Archive for The Lileks Zone

Take that, soldiers! Ha!

Art today: a lousy mural by a “street artist” has been painted over by the museum that commissioned it. Controversy! Censorship! Here’s the mural: a crudely drawn series of coffins draped with dollar bills. Get it? Not flags, but the Almighty Dollar. As one of the defenders put it:

The mural makes the point that most soldiers in the US are consigned to their deaths to support an even more powerful flag, which is all green. Whether or not you agree with the point that Blu is making, the message is clear and thought-provoking.

It’s “thought-provoking” if you’re 15, perhaps, and have never been exposed to the usual tropes of professional cynics. If you’re wondering whether the mural was removed for being lame – i.e., because it was recycling something that might have made a stoner say “whoa” in 1967 –  here’s the official response from the Museum of Contemporary Art:

The Geffen Contemporary building is located on a special, historic site. Directly in front the north wall is the Go For Broke monument, which commemorates the heroic roles of Japanese American soldiers, who served in Europe and the Pacific during World War II, and opposite the wall is the LA Veterans’ Affairs Hospital. The museum’s director explained to Blu that in this context, where MOCA is a guest among this historic Japanese American community, the work was inappropriate. MOCA has invited Blu to return to Los Angeles to paint another mural.

Yes, that’s right: the mural was across from a VA hospital, so maybe someone might not want to stare at dollar-draped coffins. As you might expect, defenders are insisting that this was the perfect location:

Putting it across from a VA location makes it that much more powerful by exposing the hypocrisy of unnecessarily exploiting American soldiers to danger and then “caring” for them afterwards.

Incompetent art is always given a boost when it “exposes” “hypocrisy.” Incompetent art is ignored unless it does something good ‘n’ transgressive. But since it’s a given on the left that the US fights wars for oil and other nasty things, wouldn’t it be transgressive to draw a mural about individual heroism, or the camaraderie of troops, or integration of women into the military? There’s got to be something good you guys can say, right? No? Well, work on that one for tomorrow’s class. As for that whole blood-for-oil thing:

Last month, the Iraqi government held its second round of auctions for its oil fields. Mid-month, seven fields were awarded to international oil companies.  American companies did not win any new leases in this round, but Petronas, a state-owned Malaysian company; Sonangol, of Angola; and Lukoil of Russia and Statoil of Norway did. Petronas and Shell won the the Majnoon field with more than 12 billion barrels of oil; and Petronas, CNPC of China and Total (French) got Halfiya, in the south, with 4 billion barrels. Last week, it was reported that  Lukoil and Statoil had actually signed for their West Qurna oil field, much faster than BP and China signed for the Rumaila oil field this summer.

Before that round, two American companies had leases. France and Norway got leases? Maybe drape some Euros on those coffins next time.

The Anti-Bachmann

In Star Trek physics, matter and antimatter cannot touch or the universe will be destroyed. Something like that. For all we know it might be true, which is why you never see Michelle Bachmann and Keith Ellison shake hands. Bachman is loathed on the left – she’s an idiot! Pint-sized Palin! – but I’m not sure the right loathes Ellison; he’s just another one of those predictable liberals, with a multiculti sheen to make the base feel extra-good about voting for him, because George Bush hated Muslims and wanted a war on Islam.

A small newspaper devoted to my neighborhood ran an interview with Ellison, presuming perhaps that everyone around here is a supporter. Probably the case. If so, my shoulders slump at the thought that my dear neighbors believe as he does. First of all, the November elections came as a surprise:

“I was actually surprised we lost the House,” Ellison said. “I was thinking we were going to lose some seats, because every year since 1930 the part in power would lose seats during the midterm election.”

Except for FDR in ’32 and ’34, Clinton in ’98, and Bush in ’02. But Michelle Bachman is stupid! He blamed the loss on the usual reasons: the base didn’t turn out, the base didn’t think the Obama administration had made much progress, the administration did a bad job of communicating its successes, and death-rays beaming from the eyes of a 900-foot-tall Karl Rove carved voters in half until the streets ran red with the blood of the innocent. (I made that up.)

He’s worried that the election will ruin the prospects of high-speed rail between Minneapolis and Chicago:

“(The Republicans) don’t like rail, they want to build more roads and they want more cars on the road. These people don’t believe global warming exists at all.”

Pretty much, yeah, but you say this like it’s an insult. A note on rail: they built a 41-mile commuter rail line in Minnesota, and I actually supported it; commuter rail to the far-flung suburbs is not necessarily a bad idea, especially when the people face 90-minute commutes on busy roads. It’s a year old. Ridership is running 20% below projections. Well, live and learn.

Here’s the meat of the pith of the gist, though: he’s asked about extending all the tax cuts, permanently.

“We simply can’t afford to do that. We just don’t have the money. If we just extended the middle-class cat cuts and let the rich people’s tax cuts expire, that would still cost us $700 billion. We don’t have $700 billion.”

Unless it’s for high-speed rail.

Ellison may actually believe this. Ellison may believe tax cuts require the government to borrow $700 billion to give to people. Now, we do borrow money to give to people, but that’s called Social Security and the rest of the entitlements. If keeping tax cuts in place “costs” the government money, then driving past a motel without stopping and checking in “costs” Holiday Inn.

Maybe he’s saying this because it’s how they want to phrase the debate, and make the credulous think Uncle Sam is walking up to gold-plated mansions, holes in his shoes, weak from hunger, pushing a wheelbarrow full of money for the rich folk. And they make him use the servant entrance, too!

So he believes it, or he’s just saying it. A fool or a liar: your choice.

To which is supporters might respond: But Michelle Bachmann is an idiot!

The terrible burden of having to take a stand

A story on Slate on a study – the most exciting words in the world, perhaps? Here’s the latest:

Sex, drugs, and text-messaging? A new study suggests that “hyper-texters”—teens who send more than 120 text messages a day—are more likely to binge drink, get in fights, or take drugs, and are three and a half times more likely to have sex than their textless peers. Researchers looked at more than 4,200 students at 20 Cleveland high schools, categorizing kids as hyper-texters or hyper-networkers—people who spend at least three hours a day on social networking sites. While hyper-texters are more sexually active, hyper-networkers are more prone to drinking and fighting.

Most people would look at this survey, and say: hmmm. Interesting. Can we draw any conclusions? Perhaps not; correlation is not causation. Or the other way around. Something like that. Anyway, it’s part of a larger problem that has little to do with technology, and a lot to do with parenting. When it comes to gadgets, most kids are light-years ahead of their parents. Put in nerd-Trek terms, the kids are in the Delta Quadrant, and Mom and Dad haven’t yet left Earth’s gravity well, which means they can’t engage warp drive; if you use the interdimensional resonance of a dilithium-crystal powered engine to establish a subspace field while you’re in a gravity well, it’s BLACK HOLE CITY, PEOPLE –

Sorry. Got off topic. You get the idea. You may also suspect I am up on tech, since people who are versed in fictional tech usually eat up the real thing with rapacity. My daughter is cursed with a father who knows just enough to know what he needs to know, and how to defeat any future end-runs around my mad skillz. But I don’t think that day will come, he said, speaking like someone who’s never raised a teenager, because we have laid the groundwork: trust, communication, verification, consequences. Daddy got root.

If you’re not up on these things, it can be baffling and annoying; it can seem so irrelevant to your own life, your own modes of communication, and you decouple from the world of texts and IMs and DMs, contenting yourself with a hazy gauzy assumption that your kid is a good kid, and wouldn’t do anything wrong. You may be right. The survey seems somewhat ill-conceived anyway – it’s not the texting that makes kids promiscuous or more inclined to introduce chemical enhancements, it’s the culture in which they marinate that has few peer-established roadblocks. It’s not that kids necessarily want to do the bad things, but their culture is incapable of saying they shouldn’t. That would be uncool, judgmental, wack, uptight, L-7, Herbert. Hence the confusion and miseries of adolescence. Nothing new there.

What’s amusing, in a sad, sad way, is watching putative adults grapple with the story while trying hard not to be Dad. Engadget had the stupidest piece EVAR, as they’d say. Headline:

Study finds that text message-addicted teens more likely to have a life

According to a recent study lead by Dr. Scott Frank, an associate professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, kids in Cleveland who text over 120 times a day are more likely than to have had sex or to have used drugs or alcohol than kids who don’t send as many messages. We’re guessing it’s because it takes in excess of 120 text messages for kids to line up their drugs, alcohol, or sex partners.

Uh huh. Sex, drugs, alcohol = a life. A more perfect distillation of the snarky, hip internet attitude you won’t find. My stance is more important than where I’m actually standing. It’s like watching someone attempt to confront a moral issue while quaking in terror of people in the comments who might accuse him of being unrealistic or a prude or thinking everyone doesn’t do it cuz evry1 doez LOL. Perhaps a fellow might expect to be called into the office to explain why he said texting teens were more likely to engage in immoral activity – we don’t do Bible stuff here, ‘kay? Saying that sex & drugs = “having a life”? Not unless anyone complained.

One can only say: dude, wait until you have kids of your own. I know, I know, it’s all relative, every generation says the same thing about the previous, and so on. Why, people protested Elvis’ hips! But I guarantee you Elvis was sitting in a stupor in Graceland one night, tuning through the TVs, and came across something he found a bit risque. “That’s allright,” he probably thought. “But they ain’t’n’t ought to put it on the TV.”

The Recession, Explained

Anyone who’s been awake in the last two years knows there’s contentious debate about the causes of the Great Recession. A natural contraction, exacerbated by hamfisted policies executed by people whose business experience consists of playing “Monopoly” when they were twelve? Too many bad loans given to people who showed up for closing wearing cardboard shoes and pants held up with a rope? The inevitable comeuppance you get when reality crashes into arcane financial theories? Pelosi & Co. showing up in 2006 to drape lead weights around the economy’s neck? George Soros, sitting in his underwater lair, stroking a white fluffy cat, commanding his minions to cry havoc and let loose the dogs of war?

We have an answer now. Up here in Minnesnowcold, as Hugh likes to call it, long-time Congressperson Jim Oberstar is having a hard fight against Chip Cravaack. The debates have been testy, and the audience occasionally has declined to extend the awed silence naturally owed a figure of Oberstar’s stature. From the StarTribune account of the most recent debate:

On whether Congress should extend President George W. Bush’s tax cuts,
Cravaack said they should be extended to rejuvenate business growth.

Oberstar said he would eliminate the tax break for the top 2 percent of the income bracket, claiming that the Bush tax cuts “put us into this recession that we’re in today.”

Well. There you have it. Recessions are caused by insufficient taxation. This is a novel theory to most of us, but no doubt an item of faith in Oberstar’s world. You don’t just get out of recessions by taxing more, you avoid recessions by taxing more. The fact that the economy took off after the tax cuts is irrelevant; any subsequent contraction can be laid directly at the well-shod feet of the people whose property was not subjected to the exquisitely calculated confiscation policies of the state. Brilliant.

The end of prosperity: hoorah!

Reuters piece: An Inevitable Slide for Americans’ Standard of Living. Nonsense, you think. That’s defeatist talk. Nothing is inevitable but death and taxes –

Oh. Right. Well, the piece isn’t about taxes.

America’s standard of living could turn out to be the main casualty of the debt crisis. For a decade, the middle class made up for stagnant incomes by getting ever deeper into debt. Without housing wealth to tap, a bout of inflation is one of the few alternatives to a decade of austerity.

O joy. You know you’re being ruled by geniuses when inflation is a solution. Of course, if you’re “tapping” your housing wealth to increase your standard of living, your standard of living is based on unsustainable factors. Put it another way: the foundation of your house was cotton candy, and you built in a flood plain. In this situation, a “decade of austerity” is another word for “living within your means.”

It goes on:

Americans seemed to think a perpetually improving lifestyle was written into the Constitution.

Silly, stupid people. It’s not. (Abortion is, though, somewhere, under a penumbra.) But some Americans thought their lifestyles would improve because they expected to be rewarded for initiative or good behavior – work hard, save, don’t borrow money on the house for an RV that needs a full tank just to back out of the driveway, and so on. If millions now feel there’s an inevitable decline in the standard of living it’s because they expect that more of what they have will be taken away by the state.

For some, that’s just jack-dandy. Some on the left who think it’s a perfectly grand thing if our standards of living decline. We consume too much, and have things we don’t need. Our cars and TVs are too big. Our houses are too big. (Side note: everyone talks about the housing bubble, but it’s usually seen in terms of free-standing homes in the ‘rubs. Taken a look at prices of New York condos lately? Why didn’t those dense and urban housing units keep their value, if such lifestyles are the moral superior to living in the suburbs?) Their level of consumption is perfectly tuned, of course, but those other people out there somewhere don’t need what they have. One of these people became shouty and incensed when I made the infelicitous assertion that I wanted my daughter to have the same standard of living I had, at the very least. Might as well have said I wanted to burn down the rain forest to build the world’s largest NASCAR track.

I suspect a good many people on the left don’t mind a protracted economic clusterbundle. It’s comeuppance for the specious concept of prosperity, a rebuke to everyone who left the city for the suburbs, and good for Gaia to boot – but it’s only a start, but not the end. There are still people out there with things they do not need, you know. That’s the new definition of rich. When all you have is a hammer and sickle, everything looks like a kulak.


If you’ve had your link shortened – and we all know how painful that can be, as David Letterman once said – you probably used, one of the services that takes links the length of a freight train and turns them into something Twitter can handle. If you’ve wondered where .ly comes from, the answer is Libya. Gaddafi-land owns the top-level domain through which millions of links pass through. Now they’re getting persnickety about just the sort of Western Filth (TM) they’ll allow. A website owner whose .ly domain was used to pass along links one might describe as “NSFW” or “sex-positive” or “Ooh-la-la giggity giggity,” had his domain taken over by the Libyan government. He explains:

I would like to warn current and future owners of .ly domains of a concerning incident regarding the deletion of one of our prime domains ‘’ by (the domain registry and controlling body for the  Libyan domain space ‘.ly’).

In short: The domain was seized by the Libyan domain registry for reasons which seemed to be kept obscure until we escalated the issue. We eventually discovered that the domain has been seized because the content of our website, in their opinion, fell outside of Libyan Islamic/Sharia Law.

The site’s “obscene” image was cited as a reason for the deletion; I’ve seen it, and it has no nudity. Has a woman with bare arms drinking a beer. You could even see her CHIN. One of the site’s proprietors quoted the letter from the Libyan authorities responsible for yankage:

“The issue of offensive imagery is quite subjective, as what I may deem as offensive you might not, but I think you’ll agree that a picture of a scandidly clad lady with some bottle in her hand isn’t exactly what most would consider decent or family friendly at the least.”

First: “Scandidly” is a perfect new word for something scandalous, scanty, and candid. Second: you’d think someone who set up an url-shortening site for NSFW links would think twice about using a Libyan service. Third: you’d think anyone would think three times about using a Libyan domain, wouldn’t you? Granted, .ly is short and has a zingy, adverby vibe, but have we forgotten the lessons of “Back to the Future?” Who shot Doc Brown? LIBYANS! Well, that was then, and now Libya is playing nice, I guess. It’s been years since they sent a van full of guys with RPGs tearing around mall parking lots at night seeking revenge.

Doesn’t mean they should be trusted. If anyone wanted to do some rudimentary intelligence, setting up a giant whale-mouth to strain the krill is an excellent idea. Something useful might be hiding in one of those links. Would you trust a link-shortener that uses .ru?

So use with care and foreknowledge, then. One other thing. The fellow says:

For these reasons I believe the .ly domains should be considered unsafe. Anyone running a business or relying on a website with a one, two or three letter .ly domain should be incredibly cautious. This obviously includes anyone who uses,, and any other similar url shortener.

I cannot see how the deletion of our .ly domain couldn’t happen to the owners of these domains too. In fact is hosting many, many links that depict the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), extreme pornographic subject matter, etc.

At first I thought the PBUH was sarcastic, but the rest of the article is so earnest and careful it seemed he was erring on the side of not-getting-a-death-threat, previously known as “caution.” Someone in the comments noted it, and he responded:

Someone above made a crappy remark about me including PBUH after referring the prophet Muhammad (PBUH)… I always do that because I’m educated about the Qur’an, Islam and very respectful of people of faith.

I want it to be clear this is not against Islam or the Libyan people.

Even though Islam is the doctrine which, in this case, determined the scandidly-clad Western Hussy to violate the terms of service? It’s a glimpse into a particular mindset that can’t bring themselves to criticize Islam even though its practitioners can’t abide Western-style open-minded discussion about sex. One wonders if the reaction would be the same if a Christian-owned hosting service booted the site. You can’t quite imagine the fellow saying he understands that his work may offend those who believe in Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He would look at you funny if you suggested he should. PBUH is one thing, but let’s not get ridiculous.

Progressive is the New Conservative

If the public education system has been waiting for a cheerleader to assert some stern hard truths – the job is hard, the money’s well-spent, there are problems, fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, teachers gotta have their national convention in the fall instead of the summer – then their wait is over. Nicholas Lemann takes to the New Yorker to say, at great length, that the public school crisis is overblown. It is not one of those pieces overburdened by statistics. You get this:

Yet for a system that—according to Taylor, especially—is deeply in crisis, American higher education is not doing badly. The lines of people wanting to get into institutions that the authors say are just waiting to cheat them by overcharging and underteaching grow ever longer and more international, and the people waiting in those lines don’t seem deterred by price increases, even in a terrible recession.

First of all, he’s lumping college in with the discussion of public schools for kids, as if the higher-ed bubble, as Instapundit calls it, is organically connected to the problems of inner-city schools. This is like discussing the War in Afghanistan in a piece about the high cost of paying for overtime to Fargo policemen.

Second, his thoughts on college demand seem rather . . . shallow. They lines for college are longer because people still believe that college is either required for success, or a necessary accomplishment for anyone who aspires to enter the overclass. The latter point I’ve never understood: if I had to hire someone, and one applicant worked for four years in a corn-canning factory while spending his or her evenings chewing through the great works of Western literature and philosophy, and the other spent $100K to get a bachelor’s degree in proto-Renaissance art history, there wouldn’t be any question. (I say that as an Art History minor, by the way.) (High Renaissance, though. That’s where the action was.)

If they’re not deterred by price increases today, it’s because they’re not paying for it now, and still bet that a degree will open doors and allow them to pay off the crushing debt. Which it might, if it’s a useful degree. Anyway, Lemann’s column warns us not to do away with public education. Mend it, don’t end it! Spend it, don’t rend it! Amend it, don’t unfriend it!

The story line on education, at this ill-tempered moment in American life, expresses what might be called the Noah’s Ark view of life: a vast territory looks so impossibly corrupted that it must be washed away, so that we can begin its activities anew, on finer, higher, firmer principles. One should treat any perception that something so large is so completely awry with suspicion, and consider that it might not be true—especially before acting on it.

In other words, progressivism is the new conservatism.

It may be a large and vast issue viewed from an Olympian perspective, if you’re sitting in the ivory tower looking out over the great land below, helpfully labelled “EDUCATION MESS” in enormous letters. Most people see the problems of their schools as something much smaller, and they care less about Federal reform than the freedom to do something down the block. But we shouldn’t see education in local terms, because it’s, well, er, a system:

We have a lot of recent experience with breaking apart large, old, unlovely systems in the confidence of gaining great benefits at low cost. We deregulated the banking system. We tried to remake Iraq. In education, we would do well to appreciate what our country has built, and to try to fix what is undeniably wrong without declaring the entire system to be broken. We have a moral obligation to be precise about what the problems in American education are—like subpar schools for poor and minority children—and to resist heroic ideas about what would solve them, if those ideas don’t demonstrably do that.

Which ideas he doesn’t want us to try, he doesn’t say. So I’ll supply a fave: vouchers. Keep the public system intact, let parents opt out if they like, and see if non-union schools unburdened by mandates do better. Bold, persistent experimentation – isn’t that what FDR advised?

Don’t think that’s what he has in mind. I have no idea what he does have in mind, except to spend more money on subpar schools. But the President himself says that’s not the answer – not because he believes it, but because this is the season in which such things have to be said. So what are we supposed to do, then?
That doesn’t matter as much as you’d think. For the moment, it’s important we not do what the reformers want. When that threat has passed, we can go back to talking about the students. By then they will have graduated with diplomas they can barely read. But there’s always a fresh crop coming up.

There are some people who are Waiting for Superman for different reasons, and they have a briefcase full of Kryptonite. Just in case he tries something.

Eavesdropping with Gail and David!

This is a post about the New York Times. Ritual half-hearted praise for being good at this and that, but only to set up my bona fides for subsequent criticism. Rote acknowledgement of the role of major dailies that can afford to cover the world; stinging reminder of past egregious biases. Overarching conclusion that sets you up to enjoy the latest folly.

So: Someone at the Times thought it would be jolly and perky to have Gail Collins and David Brooks banter back and forth, and print it as though we’d intercepted their emails. It’s the sort of thing that would be interesting in 1973, perhaps, but given the robust farrago of chatter on the internets, it seems a bit thin. Maybe they were forced to do this, in which case you can’t blame them any more than you could blame Grandpa for lack of innovative dance moves because the orderlies at the rest home tased him and said Do the Funky Chicken, Pops! But really:

Gail Collins: I’m so glad we have columnists living in different cities. If a trillion Tea Party types gather at the Lincoln Memorial you’re there. And then of course if Justin Bieber makes a personal appearance at MTV in Manhattan, I’m right around the corner. Really, we’ve got all of American culture covered.

David Brooks: Gail, forgive me, but I think you’re being complacent here. We have no Op-Ed columnists in Los Angeles so we have missed out on all the issues raised by the Lindsay Lohan phenomenon. Can we look ourselves in the face and say we have given proper weight to the Miley Cyrus-Hannah Montana dichotomy? I don’t think so.

And these are the smart, with-it people. Here’s more!

Gail Collins: So Tuesday was a big night for G.O.P. insurgents. Thanks to your recent column I am a little clearer about why Republicans are acting as if passing the health care law was the equivalent of imposing martial law or that Woody Allen dictator who required all citizens to change their underwear every half hour. (Why does this entire campaign keep reminding me of scenes from “Bananas”?

The new right believes every new government program is one step forward on the road to serfdom. They’re winning. But I still don’t quite get it. Do they believe everybody in Sweden is a serf?

This chatty, casual, gut-bustingly hilarious format reveals not answers the question of what expired conventional wisdom smells like, it shows the chasms between Bosnywash scribblers and the inhabitants of flyoverland. I have no doubt that Gail Collins doesn’t quite get it, and while I salute the bleeding-edge reference to a 39-year-old movie (with a link to imdb, no less!) this is rather lame stuff. Pow! A Sweden reference! Isn’t there some other perfect nation they can hold up as a model of perfection? As for whether they’re serfs, they have the second-highest tax rate in the world, and pay almost half their income in taxes. On average. It can get worse, as the Guardian notes:

Swedes’ personal income tax can be as little as 29 per cent of their pay, but most people (anyone earning over £32,000) will pay between 49 and 60 per cent through a combination of local government and state income tax.

That was 2008. It’s down a bit since then, but that’s not the point. I don’t care that they get all sorts of things in return; any system that uses the power of the state of take away half your property is, you could say, trending serf-wise. So yes, Ms. Collins: every new program that takes away personal property and imposes new restrictions on your freedom to do this or that is one step forward on the road to serfdom, and it doesn’t really matter if it’s been resurfaced with stimulus money.

Brooks countered with a line about . . . oh, who cares.

By the way, you can expect the left to stop using the Swedish example, now that they’ve gone all tea-party on us.

PS: I am certain she would applaud Michelle Obama if she switched from telling us what to eat to the frequency with which we should change our drawers, Gail would think it’s a fine thing. You should wear clean underwear. What if you’re run over on the road to serfdom? Like your mother said, you wouldn’t want the ambulance drivers to see you weren’t wearing clean shorts.

Mohammed Cartoonist gives up her life to keep it

Is there anything more craven than having an argument on one site, getting tired of it, and taking your final response over to another behind a paywall? Probably not. I’ll spare you the particulars, but here’s the gist: the argument concerned the Seattle cartoonist who proposed “Everyone Draw Mohammed Day,” and kicked it off with a simple cartoon showing everyday objects claiming they were Mohammed. Obviously they were not. But this simple assertion of commonplace freedom-of-speech – just because they say we can’t draw this doesn’t mean we can’t – earned her a fatwa. On the advice of the FBI, she’s giving up her life and “going ghost,” quitting her job, hoping to disappear so no one cuts off her head.

This is not surprising. It should not be surprising that this is not surprising. We’ve come a long way from Martin Luther: from “Here I Stand” to “There I Go.” What was dismaying to many was the reaction from quite a few: she earned it. Should have known better. Stupid thing to do, and indefensible. The person online with whom I had the argument called it blasphemy, one of those terms that’s not exactly rich with strict legal meaning.

I don’t have a problem with drawing Mohammed, and while I understand it is offensive to some, that’s the price you pay for living in a free and diverse society. The argument against it seems to be this: we must persuade, not insult. Granted. We must persuade the other side that we have the right, and must be open to persuasion that we should not do it. Fine; that’s a conversation. But “should not” turns into “can’t,” eventually, and
I’m not willing to have a basic right granted on the precondition that I agree not to use it.

The other person argued that it was wrong to show the pictures to the widow of a Muslim marine he knew who died fighting for this country, and I agreed, not possibly imagining why I would. He then inquired: If it’s wrong to put it in front of her, does it become right away from her?

Of course it does. This comes down to maddening examples of what is, and is not, art; the drawings that got the cartoonist in trouble, for example, where not drawings of Mohammed. They only insisted they were. Can something be a thing it is not if it lies about what it is? The images of the cartoon reside on my hard drive right now in the browser cache. Having visited a Fark thread on the subject, there’s probably one with Mohammed with a bomb for a turban. They exist as ones and zeroes on a hard drive, and cannot be seen unless summoned. If I never summon them, they still exist, just as a picture in a room without light is still a picture. (Think of the files on the hard drive as the painting, and the code that puts them together a beam of light.)

So if it’s wrong to show them at all, then it’s the very existence of the images that is wrong. That’s a remarkable amount of power to ascribe to something that literally is not the thing it says it is. And it opens the door for proscribing anything that is defined by the offended, not the intentions of the artist.

This is not a prescription for artistic or intellectual freedom.

Kristof clarifies things for you

Remember the Nick Kristof interview from last week? Kristoff responds, sort of, to the interview with our host Hugh:

A radio interviewer asked me the other day if I thought bigotry was the only reason why someone might oppose the Islamic center in Lower Manhattan. No, I don’t. Most of the opponents aren’t bigots but well-meaning worriers — and during earlier waves of intolerance in American history, it was just the same.

This is a common trope: every immigrant group has a rough patch, thanks to Whitey – even the Irish, who were white, had trouble with Whitey. These misplaced, overblown fears about those furrners and their inscrutable folkways were nonsense then, so they surely must be nonsense now. Dangerous nonsense. Glen-Beck-strength nonsense. But just because you’re not a bigot, you’re still complicit:

Most Americans stayed on the sidelines during these spasms of bigotry, and only a small number of hoodlums killed or tormented Catholics, Mormons or others. But the assaults were possible because so many middle-of-the-road Americans were ambivalent.

As expected, we get a litany of all the historical sins, from the anti-Catholic Know-Nothings to the internment of Japanese-Americans, anti-Chinese hysteria, and of course the anti-German sentiment during WWI. (We were downright Hunophobic.) So while you, the Mosque-in-that-place opponent, may not be specifically bigoted, you’re generally bigoted on behalf of America and its history, and we have to support the mosque to show we’re better than people in 1834.

You can judge America by the nasty minority who did bad things “because so many middle-of-the-road Americans were ambivalent,” but you can’t judge Islam by the nasty minority who do bad things because so many middle-of-the-road Muslims were ambivalent. Got it. In any case, he ignores the point so many make: oh, go ahead, build it, but not there. If you want to promote understanding, and 70% of the people don’t want it there, then your insistence on doing so indicates you don’t understand. As for concerns about statements from the Healing Imam about the US role in killing Muslims, or the eventual future of Israel as an Arab state, well, here, look at this picture of a lynching in 1879.

In Kristof’s mind, there is no legitimate reasons to oppose the Cordoba Center in that particular location. So you’re either an extremist, an idiot, or a tool. Same point as before, but with a nice transparent glaze of nuance to forgive the idiots and pawns and complicit silent Americans. They not what they do. You could even call them no-nothings. Have a nice day.

PS: “A radio interviewer”? Would it have killed him to use the guy’s name?

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June 2023