June 26, 2004

Any possibility that Ralph Nader would be anything more than an asterisk in the November election was probably eliminated this afternoon, with the decision of the Green Party not to endorse his candidacy for President. Enthusiasm for his efforts seems pretty much limited to GOP financiers looking to hobble the Kerry campaign, he has yet to qualify for the ballot in a single state, and only the Reform Party, the quasi-independent movement started by Ross Perot but now coopted by Lenora Felani, offers any possibility that he could be a spoiler. Couldn't have happened to a nicer man.
I can't pretend I'm outraged at the fact that Dick Cheney dropped an F-Bomb on Senator Patrick Leahy the other day; people lose their cool from time to time, and a choice epithet was well within the vocabulary of Harry Truman, to name just one example. But his refusal to apologize for his public vulgarity only goes to show what a genuinely classless bunch this crowd really is. Big time.

June 24, 2004

Prof. Johnson uncovers classified secrets from the British Army at a Potomac bar this afternoon, to wit, that the war was about oil, that American tactics in Iraq have only exacerbated the problems there, and that David Beckham is a "wanker". And for that, he gets stuck with the tab?
One of the more noisome tendencies of the political blogosphere is the transformation of every disagreement into evidence of moral or psychological defects in your adversaries, so it should come as no surprise that Christopher Hitchens has become a popular writer among my more hawkish brethren. Like Westbrook Pegler, H.L. Mencken, and other controversialists, his focus is on the personal insult, the utter dehumanization of his ideological foes, rather than the reasoned brief of the advocate. Nowhere does this approach get played to greater effect than in his oft-cited review of Michael Moore’s award-winning documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11.

Even the review’s title, “Unfairenheit 9/11: The Lies of Michael Moore”, promises much more than is ultimately justified by his criticism. Rather than critique the film, Hitchens is only interested in the ad hominem attack on his adversary, so he sidelines any attempt at a rational defense of the President’s post-9/11 policies in favor of making snide comparisons to Leni Riefenstahl. For a review that is ostensibly about the “lies” of the filmmaker, he introduces precious little evidence of deceit, and he provides nothing to suggest that Moore deliberately or recklessly falsified material within the film. To Hitchens, accusations of mendacity serve the same purpose as Charles Krauthammer’s frequent diagnoses of mental illness in his opponents: it takes the place of reasoned debate, since the hard work amassing facts to buttress your side of an argument is always going to be more time-consuming than being able to allege that your opponent is somehow beyond the pale.

Most of the review consists of nothing more than attacks on the character of Michael Moore and others in the anti-war camp. Moore is called a “silly and shady man”, and “one of the great sagging blimps of our sorry, mediocre, celeb-rotten culture”, while his movie is slammed as “dishonest and demagogic”, “a piece of crap”, “an exercise in facile crowd-pleasing”, “a sinister exercise in moral frivolity, crudely disguised as an exercise in seriousness”, and “a spectacle of abject political cowardice masking itself as a demonstration of ‘dissenting’ bravery.”

Biting, witty comments, no doubt, when presented as the opinion of the reviewer, but Hitchens provides no factual basis from the movie to support any of those calumnies, except to suggest that Moore had argued in a debate several years earlier that Osama Bin Laden should have been considered innocent until proven guilty, and that somehow means that Moore’s argument about not using enough manpower to finish the job in Afghanistan is discredited. He takes issue with Moore’s claim that Iraq had never attacked the U.S., but can only argue in rebuttal that Saddam gave sanctuary to Abu Nidal, and that American P.O.W.’s were mistreated during the first Gulf War, neither of which amounts to a causus belli this time around, and, in light of the revelations at Abu Ghraib, not exactly a well-timed argument. And as I noted a couple of days ago, the review culminates with a laughably ironic attack on Moore's use of Orwell, which only goes to show how insular Hitchens' world has now become.

At one point, he all but accuses Moore of doing the filmic equivalent of using ellipses to omit inconvenient passages from the works he’s citing, but one looks in vain for anything to back up that charge. He alleges that Moore does not “make the smallest effort to be objective”, nor “does he pass up the chance of a cheap sneer or a jeer”, all of which supposedly amounts to a betrayal of the craft on Moore’s part. But Hitchens earlier notes that he himself was the auteur of several documentaries, on subjects as varied as Mother Theresa and Bill Clinton, and anyone who remembers those works knows that Hitchens did not spend much time being fair to his targets. One would look in vain to find any part of his polemic against President Clinton that challenges the often-contradictory stories of Gennifer Flowers or Juanita Broaderick, or that mentions the fact that Kathleen Willey was thoroughly discredited in her testimony before the Starr Inquest (but you will find him disparaging Clinton's attempts to attack terrorism as "wag the dog" efforts to distract the public). And if the cop murdered by Rickey Ray Rector had a name and family, Hitchens isn't going to disclose that to the reader.

Good documentaries are often biased, subjective films, where the documentarian plays the same role as a prosecutor, ably marshalling the evidence in a one-sided manner to support his case. The viewer plays the role of a grand juror, examining the evidence to decide whether sufficient grounds exist for an indictment. Great films such as Heart and Minds, The Sorrow and the Pity, and, of course, Roger & Me, did not back away from taking a stand, nor, I assume, does Fahrenheit 9/11. As in the case of a prosecutor, calling a documentarian a “liar” is a crippling charge, since it is aimed at discrediting the entire case-in-chief by sowing seeds of distrust in the advocate; that is one of the reasons so many on the Right have made that charge against Michael Moore (and it should be noted, Moore is not afraid of making similar frivolous charges against his adversaries, as seen here). Claiming that the prosecutor has only presented an arguable, subjective case isn’t discrediting, since, as members of the jury, we already expect that to happen. If Bush’s allies want to dampen the box office this weekend, they will have to do better than that.
Sad to say, but the standards to qualify for being the William Hung or the Richard Hatch of the legal profession are higher than what the Bush Administration requires to be nominated for the Federal Court of Appeals. [link via TalkLeft, w/props to Molly for her tip]

June 23, 2004

Why doesn't a story like this ever get published in the papers? What liberal media, indeed....

June 22, 2004

As if this off-season hasn't already been a nightmare for Laker fans, comes word today that Gary Payton has agreed to a contract extension. I suppose that was an inevitable result of the team firing Phil Jackson last week; Payton was like a passing quarterback forced to run the wishbone last season, so once the Pistons' defense exposed the Triangle as the outdated, high maintenance offense that it is, someone was bound to feel that the Glove was thereby vindicated, and, as it turns out, that someone was Mitch Kupchak.

June 21, 2004

Department of Unintentional Irony (or why Mr. Samgrass would be well-advised not to write columns referring to African-American soldiers as "dusky" while he's hammered):
A short word of advice: In general, it's highly unwise to quote Orwell if you are already way out of your depth on the question of moral equivalence.
--Christopher Hitchens, only a few lines after comparing Michael Moore to Leni Riefenstahl, reviewing "Fahrenheit 9-11".
Watching Clinton's interview on 60 Minutes last night made me realize how little has changed the last four years, at least in terms of political spin. With the Big Dog, it was trying to parse the meaning of the word "is" before the Starr Inquest, over the critical issue of whether he was involved with an intern. Now, it's a new crowd trying to salvage some measure of dignity before the country by claiming that, at the very least, Saddam had "connections", or "ties" to Al Qaeda, as opposed to the two parties actually collaborating together in the trenches before 9-11. Just as Prime Minister Blair was able to change the subject from his government's reckless use of false claims about Iraq's WMD's by attacking the BBC's use of the term, "sexing up", so too are Cheney and the Bushies by asserting that what matters most is not that the Iraqi government was working hand-in-glove with Bin Laden, but that they had at least a tangential relationship with Al Qaeda.

Somehow, I don't think the American people would have backed a war with Iraq if they had known that Hussein's people had spoken with OBL's on a couple occasions, but had not collaborated on terrorist attacks against the U.S.; in fact, by that standard, it could be argued that Al Qaeda had much stronger "connections" to the Bush Administration than it did to Saddam, since the President was friendly with the Bin Laden family, and the U.S. provided much of the funding received by the Mujhadeen in the '80's. Certainly, as far as real "ties" with Al Qaeda are concerned, there was a far greater circumstantial case to be made against the "friendly" governments of Pakistan or Saudi Arabia, but we didn't go to war with those countries.

The whole point of the war, according to the Bushies, was that Saddam was an imminent threat, and that he was an ally of the people who attacked us on September 11. The war was sold to the American People has a front in the larger war against terrorism. But now we're hearing that the war was really about something else, like changing the political dynamic of the Middle East, or "liberating" the Iraqi people, or, now, that Saddam, or one of his Ba'athist associates, had met on occasion with representatives of Bin Laden. If our spy services were doing their job, I would hope that we would have also met with representatives of Bin Laden on occasion, if only to gather intel or suborn a potential asset. I'm sure Jenkins' Foot or the assasination of the Archduke will factor in at some point with these people, but for now, the rationalization of hundreds of American(and thousands of Iraqi) deaths because of a few low-level meetings between Iraq and Al Qaeda seems like a cruel joke.
I think this is the jesuitical destinction Cheney was trying to make.