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Michael Ubaldi, September 21, 2007.
John Derbyshire, diagnosing himself with "Islamophobophobia," advises that he is "inclined to cut Islam some slack. It's a religion, bringing the consolations of faith to multitudes. Most of its believers are decent people, who pay no attention to the fiercer verses of scripture."
His National Review commentary is mostly on point. The business of interpreting present and incipient conflicts as the fallout of religious ejecta defies evidence of the benign actions of most Muslims, as well as the historical record of religion or culture having been misappropriated for acts of brutal domination.
What people say and what they will actually risk are very different. This is especially so when opining in a public which has been warded, for decades, by an authoritarian government — like one seated in Cairo, Islamabad or Amman — that tolerates Islamic-sounding, fascistic speech. Is it less trouble if you aren't the only man in the coffeehouse who rejects jihad as combat? Yes, so you nod, in hopes no one makes a house call. A notable minority of declared Muslims in the United States and Britain approve of terrorism, according to surveys, but the same principle applies. How many ignorants, or even dabbler socialists, wearing a shirt featuring Che Guevara are waiting for the signal to grab a Kalashnikov and round up their peers to cull the anti-revolutionaries, or whatever?
The benefit of the doubt need not be given men who say the Prophet Mohammed impels them to kill. As written in this space before, Islamism, a set of relevant doctrines no older than the last century, is cursorily spiritual but decisively totalitarian. Islam is a medium only. Were the mosque to suddenly come to no use, the class of Third World criminals who broadcast from the minarets would abandon it. How quickly would Islamophobes then break off from their stalking of Muslims — in time?
Michael Ubaldi, September 19, 2007.
One objection to the sight of David Petraeus testifying on Capitol Hill would be that it swelled congressional pride, as lawmakers dilated on the general's inferiority and impertinence. Last week's meetings were an appeal, by the American commander, of the majority's prejudgment on the Mesopotamian front. Petraeus sat across from legislators who did not believe in the Iraq from which he said he came — not only the mission, but the actual place.
In technicality, House and Senate proceedings were normal. Legislative prerogatives include scrutiny of military leaders and the executive office compelling them; assessing national objectives while contemplating resources and interests; and, yes, accompanying ostentation. Democrats excused a left-wing organization's obscure comparison of Petraeus to Benedict Arnold. What of it? — much worse was done to Abraham Lincoln and his men in uniform. The representative institution, and by consequence the public, is inured to disgrace. Comportment of the televised Mrs. and Messrs. was that defined by a sticker seen on an air hand-dryer twenty years ago, in a restroom along the highway: PUSH BUTTON FOR A MESSAGE FROM YOUR CONGRESS.
General Petraeus and the US ambassador to Iraq spoke confidently, with so few malleable sentences that the opposition had to fish abstractive directives to Baghdad from out of the White House in order to portray the campaign as yet awry — and then the two returned to the front, Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Hill bombast will cause problems, though, if it is taken seriously. The ammoniac self-consciousness of intellectuals is at work, columnists exaggerating a two-day attraction, some arguing to readers that Petraeus affirmed whatever followed their own persuasion. But the general did not appear before officeholders and cameras to sell newspapers and journals. He is waging war according to his dissertation and forte, counterinsurgency operations.
Personification of the campaign (reducing it to the essay of one four-star general) and a series of strategic and tactical adaptations (insisting on its figurative title) not only diminishes scale and complexity but confines Iraq to a property in Washington. Mere impressions of theater conditions are reified, actual circumstances over there — whether effected or supported by American troops, or the product of spontaneous Iraqi civility — are overlooked. We prefer to call politicians statesmen, but for now deliberations over an advance or retreat are conceded to those who care most about, in no strict order, grandstanding, expedients and re-election.
Michael Ubaldi, September 12, 2007.
Police can and do err when serving warrants with the advantages of surprise, armor and paramilitary weapons. The consequences of which being loss of property, dignity or, with infrequent tragedy, life, neither apology for nor defenses of the operations easily resolve mistakes. A 92-year-old Atlanta woman was shot dead ten months ago but should not have been a suspect or target, and while it turns out that the undercover policemen carrying out a "no-knock raid" hadn't the authority, the killing serves to characterize all arrests beginning with the smashing of a front door. Another storming of the wrong house or apartment, another staggering headline.
The libertarian's celebrated cause, now, is becoming exercised over seeming arrogations of the state, and police work that might go wrong in a hell of a lot of ways is too plausible an excess to ignore. Reason magazine lately features every bungled raid as part of a theme. Amid indignation, some questions that are asked each time should be, even if the strongest answers are different from the libertarian's. Are those moments of confusion, brought on when SWAT teams refrain from asking Hello, can we take you to jail? from outside, so crucial? Can police take more pains to get it right every time? Is any of this even within an agency's purview?
Members of these special teams can answer the first question; the constitutionally learned can help on the last. As for the second one, in 2005, says a criminologist at the Eastern Kentucky University, law enforcement agencies raided 50,000 times. How many foul-ups? Fifteen. At point-oh-oh-oh-three failures, a department yearly issuing five thousand speeding tickets should have only two of the fines overturned in court.
Unfortunately, as discussion about these stories continues it usually unravels into hostility for government, and one can observe a lot of Reason's readers telling each other how much they hate cops. At the end of the tirade is a moment often missed: reminding the irate libertarian that he knows, talks and openly protests executive missteps without reasonable fears, given that he lives in one of a few affording countries.
Michael Ubaldi, September 8, 2007.
Ramesh Ponnuru reports that Andrew Sullivan is talking funny, this time with a reader on the topic of abortion. A letter written to Sullivan asserts that philosophies against abortion "cannot be formulated in any fashion that is coherent to someone," because, in making a forced choice during an imagined fire at a fertility clinic, to administer the principle that "even the earliest zygote should be treated as a person" is to "do what we all know is repugnant, saving the far greater number of embryos, pretending that they are people." Then? One must reject inviolability of the womb "to recognize that yes, there is a great difference between a person and an embryo."
The implication of Sullivan's correspondent, as Ponnuru noted, is that a pro-life position is refuted by logic itself. But this isn't correct, as least as stated in the prevailing pro-choice conjecture. Assume the major and minor premises respectively are 1) All innocent human life is worth protecting, 2) No human embryo qualifies as a living person or for that matter innocent; from which follows a conclusion that 3) No human embryo is worth protecting. We have a universal affirmative, followed by a universal negative, from which another universal negative is drawn.
As truth, the claim may be so; thereby all the controversy. Illustrated, diagrammed, it is patently wanting: there are, between Venn's circles, instances where the embryo, alive or instead a pretend person, should be safeguarded. This argument, at its rational fundament — which is where Sullivan and his advocate want to take us — is invalid.
Michael Ubaldi, September 5, 2007.
Weren't those an electric six weeks? Wall Street reproved itself, pitched a little, and having since righted, is heavenward as before. At close range the loss of worth to one's holdings can be roughly measured as about twenty-five degrees. Pull away to even the beginning of last September, let alone the same month five years ago, and the 2007 correction is lost in the oscillations of a Dow Jones line graph that trends positive. Start as early as when Warren Buffett's finances were not only technically at risk and the matter is reduced to buying and selling for more profit than anticipated.
In accounting one's stocks, there should be a column reserved, if in the mind, for those monies neither saved nor invested but instead sent to Washington, D.C.; marked for sequestration and yet spent, on or off a budget, anyway.
I was given, as a gift for my college graduation, shares in a well-known company that deals in paints and sealants — which, if turned in, could have been traded for a cheap suit at the time. In seven years their value has quadrupled. The little robin's pride of a nest egg of mine is probably close in worth to Social Security withholdings with less than half the ante. My 401k, like everybody else's, is inaccessible outside of an emergency. But it is, by George, really there. The ration of the New Deal, with its promissory literature rewording expropriation into clauses of entitlement, has the consistency of play money.
The American citizen is programmed to receive as much of a bad return as the federal government can manage. Why the prolongation of a moribund result of 1930s socialism? Part power, part obligation, part unfamiliarity with a country that is now majoritarian investor-class. What if an employer tells his company to invest in their place of work because "the goal is to make you rich by the time you retire, even if you are having so much fun that you want to keep on working"? He knows something, and the congressman should listen closely.
Michael Ubaldi, August 27, 2007.
The Democratic Party tenders another weird first, and it is the candidate's wife as campaign associate and chief spokesman. Michelle Obama is thought to have most recently disparaged Hillary Clinton, herself a target of Elizabeth Edwards, who has made oblique comments about the other two — and all this when only one of the three women is running for president.
Exchanges are in a leftist dialect and symptomatic of the anxiety that favored class membership still produces among Democrats. One reads that Edwards regretted that "We can't make John black and we can't make him a woman," presumably because her husband's character and policies will be tertiary to caucus voters; and elsewhere maintained "sometimes you feel you have to behave as a man and not talk about women's issues," as if men make inferior obstetricians or family counselors, or that the 19th Amendment passed for state legislators' fear of returning home and being sent straight to the doghouse.
Midway through this month, Michelle Obama was convulsed with the political current. "We're still playing around with the question: Is he black enough?" Well, OK, that standard is, as Obama put it, "nonsense," but the physical attribute is on the left a cultural and metaphysical affiliation, ones with which the Illinois senator has openly aligned. Being invoiced as the black patron of a taxi driver? Barack explained to Paula Zahn that "there's nothing wrong with that, and I'm not ashamed of that." Chatting with Robin Roberts in May, Mrs. Obama did so as a member of "the black community." But if the Obamas are financially and professionally exemplary, and of broad heritage, while most black Americans aren't, what do they share with the rest of that "community" but skin color? In its modern usage, the word "racist" tends to mean "bad," rather than "applying race as a primary determinant of traits or capacities" — and a crucial metric of individual worth is lost.
So last week, Michelle Obama leveled a charge aimed at nobody in particular, though process of elimination left only the Clintons. Back to malfeasance in the Lincoln Bedroom and Oval Office? Could be, with several months to go. Democrats are entwined with politics of artifice, in their own little world, and it bemuses to watch, which is natural to tragedy.
Michael Ubaldi, August 22, 2007.
Urgency in language works only when that to which attention may be directed is imminent and veritable. Legislative moves — one in June, another in July — to rescind the war-making authority exercised by President Bush in Iraq were founded, ostensibly, on political acknowledgment of a public dissatisfied with news from the front. On the cusp of August and September, official and independent reports tell of an enemy breaking (there goes veritableness) and a liberal Iraqi state showing promise with continued support (followed by imminence). One, two, three, five, ten and more opponents of White House policy, most of them Democrats, are speaking very differently than they had been.
Qualification: they are trying. With repudiation of the Iraqi campaign left in a wake months or years long, Washington's more massive personalities are turning clumsily; Senator Hillary Clinton, for one, with the familiar grace of a battleship. The presidential runner and her staff aren't throwing out old speeches but reworking them, and the integration is so far mishmash.
On the offensive of General David Petraeus? Yes, agreed the senator, speaking to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, "in some areas, particularly in al Anbar province, it's working." So the mercurial terrorist can be outsmarted and, as gains accumulate, defeated strategically? Yes, but Mrs. Clinton, through her words, stepped forward in time and turned to face her audience years from now. "We're just years too late in changing our tactics. We can't ever let that happen again. We can't be fighting the last war. We have to keep preparing to fight the new war." Her answer to that didactic need was bureaucratic, rather than historic, as if a soldier ever learned how to beat an unfamiliar adversary in any way other than by engaging him. And mission fulfillment? For the troops, "I think the best way of honoring their service is by beginning to bring them home."
After proposing retreat from a campaign that looks favorable, Clinton's meditation was that foreigners "have to want to be on our side." Where the departure of American forces has allowed gangs to retake towns and villages, if there is malefaction after a President Clinton has withdrawn the military, why, the senator thought a deserted Iraqi must choose "to say nothing or maybe to tell somebody."
The balance between the hardened political left and the public is not easy. Popular opinion recognizes that it is many times preferable to have a prime minister and his parliament trying their best impression of hard-times India than a Godfather and his demented sons play-acting the reign of Joseph Stalin. In a decade, the only fact relating to Iraq mattering at all to nine-tenths of the population will be that the United States won. So Clinton, and others, want to zig and zag.
Michael Ubaldi, August 20, 2007.
President Bush gave the press a made-you-look moment when, a couple of Thursdays ago, he was interpreted by a Washington Post reporter to foresee corporate tax rates lowered between now and the day he leaves office. Places where the word "corporate" is a dysphemism and "tax" a compliment issued warnings against any such thing. Before a cause could be organized the president corrected the Post's account. "[W]hat we'd really be talking about," Bush said, "is a simplification of a very complex tax code that might be able to lower rates and at the same time simplify the code." Of course, "might" is read by the mistrustful as "most certainly will," but again, a Democratic legislature should make unnecessary any marches and sit-ins for the sake of federal confiscation.
Former senator Fred Thompson, who appears poised to win his campaign for assuredness to run for president, spoke, according to columnist David Broder, the kinds of words that are not meant to accompany numbers. Thompson claimed that the balance of elected officials and all candidates prescribe "status quo," insofar as "Republicans say keep the tax cuts; Democrats say keep the entitlements." He did, like George Bush, call tax law "an unholy mess," but he did not identify the state's takings from business as too much. That Thompson was thought by Broder to be forthright is more about Broder's leanings than anything else, because when figures are lined up, the angle of the senator's populism swings away from what is.
The United States government snatches up as much as 35 percent of a corporation's taxable monies — five percent more than do the Australians, and the stubborn statists in England. The rate is double that of Hong Kong, still arguably the best place in the world to do business; it is slightly less and slightly more than twice the respective rates of Singapore and Ireland. If Fred Thompson inveighs against the American citizen and taxpayer "getting a free ride," does he believe, too, that Singaporeans are living the life of Riley?
Assumptions on two questions keep the political class in darkness: 1) where the country's antediluvian fiscal policy stands with the rest of the productive world; 2) how magisterially high corporate taxes diminish the market and, yes, Washington's revenue.
Michael Ubaldi, August 15, 2007.
A study of Brian Eno's discography entails sorting through tight competition for the British musician-producer's most influential album: good luck. Entering hereabout was a loan from the library, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, produced and released by Eno, and Talking Heads frontman David Byrne, in 1981.
Eno, in 1979, several solo works after his retirement as oddest member of the equivalently flamboyant art-band Roxy Music, began a search for "music where music wasn't supposed to have been." He was taping radio broadcasters and other forms of speech, then putting the excerpts to music. Byrne soon joined the project and, according to the pair's enthusiastic distractions, Bush of Ghosts was — as Byrne reflected in 2005 — conceived first as "an imaginary culture," then a sort of futurist dance record. When finished, the album was comprised of eleven tracks, each song cradling samples of the human voice, taken from mass media and introduced, without the aid of sequencing electronics, "by trial and error." Rhythms and instrumentation were of African music, both from mother continent and New World.
What does it sound like? Danceable; deceptively of traditional culture, since the two used "cardboard boxes for kick drums, biscuit tins as snare drums"; busy in some moments, but prudently so; and then in other moments, accompaniment suitable for driving late at night.
The album, which was re-mastered for a 2006 edition of 18 tracks, is credited by one retrospective with having inspired "hundreds of artists in genres ranging from DJs to alternative to electronic." Bush of Ghosts is indeed excellent, with all of Eno's eclecticism and few of his pensive inconsistencies — a rare omnibus record, not a more typical curious, uneven pastiche. But it isn't well-known, nor are examples of its influence conspicuous in either pop or rock as are others, so while it predates the sampling era, the album can't be thought of as seminal. It may even be too unusual for the wide appeal demanded by a masterpiece, such as Eno's 1978 Music for Airports.
For the musician, it is instructive — and thanks to associates of Eno and Byrne, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts is now heuristic. A website, "in keeping with the original spirit" of the album, provides, to anyone interested, every contributive track for two of the record's songs. They can be used in new creative works. Take and give back: a showcase of third-party mixes is right up front.
A brief review of that, however, exposes the poverty of today's avant-garde. Here Eno and Byrne named their album after a grotesque novel by the Nigerian novelist Amos Tutuola — which was in fact about ghosts and bushes — whereas the title connoted, for a couple of entrants, the sitting president of the United States. Tiny imaginations discern only a conspiracy. It could be worse, as for some the word triggers coprolalia.
That's the bad news. One can, easily enough, just listen to Eno and Byrne.
Michael Ubaldi, August 13, 2007.
What to make of it? All soldiers' talk is difficult to believe, goes the proposition, and some truths are just as incredible, thus there is some truth to soldiers' talk. The general experience, cultural impressions, corroborate. But the conclusion does not logically follow the premises, which is why validity ever demands proof.
Exhibit A is one Army private who has gotten himself into a lot of trouble. He deployed to Iraq within the last year and, from his post, submitted to leftward magazine The New Republic a series of accounts, since abbreviated, from time on duty. The private's articles were lurid and derogatory of men in war, written in a narrative conscious of that and contrived to ensure readers were, too. The private's articles were also false, according to a statement from the military — and dozens of refutations from communities of readers and some journalists on the right who as a group prompted the Army's investigation.
The soldier's game should have ended at a retraction from The New Republic. Instead the published tales are an introduction to a larger story, as The New Republic, along with a diffuse part of the left, haven't disavowed the fictionist, while sounding less and less concessionary to fact than a goodness of fit. Disapprobation of the military, when one listens in, sharply moves from broad epithets to ambiguous charges of atrocities; probably because the view of the former is preconditioned by certitude in the latter. One of the private's stories told of drivers of tracked vehicles habitually chasing down stray dogs. No one familiar with the vehicles, or the relationships of the men inside them, says it could have been possible as described. And from the direction of the left slides this: worse acts have been carried out, so why not a few dead dogs?
Exhibit B is an Iraqi interpreter whom embedded reporter Michael Totten interviewed two weeks ago. In a leading photograph the native, "Hammer," is wrapped up like the Invisible Man, all the better to conceal his identity from those who would kill him for wanting to live like a Westerner. Totten asks Hammer two basic questions: What was life like? and What has life been like? Hammer speaks floridly, and with his recitation of crimes — first Saddam's, then those of the new state's enemies — sounds cagey. A well-meaning tramp? He goes roundabout, and some abominations are detailed.
Held to the same standard as the private's pulp, Hammer's individual claims are without evidence, and so it should be conceded when a doubter asserts it. But such is done by ignoring the categorical differences between the American military and the natures of the Hussein regime, al Qaeda and the Mahdi gangs; all three to which violence and cruelty are essential, the organizations' agents having institutionally recorded torture and murder.
Further clarification is unnecessary: the respective environments of Exhibits A and B are in patently separate classes. The New Republic hasn't budged in deference to this, however, because its editors seem to believe that A and B aren't so far apart. The thrust of the articles, after all, was the ethical miasma, the dehumanization, of armed conflict. If so, The New Republic may not be temporizing to protect employments but to preserve a wartime mythos, which in popular culture abounds. Most heartbreaking is that the private may have made it all up because he couldn't find in war exactly what he wanted, and so tried to novelize the last quarter-century's revisionist cinema, the kind of emulation induced by historical pornography.