22 February 2005

Farther Down the Rabbit Hole

I hate four-day weeks. Especially after four-day weekends (teacher in-service last Friday—which I don't begrudge the teachers!—and President's Day). It leaves four days to get five days' worth of work done. Well, I suppose it does for those who work for someone else; on my schedule, every day is potentially a full (or overfull) workday.

In any event, the news today is definitely out of Wonderland. Hey! Put that tart back!

  • President Bush is trying to kiss and make up with his European critics. The Chicago Sun-Times has the most revealing coverage… if only for the headline, with its implication of insincerity. (One of the advantages of having lived Over There for a while is that one comes to appreciate a certain dry cynicism even more than usual.) Kissing up to the French, fortunately, does not seem to involve osculation Français, which image is far too disturbing for this early in the day.

    Whether the imprecation from the Belgian government to stop assessing blame for the past and move on into the future will get much, if any, attention remains highly doubtful. This is the real problem with the whole controversy over Professor Churchill: Poor choice of rhetoric. We don't have to accept the view that all problems in a given region are nation X's fault, and therefore justify revolution, terrorism, and cats and dogs living together. We only have to understand and account for that view in developing solutions to the undeniable problems. I realize that it's a lot more fun—and a lot cheaper—to blame somebody else for an entire region's problems; that's how the French, returning to the questionable image at to top of this item, can manage to evade public international responsibility for their historical role in Central Africa. (By now, y'all should have figured out that French-bashing is always in season here. No limits, either.) Churchill's biggest problem is that he conflates perceptions of blame and historical responsibility with contemporary and future blame and solutions, not that he's wrong from the point of view of all too many Islamic figures. (He's wrong on some other things, too; but should by no means be removed from his position.) It's typical, though, that we're spending more energy on the sizzle than on the steak.

    Then, too, some of the kissing is coming the other direction. Shudder.

  • Hard-Cases-Make-Bad-Law Department: The real problem with intelligence activities is that they necessarily must take place outside the ordinary "value set" of a democracy. They require secrecy, ruthlessness, deception, and still more secrecy to be effective. Democracies, unfortunately, must live in the real world; and that means that sometimes they need to do things that might undermine their values in dealing with those who would undermine their existence. There's not a fine, but a very wide and grey, line between "unthreatening" covert actions and issues and those that really do undermine democracy by substituting ends for means.

    Last week, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled (right-click PDF) that there is no absolute "reporter's privilege" in the Valerie Plame identity matter that allows reporters to shield the identity of those who informed them of Ms. Plame's intelligence status. The problem with the decision is that, as is usual in these kinds of matters, it is overwritten and overbroad. The facts as presented justify no more than finding that there was no privilege in this particular context. Unfortunately, the decision will be interpreted to mean that the identity "government whistleblowers" cannot be protected by reporters. The problem, of course, is that no reasonable interpretation of "whistleblower" can include someone who is revealing the identity of a covert operative without simultaneously revealing substantial wrongdoing by that operative that is related to the covert status. What appears to have happened here is that Ms. Plame's covert status was leaked with nothing more; and, in today's news environment, the potentially embarassing and absolutely partisan nature of the "revelation" meant that it would get media exposure, even though it appears to have had nothing to do with any wrongdoing.

    Congratulations, "whistleblower(s)." Based on my experience, there's a 60–70% chance that you've condemned to death at least two individuals who were working for US, and at least potentially democratic, interests who have been hung out to dry by your partisan selfishness. We're supposed to trust the media to be watchdogs, right? How much trust have you left for the rest of us in what the media is being allowed to access?

  • Department of Leviticus 11: Some Virginia government officials don't get it. (This is hardly surprising; nor is it unique to Virginia.)

    "Our country was built upon the Christian principles of the Bible," [Del. Charles W. Carrico] told the [Virginia Senate Courts of Justice Committee]. "Today our Constitution, in my opinion, has to be strengthened to protect those rights of all Christians around the nation."

    Leaving aside the merits of theocracy—there really aren't any; most anarchy, historically, has been less repressive, less barbaric, and less deadly—stop and think what this means to the substantial minority in this country who are not of "Christian descent" (whatever the hell that means). Although I'm nonpracticing, I should be insulted at being offered a pig sandwich, or even a shrimp cocktail. So should any Muslim. Conversely, Hindus don't walk into Mickey D's, because even the chicken and fish has often been done in beef fat.

    Religious freedom and Christian principles do not, or at least should not, mean taking every opportunity to bash those who are of a different sect (even Fox understands this—some of the time, anyway). Perhaps our founding fathers had learned too many lessons from the Thirty Years' War, and from the so-called English Civil War, to be quite so blasé about mixing government and religion. And don't kid yourselves: whether it's called a "wedge" (by the proponents of Inscrutable Design), the "camel's nose" (which is rather ironic, given that most Americans associate camels with Arabia, and thus indirectly with Islam), or "freedom of worship," allowing particular belief-systems privileged position in schools lays the foundations for theocracy. The Supreme Court was too interested in its dignity in Sante Fe Schl. Dist. v. Doe when it found that "The District's policy permitting student-led, student-initiated prayer at football games violates the Establishment Clause" (quoting from the syllabus). It should have said something like this:

    Yeah, right. <SARCASM> We really do believe that the students came up with the idea for this pre-game prayer independently of their parents and of school officials, forced it upon the Board, and will act completely independently of official guidance in implementing it. We also really believe that the parents, school officials, and school board have no intention whatsoever of putting even minimal pressure on students to actively participate in this ceremony, and that the students are independently capable of ensuring that the prayers offered are nonsectarian and nondiscriminatory. Finally, we completely trust that school officials will offer non-majority believers a fair and equal opportunity to participate. After all, no semirural Texas football season would be complete without an "appropriate" prayer in Hebrew, and another one in Hindi! </SARCASM>

    Sadly, that's what the opinion really means, if not stated so plainly.

    I seem to recall another Thirty Years' War less than a century ago in which there was a substantial religious component. But, of course, that was in another country. It really doesn't matter that American troops were involved in liberating several "vacation camps," does it? Were we really supposed to learn anything?