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Above email address currently deprecated! Use gary underscore farber at yahoodotcom, pliz! Sanely free of McCarthyite calling anyone a traitor since 2001!
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I've a long record in editorial work in book and magazine publishing, starting 1974, a variety of other work experience, but have been, since 2001, recurringly housebound with insanely painful sporadic and unpredictably variable gout and edema, and in the past, other ailments; the future? The Great Unknown: isn't it for all of us?
I'm currently house/cat-sitting, not on any government aid yet (or mostly ever), often in major chronic pain from gout and edema, which variably can leave me unable to walk, including just standing, but sometimes is better, and is freaking unpredictable at present; I also have major chronic depression and anxiety disorders; I'm currently supported mostly by your blog donations/subscriptions; you can help me. I prefer to spread out the load, and lessen it from the few who have been doing more than their fair share for too long.
Thanks for any understanding and support. I know it's difficult to understand. And things will change. They always change.
I'm sometimes available to some degree as a paid writer, editor, researcher, or proofreader. I'm sometimes available as a fill-in Guest Blogger at mid-to-high-traffic blogs that fit my knowledge set.
If you like my blog, and would like to help me continue to afford food and prescriptions, or simply enjoy my blogging and writing, and would like to support it --
you are welcome to do so via the PayPal buttons.
"The brain is wider than the sky, For, put them side by side,
The one the other will include With ease, and you beside"
-- Emily Dickinson
"We will pursue peace as if there is no terrorism and fight terrorism as if there is no peace."
-- Yitzhak Rabin
"I have thought it my duty to exhibit things as they are, not as they ought to be."
-- Alexander Hamilton
"The stakes are too high for government to be a spectator sport."
-- Barbara Jordan
"Under democracy, one party always devotes its chief energies to
trying to prove that the other party is unfit to rule --
and both commonly succeed, and are right."
-- H. L. Mencken
"Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom.
It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves."
-- William Pitt
"The only completely consistent people are the dead."
-- Aldous Huxley
"I have had my solutions for a long time; but I do not yet know how I am to arrive at them."
-- Karl F. Gauss
"Whatever evils either reason or declamation have imputed to extensive empire,
the power of Rome was attended with some beneficial consequences to mankind;
and the same freedom of intercourse which extended the vices, diffused likewise
the improvements of social life."
-- Edward Gibbon
"Augustus was sensible that mankind is governed by names; nor was he deceived in his
expectation, that the senate and people would submit to slavery, provided they were
respectfully assured that they still enjoyed their ancient freedom."
-- Edward Gibbon
"There exists in human nature a strong propensity to depreciate the advantages, and to magnify
the evils, of the present times."
-- Edward Gibbon
"Our youth now loves luxuries. They have bad manners, contempt for authority.
They show disrespect for elders and they
love to chatter instead of exercise.
Children are now tyrants, not the servants, of their households. They
no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents,
chatter before company, gobble up their food, and tyrannize
"Before impugning an opponent's motives, even when they legitimately may be impugned, answer his arguments."
-- Sidney Hook
"Idealism, alas, does not protect one from ignorance, dogmatism, and foolishness."
-- Sidney Hook
"Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted."
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson
"We take, and must continue to take, morally hazardous actions to preserve our civilization.
We must exercise our power. But we ought neither to believe that a nation is capable of perfect
disinterestedness in its exercise, nor become complacent about particular degrees of interest
and passion which corrupt the justice by which the exercise of power is legitimized."
-- Reinhold Niebuhr
"Faced with the choice of all the land without a Jewish state or a Jewish state without all the
land, we chose a Jewish state without all the land."
-- David Ben-Gurion
"...the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence by laying upon him
an incapacity of being called to offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this
or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages
to which, in common with his fellow citizens, he has a natural right; that it tends also
to corrupt the principles of that very religion it is meant to encourage, by bribing,
with a monopoly of worldly honours and emoluments, those who will externally profess
and conform to it;[...] that the opinions of men are not the object of civil government, nor under its jurisdiction; that to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion
and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency is a dangerous fallacy, which at once destroys all religious liberty....
-- Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, Thomas Jefferson
"We don't live just by ideas. Ideas are part of the mixture of customs and practices,
intuitions and instincts that make human life a conscious activity susceptible to
improvement or debasement. A radical idea may be healthy as a provocation;
a temperate idea may be stultifying. It depends on the circumstances. One of the most
tiresome arguments against ideas is that their 'tendency' is to some dire condition --
to totalitarianism, or to moral relativism, or to a war of all against all."
-- Louis Menand
"The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis."
-- Dante Alighieri
"He too serves a certain purpose who only stands and cheers."
-- Henry B. Adams
"The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the
poor to beg in the streets, steal bread, or sleep under a bridge."
-- Anatole France
"When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle."
-- Edmund Burke
"Education does not mean that we have become certified experts in business or mining or botany or journalism or epistemology;
it means that through the absorption of the moral, intellectual, and esthetic inheritance of the race we have come to
understand and control ourselves as well as the external world; that we have chosen the best as our associates both in spirit
and the flesh; that we have learned to add courtesy to culture, wisdom to knowledge, and forgiveness to understanding."
-- Will Durant
"Glimpses do ye seem to see of that mortally intolerable truth; that all deep, earnest thinking is
but the intrepid effort of the soul to keep the open independence of her sea; while the wildest
winds of heaven and earth conspire to cast her on the treacherous, slavish shore?"
-- Herman Melville
"The most important political office is that of the private citizen."
-- Louis D. Brandeis
"If we desire respect for the law, we must first make the law respectable."
-- Louis D. Brandeis
"We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both."
-- Louis D. Brandeis
"It is an error to suppose that books have no influence; it is a slow influence, like flowing water carving out a canyon,
but it tells more and more with every year; and no one can pass an hour a day in the society of sages and heroes without
being lifted up a notch or two by the company he has kept."
-- Will Durant
"When you write, you’re trying to transpose what you’re thinking into something that is less like an annoying drone and more like a piece of music."
-- Louis Menand
"Sex is a continuum."
-- Gore Vidal
"I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should
make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibit the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state."
-- Thomas Jefferson, letter to the Baptists of Danbury, Connecticut, 1802.
"The sum of our religion is peace and unanimity, but these can scarcely stand unless we define as little as possible,
and in many things leave one free to follow his own judgment, because there is great obscurity in many matters, and
man suffers from this almost congenital disease that he will not give in when once a controversy is started, and
after he is heated he regards as absolutely true that which he began to sponsor quite casually...."
-- Desiderius Erasmus
"Are we to have a censor whose imprimatur shall say what books may be sold, and what we may buy? And who is thus to dogmatize religious opinions for our citizens? Whose foot is to be the measure to which ours are all to be cut or stretched? Is a priest to be our inquisitor, or shall a layman, simple as ourselves, set up his reason as the rule of what we are to read, and what we must disbelieve?"
-- Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to N. G. Dufief, Philadelphia bookseller, 1814
"We are told that it is only people's objective actions that matter, and their subjective feelings are of no importance. Thus pacifists, by obstructing the war effort,
are 'objectively' aiding the Nazis; and therefore the fact that they may be personally hostile to Fascism is irrelevant. I have been guilty of saying this myself more than once. The same argument is applied to Trotskyism. Trotskyists are often credited, at any rate by Communists, with being active and conscious agents of Hitler; but when you point out the many and obvious reasons why this is unlikely to be true,
the 'objectively' line of talk is brought forward again. To criticize the Soviet Union helps Hitler: therefore 'Trotskyism is Fascism'. And when this has been established, the accusation of conscious treachery is usually repeated.
This is not only dishonest; it also carries a severe penalty with it. If you disregard people's motives, it becomes much harder to foresee their actions."
-- George Orwell, "As I Please," Tribune, 8 December 1944
"Wouldn't this be a great world if insecurity and desperation made us more attractive? If 'needy' were a turn-on?"
-- "Aaron Altman," Broadcast News
"The great thing about human language is that it prevents us from sticking to the matter at hand."
-- Lewis Thomas
"To be ignorant of what happened before you were born is to be ever a child. For what is man's lifetime unless the memory of past events is woven with those of earlier times?"
"Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information upon it."
-- Samuel Johnson, Life Of Johnson
"Very well, what did my critics say in attacking my character? I must read out their affidavit, so to speak, as though they were my legal accusers: Socrates is guilty of criminal meddling, in that he inquires into things below the earth and in the sky, and makes the weaker argument defeat the stronger, and teaches others to follow his example."
-- Socrates, via Plato, The Republic
"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, represents, in the final analysis, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children."
-- Dwight D. Eisenhower
"The term, then, is obviously a relative one; my pedantry is your scholarship, his reasonable accuracy, her irreducible minimum of education, & someone else's ignorance."
-- H. W. Fowler
"Rules exist for good reasons, and in any art form the beginner must learn them and understand what they are for, then follow them for quite a while. A visual artist, pianist, dancer, fiction writer, all beginning artists are in the same boat here: learn the rules, understand them, follow them. It's called an apprenticeship. A mediocre artist never stops following the rules, slavishly follows guidelines, and seldom rises above mediocrity. An accomplished artist internalizes the rules to the point where they don't have to be consciously considered. After you've put in the time it takes to learn to swim, you never stop to think: now I move my arm, kick, raise my head, breathe. You just do it. The accomplished artist knows what the rules mean, how to use them, dodge them, ignore them altogether, or break them. This may be a wholly unconscious process of assimilation, one never articulated, but it has taken place."
-- Kate Wilhelm
"The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are dimmed."
-- Albert Einstein
"The decisive moment in human evolution is perpetual."
-- Franz Kafka, Aphorisms
"All of old. Nothing else ever. Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better."
-- Samuel Beckett, Worstward Ho
"First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you."
-- Nicholas Klein, May, 1919, to the Third Biennial Convention of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America (misattributed to Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, 1914 & variants).
"Our credulity is a part of the imperfection of our natures. It is inherent in us to desire to generalize, when we ought, on the contrary, to guard ourselves very carefully from this tendency."
-- Napoleon I of France.
"The truth is, men are very hard to know, and yet, not to be deceived, we must judge them by their present actions, but for the present only."
-- Napoleon I of France.
"The barbarous custom of having men beaten who are suspected of having important secrets to reveal must be abolished. It has always been recognized that this way of interrogating men, by putting them to torture, produces nothing worthwhile. The poor wretches say anything that comes into their mind and what they think the interrogator wishes to know."
-- On the subject of torture, in a letter to Louis Alexandre Berthier (11 November 1798), published in Correspondance Napoleon edited by Henri Plon (1861), Vol. V, No. 3606, p. 128
"All living souls welcome whatever they are ready to cope with; all else they ignore, or pronounce to be monstrous and wrong, or deny to be possible."
-- George Santayana, Dialogues in Limbo (1926)
"If you should put even a little on a little, and should do this often, soon this too would become big."
-- Hesiod, Work And Days
"Your Honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free."
-- Eugene V. Debs
"Reputation is what other people know about you. Honor is what you know about yourself."
-- Lois McMaster Bujold, A Civil Campaign
"All that we have to do is to send two mujahidin to the furthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written "al-Qaida," in order to make the generals race there to cause America to suffer human, economic, and political losses without their achieving for it anything of note other than some benefits for their private companies."
-- Osama bin Laden
"Remember, Robin: evil is a pretty bad thing."
Gary Farber is now a licensed Quintuple Super-Sekrit Multi-dimensional Master Pundit.
He does not always refer to himself in the third person.
He is presently single.
The gefilte fish is dead. Donate via the donation button on the top left or I'll shoot this cutepanda. Don't you lovepandas?
Current Total # of Donations Since 2002: 1181
Subscribers to date at $5/month: 100 sign-ups; 91 cancellations; Total= 9
Supporter subscribers to date at $25/month: 16 sign-ups; 10 cancellation; Total= 6
Patron subscribers to date at $50/month: 20 sign-ups; 13 cancellations; Total= 7
...writer[s] I find myself checking out repeatedly when I'm in the mood to play follow-the-links. They're not all people I agree with all the time, or even most of the time, but I've found them all to be thoughtful writers, and that's the important thing, or should be.
-- Tom Tomorrow
I bow before the shrillitudinousness of Gary Farber, who has been blogging like a fiend.
-- Ted Barlow, Crooked Timber
Favorite.... [...] ...all great stuff. [...] Gary Farber should never be without readers.
I usually read you and Patrick several times a day, and I always get something from them. You've got great links, intellectually honest commentary, and a sense of humor. What's not to like?
-- Ted Barlow
One of my issues with many poli-blogs is the dickhead tone so many bloggers affect to express their sense of righteous indignation. Gary Farber's thoughtful leftie takes on the world stand in sharp contrast with the usual rhetorical bullying. Plus, he likes "Pogo," which clearly attests to his unassaultable good taste.
Jaysus. I saw him do something like this before, on a thread about Israel. It was pretty brutal. It's like watching one of those old WWF wrestlers grab an opponent's
face and grind away until the guy starts crying. I mean that in a nice & admiring way, you know.
-- Fontana Labs, Unfogged
We read you Gary Farber! We read you all the time! Its just that we are lazy with our blogroll. We are so very very lazy. We are always the last ones to the party but we always have snazzy bow ties.
-- Fafnir, Fafblog!
Gary Farber you are a genius of mad scientist proportions. I will bet there are like huge brains growin in jars all over your house.
-- Fafnir, Fafblog!
Gary Farber is the hardest working man in show blog business. He's like a young Gene Hackman blogging with his hair on fire, or something.
-- Belle Waring, John & Belle Have A Blog
Gary Farber only has two blogging modes: not at all, and 20 billion interesting posts a day [...] someone on the interweb whose opinions I can trust....
-- Belle Waring, John & Belle Have A Blog
Isn't Gary a cracking blogger, apropos of nothing in particular?
-- Alison Scott
Gary Farber takes me to task, in a way befitting the gentleman he is.
-- Stephen Green, Vodkapundit
My friend Gary Farber at Amygdala is the sort of liberal for whom I happily give three cheers. [...] Damned incisive blogging....
-- Midwest Conservative Journal
If I ever start a paper, Clueless writes the foreign affairs column, Layne handles the city beat, Welch has the roving-reporter job, Tom Tomorrow runs the comic section (which carries Treacher, of course). MediaMinded runs the slots - that's the type of editor I want as the last line of defense. InstantMan runs the edit page - and you can forget about your Ivins and Wills and Friedmans and Teepens on the edit page - it's all Blair, VodkaP, C. Johnson, Aspara, Farber, Galt, and a dozen other worthies, with Justin 'I am smoking in such a provocative fashion' Raimondo tossed in for balance and comic relief.
Who wouldn't buy that paper? Who wouldn't want to read it? Who wouldn't climb over their mother to be in it?
-- James Lileks
I do appreciate your role and the role of Amygdala as a pioneering effort in the integration of fanwriters with social conscience into the larger blogosphere of social conscience.
-- Lenny Bailes
Every single post in that part of Amygdala visible on my screen is either funny or bracing or important. Is it always like this? -- Natalie Solent
People I've known and still miss include Isaac Asimov, rich brown, Charles Burbee, F. M. "Buzz" Busby, Terry Carr, A. Vincent Clarke, Bob Doyle, George Alec Effinger, Abi Frost,
Bill & Sherry Fesselmeyer, George Flynn, John Milo "Mike" Ford. John Foyster, Mike Glicksohn, Jay Haldeman, Neith Hammond (Asenath Katrina Hammond)/DominEditrix , Chuch Harris, Mike Hinge, Lee Hoffman, Terry Hughes, Damon Knight, Ross Pavlac, Bruce Pelz, Elmer Perdue, Tom Perry,
Larry Propp, Bill Rotsler, Art Saha, Bob Shaw, Martin Smith, Harry Stubbs, Bob Tucker, Harry Warner, Jr., Jack Williamson, Walter A. Willis, Susan Wood, Kate Worley, and Roger Zelazny.
It's just a start, it only gets longer, many are unintentionally left out.
And She of whom I must write someday.
IN WHICH I'VE NOT YET BECOME A ROCKY MOUNTAIN TV NATIVE. I've been here for two years. The East Coast is two hours earlier. The West Coast one hour later. Why was The Jay Leno show claiming New Year's Eve just took place at 11 p.m. Rocky Mountain time, while the Letterman Show went on as normal?
This sort of thing takes place every day. Apparently, we are off in the Negative Zone, and it's discombobulating.
Of course, I some day hope to be able to afford cable tv again, which will truly anchor me, unlike the Internet, and you can help by looking up above and acting accordingly.
Nah, I'm still on the food and clothing thing, but it's a dream. Dreams are good.
LATER: The only station that suggests that the hour is the hour, and is doing Dick Clark, and the New Year, on Rocky Mountain time, is the local ABC. The rest of the channels are on re-runs of some other days, weirdly.
Because, the most we want to be told, out here, as the new year grows close, is: fuck off. And, you know, a chant about "latelate show is starting." Which is always enlightening. Very clever, that.
Craig Kilborn. E-mail me and tell me that is a very stupid thing at this point, and I'll get behind your internet skills.
Who, me, drinking just before New Year's eve? Naaah....
ARE THERE ANY GUARANTEES THAT CBS DOESN'T BEAT ITS WIFE?. On CBS network news, I just watched a reporter interrogate a doctor (paraphrase): "Are there any guarantees our meat is free from mad cow disease?"
I'm not sure. Are there any guarantees that Australia won't suddenly fly off into space? Are there any guarantees that wine won't turn to blood? Are there any guarantees that all people who work at CBS won't have their brains turned unto jelly?
Oh, wait, apparently that already happened. Are there any guarantees that people might protest this sort of nonsense? No, but they should.
NOT DUNNE YET. Sorry. I read this early this morning, made a mental note to blog, and was caught up in other things, including a supermarket expedition for two pounds of pasta, some parmesan cheese, a loaf of bread, some milk, and a few other things.
Both John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion are writers I've had aesthetic and political differences with, in an entirely fifth-hand, purely as a reader, way, but they've also both been important to me as a reader, as writers I've read since I was around thirteen.
I'm inexpressibly sad at the loss of John Gregory in a way I will never be when his lightweight (in an aesthetic sense; this is not a judgment on his humanity) brother Dominick dies.
WONDERS OF DE-REGULATION. I actually perfectly well believe that there are over-burdensome regulations, and stultifying red-tape, and that this can stifle business, and wealth-creation, and job-creation.
The Agriculture Department's announcement yesterday of a ban on the sale of meat from ailing "downer" cattle marked a policy turnabout for the Bush administration, coming only a few weeks after the department and allies in the powerful meat lobby blocked an identical measure in Congress.
The ban announced by Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman was the answer, and it represented a repudiation of years of industry efforts to limit government intervention in slaughterhouse operations and in shaping the nation's response to the threat of mad cow disease.
For years, the politically potent and well-financed cattle and meatpacking industries have held sway in the debate over the practice of slaughtering and marketing non-ambulatory, or downer, cattle. They repeatedly blocked efforts by urban Democrats and a handful of moderate Republicans to end the practice -- which provides producers with millions of dollars of profits each year but also represents the biggest potential source of contaminated meat.
An estimated 190,000 sick or injured cattle are shipped to slaughterhouses annually, and only about 5 percent of them are tested for serious illness such as mad cow disease. Just last month, Republican congressional leaders deleted from a pending spending bill a measure banning the slaughter of downer cattle.
Since 1992, the industry has consistently opposed legislation to ban the practice of sending injured or sick cattle to the slaughterhouse.
WHISTLING PAST THE GRAVEYARD. Fundraising update posted at the bottom of this. Further blog links will be much appreciated; I'm more than a little nervous about the response here, especially given the holiday drawing people away from their computers (and probably being broke and charitied out after Christmas).
Remember, if I've posted something that pissed you off recently, or you think my politics are cock-eyed, this is a chance to show you're bigger than that!
And if I haven't pissed you off lately: just give me time!
Thanks to the eleven who have donated so far -- especially you, Mr. Big-Time Funny Blog/Pro Writer Guy, you!
THE IRAQI-SYRIAN CONNECTION. How pre-war weapons and missile parts for Iraq came through Syria. Heap big L.A. Times investigation, in two parts, here and here.
Part I is extraordinary, in its detail, and in the multiple quotes from heads of European and Russian companies cheerily declaring they knew that they were violating UN sanctions and that their products were going to military use in Iraq, even though ostensibly they were for elsewhere and other uses.
This seems to be soundly reported; not Con Coughlin territory.
BLOGGERS: WE ARE SO VERY VERY IMPORTANT. We are the story. Let us praise ourselves! USA Today hails our power!
WASHINGTON — They used to be known as the boys on the bus: the big-name columnists, network TV producers and reporters for large-circulation newspapers who had the power to make or break a presidential candidate's reputation. Now they've got competition.
In the 2004 election, the boys (and girls) on the bus have been joined by a new class of political arbiters: the geeks on their laptops. They call themselves bloggers. Their mission: to remake political journalism and, quite possibly, democracy itself. The plan: to run an end around big media by becoming publishers on the Internet.
Many bloggers are not professional journalists. Few have editors. Most make no pretense of objectivity.
Yet they're forcing the mainstream news media to follow the stories they're pushing, such as the scandal that took down Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott. And they've created a trend that almost every major presidential candidate is following. Even President Bush's campaign Web site hosts a blog.
Yeah, and George makes sure to write at least one entry a day!
Or maybe not.
It's actually a pretty decent article. But the key lesson is we must all take ourselves as seriously as possible. Politicians! Kneel before our power, or we will bring you down! Suffer not the wrath of the scorned blogger! Bwahahahaha! Ha. Bwa.
WHEN PEOPLE TALK ABOUT THE FAILURE OF OSLO, they usually don't mean this. It's not at the horrific level of suicide bombers, but this isn't good, either.
The Israeli Interior Ministry released figures on Tuesday showing that the number of Jewish settlers in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip had increased by 16 percent in the last three years, to 236,381 — about double the number that existed when Israel signed the Oslo Accords in 1993.
Particularly idiotic is this:
Among the fastest-growing settlements in the last three years were those surrounded by Palestinian areas in Gaza that have borne some of the most persistent and heaviest attacks since the Palestinian uprising began in September 2000.
The population of Kfar Darom, a Jewish enclave in the middle of the Gaza Strip, grew by 52 percent, and nearby Netzarim by 24 percent, according to the figures.
In Neve Dekalim, a heavily barricaded settlement just down the road from the Gaza checkpoint where soldiers killed the 22-year-old Palestinian on Tuesday, settlers say the number of families has grown to 520 from 480 in the last three years.
Unless you support the idea of expelling all the Palestinian Arabs from the West Bank, or some variant of that, there is simply no justification, excuse, or logic, for putting Jewish settlements into the Gaza Strip at this time. It simply puts Israeli IDF boys into harm's way for the sake of a few settlers. Not to mention that the Strip is a hellhole, and no one in their right mind would want to live there if not for political reasons. This does not do good for Eretz Yisroel.
Ichiro Murakami is a self-proclaimed, modern-day samurai. But in Mr Murakami's world, there is no room for bushido - the samurai's traditional code of ethics. Instead there is only hatred; of foreigners, liberals and minorities.
Mr Murakami was arrested earlier this month for allegedly orchestrating a campaign of terror against anyone who does not share his vision of a "pure" Japan.
Unlike his fellow ultra-nationalists, he did not take to the streets in sound-system lorry convoys, assailing passersby with anti-US diatribes and imperial military anthems.
Mr Murakami authored a book supporting Japan's claims on the Senkaku islands - which are the subject of a territorial dispute between Japan, China and Taiwan - and in one of his regular contributions to a sword collectors' magazine, he wrote: "Traitors [to Japan] should die and disappear quickly."
Earlier this year, he and other sword aficionados formed two vigilante groups with the unambiguous titles of the Nation-building Volunteer Corps and the Traitor Punishment Corps.
In June, members of the groups allegedly fired shots at the premises of Aleph, a minor religious cult known in its infamous heyday as Aum Supreme Truth, the group that carried out the fatal gas attack on the Tokyo underground in 1995. Later, shots were fired at the premises of a left-wing teachers' union and a pro-North Korean credit union.
In echoes of al-Qaida's training methods, it emerged that Mr Murakami and two of his foot soldiers had honed their violent skills overseas, at firing ranges on the US island territory of Guam.
In their most audacious act, they planted a bomb - which failed to go off - outside the home of Hitoshi Tanaka, Japan's deputy foreign minister. As a key supporter of Japan's policy of engagement with North Korea over its nuclear weapons programme and abduction of Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s, Mr Tanaka was a natural target.
No one was safe from Mr Murakami's rants. Having railed against communists, socialists, "wets" and foreigners, he turned on his countrymen and their "weird existence, like jellyfish floating in the ocean with only primitive desires for food and sex".
Following his re-election to parliament in November, Mr Nishimura, a hardliner on North Korea, wrote an open letter to Mr Murakami, thanking him for his "overwhelming support". The letter ended: "Banzai Japan! Banzai the Japanese spirit! Banzai Japanese swords!"
YOU REALLY GOT ME. Among others: Commander of the British Empire to Eric Clapton and Ray Davies; Joan Plowright a Dame.
An OBE goes to Pete Postlethwaite, whom Steven Spielberg admires as "the best actor in the world" for his Method-like ability to sink himself into a character part and project it with the force of a star performance. His most noted parts have been in The Usual Suspects and In the Name of the Father.
The most overdue gong is a CBE for the 83-year-old master artist Ronald Searle, who more than 50 years ago inspired a school of caricature and satire as well as several hit films with his St Trinian's books. Searle learned his sense of the grotesque in a Japanese prison camp.
The author Philip Pullman receives the same medal for the very recent celebrity of his Dark Materials trilogy.
So how come nothing to Terry Pratchett? Has it been offered and turned down? What about Sir Brian Aldiss?
ADDENDUM: Mike Scott reminds me in comments that Terry got his OBE in '98, which, come to think of it, I wrote about at the time. Senile, I am. Okay, how about Sir Terry?
Five years ago, at a meeting of Cornell University scientists to discuss the design of Mars probes for NASA, there was spirited debate, naturally, on the question of photometric calibration. What sort of apparatus would enable an unmanned spacecraft’s cameras to adjust their color values to Mars' atmosphere? (The digital images radioed home by the Viking lander in 1976 were notoriously "over-pinked"; if you actually stood on Mars, you would see a landscape whose color resembled not cotton candy but butterscotch.) The consensus favored a post that would cast shadows across a "calibration target" of gray rings—and then Bill Nye piped up. Nye is a Cornell alumnus and a mechanical engineer whose hydraulic-pressure-resonance suppressor is used on the Boeing 747. But he is best known as the excitable, bow-tie-wearing, bubbling-beaker-holding host of the PBS show "Bill Nye the Science Guy," and he spoke now in his most irrepressible manner: "C’mon guys, it’s got to be a sundial!"
As Nye recalled, speaking by telephone the other day from his office in Seattle, the other scientists said, "Bill, we’ve got a lot of clocks already, man—it’s a space program. Space program." But Nye would not let the topic drop.
Similarly obsessed, Bill Nye finally persuaded his Cornell colleagues that sundials surrounded by gray rings would not only make photometric calibration possible but also mark the time, and “MarsDials” were built into the two Mars Exploration Rovers, the first of which, Spirit, will land on the Red Planet on January 3rd. Nye carried the day by pointing out that, because the Rovers would be roving about between Mars’ tropics—where the sun is more or less overhead in the sky—the sundials wouldn’t need a bulky triangular gnomon, or shadow-caster. They would require only a stick, like the ones his father used in the war.
The actual MarsDials are made of aluminum and are no larger than a human palm, but Nye believes that they will nonetheless inspire wonder. "Eratosthenes calculated the diameter of the Earth to within four per cent using the shadow from a stick," he said. "Who knows what kids around the world will think of when they go to planetary.org and compare the shadow of a stick on Mars with the shadow of a stick on Earth? Or when they notice that the analemma on Mars is not figure-eight-shaped"—as it is on Earth—"but egg-shaped, because of Mars’ eccentric orbit?"
The MarsDials carry the epigraph "Two Worlds; One Sun," and the word "Mars" in seventeen languages, including Mayan and Sumerian (in case the Rovers return to Earth through a wormhole and end up in 3000 B.C.). Nye also wrote a salute to future Mars explorers, inscribed alongside stick-figure drawings of dancing Earthlings, which are officially known as "sticksters."
WHIMS OF LINKING. I'm often bemused by the way things I toss off might get linked to, and stuff I think a bunch of folk of one persuasion or another will link to gets ignored.
I typically say nothing; once in a while I do. Here I'll wonder aloud that only two folk linked to my Rush Limbaugh contrasts.
I know others have made the same point, but none I've seen have dug out his own words from his own site. Maybe it's just me, R. Alex Whitlock, and Jeralyn Merrit that thought it was funny.
I went so far as to mail it to a handful of lefty bloggers, and there was dead silence. Did they only read the first few lines and think it was pro-Rush propaganda, or is it just a case of my sense of humor being out of whack, or what?
THINGS YOU WISH WERE FUNGIBLE. Like sole access to a crucial Supreme Court Justice's papers and interviews.
Stephen Wermiel was given such access to William Brennan, and made his official biographer. Brennen gave Wermiel sixty-six interviews, and sole access to his papers.
Brennan selected Wermiel in 1986, when Wermiel was covering the court for the Wall Street Journal. Seventeen years later, there’s no book, and Wermiel says that he is no longer even actively working on it. “I have sort of put it aside for the moment, to do some academic writing and to try to get tenure,” Wermiel said last week. He is fifty-three years old and an associate professor at American University’s Washington College of Law. “It’s taken a lot longer than I planned. I will get it done as soon as I can.” He estimated that the manuscript was twenty-five-to-thirty-per-cent done. (In a 1997 interview with a legal newspaper, Wermiel said the same thing: twenty-five-to-thirty-per-cent done.)
It certainly makes one wonder if there's some way, any way, to transfer such privileges. Or kick this guy.
EVERY BLIND ONE FEELS A DIFFERENT PART OF THE MUMAKIL. Anthony Lane of The New YorkeronReturn of The King. (Don't worry, there won't be many more of these; their time has past, and they are journeying, journeying, passing ever on, into the West.)
The nub of “The Return of the King” is a ring of simple design but unrivalled potency, which must be destroyed before it falls into the grasp of Sauron—a character so purely villainous that, under union rules, he is played not by an actor but by a single eye, blazing from the top of a tower. Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) and his sidekick Sam (Sean Astin) are two-thirds through their appointed mission, which is to bear the ring to Mordor and cast it into the maw of Mount Doom, at which point the power will cut out completely in Michigan, Cleveland, and other parts of Middle-earth up to and including New Jersey.
We have Arwen (Liv Tyler), an elven princess, of whom it is written in ancient runes that she must be viewed in naught but soft focus and, if possible, on the brink of tears; Legolas the elf, the most unflustered blond to grace our screens since Veronica Lake....
These are what the hobbits call oliphaunts, what Piglet used to call heffalumps, and what I would call a good excuse to take the next available flight out of Middle-earth. A mûmak, to judge by the spikes on the ends of its tusks, is made by crossing a double helping of mammoth with a porcupine, and each one bears a company of archers on its back. Legolas, a fit fellow, takes one look and sees his chance for a workout. He shinnies up a back leg, hangs on to the hide, fells half the riders with a ping of his bow, chops a rope holding the rest, shoots an arrow into the presumably tiny brain of the animal, feels it slump to its knees, and then trips lightly down its trunk like Fred Astaire descending a staircase. Unconfirmed reports suggest that this is the coolest single activity ever recorded on film, and the audience around me went into spasms of worshipful hilarity. Somebody to my left actually stood to applaud, as George II is said to have done when he first heard the Hallelujah Chorus.
HELLO, DO YOU WANT TO BE POLICE? OKAY, NEXT. I know the pressure here, but ya sure gotta hope this kinda super-thorough examination of Iraqi police trainees doesn't come back to bite too many people on the ass.
The Earth won't be having seconds this year, thank you.
And that has scientists across the world — including those who run the atomic clock at the National Institute for Science and Technology in Boulder — scratching their heads.
Apparently, the Earth isn't slowing down as it used to, and no one knows why.
Flip your calendar back to 1972. That's the year the world began its current system of atomic time-keeping. NIST operates one of the clocks used to set "Coordinated Universal Time."
Scientists soon discovered they had a small problem: The rate at which the Earth travels through space had slowed ever so slightly, and as a result was completing its 365-day journey around the sun one second behind schedule.
To make the world's official time agree with where the Earth actually sat in space, scientists started having the atomic clocks count an extra "leap second" on the last day of the year.
"They came close to matching it, but they had to add a second to keep it in sync," said John Lowe, a NIST researcher who works in the agency's Time and Frequency Division.
For 28 years, scientists repeated the procedure. Then, in 1999, they discovered that the Earth was no longer lagging behind. It didn't need a leap second.
This is the fifth consecutive year that the Earth hasn't lagged behind schedule.
RETURN OF THE CYBER-BEGGING. I've been putting off doing this for weeks, stupid as that is, because I find this about as fun and desirable as taking a pair of dull sewing scissors, sticking them into my belly, and commencing cutting away for the duration.
So, welcome to the promised, postponed, Part Two of my cyber-begging.
The previous posts explaining the circumstances are here and here and here. Short version: I'm asking for help to avoid being evicted, due to losing my job and other circumstances. Needless to say, I'm quite thoroughly broke. Also needless to say, I'm working on finding a new job ASAP.
I have now installed PayPal buttons below, and will be putting them in the template, for your convenience.
A reminder: this isn't for the purpose of getting me a laptop, or DVDs, or paying for bandwidth, or supporting my blogging, unlike most blog fund-raising drives (much as I'd love to be able to do the latter). This is, alas, to prevent my being evicted, in this case if I can't come up with January rent, and additionally, to let me pay my phone bill and other expenses until the end of January, given my present, temporary, state of unemployement and now being down to ~$25 before I go to the supermarket tomorrow. Being able to get a bus pass ($41) for January would also be a Very Good Thing.
Since my first installment, I received approximately $500 by mail from 14 donors, and did some temp work. I've not mentioned anything about my circumstances since that time, for the reason mentioned in the first sentence of this post. I also was peculiarly uncomfortable posting about this around Thanksgiving through Christmas.
I'm immensely grateful to and thankful to those who donated, particularly the reader who, extraordinarily, donated $200, and the two $100 donators, but also, of course, to those who otherwise gave what they could and were comfortable with. And thanks, as well, to those bloggers who linked to the posts.
I apologize for such a dreary and downer post. I wouldn't ask if I felt I had another alternative. Thanks to any of you who help out.
To donate, either hit the PayPal button, or, if you prefer, send money via snail mail. Money order is best if you snailmail, as the check cashing place only takes 5% of that, and if it's a postal money order, I can take it to the post office. Checks work, though I'll lose 10% to the check cashing place. If necessary, cash has gotten safely to me; wrap in in paper in the envelope.
My snail address is in the comments below. Or, if comments are down, e-mail me at scifi110558-at-aol-dot-com, for the snail address. E-mail me, also, if you have any questions. Thanks again. Links to this (preferably not denouncing me as scum for asking for help) appreciated.
As before, if you are kind and generous and thoughtful and wonderful enough to send something, it would be much appreciated if you could e-mail me immediately to let me know, along with how much. Let me know if you'd like to be publically acknowledged, or stay anonymous.
Anyone with tips on work I could do that's accessible by bus from Boulder, that would be even better.
VISITOR TO AN ALIEN WORLD. The WashPo is running a damn interesting series about Kakenya Ntaiya, a young Masai women from a tiny, impoverished, village in Kenya who had the gumption to get a scholarship to a small Virginia college. It's an extraordinary story. Today is the third part. Here is the first. Here is the second. Tomorrow will be the fourth and last.
JOHN PERRY BARLOW has started blogging, which is interesting, though his title, "BarlowFriendz" would be more apt for a sixteen-year-old. And though I have friends who are apt to talk about how If Bush Wins, We'll Be In Camps, well, gosh, perhaps we'll live to see if they, and Barlow, have the last laugh. So to speak.
His talking about the meaning of chatting with Joi Ito over VoIP is rather more interesting.
FOR US, THE TRAIN WE DID NOT CATCH. John Clute, perhaps science fiction's finest critic, reviews Robert A. Heinlein's lost-and-discovered first novel, For Us, The Living.
Eerything about this novel is interesting, even the experience of reading it.
...For Us, the Living promulgates the kind of arguments about sex, religion, politics and economics that normally gain publication through fringe presses, not the trade publishers.
For us, though, in 2004, For Us, the Living, as far as its arguments go, is pure Heinlein; indeed, because almost every radical notion he ever generated appears here in utero, the book rewrites our sense of Heinlein's entire career; and because Heinlein's career, as we understood it, has always seemed expressive of the nature of American SF from 1939 to 1966, this small, slightly stumblebum first novel rewrites our understanding of those years, especially the early ones, when John W. Campbell Jr. was attempting to shape the nascent genre into a weapon of future-purification.
COULD SOMEONE PLEASE BUY THE BOYS at Cliopatria a clue as to how to close a bold tag? I mean, what's the excuse for not bothering, after days? Desire to drive away readers?
Amateurs. (And, yes, I did mean "boys.")
Also, their comment system sucks. (No threading.)
ADDENDUM: the site looks okay under IE; it's under Mozilla they have a problem. I was rather surprised that not only did Ralph respond the way he did in comments, but he went to the trouble to rewrite his remarks and post them back at Cliopatria, as well. It all seems more than a tad silly. Rather Usenetty. I realize I started with flip and snotty remarks, but I hardly thought that would be taken seriously. Clearly my mistake.
EITHER YOU'RE ON THE BUS or, well, you're drunk and you've stolen the bus. And maneuvered the 55-foot long thing out of the Port Authority Bus Station of NYC. And the police don't find out for seven hours.
But you're still sitting behind the wheel, drinking your malt liquor. Surrounded by empty cans.
Man, does life get better than that?
If you read the rest, there's a bit more weirdness.
DUMB BLOGGER FOOD FIGHTS. Should Jews donate money to help Iranian victims at Bam? I never thought it was a question, but it became one. I'm not going to give all the links, but I'll give -- I'm not sure "highlights" is the correct word.
Which is why I'm bothering to post, which I otherwise wouldn't have here. But Meryl did a bunch of quoting and responding, including selectively quoting from me. Mind, that is not a complaint: it was reasonable that she'd want to quote something I said that bothered her before responding to it, and reasonable to limit her quote to just that, not including the positive things I said about her alongside that.
But since she doesn't have comments, and it seemed inappropriate to respond to Meryl's blog at Michele's, here I am.
The full comment Meryl reponded to is this, from me:
With due respect to Lawrence Simon and Meryl Yourish, they don't get to speak on behalf of Jews, any more than I do. We all only get to speak on behalf of ourselves. When Meryl, or Lawrence, or I, or any Jew, speak of "our" anger, we are speaking of "our anger," singular.
And if they want to declare that a non-Jew "can't understand," they're entitled to say what they want, but I'm just as entitled to think and say that what one understands is a simple matter of learning and experience.
Plenty of non-Jews are well-educated in anti-semitism, and plenty of Jews are not. What one is sensitive to, over-sensitive to, angered by, not angered by, enraged by, not enraged by, sympathetic to, not sympathetic to, is not a matter of Jew or non-Jews. And, frankly, as a Jew, I'm angered, myself, at a Jew who claims otherwise, who wants to "play the Jew card," much as I do understand that kind of feeling (I have had that kind of feeling at times, and acted on it; and later regretted it).
Meryl says we all have our ugly sides. That's true, and it's brave, and admirable, of her to say that. But in the end, she's placed this under a banner of "Anger, Yes. Misplaced? Perhaps Not."
I sense Meryl, as she writes her piece, struggling with her initial urge to defend her anger. But the better part of her, I think, knows better.
She and Lawrence are entitled to put their anger wherever they want, but I'd say that blaming tens of thousands of perfectly innocent poor people, telling them, essentially, they should all suffer horribly and die, because we don't like the ruling members of their government, we hate them and despise them, is, well, telling tens of thousands of perfectly innocent poor people they should all suffer horribly and die.
Because of their dictorial government.
By that logic, America should have gone in and slaughtered every Iraqi. And we should wipe out all the Arabs, and jillions of Moslems, and, heck, let's get some French while we're at it.
This is a form of insanity.
I was with you from the first on this, Michele, and thought it such an obvious thing that it wasn't even worth commenting on, even after you raised the ridiculous possibility that any decent person would wish for death and suffering for innocent people. Apparently it's worth commenting on. Meryl is struggling with her conscience. Perhaps her soul. If I prayed, I'd pray that she doesn't let her hatred and anger win her soul. The same goes for Lawrence, and anyone who would leave innocent people to suffer and die.
Meryl's response to my first two sentences was:
Shame on you, Gary. The "our" in question was Lair Simon and me. I didn't claim to speak out for all Jews. Just us two.
To which I respond: I apologize. I did carelessly misread you as responding for Jews. But. While you were clear in directly using "our" to refer to yourself and "Lair" Simon, you also said this:
This is where the Jew card gets played
Our anger springs from experiencing the ever-present Jew hatred that permeates the Middle East.
You cannot possibly understand our anger, Michele. You cannot possibly understand our anger, Andrea. And I say this knowing full well what stalwarts you are in rejecting all Jew-hatred. But you're not Jewish, and you don't get what it feels like. Lair and I feel it in our guts.
The thing is, it's not clear to me how Meryl, in Virginia, and Lawrence, in Texas, get to feel more authentic Jewish anger than I do, in Colorado, or other Jews who don't have a problem with choosing (not requiring) to donate money for Iranian earthquake victims do. Their "experience" of the ever-present Jew hatred that permeates the Middle East is no more authentic than mine.
Mind, I'm not saying Meryl would say otherwise. I don't think she would. But I don't see how that "experience" otherwise specifically justifies a specific response, since it, well, doesn't. It's only an individual experience that causes and justifies a specific response, not the experience of being a Jew.
Which was my point.
So I apologize to Meryl for not reading her more carefully. But I also don't think Meryl is correct in concluding that non-Jews can't understand her feelings, or that being Jewish makes for a "card" that explains all about... anything, actually.
I could quibble with the other thing Meryl said in responding to me, but it's not worth bothering with.
I'll conclude with another comment I posted on Michele's thread:
Just on the slightest possibility anyone might think differently, I'd like to say that I don't think Meryl Yourish is in the least a bigot. (I do wish she'd quit referring to Palestinians only as "pals," which strikes me as dehumanizing, but that's up to her, and not at all the same as being a "bigot." And, as Michele notes, one can have a civil disagreement with someone one respects. What's amazing is that anyone would have to point that out.)
ADVICE. If you are desperate enough that, like me, you are using Enetation comments, and your comments have disappeared or are otherwise giving trouble, try going into the code you've placed in your template and adding "www" to "http://enetation" so that it is "http://www.enetation." Be sure to do this in both locations.
After struggling and fidding all afternoon, that solution did the trick.
Now if only I can figure out what is calling "penang.dnsrouter.com" and causing the page to hang forever when loading.
ORDER AND EFFICIENCY, that's what a good government needs.
The newly elected Russian Parliament convened today and after a quick bit of horse trading the bloc supporting President Vladimir V. Putin established a two-thirds majority that will allow it to pass any laws or make any constitutional changes it wishes.
"Instead of political confrontation, we have before us a constructive Parliament," Mr. Putin said, addressing the chamber for the first time since his own election as president four years ago.
Boris Gryzlov, the chairman of the president's bloc, United Russia, was elected speaker. United Russia, which is not formally a political party, won a large plurality in the Dec. 7 election and now controls at least 300 seats in the 450-seat assembly, known as the Duma.
"So the pattern of running such a Duma is obvious," he said. "The president calls the speaker, who also happens to be the majority leader and the leader of the faction, and says: `Boris Vsevolodovich, you know, I would like such and such a law to be passed within two days, it's a very crucial law.' And the rest goes automatically."
The only organized parliamentary opposition is expected to come from the Communist Party, with 52 seats — the nominal heir to the party that succeeded the czars. It now runs on a populist, largely non-ideological platform.
Two nationalist parties, each of which has 36 votes, are expected to give broad support to Kremlin policies. Two liberal democratic parties were eliminated from the Parliament altogether when they failed to win the minimum 5 percent of the vote.
One is Gennady Zyuganov, the longtime leader of the Communist Party. He is to be succeeded by Nikolai Kharitonov, who once proposed reinstalling a statue of Felix Dzerzhinsky, the founder of the K.G.B., which was torn down in the euphoria of the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.
The other is Vladimir Zhirinovsky, an extreme nationalist whose vivid personality and provocative words have won him a considerable following. He is to be succeeded by the head of his bodyguard contingent.
The correspondent, Seth Mydans, just lets those last two paragraphs speak for themselves.
I'm sure everything will be lovely and constructive in Russia from now on, as they return to the useful traditions of the czars. None of that nasty and irritating dissent. A fine ally, indeed.
THAT WACKY CONSTITUTION. Rush Limbaugh, ladies and gentlemen, on December 23rd, 2003:
Here's the statement. Now, this is odd for me because it's got my name in it and I don't like reading about myself, but there's some quotes in here. So even though I never talk in this third-person business, please permit me in this case because it's a written statement that I'm going to read.
"Judge Jeffrey Winikoff today denied a request by Rush Limbaugh's attorneys (my attorneys) to quash the search warrants issued for the seizure of my confidential medical records. Roy Black, my attorney, said, quote, "We respectfully disagree with the court's decision and will be filing an appeal today. These records will show that there was no doctor shopping. But the larger issue is that the seizure of Mr. Limbaugh's private medical records without going through the process outlined by the state legislature is clearly an invasion of Mr. Limbaugh's constitutional right to privacy.
I warned you about this ever-broadening interpretation of the so-called right to privacy. It's not a "right" specifically enumerated in the Constitution or Bill of Rights. It's simply grown out of the Fourth Amendment against illegal search and seizure. The whole Texas sodomy case was predicated on "the right to privacy and consent." Well, are we going to have cops knocking on doors to find consensual sex among 14-year-old hetero- or homosexual kids? That's basically the question asked about sodomy laws.
By overturning that law - whether you agreed with it or not, you must leave sex out of it - on these legal grounds, the Supremes opened the door to legalizing all sorts of behavior based on the privacy notion. "Well, Mr. Limbaugh, uh...common sense would tell you that these are minors and they can't have a right to privacy that trumps parental control." Oh, really? Let your little girl get pregnant in some states. You won't have a right to know whether she's going to get an abortion. She has a "right to privacy" based on the feminist notion that fathers are a bunch of beasts and predators who will beat up their daughters. So you have no rights as a parent if the state thinks your kids should be engaged in certain behavior. Forget the emotion of the issues, and focus on how the government encroaches on our rights to decide what laws we live under and how we enforce them.
You can add a Constitutional amendment, to make sure there's no question over the "right of privacy" guaranteeing certain behavior. If the Constitution can be bent and shaped to accommodate the wishes or desires of every little group, why bother having it? The beauty of the Constitution isn't that it's "living." It's that it stays faithful to original intent, and that it limits what the federal government can do.
But there is a larger issue here: the Constitution. You can't say the so-called right to privacy trumps everything the states do.
You can be for the overturning of conviction on some legal grounds but not on others. In this case, the idea is not to overturn it on the basis of a "right to privacy" which could then be used to legalize all sorts of other behaviors done "in the privacy of ones home."
The so-called "right to privacy" wasn't established until the 1965 Griswold v. Connecticut birth control case. A ruling on this law under the privacy statute could push us down one of those "slippery slopes" liberals always talk about for behavior that people of all races, sexes and creeds agree is damaging to society.
"A lot of people in our grade, the grade that elected me, do not know my name," wrote Mr. Ironside, 18. "They just know me as that blond kid with the freaky eyes."
Mr. Ironside, who had his own page in the yearbook, had been elected valedictorian in a vote carefully orchestrated by his peers and designed to embarrass him.
But when graduation night arrived, he gave a speech that transformed a malicious high school joke into an ad libbed sequel to Revenge of the Nerds.
One of the rumours principal Tom Adams had heard was that the honour student had been elected valedictorian as a joke.
"It was a joke," confirmed teacher Heddy Wright, "nobody thought he would go through with it."
The principal met with Mr. Ironside after he was nominated to make sure he understood the responsibilities of the position, and later to discuss the content of his address.
"But once's he got the microphone," said Mr. Adams. "It doesn't matter what he told me he was going to say."
Under the glaring spotlights and constant flash of his father's camera, he was finding his prepared speech difficult to read as he told the audience of students, parents and school board officials that his class had "arrived at school strangers and now leave as friends."
With that, Mr. Ironside -- dressed at his mother's insistence in a crisp white dress shirt and black tie -- paused and crumpled up the paper that held his carefully typed string of cliches.
"A lot of you were jerks," he informed the rows of 18-year-olds, dressed in oversized suits and undersized skirts.
"I wasn't thinking of a specific person, just people in general," he remembers of the following indictment he issued against a high school atmosphere of snobbery and exclusion.
"How people just rip on other people."
The intelligent and socially conscious teen knew his reputation and valedictory victory was a joke, but did not think his legacy had to be one.
"Valedictorians always go up there and talk about how we have all these great memories -- the best memories of our lives," he said from Brock University in St. Catharines, where he is now studying biochemistry. "I didn't want to talk like that. I wanted to maybe help the people who didn't have the greatest time in high school."
In his speech, Mr. Ironside said that at first he "thought it would be funny if someone like me was up here talking instead of an exceedingly popular person."
It was impossible for him to pretend high school had been an endless stream of fond memories, he said, and added that it was the cliques and attitudes of his classmates that ultimately defined their legacy.
He concluded his speech by telling his classmates he would "probably never see any of you again," and saw rows of steely-eyed parents behind his laughing classmates. "I knew some people wouldn't like it," he said. "I was kind of a nerd type. Nothing I could say would convince them I should be up there."
SHOULD WE SUPPORT THE RIGHT OF CHINESE COMMUNIST BOSSES to be libertarian, and join in supporting their banning of legitimate unions, opposing a minimum wage, and having no worker safety laws? Is that freedom to be poisoned truly the greatest good? Would we like such freedom in the US?
Read The Whole Series as listed on that page: 5 out of 5. Hi, Andrew!
In his 17 days of molding tool boxes, Wang Chenghua learned to work like a metronome. He slipped strips of metal under a mechanical hammer with his right hand, then swept molded parts into a pile with his left. He did this once a second for a 10-hour shift, minus a half-hour lunch.
Just before lunch on the 18th day, he lost the beat. The hammer, backed by 4,000 pounds of pressure, ripped through the middle and ring fingers of his right hand, reducing them to pulp.
Mr. Wang, 26, now spends his days in the orthopedic ward of the Yongkang First People's Hospital, where wall posters advertise reattachment surgery for molders, millers, pressers and lathe operators who, unlike Mr. Wang, salvaged their digits and limbs.
RULE, BRITTANIA. This debate -- exchange, really -- between David Aaronovitch and Mary Riddell on the Iraq war is far too civilized and sensible to satisfy any of the extremist partisans on either side whose crystal ball reveals to them -- has always revealed to them -- whether or not in five years Iraqis and us will rightfully believe the war was a terrible mistake or a rewarded and justified gamble.
Time to celebrate? No way. Instead, some keepers of the nation's nuclear arsenal worry that maybe, just maybe, the Iranians and Libyans believe that terrorists could have a nuclear device made of plutonium and wanted to bare their clandestine uranium labors to rule out the possibility of retaliatory strikes in the event of an attack on the United States.
"Why would he be that close and give it up?" a senior weapons official said of the Libyan leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. "Maybe he knows something is afoot. Maybe it's the same with the Iranians."
Worry little, citizens. It's actually just a Scary Example used in this generalized thumbsucker on How Worried Should We Be?
L'OBSESSION ANTI-AMERICAINE. Rather interesting look at French anti-Americanism by Stephen Sartarelli, from France, from a perspective you'd expect from The Nation.
One can filter this either uncritically, or from a skeptical perspective, stripping away most of the questioning of whether a given example is "truly" anti-American, or mere anti-Bushism, or instead "raises a question" (a much repeated phrase), but given the reader's ability, and tendency, to apply said own filters, it's a worthwhile piece making clear that, however you debate the "true" level, there's a true history of French anti-Americanism, indeed.
A favorite lesser-known bit on the Ignite! software package he currently sells:
But at Whitney reviews were less laudatory. "The kids felt pretty strongly that what this was about was lowering the bar," says Humes.
Humes wasn't impressed, either. "There was a lot of rhyming and games," he says. "It reminded me of what my son uses -- but he's in kindergarten."
When Bush spoke at Whitney, several students began arguing with him.
"He was very surprised," Humes recalls. "You had to see the look on his face when one young woman got up and said she liked calculus. He said it was useless. This is the branch of mathematics that makes space travel possible, and he said it was useless."
You have to read this to learn just how incredibly powerful Neil's charm has to be. People keep throwing money at him, as he continually fails! What else could account for that besides charm?
FORGOT TO GREASE HIMSELF. Uncle Hugo's bookstore in Minneapolis is one of the more venerable, and best, sf bookstores in the world (it's also combined with "Uncle Edgar's Mystery Bookstore"); the owners have largely been friends or friends or friends of mine for many years. This is a tad unexpected.
Talk about Bad Santas.
A Minneapolis man's imitation of old St. Nick on Christmas Eve brought cheer only to police and fire rescuers, who had to stifle chuckles while rescuing him from the narrow chimney of a bookstore in the city's Phillips neighborhood.
Joseph Hubbert also earned himself a lump of coal: burglary charges.
The stranger-than-fiction events began when Don Blyly arrived Thursday morning at his Uncle Hugo's Science Fiction/Uncle Edgar's Mystery bookstore at 2864 Chicago Ave. S.
Around 9:15 a.m., Blyly heard a strange sound. It seemed to come from the ceiling, near the chimney.
Mind you, this was Christmas morning.
But the sound wasn't a jolly fat man in a red suit — it turned out to be a half-naked 34-year-old ex-con, squished for hours in the cold, narrow passage, calling out for help.
"The guy's voice was coming from the suspended ceiling, yelling out 'Help! If anyone can hear me, call the police, I'm stuck in the chimney in the bookstore,' " Blyly said.
Blyly reported the would-be intruder to an emergency operator who "could barely contain her laughter," and police and fire rescue squads arrived to solve a mystery worthy of Blyly's bookstore.
A police officer and Blyly climbed a ladder to the roof and found bricks knocked away from two chimneys. They peered down into the second damaged chimney space, about 12 inches square, and saw a man.
"The cop yelled down, 'What are you doing down there?' " Blyly recalled. "And the guy said, 'I dropped my keys and I'm looking for them.' "
There's more, about difficulties extracting the gentleman, his history of burglaries, and such; if Don hadn't chosen to come in on Christmas, the guy likely would have died of exposure.
THE mound lies just beyond the oasis town of Sheberghan in northern Afghanistan, on the plain that slips south to the Hindu Kush and north to the banks of the Amu Darya, or Oxus. This was once Bactria, where the Hellenic world briefly touched and intertwined with the worlds of the Indus and the Siberian steppe. Greeks prospered here for a century or so after the death of Alexander the Great, in 323BC, and then were driven off. The mound is anonymous now, barely noticeable from the road. It stands three metres (ten feet) high, 100 metres in diameter, lopped square like a Celtic barrow, the whole of it overgrown with pale weeds. Locals named it Tillya Tepe, or Hill of Gold, long before the Soviet archaeologists came and revealed its treasures.
That was in the winter of 1978-79, just before Afghanistan descended into 23 years of war, leaving 1.7m dead. In the last days before the beginning of that nightmare, a Soviet archaeological team led by a Greek-Russian, Victor Sariyannidis, unearthed 21,000 pieces of gold in six burial chambers within Tillya Tepe. The hoard had belonged to the rich Kushan nomads buried there around the time of Christ. It had lain undisturbed for two millennia.
The Kushan nomads had a weakness for all that was flash or gaudy. They had no higher ambition than to dazzle from afar as they dashed across the steppe. Semi-spherical gold plaquettes stitched to the burial robes and kilts were taken by the bucketload from vertebrae and femurs. The cloth itself had largely decayed—except for the weft, which had been of gold thread, indestructible even to the burrowing rodents that had tried to tug it away. The sandals too were of gold.
The other treasures in the mound were no less glittering. A model tree fashioned of gold and hung with fruit of pearls. A salver grooved in tangerine segments and inscribed in Greek. A griffin cut into milk-white chalcedony. Pendants of agate, garnet, turquoise and cornelian. Sharpened boar tusks set in gold. A representation of Aphrodite according to Bactrian tastes: stern and plump with small, thrust-out breasts. A man riding a dolphin upon a belt buckle. A gold crown that could be taken apart and packed in a saddlebag. A Chinese mirror. Dragons with wings of turquoise mauling leopards down the length of a gold scabbard. Coins from Rome, Parthia and India. Bits and bridles in Siberian style and studded with gems, the better to show off the flight of the horses that wore them.
Then came the modern drama of what later happened, and recently happened, to the Bactrian gold.
Read The Rest Scale: 5 out of 5 for a tale straight out of the pulps. H. Rider Haggard, I think. With a bit of Kipling. And a bit of Geraldo.
And IJWTS that one of my favorite movies of all time is The Man Who Would Be King. Seeing it and The Wind and The Lion as a double feature at the Carnegie Hall Cinema at about age 13 knocked my socks off; I've seen each dozens of times since, and can keep on watching them forever.)
NOT SO SECRET SOCIETY. Four current Prezzie candidates went to Yale, and so has every President since 1988.
Long story, made annoying by an apparent inability to load it all on one page. A couple of interesting details I'd missed, though. Joe Lieberman was tapped for Skull and Bones, but unlike Kerry and Bush, turned them down.
...in 1965, his second year at law school, Lieberman sat on a Yale panel that opposed draft resistance and included an earnest undergrad named John Kerry.
Here's one that Karl Rove has on a big easel:
A college transcript obtained by U.S. News shows Dean took classes on international communism, Chinese politics, Soviet history, and Marxist existentialism.
Ms. Gustafson was tea's ambassador at a time when diners sipped French roast and other strong coffees but thought tea was limited to Lipton.
Two decades ago "it was quite impossible to find a good cup of tea anywhere in America," James Norwood Pratt, the international tea authority and author, said last week. "Now, it is only highly unlikely. The difference is Helen Gustafson."
"People who a decade before were chanting `Two-four-six-eight, organize and smash the state!' would get dressed up and go to Helen's," said Kate Coleman, a journalist who was a leader in the Free Speech Movement of 1964.
When Santa's famous reindeer fall ill on Christmas Eve, his friend, Lee Atwater, rustles up some unusual replacements from the North Pole Zoo. A donkey, three camels, two cows and two sheep are reluctant to leave their warm shelter until Santa's political aide shames them into service by planting stories that the animals had had cross-breed offspring with each other out of wedlock, some of them black, that the donkey had had a mental breakdown during his years of servitude. and one of the cows had committed treason to the Zoo.
And then they saved Jesus! And Jesus said "Holy Ghost, you're never working in this business again! You're dead!"
When British drug regulators told doctors recently to stop writing prescriptions for six antidepressants for children under 18, the drugs in question sounded like a "Star Wars" cast list: Paxil, Effexor, Celexa, Lexapro, Luvox and Zoloft. (A seventh, Prozac, was approved.)
It has often been noted that drug makers have favorite letters, and that they run the gamut from X to Z. Think Nexium, Clarinex, Celebrex, Xanax, Zyban and Zithromax. But why are these letters so popular?
"Some letters look better in print, make sounds people like saying and are associated with innovation," said Steve Manning, the managing director of Igor, a San Francisco branding company. "X is associated with science fiction, high tech, computers, automobiles and drugs." As in "The X Files" and "The Matrix," Xerox, the Lexus and the Microsoft X-box.
James L. Dettore, president of the Brand Institute, a branding company based in Miami that has tested 8,400 drug names in the last seven years (its successes include Lipitor, Clarinex, Sarafem and Allegra), said the letters X, Z, C and D, according to what he called "phonologics," subliminally indicate that a drug is powerful. "The harder the tonality of the name, the more efficacious the product in the mind of the physician and the end user," he said.
I'm trying to decide: do I change the name of this blog to "Amygdex" or "Amygdalz"? (Given the number of people who illiterately continue to believe the name is "Amygdalagf," which isn't even a word for crissake, he said sourly.)
There's more silliness in the article. Who didn't want to know this?
In India, his version of Viagra is called Silagra, from its generic name, sildenafil citrate. Indians were already so familiar with Viagra that it made sense to echo Pfizer's name, he said.
But in Latin America, he sells it as Eviva. It sounds like "revive," but also has an echo of the female Eve. He said he almost named it Tarzia "because it makes you feel like Tarzan."
In the Middle East, he forgoes all subtlety. There, it's Erecto.
SAMMY DAVIS, JR. GOT A BUM WRAPsays Gary Giddins, eminent jazz critic. He makes a good case.
Reviewing two biographies, Giddins hates Wil Haygood's.
Haygood (whose narrative is festooned with factual errors, mind reading and flamboyantly bad writing) finds Davis irresponsible and clueless about race. ''Sammy was happy. He had broken nightclub records. It mattered little to him that he had to slip through back doors and side doors as he was playing those first-class clubs.'' How could it not have mattered? One has only to open Davis's autobiography ''Yes I Can'' (1965) to almost any page or read Davis's interviews to see how deeply it did matter. Haygood, a writer at The Washington Post and the author of a biography of Adam Clayton Powell Jr., argues repeatedly that Davis wanted to be white; he quotes a Davis employee who says, ''He thought he was white.'' He apparently did think that he could live his life as though he had the same rights as anyone else, which meant that he could emulate white entertainers as well as black ones, and pursue women of any color. Prince Spencer of the Four Step Brothers tells Haygood that he saw ''Sammy 'Uncle Tomming' with white people, and I resented it. The Step Brothers, well, we knew our place was not to be in white people's company.'' Which is the more courageous attitude, knowing one's place or refusing placement?
I don't know if the context for this is fair, but as presented, it's a no-brainer.
SO I HAVE THE TODAY SHOW ON, because I felt like some noise while I read, and the anchor gasps (mildly) about an upcoming guest who loves books so much she read a book a week! Incredible! (And wrote a book about the "experience," which is why she's on.)
Jeez, if I had a penny for every person I know who commonly reads at least one book a week -- well, craparapparoo, an awfully high percentage of folks I know reads at least one book a week.
This is up there with people who enter your apartment/house, stare at all the books on the shelves, and, inevitably, always, ask "have you read all those?"
(No, of course not; one needs books to look forward to, but, yeah, most.)
LATER: Here's the book; big advice from the author (an editor), in her interview: always carry a book with you. Again, like pretty much everyone I know doesn't?
Yes, I'm being a reading snob. That would be because I am one.
WE, US, MOST. A list of allegedly over-rated and under-rated ideas of the year. Most strike me as mildly to damn stupid. This part of one bugged me:
We are tethered to our e-mail, day and night. We are rarely out of cell phone range. Long working hours extend into evenings and weekends. Most of us feel lucky to love our work, but we put few limits on it. Less fortunate Americans labor long days to compensate for laid-off co-workers or simply to pay the bills.
Get why? Who is the author talking to? Not the "less fortunate."
Read The Rest Scale: nah. Oh, if you really want to.
YOU SHOULD BE CONSCIOUS OF this because Oliver Sacks on neurology and consciousness is always a consciousness-changing experience.
William James himself always insisted that consciousness was not a "thing" but a "process." The neural basis of these processes, for Edelman, is one of dynamic interaction between neuronal groups in different areas of the cortex (and between the cortex and the thalamus, and other parts of the brain). He speaks here of "re-entrant" (i.e., reciprocal) interactions, and sees consciousness as arising from the enormous number of such interactions between memory systems in the anterior parts of the brain and systems concerned with perceptual categorization in the posterior parts of the brain.
While a particular motion, for example, may be represented by neurons firing at a particular rate in the motion centers of the visual cortex, this is only the beginning of an elaborate process. To reach consciousness, this neuronal firing, or some higher representation of it, must cross a certain threshold of intensity and be maintained above it—consciousness, for Crick and Koch, is a threshold phenomenon. To do that, this group of neurons must engage other parts of the brain (usually in the frontal lobes) and ally itself with millions of other neurons to form a "coalition." Such coalitions, they conceive, can form and dissolve in a fraction of a second, and involve reciprocal connections between the visual cortex and many other areas of the brain. These neural coalitions in different parts of the brain "talk" to one another in a continuous back-and-forth interaction. A single conscious visual percept may thus entail the parallel and mutually influencing activities of billions of nerve cells.
Finally, the activity of a coalition, or coalition of coalitions, if it is to reach consciousness, must not only cross a threshold of intensity, but must be held there for a certain time—roughly a hundred milliseconds. This is the duration of a "perceptual moment."
DIXVILLE WHAT?Status report on Wesley Clark in New Hampshire. Much of it is quietly mocking Clark's earlier days on the trail demonstrating his lack of retail political experience, but it also, towards the end, talks about his learning that on the job.
I dunno, though, the name "Dixville Notch" was famous to me when I was ten years old. Of course, I was a very political child.
Read if you want either amusement or information: 3.5 out of 5. (This similar look at John Edwards in NH is less amusing, and sadder.)
I don't know if Tim Judah penned the title of this piece, "The Fog of Justice," or, as is probably more likely, someone at the NY Review did, but it's all too apt. It seems almost impossible to draw pithy conclusions from this powerful look, which may mean that Judah, unfortunately, has a firmer grasp of the truth than is often reached.
Is the tribunal laying the groundwork for reconciliation, or further hatred and conspiracy theorizing? Destabilizing the politics of the Balkans, or building a foundation?
I don't know, but I recommend reading this piece, and thinking about it (and also consider why, exactly, so many Americans refer to justice at the Hague with a reflexive, ungrounded in this record, sneer).
KENNEDY, JOHNSON, AND ISRAEL. Amos Elon looks back, including reviewing Avner Cohen's essential Israel and the Bomb.
A classic Johnsonism:
In Jerusalem in 1971, I heard the foreign minister, Abba Eban, entertain his guests with the story of his visit to the White House during the Johnson administration. "Mister Eeeban," Johnson said, "aa'm sure glad to see you! Just the other day ah was sittin' in the Oval Room scratchin' my balls thinkin' about Israel!"
I was just observing the other day, at Roger Simon's comments, that it would be wise for those presently prone to waxing wroth on French anti-semitism, without excusing any of the present day's grievances, which I've hardly been laxing in writing about, to recall the long decades of post-1948 US arms embargo and chill upon Israel, days when the massive supplier of planes, tanks, and arms, were those non-perfidious French.
France, too, it was, who supplied the Dimona reactor that gave Israel its nuclear weapons (along with Israeli scientists, of course).
It's commonly been considered that it wasn't until LBJ's days that US policy towards Israel began to soften somewhat; this article attempts to make a case that Kennedy laid the roots for that, but it's a mixed case, at best.
The Saudi state is a fragmented entity, divided between the fiefdoms of the royal family. Among the four or five most powerful princes, two stand out: Crown Prince Abdullah and his half-brother Prince Nayef, the interior minister. Relations between these two leaders are visibly tense. In the United States, Abdullah cuts a higher profile. But at home in Saudi Arabia, Nayef, who controls the secret police, casts a longer and darker shadow. Ever since King Fahd's stroke in 1995, the question of succession has been hanging over the entire system, but neither prince has enough clout to capture the throne.
Abdullah tilts toward the liberal reformers and seeks a rapprochement with the United States, whereas Nayef sides with the clerics and takes direction from an anti-American religious establishment that shares many goals with al Qaeda.
The two camps divide over a single question: whether the state should reduce the power of the religious establishment. On the right side of the political spectrum, the clerics and Nayef take their stand on the principle of Tawhid, or "monotheism," as defined by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, the eponymous founder of Wahhabism. In their view, many people who claim to be monotheists are actually polytheists and idolaters. For the most radical Saudi clerics, these enemies include Christians, Jews, Shi`ites, and even insufficiently devout Sunni Muslims. From the perspective of Tawhid, these groups constitute a grand conspiracy to destroy true Islam. The United States, the "Idol of the Age," leads the cabal. It attacked Sunni Muslims in Afghanistan and Iraq, both times making common cause with Shi`ites; it supports the Jews against the Sunni Muslim Palestinians; it promotes Shi`ite interests in Iraq; and it presses the Saudi government to de-Wahhabize its educational curriculum. Cable television and the Internet, meanwhile, have released a torrent of idolatry. With its permissive attitude toward sex, its pervasive Christian undertones, and its support for unfettered female freedom, U.S. culture corrodes Saudi society from within.
Tawhid is closely connected to jihad, the struggle -- sometimes by force of arms, sometimes by stern persuasion -- against idolatry. In the minds of the clerics, stomping out pagan cultural and political practices at home and supporting war against Americans in Afghanistan and Iraq are two sides of the same coin. Jihad against idolatry, the clerics never tire of repeating, is eternal, "lasting until Judgment Day," when true monotheism will destroy polytheism once and for all.
If Tawhid is the right pole of the Saudi political spectrum, then the doctrine of Taqarub -- rapprochement between Muslims and non-Muslims -- marks the left. Taqarub promotes the notion of peaceful coexistence with nonbelievers. It also seeks to expand the political community by legitimizing the political involvement of groups that the Wahhabis consider non-Muslim -- Shi`ites, secularists, feminists, and so on. In foreign policy, Taqarub downplays the importance of jihad, allowing Saudis to live in peace with Christian Americans, Jewish Israelis, and even Shi`ite Iranians. In short, Taqarub stands in opposition to the siege mentality fostered by Tawhid.
Abdullah clearly associates himself with Taqarub. He has advocated relaxing restrictions on public debate, promoted democratic reform, and supported a reduction in the power of the clerics. Between January and May 2003, he presided over an unusually open "national dialogue" with prominent Saudi liberals. Two separate petitions established the essential character of the discussion: the National Reform Document, which offered a road map for Saudi democracy, and Partners in the Homeland, a call by the oppressed Shi`ite community for greater freedoms. The first endorsed direct elections, the establishment of an independent judiciary, and an increased public role for women. Its drafters also took pains to express respect for Islamic law. The clerics were not mollified, but this affront to their sensibilities was as nothing compared to the Shi`ite petition, which, in their eyes, issued straight from the bowels of hell.
The Saudi religious establishment is viscerally and vocally hostile to Shi`ism. Although Shi`ites constitute between 10 and 15 percent of the population, they do not enjoy even the most basic rights of religious freedom. Nevertheless, in an unprecedented move, the crown prince met with their leaders and accepted their petition. The controlled Saudi press did not publish the petition or even report on it, but Abdullah's move sent ripples of discontent through the Saudi religious classes.
By floating the "Saudi Plan" for Arab-Israeli peace -- traveling to Crawford, Texas, to debate the measure with President George W. Bush in April 2003 -- and accepting the notorious Shi`ite petition, the crown prince has sided resolutely with the backers of Taqarub against the hard-line clerics. To a Western eye there is no inherent connection between Abdullah's domestic political reform agenda and his rapprochement policies toward non-Muslim states and Shi`ite "heretics." In a political culture policed by Wahhabis, however, they are seen to be cut from the same cloth.
While Abdullah has signaled friendship with the West, Nayef has encouraged jihad -- to the point of offering tacit support for al Qaeda. In November 2002, for example, he absolved the Saudi hijackers of responsibility for the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. In an interview published openly in Saudi Arabia, he stated that al Qaeda could not possibly have planned an operation of such magnitude. Nayef perceived an Israeli plot instead, arguing that the attacks aroused so much hostility to Muslims they must have been planned by the enemies of Islam. This statement not only endorsed the clerics' paranoid conspiracy theory, but, more important, sent a message that the secret police saw no justification for tracking down al Qaeda.
The case of the Saudi cleric Ali bin al-Khudayr helps explain Nayef's stance. A close associate of al Qaeda, al-Khudayr is known as a leader of the takfiri-jihadi stream of Islamic radicalism -- that is, as someone quick to engage in takfir, the practice of proclaiming fellow Sunnis guilty of apostasy (a crime punishable by death).* After September 11, he issued a fatwa advising his followers to rejoice at the attacks. Depicting the United States as one of the greatest enemies that Islam has ever faced, he chided those who had misgivings about the deaths of so many innocent civilians, listing a number of American "crimes" that justified the attacks: "killing and displacing Muslims, aiding the Muslims' enemies against them, spreading secularism, forcefully imposing blasphemy on peoples and states, and persecuting the mujahideen."
Al-Khudayr was eventually arrested by Nayef's security services, but only after the May 2003 suicide bombings in Riyadh that killed 34 people -- when the cleric's brand of extremism began to threaten the political status quo. Until then, he had been allowed to operate freely and spread his violent anti-Americanism without constraint. Why? Because along the way he helped terrorize critics of the religious establishment. For Nayef, Wahhabi vigilantism is useful in keeping reformers in check.
To better understand how al Qaeda reads Saudi Arabia's political map, one can turn to the work of Yusuf al-Ayyiri, a prolific al Qaeda propagandist who died last June in a skirmish with the Saudi security services. Just before his death he wrote a revealing book, The Future of Iraq and the Arabian Peninsula After the Fall of Baghdad, which gives a good picture of how al Qaeda activists perceive the world around them.
According to al-Ayyiri, the United States and Israel are the leaders of a global anti-Islamic movement -- "Zio-Crusaderism" -- that seeks the destruction of true Islam and dominion over the Middle East. Zio-Crusaderism's most effective weapon is democracy, because popular sovereignty separates religion from the state and thereby disembowels Islam, a holistic religion that has a strong political dimension. In its plot to denature Islam, al-Ayyiri claims, Zio-Crusaderism embraces three local allies: secularists, Shi`ites, and lax Sunnis (that is, those who sympathize with the idea of separating religion from state). Al Qaeda's "near enemy," in other words, is the cluster of forces supporting Taqarub.
The chief difference between the ways al Qaeda and the Saudi religious establishment define their primary foes is that the former includes the Saudi royal family as part of the problem whereas the latter does not. This divergence is not insignificant, but it does not preclude limited or tacit cooperation on some issues. Although some in the Saudi regime are indeed bin Laden's enemies, others are his de facto allies. Al Qaeda activists sense, moreover, that U.S. plans to separate mosque and state constitute the greatest immediate threat to their designs and know that the time is not yet ripe for a broad revolution. So al Qaeda's short-term goal is not to topple the regime but to shift Saudi Arabia's domestic balance of power to the right and punish supporters of Taqarub.
The politics surrounding the suicide bombings in Riyadh last May show how the interests of al Qaeda and the Saudi religious establishment overlap. Working together, they managed to turn a terrorist attack on Americans into a political coup against Americanizers. Right after the attack, the Saudi authorities called for public assistance in capturing 19 suspects, whose names and pictures were published in the press. In response, al-Khudayr and two like-minded clerics issued a statement claiming that the accused were not terrorists but "pious and devout" men and "the flower of the mujahideen." The statement claimed that the Saudi authorities, acting on U.S. orders, were using the suicide bombings as a pretext for persecuting fighters who had "participated in the jihad against the malevolent Crusaders in Afghanistan" and "distinguished themselves with courage and heroism in the battles in the Tora Bora mountains." The clerics called on the population to disobey the regime's request for help and pronounced that any assistance to the police would constitute aid to the United States in its war against Islam. The statement urged other Saudi clerics to step forward and support the beleaguered mujahideen.
Responding to this call, 33 activist clerics who had already formed a group called the Internal Front Facing the Current Challenges lobbied the government on the basis of a statement that reads like a contract for a new alliance between the Saudi dynasty and the Wahhabi religious establishment. The statement worked with al-Khudayr's basic premise -- that the Saudis, in deference to their foreign masters, had grown hostile to jihad. But it changed the tone of the discussion. Whereas al-Khudayr had focused on the need to wage jihad against the Americans, the clerics emphasized the need to wage jihad against the Americanizers -- a reference to the enemy at home.
The statement drew a causal link between the movement for liberal reform and religious extremism. On the one hand, it admitted that religious extremism exists in Saudi Arabia and called for it to be restrained. Yet it also blamed extremism on the creep of "reprehensible practices" -- a euphemism for the growing public legitimacy of the Taqarub reform agenda. The Internal Front essentially offered Abdullah a tradeoff: if he would curtail the reformers' activities, then the clerics would provide Islamic legitimacy for a government crackdown on the takfiri-jihadis, al Qaeda and its fellow travelers.
To make these demands more explicit, the Internal Front's leader, Salman al-Awda, posted an additional statement on his Web site attacking the aggressively reformist newspaper al-Watan. (The newspaper's name means "the homeland," but religious conservatives refer to it as "al-Wathan," meaning "the idol.") According to the statement, the publication's staff was little better than agents of the Americans working against Islam -- "Thomas Friedmans in Saudi garb."
It is often claimed that the recent growth of anti-Americanism in the Middle East has been due to U.S. policies themselves. The fact that the suicide bombing of an American compound in Riyadh turned into a crackdown on Saudi reformers and that the bombings continued (even after the announcement of a U.S. troop withdrawal), however, should give us pause. These events strongly suggest that the jihad against the United States is actually a continuation of domestic politics by other means. The Saudi religious classes and al-Qaeda use it to discredit their indigenous enemies, who, given half a chance, would topple the clerics from power.
If Saudi clerics do indeed preach a murderous anti-Americanism because they fear their domestic rivals, then certain implications follow for U.S. foreign policy. Washington cannot afford to ignore what Saudis say about each other, because sooner or later the hatreds generated at home will be directed toward the United States.
This is particularly true of the Shi`ite question in Saudi politics. Radical Sunni Islamists hate Shi`ites more than any other group, including Jews and Christians. Al-Qaeda's basic credo minces no words on the subject: "We believe that the Shi`ite heretics are a sect of idolatry and apostasy, and that they are the most evil creatures under the heavens." For its part, the Saudi Wahhabi religious establishment expresses similar views. The fatwas, sermons, and statements of established Saudi clerics uniformly denounce Shi`ite belief and practice. A recent fatwa by Abd al-Rahman al-Barrak, a respected professor at the Imam Muhammad bin Saud Islamic University (which trains official clerics), is a case in point. Asked whether it was permissible for Sunnis to launch a jihad against Shi`ites, al-Barrak answered that if the Shi`ites in a Sunni-dominated country insisted on practicing their religion openly, then yes, the Sunni state had no choice but to wage war on them. Al-Barrak's answer, it is worth noting, assumes that the Shi`ites are not Muslims at all.
This sectarian hatred that the clerics preach bears directly on the United States. Projecting their domestic struggle onto the external world, Saudi hard-liners are now arguing that the Shi`ite minority in Saudi Arabia is conspiring with the United States in its war to destroy Islam. Thus al-Ayyiri, the al-Qaeda propagandist, argued that the Shi`ites have hatched a long-term plot to control the countries of the Persian Gulf. As part of this conspiracy, the Shi`ite minorities in Sunni countries are insinuating themselves into positions of responsibility so as to function as a fifth column for the enemies of true Islam. "The danger of the Shi`ite heretics to the region," he states, "is not less than the danger of the Jews and the Christians."
Many other clerics warn of a Shi`ite-U.S. conspiracy. Safar al-Hawali, for example, a prominent cleric and member of the Internal Front, wrote a long and vituperative response to the Shi`ite petition Abdullah accepted. Al-Hawali characterized the petition as an attempt by the Shi`ite minority to tyrannize the Sunni majority. Throughout history, al-Hawali wrote, the Shi`ites have conspired with the foreign enemies of the Sunnis: in the thirteenth century they aligned with the Mongol invaders; today they conspire with the Americans. If the Saudi authorities meet the demands of the Shi`ite petitioners, al-Hawali continued, one of two outcomes would result: Shi`ite government or a secular state.
All this might sound like the product of an addled brain, but it is not as detached from political reality as it seems. The Saudi clerics and al Qaeda base their political analysis of the Shi`ites on two assumptions: that Wahhabism is true Islam and that it must have a monopoly over state policy. From this perspective, the various forces promoting Taqarub, both domestic and foreign, are indeed in cahoots to upend the status quo. The Shi`ites offer an alternative notion of Islamic community and history, they tend to cluster in strategically key regions, they share bonds with co-religionists beyond the borders of their country, and they have political interests that coincide with those of Sunni reformers. These attributes would allow the Shi`ites to form a powerful political bloc should a participatory political system ever emerge. And offering them even minor political concessions now would be dangerous, the clerics say, since other sects and other regional identities would clamor for political representation and soon overwhelm the system.
Beneath the conspiracy theory, therefore, lurks a very sober struggle over real political and economic interests. The clerics hope to place the Shi`ites in a kind of political quarantine, making it all but unthinkable for Sunni reformers in Saudi Arabia to form alliances with them. The reams of anti-Shi`ite material on Saudi religious Web sites are marked by three persistent charges: that the Shi`ites are agents of Iran, allies of the United States, and close associates of the Jews. The last accusation merits particular attention.
Isaac Hasson, a professor at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, has identified what he calls a "neo-Wahhabi campaign against the Shi`ites, which aims to demonize them by comparing them to the Jews." Traditional Wahhabi teachings, for example, include the medieval Sunni myth that it was actually a Jewish convert to Islam, Abdullah bin Saba, who invented Shi`ism. This means Shi`ism has a kind of Jewish dna flowing through it. New attributes borrowed from modern antisemitism, such as the notion of a Jewish plot for world domination, have been grafted onto this charge. In the neo-Wahhabi campaign that Hasson has identified, therefore, Shi`ism is simultaneously an offshoot of Judaism, the natural ally of Zio-Crusaderism, and an inveterate generator of grand plots to destroy Sunni Islam.
The clerics' anti-Shi`ite campaign traces, on a communal scale, the same pattern as the threats that al-Khudayr directed against al-Nuqaydan. Just as the radical clerics pass death sentences on individual reformers, so the Saudi religious establishment periodically threatens the Shi`ites with genocide. In his refutation of the Shi`ite petition, for example, the cleric Safar al-Hawali warned the Shi`ites about the dangers of overreaching. If they were actually to succeed in establishing a secular state, he argued, the result would be a civil war, and "if the [Sunni] majority gets riled, it will act -- a matter that could lead to the complete annihilation of the [Shi`ite] minority." This thinly veiled threat carried even greater significance for having been published on the Web site of another cleric and anti-Shi`ite firebrand, Nasir al-Umar, who has urged the government to fire Shi`ites from all positions of responsibility in the country. Al-Umar has also insisted that the government must find "a quick solution" to the Shi`ites' demographic domination of the eastern province, a proposal that can only be described as an incitement to ethnic cleansing.
Rather than shutting such inflammatory voices down, Prince Nayef finds it convenient to keep them on the streets: al-Umar runs a mosque as a government employee and operates an attractive Web site. By giving clerics such as al-Umar privileged platforms from which to spread their doctrines, Nayef gets the best of both worlds. To foreign critics, he can distance himself from al-Umar's extremism, claiming that the cleric speaks only for himself; at home, meanwhile, he can reap the benefit of al-Umar's threats, which strike terror into Shi`ite hearts.
A crucial part of the conclusion:
The Saudi religious establishment's views regarding the American-Shi`ite conspiracy are not simply an internal Saudi matter. They legitimize the daily attacks on American soldiers in Iraq's "Sunni Triangle," as well attacks such as the anti-Shi`ite suicide bombing in Najaf last August. The dazed onlookers who crowded around the rubble in Najaf immediately asked themselves one question: Who did it? "Wahhabis," cried one group. "Baathists," cried another. If Washington maintains business as usual with Riyadh, it will not be long before the Iraqi Shi`ites will conclude that the United States covertly supports the Wahhabi bombers who blow up their mosques -- just as they concluded, after the events of 1991, that the United States supported Saddam Hussein against them.
We must force change in Saudi Arabia, for the sake of our selves, for the entire Middle East, and for the world.