim to be part of the conversation when you weren't, when you claim that conversations took place that never did—the false assertion that I met [Secretary of State Madeleine] Albright in Bahrain in March 1998, for example—when you make those kinds of claims that are factually so wrong, that's very different from having a more honest argument about what went into certain decisions.

"I don't know why he's behaved that way. Some say he's not just dishonest, but he's actually delusionary, that he actually thinks he was there. You know there was one inspection that he implied he was on, and it was canned by the Iraqis, and there was a big fuss. He wasn't ever on that inspection. He wasn't in country then. It's just wrong, but Ritter got to a point where he thought he was UNSCOM, that everything that happened there was him. And if you look at his interviews, you hear that coming through. He actually said on public television, thumping his fist on the table, "I was UNSCOM! I was it!" So, his claim late in 1998 that I somehow sold the store to the CIA is dramatically untrue. And on the contrary, as I said, I actually scaled down the extent to which we were using member states' intelligence input to do our work because I was concerned about what it could do to our reputation. I was concerned about protecting the independence of multilateral disarmament activities."


Despite such attacks, Ritter has kept arguing his case. What do you do with a guy like that? Well, it seems you up the ante, intimidate him further and, most recently, try and smear him in the media as an Iraqi agent/sympathiser. And Les Dabney has the lowdown. Les spoke to the guy with whom Ritter is writing a book and managed to get a sizeable extract from an interview in which Ritter answers the allegation.

Ritter, I think, still has some questions to answer, but the extract is well worth a look, and well done Les.
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THAT DANG GOVERNMENT

If one of the unofficial religions of the US is anti-governmentarianism (which it is) then Montana is its Vatican City. Montana, in popular prejudice anyway, is synonymous with gun-totin', freeze-dried-food-in-the-bunker, rev-up-the-generator, redneck self-sufficiency. But flying in the face of such an image is the story today that the good citizens of Montana are considering re-regulating their electricity supply and buying back the infrastructure:

In a populist campaign reminiscent of old battles against Eastern railroads and California copper barons, Montanans are to vote this fall on a measure that could lead to a public takeover of 12 hydroelectric dams owned by out-of-state corporations. The proposal, Initiative 145, would set in motion a process by which the state might buy the dams, through either negotiation with the owners or condemnation.

The article talks about similar moves in other states, all of which is an interesting sign of the times and yet further proof that some people at least are starting to grasp the fact that not only doesn't market logic work in all areas but that individualism and personal freedom are actually by-products of a functioning social structure arising from collective action. The Road to Surfdom indeed.

Tuesday, September 03, 2002

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TALKING and CHEWING GUM at the SAME TIME: THE WAYANG OF US POLITICS

It occurs to me again what an easy ride leading politicians get in the US. I refer particularly to the President who, as far as I can see, never has to answer a hostile question in an uncontrolled environment.

Of course, politicians everywhere are risk-averse in this regard and surround themselves with media specialists and try to insulate themselves against the unguarded moment. I remember, for instance, seeing a doco in Britain in which a well-known BBC reporter recounted having Margaret Thatcher on a television talkback program during the Falkland's war. During the show, she was asked an embarrassing question by a caller about the sinking of the Belgrano. The journalist concluded that what politicians feared most was an unscripted question from a member of the actual public. I think he was right, but I would like to have asked him why more journalists didn't assume the same role and use their access to ask similar unscripted questions. (The answer is obvious, I know: too many tough questions and you lose access, particularly true under Britain's system of "lobby" accreditation.)

In Australia, I can remember the fuss made when former PM, Paul Keating, instigated the use of those bank-like rope cordons and a lectern at the back of Parliament House from which to have press conferences. John Howard was one of the biggest complainers, though he now uses them too. Still, at least it is the actual Prime Minister that comes out and answers the questions, not some Ari Fleischer type skilled in the art of professional bullshitting. And at least politicians in most other democracies do things like doorstops interviews (is the expression "doorstop" in the American political vocabulary?) and take live questions on talkback radio and answer question one-on-one on TV. They bullshit too, but at least it's them doing it. When does George W. ever do any of this, including his own unscripted bullshitting? I don't reckon he could.

What it leads to is the sort of spininsanity that is currently occurring over the issue of Iraq. Josh Marshall gives a great account of a recent incident in this game, but consider his opening paragraph to see how far removed the President is from actual democratic accountability:

The new administration line is that Vice-President Dick Cheney was off the reservation last week when he said that inspections in Iraq were an irrelevancy. Andy Card apparently told Howard Fineman on the record that Cheney was freelancing when he ruled out inspections.

This he said/she said approach is what journalist routinely work with here, to a much greater extent than in Australia or even Britain. I saw Fineman on Hardball last night (imagine GWB after two minutes with Chris Matthews!) and the spin was unbelieveable. Fineman wrote an article for Newsweek in which he explains "what it all really means", the gist of which you can get from his discussion (soothsaying) with Matthews:

MATTHEWS: So, Howard Fineman, it looks like Dick Cheney, the vice president, says we’re going to war because there’s no option in terms of inspections.
And the secretary of state again this week in the B.B.C. and in another place I read it says we’re still going to hope for options of inspections and hope to avoid war.
That’s a big difference.
HOWARD FINEMAN, “NEWSWEEK”: It’s a total difference, and I think what we have now is not the fog of war, it’s the fog of pre-war.
I think it’s a deliberate effort on the part of the Bush administration and on the part of Bush, George Bush himself to let his top advisors argue with each other in public while he decides exactly how to do what he clearly wants to do, which is to get rid of Saddam Hussein.
MATTHEWS: That said, you’ve reported in this week’s magazine in “Newsweek,” that the president did not give the OK to the vice president to basically say that there’s no other option but war at this point.
FINEMAN: Sure. They had to do.
What happened was last Monday, George Bush and Dick Cheney said the other side, meaning Jim Baker and Lawrence Eagleberger, all those guys, the peaceniks of the old Bush crowd, had been occupying the stage too long and it was necessary, Bush and Cheney thought, for Cheney to go out there and give the other side of the arguments. Bush ticked off a number of things he wanted Cheney to say, but he did not specifically tell Cheney to go as far as Cheney did. Because by saying there’s no assurance whatsoever that the inspections would do any good, you’re basically saying let’s roll....When I asked Andy Carr, the chief of staff about this a few days later, Carr very unusually came out on the record and said the president didn’t authorize Cheney to go that far. In other words, they want things to remain confusing and noncommittal while Bush decides exactly how to proceed. Bush has to go to the U.N. and give a speech next week. They want to go to Congress. They’re not near what they want to do in the end. They’re keeping their options open.
MATTHEWS: Well, who’s the boss? Because the vice president comes out, he doesn’t check, as you point out in your report. He doesn’t run his speech by the State Department. He doesn’t check for facts by the CIA and he doesn’t get political permission from the president.
So he doesn’t run (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the politics, the facts and the diplomacy. He’s just out there giving his speech, saying forget inspections, we’re going to war. How does he get the chutzpah to do that?
FINEMAN: Because he’s Dick Cheney and he is allied with Donald Rumsfeld, who has enormous clout in the administration and with the hawkish wing inside this administration and Bush, I think, has deliberately allowed this confusion to go on. I think at considerable diplomatic cost, because around the world, that Cheney speech caused an absolute uproar, which is what caused Andy Carr to have to come out and say what he said on the record to us.
Then they balance it out with Colin Powell’s interview with the B.B.C. I think it’s a sort of semi freelance job here where people are being allowed to say what they want while Bush decides exactly how to go after Saddam Hussein.

Josh Marshall is quite right to point out that none of this can be relied on: "Because it's pretty clearly not true. I can't tell you what was authorized or who said what to whom. Maybe the president didn't 'authorize' Cheney's remarks, whatever that might mean. But the premise of Card's remarks is bogus. Cheney didn't break any new ground in his remarks on inspectors. On the contrary, the irrelevance and insufficiency of weapons inspections has been administration policy for some time. The point has been stated repeatedly by Cheney, Don Rumsfeld, and various other administration appointees."

But I'd like to make another point, namely that the "free press", so often derided here as "liberal" is neither free nor liberal. It is not free because it has blindly accepted a situation where the sort of entrails reading evidenced in the above transcript passes for serious political debate absent any of the major players. They are simply not accountable, and instead the likes of Fleischer and Card and even journalists like Fineman and Matthews bat speculation back and forth between them leaving us all none-the-wiser, though perhaps entertained. To the extent that I'm interested in the question of "liberal bias" it is doesn't hold up in this case. Fineman presents George Bush as some sort of wise overseer, giving his troops lots of democratic space within which to argue amongst themselves, while he benignly and patiently "takes advice" and ultimately, as the buck stops with him, will seek his own counsel, will be seen to pray, and will tell us it's time to bomb the crap out of Iraq.

What in fact will happen is that this non-debate will go on for a while, polls will be watched and results will be spun, the rightwing think tanks and shock jocks will present their cases, each carefully targetted for their particular demographics, behind the scenes pressure will be brought to bear on allies, whoever actually makes the decision to invade Iraq will make it, someone else--or a team of someone elses--will write the President a speech which he will deliver glove-puppet like during a special network broadcast, and Congress and the media will fall into line because now we're at war and he's the commander in chief, and we will bomb the crap out of Iraq.

I'm not absolving Australia from these undemocratic practices but I think it is fair to say that we haven't quite reached the stage where the actual politicians have been as totally removed from public debate as they have here in the US.
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WELCOME TO THE HOUSE OF ZEN

Minimalist blogging at bad analysis. Generally om. Rarely um. Please consider.
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THE POOR STEREOTYPES are ALWAYS with US

The terms "left" and "right" have been given a new lease of life in blogtopia. Perhaps the human need to categorise (is it a human need? cultural?) latches onto whatever it can find and in the relatively ethnically, nationally, and even genderly ambiguity of cyberspace a person's political affiliations become a convenient way of imposing some order and understanding on the invisible people we are interacting with.

Of course, even in cyberspace, the terms are bandied about somewhat frivolously and often times inappropriately, but to some extent they serve a purpose.

In a similar vein, I think Teresa Fels over at Catallaxy adds to one of the enduring and somewhat self-serving strawperson images of those who oppose aspects of trade liberalisation in this brief post. She writes:

Unfortunately the poor don't have too many smart people representing them. One of the biggest impediments to the improvement of their situation is the rejection of market economics by those wishing to advocate of their behalf. Changes to trade law liberalising flows of primary produce, textiles etc would greatly benefit the 3rd world but most charities etc believe all trade is bad, will only benefit the first world etc.

This is just bogus. Many of those arguing on behalf of the poor advocate precisely the things she mentions and a reasonably broad approach to trade liberalisation in general. The US government is constantly being lobbied by developing countries, and those who support them, to open its markets, particularly in the area of textiles. The problem is not "not too many smart people" opposing trade liberalisation, but developed nations like the US not practicing what they preach in this area. As Brink Lindsay of the free-market Cato Institute says: "The root of the problem is the administration’s unwillingness to stand up to protected U.S. industries. Consequently, its credibility in urging other countries to face down their protectionist lobbies is abysmally low. The U.S. trade negotiating posture with Latin America currently boils down to “do what I say, not what I do. Unsurprisingly, this is not going over well....If the stumbling doesn’t stop soon, the president’s big plan for hemispheric free trade is likely to fall flat on its face."

But to give a specific example to counter Teresa's claim, consider the world's largest charity organisation, Oxfam. Their recent report was not a document opposing liberalisation, but one that asked developed nations to actually abide by the principles they espoused and to stop imposing "conditionalities" on others that they don't impose on themselves. Even I've written in this vein, using the Oxfam report as a jumping off point, suggesting that free trade might actually be a nice idea but let's actually have some of it instead of using it as a way of driving down first-world production costs. When "free trade" is simply a cover for business to relocate to areas with lower wages and lax or non-existent environmental protections, then the poor are not really helped at all in the way Teresa wishes to see happen.

Further, thanks to the lobbying work of the "not too many smart people" even the IMF is in serious review mode, and has come to recognise that a one-size-fits-all approach to liberalisation is counterproductive and unfair. I've recorded some of their reforms in this earlier post.

Ultimately, Teresa's ire would be better directed at hypocritical governments and the exploitative businesses they support than at strawperson like the one's she constructs.

Still, to the extent that Teresa can point to specific examples of "not too many smart people" who are actually in a position to oppose the ideas she favours and who actually do so, then she might be right to chastise them. But this broad-brush, non-specific sort of criticism is a bit unfair and doesn't stack up with the facts.

The discussion of what constitutes a reasonable approach to trade liberalisation is, of course, a whole other matter.

Monday, September 02, 2002

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FEEL THE LOVE

I notice Tim Blair has yet another piece having a go at Margo Kingston. This is getting so frequent that I'm starting to suspect a major infatuation. Remember in school when you used to pull the pigtails of the girl you liked? I think this is the online equivalent, what we might call a blog crush. It fits the facts as well as Gareth Parker's theory of a blog nemesis.

Anyway, as someone who is constantly scolded by the open-minded right for having anything to do with Margo (like I'm really concerned that the Sydney Morning Herald has a place where I can, on occasion, publish articles and that the right doesn't like it) I'd like to just thank her profusley for providing a permanent link to this blog. And the hits keep coming.

As a a small token of my appreciation to Tim for his, on the whole, good natured ribbing, which also tend to send me a lot of hits, I have even included here a small spelling mistake for him to pick me up on. Consider this post part of what must obviously be my own blog crush.

PS: Kisses to the Catallaxy Collective too for adding me to their links.
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SEPARATED BY A COMMON LANGUAGE

Seems I've inadvertently stumbled onto a bit of Australian idiom that has no recognition in the US. I wrote in a post below that everyone was being invited to a "slide night" about my trip to New York. Lisa, from one of my permanently linked sites, Ruminate This, wants to know what it is. In Australia, a standing joke is that if someone goes on holidays, all the friends and family are likely to be invited to a tedious, wearisome night of looking at the holiday pictures projected onto a white living room wall or perhaps a badly suspended bedsheet while the people who had the holiday explain in excruciating detail what each and every slide is about. To be invited to a slide night is to be invited to put your friendship to a real test. So awful has the experience tended to be that it has turned into a joke-cum-threat after any holiday, which was how I was using it. But surely there must be an American equivalent? Or do you guys really not take holidays?

PS: I just punched "slide night" into Google and 8 out of the 10 first page hits had Australian domain endings. Guess it must be culturally specific. Incidentally, the first hit is a reference to a slide night for "60 year old straw houses in Australia" which is just about your working definition of a boring slide night!
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LOOKING AT WHERE THE TOWERS USED TO BE

I stayed in New York with friends who live 600 metres from the World Trade Centre. On 911 they were forced to run away with thousands of others. There were three of them: husband, wife and 18 month old son. The wife was also 8 months pregnant. The son was tucked under the father's arm as they ran north on Church Street. The cops were yelling at them, "Run for your lives; and don't breathe!" as the torrent of smoke, dust and debris was released by the collapse of the first tower. Eventually another cop noticed the heavily pregnant woman and the small kid in the father's grasp and lifted them all into the back of a police van, along with whomever else would fit, and drove them uptown. My friends' take on the event that seriously threatened their lives and killed a number of their friends? Get over it. Worse things have happened. Stop pretending this is the most horrible event in history. Stop letting the government hide behind the tragedy as a shield of justification for every loopy thing they want to do.

In Friday's NYTimes, Eric Mink argued that in commemorating 911, television should refrain from showing the images of the attack:

For this coming Sept. 11...an ABC press release promises that prime-time coverage will include a dramatic minute-by-minute reconstruction of the attacks and how the government reacted to them. ABC executives have said that the footage it had ceased to show last year would be broadcast again during the anniversary programs when doing so is integral to the story....There is no reason to believe that this video imagery has lost its emotional force, certainly not in a year's time. For the true power of this material lies not so much in what it shows — we've seen film footage, fictional and real, of airplane crashes and imploding buildings before — than in what we do not actually see: the death, despair and suffering that took place beyond our sight in those planes and buildings....At some point, it will become possible, even useful, to watch the video footage of Sept. 11 without re-imagining these terrible scenes. But not now.

My wife, son and I went to the site a couple of times while we were in NY. I guess the NYTimes writer has been there too. But I think he must have been so lost in his own emotions that he didn't see what the site has become - a shop.

Sure, there are the tributes that line the cyclone wire fences around the site and in the square opposite. There's the compelling image of the cross made from buckled girders and even the US flag attached to a regular wooden post has a certain stark power. There are I Love NYC t-shirts ripped and tied onto the wire, scrawled all over with corny, moving heart-felt tributes to friends and strangers. There are bunches of flowers and banners from the various precincts of police and fire departments. There are national flags, and US state flags and plastic covered photographs of victims and lists of names roughly secured to the fences, along with shoes and other articles of clothing, all mundane and affecting mementos to the tragedy.

But there are also the stalls at ten foot intervals all around the site. You can get a full-colour booklet called Day of Terror for a couple of bucks or you can get a holographic card that flits between a photo of "towers there; towers gone" depending on what angle you hold it. You can buy t-shirts encrusted with sacred initials like NYPD or NYFD or NYC or even WTC. The guy with the WTC umbrellas was starting to do a roaring trade as the rain began to fall, eclipsing the sales of the guy a few stalls up whose umbrellas were plain black. You can get photographs of before and after, of night and day, of towers burning, of towers collapsed, of towers absent. Framed and unframed. In a nearby cafe there was a guy set up at a table being bought lunch and coffee by tourists as he painted slogans on plastic fire helmets and sold them to the same people and who all the while kept a constant stream of patter going about the loss of the life, the terror of the day, the need for revenge, even as he reached into his pocket and found change for a fifty.

And it's not just the fairly low-level commercial activity happening at the site. The Administration urged people to shop in the wake of the attacks. Every big business, from cars to office supplies, has draped itself in the flag post-911 and tried to find the exact point at which grief gives way to shopping. The event has spawned a veritable industry of books about the topic or inspired by the topic or books that were going to come out anyway, repackaged for the topic. It's impossible to separate at what point genuine reflection and the recording of history steps over the line and becomes merely money-grubbing, but there is no doubt that there is such a line and it has been crossed. That most of these books are written by commentators from the right almost goes without saying for it is the sanctimonious right who owns the commercial rights to patriotism and indignant rage and who are therefore the rightful beneficiaries of the tragedy.

Whether this is all a good thing or a bad thing, I don't know. But there should be no mistake that this is how freedom rings in the land of capitalism: like a cash register. If you can't buy it, it isn't real. If grief creates a demand, then capital will provide a supply of whatever it is you need, whether it's a CD of Lee Greenwood singing The Star Spangled Banner ("Mr. Greenwood is enjoying a surge in sales since September 11", as the site says) or a patriotic cup.

So in amongst all this grief-for-profit, don't give me this faux-outrage crap about the awful, unfeeling, unpatriotic left being damned to hell for all eternity for daring to ask why 911 happened and to offer some answers that had to do with American hegemony.

If the guy writing in the NYTimes reckons that "There is no reason to believe that this video imagery has lost its emotional force," then maybe he hasn't seen the 50 cent holographic postcards being snapped up by the tourists in the former shadows of the former World Trade Centre. Or maybe I just don't understand what passes for emotional force these days. Whatever, it seems my friend's wish has come true--people have got over it and are sublimating any residual grief in a good bout of retail therapy. So maybe now the right can stop making lists of lecturers who don't genuflect to America perfectionism, can stop bringing lawsuits against people who want to teach about Islam, and can stop using the death of 3000 people as another weapon to batter the left into submission. If it's okay to make a buck out of it, it's okay to ask some questions about it.

Sunday, September 01, 2002

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BACK AND BLOGGING

Just a quick note to say I'm back and blogging after a pretty fab five days in New York. I'll be having a slide night shortly, to which everyone here is, of course, invited, BYO. Plenty to catch up on, so I hope to back in full swing in a matter of moments, or thereabouts.