Sorry for the light blogging, as along with a massive pile of Real Work I’ve been at weddings and conferences in Montreal and Michigan, which may at least lead to relevant blogging. To come full circle, however, I found out that a hot dog with some kind of meaty sauce in Michigan is called a “Coney (or Koney) Island,” while I was reminded that in Quebec it’s called a “Michigan.” If Nathan’s can just start selling “Fleur de lis” dogs or something it will all come together…
Back in the late 1980s, a journalist named Tom Friedman worked as a Middle East correspondent for the New York Times. He served in both Israel and Lebanon, and near the end of the 1980s he wrote a book. Later in his career, he wrote several more books. These later books are all unspeakably horrible, as is the column that Friedman currently holds down at the Times. Because of this, I have never been able to believe that the first book, called From Beirut to Jerusalem, could actually be worth reading. Having now read From Beirut to Jerusalem, I am forced to conclude that there was not one, but two Tom Friedmans, and that they collaborated on this first book.
The good Tom writes compellingly about the death in an artillery attack of almost the entire family of a close Lebanese friend. The good Tom writes insightfully of the IDF practice of bringing wealthy American donors to the front in Lebanon, equipping them with flak jackets, and enabling them to follow the course of the artillery bombardment. The good Tom writes of the chaos that afflicted Lebanon during the 1980s in a manner that is clear-headed and sensible. He recognized the presence and strength of sub-national organizations, the dangers of identity-based conflict, and the peril associated with the collapse of national institutions. The good Tom wrote about how the chaos of civil war inevitably produces a perverse incentive structure that kills commerce, civil society, and culture. It is difficult to imagine how anyone who read those pages, much less the man who wrote them, could have ever considered the invasion of Iraq a good idea. The good Tom wrote, as even-handedly as imaginable, about the peril felt by the Israelis and the loss of dignity felt by the Palestinians. Moreover, the good Tom was a fine writer and journalist; he understood that depositing himself judiciously within the narrative made the story more compelling and understandable.
But then sometimes the bad Tom reared his ugly head:
The rhythm of life in the Arab world was always different. Men in Arab societies always tended to bend more; life there always moved in ambiguous semicircles, never right angles. The religious symbols of the West are the cross and the Jewish star- both of which are full of sharp, angled turns. The symbol of the Muslim East is the crescent moon- a wide, soft, ambiguous arc. In Arab society there was always some way to cushion failure with rhetoric and enable the worst of enemies to sit down and have coffee together, maybe even send each other bouquets.
The bad Tom also mucked around with noodling about solutions in Lebanon and Israel-Palestine, and wandered into the kind of self-important analogic swamp that has characterized Friedman’s writing since the early 1990s. The bad Tom is definitely in From Beirut to Jerusalem, but the good Tom, for the most part, holds him at bay. Sadly, the bad Tom murdered the good Tom sometime in 1993. I suspect that the bad Tom beat the good Tom to death with a blunt object, probably the very same National Book Award that the good Tom won for From Beirut to Jerusalem. Jessica Fletcher is on the case. Anyway, we’re far enough down the road now to recognize that the good Tom ain’t coming back, but not so far as to feel no sorrow for the fact that all we have left is the self-parody.
In association with Guerrilla News Network, David Axe is raising money for a month long expedition to Chad. It’s a good subject and he’s a fine reporter, so drop a quarter in the cup if you have a chance.
If Hillary comes out with a proposal for a Department of Anti-Robot Affairs, I’ll switch my support.
More seriously, the overall effect of “robot surges” seems to be to shift the cost of war from the blood side of the ledger to the treasure side. This doesn’t necessarily make wars a better idea; paying from the treasure side means higher taxes, fewer hospitals, etc., but it does have an impact on the political interpretation of a war, since the deaths of soldiers are far more salient than the destruction of robots.
The Times’s City Section this week has a feature on a program called Puppies Behind Bars, which places puppies with incarcerated men and women in NY state prisons. The “puppy raisers” train the dogs how to be explosive detection canines, seeing eye dogs for the blind, and therapy dogs for people with physical or mental disabilities (full disclosure: my family is very involved with PBB and has been since it was founded).
While I disagree with the initial spin that the organization’s founder gives (people who are incarcerated have an “obligation to give back,” she says), I’d agree that the organization has the double benefit of training dogs for people whose lives will be greatly enriched by them and allowing people who are in the most dehumanizing place imaginable regain a sense of their humanity and compassion — effects that are clear in this video, which accompanies the article.
One particularly moving story (in the video) is of Pax, a dog who was trained by a woman in Bedford Hills, a maximum security prison, and who has gone on to become a service dog for an Iraq vet with PTSD. Like many of the women incarcerated in America, Pax’s puppy raiser was convicted of killing her abusive husband. She herself suffers from PTSD. And here she is, finding some healing in training the dog that will provide freedom to someone else.
Or, put differently by Jules Flynn, another incarcerated puppy raiser, “We give people who receive these dogs their freedom, and that is something that was taken away from us.”
As for Reagan Democrats, how Clinton was treated is not their issue. They are more concerned with how they have been treated. Since March, when I was accused of being racist for a statement I made about the influence of blacks on Obama’s historic campaign, people have been stopping me to express a common sentiment: If you’re white you can’t open your mouth without being accused of being racist. They see Obama’s playing the race card throughout the campaign and no one calling him for it as frightening. They’re not upset with Obama because he’s black; they’re upset because they don’t expect to be treated fairly because they’re white. It’s not racism that is driving them, it’s racial resentment. And that is enforced because they don’t believe he understands them and their problems. That when he said in South Carolina after his victory “Our Time Has Come” they believe he is telling them that their time has passed.
Slightly Longer Ferraro:
I think this is right:
But unlike most liberal journalists and bloggers, I think McClellan deserves quite a bit of credit for going public with this, even at this late date. Writing this kind of book could not have been easy for him. He has undoubtedly lost friends. Many of his former colleagues will never speak to him again. If he’d written the kind of anodyne snoozer that Ari Fleischer did, then surely he’d be set for life on the wingnut welfare circuit. But now? Well, let’s just say he’ll never eat lunch in that town again. And it’s not like the liberals are eager to embrace him with open arms, either.
Kathy has a good point; while we think a lot about the benefits of tell-all books (lots of exposure, book sales, historical re-evaluation, etc.) but there are also some very real costs, as McClellan is going to find himself shunned by the people most likely to give him jobs and invite him to dinner. It’s true enough that Scottie is still responsible, as everyone in the Bush administration was, for the crimes that have been committed over the past eight years. Still, disgruntled former administration hacks really should be given a strong incentive to write this kind of memoir; it’s critical to our understanding of the administration that we get these kinds of testimonies, and as such I’m willing to cut Scottie a little bit of slack.
I suppose it’s also possible that I’m just a wee bit sympathetic because Scottie was such a bad liar; you could almost see the sweat dripping down his face as he went into another whopper.
…needless to say, on the watch for monkey-cyborgs…
Ronald Reagan, remarks on US policy in the Persian Gulf, 29 May 1987
Now, I will not permit the Middle East to become a chokepoint for freedom or a tinderbox of international conflict. Freedom of navigation is not an empty cliche of international law. It is essential to the health and safety of America and the strength of our alliance. Our presence in the Persian Gulf is also essential to preventing wider conflict in the Middle East, and it’s a prerequisite to helping end the brutal and violent 6 1/2-year war between Iran and Iraq. Diplomatically, we’re doing everything we can to obtain an end to this war, and this effort will continue.
. . . Our goal is to seek peace rather than provocation, but our interests and those of our friends must be preserved. We’re in the gulf to protect our national interests and, together with our allies, the interests of the entire Western World. Peace is at stake; our national interest is at stake. And we will not repeat the mistakes of the past. Weakness, a lack of resolve and strength, will only encourage those who seek to use the flow of oil as a tool, a weapon, to cause the American people hardship at home, incapacitate us abroad, and promote conflict and violence throughout the Middle East and the world.